Can science tell us there is no God?

This post is a continuation of my discussion with Michael. This time, I want to discuss the power of science and what it can do to tell us a claim isn’t true. To do this, I am going to look at a few discarded scientific models of the past, and how it is we have come to know they are no longer true. But I am also going to at least pay lip service to the process and methods of science. To give any justice to explaining what science is and it’s methods, I would have to spend 2,000 words on it, minimum, and to do it full justice I would have to write a rather large book. I am not going to do that.

In my last post, I shared Sean Carroll’s description of how science works: models are created from observation and data, those models are then tested (and where there is more than one model, the models are compared in their ability to explain the data). Michael made a rather immature complaint about that, but none of his criticisms really hit the mark (see here). So, I will made some explanation on that original description, but only in the context of the discarded models I shall explore.

It is worth sharing at this point that Michael has expressed absolutely no interest in the actual data in the published journal he attempted to cite last time. My concerns about science in the media (i.e. the imperfect chain of custody that leads to sensationalised, inaccurate or outright wrong things being reported) from my last post may have warned against simply reading headlines or not researching a story further, but I didn’t even think to guard against someone who suddenly decides the data isn’t as important as what they already believed. Unlike confirmation bias (as a cognitive error), that is intentional and disingenuous.

The reason this topic remains relevant to the initial discussion (‘Does Dawkins misrepresent science?’) is because Dawkins claims that science shows God is wildly unlikely. Michael’s counterargument, then, is that there are no experiments that directly deal with that question, and so Dawkins must be misrepresenting science. I am here to argue this simply isn’t the case: scientific conclusions have reach beyond their initial and parochial experiments. If they didn’t, a scientific experiment would be nothing more than a heavily recorded event in history. Instead, science relies on induction for the experiment to be grouped with like experiments to start making predictions about the future.

This is important: induction is not simply an add-on, superfluous to the essential character of science, it is vital. Induction is the difference between ‘Steve was really hurt when that horse kicked him’ and ‘horse kicks are very dangerous’.

Going back to Carroll’s model-comparison idea of science, imagine a scientist a few generations ago trying to compare two models of disease: the Germ Theory of Disease, and the Smell Theory of Disease. Many people held to the Smell Theory of Disease, and they believed this model of reality not just because of superstitions, but because they actually observed people getting sick near unpleasant smelling things and becoming unpleasant smelly when they were ill (and then that one person could become ill from an unpleasant smelling ill person). There were no controlled experiments on the issue, but there were observations and data that informed a model.

In addition to this model, we also have a scientist who believes the modern Germ Theory of Disease. The data used in support of Smell Theory also supported Germ Theory, because germs and smells often cohabitate. It is important, then, to make sure the two models used are well-defined enough for robust differences between the models to be proclaimed. We have two such models, in this instance. Smell Theory asserts that disease is spread by unpleasant smells, and these can be masked (which should also stop the spread of disease, if the model is true). That is an experiment that can be run: potpourri would stop the spread of a disease. But, it would not stop germs. This is a real difference that could be explored.

Alternatively, germs do not exclusively live alongside unpleasant smells, so if a disease could be induced absent a bad smell, that would support Germ Theory.

Historical records suggest variations of this were tried in people’s personal hygiene, but never run as an experiment. Ever. The Smell Theory of Disease has not been falsified. But it is declared not true, by science. How does this work? It is simply the case that one model was better at accounting for the data than the other. Smell Theory was never formally falsified, it just stopped getting talked about because the Germ Theory had so much more explanatory power. This is science, correctly, declaring one thing highly unlikely to be true without directly testing it; it just got out competed by another model.

A precursor to Plate Tectonics was that land moved through the ocean bed. The model accounted for the data: that South America seems to fit into the West Coast of Africa, and that ― if they were together ― there are extinct animal fossils in contiguous locations. But, the model never took off. It never took off, despite never being empirically tested. Instead, it was thrown out of mathematical grounds: the energy required for continents to plough through the oceanic crust simply stopped it being a sensible model. The model was explored to see if it was even sensible before it was tested. Yet again, something was declared unlikely to be true by science, without experiment.

