Readers Responses and Editorial Comments
on "Can Science Prove the Existence of God?"
Updated Dec. 22, 1998
The first response to this dialogue comes from one of our editorial consultants who as both a philosopher and a keen observer of the heavens comments:
It seems a common assumption that randomness was the largest player in the game of life that is being studied by scientists and that God was the largest player in the game of life that is studied by theologians. If we assume, as Einstein did, that God is described by the universe instead of God describing the universe by designing all its attributes then we only have to look at its attributes to discover at least a part of God. If infinite or at least seemingly so immense from our perspective as be considered infinite we may never discover all it's attributes but the more our curious bits of consciousness explore and probe the micro and macro attributes of the universe the closer we come to a definition of God.
I have little respect for the highly touted theory of randomness engendering our world's present place in Evolution. Throughout the macrocosmos I see order everywhere due to universal laws of gravity, motion and inertia. Within the microcosmos I see symmetry, geometry and even the chaos of an electron cloud is constrained. Everywhere laws of nature are intact. Life didn't just happen because a bunch of random particles got together by accident and interacted to form life. Life happened because the nuclear processes of a dying star created (as most of the billions of stars do eventually) and spewed out the elements that were needed to compose life. As those particles were drawn together by gravity and inertial waves that ripple through most galaxies, they formed our solar system, (with recent evidence showing solar systems are probably not uncommon in at least our neck of the galaxy). The sun and planets were formed according to laws of physics with our sun radiating huge quantities of energy needed for current life to survive. Again, our earth formed following laws of physics with the heavier elements like iron sinking toward the core and the lighter elements like carbon, hydrogen and oxygen floating to the surface or above it. Then these elements each with their own particular chemistry bonded, according to the laws of ionic or covalent bonding to form molecules which in turn followed laws of chemistry to form mega-molecules and proteins and eventually, over billions of years, as more complicated molecules allowed for more complex chemistries, life. There is little disorganization or randomness here. What little randomness there is quickly comes within the organizing confines of chaos theory.
So, is there a God? If so, how do you define God? Neither
Ferguson nor Heeren came close to answering those questions but I
believe they are on the right track in declaring our current
knowledge of the universe as being totally inadequate to even
guess the answers.
Pat Stonehouse, Wolverine, MI
The second response to this subject (as well as a few others in this series) was a long-time coming. It came from a reader in Brazil who writes:
Certainly science cannot prove the divine phenomenon experimentally. The present supremacy of modern experimental science leads one to reject the idea of doing so in any kind of laboratory. The perception of the divine phenomenon is always introspective and subjective, and cannot be reproduced and controlled through the methods adopted in experimental science.
However, it would be bad science to deny a phenomenon --the divine-- that has been registered from the first day of human consciousness to the present era everywhere, merely because it is not compatible with the methods of experimental science. Its occurrence is localized inside man's mind in the same way of other sensations accepted as parts of the real world. The universal reality of its introspective character would be sufficient proof if we consider that in many areas of human science the same universality has been accepted as a principle of objectivity: statistical data expressing a very large universality of subjectivities creates an objectivity valid from the scientific point of view. It is scientifically correct to declare that the many thousands of subjectivities prove an objective phenomenon.
Moreover human reason is able to describe the divine
phenomenon as a contrasted to the human... This generalized fact
would be sufficient to give reality to the presence of the divine
as experienced introspectively inside man`s mind. In that way it
should be classified as being just as real as love as it is
experienced introspectively in its many forms.
Luiz Alberto Bahia, Rio de Janero
The next response was in the form of a personal essay/memoire sent by Wayne E. Paquette, a professor at John Abbott College just outside Montreal. Because of the length of his contribution, I have decided to link it as a separate file. I believe that it is well worth reading as both a testimony of how much the overwhelming experience of evil (the subject of the previous issue - see DIALOGOS, Issue #4) can both threaten any easy belief in God and yet, at the same time, drive one to a what might be called a "faith beyond belief". See "Does God Exist?"
Another linked essay that might be well-worth reading is a short paper by Fritz Allhoff, a senior at William & Mary College in Virginia. Entitled Science vs. The Cosmological and Teleological Arguments, Allhoff focuses on the weakness of these classical arguments for the existence of God. It may well be that arguments based on "contingency", particularly in terms of material and instrumental causality, may have become largely obsolete in terms of the world of modern physics. But the continuing debate of over the Anthropic Principle, which Allhoff only refers to in it's very weakest form, leads, I believe, too a much too pat dismissal of the teleological argument. But I will leave further critique of that part of his paper to our AP expert (Joe Provenzano) and to others who may wish to join the fray in the issue of DIALOGOS dedicated to that subject. (See "The Anthropic Principle: Yet Another Version?. I would point out however, that rather being directly based on Plato's doctrine of "forms", the fourth of the five arguments presented by Thomas Aquinas is based on an Aristotlean notion of "formal causality" that marks a rather radical departure from the platonic world-view despite the similarity of language, and that it very well may be that it is this concept, as well as that of "final cause", that the various forms of the AP are trying to articulate.
