To answer the question about whether science can prove God exists, it helps to understand the difference between inductive and deductive proofs.
Inductive proofs widen from details to broad, but only probable, conclusions. They reason from particular facts, such as those details of the Big Bang discoveries, the phenomena of the Anthropic Principle, or simply the order found in matter, to general principles, such as the existence of God. Deductive proofs go the other way. They narrow from broad statements (premises) to absolute conclusions. For example, one may argue that past time is either finite or infinite. If it can be shown with reason that it is impossible for time to be infinite, then by default, time must be finite. Therefore, in general, scientific proofs are inductive and theological proofs are deductive, although both science and theology can rely on both types of proofs, a complexity beyond this essay.
Here is an example of the difference between inductive and deductive proofs. Using inductive reasoning, my children might point to the particular facts that I feed them dinner every night, wash their laundry routinely, and put bandages on their boo-boo’s when they bleed. They could call those facts evidence or proof of the bigger principle that I love them. With enough evidence over time from routine provision, substantiated by my personal verbal affirmations of my fondness for them, my children could reasonably conclude that my actions are indeed proof of my love. This is an inductive proof. The facts complement each other and corroborate the larger conclusion, but, alas, they cannot absolutely prove the claim.
Objectively speaking, the fact that I feed them, clean up after them, and care for them does not lead, with certainty, to the sole conclusion that I love them. My rapscallions could call my dutiful, consistent nourishment and nurturing “evidence” that I love them in the sense that it is factual grounds for belief in the highly probable conclusion that I do love them. But they could also argue that I am only pretending to love them and that I have other motives deep in my heart. They could argue that they do not have all the information. They could decide that I actually resent them and cook, clean, and apply gauzes just to keep them quiet. They could grow up, and after all I did for them, they could still say, “Nope, I am just not convinced Mom loves us.” They could.
A deductive proof might involve one of them arguing that I either love them or I do not—that one or the other conclusion has to be true. If they can reason that there is no other scenario in which I would care for them as I do because I do it so well and I do it with purpose, that no one is forcing me to do it, that I have no other possible ulterior motive to do it, that my motherly actions have to be explained by love and only love, then they can deduce the absolute conclusion that I love them. Here is the zinger. As anyone knows who has articulated the most elegant of arguments, even deductive proofs can fail to convince a person.
I know that example is a bit extreme, but it shows the human dimension of proofs. Both inductive and deductive proofs will not convince a person unless a person is willing to accept the conclusion. Inductive proofs may seem weaker because they only point to probable conclusions. Deductive proofs may seem stronger because they demand a conclusion with probative force. Nevertheless, proofs are like glasses of water. You can purify that water and set it down in all the fine crystal you want, but you cannot force a person to drink it in.
How does this relate to faith and science? Well, the lesson here is that we should never, ever invoke science as any kind of absolute proof of faith because the most proof science could ever provide is the inductive kind of proof. People tend to point to the Big Bang any time a new discovery comes along that corroborates a scientific conclusion that time had a beginning and say, “See, science is proving God exists!” Some people point to all the meticulous physical constants in the universe that have to exist for sapient life to exist, the Anthropic Principle, and call it proof that God exists. Others point to “Intelligent Design” where they decide intelligent design must exist and call that proof that an Intelligent Designer must exist, a most circular form of reasoning. If you like these proofs, you must also remember that, at most, they complement and corroborate—are consistent with—the existence of a Creator, but they do not lead to the deductive conclusion, the sole metaphysical, philosophical, and theological truth, that God exists.
Personally, I do not like it when people point to any single scientific conclusion or set of conclusions as evidence or proof of God because 1) they make it sound like we need to shore up our faith with science, and 2) they make it sound like some scientific conclusions are compatible with the idea that God exists and others are not.
I tend to keep things about as simple as a child who is confident in her mother’s—or father’s—love. I submit that, as Christians, any proof, be it inductive or deductve, comes second to faith. That is, we start with the fundamental belief we profess in the Creed that “God made everything.” We should hold that belief firmly, and then we should look out at the world from our confident vantage of faith. I call this viewing “science in the light of faith.” With that view, everything in science is evidence of God because science is the study of God’s handiwork. If science is ever wrong, then it is because we human scientific method types do not know everything. If science reveals knowledge about the mysteries of the natural world, then we marvel at it and show gratitude. If metaphysics, philosophy, and theology discover deeper understanding of the truths of faith, then we apply it in our lives and, likewise, show gratitude.
This view is liberating. For example, I see any discoveries of gravitational waves as proof of God’s existence as much as I see a tree stump as proof. I see fine-tuning in the universe as proof of God’s existence as much as I see ice floating in my water as proof of God because I know the bond angle between hydrogen and oxygen, directed by the arrangment of electrons, is causing that seemingly simple phenomenon, which is actually responsible for life on earth. I see everything as intelligently designed because from stars to dandelions down to the smallest particles of matter we know about, there is unimaginable, ineffable order and symmetry. Seeing science in the light of faith is an all-or-none proposition. Either it all bespeaks the wonder of the Creator, or none of it does. Does science prove God exists? Yes, and to tie it back to the above analogy, atomic structure proves God exists just as much as chocolate chip cookies prove moms love kids. It is pretty easy to see if you are willing to accept what is right in front of you.
For those who might be interested, Stacy A. Trasancos is teaching a "Science in the Light of Faith" set of mini-workshops this summer at Kolbe Academy. The course is open to students, parents, and educators seeking professional development.