Is modern science compatible with believing (or not) in God?

Yesterday evening, after a very busy day, I was rather tired and my answer to Matias’ question was maybe not clear enough. I would, therefore, like to come back on your question “is modern science compatible with believing (or not) in God?”.

I said that I didn’t believe in God, but this short answer might be misleading.

The problem is that we (scientist, engineers etc) have in our western thinking pattern a rational approach towards questions. This is due to the fact that our approach towards science finds its origin in antic Greece with its philosophers and scientists. Typical examples are Euclid and Pythagoras. Euclid’s books “Elements” is the oldest book on deductive treatment of mathematics. He developed an axiomatized deductive method for proofing propositions (theorems) starting from a limited number of definitions and postulates. The Elements have been instrumental in the development of logic and modern science.

The Pythagorean theorem is a fundamental relation in Euclidean geometry. What is exceptional is that he wrote down an equation for a right triangle h² = x² + y² (h hypotenuse and x, y respectively the other two sides of the triangle) which is true for any right triangle whatever x and y may be.

In ancient Egypt and China, a pragmatic approach was followed in the sense that they had worked out, on a need to use basis, a few typical cases for right triangles, but they never elaborated a general relation between the hypotenuse and the two other sides of a right triangle.  For them there was no need in their daily life for such abstract approach.

Thanks to the ancient Greek philosophers and scientist we have developed a rational approach for solving questions. That is why we, in the western world, apply a rational reasoning towards religion. We wish to demonstrate the existence of God in the same manner as if we would do for solving a problem in mathematics, physics etc .  If we analyse more in depth the concepts on which the Catholic religion is built we find that these concepts are all supported by rational arguments.

The issue is, however, that science and religion belong to two totally different worlds. In science we develop theories that are accepted once we have verified them by experiences. Religion i.e. the existence of God can not be demonstrated we therefore say that we believe (or not) in God. Believing means that we accept his existence without any need of proof. This is not easy to accept therefore many demonstrations of the existence of God have been elaborated. I studied at the Catholic University of Leuven and in our last year we were obliged to follow a course on the catholic religion including the different “scientific” theories on the existence of God. The professor was embarrassed to teach, to future scientists and engineers, such theories since he understood all of this was, tough very well elaborated, nonsense.

In the Eastern world the approach is very different they are not, in a certain sense, contaminated by rational thinking. When I visited Japan for the first time I was invited by a friend, professor at a University in Kyoto, for a journey in the hills with magnificent trees. At a given moment he stopped in front of a tree took out of his pocket a slip of paper wrote something down on it and wrapped it around a small branch. I was surprised and asked him what he was doing. He answered that, suddenly in front of that tree he felt a flow of energy coming from it and that he wanted to thank the tree for it by putting a few words on a slip of paper and wrapping it around  one of its branches. From his body language it was evident that he believed in this. For him this was an act beyond any need for rational explanations.

I experienced similar situations in China and India.

When this happened for the first time, in Japan, I thought immediately on how I could measure this energy coming from the tree. I was mentally designing a special device for this.  After having discussed the issue with him some days later I concluded that although these events seen from a scientific point of view were most probably irrational they were in a sense rational for Japanese people. 

It was only later that I realized that our western rational thinking has enabled us to make, during centuries, substantial progress in science mathematics etc which was not the case in the East, but we lost contact with nature.

Coming back to my answer that I do not believe in God. In fact, I should have said that I do not believe in the God worshiped by Catholics or similar Gods in other religions. I am not an exception but it is not the rule many scientists, in particular , astrophysicist believe in one or the other “traditional” God.

I must admit that sometimes I tend to believe that the whole universe is God i.e Spinoza’s pantheism.

The following excerpt comes from “Del sentimiento de la Vida” Miguel Unamuno. It is a rather romantic view but it reflects very well what I, from time to time, believe.

« Tal vez la inmensa Vía Láctea que contemplamos durante las noches claras en el cielo, ese enorme anillo de que nuestro sistema planetario no es sino una molécula, es a su vez una célula del Universo, Cuerpo de Dios.

Las células todas de nuestro cuerpo conspiran y concurren con su actividad a mantener y encender uestra conciencia, nuestra alma; y si las conciencias o las almas de todas ellas entrasen enteramente en la nuestra, en la componente, si tuviese yo conciencia de todo lo que en mi organismo corporal pasa, sentiría pasar por mí al Universo, y se borraría tal vez el doloroso sentimiento de mis límites. Y si todas las conciencias de todos los seres concurren por entero a la conciencia universal, esta, es decir, Dios, es todo.

En nosotros nacen y mueren a cada instante oscuras conciencias, almas elementales, y este nacer y morir de ellas constituye nuestra vida.

Y cuando mueren bruscamente, en choque, hacen nuestro dolor. Así en el seno de Dios nacen y mueren -¿mueren?- conciencias, constituyendo sus nacimientos y sus muertes su vida.

Si hay una Conciencia Universal y Suprema, yo soy una idea de ella, y ¿puede en ella apagarse del todo idea alguna? Después que yo haya muerto, Dios seguirá recordándome, y el ser yo por Dios recordado, el ser mi conciencia mantenida por la Conciencia Suprema ¿no es acaso ser?”

The question of the existence of God has played an important role in my life as is illustrated by this picture taken in my study.


In conclusion modern science is compatible with believing (or not) in God. We must accept that what seems irrational to some of us,  may have rational explanations but inaccessible for us humans. 

Any comments or questions :