The Case of Science vs. God

November 9, 2010

Does science prove no God exists? If only matters were that simple.

Of course science has helped make religion look foolish. Primitive religions and their magical gods have been swept away. All the same, no scientific field is well designed to either help confirm or conclusively disprove a sufficiently "theological" God that is designed to be compatible with all available evidence. Scientific knowledge does not squarely confront belief in a supernatural God, but only specific wrong religious ideas about the world's creation, human origins, the soul, free will, etc., where evidence can decide the matter.

Science is not designed to confront theology in general -- usually that effort is a waste of science's time. Theology tends to avoid direct confrontation with science. Furthermore, religion doesn't really offer genuine explanations that deserve the name of hypotheses to compete with science. That's why my new book The God Debates and other fine books defending atheism don't simply look like science textbooks.

People who claim that science refutes God belief are relying on more than just science to reach for that conclusion. Propositions like "No one should believe in something that has not been confirmed by science" or "A belief is unreasonable if it is not disconfirmable by any evidence" are not themselves propositions of scientific knowledge confirmed by laboratory experiment. They are instead philosophical claims about the supreme priority of using only scientific method. Quite reasonable claims, of course, but this prioritization is not itself a piece of scientific knowledge, but is instead based on the deeper foundation of respecting basic rationality.

Respect for reason and philosophical applications of logic more directly confront and refute theological gods. Rationalizations for justifying a need for God not only fail to be explanations, but they also directly conflict with basic rules of logic and sanity -- as my recent blogs have been exploring . Science helps, but you don't need science to demolish God belief.

When people say "Science refutes God" or "More Science means less Religion", it is not clear what is being claimed. Scientific knowledge itself cannot disprove all gods. Yet, respect for science's rational method leaves God belief unreasonable. And it is basic rationality doing the heavy work against theology, not science itself. So, is saying that science refutes religion just wrong? Not quite. Sometimes "Science" means just what science knows now, or "Science" means letting the spirit of science control beliefs. Two levels of discussion get going, causing confusion, as if atheists disagree about whether it is science's job to refute religion. Atheists must take care. The danger of sticking with just "Scientific knowledge refutes religion" is that the theologians can rightly reply that "Science can't explore the supernatural" and theology gets away with supposing that it still makes sense to treat science as only capable of exploring physical nature. This natural science vs. supernatural theology just sustains the old Enlightenment-era divide between the little nature that science explores and the big heaven that religion explores.

The Enlightenment division of labor must be entirely swept away. Not just the conclusions of science, but the spirit of science needs defending, too.  That outdated Enlightenment divide between heaven and earth is now unreasonable and irresponsible. There are no serious alternatives for worldviews anymore besides philosophical naturalism : the exclusive reliance on careful observation, sound reasoning, and experimental science for forming our beliefs. Respect for rationality and scientific method does the needed job of thoroughly refuting any God belief.

 

Comments:

#1 Sarah H (Guest) on Tuesday November 09, 2010 at 5:23pm

Indeed, well-said.  Scientists need to get off their high horse already - they aren’t doing as much work as they like to suppose when it comes to refuting god (though I love you dearly despite this common delusion). If you want to stay on (the high horse), at ...least let philosophy (logic, rationality) have it’s rightful seat along science in defeating god and religion. Neil deGrasse Tyson, that comment is aimed at you…And sorry, regarding scientific arrogance, Sam Harris, you’re wrong that science can determine moral values by itself without philosophical supplementation and cultural analysis.

#2 Sarah H (Guest) on Tuesday November 09, 2010 at 5:27pm

* By “you” in “I love you” I meant the scientists not God!!

#3 Kritikos on Tuesday November 09, 2010 at 6:49pm

People who claim that science refutes God belief are relying on more than just science to reach for that conclusion. Propositions like “No one should believe in something that has not been confirmed by science” or “A belief is unreasonable if it is not disconfirmable by any evidence” are not themselves propositions of scientific knowledge confirmed by laboratory experiment. They are instead philosophical claims about the supreme priority of using only scientific method. Quite reasonable claims, of course, but this prioritization is not itself a piece of scientific knowledge, but is instead based on the deeper foundation of respecting basic rationality.

I say “Woot, woot!” to that. Atheists and theists alike tend to want to get their philosophy for free, i.e., to make use of philosophical assumptions without doing the philosophical work necessary for justifying them—-though I grant that the philosophical assumptions of atheists tend to be more amenable to rational justification than those of theists.

#4 Mike (Guest) on Wednesday November 10, 2010 at 6:49am

I think you miss the point that science does not disprove God. It disproves specific Gods. Gods that are known and have made claims to any area in science.

Since usually Gods words(bible,Torah and Koran) are taken as infallible. Disproving most of what is shown in the words, is refuting the idea of those Gods. When a God sticks it head out to tell us something of the universe we live in. Generally that is when science plays wack-a-mole.

