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Which is Real: Science or God?

Hands_of_God_and_Adam creationI’ve wondered, since my conversion, why some found it so much harder to believe in God than in Science. When I was younger in college, I took the pronouncements of  my teachers–Nobel Prize winners* and graduate students–as holy writ (although I didn’t know then what holy writ was). In laboratories we repeated famous experiments, Galileo’s inclined plane,  Millikan’s charge/mass ratio, Morgan’s experiments with fruit flies (what a headache from the ether, picking out anesthetized flies), etc…

As physics and chemistry became more sophisticated–quantum mechanics and electrodynamics–the experiments, the thesis work verified H psi = E psi, Maxwell’s equations, and the Second Law.  But very few atheists and agnostics–journalists and politicians for the most part–have had this experience. Nevertheless, they believe what “scientists” tell them about the world as an article of faith, not justified by what they themselves have done or perceived.

It was only until after retirement that I started looking into the philosophical foundations of science and its various disciplines that I realized that there is a contingent of philosophers–“anti-realists”, “constructivists”, “empiricists”–who question whether there is a reality that lies behind science. Their arguments make sense, but more of that in a later article.

I assert that the vast majority of people put a faith in science that is much less justified than a faith in God. In a previous article (Top Down to Jesus) I’ve argued that a rational, historical approach will justify a faith in the Resurrection and in the Divinity of Our Lord. Moreover, the subjective experiences we ourselves have had and that have been related to us, the tested accounts of miracles, are as good evidence for the existence of God as  are accounts of  scattering experiments for the existence of the Higgs boson.

The best account of the uncritical atheistic foundational belief system has been given in a excellent review by Michael Potemra (see NRO, “The Corner”, April 28,2012)  of a book by a noted paleontologist, Michael Asher: Evolution and Belief: Confessions of a Religious Paleontologist. I can add very little to Potemra’s review, but I would like to repeat his quote from the book, because it expresses my attitude about science and religion to a T:

“The absence of a scientific proof for God is more indicative of the limits of science than the lack of a deity (emphasis added)…Evolutionary biology is not about the origin of life or the existence of God. It is about how living things are interconnected through a specific, natural mechanism, one which we can understand through the fossil record, individual development, and molecular biology.” Asher

and

“it is rational to believe that an entity beyond our comprehension was the agency by which something was derived from nothing at the beginning of time…Although I acknowledge my belief to be non-scientific, it is entirely rational. Science is a subset of rationality; the former has a narrower scope than the latter. To ignore rationality when it does fall beyond the scientific enterprise would be an injustice to both reason and humanity.” Michael Asher

Most people aren’t aware of the distinction between science and other rational enterprises–science requires theory (usually mathematical and linked to other theories, more basic and fundamental), confirmed or falsified by observation/reproducible experiment.

Because faith in God is not quantifiable, the atheists classify it as one of the White Queen’s “Six impossible things before breakfast”. That’s hokum! Many rational beliefs cannot be assessed numerically.

It is science itself that is limited in that science, in its best and purest practice, is restricted to those tests that can be verified by quantitative measurements. It is faith in God that is most easily tested by the person, in his own experience and by historical evidence.

*The graduate students were usually better teachers if not always as spectacular as the the Nobel Prize winners: Pauling, Delbruck, Feynman, Schwinger, Purcell, Van Vleck


Bob Kurland is a retired, cranky, old physicist. Convert to Catholicism in 1995. Trying to show that there is no contradiction between what science tells us about the world and our Catholic faith. Intermittent blogs at Rational Catholic and adult education classes here to achieve this end. Extraordinary Minister of Communion volunteer to federal prison and hospital; lector, EOMC. Sometime player of bass clarinet, alto clarinet, clarinet, bass, tenor bowed psaltery for parish instrumental group and local folk group. And, finally, his motivation: “It is also necessary—may God grant it!—that in providing others with books to read I myself should make progress, and that in trying to answer their questions I myself should find what I am seeking. Therefore at the command of God our Lord and with his help, I have undertaken not so much to discourse with authority on matters known to me as to know them better by discoursing devoutly of them.” St. Augustine of Hippo, The Trinity I,8.
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  • Howard

    As physics and chemistry became more sophisticated–quantum mechanics and electrodynamics–the experiments, the thesis work verified H psi = E psi, Maxwell’s equations, and the Second Law. But very few atheists and agnostics–journalists and politicians for the most part–have had this experience. Nevertheless, they believe what “scientists” tell them about the world as an article of faith, not justified by what they themselves have done or perceived.

    Amen. And the scare quotes around “scientists” are appropriate both because the “scientists” are cherry-picked on the basis of their opinions, and because in offering their opinions they are not actually acting in the role of scientist. As a general rule, the more real experience someone has with science, the less likely that person is to think that solving an equation or performing an experiment in a lab will really answer any of the truly Big Questions.

    • Thanks for your comment Howard… You’ve nailed it!

  • Guy McClung

    “SCIENCE IS A SUBSET OR RATIONALITY; THE FORMER HAS A NARROWER SCOPE THAN THE LATTER.” If you want to drive a scientist absolutist mad, draw a large circle and put in it the label “Truth.” Then draw a small circle that overlaps part of the large circle and put this word in the small circle: “science”. The overlap is because science, many times over human history, has proclaimed untruth; much of which science itself corrected. Bob-Thanks for the article-especially liked the book review. Guy McClung, San Antonio