How can you believe in the existence of God who can’t be scientifically proven?
The existence of God cannot be proven in a laboratory or through the complicated mechanisms of logic. Neither can love, beauty, or happiness, but that does not mean they are not real. In the same way, just because you cannot “prove” that God exists as you can prove a chemical formula, it does not mean that He is not real. It only means you are using the wrong tools.
Faith is not anti-intellectual. Mr. Graham has said, “Some of the finest scientists I have ever met are men and women with a deep faith in God, because they realize that science alone cannot explain where we came from or why we are here. They are convinced that science itself points to an all-wise and all-powerful Creator. As the Bible says, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands’ (Psalm 19:1).”
We invite you to look beyond the physical world to the greatest evidence of all—the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible says we can know God is real, because He came into this world in the Person of Jesus Christ. If you want to know what God is like, look at Christ, who is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).
We urge you not to let pride or anything else get in the way of discovering the new life He alone can give. When we open our lives to Jesus Christ, we are admitting that we do not have all the answers and cannot save ourselves. The Bible says, “The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).
The Bible also says, “You can never please God without faith … Anyone who wants to come to God must believe that there is a God” (Hebrews 11:6, TLB). You best demonstrate your faith in a bank by putting your money in it. You best show your faith in a doctor by trusting him in times of illness.
You best prove your faith in a boat by getting aboard. You demonstrate faith in Christ by trusting Him with your life and by receiving Him unconditionally as your Savior.
A number of recent books and articles would have you believe that—somehow—science has now disproved the existence of God. We know so much about how the universe works, their authors claim, that God is simply unnecessary: we can explain all the workings of the universe without the need for a Creator.
And indeed, science has brought us an immense amount of understanding. The sum total of human knowledge doubles roughly every couple of years or less. In physics and cosmology, we can now claim to know what happened to our universe as early as a tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang, something that may seem astounding. In chemistry, we understand the most complicated reactions among atoms and molecules, and in biology we know how the living cell works and have mapped out our entire genome. But does this vast knowledge base disprove the existence of some kind of pre-existent outside force that may have launched our universe on its way?
Science won major victories against entrenched religious dogma throughout the 19th century. In the 1800s, discoveries of Neanderthal remains in Belgium, Gibraltar and Germany showed that humans were not the only hominids to occupy earth, and fossils and remains of now extinct animals and plants further demonstrated that flora and fauna evolve, live for millennia and then sometimes die off, ceding their place on the planet to better-adapted species. These discoveries lent strong support to the then emerging theory of evolution, published by Charles Darwin in 1859. And in 1851, Leon Foucault, a self-trained French physicist, proved definitively that earth rotates—rather than staying in place as the sun revolved around it—using a special pendulum whose circular motion revealed the planet’s rotation. Geological discoveries made over the same century devastated the “young earth” hypothesis. We now know that earth is billions, not thousands, of years old, as some theologians had calculated based on counting generations back to the biblical Adam. All of these discoveries defeated literal interpretations of Scripture.
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But has modern science, from the beginning of the 20th century, proved that there is no God, as some commentators now claim? Science is an amazing, wonderful undertaking: it teaches us about life, the world and the universe. But it has not revealed to us why the universe came into existence nor what preceded its birth in the Big Bang. Biological evolution has not brought us the slightest understanding of how the first living organisms emerged from inanimate matter on this planet and how the advanced eukaryotic cells—the highly structured building blocks of advanced life forms—ever emerged from simpler organisms. Neither does it explain one of the greatest mysteries of science: how did consciousness arise in living things? Where do symbolic thinking and self-awareness come from? What is it that allows humans to understand the mysteries of biology, physics, mathematics, engineering and medicine? And what enables us to create great works of art, music, architecture and literature? Science is nowhere near to explaining these deep mysteries.