Then there is the question of the "ontological" argument which Allhoff has also seemed to dismiss out-of-hand. Granted that most philosophers have seen in this old argument (which runs, roughly, "nothing can be thought of that is greater than God, but what is greatest must necessarily exist....") is at best interesting and at worst a tautology that proves nothing. Still, it should be of interest that it has been the American philosopher Charles Hartshorne who has taken a serious interest in the reviving the ontological argument, this time based on the evolutionary process-thought of Alfred North Whitehead, the physicist-mathematician who (like his collaborator in the writing of the Principia Mathematica, ) turned philosopher, but who unlike Russell, turned out to also become a theologian of sorts. (For more on Whitehead and his ideas about God, start with the Stanford University on-line encyclopedia.)
Nevertheless, it seems to me that Allhoff's paper, while it may lead to the same position held by Kitty Ferguson (the science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God) , it also leads us to the conclusion that modern cosmoslogy does leave us with some major unanswered "contingency" questions, which cannot be ducked simply on the plea that they fall outside the realm of space-time. My own guess is that we really do need to develop a new kind of ontological argument, one not based on what we can imagine, but one based on Being ("Ontos") as such -- perhaps one that tries to grapple with the final question ("how does one define God?) posed by Pat Stonehouse in his comments above. Meanwhile, do read Allhoff and send in your own comments or responses. (R.W. Kropf, editor)
For a modern Islamic perspective on these matters, we have the following remarks from Navid Masud:
It is not the job of religion to step on the turf of science and vice versa. Science deals with objective facts as observed and no more and it is not science's domain to describe "purpose" or "intention". When we hear prominent scientists describing that "we are here by chance" or "survival of the fittest" or "purposeless life"-- they are no different from so called creationist scientists -- they are over-stepping the mark.
"Purpose" lies within the jurisdiction of religion
and can be summed up as follows:
The nucleus mass of the universe was a living substance and has been refining itself ever since from the moment of Big Bang with one objective to make itself fit (by free will ) to meet its Creator (source from where separated). In that context when Islam describes that we are self-created under our own conscious enlightenment -- it is not for religion to explain the self-creation process -- it falls within the sciences domain to explain that. If that process is evolution than so be it. Independent of "Purpose", life would never have evolved.
As you are well aware, consciousness exists but we cannot measure it. We can sometimes tamper with the engine that produces consciousness but not the consciousness itself.
Similarly man exists in a non-material form, call it Soul/Self, in its mental body because of the non-material values of the Self/Soul. The personal values of the Self/Soul cannot be transferred from Self to Self like organic life of plant and animals, as each Human Self lives as a unique Self-conscious Entity. Nature must protect each Self as its precious gain for onward creation. Man is in a mental state of evolution (change) from the day he acheived Self-Consciousness (his conscious mind which is non-material part of brain is to Soul/Self what digestive system was to physical brain). In that context we are indebted to Freud for almost explaining the human mind correctly (except for one part). Navid Masud
Editor's remarks: As for the first paragraph, I would agree that if a scientist is trying to imply that "chance" on the one hand, or "survival of the fittest" on the other, are without purpose, then as a scientist he or she is overstepping the strict bounds of science. But if they are simply trying to describe the evolutionary process, then these seem to be quite appropriately scientific remarks. Regarding the second paragraph, however, I must say that while I agree as to the uniqueness of each human individual "self" or "soul", I'm rather mystifed as to what a "mental body" or "a non-material part of the brain" might be. Would it not be better to say that self-reflective consciousness, once it has evolved, transcends its material or physiological sub-stratum?
For a more detailed exposition of Masud's views refer to the following site: http://we bsite.lineone.net/~ex.po/universebeyond.html
If you haven't read the review of Patrick Glynn's book by our editorial consultant Tony Morse (newly linked to issue #3 on The Anthropic Principle) now would be a good time to read it. See glynnrev.htm
William Grab has also sent some comments, inspired, he says by some remarks I made in issue #7, but which I think are best linked to this topic as well. (RWK, ed)
"A new paradigm is sorely needed." With that thought in mind, I am forwarding two brief but related pieces that seem to resonate with some of the Dialogos' writings. "These ideas are presented not as "proof" but rather more as questions by way of 'extrapolation', that is to say, by way of theoretical projections or estimates prompted by certain patterns emerging from contemporary thought." (Dialogos #7)
In the Beginning:
For hundreds of years science and religion have gone their separate ways. Science has been non-religious and religion unscientific. Recent discoveries however seem to be leading to a convergence of these two different world-views. In the sub-atomic world of quantum physics, particles of matter operate in dimensions where the laws of our space-time world don't apply. This may help explain the otherwise inexplicable phenomenon of wave-particle duality. In the sub-atomic world, particles are both particle and wave at one and the same time. In our world that's impossible. In the sub-atomic world, cause and effect occur simultaneously, regardless of the fact that the distance of our entire universe may separate a cause from its effect. In our world, for a cause to elicit an effect on the other side of the universe takes time, thousands of years, even traveling at the speed of light. In the sub-atomic world it happens instantaneously. Einstein called this "spooky action at a distance". He didn't know what to make of it. Apparently, in the sub-atomic world space and time don't exist. In that world there is no such thing as fifteen billion years ago the age of our universe (see The Whole Shebang, Timothy Ferris, Chapter 11 "Quantum Weirdness"). In worlds without space-time there is only here and now. There is no past or future and no possibility of traveling to either one. In the sub-atomic world, the spontaneous emergence of matter and energy commonly called the Big Bang is right now, not fifteen billion years ago.
