When one looks at a list of best-selling books for the last ten years he is almost guaranteed that a few of those books will be written by what pop media is now calling militant atheists. These writers, who have a very shallow knowledge of religion, spit up an array of scarecrow arguments to make anyone who believes in God or a certain religion seem like an irrational idiot. Books such as “God is not Great” by Christopher Hitchens and “the God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins claim that modern science has officially disproven God beyond a reasonable doubt. In actuality, the question of the existence of God has been debated for hundreds of years by philosophers, theologians, and scientists, and is far from over.
The first question that one must address is whether or not it is even possible for science or empiricism to make a claim about the divine. Many prominent theologians write that these two subjects deal with completely separate issues: religion with the why, and science with the how. The most prominent proponent of this opinion is the late evolutionary biologist Steven Jay Gould who coined the term NOMA or Non-Overlapping Magisteria — the view that science and religion are two separate domains and that one cannot tell you anything about the other. If one wishes to adopt this view, then science has certainly not disproven god – for it can say nothing on the subject, and this article can end right here.
I, however, do not accept the claim that science and religion are two separate domains. First of all, many religions make historical claims which are certainly in the realm of empiricism. While I do not wish to delve into this subject here, the question of whether or not the Exodus happened or when the Torah was written are certainly susceptible to scientific and historical inquiry. Additionally, if one makes a claim that “God exists” he is making a factual, objective claim about the universe. Once someone makes a factual claim about the universe, it is (in theory) able to be supported or weakened by empirical evidence. Continuing off of this theme, I find that my belief in God is the more logical conclusion based off of what we, as a scientific community, know and understand about the universe.
The question of, “Why are we here?” has arisen in pretty much every society in the history of human civilization. The very fact that there is “something” rather than “nothing” forces us, as thoughtful beings, to ask and to question of why this is so. Now this question on its own does not seem to be too powerful. Not everything that exists in a certain state begs the question of “why?” For instance I could take a handful of sand and throw it into the wind. If I then questioned why each particle fell in the exact place it did – and then used this scenario to prove that there was some grand intelligence behind my action – my argument would not be very strong. However, in our case the questioning is coming from within the system. As human beings we have the ability to think abstractly and have high levels of consciousness. It is as if the grains of sand themselves were arranged in such a way that they gave rise to a type of consciousness which has never before been seen in the universe. In this case the grains of sand would have to accept an absurdly large amount of “luck” (I will return to this topic later), or accept that the “thrower” had some grand plan behind his action.
As previously stated, our consciousness and ability to think is what gives rise to our question of purpose in life. At this point we need to step back and realize that we are not just a natural or deterministic conclusion of a universe – as some physicists and biologists would claim, but rather our existence alone is highly unlikely.
In the book Just Six Numbers by Michael Rees, the author talks about six constants in nature which are necessary for life to even have started to exist. For example the force which bonds atomic nuclei together, Є, is .007. If this number was .008 or .006 it is questionable whether or not atoms could even exist. Now there is a debate among physicists regarding whether or not these constants “had to be” the numbers that they are. Could these numbers have been different according to the laws of physics? The majority opinion seems to be that there is no law that “forced” these constants to end up as they were. This means that in theory our universe could have had infinite variations, with only a small handful of them even suitable for any form of life.
Once we have the necessary environment to give birth to life, we still must contend with the origin of life itself. No one has the slightest idea how inanimate matter became animate. Once we accept that we have life, how then did consciousness eventually form? While humans share over 99 percent of their DNA with chimps, we are so disparate that any attempt to compare our intelligence is humorous at best. I understand that these few questions fall under the God-of-the-gaps critique, however these are questions which scientific knowledge admits its absolute ignorance. Furthermore, I am not saying that these processes were “snapped” or “spoken” into existence by God, rather I view God as the orderly process that set up and continued to support this system. Even if scientists hopefully do figure out exactly how this happened, it can tell us nothing about how the initial process began starting from creation ex-nihilo all the way to modern day humans.
The atheist rebuttal to these arguments is known as the Anthropic principle. This principle states that no matter how unlikely it is that: 1) our universe was created with the exact constants to support life somewhere, 2) our world being in a perfect place within the universe to support life, 3) life evolving from inanimate material and becoming animate, 4) the origin of the eukaryotic cell (a cell needed to support complex life but not found in simple bacteria), and 5) the origin of consciousness in humans – since we are here observing it even though it “needs some luck to get started “…and …”also needs major infusions of luck” (The God Delusion pg 169), it must have happened because we are here.
The Anthropic principle relies on ideas such as the multiverse in one of its many forms, string theory, or many other ideas which have no empirical evidence supporting them. Many atheists, who don’t believe in God for lack of proof, will happily accept ideas such as our universe being a part of an infinite number of universes in some multiverse system. From here, the theories of the multiverse only become more bizarre with ideas that every millisecond the universe branches out into two parallel universes, or the theory that Darwinist evolution guides mother-daughter universes which naturally select for a habitable environment. It is very unclear why someone would think that an infinite amount of universes with no supporting evidence is more rational than a single God who created the world.
In conclusion, I feel that belief in God is not an act of blind faith but rather the most rational conclusion to make as I look out into the universe. Granted, my arguments in no way argue for a personal God or one who cares about our deeds or listens to prayers — maybe that will be a future post. Furthermore, this is a part of a much larger conversation which involves many other crucial topics such as anthropology, materialism, evolution, and morality — each of which can contain an entire book regarding their importance to this debate. As for this article I hope that this is not viewed as conclusive thoughts but rather a springboard for future conversation. If anyone wants to discuss any of these issues more, please find me on campus as I am always down to talk!