Why Some Scientists Have Trouble Believing in Hashem
11 Arguments and their Responses for the Scientific Method and Basic Philosophy.
1. Positing God is not a solution: who created God?
God is the eternal, ultimate cause of existence. Something must be the first principle. For the believer God is the first principle, just like for the naturalist eternal matter or eternal fields (e.g. a quantum vacuum) must be the first principle from which everything arises. Asking the believer who created God makes just as little sense as asking a naturalist where matter or fields came from. They always were.
If on the other hand a naturalist would hold that ‘nothing’ could be a first principle it would make no logical sense. Matter and fields cannot arise from nothing, since nothing has no properties, and thus cannot produce anything. Nothing is, in fact, nothing. The ‘physical nothing’ of the quantum vacuum is of course not nothing, but a field. Something must have always been there, be it eternal matter, eternal fields or an eternal God.
A common objection would be that God is too complex an assumption to begin with. This is disputable. In fact, classical theology holds that He is the simplest entity imaginable, because as an infinite, immaterial being He is not composed of any parts. For this, see for example the chapter in Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas. Edward Feser’s article “Why is there anything at all? It’s simple” points out why from a classical philosophical point of view God’s simplicity is crucial to Him being the only possible ultimate explanation.
2. The omnipotence of God is self-contradictory
If God were truly omnipotent, He could create a stone that is so heavy that even He could not lift it – yet then He would not be omnipotent after all. The concept of omnipotence and thus the very concept of God is self-contradictory, so the argument goes.
First of all, since God is not a material being, and ‘heaviness’ is tied to matter, the stone-lifting analogy makes no sense. But that is just nitpicking on the argument, of course. The real issue is whether God can do something that is logically impossible (something never claimed to be tied to the concept of omnipotence). Of course not. Assuming so would be, well – illogical
3. Religion competes with science for an explanation of the natural world
This argument is related to the literal reading of the chumash, and is a particularly curious claim, expecting every detail in every subject to be apparent from the literal reading. Judaism has never had as its main focus a need to provide an explanation of the natural world – Beraishis, important as it is, is just a small part of the chumash – or how (in a scientific sense) it came to be. If it were so, where then in the Torah are all the missing chapters on geology, botany and zoology? (of course, we believe “Hafoch bo v’hafoch bo, dkulah bo” sift through it and all will be found in it. But it is certainly not clear and accessible to the vast majority. Thus, this is not the Torah’s purpose.)
In fact, it may well be argued that monotheism allowed for the rise of science, by providing the demystification of nature into mere things (e.g. the sun was not the sun god anymore, but merely a source of light) and the idea that there are objective laws by which all natural things operate. As biochemist, atheist and Nobel Prize winner Melvin Calvin writes in Chemical Evolution p. 258:
“The fundamental conviction that the universe is ordered is the first and strongest tenet [of science]. As I try to discern the origin of that conviction, I seem to find it in a basic notion discovered 2000 or 3000 years ago enunciated first in the Western world by the ancient Hebrews: namely, that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods, each governing his own province according to his own laws. This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science.”
The main focus of religion is the relationship between Hashem and humans. The progress of science has not been a threat to informed religion, but instead has brought a welcome revelation of the grandeur and beauty of God’s creation. That is what the scientists who started the scientific revolution, and who were all believers, aimed for, and what has continued to this day. “Truth cannot contradict truth.” For an informed believer, religious truth and scientific truth can never contradict each other, because they both come from Hashem, one as divine revelation, the other derived from created nature which science studies.
The ‘conflict thesis’ of science vs. religion is dismissed by most notable historical scholars in the field today, it only lives forth in the popular imagination and in the mind of many non-believers. Contrary to myth, the relationship between science and Judaism has been smooth for the most part. Much of what has been discovered in science can be found in the Zohar, Ramban, and Midrash to name just a few sources.
4. Accommodation of modern science into ancient religious beliefs is a desperate attempt to reconcile two irreconcilable things
As I pointed out, the Torah (and most religion in general) is not concerned with explanations of the natural world – it just holds that God created the world. Yet even though cosmology and other topics like biological evolution are not a direct subject of religion, informed belief will of course be reflected by the findings of modern science. On one hand, non-believers praise evolving knowledge, the process of understanding which underlies science, as opposed to the alleged dogmatic rigidity of religion. Yet strangely enough, on the other hand, many of them deny such evolution of understanding to religious faith, calling any fusion of modern scientific knowledge with religious belief something like “a futile attempt to reconcile religion with science” or “a desperate attempt to save religion from irrelevance for the modern mind”. Evolving scientific knowledge is praised, but expanding our knowledge of Hashem and His world is viewed with suspicion or even as weak watering down. Obviously, we are dealing here with a remarkable double standard of thinking and a lack of logic.
