Do not be afraid of being free thinkers! If you think strongly enough you will be forced by science to the belief in God, which is the foundation of all religion. You will find science not antagonistic but helpful to religion.
About two-years-ago, Professor Stephen Hawking co-authored a book entitled, ‘The Grand Design‘ to much media attention. I, like others, bought and read the book to find out what the hustle-and-bustle was about. To be honest, I thought that while the book was (and is) interesting it is by no means revolutionary (or, indeed, that it discussed anything that hadn’t been said before) – after I read it, I read Hawking’s earlier book, ‘A Brief History of Time‘ which I did find very interesting and overall much better. Perhaps the biggest talking-point, and controversy, surrounding the ‘The Grand Design’ was Hawking’s statement:
It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.
In ‘The Grand Design’, Hawking further explains:
Many people through the ages have attributed to God the beauty and complexity of nature that in their time seemed to have no scientific explanation. But just as Darwin and [Alfred Russel] Wallace explained how the apparently miraculous design of living forms could appear without intervention by a supreme being, the multiverse concept can explain the fine-tuning of physical law without the need for a benevolent creator who made the universe for our benefit.
Chapter 7, ‘The Apparent Miracle’
In the past few weeks, controversy has arose regarding the inclusion of “Creationism” (or, rather, its viewpoint) into the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre in Northern Ireland. On the one hand, there are those who believe that it is a valid viewpoint on the origins of the universe; on the other hand, there are those who believe that it is unscientific and unfit for a museum of nature. When thinking about the issue, I can’t help but think back to my time in the Natural History Museum in London, a few years ago, in which I spent an hour or two looking around with my parents. On my time there, I wrote the following:
Throughout the museum, there is a wealth of fossils and exhibitions on Evolution – Evolution is talked about as fact – I don’t remember reading anything about God, Creationism or “Intelligent Design”. Great Britain is fast becoming a secular country (if anything, it is a secular country).
With the debate at the Giant’s Causeway kicking off, I have turned once more this past week or two to my own thoughts on the issue. It is sometimes all-too-easy, I think, for those of us in Northern Ireland to be cynical about the debate and, with a sigh, brush the whole affair off as “typical Northern Ireland”. Certainly, much of Northern Ireland is deeply Christian (and Conservative, Evangelical Christian at that) but, in fairness, such debates have also arisen in The United States of America (with the likes of the “Creation Museum“, although such museums don’t exist in Northern Ireland – at least, not as-of-now). Indeed, some are puzzled as to why such debates are still happening in the 21st Century – surely these squabbles only echo of by-gone days? Days when Mankind didn’t know as much about Nature as He does now? Why do some elements of society still pander to religious lobbyists?
Admittedly, I think that if you browse around any mainstream museum of natural history, not just that of the Giant’s Causeway, you will find zero mention of God and/or Genesis Chapter One – if you do, it will probably be portrayed in a historical context and not taken as scientific fact (e.g. this is what people believed many years ago). So why such fierce controversy? Are those of a religious/faith persuasion less knowledgeable in science and how nature works than their “heathen” counterparts? Why do Evangelical Christians not picket outside every natural history museum and demand the inclusion of Creationism/Intelligent Design? Indeed, is there an issue in Northern Ireland whereby many people are extraordinarily ignorant on matters of science? And, even if faith-based sectors of society do have knowledge of science (however small or large), do they twist it to fit their theological beliefs (or dance around elements of science that seem to clash with their theology)?
Many people in Northern Ireland are brought up, from an early age, learning the Bible – indeed, many can quote Bible verses off-by-heart – even myself – most of us know, for instance, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” or, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.”. Our culture, at least in the Protestant tradition, is very much grounded in teaching and preaching the Bible to children – many are sent to various Christian organisations from an early age, as I was, whether it be Sunday School, Children’s Church, Boys’ Brigade, Girls’ Brigade, Christian Endeavour, Youth Fellowship or Holiday Bible Club (or all of them – with the exception of one of the Brigades). Even if we aren’t well-steeped in Bible knowledge, chances are we’ll know the quoted verses, or can even tell the stories – there are even billboards with said verses on them. Yet, how many of us in Northern Ireland can quote a line out of Charles Darwin’s, ‘The Origin of Species’? How many of us can explain Quantum Mechanics and wave-particle duality? Could we explain the process of osmosis so that a child could understand it? How far, or short, does our scientific knowledge, and imagination, stretch? Do we care more about sin than science?
