Is PS Against Using Scientific Arguments as Evidence for God's Existence?

It seems to me that there is a running idea among PS, maybe even a motivating factor for its creation, that is a reaction against what I would call “using arguments based on science to prove the existence of God” (or the truth of Christiantiy, or something similar).

I realize I’m making an inference here, so I’m just asking the question. Would it be fair to say that that is part of the thinking among PS?

For what it’s worth, I’m not taking issue with it. I happen to agree that it’s unhelpful (and sometimes maybe harmful), no matter how well-meaning, to attempt to prove the existence of God or the truth of Christianity from science.

4 Likes

Another very good question. Good enough I want to think about it some and answer on its own thread…

2 Likes

Are you OK with finding and discussing supporting evidence found via scientific methods vs. “trying to prove?” I think many would find the phrases “trying to prove” or “trying to disprove” unhelpful.

6 Likes

Many of the people here are scientists. And they know from experience that science cannot provide evidence for God’s existence.

Of course, that might be wrong. Maybe someone will come up with clear scientific evidence of God’s existence. That would be very interesting if it happened, but it is not something that I am expecting.

5 Likes

So, @terrellclemmons, I’ve been thinking about this, and want to start my answer.

First of all, opposing scientific arguments for God is very far from the motivating factor for PS’s creation. As the creator of PS, the key goals have been:

  1. Forming a community grounded in science, that would also welcomed and celebrated differences.

  2. Offering the public a sympathetic entry point to engage with secular (meaning “fair”) scientists, so they can understand how we come to conclusions, and why we conclude what we conclude.

  3. To create opportunities for scientists to understand the concerns of the broader public, who are often theologically minded, young earth or old earth creationists, and intelligent design.

  4. Encourage a confessional approach, where personal beliefs are dignified and brought to the surface, while keeping science secular.

The key event that sparked our formation had nothing to do with ID, actually. It was being kicked out of BioLogos, because they did not like my case for de novo creation of Adam. They now agree I was correct, but this disaster of an exchange revealed we have an incompatible set of values, and they are more driven by theology than science, and I do not agree with their theology.

(@jordan, that is part of the reason I insist on distancing myself from EC)

Since then we have grown quite a bit, received our first grant, and I just submitted my book to my publisher. Rejecting scientific arguments for God is not our purpose.

So why do we argue against scientific arguments for God? I think @nwrickert has it right:

In science we have ruthlessly high standards. It is part of our culture to shred arguments, because we believe that good arguments, those based correctly on evidence, will survive.

I actually think there are some reasonable “Suggestive” arguments for God in science. I even offer these argument often (but not like ID). However, the only way to be taken seriously in science is by ruthlessly shedding bad arguments. The parable of “crying wolf” is helpful. We despise as unscientific when people throw bad arguments at us, never retracting factual errors, never acknowledging when they are wrong.

The reason I argue against bad arguments for God is because, if I don’t, no one in science will trust me when I make my case in other ways. It is an issue of basic trust. If and when ID comes up with factually sound and solid argument, using the rules of science that I know, I will be among the first to acknowledge it. They are fairly far from this at this time.

As for others, scientists are largely fair. For example, see @John_Harshman’s response here: Would God's Guidance Be DNA-Detectable?. I would characterize this as a successful argument that makes space for God’s action, without demonstrating it true.

I would also characterize the Genealogical Adam and Eve, with de novo creation of Adam and Eve, a successful argument that makes space or God’s action, without demonstrating it true.

These, in important ways, are very strong arguments for a Christian point of view, and they even convince atheist scientists. They are important too, so I do not want to pollute them with bad arguments for God. A reputation for making (or even tolerating) dumb arguments will just get me black balled. That is the ruthless reality fo science. Far from disliking it, I respect this. It makes me a better thinker. It also demonstrates that scientists really are not anti-God or anti-religious. We just ferociously hate bad arguments.

11 Likes

Yes. In Christian circles, I persistently push back against use of the word “prove” and instead specifically use and suggest using the word “evidence” - the idea being, everyone has the same evidence, but different people interpret the evidence differently.

5 Likes

No, I wouldn’t expect it either. It’s logically impossible if the rules of science require MN and MN includes the requirement that any inferred designer be explainable within MN. That point arose in Welcome to Terrell Clemmons: Questions on Methodological Naturalism

3 Likes

Agreed. I’m glad you did that, and I’m glad you’re writing a book on it.

3 Likes

I don’t expect to see this either. Throughout the Bible, there is an emphasis on faith. It is my belief that a solid “proof” of God’s existence would undercut the role of an active faith that God desires in His followers. This may seem counterproductive to some participants here, and I can understand how this would raise some confusion, but there it is.

