Total Pageviews

Follow by Email

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Science of God - Personal Conclusions

Having written all of those thoughts regarding Dr. Schroeder’s book, I don’t think my understanding of them would have been complete without at least trying to explore my own faith on these matters.

First, it seems clear to me that I was obviously impressed with Dr. Schroeder’s attempt to take his expertise in mathematics and physics and try to apply them to his apparent firmly held faith system. Based on my reading, I will surely look at conflict between believers and nonbelievers in a different light from now on. One thing I did note though after having finished the book a few weeks ago now, is that perhaps the science he uses is not as soundly supported as he claims – this is alluded to many times by the author of the response website linked in the third post. Although perhaps unfortunate, it is the truth. Even still, I’d say the key for me having read all of these thoughts is that the book of Genesis is not clear cut when describing the origins of our universe, and there is much room on both sides of the line for virtually infinite discussion and understanding. However, this is also not a problem for me as a believer because the detailed description of the natural world does not impact the message of Jesus, nor does it impact my hope for Salvation. As Christians or as whatever we are – we can’t have fear of science, science discovery, or scientific thought.

I was actually comforted in a similar way when doing a bit of research on the Catholic Church’s teaching on these matters when I found this from Pope Leo XIII:

- “No real disagreement can exist between the theologian and the scientist provided each keeps within his own limits. . . . If nevertheless there is a disagreement . . . it should be remembered that the sacred writers, or more truly ‘the Spirit of God who spoke through them, did not wish to teach men such truths (as the inner structure of visible objects) which do not help anyone to salvation’; and that, for this reason, rather than trying to provide a scientific exposition of nature, they sometimes describe and treat these matters either in a somewhat figurative language or as the common manner of speech those times required, and indeed still requires nowadays in everyday life, even amongst most learned people" (Leo XIII,Providentissimus Deus 18).

And as the Catechism states it:

- “Methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things the of the faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are" (CCC 159).

It is with this framework in mind that I will continue to hope that the two sides continue to converge to some similarly shared wisdom. In fact, here is a passage from the Catechism which describes how that convergence will occur:

- "Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 159).

And continuing with my understanding of Faith through the Catholic Christian lens, I often wondered throughout my reading if the Church actually had at some point specifically addressed the origins of the universe. I was again very happy to have found that the Catholic Church actually encourages this type of research:

- "The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give him thanks for all his works and for the understanding and wisdom he gives to scholars and researchers" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 283).

I find it even more interesting that the first person to propose the Big Bang theory was actually a Catholic priest.

It seems that the Church does not require too much from its believers with regard to these nebulous matters. However, the Church does require that we maintain that no matter what one believes, it is only through the power of God that it occurred. Concerning human evolution, the Church concedes that our bodies could have been evolved from some previous form (through God’s guidance) and inherited from our parents, it is not a question that whether or not there was special creation of his soul. Pope Pius XII addressed this specifically:

- The teaching authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions . . . take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter—[but] the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God" (Pius XII, Humani Generis 36).

I am most excited by the discoveries of these supports of Catholic Church’s teaching because it is clear that the Church has no fear of science or scientific discovery – my hope all along.

So that concludes my exploration of the book The Science of God and my search for understanding as a Catholic Christian. As I have oft quoted experts throughout these words, I felt it would be appropriate to quote a few of the people who I have had conversations with regarding the different matters since beginning this writing.

MS:

- “Just goes to show that with any belief system, it's necessary to ascribe to a number of relatively arbitrary assertions, such as those outlined above. You simply need to walk into the "faith store", a la Baskin-Robbins, and decide what flavor you like.”

AP:

- “The more I think about it, the more I feel that in order to prove/disprove the existence of God, you would have to understand the entire workings of the "Universe". When it began, how it began, what was before it (if anything), the true extent of the Universe (what is past the edge of it), if it is really a Universe or is it a Multiverse, why is the speed of light the Universal speed limit, what dark matter is, how rare or common life is, what the purpose of the Universe is, etc… ad infinitum. Basically, you would have to be omniscient. Therefore, I believe only someone with the power or knowledge of God could prove/disprove his existence.

