Vincent Torley, a philosopher who writes for the intelligent design community at Uncommon Descent, responded to my essay titled, Does Science Prove God Exists? His response, Feet to the Fire: A response to Dr. Stacy Trasancos, addresses a number of different points—particularly the “science in the light of faith” perspective—so I will be as brief as I can and elaborate later.
Intelligent Design is Circular Reasoning
I said intelligent design (ID) theory is circular reasoning. Torley said I am misinformed.
Here is what I mean.
1) ID theorists define ID.
2) ID theorists decide what fits the definition of ID.
3) ID theorists conclude the existence of an ID’er because #1.
He gives a definition. “ID may be considered to consist only of the minimal assertion that it is possible to infer from empirical evidence that some features of the natural world are best explained by an intelligent agent.” In other words, the conclusion depends on the premise. What if someone told you that you are smart because you fit her definition of smart? This form of reasoning can be useful. Educators define success on exams and conclude that students have learned the material if they pass the exam, which highlights the theological problem with intelligent design theory. Who are we to give God a test of intelligence?
He gave a second definition. “The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.” It sounds like they are saying: “Hey God, nice job on certain things, like DNA and bacteria! Those rocks and mud piles? What happened there?”
Like I said, intelligent design is an all-or-none proposition. Either we believe God created everything and holds everything in existence before we even think about science, or we take a lesser view and posit some science-dependent god.
On Science Falsifying God
Torley disagrees with my statement about using a single scientific conclusion as evidence or proof of God. “She is mistaken,” he says, “when she pooh-poohs the notion that ‘some scientific conclusions are compatible with the idea that God exists and others are not.’” He continues, “This, I have to say, is nonsense. Suppose that science were to establish that determinism is true. If that were the case, then there can be no freedom and hence no moral agency.”
But hang on. Science cannot establish that determinism is true. Determinism is the philosophical doctrine that human action is not free but determined by external forces acting upon the will. (OED) Science—physics, chemistry, and biology—cannot establish the truth of any philosophical doctrine. You do not need to fear scientific conclusions that reach outside the limits of science. You simply need to spot those Pinocchios and dismiss (pooh-pooh, if you prefer) them as the deceptions that they are.
That is why we need to be clear about the difference between inductive and deductive proofs, the point of my original post. At most, science can provide evidence to support a philosophical claim inductively. Science could provide evidence that is consistent with the claim that determinism is true, such as Newtonian physics does with its calculations of objects in motion, but science can never go beyond its own evidence to deductively prove a philosophical absolute.
If you invoke science to (inductively) prove God exists, then in my opinion you have no ground to complain if someone else invokes science to (inductively) prove God does not exist. Both of you play the same game. I freely admit that grappling with research in laboratories has left me sensitive to the incompleteness and limits of science, but I share this opinion with other scientists who are people of faith. There is something humbling about designing, conducting, and analyzing experiments that makes us reserved about making too much of tentative conclusions.
At any rate, to repeat: science cannot establish the truth of a philosophical doctrine, not a theistic one and not an atheistic one, because science is limited to the analysis of matter and energy. I say thee, keep it there.
If we claim, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth” because we are people of faith, then 1) we appreciate science as the study of God’s handiwork, and 2) we are free to navigate science, rejecting bad conclusions and accepting good ones (a skill that must be learned), as we see where scientific discovery leads. Even better, 3) we help lead where science goes because our faith illuminates the dialogue.
Atheists Won’t View Science in the Light of Faith
Torley disagrees with my suggestion that we view “science in the light of faith” because a “hard-nosed atheist” will not be convinced of that view. His solution is: “If I were trying to convince an atheist of the existence of a Creator, I would point to something far more convincing, like the ATP synthase enzyme … Any unbiased viewer can see at once that ATP synthase is the product of design.”
Okay, but enzymes are systems of elements. Any unbiased viewer can also see that the periodic table, which orders the elements by the number of protons and arrangement of electrons, reveals the existence of a Creator who orders things by measure, number, and weight. An atheist will not necessarily be convinced by what convinces us. The “science in the light of faith” view is obviously not for atheists. It is a view for the faithful so they can learn to see science clearly for what it is and what it is not, because only then can a person engage in the faith and science discussion confidently.
Look at it like this: when Christians sit down to eat a meal, we say a prayer of thanks to God for the gift. Atheists do no such thing. What is the correct response? Should the faithful stop praying because the atheist will not pray? Or should the faithful keep praying, keep eating, and keep hoping the atheist will wonder why we are grateful for even the little things? We no more need to set aside our faith when we learn about (or conduct) science than when we dine (or cook). Food, after all, is made of matter and energy, and meals are prepared by practicing the skills of physics and chemistry. (It is worth mentioning that for all the design we put into preparing a meal, we all know that we use ingredients that we do not ourselves create out of nothing.)
The Pope Said Science Proves the Existence of God
Torley offers the statement of Pope Pius XII in his address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on November 22, 1951, titled “The Proofs For The Existence Of God In The Light Of Modern Natural Science” to show that a pope said science provides evidence for the Creator. That story can teach us much about the faith and science dialogue.
