Yesterday, I stumbled across this widely-read Huffington Post article and nearly commented on it, before deciding I didn’t feel like wading into the muck. No one is saying anything new about the relationship between science and religion, but they are saying it more forcefully than usual. I don’t mind that the article is virulently anti-religious, but that it’s disguised as a straightforward news story. Get a load of this lede:
Over the past few centuries, science can be said to have gradually chipped away at the traditional grounds for believing in God. Much of what once seemed mysterious — the existence of humanity, the life-bearing perfection of Earth, the workings of the universe — can now be explained by biology, astronomy, physics and other domains of science.
I love the passive voice: “[S]cience can be said to have…” Really? By whom? Oh, well… No one accuses The Huffington Post of being the New York Times.
Still, I’m glad that someone else—a scientist who blogs over at Scot McKnight’s “Jesus Creed” blog—saw fit to blog about it. His analysis is brief. He wants commenters to respond to it. I’ll check back later and see how they’re doing.
In the meantime, here are a couple of my thoughts. Someone I know told me that you can reply to any atheist’s rebuttal of belief in God by saying, “I don’t believe in that God, either.” I don’t think that’s always true—and probably isn’t helpful in most cases—but that response applies here.
Do any of you know a single person who believes in the God of Christianity because that God explains what we otherwise don’t understand about the physical universe? I don’t. I know that some Christian apologists of the Intelligent Design persuasion argue for “irreducible complexity,” etc., but this is another spin on the “God of the gaps” argument—no apologist’s best argument for God’s existence. Regardless, the only god whose existence is threatened by science is this god-who-explains-the-world-to-us. We Christians don’t believe in that god.
It’s true, as theoretical cosmologist Sean Carroll writes, that while many Christian thinkers accept that God used natural selection to develop life on earth, no one before Darwin could “predict that such a mechanism would be God’s preferred choice.” Fine. But for those Christian thinkers who were paying attention to what the Church taught about the Christian God from the beginning, such a naturalistic explanation for the development of life was no big surprise—which is why most of the universal Church is unbothered by evolution. It doesn’t bother my little United Methodist Church; and it doesn’t bother much larger Christian communions like the Catholics, Orthodox, or Anglicans.
It doesn’t bother us because the Church, drawing upon scripture, taught from the beginning that God is transcendent, and that God made a well-ordered universe that obeys predictable laws. God is not one actor among others on the plane of cause-and-effect. Whatever God wants to accomplish in our world, therefore, God doesn’t need to do so by setting off a chain reaction of physical events, such that if we could find the beginning of the chain, we would see God’s fingerprints. If God were doing this, God would be in competition with the world that he created. And God would no longer be transcendent; he would merely be a larger version of ourselves, one thing among other things in the universe.
I suppose a critic might say, “How convenient that you’ve used the doctrine of ‘transcendence’ to insulate your God from any and all scientific scrutiny.” But what choice do we have? If science were able to put God under a microscope, he would no longer be the God of the Bible—or a god worth believing in.
Besides, Carroll himself resorts to some metaphysical sleight of hand when he discusses the “multiverse.” He does so in order to address the challenge of the universe’s apparent “fine-tuning.” Sure, it seems incredibly unlikely that a universe should exist that has all the necessary conditions to support life on one planet such as ours, but that’s only because we fail to appreciate that there are billions of universes (or did I read about an “infinite” number now?). We happen to be living in the one-in-a-quadrillion (or whatever) that supports life. Lucky us!
I don’t think there’s much at stake in the question of a multiverse, one way or another. What are the odds that there would exist billions of universes such that one of them would have billions of planets such that one of those planets would support life? Again, it still seems very unlikely—if you just want to play with large numbers. After all, let’s talk about the fine-tuning of whatever quantum mechanism exists behind such a multiverse. (Stephen Hawking argues that something called “quantum gravity” might explain everything, which only begs the question: whatever quantum gravity is, it’s something rather than nothing. Again, how lucky can we get?)
Regardless, the multiverse can only exist in the realm of philosophy and metaphysics, not science. If the multiverse is in continuity with the universe that we know—such that our physical laws apply—then we’re still only talking about one universe—perhaps a larger one than we imagined, but still only one. If it’s not in continuity with it, then science has no access to it. What on earth could science say about it one way or another? Aren’t we back to Dawkins’s Flying Spaghetti Monster? Prove it or disprove it. It’s equally impossible.