Science, properly understood, answers empirical questions, not philosophical or metaphysical ones. This poses a huge problem for many modern atheists, because, in a justifiable admiration for real science, they want to employ science in answering problems of metaphysics, and science is simply not capable of answering such questions.
Although everybody who works with science comes to it with an underlying set of predetermined metaphysical assumptions, that does not justify trying to morph those metaphysical assertions into claims of scientific fact. An example of this is found in a fascinating documentary about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and the search for the elusive “God particle,” called Particle Fever. (If you have Netflix, it’s a streamer and easily accessible.) I’m not scientifically trained, so much of the material in the film is way over my head, but from what I understand, standard physics has no way of explaining how the universe exists without positing some kind of particle that has yet to be discovered, and some believe the experiments we learn about in the movie have found that particle.
What most interests me most about this movie is how desperate one young physicist, an Iranian whose family had to escape from that country (maybe one reason a belief in a benevolent God does not appeal to him), and who has spent 15 years of his life obsessed with the LHC and the search for the Higgs Boson (the particle he hopes will explain the creation of the universe without bringing God into it).
For committed naturalists of this sort, the universe gives frightening indications of having been designed with such exquisite precision that its existence is implausible except as the result of an infinitely intelligent designer. What is known as the cosmological constant is one number that has to have an extremely precise value, and if that value were different by even a small amount, the universe could not exist, or would at least be so different from our present one as to be unimaginable. The young physicist expresses these annoyingly contradictory notions in a few sentences:
On the face of it, someone cared very much to put this parameter at just the right value so we could exist. . . . The rate of the universe’s expansion is very much slower than modern physics would predict, in fact billions and billions of times slower. . . . There is a scientific alternative to someone out there who loves us, twiddling the dials very finely for things to work out.
Why the existence of a Creator “twiddling the dials” should be seen as a problem seems to me rather a problem in itself, and not a scientific one but a psychological one.
Instead of seriously confronting that problem, the physicist simply takes a giant leap of faith of his own, positing a multiverse, the notion that there are so many universes that it only makes sense that one of them would turn out exactly like ours has, completely by chance. Yet that only makes the problem still more difficult: if one universe is hard to explain, a multitude of them is even harder to imagine, let alone describe and explain. In fact, the notion of multiverses is absolutely unscientific, by virtue of not being falsifiable. Hence the intensive effort to disprove the existence of God through scientific tools, which are by their nature not up to the task, leads straight to incoherence and flat-out fantasy.
One irony lost on any atheists who are putting their faith in the LHC, desperately longing for answers to the mystery of life that will obviate the need for God, is the LHC itself. This machine is massive, and it took 20 years to put it all together. No doubt that even before the first spade of dirt was turned, a huge amount of planning and thought went into what this machine would look like and what it would do. Engineers and scientists must have spent thousands and thousands of hours planning and designing it. Looking at it, even on a 52-inch TV one can tell it was designed by intelligent agents.
Yet for many of the people we see in the movie, probably most, something that is infinitely more complex, more fine-tuned and awe-inspiring, the universe and everything in it, simply cannot have had an intelligent being create it; such a possibility must be ruled out a priori. Ironic indeed.