Can science provide evidence for supernatural agency?

This question is a wondering about if and how science can be legitimately used to provide evidence (as distinct from proof) for agency outside the material universe (aka God).

Some possible instances:

  • theories with universe having a beginning: suggests a transcendent prime mover?
  • interpretation of physical constants as ‘fine tuning’ - suggests a tuner?
  • if explaining the origin of life naturalistically does not progress - suggests supernatural intervention?

Not a new question I know, so happy to be directed to existing resources. Thanks :slight_smile:

No, because science can only deal with the material universe. It has no way to study the supernatural. And pointing to natural phenomena we don’t yet understand as evidence for God is “god of the gaps” thinking. It’s bad theology also, because the gaps have historically been closing.

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There is a risk of the god-of-the-gaps error, especially in a field where the knowledge gaps are shrinking.

But what if, over time, research discovered (say) increasing complexity and with that, increasing inadequacy of naturalistic explanations?

One could always say, we don’t yet have a scientific explanation, and not infer divine action. But if the trend continued, would this position increasingly indicate a prior commitment to naturalism?

And if so, would there be a point where an unwillingness to consider the supernatural be irrational?

If scientists don’t look for naturalistic explanations, they will never find them. If we had never learned anything about the brain, we would still be treating epilepsy patients with exorcisms instead of medicine.

Well, hopefully, considering the supernatural is not irrational, or all of us that are Christians are in there. I guess it not irrational though, it borders on arational (if that were a word). But, that is really not what you are asking.
To address your question, I think it unlikely. While I am open to believing there might be some “humps” in the process that needed a divine nudge to get over, my thought is that given the size of the universe, even extremely unlikely events are still going to happen given the sample size. Earth won the lottery.

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If that is true, at what point it would be prudent to tell scientists to stop looking?

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I’ve never understood this argument. Clouds have a beginning, yet we don’t think they require a transcendental prime mover. There are many, many things in our universe that come into being, and yet we expect them to have a natural origin.

I think this is a much better argument than the “the universe had a beginning”. Ultimately, the argument rests on the idea that there is just one universe, or that there are too few universes to land on the universe we see. However, given our abject ignorance of of how many universes there are, at least this argument has some legs to stand on.

That’s just a God of the Gaps argument which isn’t very strong. There is an article here at BioLogos which I found to be very even handed and well written.

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Another problem with god-of-the-gaps thinking is that it greatly diminishes God, turning him into a cockroach who is forced to hide in smaller and smaller dark corners when science discovers something new.

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If you allow “divine nudges”, does that mean either the supernatural is detectable through science, or God needs to do miracles but keeps them hidden?

Every time I hear about science being used to detect the supernatural I can’t help but think of all those ghost hunter shows with thermal readers, audio recordings and the incredible red circle video editing to highly the right smudge lol.

I guess my first question would be what kind of supernatural?

Will we be able to test the super strength of the demonically possessed? Could I make a molechian trade with Scheduled Siring and a 20 year old in return of some deadite brings in appliances……

Or do they mean like capturing a angel on film?

Or do they mean to find some gap that just can’t be explained without the aid of the supernatural and we find some kind of code hidden in nature that just unlocks the fact of the supernatural?

I don’t think science will even be able to prove the supernatural because there will be no data to collect for it.

But I’m ok with it because my faith is based on faith and not evidence.

Just from a logical point of view, I don’t think any Nudges would be detectable, as they are outside of nature. How could you ever know if the trajectory of an asteroid was altered by a millionth of a degree a thousand years before impact to allow it to hit a sulfate rich shallow sea and allow mammals to predominate over dinosaurs, when otherwise it may have hit a deep ocean and caused minimal change except for tidal waves?
Theologically, I don’t believe it would be detectable as I take Jesus at his word when he stated no sign would be given to this brood of vipers than that of Jonah (the resurrection).
Philosophically, it would seem unlikely that God would act in such a way as to negate faith, by providing “proof.”

