Did God Use the Big Bang to Create the Universe?

Most science textbooks on cosmology credit Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson with the discovery that the universe began with a hot big bang creation event. While Penzias and Wilson were the first (1965) to detect the radiation left over from the creation event, they were not the first scientists to recognize that the universe is expanding from an extremely hot and compact beginning. Over time, energy and matter has become less and less dense. In fact, the universe is significantly cooler than it was at the moment of creation.

Theoretically, the idea of a “big bang” does not negate God’s creation of the universe. Of course, physicists and theologians constantly bicker about the origin of life and the universe. This is part of the problem. The “bickering.” Most physicists do their research from the mentality of a zero-sum proposition. In other words, they believe science and religion cannot both be right. One is true only through the complete annihilation of the other. Science has its realm—observing and explaining the physical elements and all that we can see—whereas religion is concerned with the spiritual, the metaphysical. They say never should the two meet. This ignores the idea that all truth is God’s truth.

The Big Bang and the Expanding Universe

In 1946, George Gamow calculated that only a universe expanding from a near infinitely hot beginning could account for the existing abundance of elements. In 1912, Vesto Slipher observed the shift of spectral lines of galaxies, indicating their velocities relative to ours. In 1929, observations made by Edwin Hubble (after whom the Hubble Telescope is named) established that the velocities of nearly all galaxies result from a general expansion of the universe. Beginning in 1925, astrophysicist and Jesuit priest Abbe Georges Lemaitre was the first scientist to promote the idea of a big bang creation event. The first theoretical scientific evidence for a big bang universe dates back to 1916 when Albert Einstein noted that his field equations of general relativity predicted an expanding universe.

Not surprisingly, many big bang theories exist. They share three fundamental characteristics: (1) a transcendent cosmic beginning that occurred a finite amount of time ago; (2) a continuous, universal cosmic expansion; and (3) a cosmic cooling from an extremely hot beginning. All three of the fundamental characteristics of the big bang were explicitly taught in the Bible two to three thousand years before scientists discovered them through their astronomical measurements. Moreover, the Bible alone among all the scriptures of the world’s religions expounds these three big bang fundamentals. Scientific proofs for a big bang universe, thus, can do much to establish the existence of the God of the Bible and the accuracy of the words of the Bible.

The term big bang is problematic. It’s not a “bang” per se. This expression typically conjures up images of a bomb blast or exploding dynamite. Such event would unleash disorder and destruction. Instead, this “bang” represents a very powerful yet carefully planned and controlled release of matter, energy, space, and time, the behavior of which must occur according to specific fine-tuned physical constraints and laws of physics. This type of power and precision exceeds the ability of the human mind.

This begs the question, Why, then would astronomers retain the term? The simple answer is that nicknames, for better or worse, tend to stick. In this case, the term came not from proponents of the theory, but rather from the mind of Sir Fred Hoyle. He coined the expression in the 1950s as an attempt to ridicule the big bang, which was at odds with his “steady state” theory. Steady-state theory is a scientific hypothesis that the universe is always expanding but maintaining a constant average density. Its proponents believe matter is continuously created to form new stars and galaxies at the same rate that old ones become unobservable as they increase in velocity and distance from the center of the galaxy. Such a universe would have no beginning or end. Hoyle objected to any theory that would place the origin or cause of the universe outside the universe proper—outside the realm of scientific inquiry. It seems he wanted to side-step any hint of a metaphysical explanation for the physical universe.

What the Bible Says About a Transcendent Universe

To transcend means “to exist above and independent from; to rise above, surpass, succeed.” By definition, God is the only truly transcendent Being. The LORD God Almighty (Hebrew, El Shaddai) created all things on the earth, beneath the earth and in the heavens above, yet He exists above and independent from them. We see this in Hebrews 1:3a, which states, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (NIV).

Being transcendent, God is the incomprehensible Creator existing outside of space and time and thus is unknowable and unsearchable. Neither by an act of our will nor by our own reasoning can we possibly come to understand God. God wants us to seek to know Him, yet how can the finite possibly know and understand the infinite when our minds and thoughts are so far beneath His. In Isaisah 55:8-9, God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, [a]s the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (NIV).

As you might guess, scientists see this Christian tenet as ill-advised at best. It is said that Christians believe in a “fairy tale” story of Creation, and that they hide behind metaphysics, completely unaffected by the so-called “lack of physical evidence” to prove that a Supreme Being spoke all of Creation into existence.

Creation and the Militant Atheist

A militant atheist is one who displays extreme hostility toward religion—with a particular disdain for Christianity. The difference between them and the average skeptic who simply does not believe in God is that they intend to propagate their atheism throughout society. In fact, it is their sincere desire to stop all reference to religion, God, Christ, Christianity, Allah, Islam, or Buddha. Their main aim is to quash any public mention or display of religion or its icons and reference to the subject matter in any public school or college. In addition, they hold all religion to be harmful. Interestingly, militant atheism first popped up during the French Revolution and the Cultural Revolution, and in the Soviet Union.

The militant atheist, Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) likened parents forcing their theistic beliefs to their children as a form of child abuse. He believed parents have no right to “indoctrinate” their sons and daughters with the notion of a Supreme Being. He expressed four irreducible objections to faith: (1) that it wholly misrepresents the origin of man and the universe; (2) that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility—an excessive willingness to serve or please others—with the maximum of solipsism, which means anything outside one’s mind is outside the realm of human comprehension, (3) that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression; and (4) that it is ultimately grounded in wishful thinking.

Hitchens said we are not immune to the lure of wonder and mystery and awe, but believes these should be limited to the arts, music, and literature. They have no place in the scientific inquiry into the origin of life and the cosmos. In fact, he believed that serious moral and ethical dilemmas should be relegated to the likes of Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Schiller, and Dostoyevsky, not in the “mythical morality” of holy books and scriptures. Literature, not scripture, sustains the mind and soul.

“I suppose that one reason I have always detested religion is its sly tendency to insinuate the idea that the universe is designed with ‘you’ in mind or, even worse, that there is a divine plan into which one fits whether one knows it or not. This kind of modesty is too arrogant for me.”—Christopher Hitchens, Hitch 22: A Memoir

Hitchens believed that man can live a moral and proper life without religion. In fact, he said when man accepts that this life on Earth is all there is, that we live only once (with the exception of living on through our progeny), we will behave better rather than worse. First, this is far from true in reality. One only has to watch the nightly network newscasts to see that man cannot simply “get alone” to avoid wasting time, life, love,or relationships. Violence is but one symptom of this problem. Christianity, of course, teaches that man is born in sin, with an innate tendency to seek what the individual wants at any cost, and that this aspect of sin nature will prevent man from acting ethically and fairly on his or her own power. Simply put, Hitchens believed religion is man-made. I concur. Christianity, however, is not necessarily just a religion; instead, it is about relationships: with God the Father, with Jesus Christ, and with one another.

Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, Virus of the Mind, and The Blind Watchmaker, among others, said, “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.” He believes faith is “the great copout;” merely an excuse to evade the need to think and to evaluate evidence. Hebrews 11: 1 tells us, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (NKJV)[emphasis mine]. Dawkins is not shy in his condemnation of Christianity, stating, “It is a horrible idea that God, this paragon of wisdom and knowledge, couldn’t think of a better way to forgive us our sins than to come down to Earth in his alter ego as his son and have himself hideously tortured and executed” [emphasis mine].

Dawkins seems tremendously militant about his atheist views, stating, “Religion is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness.” He went over the top when he invoked the memory of 9/11, stating that many atheists saw religion as “senseless nonsense,” with belief systems that lack physical evidence to back their claims. He said if people need “a crutch” to get through life, where is the harm? He concludes, “September 11th changed all that.”

Not All Scientists Deny the Existence of a Supreme Being

The universe is, of course, tangible. We can observe it (at least as far as current technology permits). But there is an infinite and transcendent aspect to the universe as well. The tangible is typically explored by obstinate observers and exasperated experimenters. These “scientific” individuals come to the search with preconceptions, biases, and presuppositions. But no matter their extensive education (at and beyond the master’s degree level), these individuals are sentient beings with limited understanding, bound by time and space, and can only peripherally comprehend what they observe. Moreover, they are saddled with trying to prove a negative: God does not exist! We all know how difficult it is to prove a negative.

Albert Einstein once said, “Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature, and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible, and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion.” Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking ultimately concluded that there is no God. For me, it’s a matter of science’s failure to completely and thoroughly demystify nature and the cosmos. I agree that we know many things as a result of scientific inquiry. For example, we know why the sky is blue: Among the wavelengths of light in our sun’s spectrum, blue oscillates at the highest frequency and is, therefore, scattered quite nicely by the molecules of air in our atmosphere. Because the blue wavelength bounces off air in all directions, the sky appears blue.

We also have come to understand how gravity works. Newton understood gravity to be a force exerted by objects in space, but Einstein proved that it is a property of space: the curvature, or what he called “warping” of spacetime. Perhaps this is why Gene Roddenberry coined the term “warp speed” relative to escaping the pull of gravity on space ships in order to travel faster than the speed of light. Einstein said this warping is similar to bouncing on a trampoline. He believed that massive objects warp and curve the universe, resulting in other objects moving on or orbiting along those curves. The predictions of Einstein’s theories have been validated time and time again. Now, 100 years after the formulation of his theory of gravity, another one of its predictions—the existence of gravitational waves—has been directly measured, despite Einstein’s belief that we’d never be able to do this.

Darwin’s Black Box

The term “black box” is a whimsical reference to a device that does something, but whose inner workings remain mysterious—sometimes because the workings can’t be seen, and sometimes because they just aren’t comprehensible. When Leeuwenhoek first saw a bacterial cell he essentially revealed a black box (the cell) within a black box (the organism itself). The cell theory was promulgated in the early nineteenth century by Matthias Schleiden and Theodor Schwann. It was Schwann who concluded that cells or the secretion of cells compose the entire bodies of animals and plants, and that in some way the cells are individual units with a life of their own. Schleiden added, “The primary question is, what is the origin of this particular little organism, the cell?”

The question of how life works was not one that Darwin or his colleagues were able to answer. They knew eyes were for seeing, but wondered exactly how sight works. How does blood clot? How does the body fight off disease? What was the smallest “unit” of life? Things began to open up a bit when Justus von Liebig showed that the body heat of animals is due to the combustion of food at the cellular level. From this discovery, he formulated the idea of metabolism, whereby the body builds up and breaks down substances through chemical processes.

A Fine Example

To Darwin, vision was a black box. Today, however, after the work of numerous biochemists, we have a better understanding of sight. Michael J. Behe, in his book Darwin’s Black Box, recounts the biochemistry of how a human is able to experience vision:

When light first strikes the retina, a photon interacts with a molecule called 11-cis-retinal, which rearranges within picoseconds to trans-retinal. (A picosecond is about the time it takes light to travel the breadth of a single human hair.) The change in the shape of the retinal molecule forces a change in the shape of the protein rhodopsin, to which the retinal is tightly bound. The protein’s metamorphosis alters its behavior. Now called metarhodospsin II, the protein sticks to another protein called transducin. Before bumping into metarhodopsin II, transducin had tightly bound a small molecule called GDP. But when transducin interacts with metarhodopsin II, the GDP falls off, and a molecule called GTP binds to transducin. (GTP is closely related to, but critically different from, GDP.

GTP-transducin-metarhodopsin II  now binds to a protein called phosphodiestrerase, located in the inner membrane of the cell. When attached to metarhodopsin II and its entourage, the phosphodiesterase acquires the chemical ability to “cut” a molecule called cGMP (a chemical relative to both GDP and GTP). Initially, there are a lot of cGMP molecules in the cell, but the phosphodiesterase lowers its concentration, just as a pulled plug lowers the water level in a bathtub… Trans-retinal eventually falls off of rhodopsin and must be reconverted to 11-cis-retinal and again bound by rhodopsin to get back to the starting point for another visual cycle.

The Odds of Random Life

Donald Page of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Science has calculated the odds against our universe randomly taking a form suitable for creating life as one out of 10,000,000,000 to the 124th power—a number that exceeds human imagination. Sir Fred Hoyle believed the odds of the random formation of a single enzyme  from amino acids (necessary for life itself) anywhere on Earth are one in 10 to the 20th power. He believed this tremendous chance-happening is rooted in the fact that there are approximately two thousand enzymes, with the chance of obtaining them all in a random trial only one in 10 to the 40,000th power! Say what? This is an outrageously small probability that would not likely occur even if the entire universe were made up of organic soup. Nothing has yet been stated relative to DNA and where it came from, or of the transcription of DNA to RNA, which even atheist-minded scientists admit cannot be mathematically computed. Nor has anything been said of mitosis or meiosis. It would seem any chance of the random ordering of organic molecules in a manner consistent with formation of life is zero.