Unfortunately, I think science education on a formal level is quite diluted. For GCSE Biology, I had (at least in my view) a boring and uninspiring teacher who, no pun intended, seemed to butcher his subject. As such, I never really developed an interest in it. For my first year of GCSE Chemistry, I had a teacher who, while a bit more lively and interesting than my Biology teacher, didn’t instill any interest in Chemistry in me or my fellow classmates (my teacher for second year of GCSE Chemistry explained the subject better). My teacher for both years of GCSE Physics, however, was superb and, to this day, is somebody I have admired – not just for taking an active interest in how I did in the subject but also for the way he taught it. Indeed, to be honest, I often wish that I had taken-up Physics for A-Level but I often thought my Maths skills weren’t quite up to the challenge.
Maybe as teenagers (or even adults) we are stumped as to what the real-life applications, or implications, of what we learn in science are. Are people drawn more towards theology because it’s easier to understand? Because it doesn’t require the use of formulae and major thinking? Certainly, there were times in science classes (even those of Physics) when what I was being taught seemed abstract. I think it’s only really been in the past four or five years that I’ve truly appreciated and acknowledged the real-life implications of (for example) Physics: lasers are used in surgery, Blu-Ray players, games consoles and even for fighting cancers, the use of quantum mechanics is employed in computers, and even concepts such as force and gravity are used in developing cars (whether in terms of safety or speed – or both).
Perhaps the biggest Physics-related news came recently when a particle with similar properties to that of the Higgs Boson had been discovered at the LHC (Large Hadron Collider):
The Higgs boson’s role is to give the particles that make up atoms their mass. Without this mass, they would zip around the cosmos, unable to bind together to form the atoms that make stars and planets – and people.
Theory has it that as the universe cooled after the Big Bang, an invisible force known as the Higgs field formed.
This field permeates the cosmos and is made up of countless numbers of tiny particles – or Higgs bosons. As other particles pass through it, they pick up mass.
While the scientists said they still needed to do more tests for conclusive proof but were confident the particle detected was that of the Higgs Boson, for many, the announcement was the final nail in the coffin of religion and faith and only asserted Nietzsche‘s statement that God is indeed dead (and buried). The whole affair has made me wonder: have we reached the point, or are reaching the point, where we can explain everything purely through scientific, natural means? Has the idea of a God who loves us, cares for us and is willing to save us from eternal damnation been made redundant? Like old pieces of technology or furniture, have we too thrown God (or the idea of deities) onto the scrap heap of history and embraced the newest upgrades of science and naturalism? Instead of Katherine Hankey’s words:
Tell me the old, old story, of Jesus and His love.
will we soon say, “Tell me about science and its achievements, of the Universe and its Laws”?
I think, to some, to live in a purely scientific world – to have a purely scientific viewpoint on life – is, in some way, mechanical and, ironically, devoid of life – as if to be locked in a jailcell. Perhaps some think that to take a purely scientific viewpoint on life is to become ensnared by reductionism – the idea that everything can be explained through natural means – the reason you love and feel joy, sorrow, happiness or anger is because of various neurological and chemical events in your body and brain.
One idea that has floated around the “Physics world” is that of a “TOE”, a Theory of Everything – a theory that will one day explain every natural phenomena in our universe, from stars to microscopic bacteria in the ground (although, some think that a one, individual theory can’t explain everything – that instead, the TOE consists of lots of theories, each connected to another to form a whole – maybe more of a foot than a toe…).