We do have objective evidence, however, that God intervenes providentially in the lives of his children, demonstrating his sovereignty over timing and placing, even though no natural laws are violated. It is not scientific in the sense that it can be reproduced upon demand by other investigators, but it is a demonstrable and eminently believable M.O.

@MarkE and @beaglelady, I am going to agree with both of you and perhaps be rejected by both.

Mark, you are right, science documents the fact that the universe had Beginning, which points to a logical conclusion that it was created by Some One or Some Thing Supernatural. BeagleLady, you are right in saying that science studies the natural and therefore is unable to come to any conclusions concerning the supernatural.

So, we have a serious puzzle, which is much more than a God of the Gaps issue. It is a dead end whereby science can track the shrinking universe back to time 0 where it disappears with a huge bang along with time and space,

Could science be wrong? Of course, it could, but the Big Bang has been established science for about 50 years now, so it is time that atheists start accepting it, esp. those who say they trust in science.

On the other hand it is fair to say that science does not prove that God created the universe. I would say that this a problem for philosophy. Philosophy is the study of the rational structure of the universe.

It can take the scientific evidence that the universe had Beginning, which means that it did not create itself, and logically connect it to the theological evidence that YHWH is the only One Who had the opportunity, the means, the ability, the wisdom, and the motive to create the universe to come to an obvious conclusion. Of course this can be debated also.

There are some who would say that there is only one kind of real truth, scientific truth, but leads to that leads all sorts of unsolvable questions.

Hi @MarkE

  1. The universe is one of infinite from eternity, whether God grounds being or not.
  2. Order does not imply meaning. Nature self tunes.
  3. Abiogenesis happened in alkaline vents away from the black smokers. Nick Lane’s The Vital Question is the best treatment of this to date.

He provided it to the disciples.

No. Science cannot be legitimately used to provide evidence for anything outside the material universe. Science ONLY works at all because of the mathematical space-time laws of nature which means that anyone will get the same results from written procedures no matter what they want or believe. Those mathematical laws care absolutely NOTHING about what we want or believe.

But that means if there is anything outside that mathematical structure of space-time then the science will be completely useless in finding or proving anything about them.

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My other thought about god-of-the-gaps thinking is this: Should we really be thinking of God as a placeholder for scientific ignorance?

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To be clear, I’m not advocating god-of-the-gaps thinking, and acknowledge the risk of falling into it.

Rather, I’m considering the possibility of situations where scientific evidence might reasonably suggest divine action. A key qualifier is, has the field in question had sufficient time to thoroughly search for naturalistic explanations? Of course, that’s a subjective assessment, and so this will be an “on the balance of the evidence” individual judgement.

Here’s an illustration of what I’m getting at—this approach applied to abiogenesis:

“After 70 years of research since Miller-Urey, the field has had minimal real progress; in fact, the findings increasingly suggest that the problem is intractable. Therefore, a provisional God hypothesis is warranted. Moreover, if research over the next 70 years is similarly limited, this hypothesis would be strengthened.”

I’m not arguing here about this particular example, but using it to show the form of the argument. And clearly with this example, many reject the conclusion of intractability as premature, calling it god-of-the-gaps thinking.

But let’s say that after a further 200 years (or 500, or 1000) of continuous and concerted research, progress remains demonstrably limited. Would the God hypothesis then be a reasonable provisional option?

The question here is not God of the Gaps. The question here is: Is there an interface(s), so to speak between God and God’s Creation, and if so, where would it or they be?

If God created the universe, then the most obvious place to look would be “In the Beginning” John 1:1. The Big Bang indicates that there is an interface between God and the Creation in the Beginning.

Another place would be in evolution, esp. the evolution of humans. That is why BioLogos is so important, and I fear it has dropped the ball because it is more concerned about justifying the Bible instead of clarifying the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Brave man, Roger :slight_smile:

On the question of the non-overlap of science and the supernatural, I’d be interested in your response to this: Can science provide evidence for supernatural agency? - #19 by MarkE

I agree though that philosophers should (must) also have a voice in these questions. In this area, scientists often dismiss philosophy as wooly non-science (non-sense?), and proceed to unwittingly go beyond science to make ham-fisted philosophical claims.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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