5. It was always believers whose worldviews were confounded by scientific discoveries, never naturalists
It is not just believers who have had to reconcile their worldview with science. History shows that findings of science have confounded atheists too, in particular the Big Bang. Atheists used to believe that the universe simply was, and that it was eternal. The evidence for a Big Bang confounded this worldview dramatically, and lead to such questionable, and now refuted, reactions as the steady-state model by Fred Hoyle, motivated by worldview rather than by scientific considerations. The Big Bang concept also vindicated the theistic notion that time had a beginning. Proposals to modify current standard Big Bang cosmology that try to avoid a beginning of time are neither unequivocally successful nor universally accepted (unlike Big Bang cosmology from 1E-43 seconds, Planck time, after the event onwards).
Of course, in the meantime, a few decades later, atheists have become comfortable with the Big Bang model, and believe to even have found a way of getting around the idea of a creation event associated with it. The science associated with this is debatable though, and observational evidence is lacking.
6. Evolution is an inefficient way of creation
Why would God choose such a tedious manner of creation where He has to wait eons of years until stars and planets form and further, until humans arrive? If there really were a God, he would not have chosen such an inefficient way of creation as evolution.
However, this argument with respect to a ‘waiting’ God is philosophically irrelevant since it ignores the attributes of divine nature; it is based on ill-informed and far too ‘little’ concepts of God.
God is – or from the viewpoint of philosophical concept, has to be – infinite, non-material (i.e. non-corporeal as well) and eternal. He lives outside the dimensions of space and time; after all, He created them in the first place. As a consequence, everything in the domain of time can exist for Him in an instant: God does not need to ‘wait’.
Fine, but why did God not simply put a solar system up there with a nice little Earth, instead of going through all the trouble of physical evolution of a whole universe? Many atheists seem to have in common with creationists, who expect God to have ‘swooshed down from heaven’ in order to tinker with the first living cell, that they see God as an engineer. While we will never understand Hashem’s ways, we know that Hashem is called an artist (ein tzayor Kelokeinu) instead of just an “engineer.” As an artist, perhaps Hashem’s “masterstroke” is to let everything develop within a grandiose structure, a vast universe, instead of tinkering around with solar systems and RNA polymerases. A term like ‘efficiency’ does not apply, it only makes sense in judging the work of someone who has limited resources at his/her disposal.
Besides, such a jarring beginning to intelligent life would easily be discovered by science, clearly indicating Hashem’s existence and omnipresence. This would badly disrupt the principal of “free will” which gives our actions meaning. By slowly unveiling the universe, it allows the non-believer to sleep at night “knowing” that he lives in a potentially Godless world, guided by the laws of science. Thus the choice to believe or not to.
7. The vastness of the universe argues against the God of religion
Why should religion assume a small universe, only because it would ‘enhance’ the significance of humans? If it ever did, then only in accord with the cosmological views of the time. Yet already the Dovid HaMelech said “The Heavens, oh Lord, proclaim thy glory”, in the knowledge that the starry sky was much vaster than our little Earth. Furthermore, theology has held since ancient time that God is infinite. The revelation by science how vast our universe, God’s creation really is (and it may be even much larger than what we can observe) gives a limited glimpse to the believer what God’s infinity really may mean. Thus, believers should not be shocked about that at all. Is not an infinite universe worthy of its Creator?
8. The size of humans makes them insignificant, pointing to a godless universe
Atheists argue that humans are too insignificant in the context of the entire universe, a purported insignificance related to their size as compared to the vastness of the universe. So how can believers be so parochial to think that there might be a God who cares about us, and given the insignificance of humans, how can we even start to believe that our existence is on purpose? Does it not all suggest a pointless, godless universe?
There are several issues here:
1. Not just atheists, also believers have wondered about the significance of man in the grand scheme of things. Already Dovid HaMelech in Tehillim exclaimed “When I consider the heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man, that You are mindful of him, and the son of man, that You visit him?” Does that seem parochial to you? I don’t think so.
2. How can believers claim the universe was made just for us? We don’t. While certainly the Earth was given to man (Ha’aretz Nusan L’Vnei Adam), we can never forget the truth that “The world was made for the glory of Hashem.” In this vast Universe, Hashem wanted to create us to shower us with His love and goodness.
What would show the glory of Heshem better, a vast universe or a small one?
