Everyone believes in something

Science shows us that the universe evolved by self-organization of matter towards more and more complex structures. Atoms, stars and galaxies self-assembled out of the fundamental particles produced by the Big Bang. In first-generation stars, heavier elements like carbon, nitrogen and oxygen were formed. Aging first-generation stars then expelled them out into space – we, who consist of these elements, are thus literally born from stardust. The heaviest elements were born in the explosions of supernovae. The forces of gravity subsequently allowed for the formation of newer stars and of planets. Finally, in the process of biological evolution from bacteria-like tiny cells (the last universal common ancestor) to all life on earth, including us humans, complex life forms arose from simpler ones.

Albrecht Moritz, taken from The Origin of Life

Scientists love to ponder the statistical improbability of the Big Bang, seemingly just to see how many zeros they can crowd into a denominator. The conclusion is usually some variation of how fortunate we are that the universe was formed, that the earth is inhabitable, that life formed from quark-gluon plasma and that somehow the simplest microorganisms eventually developed into complicated animals—how fortunate we are that just like that, some 15 billion years later, human beings walked onto the scene.

I don’t mean to knock the Big Bang.  It’s a theory that both fascinates and befuddles me (though I confess I have no idea what quark-gluon is. And I can’t begin to imagine how anyone could put a date on this event!). But I must say, I think it takes some faith to swallow the theory whole. And it interests me that if a random Big Bang is as unlikely as scientists agree it is (was?), they don’t stop and ask whether it was random at all.  In fact, its very randomness makes it difficult to explain the nearly inarguable order and predictability of the natural world (the very order and predictability on which modern scientific theory is built).

Is there more of a chance that the Big Bang and evolution produced this ordered, predictable world full of complex organisms or that there is some cosmic force behind the universe that deliberately put the pieces in place and quark-gluon plasma in motion? To be honest, I just don’t know—I’m not smart enough to discount the probabilities.

I believe so many questions like this deserve our consideration.

I’m also prone to wrangle with probability of spontaneous life—that is, life willing itself into existence through the cobbling together of non-living matter in the proper proportions and sequences. Then, I wonder about the presumed serial advancements of those life-forms which allegedly culminated in man’s evolution from ape—the crowning accomplishment of the Will of Life.

Did you know that archaeology has never proven man evolved from apes?

Again, the theory is fascinating—and could still prove to be true, but as of now, it remains a theory. The Missing Link has many connotations, but none of them change that fact that no amount of digging has filled holes in the evidence that would prove the theory. Like evolution, we fill the missing links with quark-gluons and faith in the theory itself.

I think everyone believes in something—whether or not they realize it. Some may claim they are people of science, not faith; but so much faith goes into scientific theory, particularly where questions of the cosmos are concerned! Repeatable science is tough to argue against, but to me it’s (the very order and predictability of repeatable results) evidence for an Intelligent Designer. In the end, theoretical science is theory—and all theory is a way of filling in the missing links.

Now, I understand we live in a world that tends to esteem science over religion—at least as far as answering our ontological questions. We’ve put our faith in our university professors instead of our priests and rabbis. It intrigues me that though modern philosophy is so cozy with the notion that what we can know is limited by our experience (see Exclusivism that Welcomes All), many of its students would argue against the existence of an Intelligent Designer. If our knowledge of the universe is limited, isn’t it possible that the Designer exists in some corner of knowledge we haven’t yet discovered—that he’s findable through some experience we haven’t yet had. Is it at least possible that God exists in what we don’t know?  It’s very difficult to prove he isn’t there.

It’s just a question of who you believe—what you put your faith in.

Assuming something is true does not make it so; neither is the veracity of a truth claim directly proportional to the number of people who agree with it.  Virtually everyone believed the world was flat, and Galileo was killed for claiming otherwise.

Galileo is considered to be the founder of modern science. He believed in Intelligent Design.

I’m not making a case here for any particular god, but if there is one, I suspect it would behoove us all to try to find out what we can about him.

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 mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.

-Robert Jastrow, from God and the Astronomers

Postscript: Thanks to David and Roger for corrections on this post (see comments).  In fact, Galileo was imprisoned for his spat with the church, not killed.  He indeed died of natural causes. I’ll have to do some work to make sure I understand scientific “law” versus “theory” but am certainly inclined to accept David’s explanation. If I understand the correction, it does not weaken the logic of my case, but it shows that I have explained it poorly by being careless with my words. I do not consider it to be nitpicking as I try to be as precise as possible both in my thinking and my writing. Thanks to you both for helping me get it right. It would serve only half the purpose of this blog if I don’t learn through this process.  Thanks for reading.

  1. Roger Ingram

    “Galileo was killed for claiming otherwise.”

    Reportedly, he died a natural death.

    I enjoy reading your blog and hope you keep it up. What do you read or listen to for ideas?

  2. “Again, the theory is fascinating—and could still prove to be true, but as of now, it remains a theory.”

    Please don’t make this mistake, a theory is the strongest position science ever makes. A theory involves both an explanation of what happens and empirical evidence as to why this is the case or the mechanism by which it occurs. Compare this to a scientific law, which is just an explanation of what happens, hence Newton’s “Law of Gravitation.” A law is actually less of a statement than a theory, which is contradictory to how the words are used in everyday English. Saying it is “just a theory” implies a non-scientific use of the word theory, and when talking about a scientific theory I don’t think you want to do that.

    I apologize for what might be nit-picking, but this lies close to my heart as a science instructor.

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