AM:

- “These concepts get at something I have felt for quite a while as a Christian - It is how an individual acts that determines the clarity by which that individual realizes the unifying base of existence. In fact God explicitly tells the Israelites that their being chosen is not b/c they have inherently superior virtues as a people, prayer and sacrifices to the JudeoChristian God are not to induce changes in the deity as in other religions, but in the offerer. As Christians are now the “new Israel,” I think that I would be wise to keep this in mind – I am not better than anyone because of my Faith.”

Amen to all of that. Thanks for reading. AMDG J

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Science of God - V

And as a final entry, this would be the 5th regarding Dr. Schroeder’s book The Science of God. I hope you have enjoyed reading (that is if you have been reading) and I also hope these thoughts spark introspection in your own life as they have certainly done in mine.

In Genesis, chapter 26 describes God as creating humans, yet chapter 27 goes further and describes God infusing the human soul w/in humankind. My first thought on reading this was “wait, I never read that in the Bible.” Comparatively based on the original Hebrew text, he states that the heavens and earth were “made” but humans were “created.” This is interesting because according to their etymology, “create” is to generate something from nothing – a contrast to “make” which means to fashion from some sort of raw material. In as much, the universe was first created… and then made. However, in the case of the Biblical person Adam, the reverse order is true – he was made (Ch 26) and then created (Ch 27). Through this translation, there was perhaps some unknown time period between the completion of him being made and then at which time his body was infused with the soul. Schroeder draws a connection between this ambiguous timeline and cave drawings that pre-date Adam – making them understandable from a Biblical perspective. According to Dr. Schroeder and his supporters, there quite easily (and the Bible does not discount this possibility) could have human like beings on the earth doing human like things, yet, they had no soul, or human spirituality.

Schroeder states that scientists date the beginning of history (as opposed to prehistory) at the beginning of time when writing was established – not writing with an alphabet but with writing in the form of pictographs and other forms/symbols. There is little doubt that this took place in ancient Mesopotamia – there is also little doubt that this is the part of the planet that was the home of the Biblical person Abraham. The bible also says that Adam was created (soul infusion variety) 5-6 thousand years before Abraham, the exact range of dates at which writing in the form of these pictographs were first started. This is all according to Dr. Schroeder’s book, yet I have not been able to find a website which discounts this support.

Transitioning now to the concept of free will, I know from discussions over the years that at the very least, some Christian denominations believe in predestination – however, it is interesting to me that some scientists believe the same thing. Dr. Schroeder however points out some flaws in this understanding. First, he concedes that free will is difficult to understand from a cursory glance using the physics we experience daily… that experiential physics is deterministic – in that if you toss up a ball, you can be certain it will fall back down. The question that one has to ask is whether or not this experience transcends all levels of existence?

The answer is no. There are in fact physics observations that occur on a daily basis that in fact do not follow this pattern. In college physics, we studied the wave-particle duality principle of light. Basically, this principle shows that light travels in packets of energy called photons which exhibit the normal pattern of motion in waves – the predictable motion that is easy to conceptualize. However, at the exact same time, these same packets of energy act as individual particles as well, and will unpredictably interfere with each other if sent through a tiny opening. We don’t experience this principle of light on a daily basis, but just like this puzzling observation, there are many subatomic forces impacting our daily life that we don’t assume b/c we don’t “experience” them. In the same way, it is conceivable to argue that this unpredictability is present in our understanding of human biology, physiology, and genetics because the observations made in those fields of study are governed by the laws of physics.

