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Sep 04 2013

Does Science Disprove God?

Christian Post’s Dr. Mike Keas takes on the notion that somehow science disproves the existence of god.

I am an atheist, however I know that science does not disprove the existence of a god any more than science disproves the existence of unicorns.

But first let us start with what’s specifically wrong.

Critique of a Recent Contribution to “New Atheism” … Stephen Hawking’s Grand Design 

  • Hawking declared in his 2010 book The Grand Design: “Philosophy is dead” because it “has not kept up with modern developments in science.” Is this nonsense (despite its eminent author)?

Philosophy is not dead, merely less relevant in describing how the world around us works because there is little to no experimentation within it. Science has a philosophical basis to it. We can understand the physical world through obserrvation, deconstruction and experimentation and that all phenomenon must have a natural cause are intrinsic to the scientific method which itself was a philosophical idea.

Think of science as “Applied Philosophy”, where you test your hypothesis about the way the world works rather than rely on debate. The problem with debate is that a good speaker can argue that tortoise can outrun arrows. Science says that if you shoot arrows at tortoises you get chelonian kebabs.

    • The statement “philosophy is dead” is itself philosophical, not scientific, and thus self-defeating. It’s like saying “I can’t speak a word of English.” Nonsense!

I am told that Dr. Mike Keas is a doctor of Philosophy.

No, it meant that philosophy is not particularly useful for explaining how the world works because we have a system by which we can test hypothesis through observable phenomenon and experimentation that allows for repeatable experiments and allows us to understand the way the world works on a more fundamental level than discussion.

You can discuss the human condition through philosophy but on an universal scale of science it’s rather tame. And here is the thing, Mike wishes Philosophy was more important to understanding the way the Universe functions because science does not accept the existence of a god or the supernatural. If an unexplainable phenomenon occurs in science, you say “it’s unexplained” and then you experiment on it till you understand the problem.

Philosophy allows for the existence of his god and accepts the whole possible realm of the supernatural. To Mike science is a torture chamber. Chaining down the divine mysteries and breaking it’s knees with the hammer of science till it coughs up it’s secrets. To Mike, the wonder of the Universe Diminishes if Magic Does Not.

To me, no amount of fake magic can match what reality really is. How ignorant and bored must you be if when faced with an oddity your answer is “Magic” and then continue? If humanity thought like this then we would never have tamed fire and made our tentative steps to this future. There is more wonder in science because it shows you how the trick is done.

The point of a magic trick is not that you think it’s magic but that you cannot fathom how the trick is done. It’s why despite  everything opposite in our philosophies, I am quite the fan of Penn and Teller because I learnt from them that the correct response to “magic” is not “WIZARD” but “THAT IS A COOL TRICK”. I have a friend who did card tricks. I admired how his hands moved and the tricks even if I eventually understood how they worked. But at no point did my friend ever claim it was because he was chanelling the Card Shark powers of Jesus.

    • Hawking’s philosophy is scientism, the claim: “science is the only way to know reality.” But science itself cannot support scientism (no observations support scientism), which makes it self-refuting. Scientism is a philosophical theory of knowledge. Scientism entails the philosophical assertion that you can’t make reliable philosophical assertions.

Well?

Put it this way. If we look at all the achievements of pure religious thought versus all the achievements of scientific thinking then we are looking at a handful of minor achievements versus the entire sum total of technological advancement.

And of course we can support scientism quite handily.

No known observation of magic (or phenomenon that breaks all known laws of the Universe) has been observed. Every single claim of such magic is replicable through the application of science and most of these so called “miracles” only occur through hearsay and gossip and often due to mass hysteria and people seeing what they want to see.

The ENTIRE science of being a Magician (Illusionist rather than Wizard) is based on this phenomenon. I used to love a show as a kid called Jonathan Creek. It is about a crime fighting magician’s engineer. The magician is the show man, this is the man who makes the tricks. And his forte is locked room murders and the weird and wonderful.

And I understand it’s a TV Show, but it made me want to be a magician for a while. I think all kids go through the phase of first discovering magic tricks and try and learn how to do them. But it was not a hobby that took. I think I lacked the patience. But talking to people who do it, I realised how much science is involved in the “trick”.

And here is the thing. The “magic” became less about thinking that the person on stage just did the impossible but that my mind is fooled into thinking that. That there is a trick, there is always a trick.

