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(Supporting article)

Science and Religion

An examination of the perceived conflict between
religious and scientific theory,
together with a presentation on the surprising nature of reality as indicated by current knowledge.

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1.    INTRODUCTION

A good proportion of society considers that science and religion conflict with each other. Let me say firstly that there is no reason why the two even need be compared. I am definitely not the first person to reach this conclusion! Science attempts to explain how things are; how things work. Religion, on the other hand, has the brief to answer the big questions beginning with why?

The concept of conflict held by atheists and agnostics is exacerbated by Christian fundamentalists. In essence this comes from their literal translation of the first Book of the Old Testament of the Bible, Genesis. With such an outlook, any scientific theory that challenges their views is taken as a threat to their very faith. It was the case when Copernicus theorised during the 1500s that the Earth revolved around the Sun. Darwin’s theory of evolution creates the same zealous response today!

I mean no ill feeling toward Christian fundamentalists. I have worshiped with them. I admire their zeal and enjoy taking part in their church services. None-the-less it seems so simple to me! ‘Faith’ stands on its own. Scientific evidence or theory should never affect the basis of our faith. As far as I am concerned, the existence of God can be proven, beyond reasonable doubt, by any person who is willing to truly evaluate the possibility – by putting faith to the test. I am sure that the presence of God, within his Church and our individual lives, can be recognised by anybody if they know how and where to look. A complete section of this website, “Believing in God” is devoted to guiding that evaluation.

And of course when we have proven to ourselves that faith has a sound basis, then we will inevitably progress to believing that God has to be the universe’s creator. With this outlook, scientific theory then is, as Isaac Newton believed, just the mechanism for explaining how God’s creation actually functions!

You may be surprised that survey results published in the “Nature” periodical back in 1997 reported at that time that 40% of responding scientists in the USA believed in God. A further 15% were open on the issue, i.e. they were agnostics rather than atheists. I am confident that a good many other professions would have far less general acceptance of God’s existence.

Essentially then, science should never stand in the way of a quest for personal faith. On the other hand, neither should religious views impact the development of scientific theory. Science and religion should have their own discrete paths.

That all aside, the real conflict expected by so many people just is not there! It might have been true in the case of pre-twentieth century classical physics. Despite his best intentions, Newton, more than any other person, is responsible for the outlook that is held by a large proportion of Western atheists. The Newtonian idea of a machine-like reality raises the question, “Why do we need a Creator (God) at all?” That is, if the universe has seemingly been cranking on and on forever, why do we need to hypothesise about a God?

Within current scientific theory however, the universe is actually known to be anything but machine-like! It is also very unlikely that it has been in existence forever. These issues are discussed more fully later in this article.

2.    THE MYSTERY OF MATTER

The science of the twentieth century – including the theories of relativity and, more importantly, quantum physics – still raises more questions on the basis of reality than it answers. By the 1920s physicists had reached the understanding that sub atomic particles could no longer be explained in a common sense manner. For example, the laws of cause and effect, which do apply to the macroscopic (visible to the naked eye) world, do not fully apply to the microscopic world of sub atomic particles.

One of the oddest scientific theories is that of  “non local effects”. As an example analogy, a billiard ball will react when it is struck by another billiard ball. Once the two balls have separated and lost speed, neither ball can affect the other, unless they are physically brought into contact again that is. But within quantum mechanics, two sub atomic particles that have interrelated locally (say within an atom) can continue to influence each other through ‘non local’ effects after separation. Measurements taken of one of these particles will be partially affected by the state of the other particle, even if it is on the other side of the universe. And the effect will be instantaneous.

Even Einstein struggled with that one at the time, but experimentation in the 1980s conclusively proved that non local effects are real at a sub atomic level. Yes, there is a lot more mystery in matter than initially imagined by most of us. Please note that I am merely trying here to set the stage for what follows in this article.

3.    A PHILOSOPHICAL ANALYSIS OF
"LIFE, THE UNIVERSE AND EVERYTHING"

Although having stated that the paths of science and religion should not dissect, I am of the opinion that it is still right and proper to philosophise about the basis of ‘all that is’. I wish to make it clear that I am not in any way offering my own personal scientific theory. And bear in mind if my interpretations of scientific theory, or philosophy based on them, are proven wrong in due course by empirical evidence that may subsequently come to light, then it should not damage either my, or your, faith. As I have indicated already, faith stands on the basis of our experiences; the gathering and evaluation of our own evidence of Gods presence within both the Church and our lives.

