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Science and God
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 2000 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.
Science and God.
Although most people might consider the two nouns ("science,"
"god") to be the key words in that phrase, for me the most
important one is that little conjunction in the middle.
That's because the alternative wording would be "Science
or God" which seems to be the choice many want to offer
these days. Take Stephen Jay Gould, for instance: he calls
science and religion "nonoverlapping magisteria," insisting that
some things are properly matters of science and others are only
appropriately considered as questions of faith.
Now, I'd never put All in the Family's Archie Bunker on
the same intellectual plane as Gould, but old Archie did say
precisely one thing I agree with, during all his other rants:
"You want to know what faith is? Faith is when you believe
something nobody in their right mind would believe that's what
So Gould's dichotomy, filtered by Bunker's definition, leaves us
with what I find to be an untenable position: some questions are
best answered by science, and other questions can only be
addressed if you're willing to consider the irrational.
I flat-out reject that. I'm convinced that science is the
only legitimate way of knowing. Not received wisdom from
putative holy texts. Not mystical insight. Science.
Why? Because only science allows for the falsification of a
premise. Since my twelfth novel,
Calculating God, came out, I've
been besieged by radical religious fundamentalists. For them,
all data supports their a priori conclusion that
God does exist.
For instance, one creationist wrote to tell me I should believe
in God because "of the awesome complexity in the universe,
proclaiming God's handiwork."
I countered that in fact the human eye is incompetent
handiwork. Not only is it prone to myopia, but it has a blind
spot because of the way the optic nerve passes through the retina
and we know it didn't have to be this way, since octopi
and squids, whose eyes evolved independently of our own,
don't have blind spots.
My correspondent's response? "God made it that way to remind
fallen mankind that we don't `see it all' or `know it all'!"
Nonsense. If both perfection and imperfection are taken
as proof of God's existence, then the whole idea of proof simply
Why should the existence of God be exempted from normal standards
of proof? It seems quite reasonable to ask whether we live in an
intelligently designed universe. And we should be able to answer
this not by looking at Biblical or Koranic accounts, and not by
praying for insight, but rather by simply looking at the facts.
And, surprisingly, the facts do seem to point to some very
careful tweaking of the fundamental parameters of the universe.
For instance, if the force of gravity were only a little bit
stronger than it actually is, the universe would have collapsed
shortly after the big bang, long before life could have evolved.
But if gravity were just a tad weaker, hydrogen clouds never
would have coalesced to form stars.
Further, if the strong-nuclear force (which allows protons to
cluster together despite their positive charges repelling each
other) were only slightly weaker, no multi-proton atoms could
exist; in other words, everything would be hydrogen. On the
other hand, if it were only slightly stronger, all of the
universe's initial supply of hydrogen would have rapidly
converted into helium, meaning there would be no hydrogen at all
and without hydrogen, stars could not shine.
And what about water? It's so common, most of us aren't
conscious of just how remarkable a substance it is. If you take
almost any other liquid and freeze it, it becomes more dense: a
gold brick will sink to the bottom of a vat of liquid gold. But
if you freeze water, it expands, which is why ice floats
on the surface of lakes. If water didn't have this unique
property, lakes and oceans would freeze from the bottom up,
obliterating delicate sea-floor ecologies. Indeed, once they'd
started freezing, bodies of water would freeze solid and likely
remain so forever.
Nor does water's unique nature end with its thermal properties.
Of all substances, only liquid selenium has a higher surface
tension. And it is water's high surface tension that draws it
deeply into cracks in rocks, and, as I said, water does the
incredible and actually expands as it freezes, breaking those
rocks apart. If water had lower surface tension, the process by
which soil is formed would not occur.
There are numerous other examples. Cosmologist Paul Davies has
concluded that the odds of our universe, with its specific,
ultimately life-generating properties, arising by chance are one
in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Those
kinds of odds virtually demand the conclusion that someone did
indeed tweak the parameters, carefully fine-tuning the universe's
Unless, that is, there's more than one universe. If there are,
in fact, trillions of universes either currently existing
alongside our own, or having previously existed prior to ours
being formed and if those universes have varying combinations
of physical parameters, then there's nothing at all remarkable
about a universe like this one existing. In all of that variety,
this particular combination of parameters was bound to crop up
just by random chance.
Right now, we don't know whether there are, or have been, other
universes. But I didn't want to wait to find out; that's why I wrote
Calculating God. In this novel, we
get the answer today because aliens, about a century more
advanced than we are, show up on Earth with definitive scientific
evidence that no parallel universes currently exist, and that
only eight previous universes existed prior to the big bang that
created ours. The intervention of an intelligent designer is, to
them, an established scientific fact. The novel explores the
impact that knowledge has on humanity.
Now, I don't know if aliens will show up with such proof or,
indeed, whether they will arrive with the opposite finding,
namely that there are countless other universes, and therefore no
need to invoke God in discussing ultimate origins. But even
without aliens arriving, we'll have the answer soon: doubtless,
by the middle of the twenty-first century, work in cosmology and
quantum theory will determine whether or not our universe is the
And then we'll know whether or not God ever existed.
Thanks, quite appropriately, to that most powerful tool of all.
Thanks to science.
More Good Reading
More about Calculating God
On Writing Calculating God
The inspiration for Calculating God
On Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion
About Julia Sweeney's Letting Go of God
On The Gospel According to Science Fiction