God and Science

Real scientists know that science is never settled

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Atheism Faith

Anyone who has ever been a teacher will recall conversations with students that went something like this:

“Do you believe in God?”

“No, not really. I believe in Science, so I haven’t got much time for religion.”

Once young people have got it into their heads that there is a great and unbridgeable gulf between Faith and Reason, between God and Science, it’s not easy to talk them out of it. You can tell them that there are plenty of scientists who actually believe in God, but they’ve met so many who don’t (including many of their own teachers and mentors) that they might politely listen – but they’ll probably remain unconvinced.

In their mind ‘Scientists’ are the people who best understand the universe; scientists are the priests and prophets of their brave new world. Only physical things count, they’ll tell you. Nothing unseen exists. When we die we just cease to exist – but let’s not think too hard about that. The odds are that most of their friends and family think the same way and find little space for the God hypothesis in their view of the world.

But the truth is that our young rationalists have strayed into a dead end. Seen against the backdrop of human culture, past and present, they are not in the mainstream where they think they are, but on the fringe where the current is weakest or even stagnant. They live in a highly materialistic western society, wealthy beyond the dreams of their forefathers, in which they can think of themselves as virtually immortal, at least for a time. The promises of life seem boundless.

Then comes the crunch.  Somebody dies or falls gravely ill. Science no longer has the answers. They invent myths to fill the void in their hearts that had never been filled by the true Faith that gave solace to earlier generations and still comforts millions throughout the world. Not believing in God, they put their trust instead in other things – Gaia, astrology, ghosts, the power of crystals, herbalism, and reincarnation are all possible substitutes for God. Or just the sad, vague notion that the dead “live on” in the memories of those left behind.

This is such a complex issue. The material possessions of this world have real value. Poverty and ill health are evils and we do well to fight against them. But we must at the same time be on our guard against the moral slackness and intellectual laziness that can flourish in the midst of good fortune, just as weeds can thrive in a well-watered garden. If we believe in the tripartite nature of mankind – soul, mind, and body indissolubly united – then we must ensure that all three are nourished properly. Almost everyone sees value in sport, most people believe in training their minds, but almost nobody worries about a wilting soul!

So let’s remind ourselves that there have always been great thinkers, great scientists, who believed in God and in the central importance of the soul: St. Albert, Galileo, Newton, and Mendel are a few of the markers to show us where the deep channel lies.

I began by asserting that our young materialists are actually outsiders, even though they think they are in the mainstream. “The science is settled” is a cry we often hear nowadays, particularly in the context of climate change, and it has the force almost of dogma in the minds of many secular materialists. But the people who are most vociferous in proclaiming it are usually not scientists, for real scientists know that science is never settled, and that many of the theories of today will be overthrown in the future, just as our own age has seen the debunking of some of the cherished notions of the past.

 

David Daintree was President of Campion College (Australia’s only Catholic liberal arts college) from 2008 to 2012. In 2013 he founded and is now Director of the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies, under the patronage of the Archbishop of Hobart.

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