But much more important than these conundrums is the persistent question of the fine-tuning of the parameters of the universe: Why is our universe so precisely tailor-made for the emergence of life? This question has never been answered satisfactorily, and I believe that it will never find a scientific solution. For the deeper we delve into the mysteries of physics and cosmology, the more the universe appears to be intricate and incredibly complex. To explain the quantum-mechanical behavior of even one tiny particle requires pages and pages of extremely advanced mathematics. Why are even the tiniest particles of matter so unbelievably complicated? It appears that there is a vast, hidden “wisdom,” or structure, or knotty blueprint for even the most simple-looking element of nature. And the situation becomes much more daunting as we expand our view to the entire cosmos.
We know that 13.7 billion years ago, a gargantuan burst of energy, whose nature and source are completely unknown to us and not in the least understood by science, initiated the creation of our universe. Then suddenly, as if by magic, the “God particle”—the Higgs boson discovered two years ago inside CERN’s powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider—came into being and miraculously gave the universe its mass. Why did this happen? The mass constituted elementary particles—the quarks and the electron—whose weights and electrical charges had to fall within immeasurably tight bounds for what would happen next. For from within the primeval soup of elementary particles that constituted the young universe, again as if by a magic hand, all the quarks suddenly bunched in threes to form protons and neutrons, their electrical charges set precisely to the exact level needed to attract and capture the electrons, which then began to circle nuclei made of the protons and neutrons. All of the masses, charges and forces of interaction in the universe had to be in just the precisely needed amounts so that early light atoms could form. Larger ones would then be cooked in nuclear fires inside stars, giving us carbon, iron, nitrogen, oxygen and all the other elements that are so essential for life to emerge. And eventually, the highly complicated double-helix molecule, the life-propagating DNA, would be formed.
Why did everything we need in order to exist come into being? How was all of this possible without some latent outside power to orchestrate the precise dance of elementary particles required for the creation of all the essentials of life? The great British mathematician Roger Penrose has calculated—based on only one of the hundreds of parameters of the physical universe—that the probability of the emergence of a life-giving cosmos was 1 divided by 10, raised to the power 10, and again raised to the power of 123. This is a number as close to zero as anyone has ever imagined. (The probability is much, much smaller than that of winning the Mega Millions jackpot for more days than the universe has been in existence.)
The scientific atheists have scrambled to explain this troubling mystery by suggesting the existence of a multiverse—an infinite set of universes, each with its own parameters. In some universes, the conditions are wrong for life; however, by the sheer size of this putative multiverse, there must be a universe where everything is right. But if it takes an immense power of nature to create one universe, then how much more powerful would that force have to be in order to create infinitely many universes? So the purely hypothetical multiverse does not solve the problem of God. The incredible fine-tuning of the universe presents the most powerful argument for the existence of an immanent creative entity we may well call God. Lacking convincing scientific evidence to the contrary, such a power may be necessary to force all the parameters we need for our existence—cosmological, physical, chemical, biological and cognitive—to be what they are.
Science and religion are two sides of the same deep human impulse to understand the world, to know our place in it, and to marvel at the wonder of life and the infinite cosmos we are surrounded by. Let’s keep them that way, and not let one attempt to usurp the role of the other.
Recently I watched a debate on YouTube titled “Does the Universe have a Purpose?” This debate, which was held in Puebla Mexico, pitted three prominent atheists against three prominent theists, and to accentuate the contentiousness of the topic each individual was invited in to the middle of a boxing ring to argue their positions, where they could land verbal punches against their opponents.
Over the last several years, in the wake of 9/11, debates between religion and science — faith and reason — have become very popular and very combative. But these kinds of debates are by no means a new phenomenon. CommonSenseAtheism.com lists 564 such debates dating back to 1948, although these debates date from well before then. 2,400 years ago Plato wrote, “Atheism is a disease of the soul before it becomes an error of understanding,” and 300 years later the Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger proclaimed, “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.”
And the debate continues unresolved. One need only look at a series of blogs here on the Huffington Post, along with the many strongly worded comments, to see that we are no closer to coming to a conclusion than were Plato and Seneca.
