The Folly of Putting God into the Gaps of Science

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Stephen Hawking  points out that his understanding of the new physics does not need God as the creator . Richard Dawkins makes a similar argument from his field of evolutionary biology.  Are these claims true? Has science really ruled out God? Can we in the name of science claim that God does not exist? In this study we shall try to examine the important relationship between science and God. Our universe is marvellous and science with its entire quest for mastery is yet to uncover a lot of it.  There is yet to be known.  Hence, can we put God in the gaps of this knowledge?  The so called-new atheists[1] like Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins claim that science  has filled these gaps and God has become superfluous.  They seem to suggest that we have to choose between science and God. By examining carefully the radical positions of the new these atheists, we can restore not just the dignity of God and Humans but also save the integrity of Science. This effort can also assist us to understand religion better as at least one of them that we study in this context regards religion as pernicious and root of all evil.  This study bases itself on the view that science and religion are not enemies but are complementary to each other.  Our thesis is that they co-evolve.  This co-evolution at different stages of the two has led several people to view that science and religion are enemies of each other. Hence, we try to do a survey of these evolving developments in science and its consequent impact on God vision and try to understand how a worldview that privileges God vision based on the God-of-the-gaps uses developments in science as means to falsify God.

Co-evolution of Science and Religion

We do not live in frozen time. Our society changes and evolves.  Science and religion  have their ancestries and genealogies. There was a time of their infancy. I hold that they co-evolved and co-constituted each other.  We shall try to conduct a survey of this inter-connected survey of the two important pillars of our society.

Fertility and Force based Science and Religion

Experts  teach that early humans  who were hunter gatherers  closely observed nature and deduced a relations between sex and fertility.[2]  To promote fertility they idolized female form and female genitalia. Thus, in Europe for instance, one can traces vulvas that dot many of the caves that  decorated by Palaeolithic humans dating from about 40,000 to 11,000 years ago.  French anthropologist  Andre Leroi-Gourhan  thinks that these  images may be a manifestation of the earliest human religion.[3]  An important cave like Lascaux  is christened by him as ‘ the cathedral of the pre-historic religion’. Later with the invention of agriculture and domestication of animals concept of fertility was then extended to  agricultural production and the population of animals. Thus, God was still thought through female forms. With the invention of agriculture human settlements or village life begun. We can trace several places with female deities of fertility.  But at this point , these deities become abstract. Often only eyes, breast or the pubic triangle can be noticed as highlighted.   We can find  this kind of fertility Gods mainly in the middle east manifesting that agriculture might have been invented in that region.  These fertility goddesses were invoked to seek bountiful harvest, and abundant human and domesticated animal birth.  We can see how our ancestors learned from nature and discovered that fertility permeates nature as a whole. We might regard this as their primitive science and the fact that they choose to symbolize fertility and looked upon fertility Goddesses as central to their survival may be viewed as their rudimentary religion. Later, we find male God’s adorning the pantheons of our ancestors. As Karl Jaspers  suggests that it was the axial period that  established the reign of male God’s and dethroned the reign of female fertility deities.[4]  Max Jammer a Physicist suggests that force of nature found its way into religion and was personified as  spirit and God.  Thus, physics of Force of  pre-scientific  age  led to the conception of Gods in religion.   Abstract idea of force gets translated as forces of natures which are personified into God who then are raked hierarchically in a pantheon.  Thus, it is these deities then that are viewed as carrying the action of the forces of nature.