I admit that a part of me thinks that, one day, science possibly will be able to explain everything that happens in the universe – how it works and why it works. Certainly, science has come leaps-and-bounds even in the past one hundred years – a man has been set on the moon, a particle collider has been built and cancers that were untreatable even two decades ago are slowly being defeated. Of course, it would be naïve to say that such progress happens overnight – scientific progress for Mankind sometimes comes more in the form of small footsteps than giant leaps.
With the many advances in science and scientific knowledge, what will become of religion and faith? We may not have all the answers now, but perhaps future generations will. Will there be a day when we, or future generations, will open a Bible and say to each other, “Did you know people used to believe this?”. Will people look back with puzzlement at Christianity in the same way we look back at Egyptian beliefs in gods and sailing to the afterlife? Will Cathedrals and church meeting places go the same way as the pyramids? Will a tour guide point to a cross at the front of a building and tell the quizzical crowd that people used to believe that a man was God Incarnate, that he died on a Roman cross thousands of years ago, that he came back to life and soon after ascended into Heaven? Or will people retain a belief in a God but in a deistic fashion (God is out there somewhere but he’s not interested in us)?
Is “Creationism” a genuine scientific viewpoint or is it pseudo-science? Is it disguised as real science but, at its core, is ultimately theological? In his book, ‘Rocks of Ages‘, the late Stephen Jay Gould writes:
As a matter of fact, not a necessity of logic, the activists of the Creationist movement against the teaching of evolution have been young-earth fundamentalists who believe that the Bible must be literally true, that the earth cannot be more than ten thousand years old, and that God created all species, separately and ex nihilo in six days of twenty-four hours. These people then display a form of ultimate hubris (or maybe just simple ignorance) in equating these marginal and long-discredited factual claims with the entire domain of “religion.”
‘Defending NOMA from Both Sides Now: The Struggle Against Modern Creationism‘
Whether Creationism states that the world is less than ten-thousand years old and was made in six, twenty-four hour days, or whether it states that the world is millions of years old and that the days were longer than twenty-four hours, the main tenet behind it is: God created the world and everything in it.
Personally, I do not view the Bible as a science textbook. If I want to find out about the Second Law of Thermodynamics, I do not open 1 John. If I want to learn how particles work, I don’t head to Hosea. Or, if I want to know what would happen if I were to enter a black-hole, I don’t pore over Revelation to find the answer. Certainly, there are events in the Bible that are of a scientific nature, or interest: one of them being the length of the supposed “Creation days”. Mainstream science tells us that the earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old, quite a far cry from the Young Earth Creationist figure of just under ten thousand years old – scientists use techniques such as carbon dating to gain an understanding of just how old rocks are (although the age may be more of an estimate than a definite figure). Again in ‘Rocks of Ages’, Stephen Jay Gould comments about the relationship between nature and scripture and the length of the supposed “days”:
The natural world cannot contradict scripture (for God, as author of both, cannot speak against himself). So – and now we come to the key point – if some contradiction seems to emerge between a well-validated scientific result and a conventional reading of scripture, then we had better reconsider our exegesis, for the natural world does not lie, but words can convey many meanings, some allegorical or metaphorical. (If science clearly indicates an ancient world, then the “days” of creation must represent periods longer than twenty-four hours.)
‘A Tale of Two Thomases‘
As a child, I was fascinated (perhaps like many small boys) by dinosaurs. They were breathtaking creatures – some had sharp wits (and sharp claws), some were enormous in size and had awesome strength, and some were small but incredibly agile. I remember I was subscribed to a series of magazines charting the history of various dinosaurs – in some of the issues, parts were available to build a model of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and Stegosaurus, both of which glowed in the dark (for the record, they were cool). Not only that, I watched a BBC series entitled, ‘Walking With Dinosaurs‘ (I even had the series on VHS), read the accompanying book and watched movies like ‘Jurassic Park‘. Dinosaurs, I was told, roamed the earth millions of years ago – fossils of them had been discovered in places such as America, Asia, Africa, Oceania and even Europe.
