Science actually points to God

I have been writing rather critically of the dominance of the ‘scientific mentality’ in preparation for writing about God the Creator and his creation. It is important to keep in mind here that science, as such, is not at all bad; the problem is found rather the reduction of all knowledge to science, which readily entails the reduction of all reality to that which is material and measurable.

Now it is true that as recently as maybe 1900 science gave an image of the world that did indeed seem to favor atheism over belief in God. At that time, science was providing such a simple, seemingly self-contained picture of the universe that it could be easy to conclude that there was no need for God.

On the level of astrophysics, every thing seemed to be simply explained by Newton’s principles of mass, inertia, and gravity. On the chemical level, everything seemed neatly explained by the simplicity of atoms and their combinations – the electron, the first subatomic particle, was only discovered in 1897. Plant and animal life was explained in terms of cell theory and within the cells was nothing more an a sort generic protoplasm. Finally, Darwin’s theory of evolution seemed to give an explanation to the origin of life itself. Science, it was thought, had explained everything. What was left unexplained was insignificant. No room appeared to be left for God.

Here, though, we already run into the difference between scientific facts and their philosophical interpretation. Even with this very simple and, by today’s standards, primitive science, there is no explanation of why the laws governing astrophysics, chemistry, and biology should be such as they were, nor why anything should exist in the first place. That was all simply taken as a given.

The 20th century, however, witnessed a new explosion of scientific discoveries, with startling developments like relativity, quantum mechanics, and genetics.

The new developments revealed an extraordinary and intricate complexity of order on every level of the universe, from the vast expanse of the light years through which innumerable galaxies are spread, to the intricacies of subatomic particles, to the amazing interior complexity and order of cells.

A few simple points can be made about all this.

First, this brought an end to the rational pretensions of what is called ‘determinism’.

Basically, the mentality of determinism, which underlay the scientific mentality from the beginning, holds that he universe as we know it has developed purely in a predetermined fashion according to fixed laws. Consequently, if we could only know the original state of the universe and the laws that held at that time, we could accurately predict everything that has happened since, or ever will happen. On this view, the only possible place left for God was to get the whole process started. After that he becomes irrelevant.

The uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics blew determinism out of the water.

The uncertainty principle also makes it much harder to believe that the complex order of the universe could be the result of pure chance; rather it calls for the guidance of the whole process by some sort of ‘super-intelligence’.

The very different intricacies that govern the vast regions of space, the internal mechanisms of particles, and dynamism of living things strongly suggests that more complex realities are not simply reducible to being a sum of their simplest parts, as was once thought. Irreducibility not only throws into question the doctrine of evolution, but points to those complex realities as being intended by a maker, rather than just spit out at the end of a process of random change.

In other words, if a horse is just the sum of its parts, then it is not too far of a stretch to imagine it as somehow developing from the random interactions of those tiny parts. If, however, the a horse is a whole that possesses its own nature and integrity beyond those parts, then the interactions of parts, which is really all that science examines, cannot explain its origin. Rather, it possesses an inherent intelligibility that is proper to something that is made by an intelligent maker.

The argument or at least suggestion becomes even stronger when we realize that a horse, apart from possessing its own integrity as a whole, is integrated in a remarkable way into a larger ecological whole.

Finally, we learn that all this order and complexity fits together perfectly to allow for the most improbable result of all: intelligent human life on planet earth.

Copernicus was thought to have revolutionized the way we thought about ourselves as human beings, because we no longer so ourselves as being at the center of the universe. So the scientific mentality dethroned man from his royal status, we could say. Yet, through what is called the ‘anthropic principle’, man has been placed right back at the center of the physical universe in a new and unforeseen way. All of this vast complex order has been fortuitously (or should we say providentially arranged) so that we could be here.

Now none of these conclusions about intelligent design are scientific facts, but philosophical conclusions drawn from (or at least suggested by) the scientific evidence.

My point here is that while in 1900 the atheistic opinion might have seemed reasonable, in 2019 the atheistic opinion has really become very flimsy and tenuous. Still, the popular imagination has not developed with the development of science. In the popular imagination it still seems as though science favors atheism.

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.