God and Science

I. Introductory Notes

Table of Contents

I. Introductory Notes

II. Is God Necessary?

III. Is the World Necessary?

IV. Theodicy: The Problem of Evil

V. Miracles, Wonders, Signs: God's Interactions with the World

VI. Appendix: Scientific Theories and Science's Life Cycles

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin


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"If a man would follow, today, the teachings of the Old Testament, he would be a criminal. If he would strictly follow the teachings of the New, he would be insane"

(Robert Ingersoll)

If neurons were capable of introspection and world-representation, would they have developed an idea of "Brain" (i.e., of God)? Would they have become aware that they are mere intertwined components of a larger whole? Would they have considered themselves agents of the Brain - or its masters? When a neuron fires, is it instructed to do so by the Brain or is the Brain an emergent phenomenon, the combined and rather accidental outcome of millions of individual neural actions and pathways?

There are many kinds of narratives and organizing principles. Science is driven by evidence gathered in experiments, and by the falsification of extant theories and their replacement with newer, asymptotically truer, ones. Other systems - religion, nationalism, paranoid ideation, or art - are based on personal experiences (faith, inspiration, paranoia, etc.).

Experiential narratives can and do interact with evidential narratives and vice versa.

For instance: belief in God inspires some scientists who regard science as a method to "sneak a peek at God's cards" and to get closer to Him. Another example: the pursuit of scientific endeavors enhances one's national pride and is motivated by it. Science is often corrupted in order to support nationalistic and racist claims.

The basic units of all narratives are known by their effects on the environment. God, in this sense, is no different from electrons, quarks, and black holes. All four constructs cannot be directly observed, but the fact of their existence is derived from their effects.

Granted, God's effects are discernible only in the social and psychological (or psychopathological) realms. But this observed constraint doesn't render Him less "real". The hypothesized existence of God parsimoniously explains a myriad ostensibly unrelated phenomena and, therefore, conforms to the rules governing the formulation of scientific theories.

The locus of God's hypothesized existence is, clearly and exclusively, in the minds of believers. But this again does not make Him less real. The contents of our minds are as real as anything "out there". Actually, the very distinction between epistemology and ontology is blurred.

But is God's existence "true" - or is He just a figment of our neediness and imagination?

Truth is the measure of the ability of our models to describe phenomena and predict them. God's existence (in people's minds) succeeds to do both. For instance, assuming that God exists allows us to predict many of the behaviors of people who profess to believe in Him. The existence of God is, therefore, undoubtedly true (in this formal and strict sense).

But does God exist outside people's minds? Is He an objective entity, independent of what people may or may not think about Him? After all, if all sentient beings were to perish in a horrible calamity, the Sun would still be there, revolving as it has done from time immemorial.

If all sentient beings were to perish in a horrible calamity, would God still exist? If all sentient beings, including all humans, stop believing that there is God - would He survive this renunciation? Does God "out there" inspire the belief in God in religious folks' minds?

Known things are independent of the existence of observers (although the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics disputes this). Believed things are dependent on the existence of believers.

We know that the Sun exists. We don't know that God exists. We believe that God exists - but we don't and cannot know it, in the scientific sense of the word.

We can design experiments to falsify (prove wrong) the existence of electrons, quarks, and black holes (and, thus, if all these experiments fail, prove that electrons, quarks, and black holes exist). We can also design experiments to prove that electrons, quarks, and black holes exist.

But we cannot design even one experiment to falsify the existence of a God who is outside the minds of believers (and, thus, if the experiment fails, prove that God exists "out there"). Additionally, we cannot design even one experiment to prove that God exists outside the minds of believers.

What about the "argument from design"? The universe is so complex and diverse that surely it entails the existence of a supreme intelligence, the world's designer and creator, known by some as "God". On the other hand, the world's richness and variety can be fully accounted for using modern scientific theories such as evolution and the big bang. There is no need to introduce God into the equations.

Still, it is possible that God is responsible for it all. The problem is that we cannot design even one experiment to falsify this theory, that God created the Universe (and, thus, if the experiment fails, prove that God is, indeed, the world's originator). Additionally, we cannot design even one experiment to prove that God created the world.

We can, however, design numerous experiments to falsify the scientific theories that explain the creation of the Universe (and, thus, if these experiments fail, lend these theories substantial support). We can also design experiments to prove the scientific theories that explain the creation of the Universe.

It does not mean that these theories are absolutely true and immutable. They are not. Our current scientific theories are partly true and are bound to change with new knowledge gained by experimentation. Our current scientific theories will be replaced by newer, truer theories. But any and all future scientific theories will be falsifiable and testable.

Knowledge and belief are like oil and water. They don't mix. Knowledge doesn't lead to belief and belief does not yield knowledge. Belief can yield conviction or strongly-felt opinions. But belief cannot result in knowledge.

Still, both known things and believed things exist. The former exist "out there" and the latter "in our minds" and only there. But they are no less real for that.

Note on the Geometry of Religion
 
The three major monotheistic religions of the world - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - can be placed on the two arms of a cross. Judaism would constitute the horizontal arm: eye to eye with God. The Jew believes that God is an interlocutor with whom one can reason and plead, argue and disagree. Mankind is complementary to the Divinity and fulfills important functions. God is incomplete without human activities such as prayer and obeying the Commandments. Thus, God and Man are on the same plane, collaborators in maintaining the Universe.
 
The vertical arm of the cross would be limned by the upward-oriented Christianity and the downward-looking Muslim. Jewish synagogues are horizontal affairs with divine artifacts and believers occupying more or less the same surface. Not so Christian churches in which God (or his image) are placed high above the congregation, skyward, striving towards heaven or descending from it. Indeed, Judaism lacks the very concept of "heaven", or "paradise", or, for that matter, "hell". As opposed to both Islam and Christianity, Judaism is an earthly faith.
 
Islam posits a clear dichotomy between God and Man. The believer should minimize his physical presence by crumbling, forehead touching the ground, in a genuflection of subservience and acceptance ("islam") of God's greatness, omnipotence, omniscience, and just conduct. Thus, the Muslim, in his daily dealings with the divine, does not dare look up. The faithful's role is merely to interpret God's will (as communicated via Muhammad).

Next --->

Read Note on Complexity and Simplicity

Read Note on Scientific Theories and the Life Cycles of Science


Also Read

Atheism in a Post-Religious World

The Science of Superstitions


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