Last week, Eric Metaxas wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal entitled “Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God.” In it, he argues that the parameters for human life are so precise that they are indicators of God’s existence. As he phrases it,
Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart…The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.
Yet here we are, not only existing, but talking about existing. What can account for it? Can every one of those many parameters have been perfect by accident? At what point is it fair to admit that science suggests that we cannot be the result of random forces? Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?
A fine-tuned universe is a compelling argument for God. It’s also deeply problematic.
Why? Two reasons.
1. Science is always changing.
Science is in constant flux. New discoveries are made. New insights arise. New paradigms overturn previous ways of thinking. So if we base our religious outlook on scientific findings, what will happen to our theology when the science changes?
Think about what happened to religion when the Copernican revolution occurred, or when Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published. They upset the apple cart, and forced religion to change. Most people either denied these findings and held onto their deeply-held beliefs, or used these findings to reject religion entirely.
So what would happen if, say, we discover that the parameters for life are not quite as amazing as they seemed? Or if we discovered that humanity was not unique in the universe? If you were using science to support your religious outlook, unless you have a very sophisticated theology, you’d be in deep trouble, and would need to do quite a bit of mental gymnastics.
That’s why scientists and Christians Francis Collins and Karl Giberson warn about using fine-tuning as an argument for God. As they say,
…[T]he fine-tuning argument must not be too quickly fashioned into an argument for the existence of God. Like all apologetic arguments, it can be undermined by new discoveries and weakened by broad theological conversations. In the latter category we note that the fine-tuning of the universe is just as necessary to produce cockroaches as humans. Here we would add insights from theology that humans are made in the image of God and are a far more reasonable goal of cosmic fine-tuning than are cockroaches. But this goes beyond the science. (The Language of Science and Faith, 195)
Yes, it truly is amazing that all of the needed requirements for life on earth are so precise. But science is a search for an accurate understanding of our world, which means that it can change. And if we’re basing our view of God on the latest scientific research, we’re going to have a very fragile theology.
2. Science and religion are two different ways of thinking. Don’t conflate them.
Using science to prove God’s existence confuses two very different ways of thinking. Science progresses as new hypotheses get tested, questioned, refuted, expanded upon, discarded, and revised.
Religion, on the other hand, is a way to make sense of the world. It is an appreciation of awe and mystery, justice and compassion.
In other words, science is a search for truth, while religion is a search for meaning.
As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks puts it,
The discovery of God is the discovery of meaning. And that is no small thing, for we are meaning-seeking animals. It is what makes us unique. To be human is to ask the question, “Why?”…
There is absolutely nothing in science — not in cosmology or evolutionary biology or neuroscience — to suggest that the universe is bereft of meaning, nor could there be, since the search for meaning has nothing to do with science and everything to do with religion. (The Great Partnership: Science, Religion and the Search for Meaning, 25, 27)
In other words, religion doesn’t need science to prove God’s existence, because the question of God is not a scientific one.
Science is the best method we have for understanding how we got here. But religion isn’t science. It is not (or at least should not) be about provable or disprovable claims, because that’s not its purpose. Instead, it should be designed to help us improve ourselves and our world, here and now.
For me, as I look out at the universe, I am in awe of the fact that we are living here on this earth. But that awe wouldn’t change for me if the parameters for life are actually one in a hundred rather than one in a septillion.
Instead, I am guided by the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: “Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.”
I know that no matter what new scientific findings arise, I will never be able to prove it. Science won’t help make that case for me. But that’s OK. Because the most important thing is that I try to live it.