This paper needs a bit of editing, especially the transition to "not a chance," however, most of my point is made and so I will let it stand as is until I can rework it some. (somewhat edited on 9/6/07
Science, Religion, and Cosmology
Philosophy of Science Paper
Robert N. Landrum
Professor C.S. MacKenzie
What do we or can we really know about the origin of the universe? The topic of the origin of the universe is usually classified in colloquial language as deep, profound, or in some way beyond our understanding, being reserved only for those with greater minds than ours. This is is really not always the case, nor should it be. Discussions of the origin of the universe are not strictly reserved for the erudite, on the contrary, this subject has become the topic at many different levels, both scientifically and theologically--elementary and complex. Sure there are experts that have taken on this topic as their professional area of expertise and indeed such experts are able to be very advanced in their fields, however, what I offer in this paper is very simple. God created the universe and would have us to know this. Though this is simply put, it is not without mystery at some points, and by no means repudiates complexities that are found in the various bailiwicks of experts. In fact, what is proposed in this paper may even be so obvious and elementary that it may insult the intelligence of some. In this paper I propose the simple cosmogony that God is the source of the origin of our world. And with this proposal I contend that the relationships that science and religion have with one another, namely in their outlook on cosmology, are or ought to be compatible and not in opposition with one another.
The Currents of Controversy
Ian G. Barbour, a professor of physics and religion at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota has proposed that there are four basic views on the relationship of science and religion. They are conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration. He prefaces his discussion of the four views by noting a brief history of science (modern science that is) and religion.
In the seventeenth century science and religion made a friendly encounter. In fact, most of the founders of the scientific revolution were Christians. These Christians believed that when they were at the business of science they were working with the very creation of God. During the eighteenth century, many scientists believed in a God that was the designer of the universe, however, they did not believe that this God was personal, being actively involved in the universe and the affairs of humanity. As for the nineteenth century, Scientists began to be hostile to religion in spite of the fact that Darwin himself maintained that the process of evolution, apart from the details of particular species, was the design of God. When the twentieth century rolled around, classical religious traditions were more commonly being challenged due to new discoveries in science. As a result, many adherents to religious traditions either began to defend their traditions, reformulate them in light of new scientific discoveries, or even go so far as to abandon them. Going into the new millennium, there is wide spread interest in topics such as the origin of the universe by scientists, theologians, government, the media, and even the general public (Barbour xi).
Four Perspectives on the Relationship Between Science and Religion
The first of the four views of science and religion proposed by Barbour is conflict. In this view science and religion are enemies. For example, the Biblical literalists believe that the theory of evolution is in conflict with faith. And the atheistic scientists take a similar stand. They assert that evolution is incompatible with any form of theism. The two groups agree that one cannot believe in both God and evolution. As one might expect, this view gets the most attention from the media (Barbour 2).
The independence view sees science and religion as strangers. They can coexist, but must keep at a safe distance from each other. There ought not to be any conflict because they each work in different domains of life and reality. The questions raised by science are separate and distinct from the questions raised by religion. Science wants to know how things work and deals with objective facts, whereas, religion is concerned with values and ultimate meaning. Conflict arises when the two begin to entertain questions that belong to the other field e.g., when religious people make scientific claims or vice versa. In the independence view we can accept both science and religion as long as we keep them in watertight compartments (Barbour 2).
As for dialogue, this view holds that there may be appropriate times to compare certain methods of the two fields, acknowledging similarities, but recognizing differences. For example, when conceptual models are used to imagine what cannot directly be observed like God or a subatomic particle. Also, dialogue may come into play when science acknowledges limit-questions that cannot be answered by science such as why the universe is orderly and intelligible. Or, when there is occasion to conceive of God as the determiner of the indeterminacies in quantum physics without violating the laws of physics. In such cases, scientists and theologians can be engaged in dialogue with one another, all the while, maintaining integrity in each of the fields (Barbour 2,3).
The fourth view, integration, is a partnership between science and religion. Theologians that fall into this camp seek natural proofs (via. natural theology) for the existence of God. The scientists in this camp, namely astronomers, have argued that physical constants in the early universe appear to have been fine tuned having been designed to be such. For example, the exact timing of the origin of the universe was so precise that if the expansion rate after the “big bang” would have been a slight bit smaller, the universe would have collapsed before the chemicals needed for life could form. On the other hand, if the expansion rate would have been a slight bit faster, evolution of life could not have occurred (Barbour 3).
