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How can god be proven or disproven by using science?

A friend of mine was reading The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins. He felt that Dawkins’ argument against god was faulty: Dawkins was taking a metaphysical question (does god exist) and was trying to answer it by using science. He said that since it’s a metaphysical question, science can’t be used to find the answer.

But if that’s true, then Dawkins’ argument is crippled.

This seemed to me to be just another form of the “religion is immune from science” conflict.
I’m an atheist; how should I respond?

Posted: July 24th 2007

SmartLX www

I know of no possible way of scientifically proving God does not exist. We just don’t have the power to scour the entire universe and beyond until we declare that there is nowhere left for him to hide.

In contrast, there are any number of ways to prove God’s existence. All you need is a bit of evidence. A proven miracle, a recorded voice from a burning bush, a return visit from Jesus and DNA tests showing he had no biological father…use your imagination. But notice that none of this has happened.

I’m paraphrasing Dawkins here, but if some positive evidence for God actually turned up, do you think for a moment that a believer like your friend would suggest it had no bearing on religion because it was scientific? Heck no. They’d all shout to the world that they were right all along, and defend the science with all their might. The metaphysical would be supported by the physical.

The supposed irrelevance of science to religion is maintained only because there is no evidence in favour of religion. People keep God in the realm of the metaphysical where physics can’t touch him. It’s the only way to keep him alive.

Posted: November 13th 2007

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George Locke

Either the question, “Does god exist?”, can be answered by the scientific method or the scientific method cannot be used. Regardless of whether the question is “metaphysical”, the above statement is tautologically true.

So far I’ve just stated the obvious, but these two cases have different implications.

First let’s just define 'scientific method’. Scientific method is described by wikipedia as consisting of the following steps:

  1. Define the question
  2. Gather information and resources
  3. Form hypothesis
  4. Perform experiment and collect data
  5. Analyze data
  6. Interpret data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for new hypotheses
  7. Publish results

Now I’ll examine the case that the question cannot be examined by the scientific method. Let me propose that if god’s interactions with the world were at all predictable, then those interactions could be studied using scientific method.

If this proposition is sound (which I will show), then the contrapositive must also be sound: if god’s interactions with the world cannot be studied with scientific method, then god’s interactions with the world are not predictable. If god’s interaction with the world are unpredictable, then even if any particular religious text describes god’s past actions accurately, no one can know anything about what god will do in the future.

To show that a predictable god could be examined by science isn’t hard. Basically, you form a hypothesis as to what are some predictable characteristics of god’s actions, then you set out to test your hypothesis: are your predictions about god’s actions accurate? If yes then the debate is over and this site can close down. If the predictions are not accurate, then this in and of itself proves only that the hypothesis probably wasn’t accurate (or that the method of inquiry was flawed). All that is required to make predictions about what god may do, and then look to see if god does that.

So I will consider it established that if god’s actions are predictable, then those actions are penetrable by scientific method. Hence, if the questioner proposes that the question of god’s existence can’t be answered by science then he’s left with a very funny kind of god. Every question about god’s future actions or current condition is unanswerable. Any written account of god’s past behavior may or not be accurate, but at best it can only tell you what god thought, not what s/he thinks.

I haven’t shown that a god impenetrable by science can’t exist, just that most theists shouldn’t like the consequences were that to be the case.

On the other hand, if the question can be answered by science, then we can actually draw some conclusions. Namely, there is no evidence that god exists.

(PS: The question could be said to fall under the philosophical discipline of metaphysics. 'Natural philosophy’, which is basically science, is also grouped under metaphysics. Whether the question is metaphysical or not, the above argument applies regardless.)

Posted: August 6th 2007

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bitbutter www

In his book Dawkins explains clearly why the existence of any kind of god who would be of importance to us is not, in principle, a question which science is powerless to examine.

I wouldn’t want to tell you how you should respond, but my response would be along the following lines.

If the existence of a god is a question that is in principle untouchable by science then it means that it is a question that has no relation to evidence. For a start this means that the god that your friend is imagining doesn’t interact with the physical world (which rules out the gods of the main religions).

At this point we are left with the question; should we take a proposition seriously if it’s one for which there can be no evidence and which is in principle undisprovable?

Bertrand Russel’s rhetorical device of the Celestial Teapot shows us that we have no means by which we can distinguish between the merely undetectable and the non-existent, and further, that we actually do treat the undetectable as not existing until evidence for it arrives (fantastical religious propositions are the unwarranted exception to this rule for some people).

Posted: July 27th 2007

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Akusai www

Your friend seems dishonest. It is very clearly stated in Dawkins’ book that the question of a god (any god), as shown in countless mythologies, falls strictly into the realm of the physical. God is said to interact directly in this world and to produce noticeable, sometimes dramatic physical effects.

Dawkins’ point is this: if God produces such effects, whether he’s stopping the rotation of the Earth, giving visions at Fatima, hurling lightning bolts from Olympus, or showing up on cheese sandwiches, then he produces measurable physical effects that can be studied by basic observation and science. It is not a metaphysical question, as your get-out-of-jail-free friend wants to claim. Only the deist poses a metaphysical question, and the deist still suffers from problems of his own.

In short, Dawkins’ claim is that if god interacts with the world, we would be able to study it. Since all scientific study ever shows us a universe that looks exactly like a universe with no god, we can conclude that there probably is no god. There is, at the very least, absolutely no reason to believe in one.

The deist, on the other hand, and your “metaphysical” friend must ask himself a couple of different questions. Firstly, what reason does he have to believe that his “metaphysical” god exists at all? If the deity is “outside of the physical,” whatever that means, how can he justify his belief? The more fundamental question for him is whether or not it is even possible for such a being to exist; in short: is there even such a thing as the “metaphysical” at all? Most definitions of “metaphysical” define it neatly into unmeasurability, and if that is the case, we have no evidence, no reason to believe that there’s anything “metaphysical” or “supernatural” at all, much less an all-powerful being.

Posted: July 27th 2007

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brian thomson www

I thought that Dawkins was trying to make the point that nothing is exempt from scientific investigation.

To call this a “metaphysical question” is to flatly contradict Dawkins – in his view, these are all physical questions about reality, that can be investigated using scientific methods, and he doesn’t accept that kind of “get-out clause” as valid.

So where does that leave the idea of “proving a god’s existence using science”? Well, you’d first need to define just what you mean by “god”. There are many out there, allegedly, so you’d pick one, and look for some physical property you can test for. For example, the New Testament describes how Jesus apparently turned water in to wine: so you’d get some water, then crash someone’s wedding reception…

In other words, Dawkins is not proposing any specific tests for specific gods, except to make a rhetorical or humorous point: logically, he doesn’t have to go out and disprove all the claims that are made. He’s not making any positive claims about supernatural powers, either – he doesn’t believe in such things – but if he was, they would be claims other scientists could test.

In my view, the point he was making was that any claims of supernatural powers are subject to investigation, and he doesn’t accept the proposition that religious claims are “outside science”, in any sense.

When religious people make claims about a real-world physical effect (on people or things), but then call it supernatural or metaphysics (whatever that is), they are evading their basic responsibility to provide real-world evidence for such claims. Conversely, if their supernatural beings cause no real-world physical effects… what’s the point of a god that doesn’t do anything?

Posted: July 27th 2007

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