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July 15th 2016 print

Peter Smith

Science, Meet God

Religion long ago made the leap to accepting science and it strikes me that re-paying such recognition is long overdue. As a believer, what I find both exciting and encouraging, if somewhat incomprehensible, is that a body of boffins is arguing for that reconciliation

hand of godI haven’t read A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. I missed that one. Friends tell me it is a very difficult read. That doesn’t surprise me. As a sucker for popular science books I have never found one that didn’t begin to lose me to one extent or another after about fifty pages. I can recommend a number of them for general readers who want a thoroughgoing brain workout: Just Six Numbers by Martin Rees; Quantum by Manjit Kumar; The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene; The Origin of the Universe by John Barrow and Time Travel in Einstein’s Universe by Richard Gott.

All of the above left me floundering after luring me into thinking I was capable of understanding them. Never mind, I thought, pathetically, my latest scientific read — Time Reborn by Lee Smolin — might provide me with an intellectual breakthrough. Alas it was not to be. Professor Smolin lost me as effectively as the rest. I could blame him but it seems a stretch.

My brief comment on Smolin’s book should, therefore, be put in the perspective of my inability to understand a lot of what he says. Why comment at all? Well, it seems to me that his iconoclastic approach to cosmology is a reminder that science is struggling to find any satisfactory answers for the sheer improbability of our existence. Meanwhile, God is the ever-present metaphorical elephant in astronomical observatories.

Smolin thinks the uncertainty principle in quantum theory — you know the cat is only in the box if you look — exists only because the theory is incomplete. He seems to sort of agree with Einstein who proffered the comment that God didn’t play dice with the universe. However, he rejects the general scientific consensus, born of Einstein’s work, that time is relative. He believes that everything happens through a common time. As a result he doesn’t like the idea of an infinite number of parallel universes.

A lot of scientists subscribe to parallel universes. The theory seems to spring from quantum theory and string theory in mathematical ways that I haven’t, er, um, quite grasped. Nonetheless, like Smolin, I reject the idea. It seems plain silly to me that an infinite number of copies of me — perish the thought — could be existing, as we speak, in different universes. And, not only that, in other universes I am bound to be a tree-hugging, coal despising, refugee loving, fan of Richard Di Natale and Sarah Hanson-Young and, to boot, even more horrifically, a Manchester United supporter.

Mind you, Smolin doesn’t desert the concept of there being an infinite number of universes. If he did, then God would rear His ‘unscientific’ head. No, he just thinks they appear in sequence, as new baby universes are spewed out of black holes through the straight arrow of time. Potentially this is testable, he argues, because debris of our parent universe, within which the black hole which spewed us existed, might be found; whereas, he doubts that the existence of parallel universes is testable. Call me a sceptic but it all seems as tenuous as a nine dollar bill.

The difficulty that scientists have is the extreme unlikelihood that our life-giving universe and planet could have happened by sheer one-off chance. Fred Hoyle likened it to the chance of a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard and assembling a Boeing 747. Accordingly, all scientists that I have read reject the ‘anthropic principle’; which is, well, here we are, so it must have just happened this way. This leaves them a stark choice. Either there is a creator or our universe is simply one of a very, very large number. Infinity is the popular choice of the number, as it has to be, when you think about it, otherwise there would be a start to explain.

Hard evidence for any of the competing theories of infinite universes is, in a word, zilch. But, never mind, they are scientific, so far as I can tell, because scientists have proposed them. Would the existence of God become scientific if scientists were to propose Him as the explanation? Apparently not. For example, the former head of the human genome project Francis Collins (The Language of God) is a believer and yet has not managed to move Richard Dawkins and his ilk one jot from their position that religion is a superstition.

However, if God exists scientific advancement can’t but help to edge towards uncovering His footprint. The quirkiness of quantum theory – e.g., electrons apparently can be here and then there without having been anywhere in-between – may eventually lead to a designer. This brings me finally to well-regarded theoretical physicist Michio Kaku. He recently claimed to have found evidence for the existence of a creator. He is bound to me dumped on by the scientific establishment of course. I assume this has already begun though nothing has immediately sprung out when I have searched for it. In any event, we general readers will only be able to look on bemused at any to and fro. Why? For the same reason I only get through the first fifty pages of any popular science book before my eyes start glazing over. Here is Kaku, as reported:

“I have concluded that we are in a world [“a Matrix”] made by rules created by an intelligence, not unlike a favourite computer game, but of course, more complex and unthinkable…By analysing the behaviour of matter at the subatomic scale affected by the semi-tachyon pitch radius, what we call chance no longer makes sense, because we are in a universe governed by established rules and not determined by universal chances plane…This means that, in all probability, there is an unknown force that governs everything.”