Experiment may be considered iconic part of science, and it is a critical part of creating new data. But that doesn’t mean all science has to use it in every case. For example, plate tectonics was not empirically validated until very recently. In the meantime, it was accepted for its immense power to explain the data: moving plates, contiguous fossils, volcanoes, earthquakes, and alternating magnetism in the sea floor. (Actually, that last one could be considered empirical data in support of the claim.)

Here comes in the issue: the difference between primary data collected for a particular question (empirical support) and secondary data that is relevant, which a model still has to account for. Both are important in science.

This is, indeed, a long way off being a comprehensive look at science. But with these tools alone, can science tell us God is wildly unlikely? Yes. Any well defined model that includes a God always fails in comparison to natural models trying to explain the same data. Like the Smell Theory, God-based models are consistently outcompeted. And, like Smell Theory, that means such models are discarded and not considered true.

The big contrast between Smell Theory and God-based models is that Smell Theory was well-defined. You can define a God-based model really well, and people have, but such models always fail intellectual or empirical analysis. A well-defined God-model is subject to the Problem of Suffering; but the model survives because it is not well defined and the model moulds. Suddenly God is not omnibenevolent, and so the suffering is permitted. (Or, some other horn of the Euthyphro dilemma.)

In biology, where Dawkins worked, this is overwhelmingly the case. The natural model of evolution outcompetes the God-model in accounting for the evidence. Sure, ‘tests of faith’ can be asserted to make the God-model account for more data, but that is a symptom of it being poorly defined, and not at all a strength of the idea. And this process repeats through cosmology, another domain people like to assert God-models to explain. Sean Carroll explains this very informatively to William Lane Craig in this debate.

The real misrepresentation happening here is people who refuse to claim God has an effect on cosmology or biology or chemistry. The idea that God created the Universe and Life is a claim, and the Biblical claim in particular is specific about what that looked like. And even if you want to claim that God set it all up to look exactly like a natural process, calling on just the natural process is still a better model than calling on some agent that intentionally made it look like It wasn’t there.

As a model, God makes predictions about reality. And the areas those predictions are in are better explained by naturalism. And, it doesn’t take much induction to say they always will be. God is highly unlikely. That claim is within the purview of science.

Advertisements

67 thoughts on “Can science tell us there is no God?”

    1. I’m thinking one day steve you may appreciate the God given brain. One day.

      It takes intelligence to learn that brains crawled out from under rocks………..and fashioned flesh and bones……and designed a body to hold that which never had a clue……….

      Absurd? Yeah, that’s the point. Apart from God, there is nothing. With God, science is perfect. There are plenty of fools. Don’t add to the list.

  1. Science might explain how our rational ability came into being, but it cannot explain the fact that we live in a universe where truth can be found. Once again, truth and the ability to find it transcend us.

    […]

    Some atheists might interpret the fact that we live in a universe that allows for the ability to discover and develop truth, goodness and beauty as something meaningless.

    I don’t know. Maybe our notions of truth, goodness and beauty are gateways to an awareness of a more complete Reality of Truth, Goodness and Beauty. Maybe our notions of truth, goodness and beauty are ever incomplete and anticipating mimetic models of an eventually fulfilling Understanding, Love and Joy. Just maybe.

    In any case, we are living this great mystery (‘magnum mysterium’) of a reality that gracefully allows for the experience of truth, goodness and beauty. And sometimes, just sometimes, all the distracting noise disappears, and we find ourselves in tune with those transcending forces which connect us to an immensely fertile ‘cosmos’… and ourselves.

    Read more here:

  2. Freeman John Dyson:

    “The public has a distorted view of science because children are taught in school that science is a collection of firmly established truths. In fact, science is not a collection of truths. It is a continuing exploration of mysteries.”

  3. Science “exists” in an environment (a set of dimensions) which is subject to a number of “laws”, and God appears to violate those laws. Thus, for Science to say that God is highly unlikely to exist IN THIS SET OF DIMENSIONS is quite reasonable at this point in time.

