Imagine waking up tomorrow morning and finding on the front page of your newspaper the banner headline, "Science proves the existence of God." The leadoff paragraph begins, "Nuclear physicists at Los Alamos yesterday announced that experiments in their National High Magnetic Field Laboratory division have confirmed the existence of God. In experiments run at Florida State University's Applied Superconductivity Center, using both the low temperature niobium-based and the high temperature cuprate-based materials, scientists were able to show..."
Could such a thing happen? Well, yes and no, or perhaps more accurately, no and yes. The whole thing is rather complicated, so you'd best sit down with a very strong cup of coffee while I try to explain.
Act of knowing
The first question we need to ask is not whether science can prove the existence of God, but whether science can prove the existence of science. That might seem to be an entirely ridiculous question, something like, "Can we prove the existence of proof?" But have another sip, and bear with me while I explain.
We human beings tend to take for granted the strange fact that we can know things, just like we take for granted the strange fact that we can see things. Like seeing, we are knowing things all the time, so it all appears rather ordinary. But it should strike us as extraordinary. Why should the universe be the kind of thing that we can know? Why should there be any connection between the way that we human beings happen to think and go about discovering things and the way the universe actually is?
On this amazing connection, all science rests. Or to put it another way, if we are to prove the existence of science, we must prove the existence of this connection.
If there really is no connection between the way that we know and the way the world really is, then science is a charade, and an expensive one at that. If this connection itself isn't real, then science can't prove the existence of anything, let alone God.
Now I am sure that, by now, you're halfway through your coffee and thinking that I'm never going to get to the main point (whether science can demonstrate the existence of God), before I drag you through a nearly endless dot to dot of points all over the page. But, as it turns out, we've already demonstrated the existence of God (and I should think you'd be grateful to have it done so quickly).
To the question, "Can science prove the existence of God?" we answer, "Yes, the fact that there is science demonstrates the existence of God."
Let me put it in a somewhat condensed form. The universe is deeply intelligible, profoundly knowable on every level. That is why we have so many different sciences that deal with different aspects of it: physics, astronomy, geology, climatology, electrochemistry, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, biophysics, biochemistry, botany, entomology, microbiology, neuroscience, physiology, zoology and psychology, to name a few. That deep intelligibility is not something we put there; it is something we find there, something we discover. The deep intelligibility implies a cause, and it must be an intelligent cause, since only intelligence can cause intelligibility on so many interconnected levels. That cause is what we call God.
Perhaps that was a bit quick, so let's tease it out. And here we can go to Pope Benedict XVI himself for some help. As Pope Benedict has pointed out, all science depends on the intelligibility of nature, or more precisely, on the "correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature," a correspondence between mind and thing. In Pope Benedict's theologically loaded words, there is a profound correlation between reason (in Greek, logos) in the human soul and the logos of nature.
This correlation is given in nature, and not humanly contrived. Without this gift, science would be a meaningless, rather than a meaningful, activity. Imagine if no such correlation existed and nature were entirely impenetrable by human reason. Then science of any kind would be entirely pointless. But such is not the case. Science works. Human beings are indeed able to seek out and find the inherent rational order, the logos, in nature. It's not something we put there, but something we find there. It is the great gift upon which all science rests, and the gift implies a Giver.
You might object: "But science sometimes gets it wrong. The history of science is littered with bad theories, and with good theories that have been cast aside for better theories. So much for a correspondence between logos and logos, and all that nonsense about gifts and Givers!"
Ah, but this objection actually proves the point, or, more exactly, it nicely demonstrates that the source of the rational order is not the human mind but nature itself. Nature corrects human reason. Scientists can try to impose some theory on nature, but it is always nature that has the last say. The only meaning to a "bad theory" is one that does not match the real order of nature. The only meaning to a better theory is one that fits nature better. The logos of nature is the touchstone for science. To state it more philosophically, the order of human knowing must conform to the order of being.
Why does that imply an intelligent cause of nature? Because an unintelligent cause cannot produce a deeply intelligible order. If nature were merely randomly contrived, a bumping pointless jostle of matter and energy with no discernible rhyme or reason to it, then scientists would enjoy the luxury of never being proved wrong by nature.
