Speaking on BBC television, atheist Richard Dawkins claimed, ‘I think science really has fulfilled the need that religion did in the past, of explaining things, explaining why we are here, what is the origin of life, where did the world come from, what life is all about’.
He is mistaken. The fact is that science, powerful as it is, can explain none of the basic realities of our existence. Let me show you why.
Science cannot tell us how the universe came into being
In 1929 American astronomer Edwin Hubble demonstrated that the universe is expanding. This led to the ‘Big Bang theory’, which says that the universe had a definite starting-point around fifteen billion years ago, beginning as a vanishingly small ‘singularity’.
In a 1995 Daily Telegraph poll, nearly 40% of those interviewed believed that a Big Bang produced the raw material of today’s universe.However, an accompanying article reminded readers that the Big Bang was ‘just a theory … It might be right, but scientists bicker about it all the time … It might be that the Big Bang will turn out to be a small flop’.
Either way, basic questions remain. Where did the original ‘singularity’ come from? How did it get its energy? When did time begin? What came before ‘time zero’?
There had to have been a moment when energy, matter, time and space came into existence. If creation by a transcendent and omnipotent God is ruled out, where can we turn for an explanation – when science can go no further back than the moment at which the laws on which it leans began to operate?
Science cannot explain its own laws
Science only works because scientists assume the validity and dependability of the laws of nature. Indeed, science consists in the discovery and use of these laws. Yet there is no scientific explanation of why these laws exist, where they came from, or why they operate as they do.
Professor Edgar Andrews writes: ‘If we ask science why the laws are such as they are, and not otherwise – if we ask why the law of gravity is an inverse square law with respect to distance – science can do nothing but shrug its mathematical shoulders and reply, “That question lies outside my terms of reference”.’
When atheist Peter Atkins tells us that, for all its staggering immensity and order, the entire universe is ‘an elaborate and engaging rearrangement of nothing’, he is hardly making a helpful contribution to the subject.
Science cannot explain why the universe is fine-tuned to support life on Earth
For Earth to sustain life requires a complex and precise arrangement of factors. For example, the size of Earth, its rotational speed, the tilt of its axis, its distance from the sun, and its land-water ratio – all have to be just right.
Oxford scholar and atheist J. L. Mackie admitted in his book The Miracle of Theism, ‘It is … surprising that the elements of this unique set-up are just right for life when they might easily have been wrong’.
In recent years science has assembled a mass of evidence to support the so-called ‘anthropic principle’, which says that the universe is fine-tuned to support life on our planet.
This fine-tuning includes the relative strengths of the four fundamental forces of nature (gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces), the masses of the particles that make up the atom, and the excess of matter over anti-matter.
Carbon is essential for life. Yet the slightest deviation from its actual atomic structure would have made life impossible.
Commenting on this, Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees and science writer John Gribbin concluded, ‘This combination of coincidences … is indeed remarkable. There is no better evidence to support the argument that the universe has been designed for our benefit – tailor-made for man’.
Science cannot explain why mind exists
Peter Atkins called human brains ‘the most wonderful instruments in the universe’. Yet elsewhere he claims that ‘[mental] decisions are adjustments of … molecules inside large numbers of cells within the brain’.
But if human thinking is nothing but chemistry, nerve impulses and the firing of synapses, how can any thought be meaningful, rational or true? If rational thinking is nothing but ‘molecular adjustment’, how can it produce conclusions on which we can rely?
In Possible Worlds, published in 1945, atheist J. B. S. Haldane confessed: ‘If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions [of atoms] in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true … and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms’.
Science cannot answer life’s deepest questions
Steve Jones, an avowed materialist, admits this in his book The Language of the Genes: ‘Science cannot answer the questions that philosophers – or children – ask: why are we here, what is the point of being alive, how ought we to behave?’
Sir John Eccles, a Nobel Prize-winning pioneer in brain research, adds: ‘Science cannot explain the existence of each of us as a unique self, nor can it answer such fundamental questions as “Who am I? How did I come to be at a certain place and time? What happens after death?” These are all mysteries beyond science’.
The eminent psychiatrist Paul Tournier came to the same conclusion: ‘Everybody today is searching for an answer to those problems to which science pays no attention, the problem of their destiny, the mystery of evil, the question of death’.
These are among the most fundamental questions we could ever ask -and in response, science can only shrug its shoulders and pass them elsewhere.
Quantum theory pioneer Erwin Schrödinger sums it up: ‘the scientific picture of the world around me … gives a lot of factual information, puts all our experience in a magnificently consistent order, but is ghastly silent about all and sundry that is really near to our heart … it knows nothing about beautiful and ugly, good or bad, God and eternity. Science sometimes pretends to answer questions in these domains, but the answers are very often so silly that we are not inclined to take them seriously’.
Adapted from John Blanchard’s book Has science got rid of God? (Evangelical Press, 2004).