To be honest, at the time, I didn’t think about how dinosaurs and humans co-existed (if, indeed, they did) – the closest I saw of the relationship between Man and dinosaur was that of T-Rex stomping around a park and wrecking San Diego. How could dinosaurs and humans co-exist millions of years ago when humans were never shown alongside the dinosaurs in documentaries or in the magazines (apart from size comparisons)? Did both species have a major fall-out?
Now, I come to that “e” word: evolution. When most people think of evolution, they think of Charles Darwin and his work, ‘The Origin of Species‘ (the full title is much longer). As an idea, evolution did not start with Darwin – if anything, it existed as far back as the Ancient Greeks. Darwin, however, was perhaps (if not was) the first person in “modern” times to give a detailed description of the idea, undertaking years of research and presenting his findings. In its simplest form (the simplest form I could find!), evolution is:
The central idea…that all life on Earth shares a common ancestor, just as you and your cousins share a common grandmother.
Through the process of descent with modification, the common ancestor of life on Earth gave rise to the fantastic diversity that we see documented in the fossil record and around us today. Evolution means that we’re all distant cousins: humans and oak trees, hummingbirds and whales.
I think that is an extraordinary thought: that humans and oak trees are distant cousins. Yet, at the same time, it sounds bizarre: how can humans be related, biologically, to trees? When we think of relations, we think of them in terms of same species. I am biologically related to my parents and siblings. I have uncles, aunts, cousins and a grandmother (of course, I also had grandfathers and another grandmother – unfortunately, I have never had the privilege of having or meeting them in life – much to my despair as I would have loved to have met them – they died before I was born). They, in turn, have (or had) mothers, fathers, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins – and they in turn had mothers, fathers, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins – and so on. The presence of literal trees in the family tree is non-existent (or so it would seem) – so too are chimpanzees (again, or so it would seem!). According to a 2005 study, however, humans share 96% of the same DNA as chimpanzees:
Because chimpanzees are our closest living relatives, the chimp genome is the most useful key to understanding human biology and evolution, next to the human genome itself. The breakthrough will aid scientists in their mission to learn what sets us apart from other animals.
Of course, humans are humans, and chimpanzees are chimpanzees – while there are similarities, there are also differences but perhaps the same concept applies in human families: you are biologically related to your mother and father – you have DNA from both parents, resulting (as is very often the case) in similar appearances and even personalities. At the same time, though, you are different – if anything, you are neither fully your mother nor fully your father – rather, you are a blend of the two; a cocktail, as such (although, you may be more like one than the other). You may even have traits of your grandparents – again, probably because of their relation to your respective parents (I was told once I am similar to my grandfather – my mother’s father).
Even though Human intellect exceeds that of most animals’ (some might argue all), people still have an uncomfortable feeling being told that they are related to apes and chimpanzees – if anything, it is seen as an insult; a taboo – people like to believe that they are cleaner and more civilized than apes and chimpanzees. Yet, apes, chimpanzees and humans exhibit the same type of social behaviour and experience similar social encounters:
Most non-human primate communities are more or less closed to contact with members of other communities…As a result, social interactions between members of different troops are usually very rare, especially for females. Chimpanzees are a notable exception. When chimpanzees from different troops come together, there is often an exciting, friendly encounter lasting several hours, following which, some of the adult females switch groups. Apparently, they are seeking new mates. Occasionally, however, contact between communities of the comparatively unpredictable chimpanzees will develop into genocidal violence.
In perhaps what seems like a sharp deviation, I want to return to Hawking’s words:
…the multiverse concept can explain the fine-tuning of physical law without the need for a benevolent creator who made the universe for our benefit.
