Does Science Show Agnostics are Right?
March 19, 2010

According to this article in The Province, one of the world’s foremost neuroscientists soon will discuss with top theologians how the brain simply cannot comprehend the existence God.

  • “We will never be able to answer the existence of God,” said Georg Northoff, research director of Mind, Brain Imaging, and Neuroethics at the University of Ottawa’s Institute of Mental Health Research this week. … “There is a limit because of the way the brain functions…” and that’s the price we pay for consciousness.
  • “I would never deny the feelings (of the faithful),” said Northoff. “But what I would deny is that the content of his feelings, God in this case, exists independent of him. That is something that is beyond his knowledge.”

The article goes on to mention that…

  • “[E]ven a transcendent sense of holiness … ultimately emanates from a big, wet, physical brain trapped in a hard skull.”
  • “The brain is built to focus entirely on the threats and pleasures of its immediate environment … and can never escape to see the larger picture.”
  • “It cannot see beyond its own life without dying. It cannot even look at itself without ending up in a surreal fractal loop of the mind examining itself, examining itself as it examines itself ad infinitum.”

My take: For ages, common wisdom has declared that science itself may not be able to grasp philosophical details…that’s why we have philosophy. But more and more these days science and philosophy are returning to their pre-modern roles, when the division between them was blurry. That division is once again getting more and more blurry as we realize how many philosophical principles, once off-limits to hard science, can be explained — or at least interrogated — by science.

Whether discussing the origin of the universe or the mechanics of belief, scientific methods of inquiry have been applied and have been found beneficial for our collective wisdom. But still that last bastion of philosophy stands firm, awaiting the crash of scientific inquiry: God.

But the whole point of this is not to say that science can reasonably disprove the existence of God or the precious reality of God for individuals. It just asserts a principle we should all confront ourselves with at least occasionally: We cannot know for sure. Either way.

And this doesn’t stop me from searching. It only reminds me that I will be able to see only so far.