But their theories would never fail because they could never succeed. It is precisely because scientists can both succeed and fail that we are thrust toward the realization that science depends on nature itself being knowable. To be somewhat fanciful, nature is like a book, written to be read, and read deeply like some great literary classic with a thick and intricate plot, full of surprising connections and wonderful revelations, a work of genius that implies a Genius.
Error of pantheism
So, paradoxical as it may sound, that there is both success and failure in science proves that the source of the rational order in nature is a Mind other than the human mind. Now it is here, in our reasoning, that we must be careful, for it is here that so many have come up to the truth, only to veer off into a grave error. If the source of the intelligibility of nature is not the human mind, they muse, then perhaps it is nature itself. Perhaps nature and Mind are one, and nature not only has a mind of its own, but is Mind itself.
That great error is called pantheism. Pantheism deifies nature itself as the source of its own logos. It makes God into nature, and nature into God. It takes a step up from atheism in recognizing that the rational order of nature demands a divine explanation, but then immediately takes a step down into idolatry by making nature itself divine.
Pantheism is far more common among modern philosophers and scientists than you may realize; it runs like a common thread from the great 17th-century philosopher Benedict Spinoza to the great 20th-century physicist Albert Einstein.
The signal error of pantheism is this: While it recognizes the need for Mind to explain the inherent rational order of nature, it fails to recognize that the wisdom of God is greater than the wisdom expressed in his creation.
This failure leads to a kind of idolatry. Like the ancient Egyptian or the Canaanite who projects divine wisdom and power onto a dumb and unthinking animal such as a snake or a bull, so also the pantheist projects onto dumb and unthinking matter and energy the personal intelligence of God. But matter and energy don't make laws; they obey laws, and the existence of laws that are obeyed implies a Lawmaker.
So you see, science does prove the existence of God just by being science. If we might be somewhat whimsical but wholly accurate, whatever they do at Los Alamos proves the existence of God.
I assume that you have just finished the last of your coffee. Not bad, eh? Just think what we could discover with a whole pot.
Benjamin Wiker holds a doctorate in theological ethics and is the author of several books, including "Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins' Case Against God" (Emmaus, $12.95).
The closing of the scientific mind
It is an astounding claim to make that some scientists are closed-minded. Science and hence scientists pride themselves on always being open to the evidence, and a mind open to all the evidence should certainly be an open mind.
But human science is more human than you may realize, and there are things other than mere evidence that determines what a scientist will allow himself to see. What a scientist wants to believe often determines how he sees the evidence, and some scientists are determined to close their minds to God.
This is an extravagant claim, and so I'd better have my own evidence that it is true. Please read very carefully the following famous excerpt from eminent evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin, a devout atheist. Notice three important and related claims: (1) scientists would rather accept anything, no matter how strange, absurd or unsubstantiated, than allow any supernatural explanation; (2) scientists embrace materialism so that God is kept out of science; and (3) scientists must keep God out, because the existence of miracles would entirely disrupt the activity of science. In Lewontin's own words:
"Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism."
Afraid of ghosts?
It is important to note straightaway that Lewontin does not speak for all scientists, but only those who have closed their minds to God. But he is at least honest about being closed-minded, and, even more, in telling us why. According to Lewontin, science embraces matter as the greatest and only reality so that it can keep out anything spiritual, anything above and beyond the merely material world. Before it ever searches for evidence, it prohibits the possibility of evidence for anything that doesn't fit into a purely materialistic framework. Lewontin is even more honest about the strange effect this approach has on science. A science committed to materialism will accept any materialist explanation, no matter how absurd, as long as it keeps out any evidence or explanation that smacks of the supernatural.
One is tempted to wonder whether the whole materialist enterprise isn't driven by the fear of ghosts! But fear of the spiritual seems to be at the heart of Lewontin's claims. He fears that if the spiritual exists, then somehow science must crumble to the ground. If we allow, for example, that Jesus Christ walked on water just once, we shall never again be able to understand either walking and water.
Let's examine this claim, because it seems like the main claim, the one on which the other two rest. I should add that this very claim is repeated in one form or another by many others, scientist and non-scientist alike.
We don't have to bother God about this one. We can look at it ourselves and see the problem with this view clearly enough. Imagine a geneticist who determines beforehand that he will only allow explanations of human nature and human action that fit within the strict confines of materialism. For him, everything we are, say or do must be explained in terms of our DNA -- that is, by the chemical properties of our genes.
