Would any scientific discovery make you lose your faith?

(David Heddle) #1

This questions comes up now again on atheist blogs. Jerry Coyne, to my knowledge, has asked it at least twice, with the further caveat that he claims he never gets an answer. I answered twice, and neither time did he publish my response, so his claim remains, in appearances only, valid.

This question arises on atheist blogs usually coupled with an explicit presupposition, that seems to be important to internet atheists, that nothing could shake the blind faith of a believer, because we’ve all drunk the kool-aid.

I will tell you what I think would make me lose my faith. There are two things that come to mind. One is the incontrovertible evidence (let’s use the current 5-sigma standard) of a parallel universe, especially one with different physics. The other is the detection of intelligent aliens who have no concept of God.

It is funny when you give this answer on an atheist blog and, unlike on WEIT, it actually gets out of moderation. Atheists will begin to argue with you that no, it would surely not cause you to lose your faith. They might say: “Why should that make you lose your faith, couldn’t your god create many parallel universes and create alien races?” The answer “Well, yes I suppose he could, but I didn’t arrive at my faith by rational reasoning and I wouldn’t necessarily lose it through a rational process, but simply reach a point where, in the face of complicating discoveries, where I no longer believe.” Another approach I have seen is where they simply declare that I am lying.

Has anyone had a similar experience?

(Cindy) #2

I have had similar experiences with Atheists but I don’t remember this specific question. I think though, like you; I would have a crisis in Faith if a group of intelligent aliens had no concept of God.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #3

Why would parallel universes disprove God?

(David Heddle) #4

You kind of missed my point. Parallel universes wouldn’t disprove God. They would shatter my faith. The latter doesn’t require the former.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #5

Why would they shatter your faith?

(Laura) #6

Good question. Especially when contrasted with Ken Ham’s declarations during the debate that there was absolutely nothing that would make him change his beliefs (presumably in YEC and not just Christianity at large).

I can’t say I’ve given much thought to it, but I imagine many things that would cause me to lose my faith are not things that could be definitively proven (historical evidences, etc.)

I’m not sure why a parallel universe would be an issue unless there was no concept of God there – I think of C. S. Lewis’s “wood between the worlds,” but maybe that’s not an apt analogy.

(Shawn T Murphy) #7

This is my standard answer to this question.

It is true that science has contradicted many of the manmade doctrines and false beliefs that many religions cling to. But this does not mean that science can, in any way disprove the existence of the ethereal world - the spiritual world of God.

On the contrary, science is starting to reach its limits of the material world and an number of enlightened scientists are looking into the greater purpose in creation.

  • There is broad agreement to the big bang, but no consensus as to where the energy came from to create the bang or why.
  • There is broad agreement that the universe is made up substantially of substances and energies we cannot measure and do not understand.
  • Genetics has shown great uniformity and commonality in all living things that shows no sign of random experimentation.

Furthermore, science does not answer any of the questions of Why. Why are we here? Why must we suffer? Unfortunately many religions don’t either, but no amount of science will ever answer the question of why.

Why would intelligent aliens be any differ than the millions of intelligent humans who do not believe in God?

(David Heddle) #8

I understand. I think it (what would cause you to lose your faith) is an immensely personal question.

(Laura) #9

That’s true, and I hope my comment didn’t come across as belittling your own conclusions on that point. There are so many life experiences and other factors that contribute to forming an individual viewpoint there.

Sometimes it’s difficult to even get to the point of admitting that there is something that could shatter our faith – I think to many in evangelicalism that would be akin to doubting and therefore “bad,” which is unfortunate, so kudos for even bringing that question to the table.

(David Heddle) #10

Well for me, unbelieving humans are clearly a reality in scripture. Furthermore, I view scripture as teaching that humanity is exceptional. Intelligent aliens would, for me, crush that pillar. Remember, I am talking about faith, about which I have little or no control, not reason.

(David Heddle) #11

It did not! No worries!