There are three essential points running through the balance of this article. Firstly, why does the universe exist (i.e. what put it here)? Secondly, there are extreme odds against things being ‘just as they are’. Thirdly, there is much interconnectedness and there are significant interdependencies apparent throughout the sciences. The second and third points impact each other to present a complexity that is extremely hard to explain away.

3.1    Where did it all come from?

This is potentially the biggest question! Why is there anything, rather than nothing at all?

There is no problem with asking ourselves how ever did the universe firstly come to exist. And then how did it come to be the perfect environment that it is – one that could support conscious life, that eventually came to ponder the question why? (This itself raises a point that I attempt to address later.) These are not small questions either! Just dwell on the first one for a while. Absolutely nothing at all physically existed before the start of time itself. Then out of that total nothingness that preceded time, the total mass/energy that now exists in our universe JUST arrived. 

Science cannot yet explain why the “Big Bang” occurred, or what existed before it  only assuming it to be nothingness itself. Where did it all come from? Under Newtonian Physics this was not an issue for contemplation by scientists – the universe had been supposedly cranking on forever. Atheists felt very smug about that. They proclaimed that if the universe had no beginning, then we had no need of a theoretical God at all ... we did not require a divine Creator. But that ace was gradually destroyed as the theory of the Big Bang firmed up through 20th Century!

So, what was its prime mover? Other ‘believers’, like me, who have proven beyond reasonable doubt to themselves that God does exist, can only deduce that God must be it.

Now if we believers suggest God was the Creatorof all that is, you may well challenge, “Who then created the Creator?” With respect, this question does not take into account the fact that the universe, as huge as it is, has a surrounding boundary. The ‘space-time continuum’ sits within that boundary. Logically, a theorised creator of that ‘continuum’ would have an existence separate from it, where time itself, and beginnings and endings, have no value what-so-ever. (The word “existence” when applied to God is probably inappropriate here too, but it is the best that we have to use.) To my mind, using this reasoning, it is easier to conceive of that extreme source of consciousness’ known as God to whom notions of time and space do not apply  as the ground, or instigator, of all the mass/energy that did come into existence at the Big Bang; that went on to form the universe as we now know it. 

Despite our advanced thinking (as primates go) we cannot arrogantly believe that the existence of an incomprehensible intelligence (God) outside the confines of our time and space is impossible, merely because we do not have scientific concepts available to explain it. As a humurous anecdote, I was teasing my nephew, then three years old. He got most indignant and for my punishment he sent me to the thinking spot (a punishment that he himself was accustomed to). I asked how long did I need stay in the thinking spot and he answered, with a note of genuine seriousness, Forever!” Doubting his knowledge of the concept I asked him just how long was forever. Still with a stern look on his face he answered, Until bed time.” I would suggest that our adult grasp of  time concepts, beyond the boundaries of our universe, is just as na´ve as my young nephews grasp of time within it. We cannot know about such things until we have experienced them for ourselves, or at least received some evidence of their existence!

The great Christian theologian and philosopher, St Augustine wrote around 400 AD that God is not bound by time. As an example he stated that for God, nothing is future or past. Essentially, he wrote that Gods being is eternal and beyond temporal constraints. I certainly could not have said it as well.

3.2    Our lucky universe

Whilst Charles Darwin may have offered us broad theories as to how complex forms of life, like human beings, came to evolve, no scientist has explained exactly how the universe evolved into its present complex state. (And yes, the word evolved may be used in this instance.)

Now I accept that computer modelling during 2013/2014 demonstrated how in all probability it basically shaped up    matter, anti matter, black holes etc and how they interacted in the universe's formation. But the fine details, e.g. the incredible timing of it all, not the least being the perfect little tweak that seemed necessary in the opening nano seconds of the Big Bang itself, are far from understood. Yes, there is a lot still unknown about our universe!

Without a doubt, any miniscule variance to the sub atomic interactive forces that we currently have in our universe would have prevented it from forming into anything vaguely like the one we have. The known forces and constants that hold it all together are perfectly balanced. There are truly innumerable alternatives for the universe’s composition, any of which would have resulted in a totally chaotic state.

It is also incredible how perfect conditions evident within say nuclear physics (the ultra tiny) act to underpin a perfect astrophysical state (the ultra large). And from the actions of the ultra large (e.g. exploding stars) come substances such as carbon upon which life on earth is dependent. And the story goes on … and on … and on ... The interconnectedness of conditions through all the sciences is truly very surprising  or, better defined, it is amazing! Clearly to us believers, our universe was designed to establish life itself.