3 Likes

This is interesting. If you’re inclined to elaborate, I’d be interested to hear. I haven’t seen where BioLogos even has an articulated theology.

1 Like

Yes and no. I reject the standard atheist criticism that a Christian’s faith is “belief without evidence.” But that is because I believe that all thinking people have evidence. And by “evidence” in this context, I mean lines of evidence that are not necessarily constrained to the limits of MN. I realize that to follow that train of thought would probably not be a typical PS discussion thread, but I just wanted to mention it fwiw.

7 Likes

I agree, there is enough evidence in the living world to lead me to a belief in a Creator, but I stop short of calling it proof. The beautiful intricacies of macromolecules and cellular processes (and even evolution itself) gives me confidence in the existence of beautiful Creator that far surpasses our own understanding.

10 Likes

And yet, throughout the Bible, God provides the people in the stories with clear proof of his existence. He talks directly to them; he dispenses huge miracles at will; he sends angels. Why don’t we get any of that today?

4 Likes

Amen to that. Prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins have repeatedly promoted that definition of faith even though it is not the Biblical definition of faith. (I would agree that the “belief without evidence” definition does fit some religious traditions, even some traditions which get labelled as “Christian.”)

Yes. There is much evidence which can be the basis of one’s philosophical worldview about the existence of God which does not necessarily support scientific claims about God’s existence. There are very good reasons why Christian philosophers of centuries past gradually “segregated” natural philosophy from their theology and carefully defined what would eventually become modern science. They recognized the merits of empiricism and developed special methodologies which helped greatly in figuring out how the material world could be studied and understood.

Distinguishing between one’s philosophical/theological positions versus one’s scientific basis for various conclusions is actually a ubiquitous topic on Peaceful Science. So your point of view is right at home and very appropriate on these forums.

Also, I missed your introduction thread but I am happy to belatedly welcome you to Peaceful Science. I Googled your Salvo Magazine and have already bookmarked and started reading some of the interesting topics there. Your interests will fit well with our discussions here.

7 Likes

I’m sure there are exceptions (Saul of Tarsus is a pretty good example!), but most of those instances relate to people that are already His followers. The Bible also offers many accounts of individuals that followed on something close to blind faith. I think scientific proof (beyond reasonable doubt) that could be shown to everyone would apply on a different level than events in the lives of individual people or small groups.

I wish I had something close to an answer for that. It would sure be helpful from time to time!

1 Like

I’ve had the opportunity to spend time in other cultures where Christianity is at most only a minor religion. Interestingly, in this context I’m aware of a variety of times God has spoken to people in more direct ways and performed “obvious” miracles. It seems that both in the Bible and today he uses this approach more frequently when the Bible, and Christian beliefs aren’t as “available”.

4 Likes

The Bible emphasizes faith but not solely as obvious here in Ro 1: 19-20. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,in the things that have been made.”

So if we as Christians believe this is the word of God, and this testimony declares with 100% certainty that observation of the creative order points to the Creator directly designing it and making it, then the Christian MUST conclude that ALL historical science is not the determination of how nature pulls this off, but rather the observation about how God did it. If the scientist tends towards concluding against the hand of God making the creative order in a direct way, then it is suppressing what he already knows to be true based on what the Bible says here as undeniably true.

ID is therefore better in line with Scripture and mainstream science that swamidass says he subscribes to is more in line with atheistic naturalism.

When Swamidass says that ID not using good scientific argument for the intelligent development of a bacterium etc, what he is therefore potentially suggesting is that they are not using the argument that is fitting of a naturalistic philosophy he chooses to subscribe to as he says he approves of mainstream science views.

I have said this a million times: pure science may not be able to 100% detect the hand of God. The fact that the universe had a beginning sure points 99 out of 100 towards the existence of Something outside of the natural creating it but some want to focus on the 1. But think about this: Pure science is also incapable of determining that the natural pulled it off. So for the Christian who believes Scripture to be true about human nature and the reality of God (Ro 1) should fall more in line with ID and creation science line of thinking where the science is observation of Gods works and less in line with godless mainstream science that seeks a naturalistic explanation of our existence at all cost. If one is not naive, they have to admit that the power of presumption will guide the development of theory.

1 Like

Agreed. I wrote this shortly after the post you quoted:

Greg: This is off topic. Continue it elsewhere.

3 Likes

Here’s my perspective on this, and maybe some others here at PS would agree: strictly speaking, there are no scientific arguments for the existence of God. Instead, there are philosophical arguments for His existence. There may be premises of those philosophical arguments which can be supported by scientific evidence, but the conclusion of those arguments, necessarily theological, is outside the bounds of science.
I think this is an important distinction to make when we are talking about “what science says” or what it doesn’t say.

4 Likes