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In today’s episode of PWA, I chat with my good friend Trent Horn about whether science has done away with the need for God. We hone in on one of the two objections St. Thomas sets himself for why God does not exist:
“Further, it is superfluous to suppose that what can be accounted for by a few principles has been produced by many. But it seems that everything we see in the world can be accounted for by other principles, supposing God did not exist. For all natural things can be reduced to one principle which is nature; and all voluntary things can be reduced to one principle which is human reason, or will. Therefore there is no need to suppose God’s existence.”
Thomas responds to this objection by saying:
“Since nature works for a determinate end under the direction of a higher agent, whatever is done by nature must needs be traced back to God, as to its first cause. So also whatever is done voluntarily must also be traced back to some higher cause other than human reason or will, since these can change or fail; for all things that are changeable and capable of defect must be traced back to an immovable and self-necessary first principle, as was shown in the body of the Article.”
We get into this in much greater detail in the podcast.
The basic answer is no; and it is not within the ability of science to do so.
Science is a method that one can use to discover information about the natural world. It, however, has nothing to say about that which cannot be scientifically observed or tested.
Examining God’s material creation using a method which, by its very nature, is limited to the material universe cannot provide evidence against the existence of an immaterial God.
Even if science were to exhaustively describe the physical universe, it would still leave the question: Why does the universe and the laws that govern it exist?
The view that science can or should provide the answer to every question is known as scientism. It claims that we should not accept as true anything that we cannot prove scientifically.
This view is incorrect. There are a variety of things that the natural sciences cannot prove:
1. They cannot prove the laws of logic or mathematical truths. The natural sciences presuppose logic and math, but it cannot prove them.
2. They cannot prove metaphysical truths, like the reality of the external world is real or that the universe did not simply spring into existence five minutes ago with the appearance of age, including our memories of a past that never happened. These are rational beliefs, but they cannot be proven scientifically.
3. The scientific method cannot prove or disprove statements of an ethical nature. Science cannot show whether helping a starving child is good or whether Nazi scientists in concentration camps did anything evil. Good and evil cannot be measured in a laboratory, and so moral principles lie beyond what science can prove. That includes a principle used in science itself: “It is wrong to fake your research findings.
So there are things that are worthy of belief that science cannot prove, such as the laws of logic and mathematics, metaphysical truths, and ethical truths.
There is also this fact: If scientism is true then one should refuse to believe anything that cannot be scientifically proven. But this would mean that one should not believe scientism itself unless it can be scientifically proven.
No, because the claim “You should not believe anything unless it is proven by science” is a philosophical claim that you cannot verify by experiment.
It expresses a value judgment–what one should choose to believe–and that puts in in the realm of ethics and morals, which we have already seen that science cannot verify.
Without the ability to do an experiment verifying or falsifying the truth of this moral claim, there is no scientific proof.
That means that scientism is not only false, it is also self-refuting, because it cannot meet its own test.