Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Why Can't Science Address The Existence of Gods?

Why can't science address the existence of gods? Why should we simply sit back and accept the claim of apologists that what they believe in is not subject to "observation, measurement, and experiment"?

In the United States today, we have tens of thousands of priests, rabbis, mullahs, pastors, and preachers who are paid professionals, who claim to be active and functioning mediators between people and omnipotent invisible masters of the universe. They make specific claims about their god's nature, what he's made of and what he isn't, how he thinks and acts, what you should do to propitiate it…they somehow seem to have amazingly detailed information about this being. Yet, when a scientist approaches with a critical eye, suddenly it is a creature that not only has never been observed, but cannot observed, and its actions invisible, impalpible, and immaterial.

So where did these confident promoters of god-business get their information? Shouldn't they be admitting that their knowledge of this elusive cosmic beast is nonexistent? It seems to me that if you're going to declare scientists helpless before the absence and irrelevance of the gods, you ought to declare likewise for all of god's translators and interpreters. Be consistent when you announce who has purview over all religious belief, because making god unobservable and immeasurable makes everyone incapable of saying anything at all about it.

And what of those many millions of ordinary people who claim to have daily conversations with this entity? That is an impressive conduit for all kinds of testable information: a high bandwidth channel between the majority of people on Earth and a friendly, omniscient source of knowledge, and it isn't named Google. All these queries, and all these answers, and yet, somehow, none of these answers have enough meaning or significance to represent a testable body of counsel. Amazing! You would think that in all that volume of communication, some tiny percentage of useful information would emerge that we could assess against reality, but no…the theologians, lay and professional alike, will all claim that no usable data can be produced that would satisfy a scientist looking for sense. It sounds like empty noise to me.

We have the supposed histories of these believers, and they are full of material actions. Gods throw lightning bolts to smite unbelievers, annihilate whole cities and nations, raise the dead, slay whole worlds of people, suspend the laws of physics to halt the sun in the sky, create the whole Earth in less than a week, help footballers score goals, and even manifest themselves in physical bodies and walk about, doing amazing magic tricks. Wow, O Lord, please do vaporize a city with a column of holy fire before my eyes — I can observe that, I can measure that, I can even do experiments with the rubble. I will be really impressed.

Oh, but wait: it can only be an unobservable, undetectable exercise in mass destruction? And he's not doing that sort of thing anymore? How about pulling a rabbit out of this hat? No, sorry, all done. God can't do anything anymore where people might actually notice, or worse, record the act and figure out how the tricks are done. This is awfully convenient.

This is where the "Science has no opinion on religion" argument leads us: to an atheist's world, where there are no activities by a god that matter, where at best people can claim that their god is aloof and unknowable, admitting in their own premises that they have no knowledge at all of him.

PZ Myers

The original post can be read here.

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