One aspect of God that I have always had trouble understanding is the passage that states that God knew me before I even existed – this doesn’t exactly jive with my experiential understanding of time. However, Dr. Schroeder addresses just such a concept in a similar way to his understanding of the first six days of creation – using Einstein’s theory of relativity. When God says “I was, I am, and I will be,” God is stating that he is Eternal and the creator of the universe, therefore also in existence outside of time as we know it. To understand this using relativity, Schroeder describes a beam of light that was shot out at the big bang – and well, traveling at the speed of light. Now imagine that you high-jacked that energy and were speeding along with that light. Immediately you decide to slow down in order to read this blog post. According to the generally accepted theory, virtually no time would have elapsed – you would be living in nearly the same instant now as when you started out. This is hard to imagine, but relativity states that speed and time are constant – the faster speed the slower the time, and vice versa. By this line of reasoning, it would thus be possible that to God everything has already happened yet at the same time has yet to take place. There is no difference in the absolute quantity of time, only a difference in the quality of time (or in how one experiences it).

There are two more points Dr. Schroeder makes in his book that I would like to explore. The first is the often said/heard phrase “if God is so good, why do such bad things happen in the world?”

Perhaps if something really terrible happened to me, I may express this same sentiment. However, I hope that I would be able to reason and perhaps understand it on a level that Dr. Schroeder discusses. He first quotes the Bible in that “it is for us to learn how to react to the bad as well as the good even if we can not understand its purpose.” Thus, it is our challenge to figure out justice and truth in all events. It is interesting to note that the natural capacity of the human brain can store nearly the information contained in a 50 million volume encyclopedia – if that is true, it can probably handle the understanding necessary to overcome these types of challenges. Dr. Schroeder states that it is the randomness of the universe that allows for sanity – for if it were not for the randomness in our experience of the world, everything would be predetermined by unyielding laws of nature. This would be a world no one would wish for, a world where we would be mere robots to our body’s chemistry and the condition of our environment.

And finally Dr. Schroeder discusses what is so unique about the planet Earth, why is it such a special place for life to exist? According to him, the universe is somewhere between 10 to 18 billion light years in scale, and our galaxy is just a tiny blip on that large map. There are millions of large cosmic bodies orbiting and hurtling through space out there somewhere, yet one aspect of our galaxy that is so special is that the Milky Way’s planets and moons have virtually swept clean most of the space through which Earth must travel – literally giving us a clear path to orbit in without the daily risk of slamming in to some wayward cosmic mass. And in the same way, Earth unexpectedly does not fall into the normal exponential distribution of distance from the Sun which each of the other planets in our universe ascribe to. In fact, each of the planets is roughly 2x further away from the preceding planet than that planet was from its predecessor. The Earth is the only planet in the solar system that disobeys this distribution, yet it is clearly to our benefit.

And then there is the miracle of the sun. It is precisely the right size to consume its supply of hydrogen and produce energy at a rate that provided the time and conditions for life to form. Earth’s orbit around the sun is more circular than most of the other planets, but it is still 3% off of being a true circle – this is important because had it been a bit more elliptical like many of the other Milky-Way planets, we would be experiencing drastic alternations between baking and then freezing depending on where we were in relation to the solar body.

Even more, our planet’s core is made of molten iron – the effects of which are drastically important yet go unnoticed by most of us. The molten iron ensures that the center of the earth contains just enough internal radioactivity to produce a virtual magnetic umbrella that deflects an otherwise lethal dose of solar wind. Not only does it provide this protection, but it also has given rise to the volcanic activity present on Earth that has been responsible for the release of the subterranean waters necessary for life – however, it has been so well balanced as to not shroud the planet with dust.

The force of Gravity is so perfectly balanced so as to hold on to the needed gases of our atmosphere but weak enough to allow lighter noxious gases to escape into space. Not only this, but we are so perfectly spaced from the Sun that the battle between evaporation of those water vapors and gravitational return of the same vapors ever so gently favors the gravitational return.