(Shaun) #12

Yes, indeed, lose faith in Biblical stories. But as soon as I realised that science and religion deal with different problems, one with objective and the other with subjective, I could have my faith back, and (secretly) rewrote the Bible for myself to omit the parts that contradict scientific discoveries.

I believe the debate between atheists and religious people will never end because one is objective and the other is subjective but as human we have both.

(Dominik Kowalski) #13

Ugh, Coyne…

Has he finally answered what would make him a theist or is this still his method to avoid an answer?

Anyway I liked your blogpost about this and I´m glad you made this thread.

Let´s get the obvious out of the way. If there would be a scientific way to describe what happened on Easter and it fits better with our data than the resurrection, it´s done.
But which scientific discovery would trouble me deeply, and that is where you and I differ since you are a Calvinist, is if free will would be disproven period. No top-down-causation à la William Newsome or George Ellis, no autonomy through compatibilism or (slight) libertarianism in determined or indetermined systems, nothing. Maybe it wouldn´t throw me completely off the rail and I would probably become a Calvinist as well, because Easter still happened, but it would send me in a deep theological crisis for sure. Alfred Mele is a philosopher in this area I admire.

As for the multiverse, I would only have a problem with it if it would be the chaotic one with all different physical laws. If life is wired within the deepest structures of the universe and these laws are even transcendent for the existence of every other possible universe, I´m all for it. @Elle has made an interesting statement and I consider it, but I´m not quite sure. Parallel universes with different laws are certainly a valid objection against creation.

(Mitchell W McKain) #14

Would any scientific discovery make you lose your faith?

Faith in what? The principle assumption of this question is that is all a package which you have to buy whole. But I have faith in a number of separate distinct things, from some which are already teetering on edge to others which I cannot imagine anything changing. But since I started with a scientific worldview as the foundation very few if any are vulnerable to a new scientific discovery. So from the weakest to the strongest.

  1. The virgin birth. Already don’t believe Jesus doesn’t have a human biological father.
  2. Various biblical stories, particularly in Genesis. Already doubt that Job and Jonah are historical.
  3. The Biblical canon is the word of God. Already strongly disagree with one passage in the Bible.
  4. Existence of angels and Satan. Have a reason to believe in these other than the Bible.
  5. Jesus is God. Doctrine of the Trinity.
  6. God is involved in our lives and in the creation of living things.
  7. God is the creator of the universe.
  8. God exists.
  9. There is a spiritual aspect to reality.
  10. Religion has value.

However, the biggest threat to these beliefs come more from God, religion, or maybe archeology and history, because you can take it for granted that I already reject anything which either contradicts the hard sciences or lies in any gaps I see them exploring. Some philosophical beliefs are more vulnerable such as some of the conclusions I have come to about the nature of the human mind.

But the question asked above is not the same thing as this or entirely relevant. This shows that this trash talk is buried within the assumption of naturalism which equates reality with the scientific worldview. If scientific worldview is not the whole of reality then you have to expect that some of the truths about reality are not going to be effected one way or another by any scientific discovery.

I don’t understand why either of these things would have any impact on my faith in any of the above beliefs. The first is much like the whole history of science revealing that the universe is so much bigger than we thought or imagined. Just means that God is bigger than we thought which wouldn’t even be all that surprising. And the second is like the existence of atheists. What does that prove. That both would affect your beliefs suggest that your beliefs depend on majority agreement or something.

(Albert Leo) #15

David, you have introduced an interesting topic. Can you briefly explain the 5-sigma standard or “proof” of a parallel universe? I have always thought that the boundary of our universe (or an other) was the space beyond which no information could pass. If this is true, then postulating another universe is beyond scientific proof and a simple “cop out”.

Personally, I believe ET life is possible, almost probable. But I don’t expect to live long enough for it to be proven with certainty. Since my belief postulates that Christ is the redemptive aspect of God’s nature and pre-exists creation of our Universe (and was made flesh on our planet in Jesus), I can accept that for any other creative mechanism that operated on another planet, the role and form of Christ might be quite different. For me, that would expand the nature of ‘Christ’ in Christianity but not eliminate it. Then ET’s version may not be as incompatible with my own, as is radical Islam.