And that makes us look skeptically at the grandiose claims of the “woo” brigade. Oh we may see STRAIGHT through the bullshit of astrologers and palmists but we leave religion alone?

It is an observable fact that modern life cannot take place without science. That everything we have from the clothes on our back to the shoes on our feet are products of science and thinking the world is a place where nothing occurs that is impossible without a god.

Scientism may be derided by many religious people. They may travel to different conferences to make this derision, but the fact of the matter is that cars don’t move through belief and planes don’t fly because angels hold them up. These are products of science, not that of religion.

Scientism may be unprovable and a horrible thing in the mind of Dr. Keas but you have to admit that such thinking has created a lot of really useful stuff that we often take for granted.

  • “Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.” Hawking (Grand Design, 2010). See my blogs about this here and here.
    • The word “nothing” contradicts what else in Hawking’s statement?
      • Answer: “A law like gravity” (or a quantum vacuum), which is not “nothing.”
      • “Nothing” is the absence of anything, including properties and causal powers.

And thus the man widely considered to be the successor to Einstein is wrong. GG WP. Your Nobel Prize is in the mail.

Keas works under the assumption that there was absolute nothing. Hawking works under the notion that the laws are constant, what makes the “Big Bang” was the formation of matter. I believe prior to this statement is an entire book dedicated to trying to explain and simplify the heights of physics to the layman that act as qualifiers to this statement. This is quote mining and considering I regularly deal with anti-vax I am a bloody connoisseur of the practice.

I don’t understand physics as much as I understand Biology and Medicine. My education at the highest level was not in that field. I don’t pretend to understand the heights of it. BUT What I do know is that there is a greater chance the system with a good track record for explaining the way the world functions is more likely to explain it correctly than the system that until quite recently thought that the world was only 6000 years old.

I may be wrong.

  • What if by “nothing” Hawking meant “nothing physical” (but rather something mathematical)? This view isn’t obviously self-contradictory. This is the ancient Greek Pythagorean belief that mathematical reality is the uncaused and self-sufficient (divine) cause of everything else.

A universe of mathematics. That the fundamental truth of the Universe is mathematical. It certainly is the only universal language we possess. And considering math is the purest of sciences. Physics is the usage of mathematics to understand how the universe works. Chemistry is the usage of physics to understand reactions of matter (Okay I simplify). Biology is the study of organic chemistry wiithin life.

I don’t think of science as something we can delineate. There are doctors who are more physicist at heart after all. The entire science of orthopaedics is a lesson in self healing engineering. I suppose it’s an example of overlapping magisteria where all the fields of science impinge on each other and delineation is in fact rather arbitrary and only done for the sake of simplicity.

Mathematics is not divine but it’s the fundamental tick of the universe. It is it’s machine code.

Biology may be the heart of science. Chemistry may be it’s bones. Physics it’s brain.

But mathematics is it’s soul.

    • Theology is the study of the divine (that which is uncaused and self-sufficient), and how all else is related to the divine. Even atheists have a theology in this sense, if only implicitly. Atheists generally think that the material world is self-sufficient (divine), but Hawking may believe in the ancient pagan theology of mathematical deity.

I think Mr. Hawking works under the realm of atheism or agnosticism rather than believing in a mathematical deity. For starters? The mathematics most of us are comfortable with is in the realm of positive numbers and basic operations.

Mr. Hawkings and indeed the world of mathematics and physics play with negatives, imaginary numbers and calculus and logs. What they do to numbers is wonderful. The physics and mathematics I learnt at school lets me realise that they are doing something truly amazing with it.

To denigrate such “pure science” with the notion that mathematics is some cheap and tawdry god is just an insult and a proof of such ignorance. Just because you cannot understand something doesn’t mean it’s nonsense.

And the material world is NOT self sufficient. The Natural World has an end. Entropy. One day it will all end. It’s just that the Universe has a long long way to go. Written History is less than 1% of the total time the world’s existed. Our existence is literally a blink of an eye on the scale of the universe’s existence.

So it appears unchanging. In the same way that a rat may think humans never change, but science knows it will end because the universe is NOT self sufficient and eternal.

