2 more reasons why Eric Metaxas’s “science proves God” approach falters

On Christmas day, Eric Metaxas published an op-ed piece in the WSJ “Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God.”

The title concerned me a bit. Metaxas is a bright guy, and I was hoping the piece wouldn’t add to the mountain of poorly conceived Christian apologetics about proving God’s existence. It seems, though, this Metaxas has fallen into that very rut, and I really wish he hadn’t.

There are a lot of thoughtful Christian theologians (and others religious thinkers) and scientists out there who have thought deeply about this issue and are working hard to turn the conversation away from such an approach. High profile pieces like this one only turn the clock back.

Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman gives us two of the reasons for why the approach Metaxas adopts is dead in the water:

(1) Science is always changing. The science upon which things like the “fine-tuned universe” argument for God rests, which Metaxas uses, can easily change, and consequently so would the “proof” of God need to change along with it.

(2) Science and faith are two ways of knowing. God’s existence is not amenable to the scientific method.

(See also here for a rebuttal.)

I agree on both of Mitelman’s points, and I’d like to add a little bit to the second.

It strikes me that the “science proves God’s existence” argument falters on two related points.

First is the notion that our theology–specifically, our understanding of God–is our sure starting point for deliberating about the relationship between science and faith.

As I argue at some length with respect to Christianity and evolution in The Evolution of Adamwe should not assume that how we think about God is the unmovable and firm starting point for further deliberations. It may be, in fact, that pushing the boundaries of our understanding of physical reality might actually affect the kind of God we understand ourselves to be proving.

For example, Psalm 19 tell us, “The heavens are declaring the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” When this was written in Iron AgeNEW2The-Evolution-of-Adam Israel, the heavenly bodies were understood as fixed by God in the heavens to run their circuits around the earth. The ancient’s looked up and praised God for ordering the cosmos.

In principle, we can utter the same note of praise today, but not in the same way. We conceive of the universe quite differently and that certainly affects how we conceive of God.

When I look up at the utterly inconceivable immense vastness of the universe, I don’t necessarily find the same comfort and confidence that the psalmist seems to. I see a cosmos that is steeped in a level of mystery that is unsettling for faith–which drives me to ask, “What kind of a God are we dealing with here?” and, not unlike the the writer of Psalm 8, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”

Science doesn’t prove or disprove God. For people of faith, it does, however, stretch us beyond our familiar ways of thinking of God. How we think of God is not our unassailable starting point. It may be the very think that needs to change.

Second, and related to the first point, what stands behind the “science proves God” mindset–at least those I have come across–is the notion, however unintentional, that God is a “thing,” a “being,” that can stand under scientific scrutiny.

When you get down to it, large strands of the Christian tradition (I would say most) do not think of God as a being alongside other beings, just bigger and better–like the Greek and Roman gods were just bigger versions of humans (and with bigger hangups).

God is not a “being” whose “existence” can be pointed out here or there. God is being, the ground of being, that by which all being, all existence, is made possible.

That is the claim of the Christian faith and to fall short of that claim is to sell this God short.

Now, of course, all our language of God is metaphorical. We speak of God as a bigger version of ourselves–the Bible even speaks this way. This is a God who: sits on a throne with his feet resting on the earth; fights battles; has a thought process where he deliberates; is a “he”; a king; a parent, etc.

Our language of God is metaphorical because we are human beings and not God, and I believe by faith that God is fine with that–as long as we do not claim that our language exhausts God as being.

I don’t mean to sound unnecessarily abstract, and I’m continuing to work out in my own mind exactly how I want to express myself on this. But my basic point here is that thinking that science can prove or disprove God begins with a notion of God where our metaphors are confused for the real thing.

Both God and the Christian faith deserve better.

Bottom line, as I see it: God’s “existence” (pardon the metaphorical language) and consequently knowing this God are not proven or disproven by the amazing advances in recent generations concerning our knowledge of the physical universe–even if those advances challenge how we think of God and speak of God.

God is not at stake. Our metaphors are.

Adam’s Fall and Early Christian Notions of Sin
best book on evolution and faith I've read in years (or, constructing a cathedral in your mind)
What I think about NOMA (not the ex-Red Sox shortstop but the evolution thing)
Canaanite genocide: it's OK because it wasn't THAT bad (was it?)
  • http://aldaily.com/ Justin L. Conder

    Metaxas’ op-ed is embarrassing, to be honest. He doesn’t even really bother grappling with the well known scientific rebuttals to the fine-tuning fallacy. Metaxas’ pattern of overreaching and feeding red meat to self-satisfied evangelicals is grating. I felt that way about his Bonhoeffer biography as well. It just glosses over any counter-factuals which might cast Bonhoeffer as something other than a conservative evangelical – which he so obviously was not. Whenever I read anything by Metaxas I always get the feeling that everything is much more complicated than the way he’s serving it up, but he knows that his audience will have no problem uncritically swallowing it.

    It’s interesting to consider that many people of faith have no problem acknowledging that God’s existence/nonexistence is not contingent on scientific evidence. . . while others feel the pressing need to quote-mine scientists to give the impression that science confirms their specific view of God. Which is the more confident form of faith?