Replacing Darwin

Nathaniel T. Jeanson, in his amazing book Replacing Darwin: The New Origin of Species, stated the following in his Afterward:

In the beginning… God created “kinds” of creatures—the original min. Representing creatures somewhere between the rank of sub-genus and order, these min contained millions of heterozygous sites in their genomes. As they reproduced, shifts from heterozygosity to homozygosity led to diverse offspring… after the creation of these min, their population sizes were dramatically reduced. At least for the land-dwelling, air-breathing min, their population sizes were reduced to no more than fourteen individuals. In some cases, their populations declined to just two. However, because this population bottleneck was so short, the heterozygosity of the Ark passengers would have been minimally affected. For sexually reproducing min, a male and female could have possessed a combined four copies of nuclear DNA. These copies could have been very different, preserving a massive amount of speciation potential.

If you’re familiar with Noah’s Ark, you’ve probably heard the phrase “two-by-two,” as if Noah brought animals on board the Ark only in groups of two. For some animals, Noah brought at least seven male and seven female individuals of that animal (see Genesis 7:1-3). Some biblical scholars agreesuspect that “seven” might refer to pairs (rather than to individuals), implying that Noah brought fourteen individuals (7×2=14) of these types of animals.

There has been a fundamental misunderstanding among most scientists (and atheists, for that matter) of both science and Christian faith. First, we must remember that some important scientific theories have yet to be tested—for example, Stephen Hawking postulated that black holes rotate. Second, Christianity can be tested. We have already been successful at the factual level regarding Christian doctrine standing up to atheistic scrutiny. The reliability of the biblical documents and evidence for the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus has stood the test of time. In addition, Christianity is observable and testable at the individual level.

The Nature of Science

I’ve heard it said that science doesn’t say anything, scientists do. For a scientist to claim he or she can disprove the existence of God—trying to prove a “negative”—is like saying a mechanic can disprove the existence of Henry Ford. In fact, it would be more accurate to state that theism supports science, not that science supports theism. Scientists are responsible for collecting data and interpreting it properly. This is not the function of science; rather, it is the responsibility of the scientist. They function as judges of the data. Science itself is a tool, not a judge. Even in jurisprudence, the jury is the trier of the facts. Because if this, we are presented with a dilemma. Qualitative data is inherently necessary when doing science, but each scientist comes to the lab with certain preconceptions and biases.

James W. Sire (2015) explains what is meant by a worldview. He states it is “…a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic makeup of our world” (p. 19). David Entwistle (2015) warns us that assumptions and biases affect data interpretation. He said, “…what we see depends, to some degree, on what we expect and are predisposed to see.” (p. 93) Our ability to know is both dependent upon and limited by the assumptions of our worldview. This is problematic in science, especially because a person’s worldview is not just a set of basic concepts, but a fundamental orientation of the heart.

Accordingly, atheists and theists are not really arguing over the data, nor are they bickering over the vast majority of scientific issues. Instead, they are butting heads over contrasting worldviews. In order for science to be fair and balanced, scientists must take a forensic approach similar to that of a detective reviewing evidence at a crime scene. You can certainly imagine what happens if a detective approaches a homicide absolutely convinced about who committed the murder and why. Little-to-no investigation of exculpatory evidence or alternative suspects would be entertained. This would frequently lead to the wrong conclusion and conviction of the wrong individual.

Richard Lewontin, a Darwinist from Harvard University, addressed the philosophical biases that plague science. He wrote the following in The New York Review of Books:

Our willingness to accept accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a-priori adherence to the material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanation, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute for we cannot allow a divine foot in the door [emphasis added].

Here’s my thought on this matter. If nature behaved in an erratic and unpredictable manner then life and science would be impossible. Laws of nature must point to a Law Giver. Most atheists have come to believe that God is no longer necessary. They think God and the laws discovered  through scientific study are diametrically opposed. Militant atheists take this viewpoint further, insisting that belief in God actually derails scientific progress. They believe “God” merely fills in the gaps in data until we “figure it all out.” In other words, who needs faith when we can empirically prove the whys and the means for how the physical world operates.

John C. Lennox, a mathematics professor at Oxford University and accomplished Christian apologist, noted that when Sir Isaac Newton discovered the universal law of gravitation he did not say, “I have discovered a mechanism that accounts for planetary motion, therefore there is no agent God who designed it.” Rather, because he understood how it worked, he was even more in awe of God who designed it that way. Granted, the prestige of science and technology is indeed impressive. But there’s more “code” and intricate functionality in just one of our forty trillion cells than in the latest iPhone.

Revisiting the concept that we all bring our preconceptions and biases to the table when taking on a subject, it is important to note that before doing science scientists frame their own philosophical rules for doing science. How can this not have a deciding impact on what they see or don’t see? Should scientists be open to only natural causes, or are intelligent or metaphysical causes worthy of consideration. While doing science, scientists rely on the orderly laws of nature, the law of causality, and the theory of knowledge known as realism when conducting an experiment or empirical investigation. After doing science, scientists must decide what is good evidence. What counts as evidence is not evidence itself—a philosophical value judgment must be made. Moreover, they must remain honest and open-minded throughout the entire process.

References

Behe, M. (2006). Darwin’s Black Box. New York, NY: Free Press, Div. of Simon and Schuster.
Entwistle, D. (2015). Integrative approaches to psychology and Christianity, third edition. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books.
Jeanson, J. (2017). Replacing Darwin: The New Origin of Species. Green Forest, AR: New Leaf Publishing Group.
Sire, J. (2015). Naming the elephant: Worldview as a concept, second edition. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press.

God, Science or Both?

WHEN YOU PONDER THE vastness of the universe, the wonder of the natural world, or the mysteries of the human mind, what do you think? Some of us see nothing but a material world, machinations of which we believe are best explained by the logical reasoning of science. One of the world’s most famous and endearing scientists, Stephen Hawking, did not believe in God or heaven. Hawking invoked the name of God in his seminal book A Brief History of Time, writing that if astrophysics could find a “theory of everything”—in other words, a comprehensive explanation for how the universe works—they would glimpse “the mind of God.”

However, in later interviews and writings, such as 2010’s The Grand Design, which Hawking co-wrote with Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking clarified that he wasn’t referring to a creator in the traditional sense. “Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist, he wrote, adding, “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” In other words, Hawking was perfectly at ease with believing something came from nothing.