It is true; two decades after Fr. Georges Lemaître proposed (what would later be called) the Big Bang theory, and as support for it grew, Pope Pius XII went so far as to make a logical inference his 1951 address that science had become a witness to that “primordial Fiat Lux, uttered at the moment when, along with matter, there burst forth from nothing a sea of light and radiation, while the particles of chemical elements split and formed into millions of galaxies.”
The pope went so far as to say that the Big Bang theory was scientific evidence for God. “Hence, creation took place in time. Therefore, there is a Creator. Therefore, God exists! Although it is neither explicit nor complete, this is the reply we were awaiting from science, and which the present human generation is awaiting from it.”
The pope was clear, however, in the section immediate following the “Fiat Lux” statement that science only provides, as I originally explained, inductive evidence for creation in time, that science awaits further research, and that absolute proof of creation in time is outside the limits of science. (Emphasis is mine.)
45. It is quite true that the facts established up to the present time are not an absolute proof of creation in time, as are the proofs drawn from metaphysics and Revelation in what concerns simple creation or those founded on Revelation if there be question of creation in time. The pertinent facts of the natural sciences, to which We have referred, are awaiting still further research and confirmation, and the theories founded on them are in need of further development and proof before they can provide a sure foundation for arguments which, of themselves, are outside the proper sphere of the natural sciences.
As the story goes, Fr. Lemaître intervened after this address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. He was a high-ranking member of the academy and contacted the science advisor to the pope. Lemaître was not in favor of such strong statements because he knew that his theory was subject to further revision, like I explained two sections prior. Lemaître insisted that the incomplete scientific theories be judged on their scientific merits alone and not be used in support of theological conclusions.
Lemaître’s counsel must have been convincing. Less than a year later and amid continuing evidence in support of the Big Bang, the pope addressed 650 astronomers in Rome for the Eighth General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union. This address included no specific mention of any religious implications of the Big Bang. According to George Coyne, former director of the Vatican Observatory, “Never again did Pius XII attribute any philosophical, metaphysical, or religious implications to the theory of the Big Bang.”
Since that time, the debate has continued about the extent to which science can provide evidence or proof of God’s existence. I understand that some people think some created things provide better evidence for a Designer than others. Nevertheless, I remain devoted to the pervasive and elegant “science in the light of faith” view, which I take from Pope Francis’ encyclical Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith). “Faith broadens the horizons of reason to shed greater light on the world which discloses itself to scientific investigation.” (34) Confident in our faith in Christ and His Church, we realize that science is a human endeavor—never complete, subject to error and revision as more data is gathered, in need of illumination, always the study of the Handiwork of God.
The Feet to Fire Thought Experiment
Torley gives a lengthy thought experiment. What if you are a skeptic and an evil atheist leader demands that you publicly vow atheism or die by foot burning? He goes through the arguments for the existence of God, and concludes that science will reinforce your conviction that the “world has a Creator” before you “die screaming in agony” in your “last moments on this earth.”
I really do not know what to make of this kind of reasoning. I find no mention in the testimonies or witnesses of the martyrs that science strengthened them in their final moments. Among the news of today’s martyrs, I have never heard that the intelligent design arguments convinced any of them to die for a Creator. Rather, it is grace that strengthens a martyr at his or her moment of death—not logic, not science, not even reason, but a supernatural gift in the soul called grace.
If the point of intelligent design is really to convince a skeptic to believe in God, then the intelligent design theorists ought to say so. If their purpose is to evangelize and lead people to Christ, I am happy to join them, and I imagine so are many of my friends. But guys, there is a more effective way to evangelize than to cook up your own science sauce to sway the skeptics.
Live the life of a Christian. Pray. Hope. Practice virtue. Be prepared to answer questions if an inquisitor is sincerely seeking truth. And, with ample awe and wonder—everybody say it with me—view “science in the light of faith.” All of it, including fire because the light emitted during combustion is a marvelous display of an electron emission spectral symphony that challenges our imagination. What people do with fire? Evil? Good? Those questions are not for science to answer.
A Question for the Intelligent Design Community
Because good responses to responses end with a request for another response, I will send out a question.
If 1) certain molecules provide the best evidence for a Designer; and if 2) the “primordial Fiat Lux, uttered at the moment when, along with matter, there burst forth from nothing a sea of light and radiation, while the particles of chemical elements split and formed into millions of galaxies” is inductive evidence for the Creator; and if 3) we can agree that atoms and the orchestration of all their subatomic particles guiding the physical and chemical interactions of matter and energy throughout the universe can be described as intelligently designed…
…then how can anything within the legitimate purview of science not be intelligently designed?
 Rodney D. Holder, Simon Mitton editors, Georges Lemaître: Life, Science and Legacy (New York: Springer, 2012), pages 71-72.
 Pius XII, Acta apostolicae sedis, Vol. 44 (Vatican City State: Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana, 1952), page 739.
 Holder, 72.