    • Ararxos

      “well known scientific rebuttals”

      Do you mean the delusional Multiverses that also need a Fine Tuning and also need a beginning or the anthropic principle which doesn’t really answer the question if the Universe is fine tuned due to chance necessity or design.

      • http://aldaily.com/ Justin L. Conder

        Scientists can only model what natural processes might bring the universe into existence (and they don’t limit that search to just “one” cause either) – but they cannot postulate supernatural claims. If they did invoke them, they could just say “that’s magic” to every phenomenon, because many things are amazingly intricate and *appear* to be designed just for us, at first glance. Even if the scientific answer is “we don’t know but we have some mathematically based possibilities,” the complete answer is not a default: “God did it.” That doesn’t mean those scientific concepts are all going to be correct. But a so called fine-tuned universe does not prove what Metaxas thinks it does. Whenever you apply probability laws to past events, you’re going to get an extremely unlikely set of occurences. We only have one universe we can observe and experiment with; we have scant clues as to what might be outside of it. In light of that, most scientists are humble about our knowledge in this area. Contrast this with Metaxas, who thinks the scientific data rubberstamps his position, which assumes all manner of things he doesn’t do any work to support.

        And even if the fine tuning argument somehow worked to prove some kind of Mind(s) behind the universe, it doesn’t actually prove specific theistic models. For that you need faith. There’s no way around that. I’m not saying faith is bad – I’m saying it can’t be proven scientifically.

        By the way, you’ll notice when scientists talk about multiverses they cage that language in “mays” and “mights” – it would be delusional if they dogmatically believed in Multiverses, created organizations specifically to defend Multiverses and attack opponents, and wrote articles suggesting all evidence pointed to Multiverses while ignoring all counter-arguments and reasons why it is a hypothetical – not fact. Now, why does that sound familiar? Who does that sound like?

  • Todd Williams

    Good stuff!

  • Randolph Bragg

    Metaxas is to science what Barton is to history.

    • Russ

      And Metaxas is to history what Ken Ham is to science. At least he’s consistent.

  • Andrew Dowling

    These almost mirror my thoughts exactly when I read the piece. You shoot and score again my friend.

  • Tristan Marks

    As long as we define God as the being from whom the natural order of the cosmos sprung then he is and always be beyond the reach of scientific proof, either for or against. Science can only prove or disprove things that follow the known laws of the universe. Any being capable of establishing those laws themselves must be beyond those laws, and therefore unknowable by science.

  • James

    Does Eric use the words “science proves God?” I’m too cheap to subscribe and find out. The title itself gives a different slant that should be of interest to inquiring minds. I don’t like the flavor of the Rabbi’s second point. There is certainly a profound relation between faith and science–well worth exploring–unless the God of Judeo-Christian revelation is not Creator and the bodily resurrection of Christ is of no historical (scientific) concern to us. Science communicators are seldom shy about drawing metaphysical and theological conclusions from the literature. Why should Metaxas, also a “science guy” of sorts, remain silent?

  • JD Walters

    I agree that the case for God should not be based upon particular bits of scientific theory. However, the mainstream Christian tradition is that God’s existence and nature to a certain extent CAN be known by reflection on the observable world. For example, the claim that “God is being, the ground of being, that by which all being, all existence, is made possible” is the conclusion of the cosmological argument whose starting premiss is the existence of contingent objects. Further reflection upon the idea of the necessary ground of being reveals that this ground must be infinite, immutable, eternal, perfect and intellective. These are things we can know about God apart from any putative divine revelation (such as the Bible), and apart from any particular deliverances of science. For further details see Edward Feser, Aquinas, chapter 3, or Norman Kretzmann’s magisterial The Metaphysics of Theism.

  • Chris H

    Well Said, Tristan Marks! If our idea of science can encompass our idea of God, then our God is too small!

  • David Pitchford

    How does changing our understanding of the universe change our understanding of God? In your example, a new, more scientific view of the cosmos doesn’t change what we know of the person of God, only of his works. I think this is true for anything science can tell us.

    I agree with your second point. If you have time, chapter 1 of The Unintended Reformation by Brad S. Gregory extensively explores the origins of the idea of metaphysical univocity (the belief that God is a “being” somehow analogous to us existing on the same place) in Christian thought.

    • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

      Newton famously thought that God would have to send a comet through the solar system everyone once in a while to keep it working properly. Leibniz famously responded that such belief in God is irrational and detracts from his perfection. One could call Newton’s idea ‘irrational’, perhaps deus ex machina. I would argue, along with Kenneth Pearce’s interpretation of Leibniz at Leibniz’s theistic case against Humean miracles, that a Christian ought to think of God as supremely rational. He’s orderly, and the idea of needing comets to balance out the solar system is more frenetic.

      Taking things back to earth, I think one’s conception of God being more irrational or less irrational impacts how one views more mundane matters. Does God frequently enact miracles to aid your day, or does he act more systematically? One can look at the OT and find that despite all of God’s “divine interactions”, he relies on humans to do much of the ‘work’. Perhaps God expects the same of us, today. Perhaps he expects us to do a lot more, whereas we are expecting him to do a lot more. When I find people who expect God to do most of the heavy lifting, they seem to want him to do it in an irrational way—because I think only irrational ways are available that have God doing most of the work and us doing virtually none. They want comets. I don’t think God sends comets. Indeed, especially after the New Covenant, I think he wants to act through us.

