faith and reason - Department of Physics and Astronomy

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faith and reason - Department of Physics and Astronomy
In the
Science, reason,
and faith
• ”Being sure of what we hope for, and certain of
what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1).
• Definitely not “believing something you know
ain’t so”. It should be distinguished from “belief”.
• “the art of holding onto things your reason has
once accepted, in spite of changing moods” (C.S.
Lewis, Mere Christianity). This captures the
notion of steadfastly holding to things one has
faith in, and, intriguingly, brings in reason as an
arbiter of what we should have faith in. The
Object rather than the faith should be paramount.
• A way of thinking which moves from one
proposition to another by way of logical rules. If
the ground rules are true, and the premises are
demonstrably true, so will be the conclusions.
• Properly applied, a tool without peer for keeping
us from being led astray by our own desires.
However, pure reason can’t tell us things that
aren’t implicit in what we already know, and in
fact scientists seldom have the luxury of reaching
logically unimpeachable conclusions. (Sheep in
the highlands)
Come to think of it – on what evidence do
we accord Authority to Scripture?
Science - meanings
• Accumulation of facts and natural laws built up by
systematic observations of the natural world.
• The basic process of learning about nature through
connected observation and hypothesis. The
schoolbook “scientific method” is a very particular
and restricted instance of this
• The enterprise of doing systematic research and
collecting the results.
• The social entity – labs, universities, funding
agencies, and people – which does this.
“Science has proven” is often semantically equivalent to “grab
your wallet”.
Ever-closer approximations to behavior of nature
(Archimedes to Newton to Einstein to…)
Quoting noted scientist Indiana Jones, we deal in facts.
Truth is in the philosophy class down the hall.
Occam’s razor
Idea, theory, hypothesis. These lead to marvellous rhetorical baitand-switch tactics. And while we’re at it, “I don’t know
everything” does not necessarily warrant “So you know nothing”.
Everybody lives using both faith and reason. Even people who claim
they doubt the existence of any reality outside their own minds look
both ways before crossing the street. In a sense, faith tells where to go
and reason gets us there. “Come, let us reason together…”
We should neither be total Skeptics nor utterly credulous True
Believers. Indeed we are told to test all things in the light of Scripture.
There are enough people with minds so open that they have been filled
with garbage. The Bible gives numerous examples of practicing both
faith and reason:
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who
comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those
who earnestly seek him. (Heb. 11:6)
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not
from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can
boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)
"Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your
sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red
as crimson, they shall be like wool. (Isaiah 1:18)
It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the
glory of kings. (Proverbs 25:2)
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians,
for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the
Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11)
Relations of science and faith?
• Implacably opposed
• Parallel ways of knowing and learning
• Fundamentally different in kind and dealing
with different spheres of life (NOMA, nonoverlapping magisteria)
• An old picture: the two books. But what if
their messages conflict?
Galileo (in a famous letter to the Grand Duchess of Tuscany)
summarized a strong position. When we see an apparent conflict
between plain evidence and or reading of Scripture, we must be
misinterpreting one or the other. We do all have different
thresholds for “plain”.
Some historical examples:
Psalm 24:12: the Earth “founded upon the seas” for a time thought
to literally imply that the land floats upon vast subterranean
Psalm 19:4 (quoted by Paul Romans 10:18) talks of “words to the
ends of the world”, taken for centuries to say that all inhabited
regions had been evangelized by Paul’s time, so there could not be
inhabitants of the Antipodes (for example).
And there was no end of trouble in Galileo’s era with Psalm 93:1,
“The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved”.
Even now: Christian urban legends.
The Galileo affair
The 17th century Vatican. An aged philosopher faces his
robed accusers. Eppur si muove. But was this really the
morality play that we hear of so often, Galileo the voice of
reason and clarity against the bloodthirsty forces of
superstition? Nobody today thinks this should have
happened; the great irony is that, in four centuries
of hindsight, Galileo had the better grasp of Scriptural
interpretation and Cardinal Bellarmino saw what would
come to be the philosophy of science far more clearly.
More recent milestones
• Archbishop Ussher of Armagh (1650-4) – backdating to 4004 B.C.
• Darwin – Origin of Species 1859
• Most Christian leaders happy with day/age or occasional interventions
• 1875-1900: some Evangelicals worry about violating faith tenets (still
assign Earth an indefinite age). 6000 years was a “fringe” position
• Scofield Bible (1909) – gap theory in text notes
• George McReady Price – flood geology 1902 (Adventist viewpoint).