 The revolt of Reason

The pre-socratics  thinkers broke the spell of epic poetry that bound the Greeks for a long time.[5]  We can find a devastating critique of Homeric God’s in Xenophanes of Colophon. He put the blame at the door of anthropomorphism as the root cause of creation of gods and  he proposes  for a reformed theology that complies with the demands of reason is put forth.  Thus, we  can see that Xenophanes bears witness to the shifting tendency from Mythos to the Logos among the Greeks.  This means the epic poetry no longer enjoys the protection of a veil of truth as Xenophanes effectively contests what Gods traditionally stand for and what they actually do in Homeric and Hesodic  poems and declares that they cannot be regarded as paragons  for moral  conduct.  As safe guards of divine justice, he showed that they act contrary to the role they purport to assume.  He taught that they are humanly created. They have human voice, wear human cloths and look just like humans.  He teaches with rude sarcasm that if animal would think they would have created their gods in their own image and likeness.[6]  But he does not reject god entirely. He wishes to purify god thinking. He wants to rationalise the idea of God in order to make it conform to the new world vision that resulted from the movement form Mythos to Logos.  He clearly sees that the new world vision requires a revision of God thinking. Science of his day challenges the religion of his time to rethink God in the power of reason.  The pre-Socratic thinkers explained materialistically the phenomena traditionally associated with Homeric gods. But in the bargain they seem to have invented the God-of-the-gaps. Thus, for instance, Democritus teaches that the idea of God is a consequence of their inability to explain meteorological phenomena.  Sextus Empericus also holds the same view.

Frames of Mathematics framing God

Greeks took science into a direction that delayed the emergence of modern science.  They were more interested in understanding the world and its meaning rather than how it worked. Hence, their science grew in partnership with philosophy. Their method of inquiry was deductive , moving from  general to particular truth.[7]  Deduction made observation less important and put mathematics on high pedestal.  Observation was subservient to mathematics and was seeking mathematical order or forms in nature.  Aristotle placed the forms of Plato in the things. He taught that everything is made of matter and form. We can see this in their understanding of the motion of God. They began to look for circles in the motions of Gods. The circular dogma refused to die. Plato ordered us to save the phenomena and Aristotle inserted spheres to keep the Gods in their circular paths.  Everything had its own place and purpose in the universe. Teleological explanation became the highest explanation.  This means seeking its place of rest is the summum bonum  of everything. It is natural to everything. Motion is violence to this natural state in the terrestrial realm. Heavy thinks fall  at the centre of the earth.[8]  In the terrestrial sphere things remain at rest. Being at rest is perfection and hence God becomes the unmoved mover that moves everything but is moved by none.  Aristotle taught us about material as well efficient cause what rule the roost for a long time was the teleological or final cause.[9]

Developments in Science and Fortunes of God

Science did develop in the arms of religion. But as it grew into its youth-hood it became rebellious. Job Kozhamthadam has already presented us the early encouragement, youthful estrangement and adult engagement phases in the relationship between science and religion.

The New view of the world

The fall of Platonism which taught that the changing world cannot reveal the ultimate truth  led to a new movement  that gave great importance to the understanding on the world on the basis of observation , experience and experiment.  Two Franciscan Friars at Oxford, John Dun Scotus (1266-1308) and William of Occam  (1300-1314) began a movement that rejected the principles of Aristotle.[10]  They insisted that the way of  acquiring knowledge of the world is by forming  of a hypothesis or an conjecture to explain the facts and then testing it to check whether the facts could be arrived at by using the hypothesis. This method of induction would later be popularised by Francis Beacon.  As time moved on, we saw that Galileo and Kepler would use this method to establish Helio-centric vision of the world of  taught by Copernicus.  Kepler  thought of God as a Geometer who filled the universe with geometrical designs.  Now the Aristotelian question why things behaved in a certain way was changed to how things behave in a certain manner. This brought mechanism and quantification into play.  Platonic forms were no longer important but the size, shape , speed and mass became vital. [11]  The new view of the cosmos challenged the  worldview of the day that enjoyed catholic church’s  acceptance.  Galileo  taught that it is nature and not scripture that revealed scientific facts. God he taught has given us two books: Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture.  Both come from the same source and hence,  Galileo taught that creation  revealed God. This means Science and Religion remain tied together in both Galileo and Kepler.[12]

