Nature, we all know, follows laws. It follows laws regardless of whether you and I are thinking about the laws or whether you and I know what the laws are.
As Jacques Lacan once asked, if the planets were following Kepler’s formula for their orbits before Kepler wrote it down, the law must exist independently of human knowing.
But then, before any scientist thought it, was another mind thinking it? We know that ideas are metaphysical entities. No one has ever seen, heard, tasted, touched or smelled an idea. But, is it possible for an idea to exist without there being a thinker thinking it?
Dare I say, it is not a trivial issue. Nor is it trivial to ask whether science can prove or disprove the existence of God.
Emir Aczel does not believe that science can disprove the existence of God. Reviewing Aczel’s book, MIT physicist Alan Lightman defines the issue clearly:
Aczel, trained as a mathematician, currently a research fellow in the history of science at Boston University and the author of “Fermat’s Last Theorem,” takes aim at the New Atheists in his intelligent and stimulating book “Why Science Does Not Disprove God.” He attempts to show that the New Atheists’ analyses fall far short of disproving the existence of God. In fact, he accuses these folks of staining the scientific enterprise by bending it to their dark mission.
Summarizing Aczel, Lightman invites us to examine the latest scientific theory of the origin of the universe, the one that sees the universe as having emerged out of “quantum foam.” For the record the Hebrew version of Genesis calls it tohu wa bohu. In translation, the Biblical text reads: “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”
At what point does science yield to metaphysics?
In his words:
There is plenty of good scientific evidence that our universe began about 14 billion years ago, in a Big Bang of enormously high density and temperature, long before planets, stars and even atoms existed. But what came before? Krauss in his book discusses the current thinking of physicists that our entire universe could have emerged from a jitter in the amorphous haze of the subatomic world called the quantum foam, in which energy and matter can materialize out of nothing. (On the level of single subatomic particles, physicists have verified in the lab that such creation from “nothing” can occur.) Krauss’s punch line is that we do not need God to create the universe. The quantum foam can do it quite nicely all on its own. Aczel asks the obvious question: But where did the quantum foam come from? Where did the quantum laws come from? Hasn’t Krauss simply passed the buck? Legitimate questions. But ones we will probably never be able to answer.
Lightman takes exception to Aczel’s view that when science cannot explain something it proves that God exists. He answers that this reasoning assumes that science will never know more than it knows today.
It is not the inability of science to explain some physical phenomenon that shows we cannot disprove the existence of a creative power (i.e., God). Science is a work in progress, and phenomena that science cannot explain now may be explained 100 years from now. Before the 18th century, people had no explanation for lightning.
He continues that science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God. Grant that Darwin’s theories are scientific fact, but nothing about them says that they do not manifest divine will.
Besides, as long as God cannot be measured, you cannot devise a scientific experiment that would prove or disprove God’s existence:
The reason that science cannot disprove the existence of God, in my opinion, is that God, as understood by all human religions, exists outside time and space. God is not part of our physical universe (although God may choose to enter the physical universe at times). God is not subject to experimental tests. Either you believe or you don’t believe.
Thus, no matter what scientific evidence is amassed to explain the architecture of atoms, or the ways that neurons exchange chemical and electrical signals to create the sensations in our minds, or the manner in which the universe may have been born out of the quantum foam, science cannot disprove the existence of God — any more than a fish can disprove the existence of trees. Likewise, no matter what gaps exist in current scientific knowledge, no matter what baffling good deeds people do, no matter what divine and spiritual feelings people have, theology cannot prove the existence of God.
If we accept that theology cannot prove the existence of God scientifically, perhaps there are other, rational ways of showing that God exists. After all, scientific proof is not be the only kind.
Ultimately, science can merely account for what is. It cannot account for what might have been. It cannot explain why what is did not turn out otherwise. We are left, Lightman says, with faith:
Some universes have stars and planets, some do not. Some harbor life, some do not. In this scenario, our universe is simply an accident. If our particular universe did not have the right parameters to allow the emergence of life, we wouldn’t be here to talk about it. In a similar way, Earth happens to be at the right distance from the sun to have liquid water, a nice oxygen atmosphere and so on. We can ask why our planet has all these lovely properties, amenable to life. And the explanation is that there is nothing special or designed about Earth. Other planets exist. But if we lived on Mercury, where the temperature is 800 degrees, or on Neptune, where it is 328 degrees below zero, we could not exist. Unfortunately, it is almost certain that we cannot prove the existence of these other universes. We must accept their existence as a matter of faith.