Why can’t science answer our question about God?

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.

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About Terry Sissons

Terry Sissons is the author of The Big Bang to Now: All of Time in Six Chunks, and this blog is a dialogue about the universe and what’s happened in the last 13 billions years.
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6 Responses to Why can’t science answer our question about God?

  1. Tersa Buter says:

    I think that only those who choose to believe will experience if there is a God or not.
    If you choose not to believe you will never know for sure. God communicates in the spirit realm with His people and through His people. He is there for anyone who wants to know Him, but some people are too “clever” and will not put their trust in any other than themselves and their own abilities.
    Tersa Buter

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment on this immensely important question. I do agree that, as you suggest, that belief in God is a matter of choice.

      Unfortunately, the problem is not resolved once one has made that choice. It is obviously possible to believe that one believes in a true God and to be tragically mistaken. Belief in God has been used for thousands of years, and continues to be used today, as a sincere (but I believe horribly wrong) justification for murder, abuse of men, women, and children, for theft , betrayals, lies, and torture. Today sincere believers heroically sacrifice their own young lives in the belief that in killing thousands of “infidels,” they will be rewarded immediately in a heaven with honor and pleasure.

      Nor, in my experience, is a person’s lack of stated belief in God as most people use the term, necessarily a mark of lack of love or concern and even “herolic sacrifice for the good of others. Many of these people find it impossible to witness to a concept of God which has been degraded simply to maintain power over others, not to serve them. Even Mother Teresa, now recognized as a saint, confessed in her diary that she sometimes struggled with belief in God.

      Again, thank you for contributing your insights to this critical issue. The question you address is one that is of immense importance to each one of us all our lives. Nor it is subject to simple answers.

  2. Tersa Buter says:

    Hallo Terry, for me it is a simple choice, because I grew up as a Christian and was raised with Bible truths. I lived as a “religious” person but without having given my life over to Christ. A lot of difficult things happened in my life and I started searching for a solution.

    I called out to God and asked where He was because I grew up learning about Him but I didnt really know Him. That same day a strange man came to our house and I became aware by what he said that he knew God.

    He prayed with me and I gave my life over to God through Jesus Christ who died on the cross so that I could have a relationship with God the Father.

    Since then He was my Lord and He started to work in me, through the Holy Spirit who lives in God’s people, and in my life, to make me a better person and grow to be more like Jesus, my Saviour.

    What Jesus says in the Bible is how I am supposed to live. He never says I will be rewarded if I kill people and the only good I do is what He does through me.

    This is what the choice is all about. I choose to trust and believe the God of the Bible and I believe He is the only One that can truly save me or anyone else.

    I know that some will differ from me but that is just the chance they will be taking. Jesus paid for EVERYONE but you have to give your life over to receive that gift.

    Remember the words of John 3:16 “For God so loved the WORLD that He gave His only Son that WHOEVER believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life”

    • Thank you again, Tersa, for sharing your experience more fully. Your beliefs clearly bring more coherence and meaning to your life with its struggles and pain. I respect them and you for your commitment to living by the truth as you see it.

      What oftgen concerns me personally is not a person’s particular beliefs, whether or not I share them. After all, as the Lord said, there are many mansions in his Father’s house, and many different roads that lead there. The early Christians understood this and tolerated a wide variety of different beliefs. They believed that what is important is not so much what we believe as how we behave. And for them to be a Christian was, above all, to love God and one’s fellow men. It was only about the 4th century, when acceptance of specific doctrines became obligatory to call oneself a Christian.

      But even then, and for almost another thousand years, Christians understood the Bible, as did the Hebrews before them, as a kind of divine poem. It was not a revelation from God to be taken literally, but to be understood metaphorically, or symbolically. When the psalm says, for instance, “The Lord is my shepherd,” he meant that the Lord guided and cared for him. Not that God is a sheep-herder or that we humans are sheep.

      Ironically, that changed, I believe, partly as the result of the scientific revolution, and some Christian preachers who seemed to think that symbolic thought is less valid than the literal thought demanded by science, began to teach that the Bible is a kind of divine historical text book to be interpreted literally.

      But I am writing you a very long reply which I should, perhaps, make the topic of an upcoming post on this blog.

      Again, thank you. I appreciate your openness and hope that we may continue this dialogue over time.

      Terry

  3. Tersa Buter says:

    Hallo Terry,
    Thanks to you for responding in such a non-agressive way. I respect you for that.
    Yes we can communicate on the subject till Jesus comes again and then it would be too late.
    My Bible says That Jesus is the Way and He is the only way.
    I hope that everyone will find that way. It is easy – just call out to Him – no matter who or what you are – look at the man on the cross next to Jesus. I dont know from what religious background he was – and Jesus saved him !
    I will pray that Jesus will change your heart and show you His life.

    • Tersa. I see your prayer as your way of wishing me well, and accept it for that. In return, I first thought I would wish for you that you may come to see a larger truth. But perhaps that is not the gift you have been given. And I do not believe it is respectful to hope for change in others. I believe truly loving a person means loving them for what they are, with all the limitations we each have, and with all that we cannot understand about them. And so I wish you peace and happiness. Terry

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