    • Keas’s forthcoming essay in Salvo Magazine (Sept. 2013): “Here is the Hawking science-theology dilemma. To the degree that we are able to rescue his creation story from contradictions, it appears all the more clearly theological (not scientific). On the flip side, denial of theological assertion in Hawking’s Grand Design makes its self-contradictory status more obvious. I will let the reader decide which is more damaging to his attempt to lead us away from theistic religion by ‘science’.”

I can paraphrase this.

“We cannot have a Universe run on numbers! What will we pray to? Are you suggesting that the entire sum total of all Christian Endeavour has been bogus? That no matter how hard we pray our prayers are ignored like those heathen Muslims and Jews and those Pagan Hindus and Buddhists? That we are as wrong as the Scientologists and Raellians? How can one reason with a thunderstorm if all that powers it are the forces of nature that function via physics and that can be understood by mathematics? How can our belief be a product of the chemical interaction of molecules within the structure of our cells?”

At it’s core, Keas and other Christians fear science because they think we will no longer be divine.

I think they fear this because then humans will no longer be simple. We are not powered by magic.

If I held up a digital camera to someone who has never seen one and said that it’s  function occurs by magic and they believed me, then it is easier to grasp what it is. It’s a magic painting machine.

If the had to REALLY understand how it works? Why that would require more than 5 words!

  • What is the error in Hawking’s “more science, less God” atheistic slogan?Tim Radford’s review of Hawking’s Grand Design comments on M-theory as a proposed “natural law” explanation of cosmic origins: “M-theory invokes … a prime mover, a begetter, a creative force that is everywhere and nowhere. This force cannot be identified by instruments or examined by comprehensible mathematical prediction, and yet it contains all possibilities. It incorporates omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence, and it’s a big mystery. Remind you of Anybody?”

And more importantly how many virgins we sacrifice to win it’s favour!

And no, that’s not what M-Theory is.

I don’t understand it to the best of my knowledge. I don’t have the time to understand it you see. You may think that’s a callous attitude to take but I have my own things to learn in great detail. Wikipedia is sufficient for the Renaissance Man.

At no point does this require the existence of Jehovah.

    • Edison invented the first long-lasting electric light bulb in 1879.
    • More scientific knowledge of electricity and light does not amount to less appreciation for the genius of Edison’s invention (personal agency).
    • Those studying the Edison light bulb should not pose the false dilemma of “Edison or natural laws.” Both are important! But Hawking presents a similar false dilemma of “God or natural laws.” Why not be open to both being important for a full explanation?

Except Edison did not use magic to create the lightbulb. The lightbulb was created out of the observation that when current was passed through wire it gets hot. We use this principle to make heated products. Electric Blankets and Space Heaters and even electric hobs.

That is the observation. So he experimented. What sort of wire does best? Then he realised that heat oxidises materials faster so an anaerobic environment is useful. Initially trying vacuums and then realising that the noble gases do just as well. In fact you could use a high CO2 environment.

It was the scientific understanding of electricity and light that lead to the light bulb. And it is science that lead to better lightbulbs and eventually to the creation of our modern lighting systems that work in different ways to the point that the humble lightbulb is being phased out.

Oh yes, I know the Wizard of Menlow park had a crack team of science boffins who did a lot of his work while he took credit for it but that’s not the argument here.

Keas would have you believe Edison just slapped together random stuff and got a light bulb rather than the fact he had observed a phenomenon.

  • How is “who created natural laws?” a good question, but “who created God?” is not?
    • Natural laws are fine-tuned for life (a tiny number of possibilities compared to ways for lifeless cosmos). This implies a lawgiver, and prompts: “who created natural laws?”
    • God, if he exists, is the ultimate uncaused cause (self-existent being). Thus, the question “who created God?” betrays confusion about what theists mean by “God.”

I paraphrase the late Douglas Adams when I say that this is like the water demanding why the glass is in a perfect shape.

And the thing is, Keas will never accept bacteria as life nor as alien organisms should we encounter the similar versions on an alien world.

The lottery isn’t designed for you, you just guessed correctly.

And the amount of “Cosmos” we have explored is insignificant. We have barely explored our own planet let alone our own Solar System. That’s one of my major problems with religion. It’s followers think a single book written ages ago can encompass all the cool things in the universe. There are creatures that live in absolute darkness and live on the heat generated from thermal vents in temperatures exceeding a hundred degrees Celsius. And there are creatures that freeze and unfreeze every year. These are not miracles or magic but a product of evolution and what is amazing is not that they exist  but we do. We haven’t even been to another planet in our own Solar System and Keas is ready to declare that there is no life anywhere?

