Science vs Religion?
There is a growing worldview that believes that science can, or at least is capable of, explaining everything. Given enough time and resources science will provide an explanation for everything that is. Given this belief then anything science cannot explain is presumed to be explained at some future, unknown time and thus one can never conclude science has no explanation for something. To arrive at this view, the supernatural has to be disallowed as a possible explanation. Since science cannot explain the supernatural, it rejects it. It is simply not possible that anything could exist outside the realm of what science can understand.
By definition, this means science and religion can never overlap. You either believe in science or religion (or that religion has nothing to do with science) but not both. They are opposing worldviews incapable of being reconciled. One can especially see this extreme dichotomy played out when it comes to the question of how the universe came to be and how life came to be within that universe. Science is forever in search of a theory that could explain the universe and life in it without any involvement by an outside intelligence (i.e. God). Science keeps searching in ever more convoluted ways to explain the origins of the universe with no willingness to even entertain theories that involve the supernatural.
One might liken this to a group of people who lack sight. They only believe in that what they can touch and feel since they lack sight. Now imagine they encounter people who can see and who describe to them things off in the distance that they could never touch or feel. Perhaps the moon in the night sky. The blind people would refuse to believe in the moon. They cannot touch it and feel it therefore it cannot exist. What if the sighted people explained to them how the moon was responsible for low and high tides which the blind people could experience? While the gravitational force of the moon would provide a plausible theory, the blind people simply could not accept that explanation and would continue to pursue an explanation that they could feel and touch.
Science is hardly blind but one might say it has a blind spot. Its blind spot is that it cannot accept or even consider that truth might exist outside the realm of what science can prove. In some ways devotion to a particular way of thinking is good. It can help exhaust the possibilities of that way of thinking. Criticism, testing, challenge, and debate are ways in which we test the veracity of our theories.
Consider our legal system. Someone charged with a crime is considered innocent until proven guilty. The prosecution makes arguments based on evidence and conjecture that would indicate the guilt of the accused. The defense attempts to refute these arguments and present their own evidence and conjecture on what happened. The prosecution will never give in and admit the defense is right and they were wrong nor will the defense give in and admit the prosecution is right and they are wrong. Both will do their best to argue their case and it is a judge or jury who ultimately decides the case. Even if the defense privately doubts the innocence of the accused it is still their job to try and defend them. Even if the prosecution privately concludes they lack enough evidence to prove their case they will still continue to make it. You could fairly say such an arrangement helps to shed light on the truth by testing each possible conclusion (guilt or innocence) to the utmost. Precisely, by staying devoted to one conclusion each side exhausts the veracity of each side of the argument. It helps if they believe their side is right but strictly speaking it is not necessary that they do. A public defender may be assigned a case they suspect is a losing one. Despite this, they still do their best to force the prosecution to prove their case. After all, if they are right then they should be able to prove they are right. That’s now it works.
Science is out to prove there is a purely naturalistic explanation for the universe and life in it. It will keep searching for naturalist explanations. Each time one is disproven they will move to another possible theory. They feel it is their duty to be committed to only naturalistic theories.
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….Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.
Retired Harvard evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin in the New York Review of Books 1997
There you have it, straight from an evolutionary biologist. No matter how contrived or forced their theories are, they are committed to materialism because the alternative is unthinkable. The supernatural or the divine is simply not a possibility they are willing to entertain.
Who is the judge or jury in this case? It is all of us, both scientists and non-scientists. Ultimately, we each have to decide what we believe. What’s difficult about this trial is that the arguments get very technical and go beyond the ability of most of us to understand at least without devoting years of our lives to studying such things. That said, there are some excellent authors that have done a good job explaining the science in a way the layman can comprehend even if we cannot investigate all the details ourselves.
I resolve the tension between science and religion (or science and the supernatural) in this way. Imagine I draw a large box (a large rectangle or square) on a blank sheet of paper. I label that shape truth. The size is arbitrary. No one knows the dimensions of the object or how much truth it can hold. It does, however, represent all truth. Inside this box I draw a circle. Again, the size is arbitrary but the circle does not completely fill the box. I label this circle science. It represents that subset of truth that can be discovered by science. What lies outside the circle, but within the box, is the supernatural. It is that which can never be discovered by science. It lies outside the boundaries of what science can discover.
