The common idea that people should have to give "scientific" proof of God makes it clear how many people have an enormous respect for evidence and for the scientific enterprise, which is all to the good. Science has been a great benefactor on behalf of humankind.
However this demand, also shows a complete disregard for philosophy, and a complete misunderstanding of the nature and history of science.
The late great scientist Stephen Hawking is often quoted as saying "philosophy is dead", which proves only one thing, that people outside of their specialist fields are as dumb as the next guy when they presume to cast aspersions on things they haven't a clue about.
Why do I make this claim?
The reality is that to cast doubt on a discipline from which your own discipline sprang is like mingling treachery with ignorance. Science is a distilled form of philosophy. Science follows rigorous guidelines of investigative thought, which ensures the least possibility of bias, of false conclusions and aims at the most objective results possible. These ideas are all deep concerns of philosophy.
And here is an issue that most people who cite the absolute necessity for scientific proof of God's existence often don't give much thought to. Science has to be beyond reproach in its ethics. The first principle that a good prospective scientist must get into her head is the absolute necessity of honesty. Now, there is no science in the world that can give you a scientific proof for the need of honesty, yet anyone can see the need for it in scientific research. And ethics is, of course another deep concern of philosophy. The search for truth, whether the truth about nature, or the truth about such ideas as the nature of truth, are all encompassed by the broad purview of philosophy, of which science is but one branch.
Richard Phillips Feynman, an American theoretical physicist known for his work in quantum mechanics and particle physics received a joint Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965. In a talk to budding scientists Richard Feynman said, "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool." He spoke at length of a special, rigorous type of honesty that must be characteristic of a dedicated scientist, and coupled that with a sense of humility- a willingness to let go of a pet theory, an agreement with oneself to follow the evidence even when it contradicts an implicit or even explicit understanding of reality. Indicating the necessity of this, he employed the phrase- "of having utter scientific integrity".
It must be emphasized here, that this moral accountability, this stringent requirement, (really raising the bar for integrity) is not unique to the scientific endeavor, but is common to the pursuit of any kind of knowledge, of truth in any sphere. And this necessity for rigorous integrity is not proved by science, nor did it come from any understanding revealed in the course of studying the natural phenomena in any direct sense. But the assumption of impeccable integrity was an integral component of the philosophical views of the early empiricists, and rationalists from whom we derived the scientific method. So in order for science to thrive there had to be a particular cultural ethos, a pervasive atmosphere that valued honesty and integrity even at personal cost.
If philosophy is the mother of science, then Christianity is its father. As mentioned before, the study of nature, now known as “science” is and always was a part of the philosophical search for truth, to understand reality. Indeed in the earlier development of science as an extension from the empirical method, science was better known as “natural philosophy”.
But how then, you may well ask, does my claim stack up that historically the scientific enterprise is directly relatable to Christianity? What were the connections that made this relation possible?
The pursuit of the scientific discipline arose primarily in the West. Many of the pioneers of science were in fact theists, and of those- many were in fact Christian theists. They were either Christians or Deists who inherited their moral views from Judeo/Christian, Biblical themes, whether directly or by enculturation. And thus from the morality of a Judeo/Christian ethic a prevailing character of personal integrity and honesty and the virtue of hard work became part and parcel of the West’s cultural identity, and only within this climate, were the conditions provided that became a catalyst for the success of science. As an example of the historical reality of this permeation of Judeo/Christian values within the West, Bertrand Russell an avowed public atheist, once said that had it not been for the Christianization of Great Britain, the appeal for the independence of India, by Gandhi would never have succeeded, it was only achieved because of a public imbued with a Christian conscience.
In a recent letter to the editor of the local paper, a self-confessed conservationist, and engineer spoke of “rescuing science from religion”. This is a commonly touted myth, the supposed antagonism, the impassable rift between science and religion. How an otherwise well educated man could think this way was further exacerbated by his reference to some eminent pioneering scientists to “bolster” his argument. Among them, from memory, were Galileo, and Isaac Newton, and Francis Bacon. All of whom were Christian theists! While it’s correct that Galileo was put under house arrest at the behest of the Roman Catholic church, because of his heliocentric ideas, which proved true, it was because the church at that time fell in with what was the current belief of the scientists, or rather the natural philosophers of the day. Geocentrism, the idea that everything revolved around the earth, wasn’t held as true by the church in isolation, it was the pervasive belief of the culture in general, of the early astronomers and had been for ages according to the Ptolemaic system of circa 150AD. So the idea of the solar system revolving around the earth had been in vogue for centuries!