The two main topics of these debates are the nature of religion and the existence of God. It is crucial, though, that these two topics be examined separately. It is possible to constructively debate the merits or problems with religion. We can all concede that people have acted wickedly in the name of religion, that dogmatic, fundamentalist religion has caused much suffering, and that the refusal to accept the findings of science which are in conflict with one’s doctrine is a foolish and small-minded position. To simply dismiss all religion, however, is not a rational or informed position, because we can also concede that religion has brought much good to the world, that most believers are not literalists, that religion itself is a very diverse and complex institution, and that insecurity, ideology and greed for power, not religion, have been the causes of most wars (and that to call Communism, Fascism, Nationalism and Nazism “religions” is to so distort the definition as to make it useless and unintelligible).
When the debate moves on to question of the existence of God, though, the dialogue hits a brick wall. The atheist side typically presents the position that belief in God is an immature science and that God is a provable or disprovable hypothesis for why things are the way they are, which, they argue, can be easily disproved: Evolution eliminates the need for a creator, double blind tests prove that prayer doesn’t work, psychology has demonstrated that human beings often mistake random pattern for meaningful purpose, observation shows that we are an insignificant spot in the midst of a vast chaotic universe, and the death of a single innocent child makes the belief in a benevolent, omnipotent, omniscient God absurd, or even offensive.
The theist side then responds with arguments to rebut these points: The universe is too fine-tuned to be an accident, without a loving God there are no objective standards or source of values, and the very fact that we can comprehend the workings of physicality with our minds demonstrates the existence of a purposeful creator. Atheists then counter that there is absolutely no objective, quantifiable proof that God exists, that religion is ignorant of, uninterested in or dismissive of modern science, and that to believe in something without proof is inherently dangerous, especially when one thinks that he is acting on divine authority. The theist responds, and so on.
The debate about the existence of God hits a brick wall because there is an essential misunderstanding about the nature of God: None of the proofs that atheists are looking for, or any counter argument from the theists, would be adequate proof. In the Peubla debate, Michael Shermer said that he’d find convincing proof, “if you could have God grow new limbs on amputees from the Iraq war, Christian soldiers, praying for them to be healed. This has not happened even once. Apparently God can not do even what amphibians can do.” But even if this did happen, it would not prove the existence of God but would instead prove that there is some kind of regenerative force or energy that responds to the right kind of conscious thought. Likewise, a glowing presence and booming voice appearing on the White House lawn proclaiming “I am the Lord your God, who took you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage” as the waters of the Potomac part, would prove that there is an entity with powerful technology, and would be no more a proof of God than an airplane to a cave man. And irrefutable proof that Moses really did write the first five books of the Bible, that Jesus died and was resurrected, or that an unearthly being appeared to Muhammad and Joseph Smith to dictate new texts, would support some of the claims of religions but does not prove that there is a purposeful, loving Creator and Sustainer.
The truth is that nothing — no thing — can prove the existence of God.
The attempt to prove the existence of God through the scientific method of hypothesis, controlled experimentation, observation and documentable repeatable results is somewhat akin to trying to discover the cause of a person’s response to a deeply moving work of art. We can examine the painting, analyze the composition of the canvas and pigment, study the arrangement of shapes and colors, discover the historical context of the work and the biography of the artists, or even conduct psychological experiments and CT scans, but none of this will do anything to explain, understand and share in the person’s aesthetic experience. This person may try to explain her experience, but she will ultimately fail to convince someone who only sees pigment on canvas, and who may conclude that her experience is delusional, and that the study of aesthetics is a waste of time. To the person who was so deeply impacted by the painting, though, such an assertion completely misses the point, and does nothing to convince her that her experience is not real, and that she was not touched and expanded by her encounter.
In this way, arguments and experiments can not prove the existence of God because God is not an hypothesis. For human beings, God is the experience of a transformative relationship with creation itself, in which we know that the Universe is inherently meaningful, that we were created for a staggering purpose that will unfold over eons, that love and gratitude are the essential actual materials of our lives and that we are holy beings.