These and much more facts about how we exist within the universe really make living in our world so much more special. Dr. Roger Penrose, a well respected physicist and mathematician has stated that the odds of all of these cosmic realities occurring in the way they have in order to sustain life as they do is a number nearly to difficult to grasp – 1 in 1010^123 . To speak this number aloud would take longer to say than there has been time since the big bang. In light of all these delicately yet imperatively important facts about our world, we are truly not dependent on the Earth alone, but we are certainly children of the cosmos.

So that’s about it with regard to Dr. Schroeder’s book. I hope you have enjoyed reading all of these thought as much as I have enjoyed typing and exploring them on my end. I look forward to possibly talking about these things again sometime, but until then…

AMDG J

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Science of God - IV

This would be the 4th entry regarding Dr. Schroeder’s book, The Science of God. Very interesting stuff to me here… of course as I mentioned in the most recent entry, there are many responses to his work and opinions litter the web with ideas contrary and in support of similar ideas. I would encourage a quick google search of those pages if one might be interested.

One of the underlying themes that Dr. Schroeder keeps coming back to is the issue of time – could the complexity of current life forms have arisen by random genetic events in the 70 million years during which all phyla appear based on our fossil record. According to his mathematics, he says the answer is simple – no.

In this way, he discusses one of the most commonly heard supports from the creationist camp as to proof that evolution in the Darwinian sense is false. Dr. Schroeder’s effort has been the only thoughtful argument to that effect I have yet heard – and I am at least willing to concede that he may be partially correct. This argument is based on the fact that there are functionally similar components found in different species within different phyla – specifically the eye/complex visual systems which are present in 5 different body systems. According to Dr. Schroeder’s calculations, the chances of the correct amino acids arranging themselves in the correct pattern 5 different times to produce this similar functionality is 1 in 10127 ^ 5 – this number is really just not conceptual.

Dr. Schroeder does concede however that the chances are greatly enhanced if in fact the functional components were the result of a common ancestor. The problem lies in the fact that they don’t have a common ancestor – at least evidence of one has never been found. He discusses for example the octopus eye vs the vertebrae eye. Though the respective eyes are nearly the same in function, the octopus eye comes from optically sensitive skin cells and the vertebrae eye comes from optically sensitive brain cells. This seemingly small difference actually establishes a whole host of structural and genetic differences – without compromising function. Dr. Schroeder again assimilates the chances of amino acids aligning themselves in such a way in two different genetic lines to produce such complex and efficient function would be similar to the probability of randomly producing a Shakespearian sonnet by random typing.

Moreover, consider the 2nd law of thermodynamics – which states that everything in nature has pressure to move from a state of order to a state of disorder. This is the “chaos theory” (i.e. why a cup of tea cools when sitting on a table by itself or why the same cup when it falls on the floor and breaks does not and will not reassemble). By that reasoning, the progression of life from simple organisms to more complex organisms has been an upstream battle the whole time. Dr. Schroeder states that if biology is governed by the laws of physics – which is certainly is – the process becomes even more unlikely. However, as Schroeder also notes, just like in our daily experience, the transition from disorder to order is not impossible if the system has direction or management. Just like the understanding of the word “day” in the book of Genesis, if one were to go back to Hebrew writing, apparently the transition from “night to day” can actually be translated “order to disorder.” The following website describes how this translation is possible better than I can here:

http://www.accuracyingenesis.com/day.html

Since biology is governed by the laws of physics, nearly (if not) everything – and especially evolution by random mutation – can be boiled down to probability. The result of this fact would be that these processes would not have an ultimate goal – they come about by chance, like flipping a coin. I think Dr. Schroeder has a good point when he states that our current level of order w/in human beings and other complex life-form is rather improbable if not impossible when considered with the 70 million year timeline and the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

As always, thanks for reading. J AMDG

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Science of God - III

This is the 3rd post regarding Dr. Gerald Schroeder’s book on The Science of God, but if you haven’t read any of the others, please note that this is not an intention to proselytize.

