I have always been fortunate to know scientists who don’t confuse the domain of science with their own philosophical presuppositions. It is, after all, one of the most common—and probably the most absurd—of all contemporary secular claims that the physical sciences somehow disprove the existence of God. This claim is nothing but a huge category mistake, for science (in the modern sense of rigorous study of the phenomena we can observe pertaining to material things) has nothing to say about the most fundamental philosophical and/or theological question of all: Why is there something rather than nothing?
So strong is the modern secular desire to latch onto science as an excuse for ignoring philosophical, theological, religious and spiritual questions that it is not uncommon for highly-praised scientists, such as Stephen Hawking, to believe that the “Big Bang” theory of the universe somehow needs no philosophical or theological or spiritual explanation. Such popular scientific figures tend to argue that the “Big Bang” shows that everything came into being spontaneously and suddenly as an initial explosion, proving that no Creator was needed. To the contrary, of course, it is a fantasy of circular reasoning to assume, in effect, that “nothing” just happened to “explode” into “something”—that what “was not” simply exploded without a cause into “what is”.
This is third grade stuff, of course, rooted in the pride of men and women over the past several hundred years who simply cannot abide the thought that they owe their existence to something or someone greater than themselves, something or someone they ought to think deeply about and perhaps obey. Nonetheless, in today’s scientific community, scientists who also possess Faith in God are often regarded as threats to scientific research, since their “infantile” assumptions about God will surely cause them to twist the results of scientific research.
Spitzer, Verschuuren, Fowler
Among the keen minds who have written wisely and well on the intersection of science, philosophy and the God question, are Robert J. Spitzer, S.J., Gerard Verschuuren, and a personal friend, Thomas B. Fowler, whose latest book I am still reading (and will eventually advertise on our website). I list some previous commentaries on their works at the end of this one. The latest book of many by the geneticist Verschuuren, How Science Points to God from Sophia Institute Press, does an excellent job of establishing how nearly everything in scientific study points to God once we set aside our determination to confuse or avoid the God question, including:
- Scientific assumptions
- Laws of nature
- Physical constants
- The quest for a Grand Unified Theory
- The Big Bang
- Behavioral science
- Logic and math; and
- Gödel’s Theorem
Fr. Spitzer delved deeply into both physics and philosophy in his 2010 book, New Proofs for the Existence of God. Tom Fowler, whose background is in physics, systems analysis and philosophy, has not only detailed The Evolution Controversy, closely examining what the various theories can and cannot explain, but has just completed a book entitled Science, Faith, and Scientists which not only outlines the history of science, but sheds a great deal of light on the suitability and capability of Catholic scientists. (Again, I am still awaiting purchasing information for this new volume.)
This suitability and capability is verified by what any historian of science already knows—that some of the greatest discoveries in modern science have been made by serious Catholics. That is not my central point today, but it is telling. While anyone can mix personal and even philosophical commitments with scientific study in destructive ways, as a general rule Catholicism inculcates an awareness of the totality of reality and a humility about human assumptions which actually prepares the ground well for any kind of serious research and study. In any case, the axe grinding today is most often done by exceedingly proud thinkers who are doing their best to hide behind exalted claims for their own disciplines. Do they fear the spiritual and moral recognitions which are triggered within us when we open our minds and hearts to God?
Why is there something and not nothing?
The ultimate question everyone faces, including every scientist, is why there should be anything at all. Quite apart from philosophical arguments about first causes and prime movers—and these are quite important—Thomas Aquinas knew three things that every scientist also knows: First, that everything we see around us is contingent—depending for its existence and operations on something else; second, that the universe exhibits an astonishing order and consistency without which science could not exist; and, third, that both contingent things and order itself require an uncaused cause simply to exist. Period. This is why it is so absurd (again, by reason of its circularity) to suppose that the “Big Bang” explains the existence of the universe. It is like the song says, “Nothing comes from nothing; nothing ever could.”
Others, of course, have viewed even the “Big Bang” theory as suggesting something else entirely, even granted that it is only the best current theory we have for understanding why our universe possesses the characteristics it does, including especially its particular rate of expansion. But beyond that, scientists have demonstrated how exquisitely balanced it all is—how if any factor were “off” by even the tiniest fraction, nothing in our universe would hold together, and nothing could sustain life. As one scientist put it, what we know about the universe now strongly suggests that something or Someone expected us.
It was, in fact, primarily the Big Bang theory which prompted the late great astrophysicist Robert Jastrow to write the following
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.
As Newman argued over a hundred years ago, no discipline can usurp the place of another without darkening the human mind. Science, philosophy, theology and every other branch of study ought not to quarrel, but work in harmony to see each aspect of reality more clearly, so that all can better grasp the whole.
For further reading, here are several more of my commentaries and reviews on related subjects:
- Evolution: The Missing Link
- Science, Faith, and Scientists: The quest to understand nature and what it tells us about faith, knowledge and reality (I will post a review and information about how to purchase this book when it becomes available)
Also recommended: God the Designer: Yes or No?
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