The experience of a relationship with God is not one of religious doctrine, does not come from statistics, experiments or argument, and is certainly not in conflict with science and reason in any way. It is also not about righteous certainty or judgment. The experience of God expands the possibilities for our lives and increases the feeling of mystery and intellectual curiosity about the world. Reason and observation are crucial elements in faith. Faith and reason are not mutually exclusive and are no more in conflict than civil engineering and poetry.
As a rabbi and person of faith, I have no interest in proving the existence of God and certainly do not want to convert anyone to my religion or way of thinking. What I am passionate about, though, is helping bring others to an experience and relationship with God because I know that such a relationship can create powerful positive personal and communal transformation. One brings another to the experience of God not through philosophical or material proof, but through living the example of gratitude, purpose, compassion and love.
No doubt the debates about the existence of God will continue, and we can enjoy the spectacle, but I suspect that no amount of clever verbal exchange will do anything to convince anyone either way.
Just once wouldn’t you love for someone to simply show you the evidence for God’s existence? No arm-twisting. No statements of, “You just have to believe.” Well, here is an attempt to candidly offer some of the reasons which suggest that God exists.
But first consider this. When it comes to the possibility of God’s existence, the Bible says that there are people who have seen sufficient evidence, but they have suppressed the truth about God.1 On the other hand, for those who want to know God if he is there, he says, "You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you."2 Before you look at the facts surrounding his existence, ask yourself, If God does exist, would I want to know him? Here then, are some reasons to consider…
- The complexity of our planet points to a deliberate Designer who not only created our universe, but sustains it today.
Many examples showing God’s design could be given, possibly with no end. But here are a few:
The Earth…its size is perfect. The Earth’s size and corresponding gravity holds a thin layer of mostly nitrogen and oxygen gases, only extending about 50 miles above the Earth’s surface. If Earth were smaller, an atmosphere would be impossible, like the planet Mercury. If Earth were larger, its atmosphere would contain free hydrogen, like Jupiter.3 Earth is the only known planet equipped with an atmosphere of the right mixture of gases to sustain plant, animal and human life.
The Earth is located the right distance from the sun. Consider the temperature swings we encounter, roughly -30 degrees to +120 degrees. If the Earth were any further away from the sun, we would all freeze. Any closer and we would burn up. Even a fractional variance in the Earth’s position to the sun would make life on Earth impossible. The Earth remains this perfect distance from the sun while it rotates around the sun at a speed of nearly 67,000 mph. It is also rotating on its axis, allowing the entire surface of the Earth to be properly warmed and cooled every day.
And our moon is the perfect size and distance from the Earth for its gravitational pull. The moon creates important ocean tides and movement so ocean waters do not stagnate, and yet our massive oceans are restrained from spilling over across the continents.4
Water…colorless, odorless and without taste, and yet no living thing can survive without it. Plants, animals and human beings consist mostly of water (about two-thirds of the human body is water). You’ll see why the characteristics of water are uniquely suited to life:
It has wide margin between its boiling point and freezing point. Water allows us to live in an environment of fluctuating temperature changes, while keeping our bodies a steady 98.6 degrees.
Water is a universal solvent. This property of water means that various chemicals, minerals and nutrients can be carried throughout our bodies and into the smallest blood vessels.5
Water is also chemically neutral. Without affecting the makeup of the substances it carries, water enables food, medicines and minerals to be absorbed and used by the body.
Water has a unique surface tension. Water in plants can therefore flow upward against gravity, bringing life-giving water and nutrients to the top of even the tallest trees.
Water freezes from the top down and floats, so fish can live in the winter.
