Many believe science has disproven God. This is not possible, even in principle. The truth of the matter is that advances in science are providing more reasons to believe in God, not less. While scientific discoveries cannot prove God’s existence, they can be used to support premises in arguments that have theistic conclusions/implications. For example, science has discovered that the universe began to exist. Anything that begins to exist requires an external cause. Since the universe encompasses all physical reality, the cause of the universe must transcend physical reality. It cannot be a prior physical event or some natural law, because there was nothing physical prior to the first physical event, and natural laws only come into being once the natural world comes into being. Whatever caused the universe to come into being must be transcendent, powerful, immaterial, spaceless, eternal, and personal, which is an apt description of God.
Or consider the fine-tuning of the physical constants for the existence of advanced life. For example, the cosmological constant which governs the expansion rate of the universe, is fine-tuned to 1 part in 10120. That is 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. For perspective, there are only 1080 elementary particles in the universe! Stanford physicist Leonard Susskind writes, “[T]he discovery that the value of the cosmological constant – the energy of empty space which contributes to the expansion rate of the universe – seems absurdly improbable, and nothing in fundamental physics is able to explain why.” And again, “It’s one of the greatest mysteries in physics. All we know is that if it were much bigger we wouldn’t be here to ask about it.”  The best explanation for why the constants have assumed the values they have is that they were designed by an intelligent agent.
It’s not uncommon when making a case for the existence of God or a Designing Intelligence based on scientific findings such as these for an atheist to respond, “That’s not science.” What they really mean, however, is “That’s not naturalism.”
One needs to be aware that the word “science” has two different meanings, and the one is often substituted for the other. On the one hand there is science as method. This involves making observations, predictions, doing experiments, and drawing conclusions – what we typically think of when we think of science. But there is another definition of science, often lurking in the background, which is science as philosophy. The philosophy of science involves what one thinks the purpose and goal of science to be. For nearly 200 years now, the reigning philosophy of science is naturalism (methodological naturalism). On naturalism, the purpose of science is not to discover the truth about the workings of the physical world via empirical methods, but to discover natural causes for natural phenomena. Intelligent causes and theistic conclusions are ruled out a priori.
Scientists have been quite clear of this. For example, philosopher of science Michael Ruse has written that “science simply does not allow God as a causal factor.” Kansas State University professor, S.C. Todd, wrote in Nature, “Even if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such a hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic.” Harvard professor of genetics, Richard Lewontin, is very candid that scientists are guided by the philosophy of naturalism, not pursuit of the truth, and are unwilling to consider intelligent agency even if it is the best explanation of the data. In The New York Review of Books he made this remarkable admission:
Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs…in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.
According to Lewontin, the game is rigged against theism by definitional fiat. When paired with naturalism, the scientific method is no longer geared to pursue the truth wherever it may lead, but rather to produce philosophically acceptable answers. Philosophy comes first, and then the empirical data. And when the empirical data seems to conflict with the philosophy, the philosophy will always win the day. Whereas most people think of science as a discipline free from bias and prejudice, Ruse, Todd, and Lewontin make it clear that modern science is defined by prejudice: only natural explanations for natural phenomena are allowed, the evidence be damned!
If you arbitrarily define science as the pursuit of natural causes, it should be no surprise that drawing theistic implications from scientific discoveries will be ruled out of bounds, and why theories like Darwinian evolution will be the undisputed king of the scientific hill. If your philosophy of science restricts the pool of causes to natural cause, then something like Darwinian evolution must be true. It’s the only game in town. Intelligent Design is excluded by definitional fiat, not empirical analysis. ID is dismissed as unscientific, not because it fails to properly employ the scientific method, but because it does not subscribe to the philosophy of naturalism.
This approach to science does not make sense because it arbitrarily restricts science. Given naturalism, the goal of science is no longer to discover the truth about the physical world, but to come up with the best naturalistic explanation, even if it is not true. Admittedly, the domain of science is the physical world, not the supernatural, but if the evidence points to an intelligent or supernatural cause as opposed to a natural cause, then scientists should be able to conclude that an agent caused the natural phenomena based on the empirical data. As Greg Koukl noted, “The object and domain of science should be the physical world, but its goal should be truth, not merely physical explanations. Though science is restricted to examining physical effects, when causes are inferred, there should be no limitation.” The modern philosophical definition of science is incomplete in that it excludes a priori a known source of causation – intelligent agency – and thus may lead to mistaken conclusions.
