Does Science Refute God?

This is a thrilling debate I watched on PBS tonight.

It features one of my favorite authors, Michael Shermer, with whom I disagree on this particular question, arguing FOR the proposition: SCIENCE REFUTES GOD.

He is joined by Laurence Krause, theoretical physics and cosmology professor at Arizona State University.

Arguing against the proposition are two other very smart people, Ian Hutchinson, physics professor at MIT, and author Dinesh D’Souza.

I won’t spoil the result for my audience here. I’ll let you watch it and see who won the debate.

(By the way, I have spotted 2 critical mistakes the losing side made in this debate. Can you spot them?)

So I don’t spoil the ending for people who want to watch this contest of ideas, we will discuss the winning and losing arguments below in the comments section. If you do not want the ending spoiled for you, don’t look in the comments section!

(and don’t think of an elephant)

43 thoughts on “Does Science Refute God?”

  1. SPOILER!!!

    Mistake No 1: People are not generally aware of the finite limits of science. They have to be educated about those limits with very clear illustrations. The losing side failed to provide those clear illustrations. It was their whole argument and if they could have clearly educated their audience on the limits of science with real world examples, they would have wiped the floor with those bastards! 🙂

    Mistake No 2: The debaters on the pro-science side were not using scientific arguments to refute God, but logical arguments. The anti-science side failed to point this out and to force the pro-science guys to use scientific arguments to refute God, which of course is impossible.


    Why didn’t these guys call Alanzo!!!! This frickking thing could have been wiped up in 5 minutes. 😉

    • Exactly!!

      For me this debate was like watching a horse race. I was jumping up and down right up to the finish line.

      Then I had to rip up my ticket, throw it on the ground and shuffle off with my head down and my hands in my pockets.

  2. I enjoyed it a lot but it is not really a classic debate in that they didn’t stick to the main question and went off into other areas like miracles. Points were made and no rebuttal was required. But I think that dumbing down the debate process actually had a more positive result in chaining the minds of the audience.

    Shermer did use science in his argument in demonstrating the believing brain’s ability to create religious experiences that we confuse as God. And Kraus did point out that miracles no longer happened. Both scientific points were ignored by the other side.

    The definition of refutation given by Kraus was not adhered to by the religious side. Kraus should have added that one cannot prove a negative and that is why refutation is not absolute.

    Science refutes God, but he still may exist anyway.

    • KG wrote:

      “Shermer did use science in his argument in demonstrating the believing brain’s ability to create religious experiences that we confuse as God. And Kraus did point out that miracles no longer happened. Both scientific points were ignored by the other side. “

      But does the “science” that Shermer cited, such as experiments with the “God Helmet”, actually rise to the level of certainty that you can say that every individual’s experience of God is caused by the factors in the God helmet?

      No. They only have presented a different way to explain the phenomena of experiencing God – one that fits their beliefs and worldview. And their explanation is adopted and adhered to by scientismists just as strongly as the Bible’s explanations for various phenomena are adopted and adhered to by fundamentalist christians.

      Chris, below, is right. If Shermer and Kraus were real scientists, they would have agreed with the other side and never participated in this debate. But they are both evangelists for science, and Kraus is actually on a tent revival kind of tour around the world with Richard Dawkins to drum up recruits.

      So they participated in this debate.

      What’s funny is that while Shermer used some of the information from his book, the Believing Brain, he did not state his conclusions from that book. Had he done that, he would have conceded to the other side.

      It was a Big Tent Revival Meeting for the New Scientismists.

      But I still liked it.


  3. Does science refute God? The simple answer is no. That should be the clear position of both sides, but there is no debate. Both sides want to argue theism vs atheism and do so. Dragging science into a tired old threadbare debate of theism vs atheism is a complete red herring to me.

    The most glaring mistake to me: Atheists allowing theists to frame up a debate that drags science into a purview in which it has no interests. This is a misuse of science by atheists and Michael Shermer and Larry Krause should know better, especially by now. Methinks this exploits their own pernicious bias against religion and it is damaging to science.

    Science as a methodology for learning is not a tool to be abused by atheists to “show” those dirty theists. It just doesn’t work, it is a strawman argument, and it gives science a black eye that it does not deserve.

    Maybe Larry Krause needs auditing and Michael Shermer should pick his friends more carefully. LOL

  4. Yeah, I was screaming at the screen at Kraus and Shermer like a sports fan at the Super Bowl.

    I think they really went light on the religious guys.

