An essay donated by Susan Humphreys
Does science refute God's existence?
This was the topic of a debate on Intelligence Squared a PBS television program. I was disappointed with the debaters on both sides. To give them credit it takes a rare person that can perform well in a debate setting. I never could. I am a slow thinker, I don’t think quickly on my feet. I need to digest and contemplate what was said and what wasn’t said in order to figure out what should have been said.
I had two main objections to the program:
- They didn’t define what they meant by "science." Their arguments seemed mostly based on Physics. Shouldn’t Chemistry and Biology -- those things we call the physical or natural sciences -- be included. What about considering those things we call the Social Sciences; Psychology, Sociology. How about Cognitive Science that tries to make the connection between the physical operations of our brain and how our memories and thoughts occur in our head. Did they exclude the use of scientific techniques and the information discovered in what are considered non-scientific but scholarly disciplines; the study of the history of the Bible, Theology, History, Literature, Myth…..?
To be honest if we are to prove that God doesn’t exist, all of the information and tools available to us need to be used.
- They didn’t define what they meant by God. Throughout human history and currently, humans have never agreed on the characteristics, attributes, nature, and the abilities of God. Whether God is one or more than one, or one in three or more parts, or even on what to call God. Whether God is spirit or substance. Whether that substance is totally separate unto his/herself or part of every other substance.
How can you disprove something if you aren’t even clear about what it is you are disproving?
At one point, the side that believes in God said to the effect that God is not a matter of Science and therefore Science has nothing to say about God.
That argument might be justified IF religious folk didn’t attempt to interfere with matters of Science or Politics or Sociology (social policy). IF religious folk would simply live their own lives as they see fit and allow others to live their lives as they see fit, as long as neither interferes with the other, none of these arguments would be necessary. If they want to say “God is real for me”, I’d have no problem with that.
Problems arise and arguments become necessary because religious folks try to force others -- non-believers as well as believers of other faiths -- to abide by “laws” that they claim are demanded or proscribed by their God.
Problems arise and arguments become necessary because religious folks try to justify and sanctify their behavior towards others by claiming “God demands this of them”--releasing them from any responsibility for the outcomes of their actions. If there are “bad” consequences it is God’s fault. Here is where the arguments “God works in mysterious ways and it is not for us to question his motives”, and the argument about “the greater good” enter the picture. Bad behavior is simply bad behavior whether committed by God/s or Men, by Princes, Popes or Paupers, and it needs to be called that and changed.
Those of us who don’t believe in God consider God to be a figment of human imaginations. I can agree with the pro-God folks that imagination is something that the physical Sciences (Physics, Biology, Chemistry) can’t refute. If a person says they imagine something we have to take them at their word. If they want to insist that what they have imagined is physically true, has a reality separate unto it’s self, the burden of proof will be on them. I don’t think this argument is the one the pro-God folks in the Intelligence Squared debate really wanted to make.
Scientists do have the ability to gather corroborating evidence or to show no such evidence exists and that what the person is saying is a figment of their imagination not reality. This is done in criminal court proceedings all of the time. Humans have a difficult time telling whether their memories are true and accurate or skewed by their own imagination. I for one would never believe an eyewitness statement of someone’s guilt where there was no corroborating evidence. Humans have a remarkable ability to self-deceive if they choose to do so. They are also easily swayed by others, which is why advertisements and political propaganda are such powerful tools.
There are some folks that insist that God is above and beyond all things known to man and thus not constrained by the laws of Science. This is really what the pro-God folks meant by their statement. How do they know that? Or is that just the only way they can explain how God can work miracles and why He doesn’t abide by his own rules (the laws of nature and other rules he expects us to abide by)?
Some claim that God is pure Sprit and that He communicates with them, or they can feel His spirit. How do they know the “spirit that moves them” isn’t just a figment of their imagination, the Devil or some lesser god? Does “God” use some sort of psychic powers, telepathy? Science has and can test to see if people are responsive to outside electrical influences.