In Hawking’ s Brief Answers to the Big Questions, his last book before his death March 14, 2018, he said, “People have always wanted answers to the big questions. Where did we come from? How did the universe begin? What is the meaning and design behind it all? Is there anyone out there?” (p. 3). He states the big question in cosmology: Did the universe have a beginning? He notes that many scientists were instinctively opposed to the idea, because they felt that a point of creation would be “…a place where science [breaks] down. One would have to appeal to religion and the hand of God to determine how the universe would start off” (pp. 12-13). He clearly states in Brief Answers, “I think the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing, according to the laws of science.” He added, “If you accept, as I do, that the laws of nature are fixed, then it doesn’t take long to ask: What role is there for God?”

To Hawking and many like-minded scientists, the combined laws of gravity, relativity, quantum physics, and thermodynamics could explain everything that ever happened or ever will happen in our known universe. He said, “If you like, you can say the laws are the work of God, but that is more a definition of God than a proof of his existence.” Hawking’s number-one “big question” is definitely a big one: Is there a God? Trying to prove God does not exist is basically impossible. How does one prove a negative?

CHRISTIANITY AND REASON: THE THEOLOGICAL ROOTS OF SCIENCE

Christianity helped form the heart of Western civilization, shaping ideas and institutions that have persisted for two millennia. Yet there seems to be an inherent antagonism between science and theology. In fact, militant atheists are prone to portray an ongoing war between the two. The conflict, Sam Harris writes, is “zero sum.” Zero-sum basically means if one party gains an advantage, another party must suffer an equivalent loss. In economic theory, a zero-sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which each participant’s gain or loss of utility is exactly balanced by the loss or gain of the utility of the other party.

It is worth noting that science as an organized, sustained enterprise arose in human history in Europe, during the period of civilization called Christendom. Pope Benedict XVI argues that reason is a central distinguishing feature of Christianity. An unbiased look at the history of science shows that modern science is an invention of Medieval Christianity, and that the greatest breakthroughs in scientific reason have largely been the work of Christians.

Sam Harris said, “If God created the universe, what created God?” His sentiments are echoed by several atheist writers: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Carl Sagan, Steven Weinberg. They argue the problem of infinite regress—a sequence of reasoning or justification which can never come to an end. Certainly, they say, there has to be a chain of causation, but they ask, “Why does it have to stop with God?” Dawkins makes the further point that only a complex God could have created such a complex universe; but he said we don’t have the luxury of accounting for one form of unexplained complexity (the universe) by pointing to an even greater form of unexplained complexity (God). Consequently, Dawkins concludes that “the theist answer has utterly failed” and he sees ” no alternative [but to] to dismiss it.”

CHRISTIANITY AND THE INVENTION OF INVENTION

Nicolaus Copernicus wrote, “So vast, without question, is the divine handiwork of the Almighty Creator.” Lists of the great ideas of modern science typically contain a major omission. On such lists we are sure to find Copernicus’s heliocentric theory, Kepler’s laws, Newton’s laws, and Einstein’s theory of relativity, yet the greatest idea of modern science is almost never included. It is such a big idea that it makes possible all the other ideas. Interestingly, the greatest idea of modern science is based not on reason but on faith. Consider the scientific method for proving a hypothesis. A scientific hypothesis is the building block of scientific method. Many describe it as an “educated guess,” based on knowledge and observation.

Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard argued that scientific method could neither prove nor disprove any religious belief. Instead, religion requires a leap of faith. He said, “You either believe or you don’t believe. But you’re never reasoned into or out of any religious tenets.” Faith, however, is not a highly acclaimed word in the scientific community. Physicist Richard Feynmand wrote in The Meaning of It All, “I do not believe that the scientist can have that same certainty of faith that very deeply religious people have.” Astronomer and Carl Sagan protege Neil deGrasse Tyson complains that “the claims of religions rely on faith” and boasts that “the claims of science rely on experimental verification.” But where is the scientific verification that something came from nothing? Physicist Eugene Wigner has said that the mathematical order of nature “is something bordering on the mysterious and there is no rational explanation for it.” Feynmand confesses, “Why nature is mathematical is a mystery. The fact that there are rules at all is a kind of miracle.”

There is no logical necessity for a universe that obeys rules, let alone one that abides by the rules of mathematics. Yet the universe seems to be ordered. It does seem to follow rules. Without this irrational faith that the universe simply “knows” to follow a certain order, modern science is impossible. Dinesh D’Souza asks, “Where did Western man get this faith in a unified, ordered, and accessible universe? How did we go from chaos to cosmos? My answer, in a word, is Christianity.” Men such as Thales, Parmenides, Heraclitus, and Pythagoras posited a universe that operates through discoverable rules of cause-and-effect. Prior to this, much was based on mythical cosmologies chock full of ideas of an “enchanted universe.”

CHRISTIANITY AND SCIENCE

Churches began to build schools in Europe during the tail-end of the Medieval period, starting first with elementary and secondary grade levels. Eventually, they began to establish universities in Bologna and Paris. Oxford and Cambridge were founded in the early thirteenth century, followed by universities in Rome, Naples, Salamanca, Seville, Prague, Vienna, Cologne, and Heidelberg. These institutions were affiliated with the church, but they were independently governed and operated. The curriculum was a mix of secular and theological, leaving plenty of room for the study and advancement of new scientific knowledge. Interestingly, many of America’s earliest colleges and universities—Harvard, William and Mary, Yale, Northwestern, Princeton, Dartmouth, Brown—began as Christian institutions.

Francis Bacon—a devoutly religious man who did expository writing on the Book of Psalms and on prayer—used the inductive method to record experiments. He is considered by many to be the founder of scientific method—the “inventor of invention” if you will. It was under the supervision of the church that the first medical research institutions and the first observatories were built and supported. From the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, a period of several centuries, the church did more for Western science than any other institution. Agnostics and atheists are prone to believing science was founded in the seventeenth century in revolt against religious dogma. In reality, science was founded between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries by great leaders in their fields who were theists.

