By Richard Bleil
Some weeks ago, a new friend of mine asked me a serious question; can science prove, or will it ever be able to prove, the existence of God?
She was, I believe, going through a crisis of faith. This is something that I take seriously because nobody ever doubts their beliefs when things are good. If somebody is having a crisis of faith, I worry about what is happening in their life that they are questioning.
Before providing my belief, let’s dissect this question beginning with the scientific aspect. In 1907, a physician named Duncan MacDougall published his findings, claiming that he had measured the mass of a soul, claiming it to be 21 grams (about 3/4 of an ounce) by measuring people’s weight before and after death. Today it’s known as the 21 gram experiment, and it has not been repeated to the best of my knowledge. Is this possible, though? Mass is a measure of quantity of matter, so if the soul has a mass (regardless of how small it may be), then wouldn’t it be subject to the laws of physics which, by most peoples’ beliefs, it is not (consider, for example, the belief that ghosts, souls trapped in our plane of existence, can pass through walls thereby occupying the same space as other matter simultaneously). If the soul has a mass, then where in the body do we house this mass? I know where MEN would house their souls, but I think that would be an inappropriate conjecture for this post.
Can science ever prove or disprove the existence of God? I don’t believe so, but it should be mentioned that it has been suggested that scientists have isolated the part of the brain responsible for religious faith (Prof. Jordan Grafman, US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2009). It has been suggested that quantum theory proved that God is not necessary for our existence (Stephen Hawking, in the book “The Grand Design”, 2010 but it must be noted that he did not claim quantum theory disproved the existence of God, but rather that quantum fluctuations can explain the sudden appearance of matter without invoking God in the theory).
But can science ever prove, or disprove, God? Personally, I don’t believe it can.
This is the difference between knowledge and faith. I like the way that Douglas Adams (yes, the author) put it in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; “‘I refuse to prove that I exist’, says God, ‘for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.’ ‘But,’ says Man, ‘The Babel fish [a fictional creature introduced in the book] is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.’ ‘Oh, dear,’ says God, ‘I hadn’t thought of that,’ and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.”
All seriousness aside [yes, that’s a pun], this pretty much wraps up my belief in the difference between faith and science. I’ve long believed that one of God’s gifts to us mere mortals is the gift of choice. We can choose to believe, or not, but if proof positive existed in either direction, that would rob us of this gift.
Faith is based on trust, knowledge on provable fact. I have no proof that God exists, and I don’t want it. Neuroscientists can locate flaws in my brain that houses my faith, and quantum mechanists can prove that we don’t need God to exist, but that doesn’t negate the possibility of God.
Now, I should mention that there are faiths that I don’t believe. It is not uncommon for people of certain faiths to point to inconsistencies between their holy book and scientific findings, and argue that they cannot co-exist. In high school, I had a chemistry professor who was “born again” (and tried to entice me, one of his students, to go to the church with him) who argued in class that you cannot believe in both evolution and God at the same time. The Bible clearly tells us, he argued, that God created the Heavens and the Earth in six days (recall She rested on the seventh, and I’d say She earned it), and therefore evolution, which takes millions of years, cannot be correct. One of my fellow classmates was upset by this as he believed in both, arguing that God is responsible for evolution and the physical laws (much as Einstein believed, by the way), and when he asked the teacher if he is allowed to believe this, the teacher said no, it must be one or the other. After class, I reached out to him and told him not to let anybody else, even this dingus, shake his belief which is very personal.
There is nothing that says that religion and science must be mutually exclusive. I am a scientist and a minister. If you read religious works like the Bible as absolute truth verbatim, you will find problems (even inconsistencies within the same book in fact). Personally, I’ve always taken the Bible (and other books) as something of a fable; a tale to tell humans how things could have happened without invoking something they are not yet prepared to understand like quantum theory. So, instead of a quantum fluctuation bringing matter into existence in a big bang and setting the laws of physics in motion that would eventually lead to the existence of Humans, we say, well, God created everything. In six days. Then rested.
Then rested. Interesting addition to this story. Then rested. One thing that Biblical scholars argue is how long, exactly, is a “day” to God? Could six God days be trillions of years long in our reference of time? If this is the case, then maybe, in six days (meaning trillions of years), God did create everything, but, then…wouldn’t the seventh day also be trillions of years? Is it possible that God is still resting? Could that be why so many bad things are happening?
I don’t know how God works. What’s more, I don’t have the audacity to tell God how to do Her job! That’s why I don’t like to dwell in why God allows bad things to happen, or who is sinners in God’s eyes, or even the GENDER that God must be. I refer to God in the feminine as a way of pointing out that, frankly, I don’t know the gender of God, or if, indeed, She has a gender at all! Maybe, God intervenes in human affairs, and maybe that’s why, for example, we’ve not destroyed the world in a global exchange. Or maybe God is just watching, allowing human choice to dictate our decisions and judging only after we pass on, which could explain why, for example, so many schools are the targets of terrorism.
Here’s the point: I DON’T KNOW.
And that’s okay. I have faith in God, which means that even if I don’t understand, I am comfortable that things are working out the way that they are supposed to.