Why a Physicist believes in God

Why Dr Ard Louis believes in God

Dr Ard Louis is a Reader in Theoretical Physics at Oxford University. A group of sixth form students from King Edward’s School travelled to Oxford to meet with Dr Louis and asked him to explain why he believes in God.

Grounds for Belief

Dr Ard Louis holds the view that science cannot answer a question like whether God exists. The box below sets out how Dr Ard Louis sees the relationships between science and religion – and why he thinks there is room for both. See what you think.

How can we obtain reliable knowledge about the world?

This big question of life is sometimes framed in science versus religion terms because people consider science to be a reliable way to obtain knowledge, and may think that other ways (including religious ones) are, by contrast, unreliable. Scientists as a whole agree that, in the long run, the scientific process does lead to reliable knowledge about the world. The view of nature that most scientists I know take could be described as critical realism. They are realists because they believe that there is a world out there that is independent of our making. The adjective critical is added because they recognise that extracting knowledge about that world is not always straightforward.

Can all Questions be addressed using science?

There are many questions that simply are not open to purely scientific analysis. The most important decisions in life cannot be addressed solely by the scientific method, nor do people really live as if they could. But just because we don’t live life by the scientific method doesn’t mean that the only alternative is irrationality. Consider, for example, the legal process, which, although it is a tightly organised system, is not strictly scientific. Similarly, a historian will use a combination of evidence (manuscripts, etc.) and understanding about the thinking patterns of a particular era to make informed judgements about what happened in the past. Each of these represent non-scientific, yet widely accepted, means of acquiring knowledge and evaluating information.

Your worldview

The questions of how to extract reliable information about the world, and how to separate fact from mere opinion are critical to the construction of our worldview, that is, the set of values and assumptions upon which we base our lives. Our worldview may be carefully thought out, or it may consist of a hodgepodge of unexamined ideas that we have picked up from family, friends, school, or the media. However it emerges, every person has a worldview, and it plays a critical role in how we live our lives.

Do you have grounds for your religious beliefs other than just pure faith?

You have two choices: You can start with the idea that God exists or you can start with the idea that He doesn’t exist. And then the question is – if you start from one choice or if you start from the other choice, which makes more sense of the world.
This is how I see it. If I start with the idea that God exists then it seems to explain a lot of the characteristics of the Universe. For example it makes sense of the fact that we have the laws of nature. It also makes sense of some surprising things that we are so used to, we don’t realise they’re surprising, like uniformity. Uniformity is a fancy way of saying that if I do an experiment in Oxford and they do the same experiment in Cambridge they should get the same result. So nature behaves the same way everywhere. That idea wasn’t obvious to people historically. But it does make sense if you think there’s a God who sustains the world – because then you’d expect to find uniformity. So to my mind things are more coherent if you start with the God hypothesis and then try to explain the world rather than if you start with a naturalistic hypothesis (the idea that there is no God).


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© 2011 LASAR (Learning about Science and Religion)