Here is a partial list of leading scientists who were Christian:

  • Nicolas Copernicus—Mathematician
  • Johannes Kepler—Astronomer
  • Galileo Galilei—Astronomer
  • Tycho Brahe—Astronomer
  • Rene Descartes—Philosopher, Mathematician, Scientist
  • Robert Boyle—Philosopher, Chemist, Physicist
  • Isaac Newton—Mathematician
  • Gottfried Leibniz—Mathematician, Philosopher
  • Pierre Gassendi—Priest, Philosopher, Mathematician, Astronomer
  • Blaise Pascal—Mathematician
  • Marin Mersenne—Mathematician
  • George Cuvier—Naturalist, Zoologist
  • William Harvey—Physician
  • John Dalton—Chemist
  • Michael Faraday—Scientist in electromagnetism and electrochemistry
  • William Herschel—Astronomer
  • James Prescott Joule—Physicist
  • Charles Lyell—Geologist
  • Antoine Lavoiseir—Chemist
  • Joseph Priestly—Theologian, Philosopher, Chemist, Educator
  • William Thompson, 1st Baron Kelvin—Mathematician
  • Georg Ohm—Physicist
  • Andre-Marie Ampere—Physicist
  • Nicolas Steno—Scientist in anatomy and geology
  • Louis Pasteur—Chemist, Inventor
  • James Clerk Maxwell—Mathematical Physics
  • Max Planck—Theoretical Physicist
  • Gregor Mendel—Geneticist

A UNIVERSE WITH A BEGINNING

Do latest findings in modern science support or undermine the Christian claim that there is a God? Carl Sagan once said, “…the cosmos is all there is, or was, or ever will be.” Interestingly, in a stunning confirmation of Genesis, modern science has discovered that the universe was created in a primordial explosion of energy and light. Not only did the universe have a beginning in space and time, but the origin of the universe was also a beginning for space and time. Space and time did not exist prior to the universe. If you accept that everything that has a beginning has a cause, then the material universe had a non-material or spiritual cause. Atheists are unwilling to accept that the creation of the universe was, in fact, a miracle.

Ravi Zacharias, in his book The End of Reason, says “nothing cannot produce something.” He adds, “Not only is there something; the laws of science actually break down right at the beginning.” The very starting point for an atheistic universe is based on something that cannot explain its own existence. The scientific laws by which atheists want to account for the beginning of the universe did not even exist as a category at the beginning of the universe because according to those very laws matter cannot simply “pop into existence” on its own. Atheistic philosopher Bertrand Russell said that the universe is “just there.” Obviously, that is not a scientific explanation. In fact, according to science, nothing that exists (or that is) can explain its own existence.

I don’t mean to pick on atheist theories, but read the following thoughts from Stephen Jay Gould

We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because comets struck the earth and wiped out dinosaurs, thereby giving mammals a chance not otherwise available (so thank your lucky stars in a literal sense); because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a “higher” answer—but none exists… We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must construct these answers ourselves—from our own wisdom and ethical sense. There is no other way.

Ken Ham made a very interesting statement during his February 4, 2014 debate with Bill Nye on the merits of creationism versus evolution:

Non-Christian scientists are really borrowing from the Christian worldview anyway to carry out their experimental observational science… When they’re doing observational science using the scientific method they have to assume the laws of logic, they have to assume the laws of nature, they have to assume the uniformity of nature.

Mr. Ham made the point that creationists and evolutionists really have the same evidence when discussing the topic of origins. We have the same Grand Canyon, the same fossils, the same dinosaurs, the same humans, the same radioactivity, the same stars and planets, and so on. So the issue is not about evidence, but is rather an argument about how the evidence is interpreted in relation to the past. Frankly, its about one’s worldview. Accordingly, this becomes a worldview/religious debate. It is our worldview, based on our starting point (God’s Word or man’s theories), that drives the interpretation of evidence. This is especially relevant when the discussion is about the origin of the universe.

Sire (2015) said a worldview is not just a set of basic concepts, but a fundamental orientation of the heart. Phillips, Brown and Stonestreet (2008) clarify this even further, stating, “A worldview is the framework of our most basic beliefs that shapes our view of and for the world, and is the basis of our decisions and actions.” (p. 8) Assumptions and biases affect data interpretation. What we see depends, to some degree, on what we expect and are predisposed to see. Successful homicide detectives never approach a crime scene with a preconceived notion of what happened.

IS THERE AN END IN SIGHT?

Stephen Hawking gave a lecture in 1996 called “The Beginning of Time.” He discussed whether time itself had a beginning, and whether it will have and end. I assume this means Hawking did not accept the biblical concept of eternity. He said, “All the evidence seems to indicate, that the universe has not existed forever, but that it had a beginning, about 15 billion years ago.” Regarding whether the universe will end, he said “…even if the universe does come to an end, it won’t be for at least twenty billion years.” For me, coming to a conclusion such as this requires a great deal of faith and a pinch or two of conjecture.

Many astrophysicists and theoretical physicists seem to hold the scientific opinion that we live in a closed universe, which means there is sufficient matter in the universe to halt the expansion driven by the Big Bang and cause eventual re-collapse. In other words, the Big Bang caused the universe to burst into existence, and it has been gradually expanding; however, gravity will supposedly pull everything back in, leading to another Big Bang. I read a post on howstuffworks.com that explains a closed universe this way:

Tie one end of a bungee cord to your leg, the other end to the rail of a bridge and then jump off. You’ll accelerate downward rapidly until you begin to stretch the cord. As tension increases, the cord gradually slows your descent. Eventually, you’ll come to a complete stop, but just for a second as the cord, stretched to its limit, yanks you back toward the bridge. Astronomers think a closed universe will behave in much the same way. Its expansion will slow down until it reaches a maximum size. Then it will recoil, collapsing back on itself. As it does, the universe will become denser and hotter until it ends in an infinitely hot, infinitely dense singularity.

An open universe, on the contrary, means the universe will continue to expand indefinitely. Those holding to this theory believe galaxies will run out of the raw materials necessary for making new stars. Stars that already exist will burn out. Galaxies will become coffins filled with dust and dead stars. At that point, the universe will become dark, cold and, unfortunately, lifeless. Creation.com discusses whether the Bible supports the theory that our universe is expanding. We have been told, since Hubble’s discovery in the late 1920s, that the universe is expanding. Hubble found proportionality between the red-shift in the light coming from relatively nearby galaxies and their distance from Earth.

Hubble initially interpreted his red-shifts as a Doppler effect, due to the motion of the galaxies as they rushed away from our location in the universe. Later, Hubble became disillusioned with the recession interpretation: “… it seems likely that red-shifts may not be due to an expanding Universe, and much of the speculation on the structure of the universe may require re-examination.” He said that what became known as the Hubble Law could also be due to “some hitherto unknown principle of nature,” but not due to expansion of space.