  • AHH

    Metaxas is foolish if he thinks science can give clear proof for God. And based on what little I can see of his article he is foolish in other ways, like endorsing the ID movement. It is ironic that many fine-tuning arguments relate to the universe and Earth being suited for the evolution of life, when many who make those arguments are aligned with those who deny evolution.

    That said, as we reject this work from a notorious culture warrior, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater by dismissing completely the idea of cosmic fine-tuning as a consideration (not a proof) in theological thinking.

    There is sound science behind some fine-tuning observations (along with some much more tenuous science like speculations about the possible multiverse). Is this anything resembling proof of God? No. But it is at least consistent with theism, and that’s not insignificant.
    Of course we should not make fine-tuning foundational to our theology. But I think there can be room for a humble natural theology that sees this as a secondary reinforcement of theism. Something that does get the science right, like Karl Giberson’s book The Wonder of the Universe: Hints of God in our Fine-Tuned World (note he says “hints” and not “proof”). Other good thinkers who have written along these lines include Alister McGrath, Simon Conway Morris, and John Polkinghorne.

  • Patrick Lafferty

    don’t look now, but you are channeling David Bentley Hart.

  • AHH

    Sorry for double-commenting, but I think Rabbi Mitelman’s points both need some pushback.

    1) Science is always changing
    That’s a line I expect from evolution deniers, or climate-change deniers. It typically is an excuse to avoid dealing with science you don’t like or find inconvenient. While it is trivially true in a sense, a large fraction of science is not going to change significantly. The Earth is billions (not thousands) of years old, and revolves around the Sun rather than the other way around, and no amount of painting science as “always changing” is going to alter those results. The bits that do change (for physical sciences; medicine and social sciences are different) are almost always those at the speculative edge of knowledge.
    Now, some fine-tuning arguments are at that edge, and might well change. If Mitelman had said (with appropriate scientific backing) that the specific science in Metaxas’ article was tenuous and might change, I’d respect that argument. But to make a blanket appeal to “always changing” science to dismiss the actual argument without dealing with it is the same thing many evolution or climate-change deniers do. It’s a bad argument there, and a bad argument here.

    2) Science and faith are two [unconnected?] ways of knowing
    This sounds like SJ Gould’s “Non-overlapping magisteria” where science has total say over the physical world and faith is relegated to some secondary and not-quite-real arena of values. It reminds me of the Enlightenment’s total split between “facts” and “values”.
    But if we believe in a God who created the physical universe and in some way interacts with it, this absolute split won’t do. Properties of the creation and events within it can’t be categorically dismissed as unable to have any bearing on our thinking about God. If, for example, science tells me that a man is dead, and 3 days later tells me that the same man is alive, that could be a significant input to my theology. To choose another example that Pete will find familiar, science can affect our thinking about God by helping us in “genre calibration” of Biblical literature.
    I agree that it is a mistake to make any science the foundation of our theology, or to expect that it must answer our questions about God. But Mitelman goes too far when he seems to say that data from our physical senses (which is ultimately what science is) cannot possibly inform our view of God. That may be the case for the god of deism, but not for the Christian God who is immanent and who participated in the physical world through Jesus.

    • Daniel Merriman

      I think your pushback on Mitelman’s second point is well taken. If he is right then Francis Collins should never have published a book with the title “The Language of God.” (I have read the book and liked it, so I recognize that Collins does not go anywhere near as far as Metaxas in his claims, but I can’t help but think that if Mitelman were reviewing that work he would make the same critique).

      • Daniel Fisher

        Dare I evoke Lewis one more time, but I think there was great wisdom in his analogy of looking to try to find Shakespeare by reading Hamlet – he points out that, in one very real sense, you’ll never “find” Shakespeare as a discreet character or person in the play.

        However, he also points out that, if you know what you’re looking for, you can “find Shakespeare” in a different sense on every single page.

    • brengun

      Very well put! Although I agree that any effort to use science to “prove” God is an ill-considered venture, so is ruling out science’s impact on theology or apologetics out of hand. I have not read the Metaxas article, so I can’t say much on that side, but this response seems to lack some balance, or at least, it seems to be based on the unproven premise that science will never be an appropriate way to corroborate belief in God. Maybe it isn’t appropriate and maybe there will always be counter-arguments to every Theist-friendly interpretation of scientific findings (likely true), but I’ve seen NOMA being dismantled far more than I’ve seen it being argued, so it doesn’t seem obviously true that something like what Metaxas is doing is a bad idea to begin with. Maybe someone can enlighten me with what seems to be obvious to most of the commentators here?

  • Dr. Dee Tee

    it would be nice if the next time you link to an article you would provide a link that gets your reader to the article instead of some one paragraph demand to subscribe to a newspaper.

    some of us are not adept at internet gymnastics to be able to make the needed connections to some other news source that printed the whole article so it could actually be read.

    • Preston Garrison

      There was a link to the article on the Biologos Facebook page that was free when I tried it several days ago.

  • Lars

    “Universes!?” From an OT scholar?? Did not see that coming.

    • peteenns

      Ha. I meant singular…although, who knows :-)

      • Lars

        Only God and Eric for sure, and God’s not saying.

      • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

        “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”—who knows, indeed. :-p Oh, and Eph 1:7–10, especially v10.

  • Michael Brady

    I agree with Peter Enns. The tools of old school apologetics, concerning proving God’s existence needs to be taken in a different direction. The old theistic
    arguments were based on categories of metaphysics of Greek philosophy, specifically Aristotelian philosophy. These arguments
    later were developed on medieval understanding of God and were never intended
    to stand the test of time. The authors of these arguments never consulted science, instead consulted religious philosophy and were designed to rebut philosophical conclusions made by agnostics and atheists such as Hume, Kant…)

    Furthermore, the development of new arguments and an improvement of past arguments for God’s existence were developed by filtering scientific conclusions through a contemporary theistic paradigm (the unmoved mover). The problem is not that science is always changing, but our agreement on the meaning of these scientific conclusions and philosophy of science behind those conclusions is always changing. According to Thomas Kuhn, our temporal understanding of science goes through revolutions (radical changes) that even forces science to change its categories from time to time. So how we construct arguments for existence of God if we can’t agree on what certain scientific data means in light of our own worldviews? In other words, what scientific bias do I adopt? Plus, some of the old metaphors such as perfection and immutability I believe require some
    restructuring too. The conservatives are still stuck answering assumption of the enlightenment by reassuring their followers that the enlightenment categories are still relevant.

    Maybe what needs to change is the way we
    think about God altogether as object instead of subject? Like the Psalmists said, “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! (Psa 139:17 NIV)” Also what I think needs to change is philosophical
    assumptions behind old school apologetics such as philosophy of rationalism and
    general revelation.

    • Peter Hardy

      Kant wasn’t agnostic or atheist, he was a devout Lutheran.

      • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

        In The Moral Gap, John Hare briefly discusses the fact that many treat Kant’s philosophy as if he were an atheist, and how much this distorts one’s reading of it.

        • Michael Brady

          Luke thanks for your reply, I’ve never read that book, but sounds like an interesting read, it might be the next book I read.

      • Michael Brady

        Peter hardy, thank you for making that correction about him being
        Lutheran. In my post, I was referring to his epistemology, specifically
        his conclusions about metaphysics and to his response after he read Hume. Kant believed in God but did not develop those arguments in order to prove God’s existence. on the contrary, he believed that God existed, but that God could not be known through reason or experience alone since God dwells beyond human reason or experience. I believe his writings, specifically Kant’s Prolegomena to “Any Future Metaphysics” and “critique of pure reason” support this conclusion. This is why I labeled him an agnostic or atheists.

  • Michael Brady

    This is my second time posting I posted a comment, rather lengthy one. I wanted to know why it got booted, was it because of the comment or did it not reach you?
    if it reached you then apologize for anything I said in the comment.

    • peteenns

      It just takes me a few hours to moderate comments sometimes.

  • http://www.un-a-bridged.com Zachary Frazier

    Science connects with Christian faith when Christian faith is already present. The two are coherent.

    It may not be the case that science leads to faith, but faith certainly leads to science. We expect a rational universe operating according to predictable laws and principles precisely because we affirm the one creator God and not the human-like gods of the pagans.

  • James

    Ah, I should have reserved comment until reading Eric’s article. It seems to be an attempt to reach out on a popular level–too triumphalist, as you note. Read John Polkinghorne (among others, see comment below) for coverage of similar ground yet more convincingly and with elegance. JP is both scientist and theologian who wrestles well with the relation between “the two ways of knowing.”

  • Ross

    One of the good things about living in the UK is that the above quoted article (which I can’t access) totally passed me by at the time (as did the associated rebuttals). Thankfully leaving me to catch up with it now that I have reached some level of sobriety.

    It’s a good point for Pete to raise, and I agree strongly that this sort of statement be treated very cautiously, but I would have some reservations possibly about Rabbi Mitelman’s response, particularly as I don’t think there is quite such a strong difference and imiscibility between “science” and “religion”.

    I think there is still some merit in the kind of point being raised by Eric Metaxas, such as that there is no cut and dried case that “science” has disproved God, and maybe some of “science’s” findings (if not all of them) are actually totally compatible with the existence of God. Though I don’t know if the pursuit of “science” will actually bring any convincing proofs of God’s existence, or otherwise.

    The main point I think being missed by everybody is actually the non-existence of “science”, which may be more shocking to some than the existence or otherwise of God. There is no thing such as “Science”, some kind of monolithic all knowing infallible edifice, which will discover, prove or show what is or isn’t. There’s a fair number of people using the scientific method to explore all sorts of things, many doing it well and some absolute charlatans, often coming up with grand speculations as to what may or may not be, along with all sorts of other useful and profound things. However they tend to explore and discuss what is popular, or funded, occasionally what they find intriguing or important. It is just a human activity, often very similar to the human activity of theology, philosophy or Baseball statistics.

    Some “scientists” believe that “religious believers” are just credulous and should be sceptical of their beliefs and this will bring change. Scepticism is (or should be) an important aspect of the scientific method and applied equally to “scientific” claims as to “religious” ones. To my mind this is far from always the case.

