God can be proven by science. That’s not a typo. I say it because many of us have simply accepted it as a given when people say, “God could never be proven by science.” Now, on one level this seems obvious. There’s no “God experiment” that could test the universe for “God” and come back positive. There’s no telescope or microscope that could look hard enough and “find” him, sitting there, waving back. There’s no space ship we could build to fly to the outer bounds of the universes and finally “arrive” on his doorstep. And so, it seems, God could never be proven by science.
So why would I argue to the contrary? Three reasons.
First, the statement “God can’t be proven by science” assumes a fundamental division in reality that simply can not (and, in fact, does not) exist. To think this way, we’d have to assume that there are two realms, or states, that never interact: the physical and the spiritual. If this were true, we could have no knowledge of God at all. How could he speak to us or show himself to us if the two worlds can’t mix? We could not account for any spiritual nature of human beings at all. Do we have souls–and are they spiritual or physical?
In connection with this first point, to think this way is also to assume a limitation on God which we have no right to assume: namely , that he can not ever “cross over” this division into what we call the “physical world” (the world which can be examined by science). Once you see this, it becomes clear that to think this way is to assume that it would even be something out of the ordinary for God to be and act in the physical world–that it would, in fact, constitute some kind of “crossing over” of some kind of “divide” that separates him from us. We think this way because we assume, based on the kind of scientific philosophy we’ve been taught, that we know and understand what matter really is. We think: “It’s just physical stuff.” And then, since we do see in scripture that what the bible calls “Spirit” is different than matter (it’s not matter at all), we think we’re justified in seeing this total separation.
But do we really understand matter? And with our limited knowledge of what matter is, are we really in a position to make declarations about how matter can or cannot interact with things that aren’t matter?
For instance, it seems that we have a clue that there might be more to matter than meets the materialist eye–and we have it right in our own heads. The scientific conundrum of our own consciousness seems to point the way to a world bigger than today’s scientific establishment often assumes. Here in our own minds we have an interaction of matter (neurons, chemicals, electricity) and things that clearly are not matter (thoughts, personality). As Christians we might also see a clue here as to what humans are–a mysterious blend of physical and non-physical, of matter and spirit.
When things like this are taken into account, it’s not unreasonable to say that we should at least be open to the idea that matter is part of a larger world. We might say that it’s only “one slice of the pie.” Furthermore, we might be ready to see if it can and in fact does interact with the world beyond it.
This brings us to the crux of the question, and the third and most important reason I think we should rethink this statement. As with so many things in the Christians life, the crux is revelation. With the first two points above we simply question the limits and findings of what we call science–and try to show that we should express some humility about what we really know and don’t know when it comes to what our universe is and how it works. With the issue of revelation we now have a way forward. How could we know any of these things? The answer, of course, is that we can know if someone who knows tells us.
The bible claims (and I think, proves itself) to be a communication from a mind that demonstrates authoritative knowledge about the very foundations of our reality. If its claims are true, it would represent, in and of itself, proof that the spiritual and physical realms are not separate, and do interact in ways that actually register in both of those realms.
And then we need to grapple with the actual content of the Bible–namely the events it reports. Consider the following two points from the Bible:
- God made the physical realm. Matter came from Spirit. So literally, in the first verse of the Bible, we break down the idea that there is an impenetrable wall between matter and spirit. Matter and spirit are not antithetical to each other. Somehow, they are related (inter-related?).
- God works in the physical realm. This is the basic assumption, based on numerous eye-witness reports, of all biblical history. In other words, spirit can act on matter. Spirit affect matter. And when spirit acts on matter, it happens in space and time. It happens in history, since that’s the only way to do things with matter. In other words, Spirit, and God as Spirit, works in our history in our world. When he does that, things that are made of matter show the effects of his interaction with them.
To take only a few examples of this “spirit acting on matter,” consider these familiar reports from biblical history:
- If you crossed the red sea with the Israelites, you would have seen water seemingly “defy” gravity and stand up in walls, until you had crossed through. (Exodus 14)
- If you were in the desert with Israel after the escape from Egypt, you could have eaten the bread from heaven. If you had modern scientific equipment there, you could have run chemical tests on it. You could have traced its atmospheric origin and confirmed that, yes, food was falling from the sky, (probably) without a meteorological explanation. (Exodus 16)
- Similarly, you could have recorded video of and run tests on the water that flowed from the rock. You could have quenched your thirst with it too. (Exodus 17)
- If you stood at the base of mount Sinai when God descended, you would have seen smoke, heard loud sounds, and felt tremors in the earth. Video cameras would have recorded the sights and sounds, and seismographs would have recorded the tremors. In other words, you could have tested and recorded the effects of God’s presence. (Exodus 19)
- If you had been in the temple the day Solomon dedicated it, you would have seen smoke fill the temple and the priests run out. A video camera could have recorded it. Maybe air testers could have noticed a chemical change in the air in relation to the smoke. (2 Chronicles 5)
There are many types of these incidents in the Old Testament.
Moving into the New Testament, the most obvious truth that confronts us is that at one point in our history, in our world, God took on flesh and became a man. One of the fascinating things about this is that it seems that part of what Jesus wanted to do was to prove, to any who would look and listen, that He was God. In other words, Jesus spent time presenting evidence, and the kind of evidence that scientists look for: physical, testable evidence available to the senses. A camera crew following him around would have recorded every one of his miracles, from the healings to the water turning into wine to the walking on the sea. The healings in particular present an interesting case, since doctors and biologists would have been able to test patients before and after the miracles, verifying the presence of an immediate and total healing without the presence of medicine or rehabilitation. And just imagine the coroner being called in to verify the status of those Jesus raised with regards to their death, and then their life.
Jesus Himself would have made as perfect a subject for medical and biological testing as any of us. When he was killed he could have been examined by any number of scientists and medical professionals, and his actual death could have been confirmed. When he rose from the dead, (as one famous conversation between theologians has it) video cameras would have recorded an empty tomb, and could have captured footage of Jesus himself, after the coroners report on his death, walking, talking, and eating. When Thomas doubted, John records that Jesus showed up and presented evidence—the actual wounds still in his hands—for Thomas to see and touch.
All this is to say that in all these instances we have cases where God makes himself known in the physical, historical world, in ways that most certainly could have been tested and verified in any way scientists would test other similar phenomena. All these things could have been recorded (but not necessarily explained) by anyone with senses, instruments, and a materialistic world view. It would not have taken a belief in God to experience all these things. It would only have taken observation.
Now of course, no one is claiming that would convince someone to place their faith in Jesus as the messiah. The bible records that many people witnessed these things and didn’t believe in the end. After all, he wasn’t simply trying to prove the existence of God, he was making a claim to be God, and specifically, to be the messiah for humanity. And many people didn’t join his following. We acknowledge that.
But maybe now we’ve shown that, as Christians, we don’t have to acknowledge the statement “God can’t be proven by science.” When and where he decides to act or show himself in our world, we can verify the effects in the same way we’d verify the existence of any other phenomenon. In other words, we could use science.
There’s one more point to cover in this discussion, which is, “That still doesn’t solve our problem of being able to use science to prove God. Because if we tried right now, we couldn’t.”
What do Christians say to that? We’ll hit that in the next post…