It occurred to me that there may appear to be a contradiction between two positions I’ve previously taken:
“As for the implication that the possibility God may be proven by science in the future is a good reason to believe in Him now, well, anything is possible. It’s possible I’ll sprout wings and learn to fly. But until I do, I’m not going to jump off any tall buildings.”
Contrast this statement with my dismissal of the improbability of spontaneous abiogenesis as a good reason for rejecting a naturalistic explanation of the origin of life. Might not the religious apologist also say, “Sure, anything is possible, but for life to spontaneously arise is so unlikely that I’m going to reject it until proven otherwise. If life didn’t arise spontaneously, it must have been created, which in turn implies a Creator – God. QED. ”
On the face of it, this seems to be a very good argument. But saying God created life leads to the question, “Who/what created God?” The apologist is assuming that God’s existence is more likely than spontaneous abiogenesis. Note that the hypothetical apologist in the above argument can’t say spontaneous abiogenesis is impossible, only that it is extremely improbable. While I don’t really know what the probability is that God exists (or even how to go about calculating the probability of God) I do not accept a priori that God is the more likely of the two explanations. I think that God is, in fact, the less likely option. If spontaneous abiogenesis were impossible, we would be forced to concede that there must be Creator. If it is merely improbable, it may still be more probable than an improbable deity. Still, given that we have no real numbers, I suppose we can agree to disagree.
The above argument aside, the real difference between the two statements is one of epistemology. In the first case (claiming that science may one day prove God, therefore we should now assume He exists) there is no way to distinguish between true and false beliefs. Any belief can be justified, because the chance always exists that some future discovery will show it to be correct. This is not about the probability of a premise being proven true. It is assuming the premise is true because it isn’t impossible that it will be proven true at some point in the future.
In the second case (claiming that the small probability of spontaneous abiogenesis is not in itself a refutation) I am not assuming that because it’s possible, it’s true. I’m merely saying that it’s improbability isn’t in itself proof that it’s false.
In the first case, the apologist is saying, “We have no scientific reason to say this is true, but we may in the future, so accept it as true right now.” In the second case, I’m saying, “We think that this is what happened, we have some evidence that it’s possible, and while it may be improbable it is the best explanation for the facts.”
(I also went on to show that it’s not nearly as improbable as it was made out to be, but that’s beside the point.)