    So maybe instead of making claims on the certainty of God’s existence or otherwise, all sides should maybe spend more time thinking in Socrates’ terms (if I’ve got him right on this one) that “What I do not know I do not think I know”.

    • Daniel Fisher

      I appreciate the basic merit in Metaxas’ article as well – the basic point is rather interesting…. but I fear I agree with Peter that he takes it a bit too far as using it as an apologetic foundation – I would not want to base “proof” of God’s being on such foundations. James below calls it “too triumphalist,” and I concur.
      I think I would be far more satisfied with the article if merely the title was less “triumphalist” and a bit more qualified: something like “Scientific discoveries increasingly found consistent with theistic view” or even “…increasingly found inconsistent with atheism/materialism/naturalism.”
      again to borrow from Lewis: “We must be very cautious of snatching at any scientific theory which, for the moment, seems to be in our favour. We may *mention* [his emphasis] such things; but we must mention them lightly and without claiming that they are more than ‘interesting.'”

  • Jedidiah Slaboda

    You should read Gutiérrez’s commentary on Job, if you haven’t. He gets at all of this stuff in a way that I think would be very helpful.

  • Daniel Fisher

    Being an inveterate disciple of C.S. Lewis, the discussion reminds me of two observations of his that reflect Mitelman’s two thoughts and your additional observations:

    “Sentences beginning ‘Science has now proved’ should be avoided. If we try to base our apologetic on some recent development in science, we shall usually find that just as we have put the finishing touches to our argument science has withdrawn the theory we have been using as our foundation stone.” (From “Christian Apologetics”)

    “Looking for God…by exploring space is like reading or seeing all Shakespeare’s plays in the hope that you will find Shakespeare as one of the characters or Stratford as one of the places….If God creted the universe, He created space-time…. To look for him as one item within the framework which He himself invented is nonsensical. If God–such a God as any adult religion believes in–exists, mere movement in space will never bring you any nearer to Him or any farther from Him than you are at this very moment. You can neither reach him nor avoid Him by travelling to Alpha Centauri or even to other galaxies.” (From “The Seeing Eye”)

  • John Doman

    Does Metaxes anywhere say that Science proves God’s existence? Or did he only say that Science suggests heavily that the universe was designed for life?

  • ButILikeCaves

    >“The odds of life existing on another planet grow
    >ever longer. Intelligent design, anyone?”
    Even though Krauss rebuts that the odds are in fact getting better, I’ll run with Eric for a moment.
    With there being billions and billions of galaxies, and there being billions to trillions of stars in each one of those galaxies, and each one of those stars potentially having planets, sounds more like a very poor success rate for the design.

    • happylada

      ON the contrary, it takes a certain arrogance to attempt to decipher the intent of an artist, and then criticize Him for NOT doing it in a way YOU approve of.

      Throw in a tad of ignorance as well . . .

      • ButILikeCaves

        My approval of reality has little bearing on it. And the math adds up: trillions upon trillions to one.
        Following the art theme, artists DO want you to decipher their work and intent: it is their attempt to convey something.
        My advice, you should leave metaphors to the pros: you are not very good at it.

    • glblank

      NDT does a great talk on how the fragile Pale Blue Dot and it’s denizens are poorly designed indicating an incompetent Creator, should one exist.

  • Tim

    Great post, thanks Pete.

  • Michael Farley

    One doesn’t need to subscribe to any simplistic notion of proof or any metaphysics of the univocity of being in order to maintain that natural science can provide some confirmation and support (as well as falsification) for some theological claims. Here is an excellent summary of six ways that science and theology intersect and interact: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/what-is-the-relation-between-science-and-religion

    • Andrew Dowling

      WLC’s arguments are always so chock-full of logical fallacies I almost choke on them when I read his work . . .

      • glblank

        Interesting how those same fallacies are trotted around in this thread without the barest recognition by the writer.

  • Craig Quam

    Dear Peter, I don’t know who you are or even if you are a born again believer but the Apostle Paul clearly states in Romans 1:20 that the natural world “things that are made” demonstrate or “prove” the existence of God. so that all men are without excuse in their unbelief of his existence. While I would agree that Christians can’t point to Scientific theory and say “look this proves God’s existence” because as you stated theories could in the future be proven wrong or change. We Christians can point to scientific FACT and say “this demonstrates His Eternal power”

    • ron_goodman

      Trying to argue for the existence of God by quoting the Bible, which is said to be of value because it was inspired by God, appears to be a fine example of a circular argument.

      • glblank

        Arguing from authority, begging the question, Appeals to closure, appeals to heaven, Appeals to tradition, Arguing from consequences, arguing from Ignorance (ad absurdum), Argumentum ex silentio and my favorite post hoc ergo propter hoc.

  • Horsezak

    Thank you, Peter, for writing, “I don’t mean to sound unnecessarily abstract, and I’m continuing to work out in my own mind exactly how I want to express myself on this. ” You are the first person of significance I have read that honestly acknowledges that “knowing God” is a process and not a destination. I believe than any of the claims made for the scientific or other methods of proving the existence and nature of God are doomed to the circular reasoning trash heap. By definition, all descriptions of a being without limits places limits on its being, including whether or not it exists. Please excuse my own abstraction, but when confronted with Eric Metaxas, William Craig Lane, et. al., and similar arguments for or against God, I am compelled to say, “So, what’s your point?” Your rationale and conclusions lead me no closer to knowing the God I choose to seek and love.

