Science and the Existence of God

wonder, exclamatory prayer

Many atheists and agnostics are fond of asking for scientific proof of God’s existence. They say that if science can’t show that he exists, we shouldn’t believe in him. Believers are often at a loss when confronted with this attitude, as there is in fact no scientific proof of God’s existence. It seems like there is no way to reach these people because they demand a kind of proof that simply does not exist. However, I would suggest that this point of view is not nearly as airtight as it seems; there is in fact a way to breach this intellectual wall and effectively respond to people who demand scientific proof of God’s existence.

More than Just Science

To begin, let’s look at the assumption that underlies this way of thinking. Essentially, it takes for granted that that we should only believe things that can be proven scientifically, and that is its fatal flaw. While the assumption may sound smart and sophisticated at first, it is actually self-defeating. It disproves itself, and it does so in an almost embarrassingly simple way. All we have to do is ask one question: is that viewpoint itself provable by science? In other words, can science prove that we should only believe things that can be proven by science? Of course not! Science is great and can show us a whole lot about the world, but one thing it can’t do is prove that nothing outside its scope can be true. In other words, the belief that only scientifically provable things are true is not itself a scientific statement. It is a philosophical statement, so you need philosophy to prove it. As a result, it is false by its own criteria, so it can’t possibly be true.

Once we perceive the problem with that underlying assumption, we open the door to arguments for God’s existence. The refutation of that assumption shows that there are valid sources of knowledge aside from science, and philosophy is one of them. Consequently, the arguments for God’s existence, which are all philosophical, might work. Granted, that doesn’t mean that they actually do or that God really does exist, but it shows that we cannot dismiss them out of hand simply because they are philosophical rather than scientific. Instead, we have to take the arguments seriously; we have to look at what they say and evaluate them on their own merits rather than by any bias we may have against philosophy.

Evidence and Proof

However, that is not to say that science is totally irrelevant to the question of God’s existence. As I said before, while science cannot definitively prove that God exists, it does provide evidence for him. That distinction may sound dubious to some, so let me explain what I mean. Even though we often use the words “proof” and “evidence” more or less synonymously, they are actually two different things. Proof is something that results in a conclusion. Once you have proof, you don’t need anything else because you’ve demonstrated that something is true. Evidence, on the other hand, is not quite as strong. It simply supports a certain viewpoint or theory, but it does not prove it. Let’s look at an example to make this more concrete.

Imagine that you are a juror in a murder trial, and the prosecution is presenting its case. They say that the suspect had a possible motive, that he owned the kind of gun used in the murder, and that witnesses saw someone who looked more or less like him leaving the scene of the crime. This is all evidence that the suspect did in fact commit the murder, but it doesn’t prove that he did. It is still very possible that someone else did it. In other words, this is all evidence, not proof. However, if they then show clear video footage of the man committing the murder, and then he even confesses to the crime, we would know for sure that he really did do it. We would have proof of his guilt, not just evidence.

Universal Fine-Tuning

And the same principle applies with science and God. I said that science can’t give us any proof that God exists, and that is true. Science can’t definitively show that he does in fact exist. However, that does not mean that science cannot give us any evidence of his existence. Despite what some people claim, it can.

Now, there are a lot of different ways that people claim to find scientific evidence for God, but I want to focus on just one: the apparent fine-tuning of the universe for life. In the last few decades, scientists have been finding out that many of the physical constants of our universe seem to have been fine-tuned to an extraordinary degree for life to even be possible. If they were even slightly different, life as we know it wouldn’t exist. Here are a few examples:1

  • If the strong nuclear force (the force binding protons and neutrons together) were 2% weaker or 0.3% stronger, life would not be possible.
  • If neutrons were 0.1% more massive, the nuclei of heavy elements essential to life could not form. If they were 0.1% less massive, all the stars in the universe would have quickly collapsed into neuron stars or black holes.
  • The number of electrons in the universe must match the number of protons to an accuracy of one part in 1037.

There is no reason why these constants had to have the value they currently have; they could have been very different, in which case life would never have arisen at all. And that is not even the end of the story. Not only must these values be fine-tuned individually, but many of them must also be fine-tuned relative to one another. Again, I’ll only list a few examples:

  • If the electromagnetic force (the force holding together atomic nuclei and their electrons) relative to gravity were increased or decreased by one part in 1040, all stars would be either large or small, but life needs both types.2
  • If the gravitational constant (a constant value involved in calculating the force of gravity between two objects) were slightly weaker in relation to the strong nuclear force, then stars would be way too small. If it were slightly stronger, galaxies and solar systems would not have formed.3
  • Neutrons outweigh protons by 0.1%. Had protons outweighed neutrons, they would all decay into neutrons. If the mass difference were 1/3 of what it is, neutrons could never decay into protons, which are essential to life.4

Again, there is no reason why these ratios had to have the values they currently have. They too could have been very different, and if they were, life could never have arisen within our universe.

Lucky Us?

Now, someone could say that this is all just dumb luck. Maybe we lucked out that the universe just happened to turn out exactly right for life to arise. We can’t rule that out with 100% certainty, but it is highly implausible. To see why, consider this story. Let’s say that you are playing poker with your friends, and one of them gets fifty royal flushes (the highest possible hand in poker) in a row. In theory that is possible, but it is incredibly unlikely. In fact, it is so unlikely that if it happened, you would not just chalk it up to amazing luck. Instead, you would think that he must have cheated.

And it’s the same with the apparent fine-tuning of the universe. Sure, it’s theoretically possible that all of these values and ratios just happened to turn out right for life to arise, but it is so unfathomably unlikely that it makes fifty straight royal flushes look like a common occurrence. If we would think that someone has to be cheating to be that lucky in poker, then to be consistent, we have to say that the universe did not turn out the way it did simply by blind chance. No, it must have been made that way on purpose; somebody must have “programmed” it to be life-supporting that rather than life-prohibiting. And who could that “someone” be if not God?

Evidence for God

Granted, this doesn’t prove that God exists. Atheist philosophers have come up with some alternatives that cast enough doubt on the conclusion that we cannot say that the fine-tuning of the universe is definitive proof of God. For example, some say that there might be an infinite number of other universes, and we live in the one (or one of the few) that can support life. We cannot definitively rule that out, so this evidence doesn’t prove that God exists.

Nevertheless, this alternative is impossible to prove, and we have no reason to believe that it is actually true (the only reason people propose it is to avoid the existence of God), so it is not a great alternative. The God hypothesis is still the best explanation of the evidence. As a result, we can see that far from disproving God’s existence, science actually supports it. Granted, science can’t prove that he exists, but it does provide powerful evidence for his existence. The apparent fine-tuning of the universe for life to emerge points towards a transcendent creator who made it all and wanted it to bring forth living creatures, thereby providing scientific evidence that God does in fact exist, contrary to what many atheists and agnostics today believe.

Footnotes

1) All three examples taken from Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 3rd ed. (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2001), 146-157.

2) Ross, Creator, 153.

3) Michael Corey, The God Hypothesis (Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2001), 93.

4) Corey, God, 89-90.

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3 thoughts on “Science and the Existence of God”

  1. Pingback: FRIDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  2. It may not be fair to say that all “Atheists and Agnostics” ask for proof. How about St. Thomas? It is not only a concern for the existence of a loving God, I am more concerned with “his” appearance to modern “man” to once again make an effort to stop their demise. The burgeoning masses don’t seem to get it.

  3. Excellent, insightful, and nuanced article! To read more on this subject (not from a Catholic perspective but still an honest one), try the Closer to Truth videos and podcasts. I’m enjoying them a lot.

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