There is still the question how can God that is material substance of some sort interfere in a world that is ruled by Science? Whether the pro God folks like it, our world and our selves do work according to well defined laws of physics, chemistry, biology, etc.(even IF God isn’t bound by those laws, we and the world around us are) and IF God is going to interfere in the affairs of men he is going to have to do so by adhering to those laws. God may be above and not constrained by the laws but, we are.
Consider stopping a car. There are laws of physics and gravity that govern the forward movement of the car. In order to interfere with those laws to stop the car you have to still abide by those laws to find a mechanism that works: brakes.
The pro-God faction will have to explain how God can stop the sun on one side of the earth (as the one pro Science guy tried to point out) and not interrupt events elsewhere on the earth. Human nature is such that if the sun had stopped for the Israelites it would have been noted by other folks elsewhere, it would have been such a super normal event it would have caused people to take notice and make a note of its happening. Men have recorded eclipses of the sun since very early times. To just say that God does it isn’t an answer to the question. To say that it is in the Bible and that proves that it happened doesn’t work either. Historians and Biblical scholars have shown that the Bible as we know it was put together, worked and reworked, by men and that many of the places and events (not just miraculous events) never happened as chronicled. The Bible has been shown to be mythological story not factual historical account.
It is easy to explain how people thought the sun stood still. That is actually a common impression people get when they are totally absorbed in something they are doing, something the Science of Psychology can address.
It seems to me that the burden of proof for Gods existence really lies with those who think that he does and want to insist that we all abide by His laws, not with those who can explain events without inserting God into the equation. There is no need for a God to explain how the world works, why we are here, where we are going, what our purpose in life is, or to tell us what is right or wrong, moral or immoral, what we are to do.
What about the argument of a first cause. The pro God folks insist that everything has a cause, something had to light the fuse that set off the Big Bang. Nothing comes from nothing so all of this something that we see had to come from something else. They are always stuck with the “where did God come from” counter argument. They try to get around that by simply insisting that he has always existed. Which avoids the question. How can something (God) come from nothing? If everything has a cause, then God has a cause, and that cause has a cause…… Or spontaneous generation can occur. If it occurred once and created God then how can you claim it didn’t occur another time to create the world as we know it? We know spontaneous combustion can occur, that has been proven scientifically.
At this point in time Physical Scientists aren’t sure how organic life came into being, but they are getting closer to an answer. They have created peptides, the building blocks of organic life. It looks as though it will take more than just the science of Chemistry to figure it out. It might take the Science of the kitchen. That was discussed in a great Nova program on PBS! It just isn’t the chemicals but the temperatures, the sequences of their combination, the amounts of each, the pressures they are under…. They have to get the recipe correct and follow the directions precisely. Just as a cook does in the Kitchen when making a fancy desert or sauce.
That leads into the next argument for God’s existence “the blind watch maker” argument. The argument by design. All the parts of this Universe fit so perfectly, any slight variation and things wouldn’t be as they are proves that there was an intelligence behind the creation of all that we see. If you have to follow a recipe precisely that proves that there was an intelligence behind the creation. That ignores the reality about cooking, there are happy accidents in kitchens all of the time, recipes are rarely followed precisely, and great things and sometimes not so great things result! It also ignores the reality that not all things work perfectly. We humans still have tail bones that are literally a “pain in the butt” for many folks. Surely an Intelligent Designer could have figured out a way around that problem, IF he had figured everything else out! Second it ignores all the evolutionary dead ends, ideas that didn’t work, or didn’t last. How many times must one throw the dice to get snake eyes? Sometimes it happens on the 1st try. Sometimes it takes many tries. That is the way chance operates.
BUT I confess we don’t know where our Universe came from and I doubt that we ever will. It simply just exists! Scientists can pretty much explain to their satisfaction how it all works (there are still a few unanswered questions) without inserting “God” into the explanation.
If someone wants to still argue that God created the Universe that is as good of a speculation as any. But that is all it is, speculation, imagination, belief. This Universe could have been seeded by a space vehicle from some distant galaxy. That is as plausible an explanation as claiming God did it. I don’t think we need to know where the Universe came from. The arguments about who created it or how it came into existence are the work of idle Theologians, Philosophers and Physicists!