These infinitesimal, sub-atomic dimensions co-exist with our space-time universe. Buried somewhere deep within this structure lies the super-string, one-hundred billion billion times smaller than a proton, spinning and vibrating constantly like a tuning fork that, having been struck, vibrates endlessly with an equally endless variety of resonances that we call particles. What we call matter is actually a highly complex system of energy storage. In this sense, there is no difference between matter and energy. There is only energy, some of which is stored in material form. Men have recently learned how to release some of the energy stored in matter through the processes of nuclear fission and nuclear fusion. Light too is a form or dimension of energy which, like electrons and electricity, is involved in the process of energy transfer, e.g., transferring some of the sun's energy to the earth. Space is a form of energy associated with matter. Space-time is energy being released and expanding. Gravity is another form of energy associated with matter. Gravity and space are two poles of a cosmic energy field, one positive and expanding the other negative and contracting. Together they provide sufficient equilibrium for a universe such as ours to exist.
For matter to exist, for anything to exist for that matter, the amount of negative energy (gravity) and positive energy (space) must be equal. Gravity and space in other words cancel each other out in our universe. As a result, we live in a zero-energy universe, and to create a zero-energy universe requires just that: zero energy. Such a universe simply emerges out of the void from nothing. In the quantum world, not only can something spontaneously emerge from nothing, eventually it will, or in Alan Guth's words, "perpetual nothing is impossible." (Alan Guth, The Inflationary Universe, p. 276, final para.). Some ancient Chinese philosophers believed that being arises from non-being -- from nothing. Can they have known that the perfect symmetry of absolute nothingness can fracture into the crystallized structure of a universe? When the tension of perfect symmetry is broken it shatters like a plate glass mirror into countless shards or strings of matter and energy, and these are the fabric from which our universe is woven. Mathematicians sometimes refer to the constant spinning, vibrating motion of these energetic little strings as the wave function of the universe, or the sum of all possibilities, which is probably as good a definition of the super-string as any since their coherent, wavelike motion is the source of complexity and order in the universe.
Those who claim to know God or to know about God, who he is, where he is, what he's like, etc. are about as misguided as those who claim that God exists. Non-being, by definition, does not exist, and as beings, we can only know other beings. Non-being is forever beyond our reach. This is what is meant when it's said that God is a mystery. This is not to say that non-being cannot influence being(s) or perhaps even reaching out as it were and touching us in such a way as to elicit trust. We after all come from nothing and it's probably a safe bet that at some point Being will spontaneously revert to nothingness. Ironically, man could conceivably trigger such a scenario, although man himself cannot cross the line between being and non-being. As beings, our grasp is limited, both physically and conceptually, to other beings only. In man, Being senses its incompleteness and the need that stems from that awareness, though expressed in many ways, sometimes takes the form of religious belief. Science and the spirit of scientific inquiry, arguably the highest contemporary expression of that impulse, is leading inexorably toward the conclusion that the source of Being, the source of all that is, is nothing, absolutely nothing. (See the PBS documentary The Creation of the Universe by Timothy Ferris). Can that symmetry satisfy man's need for completion? Is this what the founders of the world's great religions were trying to tell us? Granted, they lacked the benefit of scientific knowledge and had to rely solely on their own experience and intuition. (See Dialogos #7 final two paragraphs of the lead article.)
William Grab <email@example.com >
While I'd like to put off my comments regarding the first piece (or maybe refer the reader to my own impressions of Ferris's book ), I found that Grab's comments about "proof" of the existence of God, or even the "existence" of God as such, as evocative of the "apophatic" kind of theology and mysticism found particularly in the West stemming from Plotinus and the other neo-platonists, and of course, in the East, expressed in its most radical form in Buddhism. So too the theme of "being" emerging from "nothingness". I wonder though, are these negations to be taken literally, or are they not more a psychological device to warn us away from the illusion that we can ever hope to intellectually grasp the Ultimate? At least this is my "take" on such an approach. For more on this subject, see DIALOGOS issue #12, and especially Chapter 8 of my book linked to that issue.
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