Science, time and time again, has overturned dogmatic religious beliefs. As we march towards the future, science is gradually stamping out any last remnants of this ancient dogma. And rightly so, for God is a failed hypothesis. We have no need for such things, for we can explain the world without it. For example, prior to the modern age, we believed that God created the earth and all the creatures that creepeth upon it. But, with Darwinian evolution and natural selection, we now know that evolution can largely explain the origin of life on this planet. Despite this, Christians still hold to old and backward ideas about creationism and intelligent design. This is the dogma of religion—believe this no matter what, and ignore any evidence to the contrary; your soul depends on it. Religion is just an irrational and false remnant of our ignorant past, a bane to true progress, and a disease of the modern world. Given the remarkable success of science to explain the world, we now (or should) realize that religion is useless, a false system, a damaging system, and a dangerous one. God is no longer necessary to explain the origin of life, to explain the meaning of the universe, to ground morality, or to understand truth. God is one more failed hypothesis, cast into the garbage bin of scientific folly, right along with every other piece of nonsense.
The above argument is, unfortunately, rather common. It could easily have come from any number of prominent atheists, whose rhetoric is probably even more vitriolic than mine. Normally, these types of claims made against religion are terribly misguided, poorly argued, and extremely uncharitable. For some reason, it has become somewhat of a truism or mark of orthodoxy among many people to accept the claim that God is a failed hypothesis. Now, the above rant is not characteristic of all atheistic arguments: there are some extremely smart atheists who make solid arguments against theistic belief. But that isn’t the issue I want to discuss. Instead of responding to all of the above claims, which would take a long time, I want to focus on one question: Can science disprove the God-hypothesis?
To think through this question we have to understand what it already assumes: it assumes that God is some type of hypothesis, one which can be verified or falsified by scientific research. It assumes that God serves as some kind of scientific hypothesis made by religious people to explain certain phenomena. We believe in God because we think that the evidence, or the natural world, needs God as an explanation. In other words, this question understands religion to be a quasi-scientific theory: we observe the world and postulate God as the explanation for many different events because he seems to be the best candidate. Even if this doesn’t describe how many believers come to believe, it is certainly the only possible candidate for justifying religious belief.
Is God a scientific hypothesis? Not really. I do not mean to suggest that therefore God has nothing to do with science or the reverse. Rather, I want to get at something much more fundamental, about the way in which we can even pose a question about the relationship between science and faith.
I believe that God created the world. Why do I believe that? It’s not really a scientific hypothesis, not at its core. I have not done a thorough survey of the geological, evolutionary, and physical history of our world/universe. I am not postulating God as the most obvious explanation to cover all of the facts. That is not really the point of believing in God as the creator (though it certainly isn’t entirely separate, either).
The point is this: God is not a scientific hypothesis, at least not in the most authentic aspect of religious life. Religious people do not believe in an explaining hypothesis, some type of explanatory idol. We don’t worship an explanation. We worship a personal God, one who reveals himself to us, who calls us, and we respond to his call. We believe in God because of our experiences with him, our knowledge of him, and our relationship to him and his children. That is our “justification” for believing in God. That is religion. As a result of this relationship, we trust that God created the world because he told us he did in the holy scriptures. So then what about all this business of science always disproving religion? What can science disprove? Science disproved the belief that some form of evolution never happened. OK, great. Now what? My relationship with God was never predicated on the falsehood of evolution. Sure, evolution can inform my understanding of the world, of God, and even throw in a few confusions and difficulties. But can science disprove religion?
Again, I think the fundamental error made by atheists, and too often by those who defend religion, is to argue that religion is just some scientific hypothesis. Buying into this framework, many religious people normally argue that science doesn’t really prove or disprove that God exists. I think there is a place for these arguments, but they have to be an introduction to the main argument: I do not believe in God because of “natural” evidence. I did not start observing the world and then suddenly conclude, “Yes, God is the best explanation; I guess I’ll believe.” Scientific observations can be thought-provoking; maybe they can even get me to ask whether there is a God or start believing that there is one. But this is only a very small first step. The God I believe in is the God of the Bible and the Book of Mormon; the God who reveals himself to me. He is not the God that I infer.
Reason can suggest God’s existence, defend God’s existence, but reason alone is not religion. The point of religion is to put you into contact with God, not simply to believe that he exists. It’s about getting people to trust God, to know God, not just believe things about God. We cannot approach or know God on purely scientific or rational grounds because he is not a hypothesis or inference. God is not the great “therefore” of the perfect experiment or argument. Instead, God is the great “I am” of the scriptures, the God who reveals himself to us, who brings us into a personal and trusting relationship with him.
Consider this thought experiment. Let us assume that God is just a hypothesis made by religious people to explain the world. Further, let’s assume that we have a knock-down, infallible proof for God’s existence. This proof is so strong that only the most unreasonable people will not accept it. All of a sudden, nearly everyone, atheists included, believes that God exists. Well, if God were a hypothesis, this would be the great desire of all religious people. If God were a hypothesis, then this proof would make us all believers. But is this what religion claims? Is this the faith spoken of in the Bible or the Book of Mormon? No. Even if everyone believed God to be a true hypothesis, that alone would do little to create the faith spoken of in the scriptures. Faith is not simply the intellectual assent of the mind to a proposition about the world. God is not one more fact which happens to be true, and faith/belief is not accepting that fact. Faith is a loving relationship with God, an inter-personal knowledge, a relationship of trust and responsibility. This relationship also finds intimate expression in how we relate to those around us, as fellow children of God. That is the point of religion. That type of faith cannot come from reason alone. Faith, at its most basic level, is a trusting relationship with Deity. That is what religion is all about. If that is religion, then God is no hypothesis.Does this suggest that religion is irrational? I can’t see how. Is my relationship to my wife irrational? I have a relationship of love, trust, and responsibility to her that isn’t really based off reason. Surely I use reason and make inferences about her, but that’s not really love, not at its core. The ultimate point is this: religion is about a personal relationship, not necessarily an intellectual one, and certainly not simply a scientific one. Reason, scholarship, and knowledge are all important and I would say fundamental to religion, but they are not its origin nor its end.