Thursday, 19 July 2012
The God of Explanations
Not to be confused either with the God of Small Things or the God of Rain, the God of Explanations1 is fast running out of business. At the dawn of civilization he was busy with lifting the sun across the sky, with making fire, with curing the possessed; by the middle of the 20th century he only had to flip the switch of creation and now we can even notionalize a self–creating Universe and affirm that the God of Explanations is “not necessary,” “surplus to requirement.” And I totally agree! [but apologize for the sarcasm :)]
Leaving to one side the awkward question of where the laws that govern such a self-creating existence come from and that a "[complete unified] theory [that explains our universe] itself would determine the outcome of our search for it!" (Stephen Hawking, A Brief History Of Time "), I would like to argue that applying criteria of “necessity” and “explanatory goodness” to God is a category mistake. It is akin to a child saying that their mother is not necessary for explaining breast milk - true, but not very much to the point ...
An atheist has no need for God in their world view - a huge amount of what is going on can be explained by science and some cannot, but is firmly believed to be scientifically explainable. This is a self-consistent view, which rightly looks at God as an unnecessary bolt-on. Someone like me, who believes in the existence of a loving, personal God, can take the same science though and can also split phenomena into explainable and as yet unexplained and, just like my atheist friends, hope for a future increase of the former and decrease of the latter. Neither do I have to equate the unexplained with God's actions and view the former as having been wrestled off God by science (à la the “God of gaps” argument). On the contrary! I see science as telling me how it is that God's creation works and I marvel at the beauty of the Standard Model, evolution, neuroscience and cognitive psychology, to mention a few. I also derive pleasure from looking at the history of science, with its drive towards greater understanding peppered with herculean paradigm shifts and all the good that its advances have have done and “to [which] humanity owes so much of its current development” (Fides et Ratio, 106).
Instead of coming to a conclusion that science and belief in God end up being irreconcilable (like Christof Koch does in his interesting “confessions ”), I would like to say that a greater understanding of science and a science that has greater and greater predictive and explanatory powers leads to a fuller and greatly enriched understanding of God.
Finally, it is worth realizing that this view is nothing new, as already St. Paul says that “[e]ver since the creation of the world, [God's] invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.” (Romans 1:20) and in the 1960s the Second Vatican Council affirmed that “if methodical investigation within every branch of learning is carried out in a genuinely scientific manner and in accord with moral norms, it never truly conflicts with faith, for earthly matters and the concerns of faith derive from the same God” (Gaudium et Spes, 36).
1 I would like to thank my bestie, Margaret, for coining this phrase and for reminding me that “all holy people reject that kind of a God.” :)