Monthly Archives: March 2012

Science, God and Evil

A common quandry in religion is “If God is good and God is omnipotent, then why is there so much evil in the world?” This question is often used by atheists to bolster their case against the existence of God.

Many answers to this quandary have been proposed, from the existence of an active devil, to freedom of choice, to “there is no God”, to “it’s part of the mystery.”

Let’s consider a scientific perspective. Scientists observe the world and try to describe or explain it. It’s valid to suggest that there is evil in the world. The scientific perspective is that the existence of evil tells us something about the world. If we assume that God exists, evil’s existence tells us something about God also. The atheist uses the existence of evil to conclude there is no God, but another perspective is to suggest that evil’s existence informs us about the nature of God.

God and evil appear to co-exist. If you believe in God, you might then conclude that God has “chosen” to allow evil and deprivation to exist.

Why would God choose this? That is not something that anyone has figured out, although there are many ideas about that. Can I suggest that God, although an omnipotent being, is not the same as a “powerful person”. In expecting God to rule out all evil, we are expecting God to behave as a human would. That expectation is probably a mistake.

Scientific reasoning applied to this subject might be: God and evil exist together. This tells us something about the nature about God. If God exists, and is truly benevolent and all powerful, then “thinking scientifically” we would conclude that evil exists in the presence of an all-knowing, all-powerful benevolent being.  The next step would be to deduce what is meant by “all-powerful.” Clearly, “all-powerful” does not mean a being that stamps out evil at every opportunity.

What does “all-powerful” mean? That is truly something to understand more deeply.

The Man Behind the Wall

My book “Embrace The Infinite” is largely about how science and religion inform each other. Consider the following.

You come upon a wall that appears to be pulsating. Bulges in the wall appear at irregular intervals, like little domes the grow and recede. This is something you’ve never seen before.

Then you study the growing and shrinking of the bulges and notice there might be a pattern to it. You put on your scientist hat and start to jot down when and where the bulges form. After doing this for some time, you look at the data you’ve written down and you guess a simple formula that describes when and where the bulges form. You return to the wall, armed with your formula, and find that it holds up. It explains where the bulges will appear and predicts where the next bulge will form, etc. You are excited at having explained the bulges, but also puzzled as to what is causing them.

You notice a small door to the right of the wall. You crouch and slowly open it to find something that startles you: there is a man behind the wall, with a large pole pushing the the wall to create the bulges. He does so in such a way to create the pattern or formula that you discovered. He does it repeatedly, like clockwork, never failing or tiring.

Your reactions are mixed: awe at his perseverance, sympathy for his plight (why is he compelled to do this?), strangely a fear that he will stop.

What has this do with science?

As scientists, we are on the front side of the wall, watching nature behave, noting the patterns and, if we are lucky, figuring out the rules that govern how nature behaves. In the real world, there is no little door we can go behind to figure out why nature behaves as it does. We figure it out, but we don’t know why it is that way.

Nature behaves in such a way that we can figure it out. That is what gets many people excited about science, and about the truths science reveals. However, there are many things that science does not reveal, not because science is deficient, but because science is a method of reasoning that gives us some insights, but not everything.

Why does nature behave as it does? Sometimes there is a simplicity to nature’s behavior that is pleasing, so pleasing we think of that simplicity as a sufficient “explanation.” But really this is not so. There is no explanation. Our imaginations and our desires seem to seek out a deeper purpose to this world, but science is limited in what it can show us.

Many scientists and atheists don’t want to ask why, or attempt to venture behind the wall. But is it so wrong to consider such a venture? We have active minds with imaginations and a seeking nature to learn more. We can ask why, but the answer is not easy to find. Are we wrong to try? How can we be so sure it is wrong to try?

Was Jesus a Scientist?

Jesus was the son of a carpenter. Would he have been a scientist had he been alive today?

Imagine a time before science existed, before the idea of “natural law” was contemplated. What would a thoughtful man or woman think about the world around them?

They would see a regularity to nature, as if there was a power behind the movement of the Sun through the sky. This and other major natural forces in our lives appear to be directed, appear to have a purpose.

Early spiritual ideas did imbue the natural world with human characteristics. Before religions based on monotheism – one God – there were religions that put human traits on natural things. Trees had personalities, as did rocks and stars.

It may seem silly now, but let’s step back a moment. There is a unity to things. We seem to have a sense of purpose to our lives. Is that so different than the sense of purpose early humans assigned to the Sun’s passage through the sky?

What science teaches us now is that in fact these are quite related. Human purpose comes from the mind, the mind consisting of the brain, which follows natural laws. Science does suggest that our sense of purpose is derived from the same forces that move the Sun through the sky. That is, the forces of nature (gravity for the Sun’s motion, electrical forces for our brains).

That unity is something that might have been sensed by spiritual thinkers before the beginning of scientific thinking. After all, when a body dies, it returns to dust. Perhaps we all come from dust. This is what science teaches us, and perhaps it was understood long ago.

What I write in the book is that the scientific viewpoint that finds a unity to all things can lead to spiritual insights.

Jesus endowed this world with deep insights, well before science was known. Maybe Jesus knew what the future would bring, even without doing a single scientific experiment.

Religion Versus Science: A Debate

Here is a snippet of the debate from the Religion topic at scienceforums.net:

dimreepr states:
The arrogance of theists (and you) in demanding humans are separate from the animal kingdom (special in some way) never ceases to amaze me, how exactly are we so special? There are a myriad of scientific studies that show we are just another example of an evolved species. Also why do theists insist on trying to prove it? As far as I’m aware God insists on faith alone and so any proof that he does exist would automatically mean he doesn’t, if this premise is true, as he would disappear in a puff of logic (paraphrasing Douglas Adams here).

And I reply:

Let me answer you.

Humans are pretty special, but you could say it’s a matter of opinion, so I need not go there.

You are right: theists should not and cannot prove it. Trying to prove it is not worth the effort. I don’t think God insists on faith alone, but faith is surely important.

That’s a way that humans are special: we live by faith. We understand faith and can reason about it. No other species can do that. Granted, that does not prove God’s existence.

We can all agree on an Absolute Truth as I state in my book “Embrace the Infinite”: the existence of natural law. That is, we all believe in an eternal presence that governs all material things. Modern physics suggests that this material universe embodies the concept of perfection, in that every electron (or quark, or photon) is identical to every other one in its essential aspects. Modern science also suggests an immutable logic governs this world.

I am in awe of this. You may not be. But you cannot deny the essential reality of which I speak. Therefore, the eternal and the perfect exists and has always been with us. Perhaps that is not God, but it is leading in that direction.