    Science cannot and probably will not be able to detect any dimension which has significantly different laws than those upon which Science is based. If such dimension(s) cannot be shown not to exist, then insisting they don’t exist is questionable and claiming some particular thing does not exist there is kind of pointless.

    No matter how well Science can show that God does not exist in our world, this has no impact on whether He exists “somewhere else”. And even if God does not exist “here”, our experience with the dimensions we know about show that His dimensions can have some interaction with ours.

    So maybe God exists, and maybe He does not. Science cannot say with any degree of reliability unless they restrict their scope (“God does not exist HERE”). For the same reasons that Science cannot definitively say whether God exists anywhere, those who believe God exists cannot say definitively that God exists anywhere. They may have experiences which convince them about God, but they have to realize that such experiences are of no validity to those who have not experienced them.

    If only people would mind their own business. But people who believe in God often try to force that belief on others, and those who don’t believe in God sometimes try to take that belief away.

  4. Michael has no intention of defending his position. He spreads lies about New Atheists to vilify them. That’s it. That’s the sum total of his interest. He doesn’t care about anything you have to say.

  5. Since modern science has proven the existence of God it is totally irrational to ask if science can prove the opposite.

    Deniers of science are also those who religiously believe in hoaxes like climate change.

    1. “Climate change” is not a hoax; it is unquestionable that the climate has changed in our lifetimes. Where the potential for “hoax” comes in is how much of the change is due to human behavior/misbehavior and how much is natural (independent of mankind).

      1. Change is what climate does naturally.

        Climate change is a hoax not because I say so but because the lead scientists said so.

        Their emails were hacked over 10 years ago and published by the Wall Street Journal. In those emails they admitted to cooking the data.

        Sorry, but anyone who believes in global warming is a stupid sucker.

        1. Yes, climate changes naturally over time. Things we do can cause some change as well. Cutting down large numbers of trees, paving over large tracks of ground, widespread exothermic reactions, changing the composition of the atmosphere, all of these can have an effect on climate. To deny that man has no effect at all on climate is just as stupid as claiming man is completely responsible for changes in climate.

        2. Data cleansing, data cleaning, or data scrubbing is the process of detecting and correcting (or removing) corrupt or inaccurate records from a record set, table, or database. This prevents errors from using INDIVIDUAL records, and if a record is corrected of removed erroneously, the result is INDIVIDUAL errors.

          Note that only data “known” to be corrupt or inaccurate is to be messed with.

          If you have a bunch of data you are analyzing IN THE AGGREGATE, then just because some data points don’t support your pre-conceived hypothesis does not qualify them for scrubbing. By definition, a hypothesis is just as likely to be incorrect as contrasting data points.

          Let us assume that you know how some data was corrupted. Ignoring the suspect data is not a reliable methodology, since you now have a “hole” in your analysis, giving significantly less support to the conclusions.

        3. Cat,

          If you are a Hillary supporter than you wouldn’t know a scam if it came up and kissed you.

          You people will say anything, do anything, think anything, believe anything to keep the bubble of the hallucinated reality you live in from bursting.

        4. A Hillary supporter? Them’s fighting words! 🙂

          Seriously, why are you going off on me? My statements are rebuttals to the other side, not yours.

        5. Alla,

          And you should get a brain of your own and start using it properly.

          Phil Jones of East Anglia U in the UK and Michael Mann at Penn State were caught red handed not cleansing data, but cooking climate data.

          They were also caught red handed muscling any descenders in the pier review process.

          Shortly after these revelations, Al Gore’s Carbon exchange scam went belly up because investors finally realized what was really going on.

          There is no science to support global warming.

          The CO2 content in the atmosphere is 4 parts per million, just as it has been through my life time.

          Oh, by the way, 4 parts per million is a minuscule amount, not nearly enough to cause global warming, climate change or any other stupid idea you people come up with.

      2. Pretending that this question has not been categorically answered as yes, the rate and frequency of climate change is caused by human activity, is science denialism posing as reasonable skepticism.

        1. Tildeb,

          Excuse me. I made a mistake! I was off by a factor of 100 with regard to CO2 content in Earth’s atmosphere.

          CO2 content is really 400 parts per million, not 4 parts per million.