    The telling question: “What would it take to change your mind?” with Ian ADMITTING that there was nothing that could change it IS THE MAIN PRODUCT OF RELIGIOUS THOUGHT.

    “There is no god and he is always with you.” – Brad Warner

    • What I love is that sometimes Kraus and Dawkins and others (not Shermer, importantly) label themselves as “Non-Believers”.

      There is no such thing as a human being who is a “non-believer”.

      Both sides touched on this in the debate by mentioning that just to get up every morning a human being has to operate on faith. They both agreed on that.

      So what were Shermer and Kraus doing there, then?


  5. I have just watched the debate, without having read the comments. In hindsight I should have taken notes. Here is my initial impressions:

    1) We were not presented with any agreed upon definition of what God meant. Science spoke of many gods, but seemed to target their arguments about the Christian God.
    2) Science brought up valid points about the “bubble” created in belief systems. As well, the discarding of beliefs that were proved to be false.
    3) I thought the theologians did better than I expected, and in some ways were more dispassionate about the subject and spoke quite rationally. In other words, they stayed within logical boundaries instead of appealing to the audience’s beliefs and emotions.
    4) Science spoke with authority and certainty about things which very scant evidence is available. Things like macro-evolution or the Big Bang. I felt this worked against them.
    5) As a result, I walked away feeling that the topic of discussion was outside the domain of Science. In spite of that, it felt like Science may feel they have to right to operate in all domains. Which I don’t necessary think is the case.

    In conclusion I would say that Science did not refute God. This does not mean that I believe in God or claim any factual evidence. Simply that they did not analytically convince me. This also doesn’t mean that the theologians convinced me of the existence of God, but merely that there are limits to what Science is good at…and God ain’t one of them.

  6. Don’t get me wrong, I am completely disappointed in Shermer and Kraus.

    The God of the Bible CAN be refuted by Science. But not absolutely, as one cannot prove a negative. If Shermer and Kraus stuck with the God of the Bible, it is so winnable that any person with an internet connection can fix it in minutes.

    But …

    If a Flying Spaghetti Monster created this universe in such a way that he could not be proven or found in any method that is based on science, Science WOULD refute God in that Universe.

    And Science would be wrong.

    A refutation can only work in the parameters of the world in which it operates. Refuting can absolutely be logical and consistent and be wrong.

    And I prefer THAT wrong to the error of faith.

    Kraus in his book “A Universe from Nothing” admits this. Eventually, the universe will expand and the background radiation will fade and some disant future species looking outside their planet will see ONE galaxy and NO radiation and presume their galaxy was “THE UNIVERSE.”

    With good science they will be wrong.

    The question Alanzo is really asking is not “Does Science Refute God?” but “Does Science Disprove God?”

    God is refuted, but not disproven.

    • My universe is built up by fragments, by bits of things. I look into a drop of my spit and see organisms who have a version and scope of consciousness. I presume my bacteria have no particular awareness of me as a greater consciousness. Does the bacteria conjecture? On a greater scale, the consciousness of my dog looks up to me and that of my cat looks down. All around me my universe is infinitely smaller and larger than I am. Nothing about the universe that is visible or invisible hints to me that this would be different for consciousness.

    • That’s a good way of saying it KG.

      It seems that science is first of all a method of acertaining facts and learning.  Then it seems that as that body of facts gleaned from science becomes knowledge, then that knowledge is referred to as science, when what is really meant is that body of knowledge has successfully passed through the filter of science.

      As the screening of science becomes finer, won’t the metaphysical knowledge become less meta?

  7. “In conclusion I would say that Science did not refute God. ”

    I would say that science did not show up for this debate at all, a couple famous atheists did. They made a mistake in being overconfident and underestimating the fight left in the theists. After all, the theists frame this debate, they always have. And atheist doesn’t even know he is one until labeled by a theist.

  8. Who in their right mind would try to debate a thoughtfully nice, slow-talking Englishman? It’s impossible. It’s like watching people walk in slow motion. Normal walking suddenly turns into cat-like pacing and makes me feel like I should cross the street to get away from it, so sinister is it.