Newton and the Clock maker God

The Aristotle’s purposive universe collapsed completely with the arrival of Newtonian science.   Newton believed that he was describing the world as it was   and not simply how it behaved. Nature was deterministic.  Every object as distinct position in space and time which when known we can predict its future  or retrodict its past using Newton’s laws. This means everything could be explained by matter, motion and its inter-relating force in space and time.  Newton’s  laws of motion  and force of gravity could explain both celestial as well as terrestrial motion. Newton taught that the world is God’s machine and is maintained by his laws.[13]  The laws of nature are expressions of God’s will and show that the universe is his creation.  Since space and time are absolute in Newtonian universe, he taught that they were attributes of God.  Newton’s view of God led to the birth of deism. God was still the first cause but not the final cause as Aristotle would teach. God’s involvement in the world became bare minimum. He only did so to correct irregularities . God became a celestial plumber. [14] Newtonian science had a great explanatory power but there was a weakness. His science kept the planetary system on a knife edge as the forces of gravity balanced each other and kept the planetary system from collapsing. Newton taught that God keeps the planetary system intact.  This placed God in the gaps of Science. It took Pierre Laplace to explain the planetary system naturalistically and thus made it appear that God was unnecessary.[15]   It seemed that God hypothesis could be disposed off.  The final blow to design or final cause was given by Charles Darwin who taught evolution through natural selection and the survival of the fittest. Again God become unnecessary as Science was taught to fully explain the origin of all life forms.

 Breakdown of the Clockwork World and God

Albert Einstein changed the scientific perspective  of time, space, matter , gravity and light.  In a moment of genius, he postulated that light is the highest speed limit and nothing can go faster than light. Besides, light travels at a constant time (186000 miles). Now speed is distance travelled  in time. Distance is space. Hence, if speed of light does not change  then space and time had to change.  This challenged Newton’s  notions of absolute space and time.  Thus,  Einstein unified space and time to save the uphold his light postulate.  It took time for the scientific community to fully grasp this unnerving special theory of relativity.[16]  Einstein took the next challenge of  revising the notions of gravity and light .  Newton taught that gravity was a force acting between bodies  at any distance. Einstein   thought that gravity was like a magnetic field which acts on bodies within it.  This means gravity became a property of a single body to distort space time continuum.   Einstein then went on  to demonstrate that light was a particle.[17] Thus, restoring Newton’s corpuscular theory of light displaced  by developments  in field theory of James Maxwell that had established that light was a wave.  Thus, it was shown that light behaved both as a particle as well as wave.  This led to the development of quantum physics  which gave a death blow to deterministic universe  of Newton. Einstein found it hard to accept the uncertainty principle of Heisenberg.  Einstein’s theory of gravity showed that gravity bent light. Thus, matter, spacetime, light and gravity are shown too inter-related.  Moreover, Einstein’s special theory of relativity showed that matter dissolved into energy given by the formula E=mc2.   Given this new vision of world Einstein found it difficult to understand how God could enter time. He seemed to opt for an impersonal pantheistic God of Spinoza.  It became easier to thinking of God as a sustainer rather than the creator. The old scholastic view that God works through secondary causes began to stage a comeback.  The big bang theory  brought the creator God back in the reckoning . But Big bang is only later development of the universe. We are yet to discern the origin of the universe through science and there are several competing theories for now.  We perhaps have to abandon the idea of a timeless God and view God as everlasting that would enable us to understand his involvement in the universe in a radical light. This would need us to abandoned an unchanging do nothing God of the philosophers and embrace a loving God. Love demands change. This is why this view can stretch into an evolving God still not acceptable to us all.

Science and New atheism

The new atheists ground their atheism on developments in science which they claim have ruled out God. To them God is no ghostly superimposition like the Schrödinger’s cat that is either dead or alive but is certainly dead.  But it turns out to be unsustainable as their science as well as their religious views is based on biased world view.

