Dear Theophilus , (Letter 83. )
The time has come for me to close our discussion by summarizing the main points that I want to make in reply to your concerns about the challenge of science to faith.
First and foremost is that science cannot and should not talk about God or faith. Its domain is the natural world and the processes that occur there. I am reminded of what quantum pioneer, Erwin Schrödinger (Nobel Prize winner in physics) once said: Science sometimes pretends to answer questions (in domains important to man) but the answers are often so silly that we are not inclined to take them seriously. There is a famous statement made by Werner Heisenberg (Nobel Prize winner in physics) who made monumental contributions to physics through his Uncertainty Principle and through his central role in the developmental of Quantum Mechanics: science can only explain later events by earlier events, but it can never explain the beginning.
Many statements made by scientists reflect more their philosophical position rather than the actual reality that is out there. They are not objective and they often have an axe to grind – the axe that there is no God and that science has shown this to be so. As the philosopher Thomas Nagel honestly confessed – “it isn’t just that I don’t believe in God…I hope there is no God!…I don’t want the universe to be like that.” This clearly outlines the position taken by many of those scientists who do not believe – they do not want to believe.
What we have learned in the twentieth century is that the world is a lot more complicated and complex than we have ever dreamt of. To use the simplistic and out-dated classical nineteenth century physics is to ignore the fact that we have seen a world that violates the conditions set up by classical physics. The propositions of classical physics do not apply to the very basis of the physical world which is dealt with within Quantum Mechanics. The ontology of materialism rested on the illusion that the kind of existence, the direct ‘actuality’ of the world around us, can be extrapolated into the atomic range, wrote Werner Heisenberg. But, it can’t do this. There are depths and layers to reality that classical nineteenth century physics never even dreamt of and this nineteenth century science is the science that is often paraded as challenging belief and faith. Remember what G. K. Chesterton once wrote – truth must be stranger than fiction because we have made fiction to suit ourselves.
“I think only an idiot can be an atheist. We must admit that there exists an incomprehensible power or force with limitless foresight and knowledge that started the whole universe going in the first place.” (C.B. Anfinsen, 1972 Nobel Prize in Chemistry) Faith tells us what is important for us to live lives as genuine human beings and how to view the world and the cosmos in line with what it tells us. Dr. Robert Jastrow, physicist and astronomer, amusingly wrote: For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the last rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.
Very often scientism is just another religious forum. Carolyn Porco (no, I did not make up this name), is a research scientist for the Cassini project which is a joint NASA – European project for space exploration. She feels that science can better address our needs for worship. She writes: From energy to matter, from fundamental particles to DNA, from microbes to homo sapiens, from the singularity of the Big Bang to the immensity of the universe…ours is the greatest story ever told. She openly talks about congregations raising their voices in tribute to gravity…raising hymns to the antiquity of the universe…may the force be with you she says. This is where scientism leads us to – the Church of Latter Day Scientists.
There is so much more that can be written touching on topics such as the beginning of life, the complexities of the biological world and many more questions. I will stop at this point and maybe we will have the opportunity to consider them in the future. There is much food in what has been said. It is not easy going but should we have expected differently considering what the subject of our topic is?
But I also want to caution you against taking another extreme position with respect to science. What we have seen above is a criticism of believing that science can explain everything and that it is the only way to gain legitimate knowledge about the world and our lives and who we are. In light of this, some take the position that science is totally destructive and can give us nothing of lasting value. They feel that faith can gain nothing by interacting with science. This is an erroneous conclusion based very often on ignorance and fear of science.
Science is a very powerful tool for telling us important and useful and interesting information about the world. If we believe that the world was created by God, then by studying the world and learning more about it, we can learn additional information about our faith. Thus, if we are faced with a beautiful work of carpentry, this informs us at least a little, about the carpenter who created the given piece of furniture. In a sense, science allows the world to acquire a voice and through this, to bring us closer to God and to give us hints about some of the characteristics of the God whom we worship. I will illustrate my point by considering some of the signs present in the universe and which speak to us about God and specifically, I will look at echoes of the Triune God as shown in nature.
One of the most important doctrines of Christianity is the teaching about the Trinity. This is something that is difficult for us to grasp but interestingly, we have some hints of the reality of the ‘trinitarian’ aspects of creation which reflect the Triune God of our faith.
Space, for example, is three dimensional through length, width, and height. We may think that the three dimensional aspect of space is just a mere coincidence and it could have been different, but it turns out that this plays a crucial role in the stability of the universe and opening the door for our very existence. Time is also ‘trinitarian’ in that it is past, present, and future. Matter is made up of three sub-nuclear components: quarks, leptons, and bosons and these, in turn, are defined by three parameters – electronic charge, mass, and magnetic spin. Atoms are themselves made up of three subatomic particles that we use and manipulate in chemical reactions – electrons, protons, and neutrons. And, all protons and neutrons are made up of three quarks.
Einstein in his famous equation E=mc2 stated that matter is energy and energy is just another form of matter. And energy comes in three forms – the strong-nuclear, the electro-weak, and the gravitational.
Scientific knowledge of the world and ourselves tells us that we are more than just material machines. It is true that matter and energy obey physical laws. But we do have free will and through this, choice. We also have thoughts, ideas, affections, aspirations which place us outside of the strict determinism of physical laws. All of this points to the fact that we indeed are more than just material bodies but are also intimately connected to the world that we call ‘spiritual’. When combined with mind and body, our spirit completes our ‘trinitarian’ human nature thereby mirroring the trinicity of God.
What I am saying is that through the medium of the created world we are given hints about a God who is not a strict monad but is a community of three Persons. The world speaks about its author, but this book of nature, has to be opened up and deciphered and one of the best tools that we have for doing this is the scientific exploration of the world. This scientific exploration of the world has enriched us not only through material discoveries but it has opened our eyes to the richness of the world, a richness that is becoming more and more obvious with each discovery of nature. The other thing to remember is that scientific knowledge is a work in progress and it needs a specific context in which data is to be interpreted. For years it was thought that atoms are immutable – they could not be broken down into smaller pieces. The evidence challenging this was visible every morning to everyone on earth as the sun, which is a body in fact changing and fusing atoms, was there for everyone to observe, but there wasn’t a proper advance in our knowledge to appreciate this. The transitoriousness of scienetific knowledge is something important but also something that we often forget.