A Dangerous Quest for Cooperation between Science and Religion
Published on February 07, 2009
Science and religion, no doubt are two great manifestations of human culture. To what degree are they complementary and to what degree are they in opposition? Recently, Mohammad Gani from Cambridge, Massachusetts has written series of articles claiming that religion and science are cooperating to explore the nature of reality. This article is written as a reply to Mr. Gani’s last article published in Mukto-Mona on Jun 3, 2008.
I should start thanking Mr. Gani for his response to my previous response of the same thread to continue our ongoing dialogue on science and religion. I have read his ‘last response’ carefully. I thought his initial article was targeted to show us the reality – interrelationship between science and religion – without being emotional. Hence, he named his article ‘Science and Religion: Reality vs. Emotion!’ But after reading his last response, I could not decipher much other than his emotional verbiages. He cut some amusing jokes with a punch line (chair table, student, teacher or bear God etc.) which might have some literary value; but I am afraid to say that none of these jokes posses any scientific merit at all. On a lighter part, a joke can be taken for laughter or amusement but it does not provide any conclusion on the debate on such serious matter.
Now let’s go straight to the point. My initial attempt was to refute Mr. Gani’s claim who tried to mix science with supernatural. He cited a verse from Quran and found resemblance with Big bang. I have shown in my response that it was a flawed attempt. Any vague phrase or metaphor can be customized and made to fit any scientific principle when the scientific invention is made. By claiming these scientific principles were already contained in the ancient holy books are a way of ignoring the painstaking research that has helped us to formulate the reality of worldview. Any Ram, Shyam Jadu Madhu might have vaguely said “Everything is relative” before Einstein came into the picture; but to relate such comment of Jadu Madu with Einstein’s later invention and take away all the credit from the reputed scientist is not only mere extreme, but an attack and insult on reputed scientists’ ongoing painstaking research. I hope Mr. Gani would understand the severity while he would claim for “scientific miracles” in the particular ancient holy book(s). Secondly Mr. Gani tried to put forward “God in Gaps” argument as an evidence of God’s existence in our discussion. For instance, Mr. Gani could not see how the universe (or matter) came about naturally, so he thought it must have come about supernaturally. He could not see how the universe became orderly by natural processes, so he assumed that order must have come about by supernatural processes. He could not see how physical laws could originate naturally, so it must be God’s creation. He could not see how objective morality came from humanity, so it must have come from God. In each of these cases I have given plausible natural explanation(s) from science that violates no known principles of science and requires no divine actions. Mr. Gani could not succeed in proving these natural explanations wrong, and so could not succeed in proving that we need God or any sort of supernatural explanation for these.
Now the question is, why rely on natural explanation? It is because, Naturalism is a better explanation than supernaturalism, and it has been proven repeatedly in the past. In many cases, such as the mystery of rain fall or motion of earth etc which ancient people could not solve and invoked supernatural intervention for events unnecessarily, Natural explanations through water cycle or laws of Gravity etc provided simpler but sound explanations later which are based on objective observations, and are fully consistent with all we know about the world. In fact this is the basic principle of science – we should seek natural explanation for the phenomena, testing these phenomena by the rigorous methods of science. In fact, the scientific naturalism does not count the non-evidential postulation of occult metaphor or any sort of divine intervention – and to be frank, it tries to deal with materialistic, physical –chemical or non-reductive natural explanations.
This is why, origin of universe or origins of life - even though they are supposed to be hard problems, the scientists rely on scientific naturalism for obvious reasons. In fact we already have a sound theory of how universe can be originated thru vacuum fluctuation and how life has evolved through Darwinian evolution in earth. On the other hand, relying on supernatural or ‘God did it’ hypothesis does not add any extra value of knowledge in our ongoing journey. ‘God did it’ is just another way showing people the intrinsic ignorance. In our schooldays we all used to provide answer of the simple questions of physics in our exam – “Why the sky is blue?” or “How the snowflakes are formed?” etc. I would like to ask Mr Gani - what grade or mark a student will expect if he writes “God made the sky blue for us” or “snowflakes are formed by the grace of Almighty” in his answer sheet? Zero! The teacher will assume that the student does not know the answer and expressing his ignorance in verbiage. So, invoking God to explain a scientific phenomenon, no mater whether it is sky, snowflake or the universe, is nothing but adding just another form of ignorance.
There are other problems as well in invoking “God” term in a rational and scientific discussion. Before coming to the question whether God can be proven or disproven by science, it is important to know whether the term God can be defined in a consistent way i.e. that a clear definition without having any logical contradiction. The fact is it cant be as all definitions or all sort of attributes such as omnipotence, omniscience, all-loving, perfect etc. inevitably gets into circularity, mutual contradictions and all sorts of fallacies. For example, it has not been escaped from the logicians that omniscience and omnipotence are mutually incompatible. Keren Owens has captured this witty little paradox in the following composition:
Can Omniscient God, who
Knows the future, find
The omnipotence to
Change His future mind?