What Do the Scriptures Say?

Psalm 104 presents a description of the biblical account of how the universe was formed. Verse 2 says, “The LORD wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent” (NIV). Verse 5 says, “He set the earth on its foundation; it can never be moved.” We must remember that God did not provide the Scriptures as a “science” book. Rather, it is a love letter to His creation. Science certainly attempts to explain the how and God explains the why of creation. Regardless, the Bible does not attempt to make strict scientific pronouncements. You won’t find a verse that says, “Thus says the LORD: The universe is expanding at X rate.” God says in Genesis 1:6-7, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters. God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse, and it was so. God called the expanse heaven” (NASB).

The prophets of the Old Testament knew that God had stretched out the heavens—a description that bears an uncanny similarity to the theory of an expanding (or open) universe. According to science, what was often considered a metaphorical, poetic expression turns out to be more literal than ever thought. An expanding universe does not negate the biblical account of creation. The great majority of scientists would say that matter is not eternal—that matter did not exist prior to the Big Bang. In fact, the prevailing theory is that nothing at all existed prior to the Big Bang, including time and space. At the moment of the Big Bang—the moment of creation—time began. Space began. Matter began.

McDowell and McDowell (2017), in Evidence That Demands a Verdict, describes what they call “concordist interpretations,” which are driven by what some believe are remarkable agreements between Scripture and modern science. Astronomer Robert Jastrow has said such instances of concordance are significant: “Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation… That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact” (Durbin, SCBTF, 15, 18).

Zoologist Andrew Parker was so struck with the consistency between the sequence of creation events in Genesis 1 and the modern scientific understanding of these events that he wrote The Genesis Enigma, in which he describes this consistency and concludes as follows:

Here, then, is the Genesis Enigma: The opening page of Genesis is scientifically accurate but was written long before the science was known.  How did the writer of this page come to write this creation account? I must admit, rather nervously as a scientist averse to entertaining such an idea, that the evidence that the writer of the opening page of the Bible was divinely inspired is strong. I have never before encountered such powerful, impartial evidence to suggest that the Bible is the product of divine inspiration.

Perhaps you will find the following excerpt from the Afterword of Nathaniel T. Jeanson’s Replacing Darwin: The New Origin of Species, rather powerful:

In the beginning, around 6,000 years ago, God created “kinds” of creatures—the original min. Representing creatures somewhere between the rank of subgenus and order, these min contained millions of heterozygous sites in their genomes. As they reproduced, shifts from heterozygosity to homozygosity led to diverse offspring. Less than 1,700 years after the creation of these min, their population sizes were dramatically reduced. At least for the land-dwelling, air-breathing min, their population sizes were reduced to no more than 14 individuals. In some cases, their populations declined to just 2. However, because this population bottleneck was so short, the heterozygosity of the Ark passengers would have been minimally effected. For sexually reproducing min, a male and female could have possessed a combined four copies of nuclear DNA. These copies could have been very different, preserving a massive amount of speciation potential.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Whenever I bring up science and faith, my secular friends either go mute or they try to start an argument. Not the “forensic point-counterpoint kind,” but the “You’ve got to be crazy! What is wrong with you?” kind. They say, “With the advent of modern science, how can you still believe that whole “creationism and the Earth is only 6,000 years old” garbage. They’ve decided miracles cannot happen. They’re convinced that the creation story of Christianity is nothing but an “enchanted” fairy tale. But scientists cannot escape the question of God. Nature is well-ordered and follows the laws of gravity, relativity, quantum physics, and thermodynamics. Nature bears the marks of a designer. Finally, science is only one source of truth.

Science cannot exist without the assumptions of a stable creation, with meaning, purpose, or the laws of nature to govern it. Without the assumptions brought about by Christianity, modern science would have no footing whatsoever. If nature were inherently self-serving and motivated merely by survival rather than to the giving of life, the stability of natural laws would be unknowable. Nature itself would be a moving deception. We would not have the ability to even perceive such a reality if it existed.

 

References

Hawking, S. (1988). A Brief History of Time. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Hawking, S. (2018). Brief Answers to the Big Questions. London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton.

McDowell, J. and McDowell, S. (2017). Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth For a Skeptical World. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing.

Phillips, W., Brown, W., and Stonestreet, J. (2008). Making sense of your world: A biblical worldview, second edition. Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing.

Sire, J. (2015). Naming the elephant: Worldview as a concept, second edition. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press.

Zacharias, R. (2008). The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Press.

The Genesis Problem: The Methodological Atheism of Science

“There is no such thing as philosophy-free science. There is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.”
– Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea

YOU DECIDE TO SIT DOWN and examine science in order to come to a better understanding of the empirical world around you. This seems to be a sound proposition, yet there is a problem. The issue is not with modern science itself, but rather with a faulty view of science: The idea that science is a complete framework for understanding man and the universe, and that unscientific claims should be automatically rejected. Scientists naturally like to think of themselves as reasonable people, ready to follow the path of evidence no matter where it takes them. Carl Sagan’s boast is typical in this regard: “At the heart of science is … an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counter-intuitive.” Of course, we must also remember that virtually everyone comes to a subject matter already in possession of a particular bias or worldview. That’s fine. What is not okay is when an individual denies his or her biases or presuppositions, or, worse yet, is dishonest about them when presenting their findings.

Stephen Hawking explains why a large number of theorists were attracted to the steady state theory of the origin of the universe. Steady state theory posits that the universe is always expanding, but it is maintaining a constant average density, with matter being constantly created to form new stars and galaxies at the same rate that old ones become unobservable as a consequence of their increasing distance and velocity of receding. He said, “There were therefore a number of attempts to avoid the conclusion that there had been a big bang … Many people do not like the idea that time has a beginning, probably because it smacks of divine intervention.” For some time Hawking had given the impression that he is neither a strong believer nor disbeliever in a higher power, but in 2014 he told a symposium, “Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation.” This is decidedly quite a reversal of opinion.

Astronomer and physicist Lee Smolin complained, “Must all of our scientific understanding of the world really come down to a [seemingly] mythological story in which nothing exists … save some disembodied intelligence, who, desiring to start a world, chooses the initial conditions and then wills matter into being?” Man must ultimately confront nature in order to develop a sense of who he is within nature itself. Indeed, by default one’s worldview will have an impact on how one defines nature. For example, Western societies do not generally confront nature with the same sense of respect. For us, the physical realm of “not man” is indifferent to man. In the Western Hemisphere, we believe nature exists for man to harness for his own purposes. We do not conform to the universe; rather, we seek to conform the universe to us and our needs. Phillips, Brown & Stonestreet. (2008) How we confront and interpret nature has a direct impact on understanding our place in it.

