How scientists can believe in God

Are all true scientists destined to become atheists? The answer is no, or at least that doesn't seem to be the case judging by statistics.

How scientists can believe in God

On May 2nd, 1956, acclaimed theoretical physicist Richard Feynman gave a lunchtime talk at the California Institute of Technology. The relation between science and religion was on the docket that day. To organize his thoughts, Feynman wove what may be a familiar story:

A young man, brought up in a religious family, studies a science, and as a result he comes to doubt -- and perhaps later to disbelieve in -- his father's God.  Now, this is not an isolated example; it happens time and time again. Although I have no statistics on this, I believe that many scientists -- in fact, I actually believe that more than half of the scientists -- really disbelieve in their father's God; that is, they don't believe in a God in a conventional sense.

Feynman's words prompt a key question: Are all true scientists destined to become atheists? The answer, I believe, is no, or at least that doesn't seem to be the case judging by statistics.

Still, how is it that faith and science can co-exist? According to Feynman, the answer to this question lies in recognizing the limits of science:

I do not believe that science can disprove the existence of God; I think that is impossible.  And if it is impossible, is not a belief in science and in a God -- an ordinary God of religion -- a consistent possibility?     

Feynman responds to his query:

Yes, it is consistent.  Despite the fact that I said that more than half of the scientists don't believe in God, many scientists do believe in both science and God, in a perfectly consistent way.  But this consistency, although possible, is not easy to attain...

Here, Feynman is in agreement with other notable scientific minds, including Carl Sagan and Albert Einstein. Where evidence is lacking, concrete proof cannot be attained. Thus -- at this time -- we cannot conclude that God exists, but we also cannot conclude that God does not. 

But that still doesn't answer how scientists can believe in both science and God. Ruminating further, Feynman returned to his example of the young scientist, whose skepticism is now flourishing:

What happens, then, is that the young man begins to doubt everything because he cannot have it as absolute truth.  So the question changes a little bit from "Is there a God?" to "How sure is it that there is a God?" This very subtle change is a great stroke and represents a parting of the ways between science and religion.

From this parting of the ways, an opening is presented for scientists to reconcile their work with their faith. That opening is uncertainty. Firmly in the realm of science, uncertainty -- essentially acknowledged ignorance -- is the scientist's key to a legitimate belief in God:  

If they are consistent with their science, I think that they say something like this to themselves: "I am almost certain there is a God. The doubt is very small." That is quite different from saying, "I know that there is a God." I do not believe that a scientist can ever obtain that view - that really religious understanding, that real knowledge that there is a God - that absolute certainty which religious people have.

Admitting uncertainty not only bridges the divide between science and religion, but also -- I believe -- can do the same when applied to a great many of life's seemingly perpetual disputes.        

I think that when we know that we actually do live in uncertainty, then we ought to admit it; it is of great value to realize that we do not know the answers to different questions.

Airspeeder's ‘flying car’ racers to be shielded by virtual force-fields

Welcome to the world's newest motorsport: manned multicopter races that exceed speeds of 100 mph.

Credit: Airspeeder
Technology & Innovation
  • Airspeeder is a company that aims to put on high-speed races featuring electric flying vehicles.
  • The so-called Speeders are able to fly at speeds of up to 120 mph.
  • The motorsport aims to help advance the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) sector, which could usher in the age of air taxis.
Keep reading Show less

How space debris created the world’s largest garbage dump

Since 1957, the world's space agencies have been polluting the space above us with countless pieces of junk, threatening our technological infrastructure and ability to venture deeper into space.

Space debris orbiting Earth

Framestock via Adobe Stock
Technology & Innovation
  • Space debris is any human-made object that's currently orbiting Earth.
  • When space debris collides with other space debris, it can create thousands more pieces of junk, a dangerous phenomenon known as the Kessler syndrome.
  • Radical solutions are being proposed to fix the problem, some of which just might work. (See the video embedded toward the end of the article.)
Keep reading Show less

Looking for something? A team at MIT develop a robot that sees through walls

It uses radio waves to pinpoint items, even when they're hidden from view.

TORU YAMANAKA/AFP via Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
In recent years, robots have gained artificial vision, touch, and even smell.
Keep reading Show less