Is Absolute Refusal to Contemplate the Possible Existence of God Scientific?
I recently returned from a very interesting conference of scientists and theologians. These meetings are all too rare. The meeting was hosted and sponsored by one of the world’s largest societies of scientists. I am not permitted to identify the society or conference yet. A news release is forthcoming, but I have no specific knowledge of it. All I know is that I am not permitted to mention specifics before the news release.
We, the theologians of various Christian traditions (Catholic, “mainline Protestant,” and conservative-evangelical Protestant), talked to each other for two days. It was enlightening but, as these conversations always are, also frustrating. “Frustrating” here is not a value judgment; it is simply a statement of my own subjective feeling. Perhaps no one else who attended felt frustration.
My frustration comes from the sense that very little common ground was identified and explored. And the theologians present were impressed to absorb and come to terms with science (as it is currently understood) while scientists expressed no need to absorb or come to terms with religion or theology. In other words, I felt like it was a one way conversation.
I fully understand and accept the responsibility of religious scholars and theologians to take into account the facts of contemporary science. What I also wish for, however, is for scientists, especially those who consider themselves religious, to take into account religion and theology without reducing them to what science can understand by its own methods.
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So now I will leave behind the general and move to the specific. One question that continues to baffle me is why science itself cannot consider the possibility of God (however understood) as an item of scientific investigation and causal explanation (of the universe as a whole).
Illustration: Watch the Youtube video “Einstein’s Biggest Blunder.” About halfway through it two Cambridge University physicists are discussing the “big bang” and mysteries surrounding it. Both admit that science itself cannot explain everything adequately and that mysteries remain. One says to the other one (paraphrasing) “Perhaps we have to bring God into the conversation here.” The other replies (paraphrasing) “No, let’s not go there.” End of that conversation. Why?
Let’s set aside all particular notions of “God” and define God for our purposes here as simply “the creator”—a self-existent, creative power behind the universe that science explores and attempts to explain.
Simply put, here is my argument. I learned at the meeting something I have long known. But I heard it from scientists themselves. There are things science believes in as scientific facts that no human being can observe. The reason for believing them is that their existence is necessary to explain observable phenomena (e.g., movements of objects). The fact that they are not themselves observed and may not be observable does not hinder scientists from believing in them.
Why is God automatically excluded from such things? I’m not talking here about “the God of the Bible” or “the Christian God” or any particular God. I am talking ONLY here about a creator “big enough” to be the answer to the question why there is something and not nothing.
It seems to me irrational and an example of pure bias to exclude a creator of all things observable from scientific consideration. And I am not alone. Many philosophers without any personal faith or worship have believed in a supreme creator being that most people call “God.” And they have believed that their belief is rational, not irrational or even supra-rational. So have many scientists.
And yet, at least in the English-speaking world, it has become the case that “God talk” of any kind is ruled out of bounds immediately and automatically from not only scientific investigation and theorizing but also from public conversations about ethics.
A predictable response is “But not everyone believes in God!” That’s beside the point. Not everyone believes in evolution and yet…. The fact that not everyone believes in something goes no distance toward ruling it out of bounds in rational discourse.
I realize the difficulty many people have with setting aside particular religious concepts of God and thinking of God as a philosophical concept and especially as a scientific concept. What I am suggesting, however, is that ruling any idea of God at all out of bounds is sheer prejudice.
There are religions that do not believe in God; there are concepts of God completely independent of any religion. Those facts need to be grasped for this suggestion to make any sense. If you cannot grasp them, don’t participate in this conversation.
What am I suggesting? Only that scientists should be open to the possibility that a creator God is a rational explanation for the existence of the universe just as the possibility of some distant star as yet unobserved (and maybe forever unobservable) might be a rational explanation for the existence of some observed phenomena.
I suspect that a deep, very profound prejudice against “God talk” has infected not only science but modern Western academic culture in general. And that this is anti-intellectual and irrational.
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