3.3    Our lucky planet

Both the “Copernican Principle”, and “Principle of Mediocrity” were framed during the 20th Century after Edwin Hubble had established some understanding of the absolute magnitude of the universe. The principles are based on the premise that planet “Earth” is in no way privileged in its ability to support complex life forms such as ourselves.  The notion maintains that because there are so many galaxies and solar systems out there, it is very likely that other Earth-like planets do exist.

However, analysis this century has found that the factors required of a planet to facilitate the development and maintenance of complex life forms (that obviously do exist here on Earth) are extremely uncommon. These factors include: ideal placement within a galaxy; an ideal sun to orbit around; near circular orbit around its sun; an ideal rate of planetary rotation; orbited by an ideal sized moon; a terrestrial planet of ideal mass; liquid water on some of its surface, but not on all of it; an oxygen-rich atmosphere; an ideal magnetic field; a surface consisting of moving sections (plate tectonics). Through the use of very conservative calculations, the odds of finding a planet such as ours are reportedly greater than one in a trillion. The odds of complex life forms existing on other planets throughout the universe’s galaxies are therefore nowhere near as high as first thought.

As we study this planet of ours, further questions arise. For example, how does the oxygen level in Earth’s atmosphere, required to sustain life, remain precisely perfect? Similarly, how does the level of salinity in the sea remain constant to support sea life? Again, there are many, many of these types of questions. Although now just gaining acceptance, there is one scientific theory as to how our planet’s perfect environmental state occurs. Note that the theory has existed for decades, but has not enjoyed the full acceptance that it seems to deserve. More on that under the next sub heading.

It is fair to say that our planet is extremely lucky to be so ideal.

Another supposed stroke of luck, that should not be overlooked, has also placed our planet in the perfect position for astrophysical observation – to gaze outwards beyond our planet’s atmosphere. This relates to our ability to study our own solar system, our own galaxy (the Milky Way) and the incredibly vast universe. There are at least a dozen factors related to our celestial position – again, huge odds exist. As a mere starting point we have an exact sized and placed moon (400 times smaller than the sun, with the sun 400 times further away from Earth) that provides us with perfect eclipses of the Sun. This has enabled us to analyse the Sun which in turn allows us to understand far more of the universe than could have been possible without eclipses.

If you wish to study more of this please read the 2005 book, “The Privileged Planet” by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W Richards.

3.4    Complexities in life’s evolution on Earth

For my mind, the result of life’s evolution on Earth demonstrates incredible complexity, diversity and great odds against its incredible success. This applies equally from the simplest to the most advanced creatures. For example, let us look at complex bee or ant life forms with their super complex social interdependencies – small in the ‘brains department’, but HUGE in their cooperative and coordinated social functioning? There are a couple of theories on how they may have evolved, but the complexity of their social functions and methods of breeding (sometimes without fertilisation), really challenges our finding proof of their evolutionary trail. What a complex and wonderous thing is evolution! 

And ponder the incredible diversity between and even within species evident on our planet? The dramatic leap in the evolution of brains in primates, with highly functioning human grey matter as its end result, is a pretty important example.

There are other unanswered questions relating to the evolved basic human brain. Why was there ever a need for its functionality to evolve through ‘natural selection’ to a level where we have the capacity to understand so much of the basis of the universe and even wonder why it exists at all. Indeed, why have we evolved to be so inquisitive? Some of the first sentences spoken in childhood are difficult questions asked of puzzled parents!

And whilst discussing evolved brain functions, lets consider speech”. How did the odd group of anthropoids (humankind) develop the ability to communicate with very complex utterances? Just because we can speak, simply leads us to overlook the sheer magic of speech itself!

It is clearly apparent that directions in human brain functioning are way past the expected requirements of survival for our own species. Lets not forget the odd human traits of humour, artistic ability and recognition of natural beauty!!! I mean, what do such genetic characteristics offer our chances of survival as a species? Even atheists can have their lives greatly enriched by these human attributes. This time I refer to them as "subtle magic". Did they just occur through chance mutation?  Mmmmm ... I personally dont think so!