The boiling extreme is the most likely condition under which life on Earth began. Our distant ancestors probably left environments like that.

And who created god is a valid point. We cannot arbitrarily declare god to be off limits to basic logic after all. If something created us then what’s explicitly wrong about asking what created god apart from watching religious people go “You Can’t Ask That Question”.

 

Resources that Address the Question: Does Science Disprove God?

  • Dawkins repeats Hawking’s “all from nothing” claim. Watch satirical remix of Dawkins.
  • YouTube playlist “Reasonable Faith UK Tour 2011 (Complete & Chronological)
    • W. L. Craig: “Origin of the Universe: Has Hawking Eliminated God?”
    • Bethinking 2/6: “John Lennox on Stephen Hawking’s The Grand Design.
    • See also the debates between Craig and various atheists on this 2011 UK Tour.

    • Other resources related to my talk: Does Science Disprove God?

    • YouTube Video, Larry King Live, 2010: Interview of Hawking, Mlodinow
    • M. Keas, “In the Beginning: Episodes in the Origin and Development of Science,” Salvo Magazine (in the September 2013 special issue on God and science). Belief in the Judeo-Christian God supported the idea that the universe is predictable and knowable, which is foundational to scientific research. This Salvo article debunks common science-religion myths and shows how Christianity contributed to the rise of modern science.
    • Discovering Intelligent Design (2013) is a comprehensive curriculum (textbook, workbook, and DVD) that presents the scientific evidence for intelligent design to both young people and adults.

You lose all validity of argument as a reasonable voice when you bring up Intelligent Design as a valid idea. It is the death of knowledge, the nadir of arguments. It is the creation of gentle pastoral naturalists who wandered around with killing jar, pins and butterfly nets rather than the men who killed smallpox.

Science doesn’t disprove non-existent things. Merely points out how unlikely they are. Science doesn’t disprove god, science explains how the world works.

And the problem is the way the world keeps working doesn’t require the existence of a god.

Free Resources to Stay Informed about the Debate Over Science and its Worldview Implications

  • Parent’s Guide to Intelligent Design: Download from www.discovery.org/csc/back-to-school. This guide includes a list of books, DVDs, and curriculum. It is annotated to indicate the appropriate context for the use of each item: public, private, or home educational settings.
  • Keas’s blog http://blogs.christianpost.com/science-and-faith critiques the scientific pretensions of the “new atheists.” Stay informed about the latest news concerning science and faith.

Oh look! Disovery Instittute! That bastion of science!

Documentary DVDs about Science that Allow its Theistic Implications to be Recognized

Ever play the Expelled Drinking Game? Drink every time Ben Stein pushes ideology over scientific thought and rationality in a documentary that invokes Nazis.

Leading Organizations that Critique Materialist Views of Science (and allow theism to flourish)

  • Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (www.discovery.org/csc), the leading think tank devoted to intelligent design, is a portal to scholarly online articles and weblogs. Advanced college students in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities may wish to apply (www.discovery.org/csc/summerseminar) for an intensive nine-day seminar that will prepare them to make research contributions to the growing science of intelligent design. Discovery Institute maintains an annotated list of peer-reviewed publications that support intelligent design.
  • Ratio Christi www.ratiochristi.org is a global movement of student clubs that equips university students and faculty to give historical, philosophical, and scientific reasons for following Jesus. Start a Ratio Christi club on a college campus near you.

In all the science that the Discovery Institute’s Centre for Science and Culture claims to do there is not one piece of evidence for the existence of their god. I mean, when people said the coelocanth exists they brought back a specimen and went hunting for the damn fish under the ocean till they found it.

When people said the Duck Billed Platypus was real they went out and brought specimens too. Live ones at that!

Yet when something as truly wonderful as a god exists we are treated to no specimens, no experiments, no proof apart from the tired ramblings of people who are fooled that are no different to the tired ramblings of people of other religions. Why must I believe that your near death experience means that Jesus exists when the next person’s near death proves the existence of Mother Kali?

For all the “science” these organisations do, not one proves the existence of any gods let alone Jehovah.

