[The following is an excerpt of a fascinating interview with the Rev. Janice Guthrie, who presided over worship at Knox in August. The interview will be broken into four parts. The following is the first of the four.]
Do you think science can prove the existence of God?
This is an important question because it’s the basis of a lot of disputes between scientists and people of faith. It sounds like I’m dividing people into two camps, but I’m not. In fact there are many scientists who are also people of faith, and some of them have written quite eloquently on the whole question of the relationship between science and theology.There was a time in human history when theology was called the Queen of the Sciences. That’s partly because the meaning of the word “science” has shifted over time.
My simple answer is, “no”. Science can’t prove the existence of God and partly that’s because scientists ask for a particular kind of evidence and at its root, the notion of God doesn’t meet those requirements. However, with the growth of theoretical physics, which also has some areas for which it’s hard to find experimental evidence, I think we’re moving closer to being able to say, “There are some things that can’t be proven scientifically.”
I’m reading right now a book by Kenneth Ward, who’s now a retired professor of philosophy and was for a time the Regis professor of theology at Oxford University. He is writing as a critique of and a response to Richard Dawkins, who is very well known for his position that there is no God. Ward’s argument is that Dawkins holds to a strictly materialist viewpoint. All there is is what we can see and touch, and that’s a very limited philosophical position. I’m not that good at philosophical arguments but Ward argues that there are other philosophical positions that do allow for the existence of God. Where the tie comes in is if we acknowledge that person or consciousness exists apart from the material, that is to say the brain is necessary for the existence of the mind, but a mind is not identical to the brain. Someone like Dawkins would have to say that consciousness is just a by-product of the physical brain. Within Dawkins’s framework, there is not a God, but once you allow for consciousness, then you can talk about God as the consciousness that holds all other consciousness.
How do you know God exists? How does one come to know God exists?
It depends what you mean by how you know something. In the Hebrew Bible, there’s just one word for “know” and it means all kinds of things. It means “know” in the way that it’s something we reason out logically in the frontal cortex of our brains. It’s something that is supported by empirical evidence, but for the Bible it can also mean any kind of experience. When you’re having some kind of experience, that’s what you know. It can also be used for sexual intercourse – Adam knew Eve and they had children. All of that is encompassed by the Hebrew word for “know”. Can you know God apart from scientific evidence? That’s your definition of “know”.