"Science Has Disproved God"
The following essay from Vince Vitale is an excerpt from his newly released Jesus Among Secular Gods, coauthored with Ravi Zacharias.
The first time I met people who encouraged me to consider God, I was in college. I began by reading the gospels, and I found myself attracted to the Christian message. I found myself especially attracted to the person of Jesus and the beautiful life that he lived. But, to be honest, I assumed that belief in God was for people who didn't think hard enough. I assumed that smart people somewhere had already disproved belief in God. More specifically, I assumed that there was some purely scientific way of understanding the world, and that miracles had no part in it.
I can remember picking up a book in a university bookshop around that time and reading the back cover, which summarized the book as an attempt to hold on to a form of Christianity while explaining away all the supposed miracles of Jesus in scientific terms. And I remember hoping it could be done, because I was longing for the person of Jesus, but I thought the traditional account of Christianity was just too extraordinary to believe.
I had this assumption that the burden of proof for belief in God must be higher, because God is such an extraordinary option. Richard Dawkins puts it this way:
"If you want to believe in...unicorns, or tooth fairies, Thor or Yahweh—the onus is on you to say why you believe in it. The onus is not on the rest of us to say why we do not."(1)
I bought into that way of thinking—that God is the crazy option, whereas a fully naturalistic and fully scientifically explainable universe is the sober, sensible, rational option. Without ever really reasoning it through, I accepted the cultural myth that we used to need God to miraculously explain thunder and lightning, rainbows and shooting stars. But now that we have scientific explanations for these things, we should stop believing in God.
That's actually not a very good argument. A good engineer doesn't need to keep stepping in to override systems and fix malfunctions. If God is a good engineer, isn't the ability to explain his design in terms of consistently functioning processes exactly what we should expect?
Moreover, we no longer think we need the moon to explain lunacy. (Lunacy comes from the word lunar, because people used to think the position of the moon explained madness.) Does that mean we should no longer believe in the moon? Should we become not only a-theists but a-moonists?(2) Of course not. Even if the moon doesn't explain madness, there are many other things, such as the tides of the oceans, that it does explain. Likewise, the reasons for believing in God extend far beyond just scientific reasons and include historical, philosophical, moral, aesthetic, experiential, and relational reasons.
Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, The Attributes of the Sciences, oil on canvas, 1731.
Without thinking it through, I jumped from science to scientism—from the fact that science can explain a lot to the assumption that it can explain everything. However, just because the advancement of science has taught us new things about how the universe works, that doesn’t tell us whether there is a who behind the how.
I can give you a full scientific explanation of how Microsoft Office works (well, I can’t, but a computer expert could; he could sit you down with the design instructions for Microsoft Office and give you a full scientific explanation of how it works). But that would not show that Bill Gates doesn’t exist; it wouldn’t show that there is no who behind the how. To the contrary, it would show that Bill Gates is really smart!
The how question (a question of mechanism) does not answer the who question (a question of agency), and it also doesn’t answer the why question (a question of purpose): Why was Microsoft Office created? We can only get an answer to that question if Bill Gates chooses to share it with us, if the creator of the system chooses to reveal it.
Some of the standard arguments against God based on science are actually not very good. But I think there are a lot of people out there like I was. People who might be open to Christian faith, but who have just assumed that science has made that impossible. They've bought into a cultural myth about the battle between science and religion without actually thinking it through.
In my own life, I’m so thankful to have met some friends, seventeen years ago, who were able to communicate to me in an accessible way their reasons for God, including their reasons for thinking that science and God are in no way incompatible. I found myself persuaded. In fact, today I would agree with Peter van Inwagen, one of the world's foremost philosophers, when he says that "No discovery of science (so far, at any rate) has the least tendency to show that there is no God."(3)
I would actually go further. Not only do I think science is in no way incompatible with belief in God, but I actually think that science points strongly to the existence of God, and there are four reasons why I believe this:
The universe has a beginning.
The universe is knowable.
The universe is regular.
The universe is finely tuned for life.
I believe all four of these facts about our universe are best explained by the existence of God.
Vince Vitale is director of the Zacharias Institute at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
For more on Jesus Among Secular Gods, including a video interview with Ravi Zacharias click here.
(1) Richard Dawkins, "A Challenge to Atheists," Free Enquiry (Vol. 22, No. 3, 2002).
(2) Alvin Plantinga, interview by Gary Gutting, “Is Atheism Irrational?” The New York Times Opinionator, 9 Feb. 2014, http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/09/is-atheism-irrational/?_r=0. Accessed 10 Sept. 2016.
(3) Peter van Inwagen, "Weak Darwinism," Darwin and Catholicism: The Past and Present Dynamics of a Cultural Encounter, edited by Louis Caruana (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2009), 119.