“But the Inquisition ruled against him in 1616. This was not as unreasonable as it appears. His position flew in the face of common sense and 1,500 years of academics. It violated the accepted laws of physics.” (Christianity Today) The impetus behind the insatiable and unassailable belief that characterizes the pursuit of science that by effort and with integrity the Universe would reveal its secrets can be observed in a simple thought from Galileo "God is known by nature in his works, and by doctrine in his revealed word." In those days, it was common in the University to think of Theology as the “Queen of the sciences”. It was their understanding of the steadfast order, uniformity and reliability of the Creator and His created order that inspired their scientific endeavours . And the reality today is that in the top echelons of science, theists are still well represented. Though of course not all scientists are theists, yet they have this in common: Every scientist simply assumes as a matter of course, that the Universe, or that particular part of it that is their field, will yield its secrets with due effort and diligence and they assume the principle of the uniformity of nature. This assumption, the trust and confidence, the evidence of past experience are all the hallmarks of faith, faith in the accessibility of the Universe's secrets to the inquiring mind, to human intelligibility, faith in the inherent order, faith in the uniformity of nature.
Such has been the success of science, and the empirical method that a new generation of people are in thrall to science. For them, only science can give valid answers. The influential atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell went as far as to say: 'what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know.' But how does he know this? Epistemology (the study of knowledge- how we know things), isn’t a pursuit of science, but is a philosophical endeavour. The problem with Russell’s view, is that it’s not a scientific statement! Claiming to know that only science gives us knowledge, while simultaneously demonstrating a philosophical claim to truth is self contradictory. It is in fact a bald statement of faith. It favours science as the only authoritative source of knowledge. This stance is known as “scientism”.
Christian apologist, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University Dr. John Lennox duly notes the close association of theology with faith in the ordered nature of the Universe.
Speaking on this public perception of the cultural divide between faith and science, Lennox asks the question: 'What about science? [Does faith have any part in science? ] Well science proceeds on the basis of the belief [faith] that the Universe is rationally intelligible.’
He then quotes Paul Davis, whose research interests are in the fields of cosmology, quantum field theory, and astrobiology: 'Paul Davis, a brilliant physicist at ASU says "that the right scientific attitude" now listen to this, Paul Davis is not a theist- "the right scientific attitude is essentially theological, science can only proceed if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview, even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith the existence of a law-like order in nature that is, at least in part, comprehensible to us." Einstein said " I cannot imagine the scientist without that profound faith"- note the word’ John Lennox.
In his book “God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?“ John Lennox explains: “God is not an alternative to science as an explanation, he is not to be understood merely as a God of the gaps, he is the ground of all explanation: it is his existence which gives rise to the very possibility of explanation, scientific or otherwise. It is important to stress this because influential authors such as Richard Dawkins will insist on conceiving of God as an explanatory alternative to science – an idea that is nowhere to be found in theological reflection of any depth. Dawkins is therefore tilting at a windmill - dismissing a concept of God that no serious thinker believes in anyway. Such activity is not necessarily to be regarded as a mark of intellectual sophistication.”
God is not therefore the one referred to as the cause, merely when we run out of rational explanations or gaps in our knowledge of reality, but rather he is the God of the whole show.
This ties in well with other things that Einstein is quoted as saying: “One may say the eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility”
‘Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator. In most modern scientists this belief has died: it will be interesting to see how long their confidence in uniformity survives it. Two significant developments have already appeared—the hypothesis of a lawless sub-nature, and the surrender of the claim that science is true. We may be living nearer than we suppose to the end of the Scientific Age.’
Epistemology, has an important stake in the history of science. Dr. Stephen Meyer a philosopher of science and advocate for intelligent design, in a recorded conversation with R.C. Sproull commented that:
"The ultimate question of epistemology is: On what basis can we trust in the reliability of the human mind? And that's where I think that intelligent design has something else really profound to contribute. Because if the mind is designed by a benevolent Creator to know the world that that Creator has also designed- there's a principle of correspondence between the way the mind works and the way that the world has been designed such that it can be known...and that's the ultimate guarantee in epistemology...of our ability to know, and so there's a kind of theistic design argument that underwrites the epistemological enterprise of science itself. Which in some ways is the most fundamental argument for design, and the one that makes science possible. It was something that was presupposed by those early founders of modern science. They were not afflicted by Humean skepticism, because they believed that the world had been designed by the same person who designed their minds to know the world."
By way of summary then, three cultural mores of the West came together in such a way that science flourished to the point that no other culture in history has yielded such a rich bounty of scientific knowledge.
A heightened sense of the need for moral integrity, and the virtue of hard work.
The emphasis on philosophy, observing the laws of correct thinking, (logic)
and the certainty that the inherent order displayed in the Universe is intelligible because it came from an intelligent mind, and the confident assumption that humanity was fitted with the capacity to explore reality.
These all culminated in a vast network of knowledge through the scientific enterprise.
The only logical conclusion from this is that rather than science being at odds with the idea of the existence of God, as many would have us believe, the very fact of the existence of science and it’s indubitable and ongoing successes is in fact supporting evidence for the existence of God.
Whether or not it was Francis Bacon, or attributable to Louis Pasteur, it matters not, what really matters is that we get it: "A little science estranges a man from God; a lot of science brings him back."
‘The Nobel prizewinner Melvin Calvin traces the rise of modern science to the conviction "that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods, each governing his own province according to his own laws. This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science." ‘ John Lennox