Science begins with a hypothesis. A theory. For the theory to be accepted as fact, it has to be proven. That means it has to be testable. There must be a way to test the theory. It must be falsifiable which means you can devise a test that could prove it to be false if it was indeed false. It has to be repeatable. You have to be able to make it work more than once. Take nuclear fusion for example. There have been claims of nuclear fusion being obtained in a laboratory but to date, no one has been able to repeat those successes. We have no repeatable way to produce nuclear fusion so it remains elusive.
When it comes to origins, or how the universe was created, science breaks down. It is impossible to fully recreate the conditions that existed before time began. Any theory about that would not be testable. It could not be proven. How can science tell us what existed before the universe?
Scientists are pretty much in agreement that our universe began in the big bang when a highly condensed mass of matter exploded creating space as it expanded. The hot matter began to cool as it dispersed and this cooling created the stars and the planets. This was all dependent upon a very precise set of initial conditions that required fine tuning. The laws of physics are very precise. They have to be exactly what they are for the universe to exist. Where did the matter come from? How did these very precise laws of physics get determined? Science keeps trying to explain these things but keeps failing. I believe these answers lie outside of science. I would suggest that science is a worthy approach to understanding the universe that God created (within limits) but cannot explain God or how God spoke the universe into being from nothing (ex nihlo or literally, out of nothing).
The problem though is that science has convinced most of society, that science can answer all questions given enough time and resources. That gives science a perfect out for anything it can’t explain (i.e. we just haven’t had enough time or resources to explain this but eventually…). To quote physicist Stephen C. Meyer:
“No law of nature can close the casual discontinuity between nothing and the origin of nature itself”
(Return of the God Hypothesis, Stephen C. Meyer, 2021, Harper One, pg. 418)
As precise as we like to view science as being, even science accepts theories that offer the best explanation. In other words, when presented with data and a set of theories, which theory offers the best explanation which is normally thought to be the least complicated explanation that fits the data. Yet if something supernatural best fits the data, it is rejected out of hand. We sometimes encounter in classic crime dramas an intriguing case in which an explanation seems to elude investigation. Often the main investigator will say something like “If you eliminate all that is impossible, you are left with what is possible.” In other words, if you eliminate all the normal logical explanations that you have no evidence for, then you must consider what is left even if it seems impossible. Even if it involves the supernatural. Science may not like the supernatural or even believe in it but science cannot disprove it. It remains an uncomfortable thorn-in-the-side for science. Some scientists view supernatural explanations as a cop-out. Yet, the supernatural is not always invoked simply because the natural cannot explain something but because the supernatural is the best explanation. This is where the science of intelligent design or ID comes from. It is a scientific theory that says that creation requires that there had to be an intelligence behind it and that the universe and life in it are the results of an intelligent design. ID does not specify who or what that intelligence is. Indeed, it has adherents who are atheists. They simply have concluded that the only, and best, explanation for the universe is that there was an intelligence that designed it and is beyond the ability of science to define it. The atheist who believes in ID would conclude that there had to be an intelligent designer and would admit that they have no explanation as to the identity of that intelligence. A Christian or Jewish scientist who believes in ID would likely say it was God.
Science has fought a holy war against ID. The very idea of it threatens science. They feel that if they admit there might be a supernatural explanation then all of science is undermined when that is not the case.
