Science Can’t Disprove God

By Father Robert Baron

science and GodGiven the ruminations of Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, one might have thought that the absolute limit of scientistic arrogance had been reached. But think again.

Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology, was quoted in a recent news article asserting that “science” is on the verge of providing a complete understanding of the universe — an explication, it goes without saying, that precludes the antiquated notion of God altogether. Before addressing the God issue specifically, let me make a simple observation.

Though the sciences might be able to explain the chemical make-up of pages and ink, they will never be able to reveal the meaning of a book; and though they might make sense of the biology of the human body, they will never tell us why a human act is moral or immoral; and though they might disclose the cellular structure of oil and canvas, they will never determine why a painting is beautiful.

And this is not because “science” is for the moment insufficiently developed, it is because the scientific method cannot, even in principle, explore such matters, which belong to a qualitatively different category of being than the proper subject matter of the sciences. The claim that “science” could ever provide a total understanding of reality as a whole overlooks the rather glaring fact that meaning, truth, beauty, morality, purpose, etc., are all ingredients in “the universe.”

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But as is usually the case with scientistic speculation, Carroll’s thought is designed, above all, to eliminate God as a subject of serious intellectual discourse. The first and most fundamental problem is that, like Hawking, Dawkins and Dennett, Carroll doesn’t seem to know what Biblical people mean by “God.” With the advance of the modern physical sciences, he asserts, there remains less and less room for God to operate, and hence less and less need to appeal to him as an explanatory cause. This is a contemporary reiteration of Pierre-Simon Laplace’s rejoinder when the Emperor Napoleon asked the famous astronomer how God fit into his mechanistic system: “I have no need of that hypothesis.”

But God, as the classical Catholic intellectual tradition understands him, is not one cause, however great, among many; not one more item within the universe jockeying for position with other competing causes. Rather, God is, as Thomas Aquinas characterized him, ipsum esse, or the sheer act of to-be itself — that power in and through which the universe in its totality exists. Once we grasp this, we see that no advance of the physical sciences could ever “eliminate” God or show that he is no longer required as an explaining cause, for the sciences can only explore objects and events within the finite cosmos…

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