  9. Interesting stuff, thank you for posting. As a polytheist I had no particular interest in the outcome which, I think, allowed me to enjoy the discussion more. Overall, I don’t think it was a “proper debate” because there was insufficient consensus on what the term God means. It was as if each speaker was talking about something similar but not quite the same, like say they were referencing cars but talking specifically about different models and makes depending on which which best suited their argument. As statpush mentions above, there was no explicit definition of the term which leads me to wonder if there ever could be in such a situation. I imagine that those who want to prove God can find a common definition and those who want to refute God can find a definition, but could both sides agree on a starting point? Dunno, doubt it. Yes, most definitely, there are limits to science and I would go so far as to say those limits actually preclude science from ever being able to refute the existence of any God. Good spotting on the science team failing to make its case using science. I hadn’t noticed that but, now that I think about, I bet that team knew it would be an impossible feat because of the limits of science they were hoping no one would mention. So, science had to resort to logic and more than one or two wild assertions without basis. Did you hear that chap at the end say the pro-God squad were ignoring reality as if the science team was the ultimate arbitrar what reality is? I say artists have equal right to reveal reality as scientists do. So do children. Dunno if the science team genuinely believed it had that sort of authority or whether it was being tricksy and sophisticated. Either way, I doubt Plato would have have been well pleased with that audience’s decision. Bamboozled, it was.

    • Crepescule wrote:

      “I say artists have equal right to reveal reality as scientists do. So do children. Dunno if the science team genuinely believed it had that sort of authority or whether it was being tricksy and sophisticated. Either way, I doubt Plato would have have been well pleased with that audience’s decision. Bamboozled, it was.”

      I fully agree with you about Plato.

      Plato’s use of logic to “prove” the immortality of the soul, for instance, was a response to the first materialists emerging in the Ionian islands in the Aegean Sea. His philosophy was intentionally humanistic, meaning, a way of thought that enhances existence as a human being by embracing human experience.

      We are only human. And as being a Scientologist taught me very clearly, any time we try to be something “more” (different) than that, our life turns grey and even evil. The purpose of adopting any worldview is to make your life as a human better – not to conform to some view of reality that an ideology tells you that you should have.

      For me, skepticism is good. It teaches you to question, to seek out evidence, and to examine your assumptions and the soundness of your rationale for the conclusions and beliefs that you hold. It pushes you to improve and to continue to seek to live with the truth. The best place to learn skepticism is from the atheists throughout history, such as Epicurus, Hume, and even Buddha.

      But Atheism today pretends to know that there is no God. It views human experience of non-material phenomena as delusion and the source of evil in the world. Many of today’s atheists state that more wars were started in the name of religion than from any other cause. They fail to state that more forgiveness and human charity has been inspired by religion than all the wars human beings have ever fought. They also fail to cite the wars and murder and human evil brought about by the two most powerful atheists in the last 100 years, Mao and Stalin.

      There is a lot to learn from atheists such as Krause and Shermer, and I very much appreciate their work.

      But in the end, no human being knows whether there is a god, or what happens after death. This not-knowing is a valuable part of being human. It should be embraced, not bypassed.

      Assuming knowledge that you do not have, and which no human has, is a very dangerous thing.

      I learned that from being a Scientologist.

      • . . . But Atheism today pretends to know that there is no God. It views human experience of non-material phenomena as delusion and the source of evil in the world. Many of today’s atheists state that more wars were started in the name of religion than from any other cause. They fail to state that more forgiveness and human charity has been inspired by religion than all the wars human beings have ever fought. They also fail to cite the wars and murder and human evil brought about by the two most powerful atheists in the last 100 years, Mao and Stalin . . .

        Yep – and it pisses me right off because such claims about religion ignore that the sole cause of major wars is to secure desired resources by armed force. There is little doubt that the largely uneducated cannon fodder was swept up in righteous zeal which delivered them to the battlefield filled with notions of doing God’s work. Not the real war mongers, though. They usurped the desire to serve God for their own ends. They’re still at it.

        ISIS, anyone?

  10. Scientifically, I look at a whale or dolphin and see there consciousness which is aware of some similar things and also some different things than I. What would it be like to mentally abstract a 3D world from the best sonar? What does that look like? Is it colorful? In the frigid Arctic, do these creatures feel warmth?