Today all evidence of God is a priori rejected by science. Even empirical evidence of the kind normally admissible in science is refused a hearing. It doesn’t matter how strong or reliable the evidence is, scientists acting in their professional capacity are obliged to ignore it. If you know anything about the history of the church, all of this may seem surprising, in view of how science developed out of the theological premises and institutions of Christianity. Copernicus, Kepler, Boyle, and others all saw a deep compatibility between science and religion. All believed in God. Today, however, scientists typically admit there is a specific orderliness to the universe and nature, but refuse to consider the source of that orderliness. Science has front-men like Stephen Hawking to attempt to convince everyone that the laws of physics and the language of genetics came from nothing.

Today’s atheists, Dawkins and the others, seem naively to believe they are the apostles of reason who are merely following the evidence. It is important to note that modern science seems to be based on an unwavering alliance to naturalism and materialism. Naturalism is the doctrine that nature is all there is. It is a philosophical viewpoint according to which everything arises from natural properties and causes. Supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted. Materialism is the belief that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications. Material reality is the only reality. Of course these philosophical doctrines – naturalism and materialism – have never been proven. In fact, they cannot be proven because it is impossible to demonstrate that immaterial reality does not exist. Naturalism and materialism are not scientific conclusions; rather, they are scientific premises. They are not discovered in nature but imposed upon nature. In short, they are articles of faith.

Here’s something to ponder which was written by Richard Lewontin, geneticist and author of Billions and Billions of Demons:

“We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment – a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori commitment to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.” [Emphasis added.]

The million-dollar question: Is science intrinsically atheistic? Well, yes. From a procedural or narrow sense, science is anti-God. And this is probably okay, because we don’t want scientists who run into difficulty proving their theories to get out of the dilemma simply by saying, “You know, I’m not going to investigate this any longer. I’m just going to put it down as a miracle.” Could you imagine what would happen to the “reputation” of miracles if we called everything we cannot understand a miracle? Moreover, there are many religious scientists who find no difficulty in working within the domain of procedural atheism while at the same time holding their religious beliefs. Biologist Francis Collins says that as a biologist he investigates natural explanations for the origin of life, while as a Christian he believes that there are also supernatural forces at work. Science is not the only way of knowing.

The more I read the works of today’s apologists and the counter-arguments of today’s atheists, the clearer it becomes to me that we are slowly uncovering scientific facts that speak loudly of the existence of a creative force in the universe. I see that reality goes much deeper than the scientific portrait of it. Many people regard scientific and religious claims as inherently contradictory simply because they are unwitting captives to a second type of atheism, which has been identified as philosophical atheism. The best way to define this term is the dogma that material and natural reality is all that exists. Everything else is illusory. Atheists of this persuasion, and this would include Richard Dawkins, pretend that because God cannot be discovered through science – which is a dubious claim anyway! – God cannot be discovered at all.

Here’s the thing about philosophical atheism: Only data that fit the theory are allowed into the theory. By contrast, the theist is much more open-minded and reasonable. The theist does not deny the validity of scientific reasoning. Again, we have only to look to the great scientists who were Christians. The theist is entirely willing to acknowledge material and natural causes for events. After all, it is God who put the laws of physics in motion when He created the universe. I am of the firm belief that physic did not exist before the universe existed, therefore physics cannot be used to explain how the universe came into being. (Consider, for example, the first law of thermodynamics.) However, the theist also admits the possibility of other types of knowledge

Let me take a moment to point out something very few have focused on in arguing that God simply cannot exist because the explanation of a supreme deity is far too simple to be true. They claim belief in God cannot explain the complex theory of evolution. Richard Dawkins, in his seminal book The God Delusion, faults theologian Richard Swinburne’s concept that examination of electrons shows God’s hand in all of creation, and His ongoing sustenance of all that exists. Swinburne said billions and billions of electrons, all with the same properties, all working together in perfect symmetry, is too much of a coincidence. Dawkins states, “But how can Swinburne possibly maintain that this hypothesis of God simultaneously keeping a gazillion fingers on wayward electrons is a simple hypothesis? It is, of course, precisely the opposite of simple. Swinburne pulls off the trick to his own satisfaction by a breathtaking piece of intellectual chutzpah. He asserts, without justification, that God is only a single substance. What brilliant economy of explanatory causes, compared with all those gigazillions of independent electrons all just happening to be the same!”

First of all, Dawkins and many others continue to quote statements made decades, and sometimes centuries, ago in support of their attack on theists, and do not include remarks that indicate how far science and religion have come as partners in discovering the origin of life. For example, some modern theorists see randomness as a genuine design feature, and not just as a physicalist gloss. Their challenge is to explain how divine providence is compatible with genuine randomness. (Under a deistic view, one could simply say that God started the universe off and did not interfere with how it went, but that option is not open to the theist, and most authors in the field of science and religion are theists, rather than deists.)

Elizabeth Johnson (1996), using a Thomistic view of divine action, argues that divine providence and true randomness are compatible: God gives creatures true causal powers, thus making creation more excellent than if they lacked such powers, and random occurrences are also secondary causes; chance is a form of divine creativity that creates novelty, variety, and freedom. One implication of this view is that God may be a risk taker – although, if God has a providential plan for possible outcomes, there is unpredictability but not risk. Johnson uses metaphors of risk-taking that, on the whole, leave the creator in a position of control (creation, then, is like jazz improvisation), but it is, to her, a risk nonetheless. Why would God take risks? There are several solutions to this question. The free will theodicy says that a creation that exhibits randomness can be truly free and autonomous:

Authentic love requires freedom, not manipulation. Such freedom is best supplied by the open contingency of evolution, and not by strings of divine direction attached to every living creature. (Miller 1999/2007: 289)

What’s fascinating to me is that none of these cherished atheist theories can account for the origin of life, the origin of consciousness, or the origin of human rationality and morality. Any theory that cannot account for these landmark stages can hardly claim to have solved the problem of origins, either of life or of the universe. The universe could not have evolved solely through natural selection, as the universe makes up the whole of nature. Someone made the universe and prescribed the laws that govern its operations. There are innumerable life forms in the universe. These life forms are the product of evolution (natural selection), and Darwin and his successors have elegantly elucidated how the selection process occurred. Of this I have no doubt. Accordingly, I am not a hardcore young earth creationist. But evolution has no explanation for the origin of the universe or its laws. So how can evolution undercut the argument from design as it applies to the universe itself and the laws that govern it?