Remember that I am not arguing that ‘evolution’, as a theory, has no foundation. Evidence of complete and major blind allies in evolutionary development offers very good evidence that it has a sound basis. The similarities in DNA found through individual species, primates as an important example, is further evidence that evolution is a sound theory. Darwin has to be congratulated for presenting the basics. It also makes sense that God planned that life itself would have the ability to continually adapt to its changing environment. The situation for me is that there is just so much to marvel at, even when only looking surface deep.

However, when we do look deeper into life here on Earth there seems to be even larger questions to be answered. One such major issue relates back to one of the loose ends under the last sub heading – how do the perfect conditions required to sustain life on Earth continue unabated? How have relatively perfect oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, and salinity levels in the sea (amongst many others), been maintained? Biologists had their theory. Geochemists had another. Because of the two extreme views, some joined forces to form the conglomerate science of “biogeochemistry”. Even this new field of science has failed so far to produce models that can ‘map’ to the real world’s environmental conditions (no matter how powerful the computers utilised were, or how intricate their models became).

The only all-encompassing theory available is Dr James Lovelock’s “Gaia”. In this, the Earth’s life forms, together with their environment, self regulate conditions towards a state that is habitable for all the organisms involved. Lovelock theorises that the entire world is a self regulating super-organism. He doesn’t enter into a notion of ‘world consciousness’ or a  ‘world soul’ as in pantheist religions, he just means that living species (flora and fauna) have evolved to ‘control’ the world’s climate and other environmental conditions along with inanimate substances (rock etc).

It is theorised that diverse plant life forms, together with micro organisms, both on land and in the sea, play a major role in this controlling process. The required interdependencies between the living species indicated in his work point to an underlying ability of ‘evolution’ to organise the planet’s inhabitants in such a way as to ensure that life itself on Earth continues.

Now it is a ‘buzz’ in itself, that living species can continue to adjust to their changing conditions through natural selection as Darwin theorised. We also have the extreme biodiversity, with examples already discussed – complex humans and on the other hand the incredible insect species (e.g. ants and bees). On top of that, an overarching ability of evolution appears to ensure the continuation of life itself on this precious planet of ours! There are no hints available at present as to how ‘nature’ actually manages to coordinate the complex integrated development of species involved in the process.

Again, my own mind boggles at the marvel of it all!

3.5    Intelligent Design?

Not surprisingly, Christian fundamentalists still cannot accept the theory of evolution! They went so far as to establish a Creation Theory in the latter quarter of the twentieth century, based on their perceptions of scientific evidence, to compete with the theory of Evolution. They stated that their evidence demonstrated that the Earth and all creatures that ever existed (including those now extinct) came into being at exactly the same time, some 6,000 years ago. With all due respect, they did not convince many people outside of their own church congregations!

Many modern day Christian fundamentalists still accept that God literally created everything in just six days, and rested on the seventh (just as the Biblical Book of Genesis states). A lot of that type of argument comes down to how we like to ‘take’ the Bible. What would a literal six days mean for the creator of the universe  a creator who has his basis outside the boundaries of time and space as we know it?

To me, and many other moderate ‘thinkers’, the Christian Old Testament (the pre-Jesus bits of the Bible) contains enough deliberate imagery in its contents to indicate that it should not be treated in the way that the fundamentalists do. The great Jewish Theologion and Philosopher, Maimonides (1135 - 1204) argued that interpreting everything of Gods Word literally could lead to idolatry. This in fact can occur by obsessively elevating interest in Biblical contents to a greater height than God himself. Mind you, even when viewed as imagery, moderate Christians  consider that Genesis still offers profound messages on creation, human nature and our relationship to God, when analysed.

In more recent times, Christian fundamentalists have shifted their support to the “Intelligent Design Theory”. Within Intelligent Design (ID), it is postulated that the cellular world of even the simplest organisms, such as microbes, is so complex that it could only have come into being through the intervention of an intelligent designer (God) rather than an outcome of evolution. The DNA strands of a microbe are indeed very, very, very complex. ID thereby maintains that evolution is not a sound theory because even microbes (the simplest life forms) can have components that are ‘irreducibly complex’. That is, they theoretically have useful parts that could not have come into being through Darwin’s principle of “natural section”. They could not have evolved through steps of small improvements because those bits are so complex that they either have ‘to be there’ or ‘not be there’ (i.e. there can be no middle ground with natural selection processes, because to be there ‘slightly’ would provide absolutely no advantage to the life-form).