Oftentimes science tries to explain the origins of the universe, or of life in the universe, as the result of chance. By chance, they mean a long history of trial-and-error until by blind luck something works. You might picture Thomas Edison who kept experimenting with different filaments in his quest to get a working lightbulb. He tried hundreds of filaments before he finally found one that worked. Was that chance? Of course not. Thomas Edison was an intelligent man. He had a goal in mind (a lightbulb, powered by electricity, that could safely stay lit for a long enough period of time to make the lightbulb a commercial success). So he knew what success would be. He had a specific goal and a way of knowing when it was achieved. He also was able to learn from his mistakes. As different materials used as filaments failed to meet his goal, he learned. Some failures caused him to no longer pursue certain materials. Each failure guided him in what to try next. He wasn’t blindly reaching into a box of materials and randomly pulling one out. It still took many trials to achieve success but it wasn’t blind chance that lead to the first lightbulb. In fact, before he pronounced success, he has a few semi-successes. He found some materials that lit the bulb but burned out quickly. They produced light but too briefly to manufacture a usable bulb from. Part of his goal was to design a lightbulb that could stay lit for weeks or months so people would not have to constantly replace them which would make them impractical.
If we deny the possibility of an intelligent designer, then we have two problems. First – where did matter come from and where did the laws of physics come from? How did matter know to super condense and then to explode? Where did the laws come from that fixed how that matter would act as it expanded and cooled? Even if you posit the laws were derived by trial and error, you still have no answer to where matter came from. Second – how does chance know when it has succeeded? Chance has no end goal nor can it learn from its past failures. When one considers how precise the initial conditions of the universe had to be (what physicists call fine tuning), how did chance know when one property was correct and to stop varying it while working on the others? It wouldn’t know. It would have to somehow get all of them right in one shot. We are talking about properties that can’t be off by even the slightest bit. The usual answer is that given enough time, chance will eventually pull it off. It might take trillions of trillions or trillions of tries but at some point, it will hit on the right combination. How does it know it’s done? Well, it doesn’t except when it succeeds the created universe will persist rather than collapsing again due to failure. That of course begs the question of how did matter obtain the properties necessary to make it try again after each failure. Even if we allow that given enough time chance could finally get it right (forgetting for the moment problem #1), how long would that take?
Let’s now ask that question relative to life in the universe. Scientists are pretty certain the universe is a little over 18 billon years old. The earth is a little over 3 billion years old. Is 18 billion years enough time for chance to create human life? Remember, chance has no goal in mind. If life came from a primordial soup of amino acids and such, how much trial and error did it take to create human life? 18 billion years is a long time and too big of a number for us to imagine. For centuries science could not tell us how long it would take for trial and error to create life. Along came microbiology and the invention of sophisticated computer-driven microscopes and test equipment that could actually show us this level of activity and allow us to observe amino acids combining. Human DNA is made up of 8 proteins. Each protein is made up of hundreds of amino acids. For a protein to form it has to have the exact combinations of amino acids needed and they would have to be added in the precisely correct sequence. To get human life all 8 proteins would have to get formed exactly right at the same time. How long is that going to take?
Now we can start to put numbers around this. We can measure how long it takes for amino acids to form into proteins and then proteins to combine. We can use those measurements combined with the probabilities of such combinations occurring and derive an estimate of how long that would take by chance. The answer is orders and orders and orders of magnitude longer than the universe has existed. Simply put, the universe has not existed long enough to have created human life by chance. Now, if scientists want to combine amino acids in a laboratory to create human DNA, they could do it much, much, much quicker because they already know the exact combinations needed. They could get it right on the first try! It helps to know the answer before you start. If, however, the human life is the product of blind, indifferent, unintelligent chance, then 18 billion years is nowhere close to long enough. That’s like saying you have to cross the Pacific Ocean from California to China and at best swimming speed, assuming you had the skill, it would take you six months of swimming but oh, you only have a nano second. Uh, that’s not going to happen.
Ok, you argue, but even if the odds against something happening are a million to one, there is still a chance you get succeed on your first try. On average no but you could get lucky. People do win the lottery despite the low odds. Ok, but now let’s say you have to win the lottery every day for 10 years straight. How many years do you think would have to pass before you could do that? I don’t know, I haven’t done the math, but I’m guessing hundreds of thousands of years, perhaps millions or billions. Now, what are the odds you do it in the first 10 years? Would you bet your life on those odds? Could it happen? In theory but the odds are so infinitesimal that no rational person would give it any chance of happening the first time. If 10 years was all you had, do you think it would happen? What if you were in charge of the lottery and knew what the winning number was going to be each day and had access to all the tickets before they were shipped out to all the stores. Well, in that case, you could simply find the winning ticket each day and keep it for yourself and win every day for 10 years. Of course, in real life, you would never get away with that but if you could then it would work.