The question that matters is whether God still exists!
God could be what went bang in the Big Bang. In the act of creation God blew himself up and it is all his little God particles that are the dark matter and dark energy out of which all that we see later came into being.
I have shown in another essay (Beyond Good and Evil, and All Things in Moderation) that God as defined by Theists and Deists doesn’t exist. Both Theists and Deists agree, generally, this God is an entity (some sort of physical being) unto his or herself and this God is all knowing, seeing, wise, loving, compassionate, powerful, PERFECT in every way. Theists think this God interferes or intervenes in the affairs of men when he/she feels inclined to do so. Deists think this God can’t or doesn’t interfere or intervene in the affairs of men. There is some difference of opinion about whether God is physically unable to intervene or simply chooses not to intervene.
I won’t go into the detail of my arguments here. Basically the argument is that PERFECTION is a Catch22, impossible to attain and still be part of (able to intervene in) this world. IF God is :
a. physically unable; he/she has no hands, thumbs fingers—he can’t physically pluck you off the deck of a sinking ship and set you on dry land,
b. he/she has no voice box and is incapable of speech—although this doesn’t rule out psychic, telepathic communication,
c. unable to calm the raging sea or stop a storm or turn it in its path…..
then he/she is NOT all powerful and by definition is NOT God. This does present serious problems for both Theists and Deists. If God can’t produce miracles then the miracle stories in the Bible are nothing more than myths, how can one even accept the idea of the resurrection of Jesus, prayers can’t be answered, even your own eventual resurrection for believing in God, for accepting Jesus as your savior, for doing good works is thrown into doubt.
If God chooses not to intervene, then God isn’t PERFECT, there is a major flaw in God’s character. The least God can do, IF he is physically able to do so, is scream no more, no more hate, no more violence, stop it all of you, a pox on all your houses. Gods silence when he sees all the suffering, pain, the genocide, starving children in Darfour, children or their parents being blown to bits in Syria, the Jews as they were pushed into the gas chambers, the genocide in Rwanda or Bosnia…..God’s silence is an imperfection of his character.
Once again if God isn’t Perfect in every way then God isn’t God by the Theists and Deists own definition.
In my essay I addressed the counter arguments folks make; God works in mysterious ways and it is not for us to question his motives, the greater good argument, God can’t interfere with our free will argument, God for some reason wanted to punish those people for their sins. I won’t repeat them here. BUT none of those arguments hold water.
People are faced with some uncomfortable choices:
1. The God of the Deists and Theists doesn’t exist.
2. The concept of “God” is metaphorical for “good” as the concept of “Devil” is metaphorical for what isn’t. God is the product of our fears, hopes and imaginations.
3. Some other God might. Such a God has been described as the Animas Mundi, the breathe of life, Prana in Vendantic philosophy, Chi/Qi of Chinese philosophy, raw energy (the force that holds the atom together) of the Scientists. This God has no consciousness, just pure energy, a self-generating dynamo and isn’t very comforting for those that want a personal God, a God that will grant them favors, forgive them their trespasses while refusing to forgive the trespasses of their enemies and punish them instead.
Perhaps God is the Dark Matter that as one scientist put it is the glue that holds the Universe together. No consciousness or what we know as Will at work. As the article from CNN stated this dark matter doesn’t interact with ordinary matter and has never been directly detected. Scientists know it is there by the gravitational effect it has on other planetary bodies, stars, dust clouds, planets. Dark Energy makes up about 72% and Dark Matter about 23% of the Universe. That leaves about 4.6% which is all the stuff that we can see and touch. There is even a lot of empty space (dark matter) in our own bodies! In a sense those religions that have seen God as being everywhere (the Pantheists) might be closer to the TRUTH!
Can Science prove that God doesn’t exist? Proof becomes necessary when True Believers try to insist that others abide by the laws, the doctrines and dogmas of their God. IF True Believers would simply live their own lives as they see fit and allow others to live their lives as they see fit, as long as neither interferes with the other, none of these arguments would be necessary!
Originally posted: 2013-AUG-03
Latest update: 2013-AUG-04
Author: Susan Humphreys