Could Science Ever Completely Eliminate God as an Explanation of Existence?
Explanations for the most fundamental of questions — how the universe as we know it came to exist — has been discussed and debated for centuries. Before widespread scientific advancement, it was commonplace for God to be invoked as the explanation for natural phenomenon, but now some are saying that at the rate science is going, it will eventually rule out the necessity for God as an explanation.
In fact, Sean Carroll, a cosmologist with the California Institute of Technology writes that although using God as an explanation for natural phenomenon 2,000 years ago was acceptable, “now, we can do much better.”
Life’s Little Mysteries reports that Carroll recently published an article in The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity discussing this very topic. Carroll discredits God as an explanation when held to the same standards as scientific theories and writes eventually “conventional scientific progress will ultimately result in a self-contained understanding of the origin and evolution of the universe, without the need to invoke God or any other supernatural involvement.”
In his article, Carroll “[attempts] to explain the rationale behind the belief that science will ultimately understand the universe without involving God in any way.”
Carroll begins to explain the work and cosmological evidence gathered early in the last century and brings us to the Big Bang Theory, which Life’s Little Mysteries writes has “gobs of evidence” collected in its favor. Still, Carroll writes turning to believe in God as a theory for creation of the universe is “tempting” because of the “inability of established physics to describe the Big Bang.”
Carroll points out that this temptation comes from thinking that the universe had a beginning. He writes that some cosmologists believe the “Big Bang” is only ”a transitional stage in an eternal universe,” meaning the universe didn’t necessarily have a beginning where it was “created from nothing.”
“There is no way to decide between beginning and eternal cosmologies on the basis of pure thought; both possibilities are being actively pursued by working cosmologists, and a definitive judgment will have to wait until one or the other approach develops into a mature scientific theory that makes contact with observations,” he writes.
Carroll also brings up the “why this universe” argument, which God is often used as an explanation to answer. This argument basically states that if the requirements for intelligent life to form are very specific as laid out by science, then the fact that our universe was fortunate enough to meet those specific conditions shows evidence of God’s handiwork playing a role.
Life’s Little Mysteries explains Carroll’s thoughts on this sentiment in the simplest terms (emphasis added):
Some versions of quantum gravity theory, including string theory, predict that our life-giving universe is but one of an infinite number of universes that altogether make up the multiverse. Among these infinite universes, the full range of values of all the physical constants are represented, and only some of the universes have values for the constants that enable the formation of stars, planets and life as we know it. We find ourselves in one of the lucky universes (because where else?).
Some theologians counter that it is far simpler to invoke God than to postulate the existence of infinitely many universes in order to explain our universe’s life-giving perfection. To them, Carroll retorts that the multiverse wasn’t postulated as a complicated way to explain fine-tuning. On the contrary, it follows as a natural consequence of our best, most elegant theories.
Once again, if or when these theories prove correct, “a multiverse happens, whether you like it or not,” he wrote. And there goes God’s hand in things.
In addition to theories between scientists and theologians as to how the universe came to be, Carroll writes other arguments favoring the role of God include:
- The fact that the universe exists is simply because God allows it to be so. “He is the answer there is something rather than nothing.”
- The fact that the universe is able to sustain itself in the way it does is because God allows it to be so. “…as the sustainer of the self-sustained spacetime egg and as the creator of its quantum laws.”
- The fact that the observational and regular laws of nature are not a coincidence. “If there is no cause of this, it would be a most extraordinary coincidence – too extraordinary for any rational person to believe.”
Carroll writes it is difficult to respond to arguments where why something happens is being considered beyond the fundamentals of what happens. He acknowledges that this is most likely not going to be considered a good enough comeback, but “the ultimate answer to ‘We need to understand why the universe exists/continues to exist/exhibits regularities/came to be”‘ is essentially ‘No we don’t.’”
To Carroll, and most scientists he writes, there is no reason to ask “why” things exist as they do, like the regularity seen in the laws of nature, since they are understood as “nomological facts.”
To be fair, Carroll does give the hypothesis of God as an explanation the same treatment as any other scientific idea. Putting the God hypothesis next to the same standard as any other scientific hypothesis, Carroll finds this theistic reasoning lacking (emphasis added):
Over the past five hundred years, the progress of science has worked to strip away God’s roles in the world. He isn’t needed to keep things moving, or to develop the complexity of living creatures, or to account for the existence of the universe. Perhaps the greatest triumph of the scientific revolution has been in the realm of methodology. Control groups, double-blind experiments, an insistence on precise and testable predictions – a suite of techniques constructed to guard against the very human tendency to see things that aren’t there. There is no control group for the universe, but in our attempts to explain it we should aim for a similar level of rigor. If and when cosmologists develop a successful scientific understanding of the origin of the universe, we will be left with a picture in which there is no place for God to act – if he does (e.g., through subtle influences on quantum-mechanical transitions or the progress of evolution), it is only in ways that are unnecessary and imperceptible. We can’t be sure that a fully naturalist understanding of cosmology is forthcoming, but at the same time there is no reason to doubt it. Two thousand years ago, it was perfectly reasonable to invoke God as an explanation for natural phenomena; now, we can do much better.
Carroll does write that belief in God and religion “serve purposes other than explaining the natural world.” He also concedes that his arguments do not add up to “proof” that God does not in fact exist, only that using God as an explanation to explain the natural world is not a successful theory by the standards of science.
Read more details of Carroll’s arguments of “Does the Universe Need God?” here.
(H/T: Yahoo! News)
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