The point is, if God is Omniscient, he must already know how he’s going to intervene to change the course of history using his omnipotence. But that means he can’t change his mind about his intervention, which means he’s not omnipotent.
In fact, the attribute of ‘omnipotent’ can easily be nullified by raising the following question:
Can God create such a heavy stone that He himself cannot lift?
If the answer of the above question is YES, then it shows his impotency in lifting the stone, which means He’s NOT all-powerful or Omnipotent. Again, if the answer of the above question is No, that means he is not capable of creating such stone, which again showing his incapability.
Now - the famous ‘argument of evil’. In my previous response, I argued that humans cannot be held responsible for a massive flood, earthquake, plague or Tsunami. In fact, we can explain such calamities only by concluding that God is malevolent, because he knew of terrible destructive events to occur. It suggests that God is impotent to prevent evil. In fact, authoritative ‘Oxford companion to Philosophy’ admitted that the problem of evil as the most powerful objection to the traditional theism, which no one could counter comprehensively. To be precise, the existence of evil solely capable to nullify the claim of omnipotence, benevolence and other attributes that are popularly assigned to God. This has been shown by ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (341 BCE, Samos – 270 BCE, Athens) beautifully-
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
Our Mukto-Mona member Aparthib also once discussed about the logical inconsistencies between evil, free will and omniscience etc. in one of his Bangla Articles (“Swadhin Iccha, Mondo O Iswarer Ostittyo”) which can be accessed from the following link :
I have also covered some issues while I responded to another author:
The argument of evil also raises some other philosophical problems as well. In his Book Shotter Shondhane (The Quest for truth) our peasant philosopher Aroj Ali Matubbar asked whether anything happen without the permission of God? If yes, his omnipotence will be in question; again If no, then what is our fault when we commit sin?. This is what Matubbar exactly argued -
It is said that nothing happens without the permission of Allah. Not even the leaf of a tree can tremble without his consent. Indeed, if something can happen against His will or without His consent His omnipotence will be called in question. But if everything happens according to His will what is the fault or sin of the offender?
In the same book Matubbar also argued that God cannot be ‘just’ and ‘merciful’ at the same time without having logical inconsistency. He said,
“Other fields apart, it is impossible to bring justice and mercy together in the field of trial in a law-court. In order to show mercy to the offender, justice will have to be ignored and in order to uphold justice, mercy will have to be sacrificed. It is said that Allah is just and merciful. How is it possible? Is He just in one case and merciful in another?”
While the above discussion may seem to be juvenile for some, these issues have serious philosophical implication. Science deals with well-defined concepts about reality that is amenable to theoretical or observational study, whereas the concept and definition of ‘God’ suffers from logical absurdities. This can be a sole good argument for not to invoke God in any scientific discussion. For the serious readers, I will argue to go through the following article of Theodore M. Drange:
Incompatible-Properties Arguments (originally published in Philo 1998 (2), pp. 49-60)
I will also recommend physicist Prof Victor Stenger’s best selling book “God- the failed hypothesis” where he showed that “3O”s – the primary attributes of God staring with “O” (Omnibenevolence, Omnipotence and Omniscience) are logically inconsistent.
Mr Gani is wondering whether science has disproved God. Well, I would say, science does not need to do that. Science deals with well-defined concepts about reality, not in a business of proving or disproving Zeus, Kali, Unicorn, Medusa, Santa clause etc. In his book “Is there a God?” Bertrand Russell argued that if someone suggest that between earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving, and nobody would be able to disprove that assertion provided that teapot is too small to be revealed by our most powerful telescopes and other cosmic devices.
But the fact is the obligations of disproving of an orbiting tea pot or tooth fairy etc. are not felt by science. None of us feels an obligation to disprove any of the million far-fetched things that a fertile or facetious imagination can dream up. Who bears the “burden of proof” anyways? If Mr. Gani believes that the God exists, it is he who has to bring the scientific proof, cause, it is his duty to establish his concept or proposal, not my duty to disprove it first. The burden of proof is always resides on the person making an extraordinary assertion or proposition (for e.g existence of god, angel, devil, alien etc.). It is obviously a fallacy to push the burden of proof on the person who denies or questions such an assertion. On a lighter note, while Mr. Gani considers Zeus, Apallo, Kali, Durga, Amon Ra, Mithras, Thor or Flying-spaghetti-monster etc. are just myths, and not needed to be disproved by science, I just go one more deity (i.e. his God) further.