Science doesn’t disprove  god anymore than it disproves the existence of the tooth fairy. There is no evidence to suggest that there are any gods and the sum total of our knowledge of the universe keeps increasing far beyond the ken of the religious. We cannot disprove a god because there never was a god to begin with. There is no evidence for one. In order to disprove a theory there must be repeatable observation, experimentation and the like. None of these can be done to an entity who’s followers attribute to him a set of super powers that make the Martian Manhunter sound like a sensible and well designed hero. My superhero’s power is Speed? Oh yeah? Mine is Strength? Mine is mind control?

Oh yeah? Well my superhero is indestructible, a shape shifter, super strong, can fly, can read thoughts! Hell, the writers of such a hero realised how actively pointless it was to have such a list of powers that they made him scared of fire. Something we generate to relax otherwise there was no tension in reading his books.

My god is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient and can never be detected… SO THERE! I WIN!

It’s really that simple. We cannot disprove the Christian god  because Christians have given him a set of powers that make him undetectable in much the same way that the Martian Manhunter’s creators gave him too many powers.

7 comments

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  1. 1
    Raging Bee

    …I know that science does not disprove the existence of a god any more than science disproves the existence of unicorns.

    Which, for all practical purposes, science has in fact done. Science has demonstrated that: a) given what we now know about the origin of species, there is no known way for unicorns to have come into existence; and b) there is no evidence that unicorns exist anywhere at any time. That’s as “disproven” as you really need to get: if you have ZERO evidence that something exists, then you’d be a fool to base any serious decisions on a presumption that it does.

    Also, all this “you haven’t proven that God doesn’t exist” crap is based on special pleading — otherwise we’d all have to keep on thinking Zeus, Odin, fairies, ghosts, and every other fantasy or hallucination ever perceived by everyone is real too.

  2. 2
    heddle

    RB,

    Also, all this “you haven’t proven that God doesn’t exist” crap is based on special pleading — otherwise we’d all have to keep on thinking Zeus, Odin, fairies, ghosts, and every other fantasy or hallucination ever perceived by everyone is real too.

    Um, no. You do not have to think that God, Zeus, Odin, fairies, ghosts, (whatever) are real just because science hasn’t proved that they do not exist. That doesn’t follow.

  3. 3
    Shripathi Kamath

    Does science disprove anything? If the answer is NO, then this whole post is a tired, massively useless argument to eke out a position that does not do anyone any favors.

    If the answer is YES, because you choose to consider “proof” and “disproof” as you would when you argue for something like “Has it been proven that man landed on the moon?” then science has indeed disproved unicorns and God.

  4. 4
    Raging Bee

    Sorry, heddle, I chose my words in haste. Let me amend them thusly: “Also, all this ‘you haven’t proven that God doesn’t exist’ crap is based on special pleading — if we applied such reasoning consistently, we’d never be able to rule out the existence of Zeus, Odin, fairies, ghosts, or a any other fantasy or hallucination ever perceived by anyone at any time.” Does that follow for you, heddle?

  5. 5
    heddle

    RB,

    Yes–although there is a certain “captain obvious” quality to your point.

  6. 6
    Marcus Ranum

    Yes.

  7. 7
    Marcus Ranum

    Let me try a more complete response:
    Yes. Because, every time science has been applied to the claims of religions, those claims have not been true. Since they are inter-dependent and often build upon eachother, as one piece is shown to be lies more and more of it is shown to be lies.

    For example: Adam and Eve are required for original sin, yet modern genetics and paleontology show us that humans do not all descend from a single ancestor – if Eve was made from Adam’s rib they’d be genetically identical except, um, for some weird transformation of a Y chromosome to X.. Well, that’s a problem for the whole theory. So is the fact that nothing remotely soul-like has ever been detected. Nor does prayer have any effect (of the adherents of one religion would have taken over the planet long ago, and be banned from playing in Las Vegas) etc. Given the lack of evidence for souls, and the increasing impossibility that they will be detected (*) life after death becomes doubtful, so does heaven/hell and eternal damnation, so does original sin – which means that Noah’s flood becomes pointless(**)

    The whole thing becomes a piece of needlepoint riddled with FAIL, all the key threads being ripped out of it entirely – it’s not a “god of the gaps” anymore, it’s “god of the shreds.”

    (* souls are now completely out of the electromagnetic spectrum, leaving them in the same situation as theories like string theory: bereft of evidence of truth)
    (** besides, geological evidence shows it’s complete bullshit, as does planetology and basic physics)

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