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Does Science Make God Irrelevant?

Does God still matter? This is the question that seems to be at the heart of the modern debate about God’s existence. Many unbelievers who label themselves agnostic-atheists do not claim definitively that God does not exist. They take the softer position that God probably does not exist, and even if he does exist, he is irrelevant in explaining the universe. As Dr. Richard Dawkins stated in a 2013 Cambridge debate with the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, “Religion is redundant and irrelevant.”

But why is God seen as irrelevant? Why don’t modern agnostic-atheists think God matters? One reason, so it is claimed, is that science is sufficient to explain the physical universe.

For example, the world-renowned physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking, in a 2010 interview on the Larry King Live show, stated, “God may exist, but science can explain the universe without the need for a creator.” But is this true? Can science give an exhaustive explanation of the universe that would negate the need for God? I’ll give two reasons why I think the answer is no.

Science and the Inductive Method

First, science’s explanatory power is not sufficient, because it relies on the inductive method in order to validate its hypotheses.

Contrary to the deductive method, the inductive method moves from knowledge of particulars to general conclusions. Without getting into the details that differentiate the inductive and deductive methods, suffice to say that absolute certainty about one’s conclusion is impossible when employing the inductive method. Since science relies on the inductive method, it follows that scientists can never be absolutely certain that their theories explaining the universe are complete. They can never be absolutely certain that they have discovered and observed every piece of data necessary to give a complete explanation of the universe—much less a complete enough explanation that would negate the need for God.

My mentor and friend Fr. Robert J. Spitzer likes to say, “Science cannot know what it has not yet discovered, because it has not yet discovered it.” In other words, scientists can be certain only about what they have already discovered through empirical observation. Certainty can never be had for whether there is some piece of data enshrouded in the past or a piece of data yet to be encountered that shifts the paradigm. Therefore, there necessarily exists in science a perpetual openness to discovering something new that could alter its current theory about the universe.

But if this is true, then one can never rationally claim that science can give a complete and exhaustive explanation of the universe—much less a complete enough explanation that God is no longer needed as its creator. So, the claim that God doesn’t matter because science can sufficiently explain the universe is unfounded.

Science and the Universe’s Existence

Another way to respond to this objection is by pointing out that science in principle cannot explain why the universe exists in the first place rather than not exist.

Suppose for argument sake that science could give an exhaustive physical description of the universe. Would that necessarily negate the need for God in explaining the universe? Absolutely not! Why? Science has explanatory power given the fact that the universe exists. It presupposes an already existing universe to observe and explain. Consequently, it cannot explain why the universe exists in the first place. It can’t even explain why the universe exists in this way instead of some other way. So, to the question “What determines that there is to be a universe with time, space, and matter instead no universe at all?”, science is silent.

To the question, “What determines the universe to be this way—e.g., governed by quantum mechanics—and not some other way—e.g., not governed by quantum mechanics?”, science is silent. These are philosophical questions that can be answered only by philosophy. Therefore, science cannot take the place of God in sufficiently explaining the universe.

In conclusion, because science must always be open to modification due to its reliance on the inductive method and its inability to explain why the universe even exists rather than not exist, it will never be able to give an exhaustive description of the universe. Therefore, any claim that science has done away with the need for a transcendent creator in explaining the universe is simply unreasonable.