I happen to think Kaku is right, though I have not the least clue what ‘semi-tachyon pitch radius’ means. Moreover, self-reflectively, I know that I will never really know what it means, even if it were carefully explained in a popular science book. This leaves me with the pub test as my guide to the universe.

Applying this test leaves me unimpressed with the concept of an infinite number of universes. To me, conjuring up such a concept to explain why we are here shows how imaginative scientists can get when they ‘unscientifically’ (in my view) and determinedly reject God; and are freed from actually having to test their own, untestable, theories.

Occam’s razor points in the direction of a creator. And science may one day find pointers to God, as Kaku already claims to have done. Perhaps, in the future, thinking about science and God will increasingly coalesce. Religion has already made the leap to accepting science. Science may have taken a first tentative step with Kaku.

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics

Comments [27]

  1. Bran Dee says:

    No one has seen God but Jesus has revealed God to the world and he is a benign God and so are his followers.
    Jesus exposed the folly of the Pharisees and their merciless religious legalism and Christians can expose the folly of a militant legalistic ideology that has been called ‘International Phariseeism’. IP has all the ruthless male dominated survival cunning of pagan nomadic camel herders who will use any means to establish an international camel trading cartel.
    God bless the inquiring tolerant mind of Daniel Shayesteh, [b. Talesh, Iran], Peter Smith [b. Liverpool, UK], and all like minded writers born anywhere.

  2. ianl says:

    Typically, Peter Smith ignores (evades) the question that “intelligent design” is undone by. The process of evolution is brutally opportunistic, with no anthropogenic sense of fairness or morality to it all. Perhaps we mortals cannot grasp the Supreme Being’s purpose, but spina bifida (e.g.) is difficult to assign to benevolence.

    • Mark Smith says:

      Even though you currently have it dismissed, you do well to at least entertain attributing benevolence to “intelligent designer”, which immediately rules out many gods including Allah in whom both good AND evil exists. It seems you’re alluding to the common question, how do we reconcile pain and suffering with the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent creator and ruler in whom NO evil exists? As you might’ve been told before by a Christian friend, the answer’s in the Gospels; maybe he thoughtfully suggested you wrestle with the book of Job that builds a case for God’s Messiah off the issue of pain and suffering and His sovereignty; I would also point out that CS Lewis had a very intellectually satisfying crack at it in “Problem with Pain” (among a big catalogue of historical Christian philosophers over the centuries). Nevertheless, intimately/personally confronted with immense suffering, is, to understate, not the same as armchair theologising. Our cries of ‘why’ and ‘help’, I know, are not always answered (or are they?) immediately or farther down the track. But then again, our sins of deceit, malice, envy etc, are not always answered with God’s retribution immediately, if before death at all, either. Worthy to consider I think. Based on your comment, I’m assuming this question is irrelevant to you now, but for its own sake: is my indignity toward evil make me more righteous than God Himself? Just throwing it out there.

      • ianl says:

        Please don’t be silly.

        I was being sardonic, but if you’re serious then address the question of (e.g.) random spina bifida without flowering your evasion with gobbledegook pretending to be intellectually honest philosophy. Mutations are NOT evil – that was the point of my sardonic comment about being unable to grasp the Supreme Commandre’s purpose.

        I’m not holding my breath, of course.

        • Mark Smith says:

          Yes, I realise you were being sardonic. My comment wasn’t meant to be a patronising response though. Yes, sb is quite a horrific mutation. It seems beside the point to argue mutation is inherently good or evil. Rather, it’s in the context of a fallen world, where such mutations can wreak havoc on God’s order originally untouched by sin that perhaps a generalised connection between mutation and evil can be made.

    • psstevo says:

      As so often happens too many propositions commence with the incorrect world view. Such is the ‘basis’ of most of those unsupportive of Peter Smith’s open and honest article. Perhaps those of an atheistic bent should read the following article – http://creation.com/five-atheist-miracles?utm_source=streamsend&utm_medium=email&utm_content=26563629&utm_campaign=Five%20atheist%20miracles%20-%20AU.
      The anti-theist arguments are fatally flawed on scientific, mathematic and logical grounds. Oh for the improbable faith of the Atheist!