The Error of Two Cosmogonies
The Error of Scientific Materialism and Religious Traditionalism
Science for the most part in the twenty-first century is in a state of conflict with religion. The reason for this conflict, however, is not the result any legitimate scientific evidence that calls for the rejection of any notion of God as the creator. In fact, our culture is influenced by a pseudo science known as scientific materialism.
For the materialist, all phenomena can be explained in terms of relationships of matter. Barbour describes materialism like this:
"…if the only real entities are those with which science deals, then science is the only valid path to knowledge…The materialist believes that all phenomena will eventually be explained in terms of the actions of material components, which are the only effective causes in the world…Science starts from reproducible public data. Theories are formulated as hypotheses that can be tested against experimental observations…Religious beliefs are not acceptable, in this view, because religion lacks such public data, such experimental testing, and such criteria of evaluation. Science alone is objective, open-minded, universal, cumulative, and progressive. Religious traditions, by contrast, are said to be subjective, closed-minded, parochial, uncritical, and resistant to change" (Barbour 11,12)
Scientific materialism rejects any notion of God as a presupposition, not as a consequence of evidence. Because of this error in presupposition, any evidence that is not thoroughly explained by science, but points to intelligent design, causality (as the theologians describe it), the intelligibility of the universe, or any thing relating, is all in the end written off as the result of chance. There is no place for a sovereign God. We are the product of purposeless and impersonal forces (Huxley) where matter is the only source of reality (Haeckel) (Barbour 10).
One can see why there is a conflict between science and religion if this approach to science is accepted. But the fault does not lie completely on the shoulders of scientific materialism. Religious traditionalism also enters the ring swinging with blind fists. In fact much bad science is the product of bad religion. There is nothing more destructive to good religion than bad religion with a closed mind. For instance, take the classic example of the way religion frustrated the advancements of science during the geocentric/heliocentric debate in the 1600s. Galileo argued for the Copernican theory that the earth revolved around the sun, as opposed to the Ptolemaic theory that the sun revolves around the earth. Galileo was condemned because he went against the theories that were accepted by the church. The church was weighing to heavily on the science of Aristotle and the traditional interpretations of a few selected biblical passages that imply that the earth is the center of the universe (Barbour 7).
In this case, science was trying to advance, but religious tradition caused nothing but conflict. It is no wonder that science and religion are at odds when there is a strong voice of dissension based on bad presuppositions. It is all too common for religious traditionalism to take the place of good philosophy and sound theology, which is what ought to govern the church’s practices.
Scientific materialism is against any concept of God from the outset, which eventually leads either to unanswerable questions about the universe, especially about the origin of the universe, or down right answers immersed in absurdity, such as chance. As we will see in more detail below, one problem in particular for scientific materialism is the problem of causality. Materialism is faced with the problem of a first cause, and as such the system becomes the victim of an infinite regress, while good theology and philosophy offers a logical answer to cosmology.
Instead of their being a state of conflict, there ought to be at the least an arena of dialogue, where both science and religion can discuss their views. There really ought to be a sense of integration where science and religion can be complementary, but I do not see this happening holistically and in all practicality. Caution at this point is imperative for we do not want to substitute theology for science or visa versa.
It is hard enough being an expert in one field much less two. We can, nevertheless, enter into dialogue with one another if both disciplines are more open-minded. To take either of the two extremes, materialism or religious traditionalism, stops dialogue at the door, and leads to conflict.
Not a Chance
The Discredit of Chance
We can see the weakness and desperation of science that is hostile to the notion of a creator in how it resorts to scientific models of the origin of the universe that use chance as an an operative factor of origins. What I wish to point out and make clear about the role of chance is not profound, but so simple that it may be offensive to those that put a great deal of trust in the role of chance. In fact, what I say here is nothing new and, I am fully confident that it has been said better than I say it now (See R.C. Sproul in Not a Chance) . In all truth the role of chance is no role at all. To tell the truth, chance has no role because it is not, i.e. it does not exist. Chance is a non-entity. Chance has no real ontological value because it has no being. This is one example of how an elementary Christian cosmogony shows itself superior to scientific materialism.
What is meant then when we talk about chance? At best when we use the term chance we are talking about mathematical probabilities. For example, if I flip a coin what are the chances that it comes up either heads or tails? One hundred percent! There is a one hundred percent chance that the coin will either land on heads or tails (unless of course it lands on its side or something like that, but let us keep it simple for arguments sake). There is a fifty percent chance that the coin will land on heads instead of tails or vice versa, but there is no doubt that the coin will land on one of the two sides; and chance, not being a real entity has nothing to do with it; it is without influence.
