Science is now pointing towards
the existence of God


By Keith Ward
It is remarkable how atheism is becoming fashionable. In Britain it has become almost compulsory to say that you do not believe in God. Very often the writings of well-known scientists such as Richard Dawkins are quoted in support of the opinion that science and belief in God are at odds. But there is much contemporary work in science that points in a very different direction. It could even be said that there is now a large amount of evidence for the existence of a spiritual dimension to the world. This is particularly so in quantum physics, which has turned the world of classical Newtonian physics upside down. In the classical view, the world was made up of elementary lumps of matter (like billiard balls) which moved in accordance with absolute and unbreakable laws of nature, running along predetermined grooves in ways that could be predicted with certainty and excluded the possibility of any non-physical "interferences" with the system. Even today, some writers talk about non-physical causes as "spooky" and too weird to be true.

Quantum physics had made that view of the physical world obsolete. Classical physics is not completely wrong, but it is totally inadequate. New quantum theories make belief in God entirely reasonable, and some quantum physicists even think that something like God is required to make sense of fundamental physics. There are three main strands of the "new" theories. First is Heisenberg's principle of indeterminacy, which says that matter does not run along predetermined grooves. At a basic level, nature is "open" - there are many alternative possible ways the world can go, and often nothing physical determines which one is taken. That allows the possibility of non-physical influences. Second, fundamental particles are "entangled" - there are non-local relationships between particles, so that they seem to influence one another instantaneously even over large distances. Again, this suggests non-physical influences. Some mathematical physicists say the notion of "matter" is a myth, as matter is just one form of energy, which does not consist of particles.

Third, Stephen Hawking, among others, argues that matter cannot exist without being observed, that observation collapses wave-functions into material particles. This suggests to many that even events like the Big Bang could not exist without being observed - and who could observe them but God? Hawking does not say this, preferring a complicated theory that every mathematically possible universe actually exists. But at least God is possible. And the idea of God is no more weird than the idea that every possible universe exists, but that observation picks out one as "our" universe.

Since this is so, it can be seen to be a travesty to say that materialism or atheism are reasonable, whereas religion is just blind faith. Reasons can be given for materialism and for theism, and evidence can be produced for both. The evidence consists in assembling preferred features of experience and connecting them by the use of key integrating concepts (like "matter and its basic laws", on the one hand, or "God and objective values" on the other) which are found plausible. But the choice of preferred features and their integration into a conceptual scheme cannot be decided by some allegedly neutral "reason".

Reason, in other words, is not a magic faculty which decides between basic contested claims about the nature of reality. The job of reason is to see that the evidence on all sides is fairly and accurately, critically and sympathetically, presented. So to present the evidence for God is to assemble those features of experience which point to a transcendent source of value and of intelligible order in the universe, and to integrate them into a framework which is theoretically elegant and pragmatically fruitful in practical and moral ways. That evidence will not, in the nature of the case, be universally compelling - just as the evidence for a scientifically based materialism will not. But quantum physics makes the case for a non-material mind-like basis of the physical universe pretty strong.

Science and God may be more friendly than you think.

Keith Ward is Regius Professor of Divinity Emeritus at the University of Oxford
and Professorial Research Fellow at Heythrop College, London

The Times, 10th January 2015

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