Mr. Gani in his article also argued that -
“Zero volume and infinite density mass (or energy, you mentioned) concept: Indeed zero volume is dimensionless (say "nothing" here) but infinite "density" is NOT dimensionless, thus physically did exist before the Big Bang. You are obviously correct that "mass/matter" came out from energy after Big Bang but the energy itself did not came out from nothing, just violating law of science only ONCE 13 billions years ago; energy has always been there all the way to the "end" or to the "no end" .”
To refute this, I will cite the examples from the latest development of modern physics. At least two solutions have been proposed. A solution proposed by Alexander Vilenkin of Tufts University has the universe tunneling out the chaos described above and thus "coming from nothing." In 1982 he showed in one of papers that this space which has a finite volume, can be decreased to the volume of zero. In other wards, Vilenkin showed the concept of absolute nothingness is at least mathematically defined (not matter how impossible to imagine for us) and can be used as a starting point for the theories of creation. The paper was titled, "Creation of Universe from Nothing" and was published in reputed journal, Physics letters 117B (1982) 25-28. The paper can be accessed from here:
There are other existing solutions (Hawking-Hartle proposal for instance) as well without invoking such absolute nothingness. This solution proposed by James Hartle and Stephen Hawking has no boundary conditions but describes a universe existing before the chaos those tunnels through that chaos to produce our universe. From our point of view that prior universe undergoes a contraction and deflation that is the opposite of our inflation and expansion. And also it is to be noted, many prominent physicists and cosmologists have published papers in reputable scientific journals proposing various scenarios by which the big bang appeared naturally out of a preexisting universe that itself need not have had a beginning. Once such recent scenario is called "The Cyclic Universe" (Steinhardt and Turok). If this scenario sustains by the future observation, it will eventually prove that universe may not have any beginning.
But let’s assume universe has a beginning. Mr. Gani argued that to begin, universe did not come from zero sate of energy. I will ask him to read the passage of Stephen Hawking's famous book "The Brief History of Time" (1988, p 129) again that I provided him in my previous response –
“There are something like ten million million million million million million million million million million million million million million (1 with eighty [five] zeroes after it) particles in the region of the universe that we can observe. Where did they all come from? The answer is that, in quantum theory, particles can be created out of energy in the form of particle/antiparticle pairs. But that just raises the question of where the energy came from. The answer is that the total energy of the universe is exactly zero. The matter in the universe is made out of positive energy. However, the matter is all attracting itself by gravity. Two pieces of matter that are close to each other have less energy than the same two pieces a long way apart, because you have to expend energy to separate them against the gravitational force that is pulling them together. Thus, in a sense, the gravitational field has negative energy. In the case of a universe that is approximately uniform in space, one can show that this negative gravitational energy exactly cancels the positive energy represented by the matter. So the total energy of the universe is zero”.
In F. I. Cooperstock’s “On the Total Energy of Open Friedmann-Robertson-Walker Universes” paper which was published in Astrophysical Journal 587 (2003), pp 483-86 it has been shown that the total energy of the universe can be defined for the most common type of cosmologies and the calculation is zero. Prof. Victor Stenger also mentioned in his book “God- the failed hypothesis” –
“The first law allows energy to convert from one type to another as long as the total for a closed system remains fixed. Remarkably, the sum of the rest kinetic energies of the bodies in the early universe seems to have been exactly cancelled by the negative potential energy that results from their mutual gravitational interactions. Within small measurement errors and quantum uncertainties, the mean energy density of the universe is exactly what it should be for a universe that appeared from an initial state of zero energy.”
If Mr. Gani thinks the universe cannot be appeared from zero sate of energy he is welcome to publish his claim in those reputed journals refuting Stephen Hawking, Vilenkin, Alan Guth, Victor Stenger and others. I haven’t seen this so far.
But again, Mr. Gani would not accept these findings from famous physicists, because God and religion probably provides some ‘emotional value’ for him. I have, however no problem with it. But I only argue not to mix his emotions with science. Science is based on plausible explanation commencing scientific naturalism or foremost on scientific evidence, not authority or revelation. In science, nothing is taken on faith, whereas in religion faith is at the heart of belief. In science, all knowledge is tentative, continually subject to revision, when better explanation based on evidence are acquired; religion asserts the presence of unchanging and unchallengeable eternal truths. Science proposes explanations about the natural world and then puts those hypothesis for repeated testing using experiments, observations and a creative and diverse array of other methods and strategies. Many religions, on the other hand discourage skepticism or critical examination of cherished precepts. This commitment to test the idea and claims separates science from religion as a whole.
Lastly, I must congratulate and thank Mr. Gani for giving me opportunity for having fruitful discussion on the topic.
Dr. Avijit Roy, a computer professional and the Founding Moderator of Mukto-Mona writes from USA. He is the author of “Alo Hate Choliyache Adharer Jatri”, “Mohabisshe Pran O Buddhimottar Khoje” and the editor of most recent book “Swatantra Bhabna”. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org