We might say to him: "But I have free will. Unlike chemicals, which can only react according to the laws of chemistry, I can choose to act and react in a number of ways. Granted that a good bit of chemistry goes into the makings of my body, I have a power above mere chemistry that allows me to do this, rather than that."
This particular geneticist would then point out that if you let free will in the door, then his notion of a purely deterministic science of human behavior would fall to pieces. He might say, with Lewontin, "To appeal to free will is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen." And he would be right. To a genetic determinist, anything that isn't determined genetically is an inexplicable miracle, even if it's deciding to go to the store rather than the bank. Since free will implies the existence of a soul, free will would seem to break to pieces the notion that everything has a material explanation.
But does free will really destroy science? Not at all. Allowing free will in the door wouldn't destroy the science of genetics itself, but only the closed-minded view that genetics explains everything about human beings, including every one of their choices. In the same way, allowing for the existence an omnipotent deity doesn't destroy the regularities of nature. On the contrary, it helps to explain the regularities themselves, for they demand an explanation as to why they are so curiously regular and rational. As G.K. Chesterton said, regularity implies a conspiracy of order: "One elephant having a trunk was odd; but all elephants having trunks look like a plot."
To have a mind open to the possibility that the evident elegance and intricacy of the natural order implies an Orderer does not put a stop to science, but only a stop to mere materialism. If we might put it somewhat whimsically, but quite accurately, belief in God does not stop passionate inquiry into nature for the same reason that the belief in Shakespeare doesn't stop passionate inquiry into "Hamlet." In both cases, we know the author through his works, and the evident genius of the works increases our appreciation of the genius of the authors, and fuels our desire to plumb the depths of their creations.
Shakespeare, on his own free will, could have erased a few lines and written something else, but the fact that he had the power to interfere in his creation does not destroy the study of "Hamlet." So also, the fact that God, at any time, can write something holy and wholly unexpected into the drama of creation does not destroy the study of nature. It only shatters the artificial chains of materialism.
Can Science Discover God in the Details?
A very strange thing happened to science during the last century. Astronomers and physicists were not looking for God, but looking at stars. And they noticed a very odd thing: The stars seemed to be moving away from us and -- even more profoundly strange -- away from each other as well. Rather than being an entirely static universe, the whole thing seemed to be expanding, becoming infinitely large. Then it was a short step to the unthinkable. If everything was moving out and away, then we must be able to trace it to where it came from. The great expanding universe must have been moving from a kind of infinitely condensed smallness. But that implied that the universe had a beginning -- indeed, space, matter, and time themselves had a beginning. Beyond the moment of creation, a very precise moment, science cannot go because there is nothing there.
The Big Bang was a shocking surprise to science, and no one has more elegantly captured the shock and its implications than the astronomer Robert Jastrow in his "God and the Astronomers."
"Now we would like to pursue that inquiry farther back in time, but the barrier to further progress seems insurmountable. It is not a matter of another year, another decade of work, another measurement, or another theory; at this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream! He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries."
In a very roundabout way, science discovered creation ex nihilo, but that was old hat. It had been suggested a long time ago by a certain nomadic tribe on the eastern Mediterranean, and recorded in a rather terse form at the beginning of its sacred book.
The Big Bang was such a shock because scientists had been working under the assumption that the universe was itself eternal, a thing without beginning or end. Not very deeply buried in this assumption was the notion that if the universe was eternal, then it had no need of a Creator. In fact, it was the eminent astronomer Fred Hoyle who gave the Big Bang its name, and it was not exactly a compliment. He wanted the universe to be eternal; that is, he didn't want to find evidence that it had a beginning, and hence, Beginner.
Now this very same Fred Hoyle was integral in discovering something even more peculiar about the Big Bang, and it turned him away from atheism. The Big Bang wasn't some kind of a chaotic explosion, but an extraordinarily fine-tuned event, so minutely well-orchestrated that he was driven to the conclusion that there must have been a Super Conductor. "A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature," Hoyle once wrote.
As more and more instances of the fine-tuning of our universe are discovered, scientists are drawn, through the intricate details, to the conclusion that the universe must have had an intelligent cause. The Big Bang couldn't have been a chance event because the probability of getting such a fine calibration of the basic forces, laws, and elements of nature by sheer luck are absurdly small. University of Chicago astrophysicist Michael Turner gives an apt image. The precision of the fine-tuning "is as if one could throw a dart across the entire universe and hit a bulls-eye one millimeter in diameter on the other side."