    By the way, thanks for your Daily Digest. I appreciate it.

  • http://google.com/+MarkTraphagen Mark Traphagen

    Physicist Lawrence Krauss’s critique of Metaxes’s editorial is worth repeating:

    1) While scientists know the factors that led to life on Earth, life on other planets could be based upon a different set of factors.

    2) The odds of life on other planets have increased, not decreased with greater scientific evidence.

    3) Life is fine-tuned for the universe rather than the universe being fine-tuned for life.

    4) The appearance of design in life on Earth is due to the “remarkable efficiency of natural selection.”

    He submitted it as a response to the WSJ, but they declined to publish it. You can read his full response at https://richarddawkins.net/2014/12/letter-to-the-editor/

    • http://mormontoorthodox.blogspot.com/ Seraphim

      Not surprisingly, though, Krauss’ claims are just as philosophically problematic as Metaxes’.

      1. Since there is no evidence either way for this first claim it is unfalsifiable and contributes nothing to his rebuttal.

      2. This claim rests on a fallacious, probabalistic argument that only works if we know how life begins in the first place, which we don’t.

      3. It is true that life evolves to better tolerate respective environments, but, according to the evolutionary model, life cannot be fine-tuned for an environment it has never been exposed to unless it has been modified by an outside source. Either way, this claim seems more supportive of Metaxes’ overall objectives than Krauss’ and other religious critics.

      4. Natural selection cannot be “efficient” as that would indicate that the process has purpose and direction which, unfortunately for Krauss, moves the conversation out of the realm of science and into the realm of metaphysics.

      • http://google.com/+MarkTraphagen Mark Traphagen


        1. Krauss isn’t making a claim. He’s refuting Metaxes’ claim that life is necessarily unique and rare. Metaxes can’t make such a claim so emphatically when their remains the possibility that life can arise by multiple means.

        2. True, we don’t yet know exactly how life begins. But it is also true that the plausible theories for the possibility that it arises spontaneously, inevitably, and possibly more than once given the right conditions are increasing. See for example: http://www.sciencedump.com/content/life-may-be-inevitable

        Again, keep in mind here that Metaxes has made a bold claim that life has been “proven” by science to be extremely unlikely. If credible scientists are saying the opposite, than his claim is invalid.

        3. Your statement here makes no sense to me. Life on earth has been “exposed” to the environment of earth. Krauss’ point is simply that we have the life we have (on earth) because it evolved to the conditions of earth. Therefore, life on earth has the appearance of having been “designed” for earth, but in reality it’s just that the conditions of earth caused life to evolve that way.

        4. You fail here to understand what a scientist means by “efficient,’ especially in reference to evolution. Efficient here simply means that the process of evolution tends over time to produce organisms that are highly adapted to the environment in which they exist. No intelligent “purpose and direction” is needed to do that. It’s similar to saying that a modern gasoline engine is “efficient.”

      • http://google.com/+MarkTraphagen Mark Traphagen

        I’m going to post here the entire letter by Krauss, as the summary in my first comment may not provide enough context:

        I was rather surprised to read the unfortunate oped piece “Science Increasingly makes the case for God”, written not by a scientist but a religious writer with an agenda. The piece was rife with inappropriate scientific misrepresentations. For example:

        We currently DO NOT know the factors that allow the evolution of life in the Universe. We know the many factors that were important here on Earth, but we do not know what set of other factors might allow a different evolutionary history elsewhere. The mistake made by the author is akin to saying that if one looks at all the factors in my life that led directly to my sitting at my computer to write this, one would obtain a probability so small as to conclude that it is impossible that anyone else could ever sit down to compose a letter to the WSJ.

        We have discovered many more planets around stars in our galaxy than we previously imagined, and many more forms of life existing in extreme environments in our planet than were known when early estimates of the frequency of life in the universe were first made. If anything, the odds have increased, not decreased.

        The Universe would certainly continue to exist even if the strength of the four known forces was different. It is true that if the forces had slighty different strengths ( but nowhere near as tiny as the fine-scale variation asserted by the writer) then life as we know it would probably not have evolved. This is more likely an example of life being fine-tuned for the universe in which it evolved, rather than the other way around.

        My ASU colleague Paul Davies may have said that “the appearance of design is overwhelming”, but his statement should not be misinterpreted. The appearance of design of life on Earth is also overwhelming, but we now understand, thanks to Charles Darwin that the appearance of design is not the same as design, it is in fact a remnant of the remarkable efficiency of natural selection.

        Religious arguments for the existence of God thinly veiled as scientific arguments do a disservice to both science and religion, and by allowing a Christian apologist to masquerade as a scientist WSJ did a disservice to its readers.

        • glblank

          “The piece was rife with inappropriate scientific misrepresentations.” As GHomer Pyle used to say, “Surprise, surprise, surprise”.