No Boundary Proposal and no place for Creator

Big bang theory is scientifically established but it is not the beginning of the universe but is said to be latter development of the universe. The hunt for the origin of the universe is still on. Stephen Hawking has been in the middle of this hunt for a long time. Earlier he pointed out there was an error in the mathematical calculations of Jayant          Narlikar who tried to put Steady state theory on the firm map of science. This brought Hawking into the notice of the scientific community of that time and also put Big Bang theory on a scientific footing.  Scientist had two best theories: quantum physics and general theory of relativity . Scientists were trying to unify them and the best point of unification for two is a big bang singularity and search is still on.  Hawking first tried to achieve this unification with his theory that is named as no boundary proposal.  He concentrated on the black holes which caused by the collapse of stars due to loss of fuel.  Not even light can escape a black hole.  They collapse when they reach singularity of infinite density  and space time curvature. Thus, Hawking saw that they are similar to big bang singularity.  They can be detected because they exercise gravitational  on the objects in their vicinity .   In 1974 Hawking discovered that black holes that reach a point of singularity radiate, posses temperature and entropy . This means the surface temperature  of the black holes can stay the same and not  decrease. This is why black holes are not really black.  Hawking says  a pair of particles  make a virtual pair at the surface of the black hole .The gravity attracts negative particle which enter it and the positive particle escapes as radiation.   Thus, black holes obeyed the laws of thermodynamics.  Thus, particles could escape the black holes and have histories.[18]  Basing himself on quantum principle which teaches that one could avoid particles having  histories by proposing that time has a beginning at big bang particles. If there is no t=0 then particles could have multiple histories. Thus,  Hawking argues that  a particle does not have a single history as it follows every single path in spacetime.  It travels in real time and imaginary time. He then adds the probabilities  with certain properties, that  is passing through  certain points  at certain time  and attempts to extrapolate his findings to real spacetime that we live.[19]  Thus, he thinks that if we can calculate the history of the universe in imaginary time we will be enabled to know how it will behave in real time.  Hawking says that what applies to particle will apply to spacetime but admits that he does  not yet know how to do the summation. But with the help of Jim Hartle he proposes that spacetime are finite in extent but have closed   upon each other  without boundaries and edge and therefore no singularity and no beginning and therefore he argues that there is  no room for creator  God. The boundary condition of the universe is that there is no boundary. Thus, Hawking rules out creator God  but not a sustainer God, the power to be.

Hawking , Self Assembling Multi-verse  and God

In the Book, Grand Design published in 2010, Hawking along with Leonard Mlodinov presented a new theory.  It is based on their firm belief that everything in the universe obeys laws of physics.  The chief conclusion of Grand Design is that because there is law of gravity, the universe creates itself out of nothing.  This raises the question: who set up the law of gravity. Why should it exist and work?  Besides, ‘the out of nothing’ that Hawking speaks is not out of no thing. There is quantum vacuum which is manifestly not nothing.  There is certainly an elephant in the room. He suggests that everything is a product of quantum fluctuations.  This means universe organises itself from pre-existing something.   So we are not really dealing with creation but later organization. We still have to ask: who puts the fire in the quantum fluctuations?   Basing themselves of M-theory they suggest that great many universes were created out of nothing.  It seems to suggest that monkeys typing randomly typed out the sonnet of Shakespeare when Hawking gives such powers to laws of physics working through quantum fluctuations. There is no dispute that laws of physics work thorough quantum fluctuations.  The question is whether they work alone without God. It is just like saying because the monkey has a type writer he will type a Shakespearean sonnet.  While there are still questions about the science of Hawking, his logic is even more questionable when he leaves out God.  Thus, Laws of Physics can explain how an engine can work but cannot tell us how it might self assemble itself.  Hawking might let science explain the miracle of existence of multi-verse but cannot rule our creator God. A God becomes even more Godlike if he is viewed as a creator of multi-verse.