3. Does it make any difference for the value of human life how large humans are? The pursuit and attainment of happiness, knowledge, Torah and Mitzvos, moral virtues, love, interpersonal relations, beauty in art and nature, adventure in life, creativity, fulfillment of our positive capacities, needs, desires, interests and purposes – is all this dependent on our physical size? Would all this be diminished if we were 100 times smaller than we are? I don’t think so. Yes, we might not be able to play guitar or piano, but this holds just as much if we were 100 times larger than we actually are. Would our lives be any more significant or valuable if each us were the size of Jupiter? Hardly. It is just that we would not have any air to breathe or anything to eat, and we would collapse into undifferentiated mush under our own gravity (in the core of Jupiter, hydrogen is crushed by gravity into a high-pressure metal-like state). We are apparently just the right size for what we are by nature.
4. If humans cannot get so much larger, how about a smaller universe to “raise our significance”? It turns out that this does not work according to physics. As physicist Stephen Barr writes in his essay on Anthropic Coincidences about age and size of the universe:
“It turns out that the very age and vastness of the universe may have an ‘anthropic’ significance. Life emerged in our universe in a way that required great stretches of time. As we have seen, most of the elements needed for life were made deep in stars. Those stars had to explode to disperse those elements and make them available before life could even begin to evolve. That whole process alone required a vast number of years. The creation of human life from those elements required even more time. Thus, the briefness of human lifespans and even of human history compared with the age of the universe may simply be a matter of physical necessity, given the developmental way that God seems to prefer to work. It takes longer for a tree to grow to maturity than the fruit of the tree lasts. It took much longer for the universe to grow to maturity than we last.
“Physics can also suggest why the universe has to be so large. The laws of gravity discovered by Einstein relate the size of the universe directly to its age. The fact that the universe is many billions of light-years across is related to the fact that it has lasted so many years. Perhaps we would be less daunted by a cozy little universe the size, say, of a continent. But such a universe would have lasted only a few milliseconds. Even a universe the size of the solar system would have lasted only a few hours. A universe constructed in such a way as to evolve life may well have had to extend widely in space as well as in time. It may well be that the frightening expanses that are so often said to be a sign of human insignificance may actually, like so many other features of our strange universe, point to man, as they also proclaim the glory of God.”
Thus, neither can humans be much larger than they are, nor can the universe be much smaller than it is, given the developmental manner in which it was created. Rational analysis shows that the argument for the insignificance of humans based on size, in relation to the sheer vastness of the universe, is merely an emotional argument.
The famous astrophysicist Martin Rees makes a more rational argument in an interview, when asked if he does not feel an infinitely tiny speck of no significance:
“I don’t, because the earth, though small in the cosmos may still be a most important part of it. It may be the only place where there’s life like us. And so what makes things fascinating is how complicated they are and not how big they are. And for all we know the earth, tiny though it is, could be the centre of the cosmos in terms of complexity.”
And this complexity, and life in general, would not be possible without an extraordinary, extreme fine-tuning of the laws of nature that allows for it (as also acknowledged and even highlighted by agnostic or atheistic cosmologists, even though they have a different philosophical interpretation of it than theists do). The fine-tuning phenomenon squarely points to design; naturalistic explanations all fail as alternatives. While the putative multiverse, a favorite of cosmologists, might explain the fine-tuning of our particular universe, it only shifts the fine-tuning problem to a higher level and thus also solves nothing in terms of being an alternative to design. Therefore, instead of being disturbed by this vast universe of ours, I feel comfortably at home in it as I see in its design the intention of a loving Heavenly Father.
9. Belief in religious dogma conflicts with the scientific mindset
Why should the scientific method be suitable for anything? If you are in a relationship and love that person, you trust him/her that the love is reciprocal. How can you scientifically establish that this person really loves you wholeheartedly like you think s/he does? And even if you could (think of potential future analyses of brain circuits), would you think that to be appropriate? And if you would be suspicious and devise all kinds of ‘tests’ that the love is real, would you feel that this is appropriate? Of course not, no sane and psychologically stable person would. You simply trust without ‘scientific verification’. The more this should hold with belief in God – and God’s entirely non-material mind could never be proved scientifically anyway. If you are in a relationship with Hashem or want to enter such a relationship, you trust God’s word and God’s love. And how appropriate would it be to question every last detail, (refusing to “buy in” unless “proofs” are fed to you on a silver platter), if you trust that Hashem has revealed them on Har Sinai and through the Torah, after rational consideration?
Science is the best method that we know of to investigate the natural world. To the believer, religious dogma comes from God and is to be trusted as such, since He is the ultimate authority. There is nothing to ‘scientifically investigate’ about divine revelation, since it is not part of the natural world which science studies. The methods of acquisition of knowledge through science and through religion are simply different. To maintain that they are in conflict with each other is a confusion of categories, and alien to proper analytical thinking.