          Oh drat!

          That is still a minuscule amount of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere!

          Sorry, but CO2 is not the cause of global warming.

          And NOAA says that no major hurricane has hit the US mainland in 10 years.

          Climate change is for suckers.

        1. Well, let’s see. NASA scientists are smart, and do know a whole bunch about satellites and rockets and such. What indications do we have that they know diddly squat about climate?

        2. Cat,

          Hillary Clinton is smart but she is a proven criminal.

          Her husband Bill is a genius, but he is a proven liar and sexual predator.

          But what difference does that make to you?

          Nothing.

          So why should NASA lying to you seem strange?

          It’s the government after all and everyone knows the government always tells the truth.

          Right?

        3. Yes, Hillary is smart and almost certainly a criminal (can’t say for sure since she had not been convicted or indicted or even arrested). And a proven liar, as is Bill, who has been proven to be a sexual predator. That is bad, yes, but what makes the most difference to me is that with her in charge, we have a high risk of being disarmed, bankrupt and even in WW 3. Maybe under martial law or under UN control. The best we can possibly hope for under her would be for the status to remain quo, and that is nothing to cheer about.

          The last directive to NASA I heard about was for them to take the lead in showing the scientific advances attributed to Muslims…

          As I said, NASA people are “rocket scientists”, both figuratively and literally. No matter how smart they are, if they don’t know a lot about climate, than any statement from them about climate should be viewed with suspicion. Only if they present their CLIMATE credentials can we even consider giving their climate statements any credence.

        4. You are using a group which is known for one thing as an authority for something else. If you can’t show they have any competence in that area, it is not intellectual helplessness, it is serious wisdom.

          Oh, and just a hint – agreeing with you is not valid proof of their competence in the area of climate.

        5. Competence compared to you, right?

          Good grief.

          It’s called ‘Earth System Science.’ It’s NASA’s specialty, you see. They actually know a little something about satellite data. Not as much as you, obviously, and certainly nowhere near the expertise SoM possesses in that gigantic brain of his, but a little something.

          You even have access to the internet and, oh, I don’t know, might want to answer your own questions. You might – gasp! – even learn something… as long as it doesn’t interfere with your firmly held denialist beliefs, of course.

    1. hey JZ

      Until you give God the courtesy of existing, (which is obvious to anybody who can count to three)
      the scriptures are a closed book to you.

      You will only find misunderstandings at every turn of the page. Rest assured, it is not the fault of the Author.

        1. God created science jz, so there is your answer. Geez man, He holds all things together by the word of His power. Male- female, man- woman, for starters. It’s His doing. No accident necessary.

          and of course, ‘He made the stars also………..’

          But tkx for asking.

        2. It’s all about the exact science of arithmetic and the alphabet.

          You need to expand your horizons. God is rather precise and attentive to detail. After all, He did create the human mind, complete with a conscience whereby men may know Him.

          But you know that already, it’s just that darn thing called pride which shuts Him down.

        3. The “science” of the alphabet.

          I see.

          So, would that would make Yāska, the Vedic grammarian and author of the Nirukta (a technical treatise on etymology, lexical categorisation, and the semantics of words) a prophet?

        4. For God’s sake john, the Creator wired into man intelligence.

          Anything ‘created’ by man has it’s Designer to thank. How hard can it be? And by the way, His name is called ‘the Word of God for a reason.’

          Alpha- Omega
          Aleph-Beit
          The first and the last.
          The beginning and the end.

          Perhaps you heard of it.

        5. Nope. If he lived, he merely used his head.

          Webster of dictionary fame, whose work is unmatched to this day, in a world without electronics or internet, was light years ahead of your Yaska, and Webster was no prophet, but he had enough sense to recognize the Creator, so once again for you, big fail.

        6. Oh no, it seems you’re frightfully mistaken. Yours is a revealed religion, is it not?

          It is.

          So, in light of the “science” of the alphabet, Yāska must have been the greatest prophet Yhwh ever revealed truth to.

