The Eternal Science vs. Religion Bar Fight
This article was published in the On Faith section of the Washington Post in 2010, coincident with the publication of my book, The New Enlightenment.
Stephen Hawking’s book, The Grand Design, summarizes the argument that the universe could have been created out of nothing and is held in a balance to keep it from collapsing back into nothing. No God is required at all to explain these phenomena.
And yet, Hawking’s work, while brilliant, is pointless.
We are still stuck with the absolute probability that humans are spiritual and that there is a God is, precisely, 50%; and the probability that doctrinal religion or science can inform us usefully on this subject is still, precisely, 0%.
Doctrinal religion is the easiest to start with. While there may be a God-creator and humans may be spiritual, doctrinal religion is useless in understanding these issues. It is transparently political, exclusionary, triumphalist, self-righteous, mythical, and cynical.
Most importantly, religion is contradictory. It says humans have spirits and then proceeds to speak for God and provide human rules to control and judge behavior – all of which is anti-spiritual and anti-God.
From the perspective of scientists, such contradictions are like shooting fish in a barrel. And each new scientific discovery in archeology, history, evolution, genetics, neurophysiology, astrophysics, etc. undercuts some religious/doctrinal claim or belief.
And so, science marches on, applying Occam’s Razor, not really disproving or proving the existence of God and the spirit, but, certainly, proving “what they are not” … they are not doctrinal religion. The earth is not at the center of the universe or solar system, God never gave one tribe an exclusive franchise on truth or the “Word of God,” humans evolved and have a genetic code only slightly different from other animals, the “Big Bang” creation of the universe – and much that happened “before” – can be understood and simulated, etc.
But, the logical problem which science, somewhat disingenuously, overlooks, is that proving “what God and the spirit are not” is not the same as proving that “they are not.”
The problem for science is that any “real God” or “spirit” would not exist within the realm of time or space or physical principles, and thus they would not be measurable. A subtle issue here is “timelessness” as opposed to “eternity.”
Religions, too, confuse the “eternal”/“supernatural” with the “timeless”/“spiritual,” which, again, makes religions sitting ducks. The religious material, anthropomorphic visions of God, heaven and hell, miracles, death, and the spirit suggest that they exist in some “supernatural” state (which is still material), with an “eternal” narrative and timeline of some sort, going on forever and ever. Aside from being mundane, banal, and very depressing, these are also anti-spiritual ideas – simplistic physical extensions of material life, which could in no way represent the essence of the spiritual. All religious doctrine can be discounted for this one, obvious flaw. A “timeless” God and spirit, which never change, are very different from the always-changing, “eternal” versions in religious scripture, literature, art, and ritual.
And, for many Gordian Not-Heads of Science, this, too, is the double-edged sword.
Science cannot, ever, measure or inform the spiritual or the “timeless.” Science will never understand how the spontaneous forces of the universe came into existence; will never be able to determine if people have “souls;” will never be able to disprove the existence of God. “In vitro” is not the “god-like” act it is sometimes portrayed as. Anti-matter is not a “God particle.” Science makes huge strides in human knowledge and is a huge benefit to many people, but it is wholly material and not “god-like.” To claim otherwise is conceit … much like religion representing itself as the “Word of God.”
And so, the probability remains 50%. It all comes down to a matter of choice. Over 80% of all humans are members of a religion. Leaders of the Enlightenment and the founders of America were deists. To the degree that they chose/have chosen to believe in God and the spirit, they are not wrong. To the degree that they believe in a particular religious doctrine they are 100% wrong. Interestingly, in a recent Pew poll, over 70% of members of the various religions in the United States said that they do not believe that their religion is the exclusive route to “salvation.” So, most people are trying to be spiritual and “reasonable.”
At the other end of the argument, a large proportion of scientists call themselves “atheists,” which may mean they do not believe in God and the spirit, or it may mean that they do not believe in any religious version of God and the spirit. They are not wrong either.
There is no contradiction at all. The premises are simply wrong and no one can even test the null hypothesis.