Make sense?

Al Leo

(Cindy) #16

I may have misread the OP, for me-it would not be the aliens that caused my crisis in Faith but rather the “they have no concept of God” part. If another planet was made to have intelligent life with free-will, they too would have a choice to follow God or not. Either way, they should have a concept of God.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #17

Mine would have to be along these lines though specifically it would have to be bouncing cosmologies:

The idea that time could be cyclical and our universe could collapse only to be recreated again with (the same/different?) laws of nature only to do so again and again in the future and having done so repeatedly in the past. I don’t know too much about the models but the way I understand them presently means that the idea would be very challenging for me and could potentially push me into agnosticism/weak atheism.

(Phil) #18

Interesting to consider. I would like to think that as my faith is not based on naturalistic evidence, that the same would not cause me to lose faith, but fear I would not be so steadfast. The main threat to faith to me seems to the actions of other Christians, giving me pause as to whether the gospel of salvation is real.
But, back to the subject, it would be threatening if neuroscience could show that free will is an illusion, making life indeed seem futile.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #19

This question (from Coyne & Co.) sounds suspiciously like bait to me.

The challenge is: so many of you religious types have “science-proofed” your faith by making it about unfalsifiable claims. And the now-defensive “religious types” are supposed to pick up the other end of that rope to engage in the tug-o-war match by indignantly insisting “no we’re not! Here … check out a, b, and c…”

But I’m not persuaded that is a productive game to play. So I stand accused of “science-proofing” my faith … okay. Maybe so. So what? Let’s even let the antagonists here have their spin on it that I’ve done this because I’m afraid of the big bad science bogeyman who’s been beating up on cowering religion-man. [I don’t buy into that at all - but am simply pointing out that this just doesn’t fly even if we charitably help it along.] Even then … the science-enthused anti-religionist still has failed to purchase for themselves [except by fiat in the gullible and cowering believer’s mind] any evidence whatsoever that the science playbook (where empirical falsifiability is a major officiating referee) is the one important game in town. I believe lots of things that are not (and I’m confident never will be) falsifiable by any science: that humans have intrinsic worth and dignity, that there is such a thing as sin and good and evil, that the crucifixion and resurrection of a man two thousand years ago is a [the] spiritually significant epicenter for us. [note in that last one - I’m not even speaking of the resurrection itself which in principle should be scientifically accessible - I’m speaking of the imputed and taught significance of that event which remains scientifically inaccessible whatever you believe about the resurrection itself.] So I have these and probably many other non-falsifiable beliefs that apparently I’m supposed to feel defensive about. Here’s the problem: I don’t.

There is a better way to look at this. “Science-proofing” one’s faith doesn’t need to mean we’re afraid of what science will do - thinking we need to retreat to the farthest corners where we can cower, hoping science won’t be able to reach us there. No - my faith is (I hope - and will endeavor to keep it this way): "proofed by science and other even more important things too - such as the Spirit. I.e. It should be science proofed in that I will take into account what I see happening in God’s creation, and my extended “eyes” in this regard are mightily helped by scientific kinds of philosophies (such as falsifiability). It is precisely because I don’t want my faith to be “reality-proof” that I will regard and evaluate all the inputs I have at my disposal to the best of my abilities, thus making my faith “reality-proofed” in the best possible way. I unashamedly use science - all of it - as a part of that (but not the only part).

We are to “walk by faith, not by sight”. Yes. But never once do we hear from Jesus as he addresses a blind supplicant: “Oh - just don’t worry about it … you won’t need your sight anyway, because once you believe in me, you’ll be walking by faith.” No. He heals them. Because we walk by such daylight as we have - with our eyes open. So when a later writer instructs us to “walk by faith” we are now forced to look a little harder into the depth of that teaching. As we should.

(Dominik Kowalski) #20

I´m rather surprised. Care to elaborate what your problem with the bouncing universe would be?