The honest scientist will affirm that science, by its own very nature, is limited in offering answers to the ultimate questions such as the existence or non-existence of God or of the supernatural.
Astrophysicist Deborah Haarsma aptly captures this via noting that there “are questions that science simply isn’t equipped to answer on its own. Science can provide some important context, but religious, historical, relational, legal, and other ways of knowing are needed” (1). Similarly, the renowned leader of the former Human Genome Project Francis Collins writes that ”Science is the only reliable way to understand the natural world [but] is powerless to answer questions such as ‘what is the meaning of human existence… We need to bring all the power of both scientific and spiritual perspectives to bear on understanding what is both seen and unseen” (2).
However, what science can do is to supply good reasons and evidence to suggest that certain traits of a particular god are either possible or false. For example, the given traits of a particular god can be proven wrong if our scientific evidence contradicts the claim. This could be the case that if a certain religion claims that the universe has always existed under their god, science could show that such a view would be false. And if that trait is a core constituent of their god then they’d have to concede that their god is false or that their god has been incorrectly perceived. Science can also strongly undermine certain religious interpretations too, for example, a great many believers claim that the universe was created a few thousand years old by a god, but modern science ubiquitously proves this interpretation false. Therefore, the responsible act would be to admit a false reading and thus to reinterpret the text in face of overwhelming evidence against one’s prior interpretation. Thus, it is quite clear that whenever a religious text make an objective truth claim (historical or scientific) about something within the natural universe one can expect science to have something to say about it.
However, thus far science has not come close to answering the question of whether a supernatural, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent God, who gave humans freewill, exists or not. David Berlinski, who self describes as a secular Jew, explains the limitations of the sciences on the question of God:
“Has anyone provided a proof of God’s inexistence? Not even close. Has quantum cosmology explained the emergence of the universe or why it is here? Not even close. Have the sciences explained why our universe seems to be fine-tuned to allow for the existence of life? Not even close” (3).
What affirms Berlinski’s words is the very fact that God and the supernatural, as Collins & Haarsma explained, lies outside of science’s domain. If, for example, science could prove a trait of a god wrong, all it would do is limit the possible nature of that god. It therefore wouldn’t be “proving” that a god doesn’t exist (or any other God or gods, for that matter) . Thus, we ought to agree with the agnostic Mike Dobbins who says that “the scientific stand regarding the proposition that God exists should be agnostic” (4). Essentially, any given scientist is more than welcome to have a personal belief (theistic or atheistic) but her belief remains an expression of faith.
However, should a supernatural event ever take place, naturalistic science, according to its naturalistic doctrine, would fail to explain the event by natural, material means. I particularly view this to be the case in the context of Big Bang cosmology which powerfully shows that the universe had finite beginning ex nihilo (from nothing). The secular scientist’s wild attempts to explain away the beginning of the universe only reinforces this. Essentially, contrary to secular claims that science diminishes belief in a god (read “the God of the gaps”), science has often opened up gaps for a god. Many would argue the phenomenon of consciousness would apply here, alongside the Big Bang, as well. However, independent of this the naturalistic scientist’s assumption and statement of faith is that all explanations are natural or will be discovered to be natural. As paleobiologist Douglas Erwin poignantly stated: “One of the rules of science is, no miracles allowed” (5).
Thus the naturalistic scientist would never accept supernatural hypotheses. As a scientist who places her faith in materialism, it is her nature to look for material answers only. This dogmatism is aptly captured by New Atheist Richard Dawkins who pens that “The kind of explanation we come up with must… make use of the laws of physics, and nothing more than the laws of physics” (6). In effect Dawkins hopes (read “puts his faith in”) that no supernatural explanation will ever be uncovered for if it were the walls of his atheism will come tumbling down.
But what about the overwhelming evidence and testimony we have for miracles? By miracles I mean dramatic events (such as oftentimes immediate or unexplainable healings) that cannot be explained by the scientific method, and which clearly points beyond the natural realm. A leading authority in this field would be Professor Craig Keener who has studied miracle testimonies and chronicled them in his tome Miracles. Atheist historian Gerd Ludemann dogmatically mandates that we “ought not to begin with the assumption that miracles occur” (7). However, having completed his study, Craig found that it wasn’t a handful of people that happened to be eyewitnesses to miracles but that instead “we’re talking about hundreds of millions of people who make these claims” (8). Keener’s consultations of surveys further found that “those who claim to have witnessed or experienced divine healing, the number comes out in those 10 countries alone, and among Pentecostals and Charismatics alone, to about 200 million” (9). Clearly there is evidence and Keener took to quantifying that evidence. Thus only the most dogmatic of atheists, whether scientists or historians, can deny that evidence exists, and because of overwhelming testimony we can respond to Ludemann’s mandate by simply asking: “why?” We are under no obligation to conform to atheistic presuppositions taken on faith, especially in the teeth of opposing evidence.
But, as Keener explains, “Those today who claim that science or historiography denies the possibility of miracles are repeating not scientific observations but philosophic premises stemming from Hume,” (10) and that “Scientists are experts about the normal happenings of nature, but when asking whether something outside the norm happens, they no longer speak as scientists per se, because how to address anomalies or metanormal phenomena is a philosophic question” (11). In a very similar way the philosopher William James claims that “metaphysical naturalism is a metaphysical theory, not a necessary reading of scientific data” (12).
What this all serves to show us are a few things. Firstly, science, by limitation, cannot prove or disprove God’s existence, though arguments from scientific data can be made for each camp, pro or con. Secondly, not all claims made by scientists are supported by scientific data; the philosopher of science John Lennox has delved into scientific literature long enough to conclude that “Nonsense remains nonsense, even when talked by world-famous scientists” (13). This would entail that those secular scientists, like Dawkins, who do claim such a thing are not working within the realms of science but rather out of their personal philosophy masqueraded as science. In fact, evidence shows that some scientists are so dogmatically closed minded that no amount of evidence will ever be sufficient enough to convince them that nature is not all that exists. And on the reality of miracles overwhelming human testimony suggests that we are to take such claims seriously and analyse them, something of which Keener’s volume sufficiently does. Keener also shows that science cannot rule out the possibility of miracles, as some allege.
1. Interview with Dr. Deborah Haarsma in: Religion, Science and Society. 2015.
2. Collins, F. 2008. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.
3. Berlinksi, D. About the Book: The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions. Available.
4. Dobbins, M. 2013. The Case Against Atheism.
5. Douglas Erwin quoted by Victor Stenger in The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason (2009). p. 69.
6. Dawkins, R. 1986. The Blind Watchmaker. p. 151
7. Gerd Ludemann quoted by Craig Keener in Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (2011).
8. Auten, B. 2012. Craig Keener Interview on Miracles: Transcript. Available.
9. Auten, B. 2012. Ibid.
10. Keener, C. 2011. Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts.
11. Keener, C. 2011. Ibid.
12. William James quoted by Craig Keener in Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (2011).
13. John Lennox quoted by Evolution News & Views in “Nonsense Remains Nonsense”: Oxford’s John Lennox to Confront Hawking’s Atheism in Seattle This Friday. Available.