I recently read an interesting letter in The Guardian. A reader wrote in taking issue with a review of Stephen Hawking’s new book, in which he disavows the existence of God, seemingly on the basis that science can explain everything without the need for God.
The reader, quite rightly, pointed out that although science can explain many things, this in itself is not a disproof of the existence of God. There is a gap between “we can explain a lot through science” and “God doesn’t exist”.
That is not to say that I think God exists. Far from it, I am a committed atheist. However, my reasoning is not that science can explain the universe alone. Aside from anything else, science cannot. We still don’t know how many universes there are. Quantum physics is still largely a mystery. We are yet to discover dark matter, if it exists at all. Yes, we can trace back the story of our genesis up to a fraction of a second after the Big Bang, but why was there a Big Bang at all? Surely there’s space for a prime mover, God, at least in the moment of the Big Bang and before it. Until we can explain that, science by itself does not disprove God.
This is among many reasons why I personally find Richard Dawkins’ (among others) evangelical atheism distasteful in its approach. Dawkins is regularly seen peddling evolution as the reason for which there is no God. “Look” he seems to be saying “this is what nature does without God”. But he has not explained why nature could not be doing it because God set it in motion.
There is no decisive way of disproving the existence of God, He is set up so as to be unfalsifiable. Similarly, belief in His existence is more a matter of faith than anything else, and if you can say anything for faith, it is that reason is no obstacle to it.
I read a book whilst writing my dissertation at university by a 19th century German philosopher by the name of Feuerbach. It was called The Essence of Christianity. It is a fascinating read and provides for me what is the best path to disproving the existence of God.
In it, Feuerbach points out that gods have existed in human civilisation since the beginning of history. But they change over time. We started with many gods that explained all the different facets of nature. As our understanding grew, these gods became fewer in number. And as our dependence on nature lessened, the gods became an anthropomorphic God. As we became self-sufficient, our God reflected ourselves: Jesus.
In tracing this history, the human need for a God is revealed. God is unfalsifiable by His nature. However, by revealing the need for his invention, and dispelling that need through science, there is very little room to manoeuvre for the believer. All that is left is faith.
I respect that faith, and despite the many wrongs committed in the name of religion think that the hyper-individualised society that has replaced the community of religion is not necessarily better. In embracing secularism, we have lost something that is difficult to replace. There is a sense that without God, nothing binds us, and there is no one to ultimately hold us responsible. The consequence is an implicitly Hobbesian view of life as “nasty, brutish and short” where everyone is out for themselves.
I don’t believe that this is the case, but it is hard to shake the feeling sometimes.
The problem with life is…this is all there is.