Simple. Scientific truth is not the entire truth.

REFERENCES

Dawkins, R. (2008). The God Delusion. New York, NY: Mariner Books
DeCruz, H. (2017). “Religion and Science.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Science. (Spring 2017 Edition). URL: https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2017/entries/religion-science/
D’Souza, D. (2007). What’s So Great About Christianity? Carol Stream, IL: Tyndall Press
Phillips, W., Brown, W. and Stonestreet, J. (2008). Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview. Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Company

 

The Self and the “New Atheists”

Paradoxically the most important oversight of the new atheists is the most human datum  of all: themselves. The ultimate supraphysical/physical reality that we know from experience is the experience itself, namely, ourselves. Once we acknowledge the fact that there is a first-person perspective, “I,” “me,” “mine,” and the like, we encounter the greatest and yet the most exhilarating mystery of all. I exist. To sort-of “reverse think” Descartes, it’s as if we’re saying, “I am, therefore I think, perceive, intend, mean, interact.” But who is “I?” “Where” is it? How did it come to be? Your self is obviously not just something physical (anatomical), just as it is not merely something supraphysical (or spiritual, if you prefer). It is an embodied self, an ensouled body; “you” are not located in a particular brain cell or in some part of your body. The cells in your body keep changing and yet “you” remain the same. If you study your neurons, you will find that none of them have the property of being an “I.” Of course your body is integral to who you are, but it is a “body” because it is constituted as such by the self. To be human is to be embodied and ensouled.

In a famous passage in his A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume declares, “When I enter most intimately into what I call myself…I can never catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception [itself].” Here Hume denies the existence of a self simply by arguing that he (meaning “I”) can’t find “myself.” But what is it that unifies his various experiences, that enables him to be aware of the external world, and that remains the same throughout? Who’s asking these questions? He assumes that “myself” is an observable state, much like his thoughts and feelings. But the self is not something that can be thus observed. It is a constant fact of experience and, in fact, the ground of all experience.

Indeed, of all the truths available to us, the self is at the same time the most obvious and unassailable and the most lethal for all forms of physicalism. To begin with, it must be said that denial of the self cannot even be claimed without contradiction. To the question, “How do I know I exist?” a professor famously replied, “And who’s asking?” The self is what we are and not what we have. It is the “I” from which arises our first-person perspective. We cannot analyze the self, because it is not a mental state that can be observed or described.

The most fundamental reality of which we are all aware, then, is the human self, and an understanding of the self inevitably sheds insights on all the origin questions and makes sense of reality as a whole. We realize that the self cannot be described, let alone explained, in terms of physics or chemistry: science does not discover the self; the self discovers science. We realize that no account of the history of the universe is coherent if it cannot account for the existence of the self. Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, and naturalists like Carl Sagan, want to explain our perceptions solely in terms of sensory perception and our neurochemical reactions to them. They claim it’s all binary, just like computer processing: zeros and ones.

Even if that were remotely so, how did life, consciousness, thought and the self come to be? The history of the world shows the sudden emergence of these phenomena – life appeared soon after the cooling of planet earth, consciousness mysteriously manifested itself in the Cambrian explosion, language emerged in the “symbolic species” without any evolutionary forerunner. The phenomena in question range from code and symbol-processing systems and goal-seeking, attention-manifesting agents at one end to subjective awareness, conceptual thought, socialization and the human self at the other. The only coherent way to describe these phenomena is to say that they are different dimensions of being that are supraphysical in one way or another. They are totally integrated with the physical and yet radically “new.” We are not talking here of ghosts in the machine, but of agents of different kinds, some that are conscious, others that are both conscious and thinking.

Carl Sagan always adhered strictly to a materialistic perspective when discussing the emergence of Mind, which he defined as “intelligence that is inseparable from the brain.” I read his book The Dragons of Eden during my first semester at Penn State University in 1980. Sagan discussed the search for a quantitative means of measuring intelligence. His chief tenet was that brain-to-body-mass-ratio is an extremely good indicator for intelligence, with humans holding the highest ratio, and dolphins the second-highest. Sagan attempted to explain the evolution of the human brain with the Triune brain model first developed by neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean. According to MacLean, the human brain is structured in three parts: the reptilian complex, the limbic system, and the neocortex. He reduced human experience to localization of basic brain function and electrochemical processes.

human-brain-in-parts

The reptilian complex (R complex) is the situs of species-specific (reptiles, birds) instinctual behaviors involved in aggression, dominance, territoriality, and ritual displays. The limbic system (which includes the hypothalamus and the hippocampus) is a set of interconnected brain structures responsible for feeding, reproductive behavior, and parenting. The Neocortex is exclusively found in higher-functioning mammals, specifically humans, and is responsible for development of language, abstract thinking, planning, and perception. This is precisely the concept relied on by proponents of evolution to explain how the human mind has developed over hundreds of thousands of years. It’s noteworthy that the standard-bearers of evolution cannot properly explain how the human mind is “aware” of itself.

Man has created computers capable of processing information and providing data measured in speeds so fast it is impossible to comprehend. The latest is a teraflop, which is a unit of computing speed equal to one million million  (10 to the twelfth power) floating-point operations per second. It is used to quantify the mathematical ability of a computer’s processing unit. Saying something has “6 TFLOPS” means it is capable of handling 6 trillion floating-point calculations every second. To put this into perspective, a traditional calculator may need only 10 FLOPS for all its calculations. So when we start talking about megaflops (a million floating-point calculations), gigaflops (a billion) and teraflops (a trillion), you can see what sort of power we’re talking about.

But no matter how fast a computer can “think,” it is completely incapable of knowing it’s a computer, or realizing that it is computing. Humans, on the other hand, are aware of awareness, are conscious of the fact that they are in the midst of figuring out a problem, and can even grasp the impact their decision will have on their circumstances, their immediate environment, the rights or circumstances of others around them and, ultimately, the long-range impact on human history. Whether it will ever be possible to teach a computer to be “aware” of such ramifications will likely remain a mystery for millenia to come.

References

Flew, Antony. (2007). There is a God. New York, NY: Harper Collins
Sagan, Carl. (1977). The Dragons of Eden. New York, NY: Random House