      • Ian MacDougall says:

        From your link:

        “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). This is not magic, because God, who is eternal and omnipotent, is a sufficient cause for the universe. And He can exist eternally (and therefore has no beginning) because He is a non-material entity (God is spirit, as the Bible says in many places).

        Proving that a wordsmith can define any problem out of existence; or into existence if preferable.
        All this in the context of contending that the Universe we know was created in six days: that an original breeding pair of humans was created on the sixth day; that they lived in an Earthly paradise specially created for them by God, where death and vice were unknown. BUT UNFORTUNATELY, the original woman (Eve) bit into a fruit of a Forbidden Tree, and persuaded her partner, the original man Adam to do the same. (That was the ORIGINAL SIN.) Whereupon God found out about it and got angry, and expelled them from their Paradise. And thus began all the vices and evils known: want, misery, war, plunder, robbery, etc, etc, etc, which fill most of the Bible. Not only that list, but death, disease etc, etc, etc as well. The inclination to be sinful was from that moment on built into human genetics.
        But wait! There’s more!
        Taking pity at last on his human creatures, God became human himself. He allowed himself to be born in Bethlehem as Joshua bar Joseph. This he did while simultaneously retaining two other supernatural identities: God the Father and God the Holy Ghost.
        And now came the most amazing act of all. God the Son allowed himself to be crucified, dead and buried. In so doing, he paid the blood sacrifice owing to himself as God the Father for all the sins of all the people who have ever lived. Thus it became possible for humans whose ancestors had lost their Earthly paradise to enter a new, eternal one in the sky. God, the embodiment of infinite justice, had in his infinite mercy saved the world.
        Ain’t that some miracle?

  3. Anthony H says:

    I am happy to subscribe to the idea of a Universal Energy Force – God if you wish, but I can’t subscribe to the ‘friend in the sky’ theory. If there is a true Creator, he’s not listening or interested, has gone on holiday, or is busy with more important things!

  4. Alice Thermopolis says:

    Einstein was right. Time is relative. When he became an international celebrity, he explained it this way to reporters: “Imagine sitting on a park bench with an attractive young woman. It seems like a minute. Sitting on a hot stove for a minute, however, seems like an hour.” QED.

    As for God, the Omar Khayyam School has a lot of followers. Three verses from his Rubaiyat (Edward Fitzgerald translation).

    Myself when young did eagerly frequent
    Doctor and saint, and heard great argument
    About it and about: but evermore
    Came out by the same door as in I went.

    With them the seed of wisdom did I sow
    And with my own hand laboured it to grow:
    And this was all the harvest that I reaped –
    “I came like water and like wind I go”.

    One moment in annihilation’s waste,
    One moment of the well of life to taste -
    The stars are setting and the caravan
    Starts for the dawn of nothing – Oh, make haste!

    • Jody says:

      “I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
      Some letter of that After-life to spell:
      And by and by my Soul return’d to me,
      And answer’d: ‘I Myself am Heav’n and Hell”

  5. Homer Sapien says:

    Peter, I think you would enjoy “Darwin’s Black Box” by Michael J. Behe and A World Without Time” (The Forgotten Legacy of Goedel and Einstein) by Palle Yourgrau.

  6. Andrew McIntyre says:

    Peter,

    About books on science, may I recommend “What Is This Thing Called Science?” a best seller by the Australian Alan Chalmers. Easy to read, it outlines how science works, and the fourth edition includes a riveting looks at the complex debate about descriptions of reality and the use of allegory and analogy by scientists in an attempt to approach the discoveries of science with the dilemmas that electrons, quantum mechanics and relativity bring to our sense of reality.

    Second, the divide between the domains of what is physical reality, or scientific description, and what is spiritual or metaphysical and thus unprovable in the descriptive domain, is brilliantly dealt with by Roger Scruton in his The Soul of the World. He argues convincingly that a simple dualistic approach to these two incompatible domains can be largely satisfied. It also gives a very helpful and straightforward understanding of the notion of metaphysics or non-material world.

    Third, on the problem of God, soul and other metaphysical issues, these are indeed being treated scientifically by neuropsychologists like Nicholas Humphrey in Soul Dust and Sam Harris, albeit rather more harshly, in Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion. Both of these books indeed do find pointers to God, scientifically. E.O Wilson, the sociobiologist in The Meaning of Human Existence also has a scientific go on the fundamental questions of Origins; Meaning of Life; and Death; and an evolutionary concept of innate morality, although all rather less convincingly.

