How to talk about God and science

How should we talk about God and science? Can science tell us anything about whether or not God exists? To answer this question I will look at two areas of science; one is commonly linked with atheism while the other is often taken as evidence for God.

Evolution

It’s hard to overstate the hold that the theory of evolution has on the Western mind. For Christians and atheists alike, think science and you think evolution; think evolution and you think atheism. It’s almost a Pavlovian response. But the theory of evolution is about species evolving from a common ancestor, not about God or atheism. So what is the link between the two?

If it is that we can’t specifically see God in the evolution of giraffes (or whatever), this is no different from saying there is no God because when we drop something on the ground it’s gravity. 

Is it that science has filled a “gap” and it’s only a matter of time before the other gaps are filled? This either/or approach to God and science is a recent invention, and would have seemed bizarre to religious scholars, philosophers and ordinary believers alike outside the modern West. Not to mention that it assumes a limitless science; unconstrained by technological limitations or human brainpower.

Is it that evolution disproves creationism – in other words, it disproves one interpretation of one chapter of one document of one holy book held by some of the followers of one religion? But that is far from disproving God overall. There are concepts of God that are far different than that of the creationist. There could be a religion somewhere with evolution baked into it from the start. Does that mean the god of that religion exists? Surely not.

So it is clear that if you think, like Richard Dawkins, that evolution enables you to be an “intellectually fulfilled atheist”, it is not evolution doing the work here, but the preconceived ideas that you bring to the theory.

Fine-tuning

Let’s look at another example: fine-tuning. This is the idea that the constants of physics are highly precise, such that if they changed very slightly, life would not be possible. For example, if the strength of gravity was even a tiny bit different, the stars and planets could not have formed. The science behind this seems solid, leading some to posit God as the explanation for fine-tuning.

But why God, specifically? Why not Reincarnated Steve Jobs [1] or Five-Dimensional Goldfish On Mars? It is because you think God is plausible for other reasons, while Reincarnated Steve Jobs isn’t. So again, we see that it’s not the science of fine-tuning doing the work, but your preconceived ideas doing the work.

Can science tell us about God? Remember, science is not a thing; rather, it is a term of convenience for a diverse range of fields. So let’s break it down. Can geology tell us about God? No, because God is not a rock. Can biology tell us about God? No, because God is not an animal or plant. Can astronomy tell us about God? No, because God is not a star or planet. So it goes for the other sciences.

This is not to say that science should never be used to support a non-scientific position, just that science by itself cannot do so. If you do want to use science as evidence for God or for atheism, be very clear about what the science is telling you versus what your preconceived ideas are telling you, or you will end up with a simplistic position that misinterprets the science.

***

[1] Reincarnated Steve Jobs is a real thing. I hadn’t realised.

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