Dawkins , Religion and God

Neo-Darwinians teach that the earth is 4600 million years old and life evolved in the sea about 3000 million years ago.[20]  Francis Crick and Fred Hoyle had put forth a view that life was seeded on earth extraterrestrial sources.[21]  But we have issues with this view as it transfers the origin of life elsewhere as Crick teaches some other extra-terrestrial intelligent beings were responsible for seeding life on earth.  His hypothesis is not different from what we understand of God as the origin of life that he so bluntly tries to oppose.   Richard Dawkins in his book, Selfish Gene, teaches that life began in the primeval soup but in his book, The Blind Watch Maker, shifts to inorganic material theory as the originator of DNA.  Self-replicating ability seem to be the sign of life but Dawkins think that it seems improbable that randomly jostling molecules  could organise themselves into self replicating molecules.  Thus, there does not seem to be scientifically accepted theory about the origin of life.  What we have is latter complexification of life.  The randomness involved is too high and is like winning a lottery several times for life  opines Fred Hoyle.  The science of genetics founded by Gregor Mendel, does offer scientific answers to the development of life though genetic  inheritance  and their mutations. [22]Thus the origin of life is still a mystery.  Dawkins teaches that it is the selfish nature of the genes that compete with one another for selections.  Thus, Dawkins does give purposive role to genes.  But he says selfishness is built in us because of our genes and not altruism.  But genes for him are controlled by cultural factors which is calls memes. Here Dawkins differs from E. O Wilson the pioneer in socio-biology who asserts the dominance of genes over culture.  He further asserts that culture only offers the gene protection.  But Dawkins teaches that cultural items lead to gene replication.  Thus, there is a debate over whether the observed characteristics of the organism (phenotype) tell us something about it genetic basis (genotype).    Extrapolating this debate to include religion, Wilson teaches that religion plays the protective role for the passing on of the genetic material among humans.  Thus, he says that religion is based on science because genes created capacity for religious behaviour.  But Dawkins who thinks that memes influence genes says that religion is a root of all evil and is the reason for violence among humans.  He says it is a dangerous meme. Dawkins does not feel the need of design. God for his is a delusion.   The memes and the genes interact (natural selection) at random and we have modification or evolution of life forms. But if we turn the tape of evolution back we will not have the same life forms.  He teaches that natural selection is a blind watch maker.  Dawkins thinking does not rule our God who can be thought as the source, sustainer and summit of all creation. Actually Dawkins atheistic views demand a God who is the destiny or summit of creation.  The world can be still viewed as God’s experiment with change or exploration s to bring out novel life forms.

Compatibility of God and Science

The question is not about compatibility of God and Science.  The issue is about kind of God vision is not compatible with both God and Science.  It seems that God-of-the-gaps is not compatible with both science and God. God-of-gaps converts God into a hypothesis and developments in science as means to falsify it. God can never be a stop gap for incompleteness of knowledge. Religious people also take refuge in it thinking that science cannot explain for instance origin of life or human morality and claim that God becomes that explanation.

Scientific reduction and Non-reducibility of God

Karl Popper attacked the verification principle of the logical positivists  and proposed his own principle of falsification. It teaches that science is falsifiable and non-science is falsified.  Can Poppers principle of falsification be employed to falsify God?  This means that we will have think that God as one hypothesis among other hypotheses in science. Developments in science falsify other competing hypothesis in science and refute them.  Thus, can we really render God falsified by developments in science as Hawking and Dawkins attempt to do?  At the most this approach redefines the boundaries between science and religion.  God of religion and the fact of religious experience cannot be simply dismissed as false and then reduce God into a theoretical hypothesis that can then be subjected to corroboration of scientific scrutiny. God cannot be reduced to mere hypothesis. But a reductive approach placed God into the gaps of Science and claim that science feels the gap and therefore, there is not God. This kind of argumentation is actually a delusion that thinks that forgets the material dimension of the world.  Hence, we have distinguished between our God thinking and God in reality. Our epistemology cannot necessarily be reduced to ontology. We do not have a zero-point epistemology or God’s view point of view as regards God.  Martin Heidegger has rightly questioned our static onto-theological vision of God. This is why several thinkers like Richard Kearney think of God from the privileged vantage point of escaton. A God who will be in his view is a fuller revelation of God.

Folly of Parallax view

The common definition of parallax view[23] is apparent displacement of an object (the shift of position against a background) caused by the change in position of the observer that provides a new line of sight.  The observed difference is not simply subjective because of the fact that the same object out there is being observed from different stations or points of view.  The subject and the object are inherently mediated so that the epistemological shift in the subject’s point of view also reflects the ontological shift in the object.  This is why the epistemological lack of evidence becomes absence of ontological evidence. Thus absence of evidence becomes evidence of absence leading to the conclusion that God does not exist and his non-existence is scientifically established.  Empirical evidence is just one kind of evidence. Hence, we cannot dismiss God on the basis of lack of so called empirical evidence caught by the power of science. There is also the natural reason that does natural theology that is open to the belief in God.  Natural theology points out that humanity  pursues what we call Platonic triad: truth, goodness and beauty. It is in this quest humanity finds God.

