I read a great article today by my friend William Stoeger (SJ) who works at the Vatican Observatory, here in Tucson. Bill crystallized my thoughts on what, for me, is one of the most important issues in science and religion: the place of God.
I find that a great number, if not the majority of people writing on science and religion either want science to support or disprove the existence of God. It’s very popular at the moment to talk about the “fine-tuning of the universe” (suggesting God) as it was popular 10 years ago to talk about how well science explains everything (suggesting no God). Likewise evolution has often been invoked either for God (too complicated, too well designed, too much information to arise spontaneously) or against God (Natural selection explains it all, no need for a designer). And, as always when both sides are using the same data to support their case, something is missing. Here’s my take on what it is.
God is not natural.
God is the author of nature.
God subsists (exists without support) underneath nature in some fundamental way.
This would be the dominant position for Christian, Muslim, and Jewish scholars since late Antiquity. We appeal to God as the creator precisely because an appeal to physical causes – ad infinitum – seems ridiculous. God is posited as a non-physical cause and the first of all physical causes in order to express that we have stepped from the normal world of science into something different.
I must repeat, this is not an attempt to make God something big and important, first and best. It is an attempt to make God something other, so that we can consciously reflect on what might underlie our universe. God is an attempt to sidestep the question of “what came before that?”
Is it a satisfying answer? Not entirely. It is however, just as satisfying as “more of the same all the way back.” We experience finitude, limits, borders in just about every aspect of our lives. There’s nothing particularly strange about assuming that physicality likewise has an end.
Christians believe that God made all that is (visible and invisible). God is another class of explanation.
Thus to complain that science hasn’t shown us God is to miss the point. Science shows us the universe and cannot see beyond it, so whatever pieces of God we perceive, they will be only the tiniest bits of God that poke in.
Likewise, to state that the universe is improbable is to miss the point. The universe exists. It, therefore has a probability of 100%. We can posit alternatives and ask “why is it not that way?” but we cannot realistically claim that those alternatives are more or less probable. Whether we have an eternal subsistent universe or a God created universe, we’re stuck with one, incontrovertable, existent expanse. No alternatives have been offered. The so called “fine-tuning” will continue to be our only option in any case. It is not improbable. It simply is.
And monotheism, while not solving the problem, presents no more, or less reasonable an answer than atheism.
So I hope we can stop talking about proving or disproving God with science. If a rock can prove God exists, it can prove God does not. And that is not, and never has been, the kind of God that interests me. I know a personal God, a loving God, and an intimate God who also happens to be a subsistent and eternal God. The first lines of the Nicene and Apostles Creeds are not simply narrative, they place God in a unique relationship to nature, a relationship of creator to created.
Just as we can set up straw-men (easily knocked down opponents) and fight them instead of real enemies, we can set up straw-gods. These straw-gods (spaghetti monsters and other inhabitants of the scientific world) bear little resemblance to the God of scripture, tradition, and yes, the God of reason worshiped in Christianity.