Does that mean scientists are becoming theists in droves? Many have been convinced, but many also resist -- and in doing so illustrate Richard Lewontin's admission that scientists would rather accept anything, no matter how strange, absurd, or unsubstantiated, than allow any supernatural explanation. Resistance has come in the form of a rather elegant absurdity, the theory that there are an infinite number of universes, and we just happened to be the lucky one that's finely tuned. So, it's luck after all, and we don't need God to explain how we got here.
What evidence do we have that we are the one lucky universe among billions? None. The multiverse theory is evidence of only one thing -- how far some scientists will go to avoid asking the question, "I wonder if there is a God after all?"
Catholic contributors to scientific inquiry
For centuries, Catholics have been involved in unlocking the mysteries of the world God created. Here are just some of the Catholic scientists whose discoveries have helped us become better acquainted with the universe and all of its wonders.
The 16th-century Polish cleric, mathematician and founder of modern astronomy was author of the heliocentric theory, which stated that the earth and other planets revolve around the sun. His observations inspired many other scientists, including Galileo Galilei.
The 17th-century astronomer was the first scientist to study the cosmos using a telescope. In 1633, he was condemned by the Catholic Church's Holy Office for suspected heresy for maintaining that the earth revolved around the sun, but was "rehabilitated" in 1992 by a special Vatican commission established by Pope John Paul II.
The Augustinian abbot and botanist's pioneering experiments with pea plants in the mid-19th century led to many breakthroughs in our understanding of genetics and the theories of heredity.
Father Georges Lemaitre
The Belgian priest, astronomer and cosmologist was a formulator of what has become known as the modern "Big Bang" theory of the origin of the universe. After Father Lemaitre gave a 1933 seminar on his theory, Albert Einstein stood up, applauded and said, "This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened"
Father Stanley L. Jaki
The Benedictine author, physicist, philosopher and theologian, who died April 7, wrote on the history of science and religious questions. In winning the 1987 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, he was cited for delineating "the importance of differences as well as similarities between science and religion, adding significant, balanced enlightenment to the field."
Father Michal Heller
Winner of the 2008 Templeton prize, the Polish priest-cosmologist has written more than 30 books and nearly 400 papers on such topics as the unification of general relativity and quantum mechanics and is developing a center for further research in science and theology as an academic discipline.
International Year of Astronomy
The Vatican has stars -- and moons and planets -- in its eyes this year as it celebrates the International Year of Astronomy. Established by the United Nations, the jubilee year marks the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei's first use of the telescope to study the skies. Some 130 countries are taking part in the festivities.
Several Vatican offices, including the Vatican Museums and the Vatican Observatory, are participating in special initiatives tied to the jubilee, including a weeklong international symposium in June on the role of astronomy in the 21st century and a special exhibit opening in October that will display historical astronomical instruments.
For more on the international year of astronomy, visit www.astronomy2009.org or www.astronomy2009.us.
The famous 'five proofs' for God's existence
The 13th-century Italian philosopher-theologian St. Thomas Aquinas developed five proofs for the existence of God. They've been widely cited, debated and defended ever since.
The first three are very similar. The fourth appears modeled on the thought of Greek philosopher Plato. The fifth looks an awful lot like modern arguments for "intelligent design." Here they are:
Proof one. Some things are in motion. All things in motion were put in motion by something else. But this chain cannot go on to infinity. Therefore there is a First Mover, who is God.
Proof two. In nature, we observe cause and effect. No effect can be its own cause; it is caused by something else. But this cannot go on to infinity. Therefore there is a First Cause, who is God.
Proof three. In nature, we find things that come into existence and die; they are able to "not be." But if everything was able to "not be," nothing would exist, because "that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing." Therefore there must be some thing in existence that is not dependent on others for its existence; this we call God.
Proof four. We observe that some things are more or less good, true, noble, etc. "More" and "less" are defined in terms of what is the "most." (For example, something is called "hotter" if it is closer to the "hottest" than something else.) Further, the maximum is also the cause (like fire, the maximum, causes other things to be relatively hot). Therefore there must be something that is the cause of being, goodness and other perfections; we call this God.
Proof five. In nature, we see things that lack intelligence acting for an intelligent purpose. It is obvious this is not by chance but by design. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their purpose; and that is God.