I have to begin at the outset of this section with a disclaimer of sorts. As I was writing these thoughts, I began to kind of question the substance of their truth as well. Since I certainly can’t speak as an expert on quantum physics or the theory of relativity, I began to consider if I could be perhaps being somewhat persuaded and impressed not only by Schroeder’s thoughts but also his presentation of complex math. I consequently spent some time with Google and found that indeed, there are many web-pages which discuss these same topics – all running the gambit as to which viewpoint they espouse. There was one however, which reasoned from a similar mathematical viewpoint. I have included the link below. I encourage all interested to read that author’s response – he/she does not does not discount the that science can be used to discuss the existence of God, however, does attempt to discount the particular points of reason as presented by Dr. Schroeder.

http://www.talkreason.org/articles/schroeder.cfm

Nonetheless, as I have quoted before, Medieval philosopher Maimonides: “A superficial understanding of astronomy and physics leads to a superficial understanding of God’s management of it.”

In this section of the book, I was particularly interested in Dr. Schroeder’s discussion on the well known six-day creation story – specifically that it may not actually be six days as you and I might think of them. This argument rests on the understanding that those debated six days are not in fact written from an Earth based perspective of time – that is, the perspective which we share with each other. This difference has many implications.

According to Schroeder, if the ‘time’ described by one of these ‘days’ is written from the perception of the singularity at which the creation of the universe was occurring, time would be moving at a much more rapid pace. Moreover, based on laboratory data recorded by scientists in the present day, the rate of radiation taking place during this “creation period” is in fact 1012 times faster than the radiation waves of today – this would in effect result in time passing at a rate of million-million x faster than the current concept of time. Thus, one minute to us would be million-million minutes from this cosmic perspective, the Dinosaurs presence on the Earth for 120 million years would have only been about 1 hour. What is doubly interesting is that according to Schroeder, if you divide the 15 billion years of the universe’s history by the cosmic quotient of million-million, you get an age of about 6 days.

What is the Biblical basis for such an understanding? In the book of Genesis, Dr. Schroeder points out the clue which says that before this six day period, “the Earth was unformed.” This makes it plausible to reason that it would be difficult to base and understanding of time from our human Earth based perspective if in fact during this six ‘day’ period there were no real one location from which to reference time.

The other Biblical support for such a viewpoint is surrounded by much more controversy – the understanding of the length of time intended to describe when the original authors used the word ‘day.’ To get the true meaning, one must go to the source - the original Hebrew text as it was written (before anything may have been lost in translation). I can’t read Hebrew, so I have to rely on the work of others. Upon reading the most accurate translation I could find, it does seem like Genesis presents the day as the 24 hour cycle.

As a Catholic Christian, I was curious as to what the Church’s response was to such possibility. I found this quote from Pope Pious XII:

- "What is the literal sense of a passage is not always as obvious in the speeches and writings of the ancient authors of the East, as it is in the works of our own time. For what they wished to express is not to be determined by the rules of grammar and philology alone, nor solely by the context; the interpreter must, as it were, go back wholly in spirit to those remote centuries of the East and with the aid of history, archaeology, ethnology, and other sciences, accurately determine what modes of writing, so to speak, the authors of that ancient period would be likely to use, and in fact did use. For the ancient peoples of the East, in order to express their ideas, did not always employ those forms or kinds of speech which we use today; but rather those used by the men of their times and countries. What those exactly were the commentator cannot determine as it were in advance, but only after a careful examination of the ancient literature of the East" (Divino Afflante Spiritu 35–36).

I have basically come to the conclusion after much thought that there is ambiguity surrounding this point of contention and much more room for research and introspection – like so many other things though, it will probably still come down to a matter of faith.

Either way you go, thanks for reading at least… that’s all I got for now.