Ninety-seven percent of the Earth’s water is in the oceans. But on our Earth, there is a system designed which removes salt from the water and then distributes that water throughout the globe. Evaporation takes the ocean waters, leaving the salt, and forms clouds which are easily moved by the wind to disperse water over the land, for vegetation, animals and people. It is a system of purification and supply that sustains life on this planet, a system of recycled and reused water.6
The human brain…simultaneously processes an amazing amount of information. Your brain takes in all the colors and objects you see, the temperature around you, the pressure of your feet against the floor, the sounds around you, the dryness of your mouth, even the texture of your keyboard. Your brain holds and processes all your emotions, thoughts and memories. At the same time your brain keeps track of the ongoing functions of your body like your breathing pattern, eyelid movement, hunger and movement of the muscles in your hands.
The human brain processes more than a million messages a second.7 Your brain weighs the importance of all this data, filtering out the relatively unimportant. This screening function is what allows you to focus and operate effectively in your world. The brain functions differently than other organs. There is an intelligence to it, the ability to reason, to produce feelings, to dream and plan, to take action, and relate to other people.
The eye…can distinguish among seven million colors. It has automatic focusing and handles an astounding 1.5 million messages – simultaneously.8 Evolution focuses on mutations and changes from and within existing organisms. Yet evolution alone does not fully explain the initial source of the eye or the brain – the start of living organisms from nonliving matter.
- The universe had a start - what caused it?
Scientists are convinced that our universe began with one enormous explosion of energy and light, which we now call the Big Bang. This was the singular start to everything that exists: the beginning of the universe, the start of space, and even the initial start of time itself.
Astrophysicist Robert Jastrow, a self-described agnostic, stated, "The seed of everything that has happened in the Universe was planted in that first instant; every star, every planet and every living creature in the Universe came into being as a result of events that were set in motion in the moment of the cosmic explosion…The Universe flashed into being, and we cannot find out what caused that to happen."9
Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate in Physics, said at the moment of this explosion, "the universe was about a hundred thousands million degrees Centigrade…and the universe was filled with light."10
The universe has not always existed. It had a start…what caused that? Scientists have no explanation for the sudden explosion of light and matter.
- The universe operates by uniform laws of nature. Why does it?
Much of life may seem uncertain, but look at what we can count on day after day: gravity remains consistent, a hot cup of coffee left on a counter will get cold, the earth rotates in the same 24 hours, and the speed of light doesn’t change – on earth or in galaxies far from us.
How is it that we can identify laws of nature that never change? Why is the universe so orderly, so reliable?
"The greatest scientists have been struck by how strange this is. There is no logical necessity for a universe that obeys rules, let alone one that abides by the rules of mathematics. This astonishment springs from the recognition that the universe doesn’t have to behave this way. It is easy to imagine a universe in which conditions change unpredictably from instant to instant, or even a universe in which things pop in and out of existence."11
Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize winner for quantum electrodynamics, said, "Why nature is mathematical is a mystery…The fact that there are rules at all is a kind of miracle."12
- The DNA code informs, programs a cell’s behavior.
All instruction, all teaching, all training comes with intent. Someone who writes an instruction manual does so with purpose. Did you know that in every cell of our bodies there exists a very detailed instruction code, much like a miniature computer program? As you may know, a computer program is made up of ones and zeros, like this: 110010101011000. The way they are arranged tell the computer program what to do. The DNA code in each of our cells is very similar. It’s made up of four chemicals that scientists abbreviate as A, T, G, and C. These are arranged in the human cell like this: CGTGTGACTCGCTCCTGAT and so on. There are three billion of these letters in every human cell!!
Well, just like you can program your phone to beep for specific reasons, DNA instructs the cell. DNA is a three-billion-lettered program telling the cell to act in a certain way. It is a full instruction manual.13
Why is this so amazing? One has to ask…how did this information program wind up in each human cell? These are not just chemicals. These are chemicals that instruct, that code in a very detailed way exactly how the person’s body should develop.
Natural, biological causes are completely lacking as an explanation when programmed information is involved. You cannot find instruction, precise information like this, without someone intentionally constructing it.
- We know God exists because he pursues us. He is constantly initiating and seeking for us to come to him.
