People who believe in God and those who don’t often find each other incomprehensible. Even worse, they often think the worst of each other. At best, believers fear for the salvation of the unbelievers, while non-believers often suspect believers of superstition and fear.
Why can’t science answer this question for us? Why can’t science answer our questions about God?
How Science Works
Science works fundamentally by setting up a hypothesis and asking if there is observable, verifiable, repeatable evidence that the hypothesis must be wrong. It’s the principle of falsifiability based on what is called “the rejection of the null hypothesis.”
For instance, a drug company wants to know if a particular medicine it wants to market will have undesirable side effects. To test whether headache might be a side effect, the null hypothesis is “this medicine will not cause headaches.” It gives the medicine to a selection of volunteers, and if it is followed by headaches, the company rejects the null hypothesis, and agrees to publish a warning that a side effect of the medicine may be headache. If nobody gets headaches, the company can only say “we have found no evidence that it causes headaches.” It is still possible that, once a medicine is on the market, some people might get a headache after taking it. If this is reliably confirmed, it is evidence that does indeed result in the rejection of the null hypothesis which was that the drug has no known side effects
What Proof Could Science Look For?
In relation to God, then, the scientist would ask “is there anything we might observe which would enable us to reject the null hypothesis – that is to say “we have proof that the conclusion that there isn’t a God cannot possibly be right”?
The problem is that there isn’t. All scientists agree, there is nothing that any of us could observe that would prove that there can’t possibly be a God. The second problem, though, is that this doesn’t prove that there must be a God either. What some see as proof of God’s existence, others see as natural occurrences which science can or will some day be able to explain as a natural phenomenon. For instance:
- When the Russians first put an astronaut into space, they announced that they had not found God and that this was proof that God did not exist.
- But of course, it wasn’t proof. Not finding God might be because one hadn’t looked in the right places. Or perhaps because we do not have the ability to “see” God even when God is there.
- Some people reason that the universe exists at all is evidence that there must be a First Cause, which could be called God.
- But other people reason that perhaps the universe has always existed and there is no proof that there is a First Cause at all.
- Some people say that evil and suffering in the world is why they don’t believe in God.
- But other people look at the same evil and suffering and say it is God’s punishment for our sinfulness, or that a greater good will come from the suffering, even if we don’t understand how.
- Some people believe in God because of some good fortune like being rescued in an earthquake or hurricane or some other disaster. Some people have been converted after being cured of a grave illness or observing something that seems to be miraculous.
- But other people look at these as natural phenomenon rather than acts of God.
Science and the God Question
That is why the question of God is not a question that can be ever be answered by applying the scientific method. The problem with testing the hypothesis “There is no God” is that there are no conditions we might observe which would prove that there must be a God, or that there cannot be.
There are many scientists who believe in God and who are committed believers. But there are no scientists who can say that they believe in God because they have proved this through an application of the scientific method. Ultimately belief in God is a decision to go beyond what can be proved scientifically, to go beyond the evidence.
Whatever word one may use, the question of God is not a question science can answer for us.
Belief, however is not necessarily a question of ignoring what we experience. Many scientists and non-scientists alike intuit a wonder in the world, a mystery, something many experience as transcendent, that some call God, others call Sacred, others simply That-Which-Cannot-Be-Named, or the Unknown.
Some people experience it through poetry or music, in mathematics, in quantum mechanics, in the apparent infinity of space. Others experience it in a relationship, in the look on a child’s face, in an act of kindness or undeserved loyalty. Some people have sensed it on the peak of a mountain or an ocean shore, some after a great gift, others after a great loss.
What do you think?
Is there any experience that has or would convince you that there must be a being you might call God? or are there experiences that might intimate the presence of something transcendent or beyond our total human grasp?
Alternatively is there anything that would convince you that God could not possibly exist?
Would that evidence convince everyone that no other scientifically viable conclusion is possible?
Are there experiences which are beyond science which answer these questions for you?
Copyright © T. Herman Sissons, Ph.D.
This is the second in my Questions Beyond Science series. (I’m planning on doing 12 questions – one for each chapter of my book, for those who may be wondering if this is going to go on forever.) As usual, I would read any comments with great interest.