:-) AMDG

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Science of God - II

So, again, writing about the convergence of science and God and have no intention of proselytizing. Really trying to engage my own mind on these topics by writing them down, and if someone happens to read them, well that makes me happy too…

According to Schroeder, perhaps the longest held belief which has historically driven a wedge b/w both sides was the debate between the universe being eternal – is it w/out beginning and end? Though now the concept of the big bang is pretty well established in the minds of scientists everywhere, apparently it wasn’t resolved until the mid 20th century. From Aristotle until Einstein – the large majority of scientists and thinkers strongly argued that belief in a beginning point to the universe was silly. However, it has never been a secret that the Bible claimed this all along. Schroeder notes that Einstein in fact said this misunderstanding in the face of so much evidence that the universe was expanding was the “biggest blunder of his life.” This demonstrates a major shift in thinking within scientific history toward Biblical philosophy - unintentionally to be sure.

Does this shift prove the existence of a Creator? Absolutely not – but it at least gives credence to the possibility.

Dr. Schroeder then begins to go into the mathematics of certain known scientific realities – yes, a bit abstract but useful nonetheless. He discusses the unlikelihood that carbon, the 4th most abundant atom in the universe, would form in such abundant quantities as it requires some pretty unlikely conditions for formation. Apparently it does not exist naturally, it requires the combination of Berrilyium and Helium both at the exactly correct energy level and exactly right distance from each other and a few other unlikelys which get lost in numbers – again, not proving anything, just lending some credence to the possibility of some time of guidance.

Ah, and then Dr. Schroeder goes on to discuss a more familiar topic – the popular understanding of Darwinian evolution and its relation to the fossil record. I hear people throw around the phrases/terms “according to Darwin” and “natural selection” and “survival of the fittest” all the time, yet I bet few of those folks have read or really understand his theory? Sure, on the surface “survival of the fittest” seems simple and logical, yet reading the mathematical probability associated with this reasoning (at least as presented by Dr. Schroeder) are troubling. For example, the Burgess shale fossil collection is apparently the best known collection of fossils ever found because it demonstrates all five different phyla (or body plans) of current animal life. However, it also apparently demonstrates that all five phyla appeared on the scene w/in a 70 million years span – stark contrast to the proposed two-hundred million years of gradual change described by Darwin. The difference may not seem like much (70 million vs 200 million), but according to Dr. Schroeder, 70 million years is not enough time for random genetic events to have produced such vastly different phyla – random genetic events or mutations being the foundation of Darwinian evolution.

The period of time demonstrated in the Burgess shale is better known as the Cambrian explosion, and again the question is whether or not there was sufficient time for such random evolution to occur. Apparently Dr. Schroeder is not alone in his assumption that there was not, as he states the scientific community now believes one of two things: either life was planted here from outer space or there were exotic properties of self-organization AND self-replication present on Earth in order to bring forth the capacity for life. It’s no secret that many scientists disregard the book of Genesis for one reason or another, but it is worth noting that written millennia prior to any understanding of evolution or modern science – Genesis says that “the earth brought forth life” – cryptically indicating that second possibility from before. Not only that, but in the same book of the Bible, again written millennia prior to our current understanding, there is a correctly described order in which the aspects of life appear - water and then life.

Dr. Schroeder does concede the physical reality which many physicists believe, that given enough time, even apparently miraculous events become possible – such as the spontaneous emergence of a single cell organism from random couplings of chemicals. Yet as a mathematical expert, he knows that it is just very very unlikely. For a better understanding of the sheer odds of such random events leading to the formation of humans, Schroeder quotes a British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle (and I’ll do the same): “Such an occurrence is about as statistically likely as the assemblage of a 747 by a tornado whirly through a junkyard.”

God proven? Nope, not by a long shot. However, it’s worth contemplating that even the simplest forms of life are far too complex w/out some inherent chemical property of molecular self-organization and/or reaction enhancing catalysts at every step of their development – a concept the Bible has no problem with.

Before concluding this section, seems like a quote from before may be appropriate: “Render unto science that which is science’s: a proven method for investigating our universe. But render unto the Bible the search for purpose and the poetry that describes the purpose.”

As always, thanks for reading. :-)

AMDG.