Theology in Retreat?

By | May 28, 2011

Surely we often hear the reminder that science does not disprove God. For example, a correspondent recently wrote:

“Hawking, in his book, The Grand Design, makes it clear that his book does not show there is no God nor Heaven and Hell, it only shows such hypotheses are unnecessary.”

The implication here is that a science like scientific cosmology cannot prove that there is no God or heaven; all it can do is show that such ideas are not required in the process of developing a scientific explanation, theory or model of reality.

Whenever I hear this point raised by some theologian, or a theistic philosopher, or any apologist for the theistic line I’m reminded of an episode from “The Simpsons” in which young Bart is confronted with some mischief that points to him as the perpetrator. He makes the following exclamations of diminishing innocence:

I didn’t do it! —- a categorical denial that he is the culprit

Nobody saw me! —- a retreat to claiming that nobody witnessed his action

You can’t prove anything! —- a greater retreat to claiming that there’s no proof that he did it.

In an analogous way, there is a process of diminishing theological ‘truth.’ We can imagine the apologist for theism exclaiming at different periods of theological history:

God is real! —- a Biblical, revealed Truth that all decent people know. (Biblical certainty)

Human experience demands that God exists! —- otherwise human experience does not make sense.

God has been proven to exist! ——– We have proofs, i.e., Theologians and Philosophers have proven it. (Certainty of Philosophy) “There are proofs somewhere.”

God required to explain origins! ——- the origin of universe and the remarkable design of life forms can only be explained by invoking a creator God. The “God” of natural theology.

Nobody (scientist or anyone) can prove that God does not exist! —– God as possibility. Since there isn’t any proof of impossibility, he must be possible. (This is a fall-back position that rests on mere metaphysical possibility.)

Maybe the theist and Bart Simpson are not up to the same trick, but their diminishing claims surely seems look much the same. In Bart’s case he retreats from “I did not do it” to “You cannot prove anything!” In the theist’s case, the retreat is from “He exists” to “You cannot prove He doesn’t.”

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