10. Belief in miracles is unscientific
Science studies the laws of nature. The scientific method depends on the reproducibility of experiments and observations. Miracles with physical manifestations, if they occur, are one-time events that suspend the laws of nature. Since they are one-time and not reproducible events they fall outside what science can investigate, particularly if they do not leave permanent traces that might be accessible to scientific investigation. Science can say nothing about such a situation, except that there is no scientific explanation for the healing. Thus, the issue of miracles simply lies outside science. This is completely different from it being ‘unscientific’. Unscientific means holding opinions that are disproven by science. While some alleged miracles have been disproven by science indeed, others have not – and phenomena that are considered true miracles generally are not disproven by science. In extension, belief in miracles simply touches questions outside science, rather than being ‘unscientific’. That is one way to answer the objection.
Yet, the atheist might claim, it is unscientific to even believe that the laws of nature may be suspended at certain moments. If you are a scientist or have your worldviews governed by scientific principles you are obliged to assume that the laws of nature always hold and are never broken. This is false since:
a) All the first scientists that started the scientific revolution and established the scientific method of observation and experiment either in practice (e.g. Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton) or by outlining of principle (e.g. Francis Bacon) were believers in God, and thus highly likely to believe in miracles. But they also believed that in ordinary situations God governed His creation by laws of nature which they studied (the term ‘law of nature’ has religious origins, pointing to a lawgiver). So when the individuals who were instrumental in establishing science, and its rules of observation and experiment, believed in miracles, how then can such belief be ‘unscientific’?
b) Such a claim confuses the method of science with philosophical views that may be extrapolated from science but are not part of it. Science (the natural sciences) is bound by methodological naturalism, i.e. it always has to assume natural causes for any effect that it studies. This does not mean that it always can find natural causes or that all events are reproducible (again, miracles as one-time events are not).
Distinct from this is philosophical naturalism which implies that, since the natural world is all that exists, everything always obeys the laws of nature or is caused by natural causes – without any exception. Philosophical naturalism may be deduced from the findings of science, but it does not follow from them by necessity. Therefore, conflating methodological naturalism with the atheist’s position of philosophical naturalism is flawed analytical thinking or simple lack thereof. The methodological naturalism of science does not imply with necessity that miracles do not happen.
Obviously, any scientifically informed believer or believer scientist will appreciate that miracles do not occur regularly, in everyday life. Claiming that “there is magic everywhere” would indeed contradict what we know from science. But one does not need to assume a priori that miracles never occur.
Yet there are even those that claim that God Himself would act ‘unscientifically’ if He would, once in a while, suspend the laws of nature. Pardon me? How can God, if He is the one who freely created the laws of nature in the first place (without whom there would be nothing for science to study), not be equally free to suspend them once in a while if He wishes to do so? The argument thus does not make much sense.
11. Atheism is more scientific than theism
Atheism often presents itself as a scientific worldview. An atheist may argue that his/her positions are scientific and objective, since they are an extrapolation from what science tells us about the world. This, however, overlooks the fact that this extrapolation, while it may claim to be based on science, is a philosophical extrapolation, not a scientific one, since it transcends the realm of strictly scientific knowledge. The atheist’s position is no less philosophical than the theist’s position – which, when it comes to a cosmic designer, can also be an extrapolation from what science tells us about the world.
We already discussed the distinction between methodological and philosophical naturalism. Atheists usually follow philosophical naturalism, and commonly reject the consideration of any supernatural forces, not just the monotheistic God. With this, they need to assume that not just everything that happens within the natural world has natural causes, but also that nature itself (our universe) has been created by natural causes. A naturalistic origin of our universe, however, can neither be scientifically proven nor is it a dogma of science. Yes, it is a dogma of philosophical naturalism, but science proper is silent on that philosophical stance. Therefore, atheism cannot be claimed to be more scientific than theism, and just like theism, atheism that embraces naturalism does make positive claims that go beyond science proper.
Science studies natural causes within nature. Whether nature itself is created by natural or by supernatural causes is outside of the realm of science to test. Even if a wider universe, eternal matter or eternal fields exist that caused the universe, science can also not prove that these themselves do not have supernatural causes.
Hashem is not an ordinary part of the natural world and thus cannot be found there and cannot be investigated by science. Imagine a human being making pottery. Is that person detectable anywhere in the pottery? No, not at all, you can look whatever you want, you will never detect the human being that made it within that pottery. Yes, you can detect the human being’s design in the pottery, but not the human being itself that designed it. Similarly, you can believe to detect God’s design in the universe, but you cannot detect God Himself in the universe with the scientific method.
by Benzion Klatzko and Al Moratz