Written By Karlo Broussard









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1 comment

  1. Patrick Gannon Reply

    Dawkins doesn’t speak for all of science. The article mines one quote out of a long debate. Dawkins also said during that debate: “It is a betrayal of the intellect, a betrayal of all that’s best about what makes us human,” he said. “It’s a phony substitute for an explanation, which seems to answer the question until you examine it and realise that it does no such thing.” “It peddles false explanations where real explanations could have been offered, false explanations that get in the way of the enterprise of discovering real explanations,” he said.
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    All of this is demonstrably true – just ask Copernicus, Galileo and poor Giordano Bruno who was burned at the stake by the RCC for suggesting that the stars were suns like our own and that they may have planets around them – as we have now confirmed many times over. The RCC, by the way, has yet to apologize for burning Bruno at the stake. What else might that great mind have brought us if his life had not been cut short by an ignorant Church?
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    ” Can science give an exhaustive explanation of the universe that would negate the need for God?”
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    Not yet. Not today. We still don’t understand how life, or the universe began, or fully understand consciousness – but that doesn’t mean we won’t do so. I think we’re getting close on consciousness and perhaps how life started. Just this week there was an announcement about new ways to learn more about the origins of the Big Bang.
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    ” First, science’s explanatory power is not sufficient, because it relies on the inductive method in order to validate its hypotheses”
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    So does religion. Very few Christian doctrines can be supported without some sort of inductive reasoning based on scripture. If this invalidates science, then it invalidates religion. “Since science (substitute religion) relies on the inductive method, it follows that scientists (substitute religionists) can never be absolutely certain that their theories explaining the universe (substitute doctrine and dogma) are complete.” How does Christianity come up with the trinity? Inductive reasoning. Original sin? Inductive reasoning. The evils of contraception, abortion, masturbation, etc.? Inductive reasoning. Mary’s permanent virginity? Inductive reasoning. Given that there is absolutely no objective, empirical evidence, inductive reasoning is the ONLY tool religion has to work with, yet it has the audacity to suggest that this tool diminishes science? Article after article on this forum employs inductive reasoning to try and explain RCC doctrines.
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    ” Therefore, there necessarily exists in science a perpetual openness to discovering something new that could alter its current theory about the universe.”
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    This is pronounced as if it’s a bad thing. Science does not start with conclusions as does religion. It goes where the evidence takes it. That is its power and glory. It seeks truth, rather than assuming it already has it as does religion – with no evidence at all.
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    “So, the claim that God doesn’t matter because science can sufficiently explain the universe is unfounded.”
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    Perhaps this is true to some extent – but I don’t think that was Dawkin’s primary point. Science isn’t trying to prove whether or not God exists, it is trying to figure out how things work. Today we don’t have all the answers, but that doesn’t mean the “God of the gaps” is necessary to explain that which we don’t know yet. We certainly know that much that was once attributed to God in the bible – earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, diseases, comets, planets, weather, etc. have nothing to do with God. What will be left for God a century from now? It doesn’t look good for God at the current rate of discovery and growth of knowledge.
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    ” Another way to respond to this objection is by pointing out that science in principle cannot explain why the universe exists in the first place rather than not exist.”
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    It can’t explain everything TODAY. Can religion explain why God exists? Can religion even prove God exists? Of course not.
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    “Science has explanatory power given the fact that the universe exists. It presupposes an already existing universe to observe and explain.”
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    Religion on the other hand presupposes that God exists, but it does not have an existing God to observe and explain. God’s existence has no evidence whatsoever, while the universe is apparently here. It could all be a simulation, there could be multiple universes, we don’t know yet. We have an apparent, actual universe to study and observe; we do not have an apparent, actual God to study and observe. This does not in any way stop religionists from drawing conclusions out of thin air about God, while scientific conclusions are based on the scientific method; which of course includes observation and evidence.
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    ” Consequently, it cannot explain why the universe exists in the first place.”
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    And religion cannot explain why God exists – if God does in fact exist. Without something observable to work with, religion is at a decided disadvantage by comparison.
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    “What determines that there is to be a universe with time, space, and matter instead no universe at all?”, science is silent.”
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    Science is hardly silent. There are theories discussed and debated as research and exploration continues. Lawrence Krauss, for example has proposed a theory about how the universe could have come from nothing. Others propose a universe that expands, crunches, and starts over. Some propose that black holes create new universes. Science is NOT silent. Religion on the other hand, has nothing objective and empirical to observe or explore, and of course religion is never silent, as it speaks freely on subjects about which it knows little or nothing.
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    ” In conclusion, because science must always be open to modification due to its reliance on the inductive method and its inability to explain why the universe even exists rather than not exist, it will never be able to give an exhaustive description of the universe. Therefore, any claim that science has done away with the need for a transcendent creator in explaining the universe is simply unreasonable.
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    To say that science will “never be able to give an exhaustive description of the universe,” is invalid and cannot be proven. It may take centuries or millennia, but if we persist as a species, we will continue to try and find the answers – based on evidence – not magic – and that, I think, is what really scares the Church.

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