          I mean, it was Yāska who first categorised nāma (nouns), ākhyāta (verbs), upasarga (prefixes), and nipāta (particles and prepositions). He created ontological categories to describe actions (bhāva) with past, present and future connotations. He formulated grammatical aspect, the murta, which identified perfective and imperfective situations. In all, it was Yāska who first looked at the entire lexicon of language and wrestled it into a system of understanding which we still use today.

          Is that not the very definition (Peace Be Upon Him, Yāska, for that word even making sense) of the “science” of the alphabet?

          So, CS, Yāska is, quite clearly, the greatest prophet to have ever lived.

          That’s cool.

        7. Is not the “alphabet”, a set of symbols, independent of language? Generally language is spoken before it is written. Yaska may have been pre-eiminant in the science of language, but did he have anything to do with the science of alphabet?

        8. Really. It is not possible to have language (all those nouns and tenses and things) without an alphabet? I wonder how people who are illiterate
          communicate verbally.

        9. What came first: the audible word, the sentence, or the way to write it?

          You see, it’s clear now that Yhwh told Yāska that words, not sentences, were the fundamental carriers of meaning; that is to say, the primary element, or prakṛti, of reality. Words were the smallest indivisible unit, where clusters of words arranged in a certain way following strict grammatical systems (laws) formed a sentence whose meaning (although intended) was entirely unique to its constituent parts. It sounds intuitively simple, almost childish, but Yāska, with Yhwh’s help, obviously, had arrived at atomism, and he did it eight generations before the Greek philosopher, Leucippus, asked one of the most important questions ever asked: If you break a piece of matter in half, and then break it in half again, how many breaks will you have to make before you can break it no further? Leucippus called his answer, the Atom. Yāska, through Yhwh’s will, saw the same thing, but called it the word. Arrange words (like the atomists’ atom) in a certain way and one external meaning is derived. Arranged in another way the same words produced another meaning altogether. Linked to suffixes and prefixes and the meaning of the sentence would change again, and reality (prakṛti) with it.

          So, an Indian Vedic grammarian was Yhwh’s greatest prophet.

          An interesting revelation, I think you’ll agree.

        10. No, letters are symbolic representative of phonemes, the smallest units of sound. Remove the sound, remove the meaning of phonemes. Oogity Boogity! has nothing to add to any understanding of symbolic representations humans use to communicate ideas, relationships, and descriptions.

        11. Glad to provide your daily dose of humour. But FRIGHTENED? Too funny.

          There is NO religion involved in the creation of all that is. Gravity does not answer to Uma, gumma, pinto, shinto, gringo, or frito.

          And the stars do not seek permission from Islam, Judaism or whatever else ere they shine, so in this you are greatly mistaken.

          One God jz. I stand behind the genius of Webster, over a thousand yaksas..

        12. I’m asking you nicely to stop being a bore.

          Praise Yāska for you being able to write that senstence and me being able to understand it.

        13. ‘I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.’

          So reads the Creator of all that is. How you diagram the sentence is up to you.

          You may want to check with a man named Adam for all communication copyrights.

        14. Krishna said:

          I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from me. Everything is born from me (Gita 10:8) I am the original source of all. No one is above me (Gita 12:6,7)

          That predates your words by a long, long way.

        15. That’s nice john. Your khrisna friends, bagavadoffritos, upanishad, hangingchads, and all the other imposters are pimples on the page of what is true.

          God has no competitors, and His word no equal. Enough of the host’s here blog space.

        16. The science of the alphabet, yes, I heard you the first time.

          And as I said, an Indian Vedic grammarian was, by your understanding, Yhwh’s greatest prophet.

          That’s interesting, isn’t it?

    2. John,

      Covering up Eve’s and Adam’s private parts with leaves and roses is, indeed, a touch of class.

      And Adam’s six pack abs and manly pecks are likewise, deeply touching.

  6. @equippedcat
    Good distinction. I’m reminded of Braille, where the alphabet is used, ‘independent of language.’ Also, sign language, where words are foreign to the ear.

    Once more, the truth of logic and scripture rules the day.

    But john here seems to miss, intentional or not, the import of the Alphabet as it pertains to God, as clearly presented already. ‘He is before all things, and by Him all things consist.’ The first and the last….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s