    Finally, to invoke Occam’s Razor as you do, I should have thought that it points in completely the opposite direction than to God. We are, all of us, in the same boat as it were about contemplating the transcendental and the mystery of existence, but Occam would have thought to posit God just adds another unexplainable mystery to the mystery He was supposed to explain. Better one mystery than two.

    Andrew McIntyre

    • Peter says:

      Thanks for the book references Andrew. As for Occam’s razor – I realise both sides throw it in at times. I couldn’t resist it. But you must agree that to dream up an infinity of universes, of which there are many varieties, adds to the number of mysteries as does the concept of God.

  7. [email protected] says:

    If wondering where the universe came from and how it came into being is so difficult a question that it causes some people. like Peter, to propose that the only possible explanation is that there must be a creator of some kind – God, Yahweh, Allah etc. etc. then the question must be extrapolated to ask – where did God come from? Is there only one God, or are there parallel Gods ad infinitum in the mode that some theories suggest that there may be parallel universes?

    • Peter says:

      OK, but it causes other people to propose an infinity of universes without the least evidence. And of course God didn’t come from anywhere. To ask where He comes from is to be in a realm of time; His creation.

      • Mark Smith says:

        Hi denandsel and Peter, I’m chewing through a fascinating book by Paul Copan and William Lane Craig called Creation out of Nothing. It contains arguments based on philosophy and science with sections on abstract objects and comparing universe models for example. Great exploration of complex notions such as origins, conservation and infinity. WLC is also a giant in the intelligent design v atheism debates. His essays can be found online if you really want your mind to explode. Cheers

        • Rob Brighton says:

          With a great deal of amusement, I read that “Noahs Resturant” at the creation museum offered gluten free meals.

          Are they acknowledging that some in our community lack the genetic variation necessary to digest wheat?

          Has the over-reliance on wheat-based foods for the last 10,000 years created a sensitivity?

          Is your digestive tract still adapting to this novel food item?

          Are you evolving?

          • Mark Smith says:

            I recommend a book called Wheat Belly by William Davis. A biological scientist friend of mine (with an influential doctorate through Flinders Uni) laboriously cross-referenced the entire book and found it extremely solid to her disconcert. From vague memory, the evolution of a plethora of wheat strain through human interventions such as cross breeding and genetic modification for the purpose of creating durable crops on large scales (such as dwarf wheat) has led to the gluten modification that our modern guts have struggled to adapt to. Only read it if you don’t want to eat wheat ever again!

  8. iain says:

    In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth – sounds pretty straitforward to me.

  9. Ian MacDougall says:

    And of course, with a multitude of religions, and more gods than there are religions, which one does one choose. Because they can’t all be right.
    Most religious people have the same religion as their own ancestry. Catholics raise Catholics, Anglicans raise Anglicans; Muslims raise Muslims. A tiny minority convert from A to B, but most learn to believe in what their parents learned to believe.
    God cannot stand over Nature. If there is a God at all, that sexless ‘it’ has to be part of Nature. But the great Old Testament Sky Ogre has to have been a creation of the OT Prophets, who were one of the original bands of clerics. And clerics have one major ambition in life: to recruit, train and hold a following of supporters. This IMHO is why heresy and apostasy are such transgressions in their eyes.

  10. ArthurB says:

    My favourite bit of wisdom on this topic (I think said by one of the Haldanes) is that not only is the Universe stranger than we imagine, it is also stranger than we can imagine.

  11. en passant says:

    My comment at Quadrant Online at:

    Peter,
    I believe there must be parallel universes as I seem to have pooped (sic) into the wrong one as this one surely cannot be the ‘right’ one?

    I examined god and found him/it wanting in every regard. Here are just a couple of issues I have:
    1. If heaven and hell are infinite then time has no meaning it is both instant and endless. Endless is boring. What condition will I be in? Just pixels, or do I get the perfect body (and brain) – just like everyone else. If I play a game, do I always play it perfectly and win, or do I suffer less than perfect losses. Strike 1 as I think the concept of heaven is hell.
    2. As a communicator all gods seem to have less skill than Malcolm. Why do all gods seem to pick illiterate messengers who then have scribes screw up the message decades later?. Surely it is time for a god to get on Facebook and Twitter and straighten this out? I am willing to do it for a fee, but I do have a few rules: no pain, no mockery from the masses and no giving me a choice. If I have free will, then do NOT blame me if I choose the wrong path. Actually, it is now 30 years since I invited god (any god) to share a coffee with me (I’ll pay) to prove its existence and sort out the mess as to the right one. No response. Zero, zilch, nil, nothing. No sign at all.
    3. As for pain, genetic disease, injustice and the whole misery of evil, well, if THE god allows all of this to go on while he watches and does nothing, then I have no need of him. So, if such a useless, unfeeling god exists then who cares? If no god exists and it was all just chance then what does it matter?

