There are always possibilities…

Believe it or not there are some scientists who believe in the possibility that science will one day prove (or at least strongly suggest) the existence of a god. Probably not the one that all the world’s religions have been talking about, but a god nonetheless. This group of scientists call their belief system creatively enough, “possibilianism” a term coined by Jürgen Schmidhuber, an AI researcher who blogs from time to time on Ray Kurzweil’s singularity site.

Suffice it to say there are many who feel that this ignores a preponderance of scientific thought. Their argument basically goes, just because a thing is possible doesn’t mean it’s likely, especially if all experimentation to date seems to lead to the conclusion that the thing is not possible. Gary Marcus in his New Yorker piece, likens this to a belief in flying reindeer. Stating it is possible if there are sleighs we have not seen ignores the fact that all evidence points to the fact that reindeer do not fly.

Unless you are younger than 7. Then you can ignore what I just said.

Here’s the thing, I do think that an understanding of science, mathematics and the physical world can help to solidify a belief that this world was divinely made, but I also think it’s possible there are reasons why science is not the best tool to answer this question.

One possible reason is related to the Tower of Babel, the story of which you’ll find in Genesis 11: 1-8, and alluded to in a recent story on this blog. I’ve always found this story fascinating, both in blaming it for the fact that I had to learn different languages in high-school, but also the goal of the people building the tower in the first place. They wanted to build a tower that “reaches to the heavens” or put another way, to touch the face of God.

Now it’s pretty obvious that the technology of that period of human history probably couldn’t even have scratched the surface of moderate high-rises in Columbus, let alone the buildings in Dubai, or the fact that we’ve reached out into space. There was no actual possibility, even if heaven were a place that could be reached simply by building upward, that these humans would ever reach God in this fashion.

Why then does God react the way he does, taking their one common tongue and changing it so none of them can understand each other? Verse 6 refers to the fact that if they all speak one language, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.

I have a feeling God wasn’t just talking about these particular humans, but about us as well. And I don’t think it’s that he perceived us as a potential threat. It’s just that this is not how we are to get to know God. The basic goal of the people building the Tower of Babel was to bring prominence and prestige to themselves, not to have a real understanding of God.

If we were to prove God’s existence, or even to meet him in a living context (leaving aside for the moment that most belief systems say we’d be struck dumb with awe) there’d be a sense that we did something. Certainly the scientist who proves the existence of God will have untold wealth and fame. But is this really the basis for a belief, for a relationship with God, for salvation. I actually give the human race a lot of credit. If we spoke with one language, and one mind, I bet we could literally find God. But that might not actually do us any good if it did nothing to change our hearts.

Even simple things we cannot prove like love are valuable to our lives, in many ways precisely because they exist on faith, not only blind belief, but the desire to act out of love, to keep love alive, and the desire to experience it.

It’s certainly something for a scientist to say God is possible. It’s something more for us to believe it as individuals.


Filed under Faith + Life

3 responses to “There are always possibilities…

  1. As an agnostic – the only provable religion, I must say that there is much to be learned by the complete lack of evidence of God. One can never prove the non-existance of Him, but you can deduct by using reason that He either does not exist, or wishes no one to know of Him. Either way I doubt he cares whether-or-not you skipped Sunday school or worked on His holy day.

    • Couple of quick things:

      1) Agnosticism (at least as I understand it) is not really a religion. It is at best a philosophy that hasn’t answered the question of the existence of a God in any definitive way (much like the possibilianists).

      2) I think there’s a difference between God wanting to get to know us through prayer and through the experience of God, and us getting to know him by walking up to him and shaking his hand (or proving him scientifically). Just because we can’t prove him doesn’t mean he doesn’t want us to look, just maybe not in the ways we’re used to.

      3) I do agree that God probably isn’t legalistic, even if some Christians are. Actually the standard’s pretty simple, don’t sin. Since you can’t ever do that, Jesus died for your sins and saved you, as long as you accept him into your life. Wanting to do good things, or even going to church, should come out of a relationship with God, much in the same way we do nice things for those we love. If it was about butts in seats at church, we’d all be screwed.

      • Chris

        Hi Ben,
        Amen to #3 “for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph 2:8-9).
        I was just thinking about this… the more we discover through science, the more questions we have… our human minds are miniscule when it comes to getting a full grasp on the infinite creation of God, and it would be arrogant (or at least misguided) to believe that we are in control of anything more than what God allows us to have dominion over in the first place.
        As far as legalism, I didn’t realize until recently just what this is and how much it can be a problem if it takes the place of faith. Kneeling the right way or looking up beliefs in a catechism book isn’t what it’s all about. Dwelling on legalistic practices could be very much like putting another layer of bricks on the figurative tower of babel…
        We don’t need science to find God. God created us and everything in the first place (science is just a way in which we discover what was already there or already possible). Science (since it’s mostly just observation anyway) could give us some insight into God’s nature, perhaps. For instance, God can move mountains by tectonics or erosion… this doesn’t cause me to doubt, rather it causes me to marvel that much more at God’s ways. Through erosion, God can create soil, cause little seeds to grow into trees, which literally break apart the stone with their roots… no dynamite or pollution required… only time and life. Also, I personally know that designing pipes that can handle stormwater flow is tricky and imperfect, but not for God…every river automatically built itself to the perfect size to drain or flood the land as needed.–pretty sweet!

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