Philosophy is best suited to take on things not based on things more cerebral like God’s moral standards etc.

I agree Philosophical Naturalism is the a good world view. Where do I sign up? :D

#5 Old Man Running (Guest) on Wednesday November 10, 2010 at 8:25am

“Belief in an Age of Skepticism?”
March 4, 2008, at The University of California, Berkeley

#6 Old Man Running (Guest) on Wednesday November 10, 2010 at 8:32am

Which item(s)doesn’t(don’t) belong in the following list:
  God
  square root of negative one
  abstraction
  art
  life
  fractal

btw - what is insanity?

#7 christopher story (Guest) on Thursday November 11, 2010 at 12:03pm

In the spirt of science, I observe that philosophy and the spirit of science is a passion that some people are more biologically susceptible to than others. For this reason I give slight favor to the spirit of pure democracy and tolerance of ideological diversity. As useful as philosophy has proven it self, I can’t justify giving it exemption from the restraints a secular society places on religion.

#8 John D (Guest) on Thursday November 25, 2010 at 9:24pm

What poppy-cock are you presenting John?  Anyone claiming there is a god or any other supernatural power is making a claim.  They are claiming that some kind of extra-material power is affecting the material world.  If theists made no claims then the idea of god would vanish.  The issue is that every concept of god includes a claim for the nature of god and the effects that god has in the world.

So - if someone makes any claim to understand the natural of the supernatural there must be evidence for this claim.  Is there evidence that god answers prayers, punishes wrong-doers, helps us win sports games, aids in medical recovery, defeats our enemies?  No…no…no… and no.  The only evidence for god is in the event of a “personal revelation”.

What are the claims of these personal revelations?  They are simply testimony about how someone feels.  Are we really saying this personal revelationary feeling is a true event.  Did god actually speak to these people?  Did they see a ghost?  Did the talk to a dead relative?  Did the power of the holy spirit give them guidance?

No.  Revelation is a deception.  Just like all of us faulty humans, their brains made patterns out of chaos, or turned emotions into spiritual visits.  This testimony is not to be trusted.

If someone makes a claim about the nature of god it is a claim that god affects the material world.  The only way to determine if something affects the material world is with evidence, reason, logic, and science.

Science can not prove god does not exist anymore than it can not prove fairies and Santa do not exist.  Theist must support their claims that god affects the material world by providing evidence.

John - Stop apologizing for mental weakness and stop hiding behind weak thinking.  It is a disgrace.

#9 Juvier on Sunday November 28, 2010 at 7:37pm

“Of course science has helped make religion look foolish.”

Yo pienso que la ciencia ha ayudado más –mucho más- que hacer ver tonta a la religión. El desarrollo científico ha contribuido a la liberación del yugo religioso. Pero, ¿cómo es que si no hay dios, la ciencia ha contribuido a la liberación del yugo de dios?

Con frecuencia se argumenta que los pueblos antiguos inventaron sus dioses por necesidad. Y probablemente es cierto, pero… ¿necesidad de quiénes? ¿Necesidades de cuál naturaleza?

Hay que ser muy ingenuo para creer que los esclavos, siervos de la gleba, o cualquiera de la mayoría pobre de los pueblos antiguos sentían alguna necesidad espiritual o inquietud intelectual para explicar fenómenos naturales. La mayoría semisalvaje, y profundamente ignorante de aquellos tiempos a penas sobrevivía con su animismo casi innato. Una teología cada vez más elaborada, la necesidad de ideas más nítidas de dios era –y sigue siendo- una necesidad de cierta élite social, cierto grupo social. Se trata de la necesidad de un dios que estableciera y divinizara el poder y los privilegios de esa élite social. Un poder terrenal, mundano, esencialmente económico.

Todo dios, todo poder sobrenatural, toda divinidad ha estado siempre y en todas partes vinculado al poder político. Poder que se realiza, en última instancia, como poder económico.

El advenimiento del desarrollo científico -el cual aparece y se desarrolla también como patrimonio del poder económico y la minoría culta-, desborda al pueblo sólo con las necesidades del proceso de producción de mercancías. Pues es a través del proceso de producción social de mercancías, donde aparece la fuerza de trabajo calificada como un factor importante en la producción de riquezas materiales. La pérdida de poder económico de la minoría “elegida” por los dioses, el desarrollo de estructuras sociales y de producción cada vez más participativas, la generalización y popularización de los conocimientos científicos ha representado una liberación económica real para la mayoría de los pueblos.

Es pues en la estructura sociocultural y económica de la sociedad humana donde la ciencia ha ayudado a la liberación del yugo religioso, la tiranía de los dioses… que no es más que el yugo y la tiranía económica y política de un grupo social sobre el resto del pueblo. Naturalmente, además, la ciencia hacer ver tota a la religión.

Read in English is easy. But write down a comment is too hard for me so far. If I get time enough I will try my best English when I get home time again.

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