Consider the situation in which a chemistry teacher leaves a solution in a beaker overnight. The next morning, when he returns to class he finds an Oreo in the beaker. The students demand that he provide a scientific explanation for the origin of the Oreo. He immediately concludes that it was placed there by someone the night before. The students cry, “Foul! By invoking an outside agent, you’ve broken the rules. You’re not being scientific. This is a chemistry class, so let’s stick with science. You must provide a naturalistic explanation for the Oreo’s origin.” He would be hard pressed to provide a plausible naturalistic explanation. It’s obvious to all that the best explanation for the physical phenomenon under question is not a naturalistic cause, but an intelligent cause. And yet, the philosophy of science he subscribes to prohibits him from accepting the obvious and best explanation.
Can you imagine if this philosophical presupposition was applied to natural phenomena? What caused Stonehenge? “People made it,” you say. No! That is not a scientific explanation because it invokes an intelligent rather than natural cause. As a physical entity, it must be explained in terms of naturalistic causes. “But,” you say, “it has all the elements of intelligent design: The arrangement of parts is both complex and specified to an independent pattern.” What if I responded by saying, “But this is just the appearance of design, not real design. While we may not yet know the natural process that created Stonehenge, scientists are busy working on the answer. We cannot give up on science by appealing to some unknown ‘designers.’ To do so is to employ a people of the gaps argument, and is not befitting of science.”
If someone argued this way he would be laughed out of court. So why is it different when it comes to the biological world, which bears all the hallmarks of design? If we recognize the presence of design by the presence of specified complexity, and at least parts of the biological world exhibit specified complexity, then it is rational to conclude that those features were caused by a designing intelligence. If methodological naturalism prevents us from concluding the obvious, then so much the worse for methodological naturalism! Such a philosophy of science is too restrictive. While we ought to look for naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena, we should not rule out the possibility of intelligent causation in the physical world a priori. The most important thing about a scientific explanation is that it is adequate to explain the physical effect in question. If no known natural cause is adequate to explain the natural effect, and an intelligent cause best explains the evidence, then it should be permissible for scientists to conclude that an intelligent agent caused the effect in question. Science should be more concerned about finding the right answers, and less concerned with finding the right kind of answers — ones that comport with their preferred philosophy of naturalism. The evidence should drive a scientist’s conclusions, not his philosophy, otherwise the philosophical tail ends up wagging the scientific dog. As Michael Behe writes: “It is often said that science must avoid any conclusions which smack of the supernatural. But this seems to me to be both bad logic and bad science. Science is not a game in which arbitrary rules are used to decide what explanations are to be permitted. Rather, it is an effort to make true statements about physical reality.”
This is not a debate between science versus religion, but a debate over the very definition of science itself. It is a debate concerning the philosophy of science. For those who are committed to the truth rather than a particular philosophy, there is no reason to restrict science to a search for natural causes. Science is a method, not a philosophy, and when the methods of science lead to discoveries with theistic implications, so be it. That is science!
The supernatural is beyond the scope of science. The inquiry of science is limited to the physical world. While empirical discoveries could have atheistic implications, the findings of science could never disprove theism since the tools of science are limited to induction and abuction, which only provide you with probabilities, not certainties.
Leonard Susskind, in an interview with Amanda Gefter of New Scientist, “Is String Theory in Trouble?”, December 17 2005 edition, p. 48; available from http://www.newscientist.com/channel/fundamentals/mg18825305.800.html; Internet; accessed 5 January 2006.
Tim Folger, “Science’s Alternative to an Intelligent Creator: the Multiverse Theory” in Discover magazine; available from http://discovermagazine.com/2008/dec/10-sciences-alternative-to-an-intelligent-creator/article_view?b_start:int=1&-C=; Internet; accessed 11 November 2008.
Michael Ruse, “Intelligent Design is an Oxymoron”; available from http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/may05/intelligent-design-fuller-creationism; Internet; accessed 05 May 2010.
S.C. Todd, “A View from Kansas on That Evolution Debate,” Nature 401 (September 30, 1999): 423.
Richard Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” The New York Review of Books, January 4, 1997.
Greg Koukl, Solid Ground, July/Augusts 2005 issue, 3.
This illustration is credited to Greg Koukl.
Naturalists argue that this is “giving up on science.” I disagree. It no more gives up on science than concluding that the pyramids were created by intelligent causes gives up on science. It’s a recognition that when the evidence points to an intelligent cause rather than a natural cause, we should adopt an intelligent cause. Arguing that we should not accept a theistic explanation of physical phenomena because science will probably discover an answer in the future. This sort of “science of the gaps” is a leap of faith on the part of the naturalist. We must make conclusions based on our knowledge in the present, not some possible knowledge that may be acquired in the future. To do otherwise would be like a defendant in a murder trial demanding to be acquitted even though all the evidence points to him perpetrating the crime, on the basis that someday in the future evidence might be discovered that proves him innocent.
Michael Behe, “Molecular Machines: Experimental Support for the Design Inference”; available from http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=54; Internet; accessed 01 January 2005.