Why Science Does Not Disprove God
Amir D. Aczel
New York: William Morrow, 2014
Aczel is a mathematician and a popular science writer. The book is written for the general reader. It spends more time teaching some basics about the history of science, what great scientists and mathematicians have thought about God, and what science actually knows and does not know, than it does in developing its arguments against the New Atheism. And those arguments are not developed to the standard of professional philosophy.
My purpose here is not to review these arguments, but to note something that the book taught me about the New Atheism and its relationship with contemporary scientists who also are atheists or who, if agnostic, do not know or understand the basics of metaphysics and the philosophy of religion.
And that is that science has not succeeded in explaining existence, ourselves, or our fates to us, and in response, atheist and agnostic scientists, pursuing the innate drive of the human mind to follow questions to the very end, have resorted to the idea of the multiverse as a substitute Creator which, by pure chance out of an infinite potential, has produced the exact (and absurdly fine-tuned) initial conditions and physical constants required for us to even begin to exist. This of course begs the question of what kind of entity is this potential, and to me this is a form of intellectual idolatry.
But. There is a serious weakness in Aczel’s general approach. As any real scientist, philosopher of science, or historian of science knows, a key moment in the intellectual history of humanity occurred when scientific discourse began to avoid meaning, purpose, or the ends of gods and men in the formulation and empirical testing of scientific hypotheses. The working assumption is that physical cause and effect determine everything that happens, and we do not need to worry about what it is like to be somebody, what is the redness of red, what things are for, whether we are really conscious, whether we can really decide to do things or not, and or what is good and what is evil in the course of doing science.
The immense success of natural science, in reality, makes this working assumption of physical determinism much more plausible than the defenders of religion would like to think. So the idea that the odds in favor of the existence of God are fifty-fifty, as Aczel would have it, is at the very least too simple.
I myself think that this notion of “physical cause and effect” is much more sophisticated than it seems, it is not by any means similar to ancient concepts of causation, and I think it hides within itself a teeming host of other assumptions into which, under various masks and guises, some sorts of teleology have managed to creep. But that is a topic for another post.