Sunday, December 7, 2008

Science cannot disprove the existence of God

From the book...

Science cannot disprove the existence of God because it’s not logically possible to prove that God doesn’t exist. As the limited beings we are, we simply don’t have the ability to search out the entire universe in order to make a case against God’s existence. In logic, assertions such as “God does not exist” or “Science has proven there is no God” are logically fallacious (known in logic as the fallacy of The Universal Negative). Besides the fallaciousness of this sort of argument, it’s not the place of science (or of scientists) to attempt to either prove or disprove the existence of God, or of anything else that might exist beyond the natural world, because science is natural philosophy. Modern science has quite enough to do in trying to understand and explain the natural world, which is the proper role of science, without trying to explain (=disprove) the existence of the supernatural, which is not its role. Modern science isn’t even able to fully explain the physical world we can observe, let alone a supernatural realm we cannot observe. Many phenomena in the world exist without having any agreed upon scientific explanation, but we don’t doubt their existence. And it’s quite reasonable to believe many phenomena might exist that are beyond the abilities of science to investigate and explain.

To the scientist, if a phenomenon can’t be quantified, it doesn’t exist; despite the fact that such a phenomenon might be experienced by conscious observers. Yet experience itself is the very key to gaining knowledge and understanding of our world. Apart from our experience of our perception of the appearances of phenomena we could have no knowledge of the world whatsoever. Science can assert theoretical explanations for the unexperienced causes of what we experience, yet science cannot prove the purely objective existence of these unexperienced causes (of experience) because science itself can never go completely beyond (or behind) conscious human experience. The scientist is limited by experience just as everyone else is: every scientific observation is a conscious human experience. Likewise, a supernaturally based theological/biblical view of the unexperienced causes of experience cannot prove supernatural experiences are supernaturally caused: the biblical/theological view can only assert such explanations based upon supernatural revelation.

That the world we experience was created as-it-appears to us is a matter of theological reflection. Phenomenology is helpful to us here because phenomenology is concerned with how the world as-it-appears presents itself to the conscious human observer. Modern science is concerned with the unperceived causes underlying these appearances and downplays (or discounts) these appearances by telling us that appearances are deceiving: the sun only appears to move across the sky; life only appears to have been designed; time only appears to flow at the same rate for everyone. Reality, to modern science, is that which gives rise to appearances and not the appearances themselves. But what, to us, is more real than that which appears to us as-it-appears to us?

Modern science takes the existence of the physical world as a pre-given assumption: the very existence of the world/cosmos is the great unquestioned and presupposed starting point of all scientific investigation. The philosophical view of phenomenology seeks to go beyond the scientific assumption of the world as pre-given, as a-thing-already-there to be investigated. Phenomenology questions the appearance of the thing itself (in this case, the world) and asks: What presuppositions are we bringing with us when we experience the world? How would the phenomenon of the world appear to us if we could approach it without any presupposed notions about it?

In developing a theology of appearances, phenomenology can help us attempt to view the world as-it-appears and as-it-presents-itself to us before our biblical/theological presuppositions enter into our thinking about the world. We can observe phenomena, we can have a conscious perceptual experience of phenomena as-they-present-themselves to us, and we can utilize this as-presuppositionless-as-possible view of the world of appearances as the starting point of our theological inquiry. A theology of appearances should incorporate and build upon three important truths: 1) The world as-it-appears to us (i.e., philosophical and phenomenological truth); 2) The knowledge of the Creator, which has been revealed to us through the created world of phenomenal appearances (i.e., natural revelation); and 3) The revealed knowledge of our Creator that has been given to us in the Bible (i.e., supernatural revelation).

The most important benefit of doing a theology of appearances is being able to begin our theological investigations with the world as-it-presents-itself to us in our everyday experience. This makes for a very practical theology, without the need of theological, philosophical, or scientific abstractions. Our starting point is simply the world as-we-observe-it and as-we-experience-it. The world appears to us as a world filled with myriad phenomena: light, people, water, trees, animals, darkness, clouds, flowers, mountains, rain, wind, rocks, etc. We observe these phenomena as-they-appear and as-they-present-themselves to our conscious human experience. Our observations of these phenomena reveal that they are of many and various types; that is, they present themselves to us as distinctly observable wholes with each phenomenon being observably distinct from every other phenomenon. These phenomena appear to us as functional in their various forms as-they-appear to us, the world/cosmos itself appears to be functional as-it-appears to us, and all phenomena appear to us to be in their proper places in order for the world to function as a whole. The world appears to us as more than simply the sum of its many parts: the world appears to us as a world created with the purpose of functioning as a unified whole.