I was an atheist at one time. And like many atheists, the issue of people believing in God bothered me greatly. What is it about atheists that we would spend so much time, attention, and energy refuting something that we don’t believe even exists?! What causes us to do that? When I was an atheist, I attributed my intentions as caring for those poor, delusional people…to help them realize their hope was completely ill-founded. To be honest, I also had another motive. As I challenged those who believed in God, I was deeply curious to see if they could convince me otherwise. Part of my quest was to become free from the question of God. If I could conclusively prove to believers that they were wrong, then the issue is off the table, and I would be free to go about my life.
I didn’t realize that the reason the topic of God weighed so heavily on my mind, was because God was pressing the issue. I have come to find out that God wants to be known. He created us with the intention that we would know him. He has surrounded us with evidence of himself and he keeps the question of his existence squarely before us. It was as if I couldn’t escape thinking about the possibility of God. In fact, the day I chose to acknowledge God’s existence, my prayer began with, “Ok, you win…” It might be that the underlying reason atheists are bothered by people believing in God is because God is actively pursuing them.
I am not the only one who has experienced this. Malcolm Muggeridge, socialist and philosophical author, wrote, “I had a notion that somehow, besides questing, I was being pursued.” C.S. Lewis said he remembered, “…night after night, feeling whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England.”
Lewis went on to write a book titled, “Surprised by Joy” as a result of knowing God. I too had no expectations other than rightfully admitting God’s existence. Yet over the following several months, I became amazed by his love for me.
- Unlike any other revelation of God, Jesus Christ is the clearest, most specific picture of God revealing himself to us.
Why Jesus? Look throughout the major world religions and you’ll find that Buddha, Muhammad, Confucius and Moses all identified themselves as teachers or prophets. None of them ever claimed to be equal to God. Surprisingly, Jesus did. That is what sets Jesus apart from all the others. He said God exists and you’re looking at him. Though he talked about his Father in heaven, it was not from the position of separation, but of very close union, unique to all humankind. Jesus said that anyone who had seen Him had seen the Father, anyone who believed in him, believed in the Father.
He said, "I am the light of the world, he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."14 He claimed attributes belonging only to God: to be able to forgive people of their sin, free them from habits of sin, give people a more abundant life and give them eternal life in heaven. Unlike other teachers who focused people on their words, Jesus pointed people to himself. He did not say, “follow my words and you will find truth.” He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me."15
What proof did Jesus give for claiming to be divine? He did what people can’t do. Jesus performed miracles. He healed people…blind, crippled, deaf, even raised a couple of people from the dead. He had power over objects…created food out of thin air, enough to feed crowds of several thousand people. He performed miracles over nature…walked on top of a lake, commanding a raging storm to stop for some friends. People everywhere followed Jesus, because he constantly met their needs, doing the miraculous. He said if you do not want to believe what I’m telling you, you should at least believe in me based on the miracles you’re seeing.16
Jesus Christ showed God to be gentle, loving, aware of our self-centeredness and shortcomings, yet deeply wanting a relationship with us. Jesus revealed that although he views us as sinners, worthy of his punishment, his love for us ruled and he came up with a different plan. God himself took on the form of man and accepted the punishment for our sin on our behalf. Sounds ludicrous? Perhaps, but many loving fathers would gladly trade places with their child in a cancer ward if they could. The Bible says that the reason we would love God is because he first loved us.
Jesus died in our place so we could be forgiven. Of all the religions known to humanity, only through Jesus will you see God reaching toward humanity, providing a way for us to have a relationship with him. Jesus proves a divine heart of love, meeting our needs, drawing us to himself. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, he offers us a new life today. We can be forgiven, fully accepted by God and genuinely loved by God. He says, "I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you."17 This is God, in action.
