The philosophy of religion typically includes analyses of religious concepts, beliefs, arguments, and practices of religious adherents. One of the central tenets to this branch of contemporary philosophy is the analysis of arguments for and against the existence of God. Thus, though the vast majority of western philosophers are philosophical naturalists, the debate concerning the existence of God is lively, and thus a matter of healthy philosophical disagreement. Perhaps one such pertinent question concerns the relationship between God and proof, “Can God’s existence be scientifically proven?”
One might answer by pointing out that God’s existence cannot be proven in the same way, for instance, a statement like “the Earth orbits the sun” can be proven. When it comes to God, especially a classical theistic notion of God, such a conception is not open to proof or disproof by science. However, one might argue that this isn’t grounds for concluding that God does not exist in the same way that it isn’t grounds for rejecting the central tenets of, say, philosophical-naturalism (the philosophical belief that the natural world is all that exists, which isn’t a scientific belief to the dismay of many naturalists who conflate methodological naturalism with philosophical naturalism) or any other philosophical, metaphysical belief.
But, as theists have tried to show, the issue here is that many are only looking for a certain kind of proof. They are looking for scientific proof, and if they cannot find it they then often conclude that God does not exist. However, if this line of thought is followed to its logical conclusion beyond just the question of God, it leads one into a number of considerations and logical issues. Why? Firstly, because even if the theist were to agree with the skeptic that there is no proof for the existence of God, scientific or otherwise, then we are best left with agnosticism, and not the atheism held by philosophical naturalists. Atheist-naturalists have to go further and forward reasons, proofs, and evidences for their atheistic-naturalism. The theist finds himself within a similar position, as in order to avoid agnosticism he needs to have positive reasons for belief in God.
Secondly, and most importantly, because all human beings, including skeptics, believe in empirically, scientifically unprovable assumptions about the universe of which we believe we are rational to hold to. Some of these being our metaphysical beliefs that the external world exists, that others minds exist other than my own, that certain actions are objectively morally evil as opposed to good, and so on. So, as some have pointed out, it is quite obvious that many skeptics aren’t really being all that consistent. If God is alleged to not exist, or that it is impossible that he exists, because he cannot be scientifically proven, then so must the skeptic’s philosophical naturalism, or any other philosophical beliefs, he holds be undermined. Thus, if the skeptic wants to be consistent, and rational, he has to concede that science cannot be the only way to determine the truth of beliefs.
As any competent and mindful professional scientist and philosopher of science will inform us, science is limited in its scope. The scientific method is phenomenal in acquiring and affirming knowledge about the universe but it is powerless to answer the ultimate philosophical questions of life: Why do we exist? Why does anything exist? What is the meaning of life? What is the value of life? Does God exist? These are questions that cannot be answered by science which suggests that we need to look beyond science to answer them.
Now, the theist might argue that we are rational to believe in God in the same way we are rational to believe in, say, the existence of the external world of physical objects. We can’t scientifically prove that this is the case, but we’re rational to hold to the belief. Why? Because there seems to be sufficient, though not indisputable, reasons to hold to the belief. The theist argues that belief in God is rational in the same way, though the skeptic would no disagree with him on that point. For example, there are a number of arguments, some of which theists view as convincing, that have been proposed, and that if successful and followed to their logical conclusions render belief in God rational and warranted. On this point, when it comes to the arguments for God’s existence, some of them include premises that are grounded on empirical evidence from the sciences. The Kalam cosmological argument, for example, weighs significantly on the scientific evidences for a beginning to the physical universe and space-time. The teleological argument marshals evidence from the apparent fine-tuning of the constants within the universe in favour of a designer. Other arguments, like the moral and ontological arguments, instead weigh on philosophical reasoning. For a brief summary of the relationship between science and theological arguments view my other essay.
Now, this brings one to the contention that “there’s no evidence or proof for God’s existence.” As has been argued before, this is intellectually dishonest on the skeptic’s part. To be charitable we need to admit that many sophisticated skeptics don’t argue such a line. That “there’s no evidence or proof for God’s existence” is mostly one taken by fundamentalist skeptics online who have just heard or read the phrase somewhere from others on forums and certain websites. Rather, the intellectually charitable skeptic is quite aware that there are serious considerations that need to be had when it comes to belief in God and the alleged arguments forwarded in favour of God’s existence.
Now, this isn’t to say that the arguments are sound but rather that dismissing them through the rhetoric that “there’s no evidence or proof for God” isn’t going to hold much intellectual fortitude. Nor will it seem to be a very intellectual position or one worth talking about. Similarly, a skeptic might accuse a theist of being intellectually dishonest if he said that there is no evidence in favour of naturalism, or that skeptics haven’t proposed evidences suggestive of such the conclusion that God might not exist or that his existence is improbable (the problem of evil and suffering and the advancements of science, for example). Now, one wouldn’t be a theist if he thought that their arguments were successful, but theists have to admit that there exist arguments that require serious engagement because if they are successful then belief in God must be rendered unwarranted.
As already stated, the philosophy of religion is a lively field. There are of course further trends emerging, including the relationship between feminism and theology, an interest in medieval philosophy of religion, and in numerous areas in which science and faith speak to each other. We will be examining these in some more detail at later stages.
So, in rounding off this essay, “Can God’s existence be scientifically proven?” Perhaps a better question to ask would be whether or not it is “rational to believe in God?” That certainly broadens the debate.