We depend upon these phenomena (e.g., water, plants, air) to live our lives in-the-world, and we are also caught-up in-the-world living as phenomena among phenomena experiencing both the world of phenomena and our own phenomenal selves. We ourselves, like the phenomena we observe, appear to be amazingly functional in-the-world and the world/cosmos we experience is all we really know; there is, in fact, no other world of living experience that is even imaginable to us. Modern science likes to break the world (including people) down into their various constituent elements, telling us how that everything we observe is made up of the same fundamental stuff (matter/energy) in different forms; but what really matters is not the basic universal stuff (matter/energy) itself, but the various forms that it has taken, which appear to us as particular phenomenal forms. If reality is anything, it is certainly not a particle of matter/energy; reality is that which is before us at every moment: the forms of phenomena in-the-world as-they-appear to us.

For example, it’s of little use breaking a person down into her constituent parts, as if that’s what a human person really is (i.e., 61% oxygen, 23% carbon, 10% hydrogen, 2.6% nitrogen, 1.4% calcium, 1.1% phosphorus, 0.2% potassium, 0.2% sulfur, 0.1% sodium, 0.1% chlorine, plus magnesium, iron, fluorine, zinc, and other trace elements). People are not simply human beings (i.e., Homo sapiens), and people are also far more than just the sums of their matter/energy chemical parts. Modern science alone can never tell us what—in reality—a human person is. We have a better sense of what a person is by simply observing people as-they-appear to us: as almost limitless horizons of thought, beauty, passion, strength, mystery, complexity, intellect, compassion, love, and countless other phenomenal qualities, which express to us who they are. The reality of a person’s existence presents itself to our conscious experience as a person, with all of the complexities that go with being a person.

Modern science explains the existence of human persons by proposing that lifeless matter/energy, by natural causes and chemical processes, without any purpose or direction, eventually resulted in what we observe to be human persons. This is the modern scientific explanation for the existence of everything; even living things. Yet denuded of any teleological influence, brute matter/energy has no goal toward which to strive in its supposed development (i.e., evolution) from inorganic chemicals to living organisms; and it’s hard to believe that all living things came to exist (as they have) without the benefit of some sort of teleological and developmental end-goal.

The word evolution is, in fact, a teleological term, which comes from the Latin word: evolvere, meaning: to unroll. Despite the Darwinian evolutionist’s claims to the contrary, any theory making use of the term evolution must (by definition) incorporate some sort of teleological, purposeful, functional, directional end-goal. In the final analysis, what we call Darwinian evolutionary theory must logically conclude with the teleological “hydrogen-to-human mind” or “gas-to-genius” theory of the evolutionary theorist and philosopher Herbert Spencer; and not Charles Darwin. A theory proposing that nonliving matter/energy could eventually (somehow) become human is actually quite an incredible and unbelievable hypothesis; especially if you really think about it. And thinking about the world is supposed to be what scientists do best.

However, even before the scientist can begin thinking about the world, both the scientist’s (subjective) conscious experience of the world and the (objective) world of phenomena are found to be pre-given. The scientist finds herself alive and in-the-world even before she attempts to make sense of the world of phenomena in which she finds herself. Our experience of the world and our experience of being-in-the-world is the inescapable lived-experience that is our existence in-the-world as human persons. The scientist has no choice about which world or which experience of being-in-the-world she will study: there’s no world but this one; and there’s no other lived-experience she will ever have but her own.

Prescientific peoples based their knowledge of the world largely upon the way the world appeared to them. Likewise, those of us who are not scientists (as well as the modern scientists themselves) live our lives in-the-world as though the world is exactly as-it-appears to us to be. We are not aware of any ultimate, underlying, elemental reality that makes up what we observe (directly) in the world; we are aware of things existing as-we-find-them and as-they-appear to us. When the scientist observes (indirectly) what she believes to be the most fundamental particles underlying and giving rise to the appearances of phenomena, she is engaged in an experience of the world as-it-appears. The idea that reality and appearances are not the same is illusory: reality appears to us when we observe the world at any level. We are inescapably bound to our conscious, human, lived-experience of phenomenal reality.

