Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Mixing Science and Religion: The Big Bang God

I’ve been reading about the origin of the universe again, looking at it from the scientific point of view. I have no problem accepting science’s theory that the universe began 13.7 billion years ago with an explosion. I’m amused that the Father of the Big Bang theory is a Catholic priest, Father George LeMaitre, who believed that Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity (1917) was not inconsistent with an ever-expanding universe. Einstein, however, believed that the world was a closed system, in perfect equilibrium and unchanging.

LeMaitre met Einstein at a conference on physics in October of 1927 and explained his conviction that application of  the theory of general relativity to the study of the cosmos would  in fact lead to the conclusion that the universe was dynamic, that it was moving. (A Russian mathematician, Alexander Friedmann, in 1922 had suggested the same idea but died before following up on his theory.)  Einstein’s response to LeMaitre was something like, “Father, your calculations are correct, but your physics is abominable.”

Undismayed by the senior scientist’s rejection of his theory, Lemaitre continued to look for  observable proof. About two years later LeMaitre had his proof. American astronomer Edwin Hubble published the results of data he collected by means of telescopic observations of the universe, and confirmed that most galaxies seem to be withdrawing from one another. The theory of an initial Big Bang as the origin of the universe seemed more than credible.

Years earlier Einstein had objected to physicists who proposed that the subatomic world depended not simply on determinable laws of mechanics (as those of Isaac Newton), but also on chance.  He said famously, “God does not play dice with the universe.” Einstein held out for a grand cohesive design and was dismissive of the notion that uncertainty was part of the key to exploring and understanding the world of science.

Tension between science and religion is less intense today than in past decades, but people of science and religion usually quell conflicts by happily acknowledging that science and religion are two different and separate fields in pursuit of the truth and the two should not interfere with each other. People of religion are less adamant about how God does things; chance may play a role and chance can be part of  God’s plan.

While I believe that God is ultimately responsible for creating ex nihilo (i.e., God did not use matter that pre-existed the Creator), I can accept the proposal that the Big Bang could have been the result of a new phase in a universe which had known many previous cycles of expansion and collapse.

In truth, however, my own conviction is that the Big Bang  was the explosion of God’s great love, the creative force which slowly evolved over billions of years to produce the universe as we know it today, and this explosion of love was charged with the purpose and intention of making creatures whom God would love so dearly. Yes, I’m mixing science and religion, but if both lead to truth, I have no hesitation to own the findings of both, and even allow some melding of the two into one philosophy of life.

The Bible tells who made the world; science gives me a clue about how it was made. I see no conflict between the two. The Bible is not a science book; a science book is not a book of religion. My eyes are not my ears; my ears are not my eyes, but both sets of organs help me come to knowledge.

The question that intrigues me is, “What would I know about God if I assumed the world was created by a divine being and yet science was the only way I had to draw conclusions about the creator. If I had no supernatural revelation in the form of Moses, prophets, Jesus the Christ, St. Paul and the Spirit-alive-in-the-Church what conclusions could I draw about the deity?”

Isolated from revelation, relying on science I could easily draw the conclusion that God (the creator) is complex, playful, patient, colorful, truly transcendent.

You my object that I have already brought religion into the answer by assuming there was a creator, but apart f the Bible and Church magisterium, I have to wrestle with the arguments the philosopher Thomas Aquinas offered on a natural plain for positing the existence of God. I cannot argue away the notion of an unmoved mover, or an uncaused cause. I do not need religion to come to acknowledge the existence of a creator-god. I think it a matter of common sense.

When I read that, based on supercomputer estimates, there may be 500 billion galaxies, I think how complex the creator must be.  When I read that the most distant object we know is a stellar explosion called a gamma ray burst which released as much energy as ten trillion Sun-like stars, I think how playful the creator must be.

When I read the universe has doubled in size eight times during the time it has taken for the light of the most distant celestial object to reach us, I think how patient this creator must be. When I read that scientists can deduce the chemical composition of the sun by collecting enough light to pass through a prism which then splits the light into a spectrum, I think how colorful the creator must be.

When I read this comment of Albert Einstein, “As a child, I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene…No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life,” I think how transcendent this God ours must truly be!

Thanks to revelation I can refine my understanding of God, without resolving the mystery, and feel pretty sure my assessment based on science is right.

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