The idea of a multiverse has been one that has often intrigued me. Simply put, it is the idea that multiple universes exist alongside our own. Some diagrams portray these “universes” as being stacked on top of each other, like layers. Science-fiction (or not-so-science-fiction) may show us a spacecraft zooming through a wormhole, exiting one universe only to enter another. What these “universes” are like (or could be like) remains in the realm of speculation: their laws could be exactly the same as our universe’s or they could be entirely different. Again, in ‘The Grand Design’, it’s stated that:
While some of those universes are similar to ours, most are very different. They aren’t just different in details, such as whether Elvis really did die young or whether turnips are a dessert food, but rather they differ even in their apparent laws of nature. In fact, many universes exist with many different sets of physical laws. Some people make a great mystery of this idea, sometimes called the multiverse concept, but these are just different expressions of the Feynman sum over histories.
‘Choosing Our Universe‘
Some believe, however, that the multiverse idea is flawed. In an article for the New York Times, physicist Paul Davies writes:
Under [the Big Bang] theory, if you took a God’s-eye view of the multiverse, you would see big bangs aplenty generating a tangled melee of universes enveloped in a superstructure of frenetically inflating space. Though individual universes may live and die, the multiverse is forever…
Extreme multiverse explanations are therefore reminiscent of theological discussions. Indeed, invoking an infinity of unseen universes to explain the unusual features of the one we do see is just as ad hoc as invoking an unseen Creator. The multiverse theory may be dressed up in scientific language, but in essence it requires the same leap of faith.
At the same time, the multiverse theory also explains too much. Appealing to everything in general to explain something in particular is really no explanation at all. To a scientist, it is just as unsatisfying as simply declaring, ”God made it that way!”
‘A Brief History of the Multiverse‘
I somewhat deviate from Mr. Davies in that I don’t think the idea of a multiverse exists exclusively to explain the features of our own universe. To me, it is a genuine interest – are there other universes and can we use wormholes to reach them (if wormholes exist)? I am all-too-willing to accept that our universe may indeed be the only universe in existence but I suppose the boy in me hopes that there are other universes to visit and explore (perhaps even mimicking the story of ‘E.T.‘).
I’m not entirely sure if the multiverse theory can explain the fine-tuning of our universe – just that other universes could exist. Let’s assume that multiple universes do exist and that we inhabit one of them – some of the universes are fine-tuned, others are not. How does such an outcome prove, or even disprove, the existence of a Creator God? Even-so, while our planet may be “fine-tuned” to create and support most sentient, biological life, does that mean that the rest of our universe is “fine-tuned”? It doesn’t seem that way. Though it may feel comfy, even Earth is hazardous – earthquakes and famines devastate animals and people. Go into space and even deadlier things await – raging storms, freezing and boiling temperatures – such places are devoid of life (at least, sentient life) and very few, if indeed any, support the growth of flora and fauna. Granted, given time (say thousands, if not millions of years) such places could become fine-tuned to support life.
If multiple universes exist, and not all have the same laws of nature, could it be that by travelling from one universe to another we undertake a form of time travel? Could time slow down, or speed up? Indeed, if not all universes have the same laws of nature, could it be that we may never reach another universe? Could it be that as we pass through the wormhole the laws of physics change to the point where it’s impossible to go any further? If it’s hard for us to make sense of our own world, let alone the universe it is travelling in, it is even harder for us to process the idea of multiple universes.
I live in the countryside. Quite often, I go for a walk along the road I live on. Last week walking, I was wearing a t-shirt with the words “New York” printed across it. When I glanced down and saw the words, it made me think about my “relationship” with the surrounding area, and the countryside as a whole. I’ve very often been of the mentality that I am, at heart, a country boy. Tractors frequently travel along the road, sheep and cattle graze in the fields and, in winter, the scenery truly is that of a wonderland. Magnificent as New York City is (I visited it quite a few years ago), there is something about the countryside that just resonates with me – perhaps it’s why I have such an interest in the natural world.
Perhaps we feel the need to give somebody, or something, credit for the perceived magnificence and beauty of not only earth but the universe in which it spins – like giving thanks to our mothers for bearing us, giving birth to us and, ultimately, giving us life.
I know that many of these topics are controversial but, for me, this post (like so many before it) has been a humble exploration of existence – a journey, no doubt, that will last for some time…
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.
How I wonder what you are.