  11. I look at the Great Ones, the Giants of Thought who have come and gone and some yet live among us and some are yet to be born and they see the World differently than I do, an enhanced version if you will. Theirs is both a similar and a different consciousness as well. I wake up after a good rest and am personally more conscious than I was when I went to bed. Are the bacteria in my spit theistic and atheistic in ways that I do not imagine? Why wouldn’t they be? Possibly these tiny organisms do not believe in gods or believe in me or even suspect of me, and yet here I am. So it may be with the ideas of Gods. Or else, why wouldn’t it be so?

  12. Sometimes I think that theists are weak minded. That they have simply tired of looking and so have settled for a metaphor and built up a mental home and settled in. I do not see this as wrong but I think that I do see it as wrong to not be aware of having done this. When a tenet of a theism holds that others must agree with one’s own tenets, then I see this as immoral. When one seeks to take away another’s choices and failing that, to destroy them, I see that as a basis of evil.

  13. “You have to understand something about my friend: he was molested by Catholic priests when he was a boy. And so whenever anyone mentioned Jesus or the Bible he would literally start frothing if there was no where for him to run. It made him angry to have to discuss, in any way shape or form, anything about life from a Christian perspective.”

    I relate to this a lot. I was molested by Scientologists and continue to be. I’m not as angry about it as I used to beand not afraid of their everlasting Hell anymore and I can discuss my experiences. I do still get angry when Scientologists say ignorant things when describing their world view the way Larry Krause had his angry moments when listening to Hutchison and D’Souza. Alanzo is teaching me a better way, and it is truly too bad Krause and Shermer had no life line to give a shout out to Alanzo when they got behind in the debate.

    • LOL!

      I’ve been molested by Scientologists as well.

      It’s their certainty that makes them molesters. Their certainty is a mask that hides massive insecurities.

      We all came to L Ron Hubbard with our uncertainties and he gave us false certainties behind which to hide.

      That’s too bad. We deserved better than that.


        • Here’s a great video on that. It’s by Dr. Robert Burton who visits Google’s Mountain View, CA headquarters to discuss his book “On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not.”

          Here’s the tl;dw version: The feeling of “certainty” comes from our neurological systems. It is a neurological state, rather than any kind of assessment of objective truth.

          • As a Scientologist, I routinely told people that Scientology was “knowing how to know” or “the study of certainty.”  I was a true believer in certainty.

            I look back on that time of my life with wonder and embarrassment at how I worshiped certainty.  Certainty was something I thought was integral to being on the right path and to right thinking.  Today I view exaggerated certainty in myself and in others as a red flag to conditioning and something to be suspicious of.  It’s easy to know things, less easy to be correct.

            Am I certain?  Well, yes, about many things, somewhat, slightly.  I like to think that I am able to act in life with confidence, but even regarding the most profound and well proven facts I like to think that philosophically I am holding to them lightly.  This life to me is a balancing act.  At least that is what I believe.  It’s okay for me to choose be a believer.  It’s vitally important to know when I am doing it.  Maybe I could say that unknown beliefs are what comprise fanatical ideologies.  I’m open to changing my mind about that.

          • So then I watched Dr. Burton’s lecture and had my bias confirmed, utterly.  (joke)

            I enjoyed listening to his comments about “felt knowledge.”  He differentiates feelings from thoughts and stated that both certainty and cognitive dissonance (feelings) have similar underpinnings in our neural system — the brain.

            Upshot:  We want to feel certain.  We want to feel the reward of resonance with knowledge.  And we want our feeling of cognitive dissonance to be evidence of the incorrectness of knowledge.  But the fact is that our feelings and our intuition help us to the degree that they are really correct, not certain.  These intuitive feelings are no more or less correct than the knowledge base and honed experiences underlying them align with the world.

  14. Science can neither refute nor disprove God; because, as pointed out by others, the subject of “God” is completely beyond the pale of science.

    Personally, the idea of “no god” (atheism) is illogical.

    Unless you consider this physical universe to be CAUSE (Creator), it seems fairly obvious that it is an EFFECT (Creation), given its specificity, definition and the way it behaves. It is not random. It is ordered; which, to me, indicates some kind of intelligent design.

    I believe in a FIRST CAUSE (God); but I do NOT believe in the CHRISTIAN God. And, in my opinion, the biggest mistake made by the “theists” is their insistence on defending or proving the CHRISTIAN God, as if that God is the only God to consider. I think it would have been better to forward argumentation that would suggest the logical existence of GOD (in general), without having to identify that God as the god of the Christian Bible [or as the god of any particular religion].

