Responding to Eric Metaxas's recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal concerning the scientific evidence suggesting a creator, Francis Beckwith writes at The Catholic Thing that Metaxas "confuses a question of natural science with a question of natural theology."
Is the rational basis for believing in His existence really dependent on the deliverances of modern science? Should one calibrate the depth of one’s faith on the basis of what researchers tell us about the plausibility of the “God hypothesis” in recent issues of the leading peer-reviewed science journals? The answer to all three question is no, since God is not a scientific hypothesis. For this reason, it is equally true that advances in our scientific knowledge cannot in principle count against the existence of God.
Professor Beckwith invites the reader to "suppose in a few years scientists tell us, after further research, new discoveries, and confirmed theories, that the arising of life in the universe is not that improbable after all. What then happens to Metaxas’ God? He is now superfluous, and Metaxas would have to concede that theists are once again irrational, as they apparently were when the (temporarily obsolete) God hypothesis was down for the count the last time science threw its best punch."
I understand what Prof. Beckwith is saying, and I am grateful he has made this important distinction. I think most would agree, in the words of the title of his post, that "God is not a scientific hypothesis." However, I'm not sure Metaxas goes as far as Beckwith thinks he does.
I don't read Metaxas as arguing that God's existence is "dependent on the deliverances of modern science" (Beckwith's words) or as urging people to calibrate their faith based on current data in astronomy and astrophysics. Rather, I understand Metaxas to be advancing a more limited claim (and a claim, to be fair, which has been around for some time): the claim that the case for God's existence is helped in big ways by what we know about the origin of organic life and the origin of the universe. That's it. I don't read Metaxas as staking God's existence on that data, such that if the data were disproved or radically altered, Metaxas would be without an argument for God.
Robert Spitzer, S.J., in his New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy, drawing upon basically the same data as Metaxas, makes a similar point. After reviewing the research and breakthroughs that show how unlikely it is that a universe like ours—i.e., one hospitable to human life—should have come about, Spitzer notes that the "enormity of the differential between non-anthropic and anthropic values of our universe's constants may be likened to a monkey typing out Hamlet (without any recourse to the play) by random tapping on the keys of a typewriter. Needless to say, it requires belief to explain this occurrence by pure chance." He goes on:
If one were to come into a room where such a monkey had been typing randomly for a month, and were to discover twelve sheets of perfect Shakespearean prose, one could reasonably and responsibly believe that someone intelligent (and possessing a fine knowledge of Shakespeare) had snuck into the room and helped the monkey. Alternatively, one might believe that the monkey had a random stroke of luck that allowed a conspiracy of coincidences unimaginably remote to occur by pure chance. In one case, one believes in an intellect that one did not see. In the other case, one believes that an unbelievably improbable occurrence took place by pure chance.
Either way, Spitzer notes, someone has to make a choice: Either one believes that there is intention—mind—behind the creation of the text, or there is not. The analogy makes it clear. For Spitizer, "it would seem that the immensity of the difference between anthropic and non-anthropic values of our universal constants provides reasonable and responsible rationale, for belief in supernatural design."
Metaxas framed it similarly: "Doesn't assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?"
In other words: What is a more reasonable belief? Belief in pure chance, or belief in a Creator? I think Metaxas is basically saying what Fr. Spitzer and others have said: given the information we now have, it seems that God, and not chance, is the more sound explanation.
Read Prof. Beckwith's column in full here.