This week I spoke at my old university Durham, opposing the motion “This House believes that Science has made Religion obsolete”. We won the vote. It’s done by acclamation there, which is not very scientific! But here’s the speech:
First we should be clear what we are talking about. I believe that you can be both a scientist and a theist. I oppose this motion. This motion is not “God does not exist”. It is, in effect “Science explains everything”. It doesn’t. As Albert Einstein said: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
In other words, science can explain the How; it tells us about the What. It cannot explain the Why. Some scientists therefore conclude there is no Why, because science cannot tell us about it, rather than seeing this as a limitation of science.
Take the example of a court of law: the forensic evidence – the science – can tell us a lot about what happened, and how it happened. But it cannot tell us the motive – the Why – always an important item of evidence.
Similarly, John Lennox in his book God’s Undertaker uses another example to illustrate the same thing. Aunt Matilda is baking a cake. Science will be able to tell us the ingredients used to make the cake, but it will not be able to say why she is making it (for her nephew’s birthday).
The question of the existence of God, from a rational point of view, is a topic of philosophy, and has been for several thousand years. It’s not a topic of science.
The question of design in nature is a philosophical question, not a scientific one, again from a rational point of view.
But even if you don’t accept this, if you think that there is no way that reason can be used to point to the existence of God, then you must at least accept that it is a question of faith. Science cannot disprove, or prove, the existence of God. God, and our belief in him, are questions of faith. That is my personal position.
I am a religious person who has throughout life grappled with an absolute, certain belief in the existence of God. However, I find value, great value, in religion and its practice. I find that if I make a leap of faith, things come right; they fall into place.
I call myself an “assumist”. I just have to assume that God exists. I cannot prove it, or disprove it.
Mary Midgley, a philosopher and a non-believer, puts it this way:
Belief or disbelief in God is not a scientific question, a judgment about physical facts in the world. It is an element in something larger and more puzzling – our wider worldview.
She attacks what she calls “scientism”, a belief that science explains everything. Clearly it cannot.
Religion is seen by many as the enemy of science. It should not be. Religion is, and should be seen as, an attempt at explaining the unexplainable; science as a way of proving the provable. Religion and science are not enemies. They are fighting different battles on different battlefields.
Pope Benedict in his Regensburg address went out of his way to defend science, and to promote a rational view of religion. Of course, religion can always be attacked by praying in aid some of its promoters. But I am a creationist, in that I believe that there must have been a Prime Mover.
As Pope Benedict put it earlier this month to a gathering of scientists at the Vatican:
In order to develop and evolve, the world must first be, and thus have come from nothing into being. It must be created, in other words, by the first Being, who is such by essence.
As Shakespeare’s King Lear says, “Nothing will come of nothing”. But I do not believe that the earth was created 6,000 years ago. Revelation does not tell me this; nor does my reason. By the way, 40 per cent of US scientists – people who make their living by science – agree with me; 45 per cent do not believe in God. So scientists are more divided than any of us.
Rather than the caricature of God drawn up by Richard Dawkins – a facile and bigoted alien – I am more attracted to Einstein’s vision:
My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe forms my idea of God.
I am not asking you students seeking new worlds and knowledge to believe in God or not. I am only asking you to have an open mind. Constantly struggle to discover the truth. It will take a lifetime. Seek the truth. Keep an open mind.
Reject this arrogant motion.
I leave you with C.S. Lewis:
If Naturalism is true, every finite thing or event must be (in principle) explicable in terms of the Total System.
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/23/national/23believers.html?pagewanted=print (see p. 2, subheading ‘Polling scientists’.
C.S. Lewis, Miracles, 1947, Chapter 3.