 Science and God vision

Our God vision or God thinking is interconnected to our cosmic vision and anthropological vision.  Science significantly contributes to enriching of our Cosmic, anthropological as well as God vision.  Theos, Cosmos and anthropos constitute three important coordinates of our worldview.  Science does not generate a singular worldview but leads to plural worldviews. Science both limits and grounds the worldviews that emerge from it.  Yet the worldviews that emerge from science generally form one aspect of meaning that human construct to make sense of their being-in-the-world. Meaning that we generate has theological, anthropological as well as cosmological underpinnings.  There is a hermeneutical circle between the three aspects that shape our worldview.  Thus science does shape the worldviews of humans as well as science is also shaped by it.  The way different worldviews align with anthropological, theological or cosmological will decide whether we will have theistic, atheistic, agnostic, sceptic visions of God. Hence, science cannot titrate one singular God vision but produces multiple visions or positions about God.   There is no scientific tabula rasa which is a completely open mind without pre-commitment to a worldview that is then brought to bear on the study of nature. Besides, science itself generates a world view and what we have is a complex fusion of the two and this fusion does occur in different ways at different times and contexts.

 From God-of-the gaps to God-of-the-depths

God-of-the-gaps make Gods action in the universe contingent to inability of science to explain something naturalistically. It depends largely on linear conception of time and deistic understanding of God. Gaps of science cannot be a site for religions to ratify their beliefs in God.  God’s action in the cosmos cannot be limited to limitations of science. Science offers naturalistic explanation of reality. God and nature cannot be opposed. What we call natural explanation need not be without God. God may be the cause even when we have naturalistic /scientific explanations. This means God is an involving God in an evolving Universe/ multi-verse. This means God is at depths of reality and not in the gaps of science.  God is the first cause of the universe but due to the gaps in our scientific knowledge of the origin of the Universe/Multi-verse, we are not yet able to place God outside the first moment of existence of our Universe/ Multi-verse. This is why we refer to him as the source, sustainers and the summit of all that is.

 Conclusion

What Science renders unnecessary is the God-of-the-gaps. Science is not naturally atheistic. We can choose both God and science. Science has its limitations  and scientism is certainly faulty.  Thus, other forms of knowledge have their legitimate space. Scientific explanation is not the only explanation of the universe.  Hence, God cannot be   regarded as an unnecessary hypothesis. Science cannot and will not bury God. God is not an alternative explanation to any scientific explanation. God is the ground of all scientific explanations. God is the best explanation for the explanatory power of science.   This means God is not in the gaps of science but he is in the depths of science and the entire created order where rationality of created order becomes the transcendental condition of the possibility of science.

 

[1] Amarnath Amarasigham, Ed., Religion and the New Atheism: A Critical Appraisal (Boston: Brill 2010).

[2] Amir D. Aczel, Why Science Does not Disprove God (New York: Harpers-Collins Publishers, 2014).

[3]  Andre Leroi-Gourhan, L’art parietal: Langage de la préhistoire (Grenoble: Jerôme Million, 1992) and  Amir D. Aczel, Why Science Does not Disprove God.

[4] https://www.jstor.org/stable/20452955?read-now=1&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents accessed on 31/ 12/2018.

[5] Roger G. Newton, From Clockwork to Crapshoot: A History of Physics (London: The Belknap press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 11.

[6] John c. Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science buried God ? ( Oxford: Lion, 2009), 49-50.

[7] Robert Crawford, The God/Man/World Triangle: a Dialogue between Science and Religion (London: Macmillan Press, 2000), 2-4.

[8] Edward Dolnick, The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, Royal Society and the Birth of  the Modern rlWod (London: HarperCollins , 2011),102.

[9] Robert Crawford, The God/Man/World Triangle, 5-6.

[10] Ibid., 6.

[11] Ibid., 7-9.

[12] Roger G. Newton, From Clockwork to Crapshoot: A History of Physics, 67-85.

[13] Ibid., 86-99.

[14]  Robert Crawford, The God/Man/World Triangle, 10-11.

[15] Ibid., 11.

[16] Ibid., 55-57.

[17] Ibid., 55-62.

[18] Stephen Hawking, Black Holes and Baby Universes (London: Bantam Books, 1993), 36.

[19] Stephen Hawking, Black Holes and Baby Universes, 84.

[20] Robert Crawford, The God/Man/World Triangle, 35.

[21] Ibid., 36.

[22] Ibid., 39.

[23]  Slavoj Zizek, The Parallax View (London: The MIT Press, 2006).

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