    In either case Occam’s Razor says that any god is irrelevant.

    And finally, if there is anything mankind does not know, or cannot understand then prayer won’t do any good, but it will take your mind off some big questions for a while. Personally, I find a good red wine just as effective, with the benefit of not having to worship the bottle.”

    • Lawrie Ayres says:

      If there was no disease then we would live forever in this imperfect world. In order to reach heaven we have to die and to die we need disease. Disease also is necessary to create our ability to defeat it through our immune system. In nature the strong survive in order to breed a stronger individual. Humans, particularly in the West, tend to prolong life when nature would terminate it. Our God grants us a free will and judges us by what we do with it. Allah by comparison dictates every move and removes free will. While God is the creator Allah is the destroyer.

  12. Rob Brighton says:

    I don’t know therefore god. Argument from incredulity. All rattled out again.

    747′s do not breed with variation. Exceedingly rare to see them procreating.

    Hoyle’s argument is more commonly known as Hoyle’s fallacy, an argument by false analogy.

    It matters not a jot one way or the other, they (science) will get to the bottom of it eventually or not at all. Their success or failure stands irrelevant there is not a scintilla of evidence to support the existence of your sky buddy just less room for the delusion to exist in with every new bit of scientific discovery.

  13. pgang says:

    Peter it’s interesting that you have a number of notable names missing from your reading list. In particular Jonathan Sarfati, John Hartnett, Russell Humphreys, John Sanford, and Werner Gitt. All are accomplished scientists with a very different approach to the standard materialist axioms.

    From a science history perspective have you read Peter Harrison’s seminal ‘The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science’?

    You might be surprised at what’s lurking out there, ignored by the mainstream. Scientists don’t have to be naturalists. In fact naturalism introduces a lot of non causal nonsense into science.

  14. Rob Ellison says:

    Since there exists in this four dimensional structure [space-time] no longer any sections which represent “now” objectively, the concepts of happening and becoming are indeed not completely suspended, but yet complicated. It appears therefore more natural to think of physical reality as a four dimensional existence, instead of, as hitherto, the evolution of a three dimensional existence. Albert Einstein

    God speaks to me. Quite literally. In English. Not often but there it is. God exists in the indivisible instant when the soul reaches out to infinity and eternity. Some insist that God is hard wired into the human genome – some that there are quantum receptors in the brain. Either way God is the science of ourselves.

    Quantum mechanics is the science of small particles. Originally it was photons. Literally a packet (quanta) of energy delivered to electron causing the orbit to jump to a different level. A quantum jump. It suggests that light photons are a particle. The problem is that we have known for centuries that light is a wave. We are left with the troubling idea that light is both a particle and a wave. Wave/particle duality. It is known through empirical experiment and so both should be accepted as true. Mystery indeed.

    The math shows light propagating through space with the location of the photon defined by probabilities. At the moment the photon strikes an object only one probability survives – the rest collapse. The many worlds interpretation – not theory – suggests that each of these probabilities are realised in an alternate universe. Most physicists think it’s just math and not reality – the Copenhagen interpretation.

    Relativity is the science of the large. The innovation involved comparing reference points – or inertial frames as it’s called. Yours and mine for instance. If I take a spaceship and travel out and back very fast – when I return you are dead and dust a 1000 years. Time is relative for different frames of reference. We are each on our own world line. Both the math and the science are astonishingly beautiful. Again – there is empirical evidence so it is science. So how can the moment I am experiencing 1000 years in the future – and the moment you are experiencing both be real? The answer seems to be that all the moments of the world exist – like Christmas lights strung out across the universe – eternally in the space/time continuum. Time is no longer an arrow – except to 3 dimensional beings – and God is unimaginably 4 dimensional.

    Every horror, every terror, every torture preserved forever like
    insects in amber. It impels me to the idea of a perfectible universe. A battle of light and dark across all time and space. It renews in me the determination to be a creature of light.

    There is light within a being of light, and they light the whole world. If they do not shine, there is darkness.