God is within the universe and that inner mostly
The creed by which many atheists live often goes something like this: before science people could neither understand the mysteries of the universe nor control its hazards, so they invented gods to explain the mysteries and, by appeasing them, to control the hazards. But now the mysteries have been explained by science there is no more need for religion, at best an irrelevance and at worst a toxic irrationality. This is a delusory myth that misconceives both religion and science. Most atheists are, although they rarely realise it, post-Protestant atheists. They are still trapped in a Protestant theology even though they are reacting against it. The crucial episode in the history of science was the trial of Galileo, who was not a Protestant but both a Catholic and a Platonist. Whereas in the kind of Protestant thinking of which Paley was the classical expression God is essentially outside the universe, in Catholic theology that is not so. Catholicism is essentially sacramental. God is not outside the universe but within it, much as an artist is present in his (oh alright, her) works. Wagner is indeed not his music, but his style, his personality, his very being is present in the music as Mozart’s is in his. ‘God is within the universe and that innermostly’ wrote Aquinas. God is inseparable from the universe. You could almost say the universe is God’s body.
For the neo-Platonists this indwelling of God was essentially mathematical. By showing that moving objects go on moving unless obstructed by air, as they always are, and falling objects fall at the same speed unless differentiated by the resistance of air to their different weights, as is always the case, Galileo believed he was revealing a divine substructure of the universe that we can never physically see but scientific experiment reveals is in fact there. The discoveries of contemporary quantum physics that are mathematically intelligible but incomprehensible to our everyday minds – subatomic entities are both particles and waves, entangled electrons communicate with each other instantaneously even though separated by the whole universe – have done nothing to dispel Galileo’s belief. Atheists commonly think that Galileo began modern science by abandoning the myths of Plato and Aristotle and doing actual experiments. The exact opposite was the case. Galileo was inspired by the Platonic belief that there are ideal forms, that we never see, underlying the material forms of the world that we do see. At the very beginning of his Dialogo he says ‘I know perfectly well that the Pythagoreans had the highest esteem for the science of number and that Plato himself admired the human intellect and believed that it participates in divinity solely because it is able to understand the nature of numbers, and I myself am well inclined to make the same judgment’.
Science was born in this thought world of the Catholic south. But fear of the Inquisition’s fires drove science north where it became an almost wholly Protestant phenomenon. Now the Catholic Wisdom was seen as the grossest idolatry. Now, matter was not God’s living body but a dead machine, and God not the spirit animating it but, in Paley’s classic statement, the great contriver outside it constructing it as one might a watch. Natural selection is incompatible with Paley. If species developed naturally then they did not come ready made from the hand of God. It is not at all incompatible with Catholicism. Either this extraordinarily intelligible world is just unintelligibly there or it is the evolving expression of a cosmic intelligence. The latter option is, to say the least, just as rational as the former. Since by definition science examines material reality, if there were an immaterial reality it would not locate it. But by definition it doesn’t disprove it. It might even point towards it. Is it really sensible to believe that although the universe is full of intelligible things, the universe as a whole is just unintelligibly there?