To risk sounding like a smart aleck seven-year-old, technically speaking you can only prove things mathematically. If you need to know that one plus one equals two, don’t go to a chemistry lab. The natural sciences deal with objects and forces that can be observed and measured. Scientists look at the evidence from their experiments and try to come up with a way of thinking about the material world that makes sense.
For example, if I travel around my local area and see nothing but brown cows, then I could try out the statement that “all cows are brown”. I couldn’t prove that all cows are brown. I could never rule out the existence of a different-coloured cow somewhere in the world. Scientific knowledge is always provisional.
The success of science lies in the fact that, if you keep doing experiments, you usually get nearer to the truth. So after years of travelling and corresponding with farmers all over the world, I might revise my statement to say, “cows are brown, white, black, grey, beige, or a mixture of these colours.” I’d be a lot nearer to the truth, and in fact I’d be fairly surprised after a few decades of research to see any new colours coming up.
Science has enhanced our lives in incredible ways. For example, many of us would not be alive today without medical technology based on hundreds of years of scientific endeavour. It’s tempting to get carried away, valuing science above any other kind of knowledge, but there are other ways of knowing that are equally important. Art conveys ideas, experiences or emotions that provok us to think or do something in response; history helps us to learn from the experiences of others; and the study of literature can give us an in-depth insight into other cultures and ways of thinking.
In fact, to find answers to any of the really important questions about meaning and purpose that affect us throughout our lives, we always have to go beyond science. Some scientific data might help define the question, for example a farmer facing a drought would probably like to know some details about the current weather patterns, and the availability of seeds for more hardy crops, before she can start asking what is the point of trying to grow anything at all. In the end, she is asking a philosophical or theological question – and so are the rest of us when we go through any significant experience in life.
So rather than asking “Can science prove God exists?”, what about: “Are the findings of science compatible with the existence of purposeful creator?” For many scientists today, the answer to the second question is yes. Biophysicist and theologian Alister McGrath has said, “nothing that we observe in nature…proves that there is a God…For me the really important thing is that the world as we observe it corresponds with what Christians would say the world ought to be like, that there’s a correspondence between the theory and the observation.” Professor Christine Done, an Astrophysicist at Durham University, writes, “for me the more we know about the vast, yet intricate and beautiful Universe we live in, the bigger and more awe-inspiring is the God who made it all.” Some go even further, making statements like this: “the way the universe exhibits an ordered structure, which is open to science to investigate, points to a mind behind it.”
With the question of God, I realise that we are not simply thinking beyond science into other disciplines, but making the claim that a person exists who we cannot see or sense in a physical way – which is much more challenging to defend! But a Christian will immediately point out that we believe that God did take on a physical body, as the person of Jesus, and walk the Earth for over thirty years. Professor Colin Humphreys, a Materials Scientist from the University of Cambridge, writes, “Christianity is not some vague set of beliefs: it is based upon real historical events”. Exploring the eyewitness accounts of these events is beyond the scope of this article, but they are worth looking into.After going through this process, Christine Done found “the evidence was enough to convince me that it was more likely than not that Christianity was true in terms of Jesus literally being raised from the dead.”
Another source of evidence for God is the impact of his interaction with humankind, both today and throughout history. Like the wind, which is detectable by its effects on physical objects, most Christians would say that we experience God by his effect on ourselves and our surroundings. For example, the MIT Computer Science Professor Rosalind Picard found when she committed to follow Christ, “The way I began to see the world was as if I had been living anxiously inside a black-and-white photograph and was now living in a full-colour universe…I do not have words that are adequate to describe the abundance that entered into my life.” Sir John Houghton, former co-chair of the IPCC scientific panel wrote, “There have…been occasions when I have prayed about particular problems or events in my scientific work. And I believe these prayers have been answered. Although…these answers are of a personal kind and not easy to describe to others in an objective way, they are nevertheless real.”
Finally, we can also read the account of God’s interaction with people and the rest of creation in the Bible, and this is a powerful way to encounter him. For Bob White, Professor of Geophysics at Cambridge, “The more I learn, the more I see of the consistency and depth of what the Bible says about the human condition, and of the relations between the creator God, his creation and ourselves, his created people.” Jennifer Wiseman, an Astronomer and Senior Project Scientist for the Hubble telescope, wrote, “the Bible reveals the nature of Jesus in a more profound way than most Christians even recognize. The opening of John’s Gospel points to him as the “Word” who “became flesh”. The world was created through this Word. The book of Hebrews (1:3) declares him as the one who “upholds the universe by His all-powerful word”. Somehow this Person of God’s very Being not only lived in the world, but is also responsible for the very existence of the universe.”
So the question “Can Science Prove God Exists?” turns out to be a category error – trying to use science to answer a non-scientific question. On the other hand, many scientists think there is enough evidence from a wide range of sources to warrant belief in God.
 Test of FAITH: Does Science Threaten Belief in God? (documentary)
 Revd Dr Rodney Holder, Astrophysicist, in Longing, Waiting, Believing (BRF, 2014)
For further exploration
Faraday paper no. 2, Does Science Need Religion? By Roger Trigg
The Limits of Science, short video featuring Jennifer Wiseman and Katherine Blundell
Does Science Have Limits? By David Hutchings