Science is concerned with the material universe and its ‘law-like’ behaviour. Catholic Christians believe that God created the universe and continues to hold it in being, i.e. without God's existence the universe cannot exist, so we should expect an interweaving harmony between science and doctrine, just as there is between reason and faith. This has always been the emphasis of the Church: she does not insist on belief regardless of whether it seems to make sense or fit in with other forms of knowledge. Moreover the Catholic tradition has always affirmed the importance of learning from physical observation.
Discussion of the existence of God is a philosophical question, so one has to be careful in one's arguments. God is not material, He is pure Spirit. Therefore, there can be no physical 'experiment' to prove or disprove God's existence. However, the 'laws' of physics, the interrelatedness of being within matter that lies at the heart of all natural science, beg the question: Why is the universe ordered as a unity (rather than being random)? Why are the structured patterns of matter so constructive over space and time? Matter does not control or direct itself, yet science describes a sort of organic unity within the universe in which atoms become molecules, molecules link to form chemicals that form proteins, these link to form DNA, simple life forms evolve into more complex life forms, etc. There is a general evolution of matter in complexity and organic unity up to human beings. As we are increasingly aware, material beings are interrelated in a sort of hierarchy of dependence within a single 'ecosystem'.
The place of humans in creation is unique; in fact, the universe has precisely the correct physical and biochemical constants and dynamics such that human beings could evolve. This is further evidence of Mind (and of the relationship of humanity to God and his eternal Son, Jesus Christ - but that's another question). Scientific theory concerns itself with explaining the 'causes' of things; it builds upon the fact that we are aware of these things as part of our environment. They are 'contingent', i.e. they are not necessary of themselves (unlike God). If I turn on the light and it goes on, this is not necessary, it might not come on, but it is not random, there is causation: if the light does not come on, we assert that there must be some explanation: the bulb has 'blown', a circuit-breaker or RCD has 'tripped', a wire is loose or there is a power cut. We do not accept the failure of the light as just part of a capricious, random universe. We are always discovering anew a universal set of meaningful patterns, or 'laws', that allow us to discern such explanations. Science, like all intelligent observation, is gradually unveiling and homing in upon these laws.
Not only do the physical things in the universe ‘obey’ the laws of science, the universe itself obeys them! Therefore, the universe is contingent being, i.e. it depends on some other cause(s) for its existence - but on what? Some atheist scientists/philosophers object here that the universe really IS its own explanation, that it really is self-causing, yet there is no scientific evidence for this! The physical laws themselves as grasped by us, e.g. Newton's laws of motion, are not material things, but philosophical ideas.Yet we consider them scientific and pretty accurate, even after Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
Why there should be such meaningful and constructive patterns at all rather than randomness is a 'metaphysical' question, i.e. going beyond physical laws. A metaphysical principle that would explain the existence of scientific law throughout the universe is that MIND controls and directs matter; matter cannot control and direct itself 'upward'. This flows by analogy with our spiritual minds which discover such meaningful control and constructive direction. Indeed,in the image of the divine Creator, we add to the natural hierarchy of unities through our intelligent engagement with our environment – not least by our creation of artefacts. This then is the start of a possible synthesis of scientific thought and Christian doctrine. There is a 'Unity-Law' within matter which is a result of God's creative action.
Our positing of "laws of nature" comes from our developing analysis of the material behaviour of the universe as ordered and unified.But such lawfulness cannot explain its own existence. For that we need a cause of the universe that forms it all from top to bottom, from beginning to end – that is “ex nihilo”. This Mind is NOT contingent being – but one that is necessary: this we call GOD, a Centre of Knowing and Loving beyond the material universe, one that was there before the universe existed and is present to keep it in existence; one that will continue to exist after the universe has ceased to exist, pure Spirit, necessary Being, uncaused First Cause, the Creator.
In this perspective, the existence of God, far from being disproved by science is something pointed to clearly by the Unity-Law of material being and the universal, ordered inter-dependence within creation. For a fuller explanation see Can we be sure God exists?
May/ June 2019
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