All of the small or unseen forces that affect the coin, like the angle that the coin was flipped, the amount of force that was used, and the distance traveled, etc., all affect the outcome, but chance itself is not one of them. And there certainly cannot be a radical change such as something coming out of nothing, or any type of “self-creation.” In other words, the coin will not go up a quarter and come back down a penny when it was a quarter that was flipped. There is absolutely no chance of that! Believe it or not, though, this is the way that chance is being used in very intellectual and sophisticated circles in the scientific community.
Chance is being described as having ontological value in and of itself. (It is sort of a substitute for what the theologians call God!) It has become a sort of mystical force that describes the way things are (like in the inter-workings of quantum physics) and how the world came into existence. Sound theology and good philosophy teaches that something does not, and I cannot stress enough cannot, come from nothing. Yet this is what some highly esteemed scientists believe to be the case. When denying a creator God, a being in and of itself, capable of giving us starting materials and a starting point, the secular scientist is forced to believe logical absurdities such as the world coming into being through a big bang, under the "impetus" of chance. The question arises, what caused the bang? And where did the stuff that made up the bang come from? As well as, what set it in motion?
Instead of turning to a creator, some scientists would rather turn to absurdities, go against sound reasoning and logical thinking, and wind up with nothing in the form of a valid judgment as to how the universe came into being, and why it is the way it is, by saying that everything came from nothing through chance. At best they espouse a concept of eternity, i.e. they argue that the universe is eternal. This poses problems in itself. (see my paper on cause and effect) It is amazing that such a simple and obvious mistake can be made, but it is made, and that on a macro level–almost across the board! Those scientists that see the error of something coming out of nothing, but still do not want to grant the possibility of a creator resort to a lesser absurdity, though still an absurdity; they resort to an eternal infinite regress. Knowing that something cannot come from nothing by chance they wind up chasing their tails in a vicious circle of reasoning. The problem with that is that there can never be a now because there is never a beginning. If this came from that and that from that, infinitely, then how can we ever get to a number two if there is never a number one?
Intellectual integrity, a God that is there, Faith and Reason
The Abandonment of Honesty in what is Reasonable
It is imperative that we maintain intellectual integrity in all disciplines. We should be shocked and embarrassed at how much back-bending one will go through to maintain the presupposition that there is no God. Even if the answer to the origin of the universe and the reason that things are the way they are is so simple as to be found in our creator God, and that such an answer in no way violates the laws of science, the laws of logic, or down right common sense; the rejection of any notion of God wins the day no matter what the intellectual costs may be.
As scientists, philosophers, and theologians, we must look for answers to the questions of our origins, and the nature of things, by using sound reason and judgment. We sometimes go too far in complexity, even to the point of adopting the absurd, when a simple answer (though not without mystery) will do. Let us be honest with each other. What is more reasonable? Accepting God as creator, or accepting something as coming from nothing, through self-creation (knowing that for something to create itself it has to already exist). Is it more reasonable to accept a being that has being in itself as eternal and who created a universe bound by time, or a universe that is eternal without a starting point which leads to an infinite regress and circular reasoning? The answer should be obvious.
Making a Right Categorization
In conclusion, I contend that the answers to such questions as the origin and order of the universe can simply be found in a creator. A basic knowledge of the scriptures gives one the apologetic necessary to defend this. Furthermore, a basic understanding of science is all that is necessary for dialogue on this issue. No Ph. D. in apologetics is required. Nor a Ph.D. in physics is required. Herein is found the the answer and only reasonable explanation as to where we came from and why things are the way they are. Such a view does not exclude science and religion from either a relationship of integration or dialogue.
I believe that the dialogue approach is more feasible and probably more true to scripture in that we are not really commanded to be scientists, but we should be able to entertain the issues of science to some degree though intelligent dialogue, especially issues of origins and order. However ideal an absolute form of integration may be, it is rare case for a theologian to wholly be a scientist and vice versa (I guess I am sort of Platonic when it comes to this). Dialogue then is is a more suitable classification here. The arena of conflict is inevitable, but is not supported by scripture. I think that true theologians are always ready to encourage the work of science, and also welcome science’s contributions. As for independence, I do not think that this is at all plausible when some of the same questions are being raised in both disciplines. Strict independence leads to the problems of scientific materialism and religious traditionalism. Let us then work together as theologians and scientists if it is true knowledge that we all seek!
Barbour, Ian. When Science Meets Religion. New York: Harper Collins Publishers Inc,
Sproul, R.C. Not a Chance. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 2000.