Monday, January 16, 2017

Proof, Evidence, Science, and Christianity

In my previous post I said that the Big Bang was evidence for the existence of God, though not proof.  This raises the question of whether or not there is proof for God, or for that matter, whether or not there is proof for anything, even within the scientific realm.   

If by proof, we mean absolute certainty of truth without any doubt or possibility of exception, then proof is not possible within a scientific framework.  Proofs are only possible in logic and in mathematics where there are well defined rules within the discipline.  In those two fields, once a proposition has been proven, that proof is complete and will remain valid.  In contrast, scientific knowledge is the best explanation for the results of current experimental observations among all the available options.  As additional evidence and observations are made, the facts may require modifications and adjustments to the theory.  If an experiment is done that contradicts the current scientific paradigm, then that theory is not wholly true and must be refined or discarded.  Therefore, scientific ideas can be disproved, but never absolutely proven.  

Take for example, the scientific principle that energy is always conserved.  Energy can be transformed from one form to another but it can not be created or destroyed.  As far as we know, there has never been a violation of this principle of the Conservation of Energy.  Does that mean the principle is completely proven?  Not really.  We would only have to observe one exception to this "law" of energy conservation and we would disprove it.  Since we have not tested the law in every possible circumstance, we can not say it is definitively proven, though all data points to it being a universal principle

When determining the veracity of an idea it is unreasonable to ask if it has been proven beyond any doubt.  Instead, questions should be posed like, "What is the objective evidence for the claim? What is the contradictory evidence?  What are other possible ideas that might fit the evidence better?  Is the evidence conclusive enough to validate the idea?"  I ask these kinds of questions all the time in my work as a scientist.  Just today I attended a meeting where we were discussing a new paper being written which will make a measurement of a certain property of the top quark.  These types of questions dominated the discussion as we tried to determine what conclusive statements we could make based on the data collected.

If we can not have certain proof in the scientific realm, then we should not expect absolute proof in the religious realm.  But what about turning the question around?  If we expect objective evidence for our beliefs in the scientific realm should we also expect objective evidence in the religious realm?  The Christian answer to that is, "Absolutely we should."  The Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians to "Test everything and hold fast to what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  When Thomas wanted evidence that Jesus arose from the dead, Jesus showed him the scars on his hands and on his side and said, "Stop doubting and believe" (John 20:27).

As a scientist one of the things that attracts me to Christianity is this appeal to, and encouragement of an objective basis for belief.  An investigation of the evidence for the truth of Christianity leads to an abundance of confirmation from many different fields.  The Big Bang, a seemingly transcendent origin of the universe, is simply one of those data points that gives objective evidence for God.  From scientific investigation we also find evidence for a designer and creator who cares about humanity in the fine-tuning of the parameters in the universe, the cosmological anthropic principle, and the rare earth hypothesis.  From archeology we find a general confirmation of the historical accuracy of the Bible.  The Christian worldview answers questions about the innate moral law held by humans and the universal human desire for purpose and destiny.  Biblical principles give insight into social behavior and societal problems.   Finally, I believe that the events of the early first century church are best explained by Jesus actually rising from the dead.  

In order for me to accept an idea as valid, whether in my scientific investigation or in my understanding of a spiritual reality, I must have sufficient data that points to a compelling conclusion. All in all, I find that the Christian worldview is the one that best fits the overall objective evidence I observe in the world around me.  

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