    These seem to be two different discussions: the existence of GOD, and the existence of the GOD of a particular religion.

    Indeed, I believe the Christian God IS open to logical attack, which only tends to distract from the real topic (which is NOT whether or not the Christian God exists; but whether or not science can refute the idea or existence of God).

    In my opinion, it takes far more faith to believe in NO GOD (atheism) than to believe in GOD (theism).

    The atheist scientist begins his amazing religion with the “Conservation of Energy”, which suggests that “physical energy” ETERNALLY EXISTS (can’t be created or destroyed – only changed). So, this means that, for some unknown reason, we have a SPECIFIC QUANTITY of physical energy that never changes, that has always existed, and that apparently has no logical explanation for any part of its existence.

    But why this exact quantity of physical energy?  And why is it logical to assume that physical energy was NEVER CREATED, simply because no “new energy” is being created today? Indeed, the fact that the quantity of physical energy is now constant does not mean that this quantity has always been constant or that this quantity was not created at some point in the past.

    Additionally, this physical energy happens to have a very exact [atomic] structure and seems to be influenced by 4 specific forces (strong, weak, gravity, electromagnetism) that govern its interactions.

    But why this exact structure? Why these exact forces? Surely any such “specificity” has to be specified by someone or something. And I believe that “someone” or “something” IS “GOD”.

    To me, the Big Bang may have been an incident that occurred early in the formation of this universe; but the “Big Bang” is hardly a theory of UNIVERSAL ORIGIN; and so it is not really a cosmological theory. It is simply an idea, based on some observable phenomena. And, if the Big Bang did occur, I would suggest that it had some intelligent cause, as this is the only logical way to explain the specificity and order we see.


  15. Science does not want nor does it prove.  People do this.  Science does not over reach, scientists over reach.  And the problem does not lie with science as it does not admonish us to be a certain way nor does it proclaim itself the king of any knowledge.  People and sometimes scientists sometimes do this and it is a mistake but it is not science.  And I am not invoking “No True Scotsman” fallacy when I write it.

    We can over reach on any subject.

  16. The world is a certain way. We experience that world in a certain way.

    Whether there is God or not does not make a difference about the physics of the world, but what we believe changes our experience of the world.

  17. The assertion, the notion that “God is beyond science” may not be true.  Whether it is or it is not, both the resultant certainty by those who believe and the resultant facts by those who want to observe remain unchanged.

    • If God is not testable, then it is beyond science.

      If something like “The God Helmet” actually tests for God, then God is not beyond science.

      Either way, it all may just come down to reducing suffering and living a happy life. In which case science, and the proclamations of scientists, only matters if they can help you reduce suffering and live a happy life. Then, even the truth doesn’t matter – especially if the truth increases suffering and ruins a happy life.

      In which case being a human being is a freaking Truman Show of carnival mirrors.

      Head hurting now. Going to go watch The Teletubbies.

  18. Yup.


    But back to the OP, even “beyond science” is an abstraction framed by theism and has no basis in science.  Science will only be useful to test something.  It will never be used on nothing.    It is quite the circle jerk of philosophy.  With each neural discovery we find less and less to declare, “outside of science.”


    • Gotta disagree with you there.

      Human experience is filled with things like love and bodaciousness that can not be tested.

      These things actually exist for a human being. Their existence is real.

      They are not an abstraction.

      Much of Plato’s effort at philosophy was in response to the first materialists in the ionian islands who made the claim that nothing exists but the physical. Through his philosophy, Plato showed that what was necessary was, because we are human, a philosophy that would enhance existence as a human being.

      Thus, “humanism” was born.

      The irony is that material atheists like Micheal Shermer (for whom I have much respect) proclaim humanism as their stance.

      Well I agree.

      But I say that some form of God and immortality of the soul exists, too.

      Why? Because it makes me happy.

      And that matters.

      • hehe, well, I believe that’s what I wrote…  more or less.

        Nothing is more real to a person than his own reality. . . to him.

        And abstractions?  They are not nothing.   They are something and neural research seems to routinely demonstrate where another of these abstractions like feelings of certainty and uncertainty is located –  As you demonstrated with the video.

        But we needn’t worry about the differences since whether any of this is one or another or another, well, that doesn’t particular make any difference to our experience of one or another or another.  Welcome to my Tautological Universe where a person can believe anything they want and as long as they do then they will!

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