Word Magazine April 1963 Page 11
RELIGION AND SCIENCE
By John L. Boojamra
Can a scientist believe in God? This is a question which is often asked today. The scientist in Western culture and particularly in America is regarded with a certain amount of awe. We tend to ascribe to him and to his class the tremendous advances which science has initiated and carried through in every field of life. We picture him using equations and instruments, which he has formulated and designed, in the conquest of every media of nature — air, space, energy, and even life itself. Our culture is so thoroughly run through with science that, for many, a label “scientific” is regarded as a badge of the highest merit. On this basis it is not odd that the laymen should look upon the scientist as the “answer-man”.
Science represents the achievements, in most cases, of man over natural forces. These extensive accomplishments tend to give the impression that man is now all powerful and the controller of his destiny. He no longer needs God — science is his answer. Such an attitude is exemplified by the British philosopher Bertrand Russell when he writes, “Science can teach us . . . no longer to invent allies in the sky, but rather to look to our own efforts here below to make this world a fit place.” He continues, “There is probably no limit to what science can do in the way of increasing positive excellence.” (Russell, B., Why I Am Not A Christian, Simon and Schuster: (New York, pp. 22, 82.) It is furthermore often claimed that no human endeavor can be of any value unless it has a scientific foundation. The atheist or the person who rejects the existence of God searches for someone to support his formulation. This action is characteristic of any individual who, seizing upon a theory or concept, immediately looks for some outstanding personality to support his newly found philosophy. The atheist, therefore, looks to the scientist as the “new Man”, the “savior” of the world, to quell his pangs of indecision.
Of a person who holds the scientist thus, it may be said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, leading a half-thinker to atheism, while a deeper study must bring him back to God. The atheist who bases his disbelief on science is well read in no science, but rather, from casual intercourse, has a general and vague idea of everything. We also find related to this question of science the sincere Christian who continually attempts to reconcile the Bible and his faith to each new scientific discovery and each new link in the chain of evolution. This type of action only serves to put the Christian and his faith constantly on the defensive and in general is a fruitless attempt to keep his faith “up-to-date” by establishing it on a scientific foundation. Such efforts are also aimed at keeping one’s faith justifiable to oneself and to others. It is likewise the assumption of an insecure faith that says, as America’s biblical fundamentalists say, religion and science are diametrically opposed.
The fact that man is a scientist has nothing to do with his faith in God. This is the point. Science cannot say that there is or there is not a God. No intelligent person would disbelieve in something simply on the negative basis that he could not prove that it exists. Physicists did not assume that the atom was composed of only protons and electrons, merely because a third particle had not yet been discovered. They simply said nothing about a third constituent. As C. S. Lewis poignantly points out in his Screwtape Letters (accounts of letters of instruction from a senior devil to a junior devil concerning means of destroying a Christian soul). “Above all, do not attempt to use science[s] . . . as a defense against Christianity. They will positively encourage him to think about realities he can’t touch or see.”
The fact of the matter is that the scientist is an investigator whose scientific activities are governed by a set of rules embodied in the scientific method. The only commitment which a scientist makes is to pursue all his studies by the scientific method and to recognize it as the most valid means of uncovering natural truths. Everything that is science is ultimately founded upon this method. Where conditions indicate that the method cannot be applied then there can be no science. Just as it would he ridiculous to apply theological reasoning and methods to scientific problems, so likewise it is sheer stupidity to attempt the application of the scientific method of investigation to the existence of God and other religious considerations.
The scientist as a scientist would never ask the question “Does God exist?”, simply because he knows that he could never answer the question employing the method to which he is committed. Science is neutral or plastic on the point of the existence of God by virtue of the scientific method. The very nature of science is revealed in this method and, therefore, those who seek to base their faith or lack of it on science are making a false claim.
Observation is the first process of the scientific method. It is at once obvious that if something cannot be observed, it cannot be considered for investigation by science. Moreover, the observations must be repeatable. One time occurrences are not within the scope of science. This would clearly exclude miracles from scientific consideration since the scientist could not repeat miracles for testing.
The second step is the statement of a problem. Usually this takes the form of asking the question “How?” or “What?”. A question cannot be asked or a problem stated unless they are ultimately testable. Science, working within the frame of the scientific method, does not approach “Why?” questions. “Why does the universe exist?”, for instance, falls into an untestable category and is therefore outside the domain of science. Furthermore, science does not reveal purposes. It could never discover for what purpose man was created. This answer can only be completely revealed within the sphere of Christian truth. It must also be realized on this basis that science does not enter into the realm of value judgments and moral decisions. It is rather the user of the results of scientific endeavors who determines their moral value. The splitting of the atom is not intrinsically good or bad. It only becomes bad when man puts the discovery to destructive purposes. The scientific method, moreover, cannot be employed to tell us whether it is wrong to murder and right to love our neighbor. Science cannot and does not seek to give such answers. Science only describes physical processes and “natural” laws.
The next step, that of hypothesizing or making a guess as to what the answer to a given problem might be, is an integral part of the fourth step, experimentation. It is at this point that science and non-science are finally separated. While a scientist may have pursued the existence of God to this point, he may go no further. He cannot experiment with God. “Proof” of God’s existence must now rely totally on faith and the grace of the Christian experience.
The scientific method and any knowledge of it clearly destroy any stereotyped notions concerning the scientist and the existence of God. “Anything to which the scientific method can be applied, now or in the future, is or will be science; anything to which the method cannot be applied is not science.” Let us continue the consideration of the existence of God and the scientific method. Can we design an experiment about God? Any such experiment must include a control, that is, as any experimenter knows, two otherwise identical situations, one with and one without God. Inherent in the concept of God is His omnipresence and, hypothesizing that He does exist, we set about to prove it, If the hypothesis is correct and God does exist He must therefore be everywhere. He would then be in every test and we could not devise a control in which He was not. Therefore, God has not been proven by science to exist. The same process can be applied to the hypothesis that God does not exist. If He is proven to be non-existent, then it would be impossible for a control test to be devised where He is present. The point is clear. God is outside the sphere of scientific consideration and science cannot validly be applied in saying anything about Him.
From the preceding it can be seen that statements, such as, “Science has done away with God” or as Russell has written, “God and immortality, the central dogmas of the Christian religion, find no support in science,” are meaningless and of no validity. Science says nothing about God and it leaves its adherents free to believe or not to believe. “This, then, is the voice of science. A voice without truths, without values, without purposes.” It does, however, remain for the Christian to give moral value to scientific products. This remains his grave responsibility, and he cannot pass this responsibility, as he often does, on to the scientists. As Christ alluded to in His parable of the talents, the Master will hold His servants responsible for the wise use of His resources.
Science, as stated earlier, is plastic. It can be used to support a person’s belief or his unbelief. For the Christian, science serves to reveal God, reflected in the order of His universe; the same order of which the Psalmist, in his simplicity, wrote, “Thou didst set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be shaken. . . Thou didst set a bound which [all] should not pass. . . O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all. . .”