Does God exist? If you want to know, investigate Jesus Christ. We’re told that "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."18
God does not force us to believe in him, though he could. Instead, he has provided sufficient proof of his existence for us to willingly respond to him. The earth’s perfect distance from the sun, the unique chemical properties of water, the human brain, DNA, the number of people who attest to knowing God, the gnawing in our hearts and minds to determine if God is there, the willingness for God to be known through Jesus Christ. If you need to know more about Jesus and reasons to believe in him, please see: Beyond Blind Faith.
If you want to begin a relationship with God now, you can.
This is your decision, no coercion here. But if you want to be forgiven by God and come into a relationship with him, you can do so right now by asking him to forgive you and come into your life. Jesus said, "Behold, I stand at the door [of your heart] and knock. He who hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him [or her]."19 If you want to do this, but aren’t sure how to put it into words, this may help: “Jesus, thank you for dying for my sins. You know my life and that I need to be forgiven. I ask you to forgive me right now and come into my life. I want to know you in a real way. Come into my life now. Thank you that you wanted a relationship with me. Amen.”
In 1960 the Princeton physicist – and subsequent Nobel Prize winner – Eugene Wigner raised a fundamental question: Why did the natural world always – so far as we know – obey laws of mathematics?
As argued by scholars such as Philip Davis and Reuben Hersh, mathematics exists independent of physical reality. It is the job of mathematicians to discover the realities of this separate world of mathematical laws and concepts. Physicists then put the mathematics to use according to the rules of prediction and confirmed observation of the scientific method.
But modern mathematics generally is formulated before any natural observations are made, and many mathematical laws today have no known existing physical analogues.
Einstein Memorial, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C. Wally Gobetz, CC BY-ND
Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity, for example, was based on theoretical mathematics developed 50 years earlier by the great German mathematician Bernhard Riemann that did not have any known practical applications at the time of its intellectual creation.
In some cases the physicist also discovers the mathematics. Isaac Newton was considered among the greatest mathematicians as well as physicists of the 17th century. Other physicists sought his help in finding a mathematics that would predict the workings of the solar system. He found it in the mathematical law of gravity, based in part on his discovery of calculus.
At the time, however, many people initially resisted Newton’s conclusions because they seemed to be “occult.” How could two distant objects in the solar system be drawn toward one another, acting according to a precise mathematical law? Indeed, Newton made strenuous efforts over his lifetime to find a natural explanation, but in the end he could say only that it is the will of God.
Despite the many other enormous advances of modern physics, little has changed in this regard. As Wigner wrote, “the enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious and there is no rational explanation for it.”
In other words, as I argue in my book, it takes the existence of some kind of a god to make the mathematical underpinnings of the universe comprehensible.
Math and other worlds
In 2004 the great British physicist Roger Penrose put forward a vision of a universe composed of three independently existing worlds – mathematics, the material world and human consciousness. As Penrose acknowledged, it was a complete puzzle to him how the three interacted with one another outside the ability of any scientific or other conventionally rational model.
How can physical atoms and molecules, for example, create something that exists in a separate domain that has no physical existence: human consciousness?
It is a mystery that lies beyond science.
Plato. Elizabethe, CC BY-NC-ND
This mystery is the same one that existed in the Greek worldview of Plato, who believed that abstract ideas (above all mathematical) first existed outside any physical reality. The material world that we experience as part of our human existence is an imperfect reflection of these prior formal ideals. As the scholar of ancient Greek philosophy, Ian Mueller, writes in “Mathematics And The Divine,” the realm of such ideals is that of God.
Indeed, in 2014 the MIT physicist Max Tegmark argues in “Our Mathematical Universe” that mathematics is the fundamental world reality that drives the universe. As I would say, mathematics is operating in a god-like fashion.
The mystery of human consciousness
The workings of human consciousness are similarly miraculous. Like the laws of mathematics, consciousness has no physical presence in the world; the images and thoughts in our consciousness have no measurable dimensions.
Yet, our nonphysical thoughts somehow mysteriously guide the actions of our physical human bodies. This is no more scientifically explicable than the mysterious ability of nonphysical mathematical constructions to determine the workings of a separate physical world.
