March 18, 2018

BENITEZ | Science Never Disproved God

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When I was 14 years old, a substitute teacher at my Catholic school decided to overstep his responsibility and debate God’s existence with a student. That student was me, and at the time I was firmly in the “God exists” camp, while he, ironically for a Catholic school, was very much of the opposite belief. If I remember properly, it was in science class, for when I challenged him for a disproof of God’s existence, his answer was to “look at science.” As my credulity toward science at the time was equal to that toward God’s existence, I had no response. I felt defeated, unable to defend the ideology that imbued my life with a profound sense of direction and meaning.

In the eight years since, my religious beliefs have oscillated between devout Catholicism and militant atheism. At around 16 years of age, I even thought it was my calling to become a priest. Indeed, as someone who has lost countless hours of sleep nervously wondering whether his prayers were just insane ramblings to a more socially-acceptable imaginary friend, I don’t think there has been a single day of my life I haven’t at least momentarily considered God’s existence.

Consequently, it continues to bother me whenever people cite the limited findings of the empirical sciences to assert that the question of God’s existence has been settled. While the scientific method mandates that the burden of proof lies squarely in the “God exists” camp — to paraphrase the late Christopher Hitchens, that which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence — science has never logically disproved God’s existence. Sure, to claim that God exists is strictly just as logical as the claim that there is at this moment a teapot orbiting Mars, in the sense that neither can be deductively proven or disproven. However, unlike a teapot orbiting Mars, a spiritual, transcendental life force is something humans have been organically intuiting for as long as history, while there aren’t many who can’t help but sense there exists a rogue interplanetary piece of china. Moreover, the existence of God remains compatible with today’s most widely-accepted physical theories: it’s perfectly reasonable to intuit that something couldn’t have possibly come from nothing, in reference to the enduring mystery of what might’ve preceded the singularity of the Big Bang.

As we first learned from Descartes, the philosopher who gave us the plane upon which we perform calculus, something that’s imaginable is metaphysically possible. If we can conceive it, it is within the realm of our intuitions, and the realm of our intuitions has a lot to offer by way of possibility. Admittedly, it might be conceivable due to ignorance, like how since-dismissed physical theories such as the earth’s flatness were once conceivable. However, since the persistent unknowability of God will never be resolved — God purportedly transcends the physical universe, so it’s unimaginable that the physical sciences can ever furnish a metaphysical proof or disproof — it’s not irrational to lend this conceivability argument the necessary credence to resolve it instead.

This view is especially reasonable considering how literally all knowledge ultimately depends to some extent on unprovable intuitions. To many, mathematics is already the most foundational and rigorous of all knowledge, and yet mathematician Kurt Gödel proved that even basic arithmetic depends on intuiting certain unproveable “truths.” Mathematics, and hence the physical theories expressed using it, will always depend on some fundamental intuitions that will never be proveable, which isn’t unlike the reasoning posited by theists in defense of God’s existence. So, whatever credence we lend to mathematical statements can arguably be extended as well to metaphysical statements, including those concerning God. Funnily enough, Gödel’s incompleteness theorems caused in me an epistemic epiphany so powerful that it pushed me away from atheism altogether.

Understandably, the image of a bearded man sitting just outside the limits of our physical universe can be just as hard to accept as that of a teapot orbiting Mars. However, there are multiple interpretations of how God manifests that warrant greater credulity than the anthropomorphic image we conjure of Them. As someone schooled by the Jesuits, who emphasize finding God in all things, Spinozan monism in my opinion offers a compelling interpretation of God’s immanence. (Let’s not forget that many great scientists throughout history, including Newton and Einstein, were themselves theists.) Surprisingly, my undergraduate studies in an analytic philosophy department have since tempered whatever atheistic tendencies I once had. Today, I calmly sit at the polite middle of agnosticism, recognizing the equal strength of intuitions in either direction. But, the question of God is currently and will likely forever remain unsettled, and so for atheists to pretend otherwise by invoking the finite sciences is to embellish an ideology because it fits more conveniently with their existing views. And that, to my mind, is even more irrational.