There is sense behind their reasoning of course, but unfortunately, the developers of ID do not explain away the positive indicators for evolution, such as the previously mentioned  ‘blind alleys’ and DNA similarities within species (e.g. human beings and chimpanzees), that are evident. The concept of Intelligent Design as currently presented at least is therefore, in my view, certainly not the whole answer. It simply is not a complete theory!

However, I am definitely not saying that our universe wasnt designed by a Creator. I mentioned some of my beliefs in the introduction of this article. My full understanding on the issue at hand unfolds like this. Firstly, I believe in God; I have faith; I recognise his presence in my life etc. Secondly, my research indicates to me that Darwins theory of evolution has a sound basis. And the mind boggling complexities that still challenge the complete development of evolutionary theory, to this day, points to its profoundity.  Therefore, finally on that basis, I accept that the process of evolution MUST have been designed into the universes grand plan by God prior to its creation. It is as simple as that!

As I have maintained all along, those who do believe in God will accept that he created, and indeed still sustains, the universe.

3.6    How else can we explain this inherent complexity?

Because of increasing specialisation in the sciences, individual scientists did not easily recognise just how ultra-complex the big picture of our universe was becoming. It has become increasingly more evident to all in recent times (over the past thirty years or so). 

To my knowledge there are only two available options (exceptingincredibly good luck of course) to deal with these issues – the scientific Many Worlds (or Multiverse) Theory and the religious belief of an intelligent creative force (God). The mere existence of the Many Worlds Theory demonstrates that scientists do acknowledge the issues of huge odds and extreme complexity that I have raised.

Within the Many Worlds Theory, countless numbers of universes concurrently co-exist alongside of each other. The universes with weaker sub atomic forces exist beside universes with stronger sub atomic forces etc, etc, etc. Universes with every conceivable variance in components simultaneously exist within the theory. We just happen to be in that ‘one in a zillion’ universe where it is possible for us to do so!

I continue to research the theory, and can recognise that it is developing in its own complexity as time passes, but there is still no evidence as yet to support it. Importantly, no proof exists to demonstrate that more than one universe exists, i.e. the one in which we live.

4.    WHAT IS THE ANSWER THEN?

Overall, our universe is recognised as having a perfect balance of order where it is required and chaos where that is required. It is also now clear that the universe we have, although being a complex open and indeterministic system (suffering from unpredictable and random events), had perfect organising principles engineered into it, indeed within its first nano seconds of creation.

A similar underlying organising principle, as already explained, also underlies the evolution of the inhabitants of this planet of ours, even to the extent of ensuring the continuation of life itself. Extreme complexity abounds throughout all the sciences. To all appearances, we simply are ever so lucky to actually be here, and be just as we are!

The ‘bottom line’ is that it is very easy, as a believer in Gods existence, to accept that he has a direct bearing on the causation of the universe, especially in light of the perfection that is evident. To appearances, everything essential to us being here has seemingly fallen together so perfectly ... too wonderfully well … to be anything other than a gift for us! The great Muslim philosopher, Averroes came to the same conclusion during his lifetime (1126 1198). It is far more obvious now.

Is that same “fuzzy unexplainable special-ness”, that I intuited during my mystical experiences decades ago, the root cause of the essential conditions in our universe and on this planet of ours? My choice is to believe so!  Those experiences of mine are described in the article, So, what is God? 

Whilst an atheist, I could only see reality as an expression of the laws of “cause and effect”. And the fact is that our grasp on reality must be based on its observed behaviour, i.e. the ‘hard and fast’ laws of Newtonian physics. (Nature must also be seen as running its own course  please see the article, “Suffering and evil” for an explanation). However, I now know that I was fooled by my own inabilities and prejudices, preventing me from looking deeper. In my arrogance, at that time, I could not even envisage that beneath reality’s observed surface ‘something’ unfathomable and mysterious – on which the continued existence of every sub atomic particle depends – could be present!

5.    WHERE TO NEXT?

Inevitably, confidence in God – as the creator and sustainer of ‘all that is’ – comes from recognising God’s presence in our individual lives.

If you need guidance on how to begin gathering evidence of God’s existence, that you can evaluate for yourself, please access the section of this website totalled, “Believing in God”.

However, if you require a better understanding of God’s nature to assist you with this article, or alternatively to build a composite understanding of both science and religion, then please access the article, “So, what is God?”.

I am a Christian writer, and I maintain that Christianity 'sits well' with all that is written in this article. It tries to explain the ultimate why's of creation. The article "Christianity explained", also available on this website, tries to provide the logic and beauty behind the religion itself.

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