Until recently, the scientifically unfathomable quality of human consciousness inhibited the very scholarly discussion of the subject. Since the 1970s, however, it has become a leading area of inquiry among philosophers.
Recognizing that he could not reconcile his own scientific materialism with the existence of a nonphysical world of human consciousness, a leading atheist, Daniel Dennett, in 1991 took the radical step of denying that consciousness even exists.
Finding this altogether implausible, as most people do, another leading philosopher, Thomas Nagel, wrote in 2012 that, given the scientifically inexplicable – the “intractable” – character of human consciousness, “we will have to leave [scientific] materialism behind” as a complete basis for understanding the world of human existence.
As an atheist, Nagel does not offer religious belief as an alternative, but I would argue that the supernatural character of the workings of human consciousness adds grounds for raising the probability of the existence of a supernatural god.
Evolution and faith
Evolution is a contentious subject in American public life. According to Pew, 98 percent of scientists connected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science “believe humans evolved over time” while only a minority of Americans “fully accept evolution through natural selection.”
As I say in my book, I should emphasize that I am not questioning the reality of natural biological evolution. What is interesting to me, however, are the fierce arguments that have taken place between professional evolutionary biologists. A number of developments in evolutionary theory have challenged traditional Darwinist – and later neo-Darwinist – views that emphasize random genetic mutations and gradual evolutionary selection by the process of survival of the fittest.
From the 1970s onwards, the Harvard evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould created controversy by positing a different view, “punctuated equilibrium,” to the slow and gradual evolution of species as theorized by Darwin.
In 2011, the University of Chicago evolutionary biologist James Shapiro argued that, remarkably enough, many micro-evolutionary processes worked as though guided by a purposeful “sentience” of the evolving plant and animal organisms themselves. “The capacity of living organisms to alter their own heredity is undeniable,” he wrote. “Our current ideas about evolution have to incorporate this basic fact of life.”
A number of scientists, such as Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, “see no conflict between believing in God and accepting the contemporary theory of evolution,” as the American Association for the Advancement of Science points out.
For my part, the most recent developments in evolutionary biology have increased the probability of a god.
Miraculous ideas at the same time?
For the past 10,000 years at a minimum, the most important changes in human existence have been driven by cultural developments occurring in the realm of human ideas.
In the Axial Age (commonly dated from 800 to 200 B.C.), world-transforming ideas such as Buddhism, Confucianism, the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, and the Hebrew Old Testament almost miraculously appeared at about the same time in India, China, ancient Greece and among the Jews in the Middle East, groups having little interaction with one another.
Many world-transforming ideas, such as Buddhism, appeared in the world around the same time. Karyn Christner, CC BY
The development of the scientific method in the 17th century in Europe and its modern further advances have had at least as great a set of world-transforming consequences. There have been many historical theories, but none capable, I would argue, of explaining as fundamentally transformational a set of events as the rise of the modern world. It was a revolution in human thought, operating outside any explanations grounded in scientific materialism, that drove the process.
That all these astonishing things happened within the conscious workings of human minds, functioning outside physical reality, offers further rational evidence, in my view, for the conclusion that human beings may well be made “in the image of [a] God.”
Different forms of worship
In his commencement address to Kenyon College in 2005, the American novelist and essayist David Foster Wallace said that: “Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”
Even though Karl Marx, for example, condemned the illusion of religion, his followers, ironically, worshiped Marxism. The American philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre thus wrote that for much of the 20th century, Marxism was the “historical successor of Christianity,” claiming to show the faithful the one correct path to a new heaven on Earth.
In several of my books, I have explored how Marxism and other such “economic religions” were characteristic of much of the modern age. So Christianity, I would argue, did not disappear as much as it reappeared in many such disguised forms of “secular religion.”
That the Christian essence, as arose out of Judaism, showed such great staying power amidst the extraordinary political, economic, intellectual and other radical changes of the modern age is another reason I offer for thinking that the existence of a god is very probable.