Question to Polkinghorne: Can we Prove that God does not Exist?
Gingerich: Here is a question for you, John. Could you imagine an
ultimate argument that God is not existent? If we cannot refute this mode of
explanation, then it is just a matter of belief. But how can we be sure or
convinced that it is not just wishful thinking?
Polkinghorne: Thats a very interesting question. I think that
certainty, in the sense of logical proof, is a pretty spare quantity. There
isnt too much of it around. I mean, Kurt Gödel has told us that even
mathematics has its aporia, as the theologians say, its uncertainties. And I
think it is also the case that there is a sort of complementary relationship
between things that are really interesting and things that can be proved. So, I
think we shouldnt worry about proof and certainty.
That doesnt mean that anything goes. We should search for motivated
beliefs. But I think this is true of both science and religion and everything
that lies between them, we will attain beliefs that are motivated but will
never be certain. I think one of the best books on the philosophy of science
written in the 20th century is Michael Polanyis book, Personal Knowledge.
Polanyi was a distinguished physical chemist before he became a philosopher.
That means hes been not very well accepted in the philosophical community, I am
afraid to say. He wrote this book, he said - and he was talking in relation to
his scientific beliefs - how I can hold to what I believe to be true knowing
that it might be false. And that is the human condition, I think, whether it is
in science or religion or other things. So, I think we shouldnt get fixated
upon certainty. I dont think you can prove God exists; I dont think you can
prove God does not exist.
Contributed by: Sir John Polkinghorne and Steven