Wednesday, April 12, 2017



“Can Scientists or Informed, Intelligent People Believe in God?”

[That was a title of a colloquium organized by Dr. Richard Malott for the Psychology Department in its 1993 version for his Behavior Analysis Classes at Western Michigan University.  In 1992, the title was “Can Scientists and Other Smart Guys Believe in God?”  It was an annual event for a few years with two Psychology Faculty presenting a more skeptical view and a Religion Professor and a Biologist (me) presenting different perspectives.  The main text of a handout I provided was as follows.]

Rather than be defensive about it, I note that from my perspective it is more reasonable to pose the question – “Can Scientists or Informed, Intelligent People Not Believe in God?”

I take the affirmative and state that I believe in God.  If that is accepted at face value, then proof that I am a scientist or intelligent goes a long way toward supporting the affirmative position.

Intellectuals and/or scientists before me have believed in God.  Aristotle is credited with being the founder of numerous sciences and is an authority in natural theology providing a number of proofs of the existence of God.  Let’s consider some of Aristotle’s proofs.

Proof from causality is that we note from inductive reasoning that everything has a cause, but it stretches the imagination or credulity to think that there could be an infinite number of causes leading to the present event, therefore there must be a First Cause, uncaused, otherwise known as God.

A variant of the proof from causality is the proof from motion.  If there were an infinite series of motions leading to present observed motion the movement would not yet have occurred.  Therefore, there must have been a first mover or Prime Mover, another name for God.

The order in the universe begs a source of that order; we do not have true chaos but order and direction due to its creator, God.

Some observers look at diverse human populations and cultures and see that these all exhibit similar moral themes and behavior that leads them to believe in a source, God.

Are Aristotle’s 2300 year old proofs still valid?  I think so.  Does the new knowledge science gives us have anything to contribute?  Time has not diminished Aristotle’s arguments because they are based on reason and abstractions from the real world that have not changed.  But I think there are some modern proofs for the existence of God that science has made possible.  Most modern proofs have their roots in the ancient proofs from causality, but consider the following.

The Big Bang theory of origin of the universe, if correct, implies a start that seems to require a creator.

The second law of thermodynamics means there must have been a starting point or an infinity of time would have us now at an ultimate state of entropy.

Forces acting across vacuums as do gravity and various electro-magnetic forces defy reason for existence in an uncaused system.  This caused me to hypothesize a new mechanism for gravity: an infinity of cosmic particles (perhaps photons) randomly streaking or bouncing around the universe and forcing things apart but forcing them together as does gravity when proximity to another body shades the adjacent sides.

My own consciousness and understanding of biology leads be to a belief in God.  How I function mentally is reducible to a physical mechanism that could be simulated by a computer.  But I have a self-awareness that transcends the physical process.  The human activity could be simulated by a computer; but would it be aware of its activity, I think not even though it could be programmed to tell you otherwise.

I don’t see that any of the “proofs” compel belief in God because I see other intelligent people that understand the arguments but do not believe.  I also believe that belief in God is a gift from God, but a gift that will be given to one seeking that belief.  Part of my belief structure includes a belief in an eternal life that can be much more joyous than the present life and may be dependent upon belief in that life.  I think that is why God does not intrude his presence upon us in a way that would compel our belief and deprive us of our free will.  As a corollary of this I believe he lets natural laws operate most of the time and the temporary misery and suffering that results is minor in the overall scheme of things.

My personal belief has been strengthened by experiencing or knowing of numerous instances of what I think are divine intervention, both personal and public miracles.  Reasonable alternate explanations could be given for many of these, but I think not for all.

As a scientist, my belief in God and thus causality strengthens my performance as a scientist.  It gives me confidence that there are reasons for all things and causes that can be found.  When you are convinced there are answers it I easier to continue the search.

I remember returning to Wood Hall [then home to Biology, Psychology, and some other departments at WMU] after an intense religious renewal weekend [in 1964] and entering it with a sense of awe or reverence for Wood Hall and other buildings and thinking that they somewhat represented temples where both believers and non-believers join in a goal of discovering and teaching about the various aspects or truths of God’s Creation.

A scientist cannot as a scientist deny the existence of God without a suspicion that his/her sample size is too small for such a negative conclusion.  A scientist can possibly be agnostic as a scientist by not having motivation to either examine possible reasons to believe or seek belief.  Scientists can really be happy scientists when they believe in God and know that the truth of whatever their research reveals will not hurt God but only bring them closer to understanding the Creator through God’s Creation.

Just as bad science does not invalidate good science, abuses in the name of God do not invalidate God.

All major theistic groups believe in some form of the “Golden Rule”, i.e., treat others as you would like them to treat you.

That has not prevented some adherents from becoming extremists that think their beliefs justify atrocities to support their objectives that show little resemblance to the “Golden Rule”.  Although I think one should respect the teaching authority of their religion, I also think an individual should not abandon their own conscience in evaluating the pronouncements of religious leaders.  Divine inspiration claimed by others should not be accepted at face value without serious tests of its truth.

The above was not presented in my biology classes because it did not seem to be appropriate content.  The context of both views being represented in an event outside of a classroom did seem to make it appropriate.

Joseph Engemann, Emeritus Professor of Biology, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan.    April 13, 2017

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