      • xanthoptica

        Wow, Seraphim, you really should learn some evolution, for sure. But if you want to stick to strict logic, consider the (unstated) fundamental assumption of Metaxas’s argument: if he wants to say that the universe/Earth had to be *just* like it is for life to exist, that means life can only be *just* like it is. That means he has to have a complete understanding of all the possible ways life could exist to know that includes only what we see on the only example we know (Earth). I call that kind of hubristic bull the necessity of “comprehensive imagination,” and I bet even Metaxas would admit he doesn’t actually have it. If you want to read a more worked-out argument, try this post: http://wantonempiricist.blogspot.com/2015/01/recently-opinion-piece-by-eric-metaxas.html

      • glblank

        1. Do you deny the possibility of life outside our pale blue dot? If so, you need a remedial corse on statistics. 2.Learn some math. 3. Empty rhetoric. If not exposed, the question is moot but that was an interesting red herring. 4. There are limits on efficiency not a complete lack A lesson.. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdwR9huqrUI#t=52

    • Bcrew

      Richard Dawkins? Really?

      • http://google.com/+MarkTraphagen Mark Traphagen

        Yes, really. You had trouble reading the URL? 😉

  • Huh?

    Thank you for this article. It has always seemed to me that we confuse our ideas about God with God. My favorite utterance about God comes from the Tao Te Ching:

    The Tao [God] that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
    The name that can be named is not the eternal name

  • scooter

    I just finished Mr. Metaxas’s book and liked it a lot. I don’t believe he was saying that science has empirically proven the existence of God. I believe that he was saying that the more we learn, through science, the more reasonable or at least plausible, belief in God is. I think he is attempting to disprove the notion that science disproves the existence of God. I don’t believe Mr. Metaxas expects or wants absolute proof of God’s existence. Even if God did prove his existence, in an empirical way, many would still not believe. The Bible has many examples of God demonstrating his existence and people still not believing in him. I believe that God wants to provide us with enough proof of is existence that lack of proof does not prevent us from freely making a well informed choice about Him. I think Mr. Metaxas is merely trying to demonstrate that belief in God is plausible choice, but a choice nonetheless, that we need to make, not one that science will make for us.

    • glblank

      The Bible. Texts written in the Bronze and Iron ages, edited first by Constantine’s politician bishops and translated arbitrarily into over fourlanguages and exists presently in over 100 English language versions. Yep, that’s a book you want to rely on. DERP.

      • Bert

        Dear Glblank,

        your reply seems to imply that you think it is stupid* to rely on the Bible yet you also seem to rely upon it in your comment above where you state, “perhaps you need to take greater interest in the welfare of others less fortunate than you and express your own inner God. After all that is what Christ’s life was all about.” Where do you get the level of certainty implied in your comment about Christ in writings beyond the Bible? I’m curious.

        Also, it is true that God is “soothing,” and takes “a personal interest in our welfare”, that is, He is perfect mercy, but if you’ve read that Bible you reference you know that that God is also perfect justice, which, given all of our shortcomings, presents a sometimes completely different image than “soothing.” There’s a reason “Fear God,” and “the wrath of God,” are found throughout the Bible. (the idea of God being total perfect mercy AND total perfect justice at the same time is one of the many claims about God that point to Him, for me. We can’t conceive of mercy and justice beyond a continuum; more mercy means less justice and vice versa. It is staggering and indeed beyond this world or any other world for such a perfection to exist. No?)

        Also, I agree, “nothing is invisible to science,” or at least agree that, conceivably, ultimately nothing should be invisible to science, the key being “no-thing”, i.e., no materialistic reality should conceivably be undiscoverable to the process of science, discovery. The God as described in the Bible is “no-thing,” though, He is beyond materialistic reality (He’s not a “sky God,” contrary to thoughts of many out there). As such, the Bible and Judeo-Christian thinkers throughout history have discouraged/condemned trying to “prove” God’s existence with the facts of his creation. To do so is, because He is beyond the creation’s materialistic space and time, impossible. Trying to do so leads to falsely “seeing” God in the creation itself, a form of idolatry. The creation can provide icons, if you will, pointing to the existence of God. Which is what Metaxas was about with his article and book – interesting read by the way. I like Pascal’s wager for a quick analysis of where this leaves us, decision-making-wise. As such I’m with Puddleglum 😉

        Also, Metaxas rejects “the God of the Gaps,” method:

        “In the nineteenth century, the evangelist and scientist Henry Drummond coined the term, “God of the Gaps.” It is the idea that whatever one cannot explain or understand, one attributes to “God.” But this is essentially a negative definition of God, and of course as science progresses, our need for this “God of the gaps,” diminishes. In his famous Letters and Papers from Prison, the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: ‘… how wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don’t know.’ Since Bonhoeffer wrote those words in 1943, this positive view of God has been increasingly affirmed. As scientific knowledge increases, we have more evidence, not less, pointing to a creator.”

        Indeed, Metaxas points out that it is the evolutionists that are struggling with the gaps: “In the nineteenth century, Darwin postulated that the gaps in the fossil record would slowly be filled as more and more fossils were uncovered. He hoped to show the streamlined unbroken and steady development for one species to the next. But just the opposite has happened. Instead of finding fossils to fill in the gaps between other fossils, scientists have uncovered more and more of the same kinds of fossils. We have found more examples of the species we have already discovered, and no clear and incontrovertible links between them.” – Miracles, page 32-33. (by the by, I, like C.S Lewis and like I think Metaxas too, are “circumspect,” about evolution, i.e., I can see the logic in it but also believe the science is not “settled.”)