So, which is more likely, chance created human life in a fraction of a fraction of a fraction (…) of the time needed by trial and error or some intelligence planned and created human life and got it right the first time? If you didn’t have a bias against the divine, wouldn’t that be the most compelling answer? Remember, even if you still think chance beat all the odds and got it right way, way, way, way… before it should have, you still have the problem of where did matter come from and the laws of physics? Science has never been able to solve that problem though some silly attempts have been made.
So what to believe? There is a persistent belief in science that someday science will have the answer. While optimistic, it discounts the possibility, and I would argue the inescapability, that there are some answers even science can’t find.
I have read where scientists believe the matter that expanded from the Big Bang created space as it expanded. Instead of expanding into something, the universe created space as it went. So, what’s beyond the universe? Nothing according to science. The universe is all there is. However, we don’t really know that. We are finite creatures whose physical existence is dependent on the physical universe. We are part of the universe and cannot look beyond it. We are on the inside and can’t look outside. Think of us as a dust spec inside a balloon. Since we are inside the balloon, and the balloon is not transparent, we cannot see what is outside the balloon. As the balloon continues to fill with air, we float around inside the balloon but we can never leave it or look outside it. We know what the balloon is made of and understand a bit about why it is expanding but we don’t know where the material that makes up the balloon came from. We’ve come to understand that material has elasticity that governs how it responds to air pressure but we don’t know how it came to have that property. We can explore inside the balloon and make many discoveries but since we are inside the balloon, we can’t know what is outside the balloon (if anything) or where the balloon came from. Logic tells us something, someone must have created the balloon and started it filling with air but what? Some, not liking the idea that something exists outside the balloon and created it, try to come up with other theories about how the balloon came to be. Perhaps there were other balloons and as they popped their air filled our balloon? That must be it. Except how did those balloons get created and where did their air come from? No matter how you slice it, how you dice it, somehow something had to just exist. It had to be self-existent (had no creator) yet had the ability to create. It had to be intelligent to create a balloon with properties of elasticity, light transmission, and other properties. It’s either that or you have to believe the original balloon just existed and had these properties.
Everything we know inside our balloon tells us things happen for a reason. There is cause and effect. Actions cause reactions. Things are not just random. There are laws that govern how things happen. Indeed, without these laws our balloon would not even exist or hold together. So, which is more logical? Did the balloon and its properties somehow exist eternally or did an intelligent being exist eternally and create the balloon and keeps it existing?
An intelligent being makes more sense and fits the data we have much better. I would further state that intelligence is God. Not just “god” but Jesus Christ and the God of the Bible. The Bible tells us that everything that was created was created by Jesus Christ. The first words of the Bible are, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth….” What beginning? That statement refers to the beginning of our universe. God already existed. God is not bound to time and space. He is without beginning and without end. While God is omnipresent and fills the universe, God is not dependent on the universe and exists independent from it. Our clock started ticking when, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. That is the beginning Genesis 1:1 refers to.
I realize other religions and belief systems posit some kind of creator or living matter but none is backed up by the evidence the Bible presents. Time does not permit me to get into those arguments but the Bible is absolutely unique in all of human literature and the factual events it describes contain things that only an eternal omnipotent God, who exists outside of time and space, could do. I see no other explanations that have near the support. God is not just an idea or fanciful thinking. The Bible contains real, verifiable history. I would argue that belief in the God of the Bible and His being the cause of all of creation is the most logical, reasonable, and scientific answer.
I believe science and faith can, and must coexist. They are only at odds in the minds of those who will not accept or consider faith in the supernatural and evidence for a Divine Creator. Science continues blindly trying to understand Creation without its Creator.
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
6They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 3)