The real issue here is whether or not the reality directly observable to most people (i.e., non-scientists) is any less real than the reality indirectly observed by the scientists. Or, to put it another way, is the reality scientists observe any more real than the reality non-scientists observe? In my opinion, when a scientist observes a phenomenon the rest of us are unable to observe (because we lack the technical means to do so) such a phenomenon is certainly real, but when scientists assert that this privileged scientific observation is more real, or is the only reality (as opposed to what the rest of us observe as being real), then the scientists’ assertion is wrong. And science is especially off the mark when it asserts as reality that which is only a theoretical, intellectual-play hypothesis. It’s erroneous to speak of a hypothetical reality as though it were a true reality.

Modern science is not the final authority to which we must defer for the definition of reality. Modern science presents its own particular view of reality because it has a particular framework (or conceptual scheme) that it uses to make sense of the data gathered from its observations of the phenomenal world. And like any conceptual scheme, the modern scientific scheme is not perfect; the world is far too complex to be reduced to a catalogue of data arranged by conceptual schemes. The world is an on-going synergic matrix of objective/subjective reality, as is our conscious, human, existential, lived-experience of living our lives in-and-through the world.

Living in-the-world is what living beings do: they experience life. Of all the wondrous phenomena we observe in the world, life is the most wondrous, the most complex, and the most interesting. Life is, therefore, the most difficult phenomenon to study and to attempt an understanding of. Modern science, using its theory of biological evolution, is attempting to make sense of, understand, and explain (naturalistically) the phenomenon of life—with all of its complexities—and modern science is finding it increasingly difficult to persuade intelligent people into accepting its belief that life is simply the blind consequence of chemical law. Modern science, in choosing to explain the complexities of living organisms naturalistically has, I think, bitten off far more than it can rationally chew. And when it comes to tying to understand the origins of life from the naturalistic evolutionary perspective, modern science is at a complete and total loss for any rational explanation.

For example, according to the well known evolutionist Ernst Mayr, it should be obvious to any intelligent, educated, thinking person that all living organisms have evolved from non-organic matter/energy: “Many more years of experimentation will likely pass before a laboratory succeeds in actually producing life [from non-living matter/energy]. However, the production of life cannot be too difficult, because it happened on Earth apparently as soon as conditions had become suitable for life, around 3.8 billion years ago.”[1]

How did this development of organic life from non-organic matter/energy occur? Mayr says “…the production of life cannot be too difficult, because it happened…”, but what Mayr is asserting here is the very existence of organic life as proof that organic life arose from non-organic matter/energy. It must be Mayr’s philosophical naturalism leading him to make this assertion because it certainly can’t be his analysis of any observable and (supposedly) neutral scientific facts (Mayr’s admission in the quote above that organic life has never been produced by experiment in the lab actually falsifies his own theoretical conclusions). Mayr’s assertion here of the existence of life as proof that non-organic matter/energy produced organic life is not scientific, his reasoning is fallacious (in logic: the fallacy of Affirming the Consequent), and he gives us no knowledge of the world whatsoever.

Mayr would like for us to believe that the bare assertion of an expert scientist is knowledge when in fact it is just the opposite: an admission of ignorance masquerading as knowledge. Mayr’s assertion of the existence of life as proof that life had non-organic origins is no different from my asserting the existence of organic life as proof that God created it. But assertions aren’t science. Science is supposed to give us knowledge of the natural world, but making assertions based solely upon a faith commitment to a theory is neither knowledge nor good science. Our experience of living in-the-world cannot possibly lead us to Mayr’s conclusion about the origins of life. One can only come to Mayr’s conclusion if one has already presupposed a philosophically naturalistic view of the world before one even attempts to begin making sense of the world. Actually, most scientists live out their lives as if their naturalistic presuppositions didn’t exist, but scientists (and those who are enamored with science) can easily allow their naturalistic presuppositions to influence their everyday perceptions of (and their thoughts about) the world.

We all experience the world on a daily basis, and yet we all view the world differently; we all view the world through the lens of our own, particular, presupposed notions about what we think the world is.

[1] Ernst Mayr, What Evolution Is, (New York: Basic Books, 2001) p. 43
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