        Fare Thee Well,

        *I didn’t know what “Derp” meant but after googling are you really sure you want to use in civil conversation a term originally used for mistakenly smelling the panties and licking the vibrat’r of the mother of one’s love interest instead of those of the love interest? Gross? Certainly uncharitable, i.e., un-Christlike.

  • http://www.nikrael.com Nik

    Science can never prove the existence of God, just as Love cannot be weighed in a balance. God is beyond the material measurements of Science. However, the material universe is God’s creation, and it will therefore bear the marks of his handiwork. The more we understand scientifically, the more it will point to the Creator – it is the only way that the material universe can point. But God exists on a much higher level of reality – spirit reality – which is invisible to science.

    • glblank

      The more we understand scientifically, especially on the level of particle physics, the more a god becomes moot. Nothing is invisible to science. There is only science that as yet remains beyond the grasp of our limited comprehension. To say that is God is merely the age old God of the gaps argument is the most notorioius post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy of our race. God is the soothing manifestation of the need to be comforted that some Supreme Being is taking a personal interest in our welfare. If that is your need, perhaps you need to take greater interest in the welfare of others less fortunate than you and express your own inner God. After all that is what Christ’s life was all about.

  • davegosse

    The title of the (which I have not read) is ‘increasingly science makes the case for God’ – hardly the straw man that ‘science proves God’. There is a world of difference between the claims. As you note, science won’t prove God, the best we can hope form science is the rather obvious ‘reality is more than matter in motion’ case. This is the case for God that Metaxas references. For more – like who God is – we need to look to those ‘Iron Age’ documents you dismiss so cavalierly.

  • Bcrew

    But of course science points towards a creator. The argument here is a strawman. No one reasonably thinks you can prove or disprove God. Apparently some think that when atheists claim science is in conflict with God Christians should sit by without pointing out how false this is.

  • Rajan GM

    I agree. Science neither prove not disprove the existence of God. That said, it futile to have deliberations based on science. Salvation comes through faith nothing else.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Most of these design type arguments are variants of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

  • http://burlingtonupc.org Paul

    The experiential revelation of God is independently verifiable, repeatable, and consistent. Science is beginning to allow this light to dawn in their minds and as such they experience cognitive dissonance between revelation and documentation. Science continues to document the revealed truths of the Bible. These revealed truths stand on their own merit and require no apologetic exegesis. I.e. God is.

  • mrkelvin

    Wait, does this guy Metaxa even exist? This is fake, what kinda name is that? Fake people every place these days.

    • peteenns

      Spell the name right, then google it.

  • Ken Johnson

    You might be interested in the works of three ground-breaking
    Christian thinkers: Pere Teilhard de Chardin and Charles Hartshorne (especially
    his ‘The Divine Relativity’) and Nancy Murphy’s ‘On the Moral Nature of the
    Universe: Theology, Cosmology and Ethics’. These together should set you one
    your way to re-thinking God.

    Re. the anthromorphic descriptions found in the O.T., we also
    find Isaiah saying of YHWH: My ways are not your ways, my thoughts not your
    thoughts. Not so much an image of a god ‘bigger’ than we, but different. Jesus
    is speaking in the same vein when saying ‘Why do you call me good? Only the
    Father is good.’

    Also, I’m not sure your blanket characterization of ‘God-talk’
    as always metaphorical holds up. When we Christians say “God is Love”
    we mean exactly that. Where we fall short, I believe, is thinking of Love
    ontologically when, in fact, we’re speaking behaviorally/psychologically/sociologically;
    i.e., God is the One Who Acts Lovingly – at all times. Does this mean that
    Theology is the highest form of psychology/sociology? Perhaps. At least to do
    so would lead us away from the tedious engagement with the ‘hard’ sciences.

  • Emerald Twilights

    My first exposure ever to Metaxas was last night in the bookstore with his Bonhoeffer biography. Quite impressed, so I look him up and almost the first thing I find is his nonsense about science and god. I’ll stick to his biography.

    Although not so much about his WSJ piece as some of the comments here, it seems to me that if one is out to “look for God” or to “find God” that, if honest, one ought not have any preconceptions about the nature of god — assuming one exists at all.

    I look around at Earth and human history and the Cosmos and it’s pretty clear to me — if god exists — that She’s a manic-depressive lesbian with multiple-personality disorder and an imp of perverse. She may well, indeed, have even involved Herself in the invention of the Bible (and the Qur’an and Gita, etc) but maybe, just as likely, She hasn’t yet even explored this part of the universe She created and doesn’t even know about Homo sapiens or life on Earth. Or care.

    With some confidence we should rule out both Yahweh and the FSM as just plain silly and man-made, but not so The Lesbian.

    Thomas Paine got it right:  “The study of theology, as it stands in the Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authority; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion.”

  • Rafael Galvão

    “God is not a “being” whose “existence” can be pointed out here or there.”

    This reminds me of an argument I saw ages ago: a Christian rebutted to an Atheist who said that God doesn’t exist, saying he was right, “God doesn’t exist; God IS”. In a sense, again using metaphors, God is ultimately “more real” than us, than what anything we can expect to be or to think.