Geology more urgent than biology.
• Morris (1961 Genesis Flood): small ark, many species implies rapid
post-flood speciation, fast evolution, young Earth.
• Edward Brewster – pre-Flood text mentions some of the same
places/features, so the whole Earth’s surface wasn’t utterly reworked.
Creation - how, when, why?
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the
surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the
And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.
God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the
God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And
there was evening, and there was morning--the first day.
It is often said, but not true, that every religion has its own
creation myth. Some are explicitly parables for the unknown some gods themselves don't know whence they came. Islam is
squirmy about the whole business of origins. Hinduism avoids
the problem completely by invoking eternity. Buddhism claims
it's all our own illusion anyway. Our current understanding of the
physical universe denies us this particular luxury. There is
something rather than nothing, and it has been here for time
rather than eternity. It’s hard to recall just what a shock this has
been to discover compared to a science that rather confidently
assumed a static or cyclic Universe.
From Jastrow, God and the Astronomers (Norton 1978), p. 116:
“Now we see how astronomical evidence leads to the biblical
view of the origin of the world. The details differ, but the
essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of
Genesis are the same: the chain of events leading to man
commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment of time,
in a flash of light and energy… For the scientist who has lived by
the 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
Genesis - a theological bombshell
Humanity has a
• Creator exists
outside space and
Contemporary creation stories
In the Americas
Age of Earth
Age of Universe
Origin of life
History of life on Earth
Extent of Flood
Popular view: Scripture is categorical about 10,000-year age.
There are in fact numerous specifically Christian views:
Young-Earth creation
Young Earth, evidence of age
Young-Universe creation (with or without evidence)
Gap between Genesis 1:1, 2
Day-age or revelatory days
Theological significance dwarfs our contemporary obsessions.
Many of these are surprisingly old. None bothers me until
maintained as fundamental for Christianity.
Rabbi Bachya ben Asher, in his fourteenth-century commentary
on Genesis, wrote: “For these days were not like human days, but
they were the days from which one formed the unfathomable
years, in a similar sense to the verse (Job 36:26) “Behold God is
mighty beyond our knowledge; the number of his years is
unfathomable,” and its days (Job 10:5) “Are your days as the
days of man?” and (Psalm 102:27) “Your years end not”.
Another rabbi of similar antiquity (I lost his name) thought it
obvious that the six days must be figurative, since the creative
power of God would be insulted by actually requiring any time at
all for the task
How does astronomy reveal
Vast beyond imagination
We’re not at a central point
Continually unfolding
Stars are born, live, and die
Galaxies hold their products together
Fine tuning for life to be here?
Yo – Copernicus called. You’re not the center of the Universe…
Yo – Copernicus called. You’re not the center of the Universe…
Yo – Copernicus called. You’re not the center of the Universe…
Yo – Copernicus called. You’re not the center of the Universe…
Not just lights in the sky any
“Many a man, brought up in the glib profession of some shallow
form of Christianity, who comes through reading Astronomy to
realize for the first time how majestically indifferent most reality
is to man, and who perhaps abandons his religion on that
account, may at that moment be having his first genuinely
religious experience.”
C.S. Lewis, Miracles
Cycles in the cosmos
And this all happens
The Milky Way
Circa 400,000,000,000 stars
We’re 26,000 light-years out
It goes out at least 100,000 light-years
Satellite galaxies, unseen halo
Beyond the human eye a panchromatic view of
the spiral galaxy M81
Kitt Peak
Cosmic fine-tuning
The small and the cosmic mesh
Stars balance nuclear forces/gravity
Universe must expand at proper rate
Quantum processes must operate
Worlds like Earth must exist
All for life to be here!
Design or selection from “multiverse”?
The matter of days
24-hour periods?
Proclamation days?
Poetic epochs?
Separated by gaps?
Re-creation of ruined world?
The character of God and the
nature of Creation
• Distances are important: lookback time
• Is it real, or a vast 3D movie production?
1.3 seconds
11 billion years
Lookback time and light
36 million years
Looking out is looking
back – telescopes are time
8 minutes
26,000 years
4.3 years
1500 years
Example: Supernova 1987A
We saw the explosion in 1987
Distance 160,000 light-years
Star observed beforehand
So – did it ever exist?
How do we know this stuff?
• Radar ranging
• Parallaxes
• Stellar properties (HR diagram, Cepheid
pulsating stars, supernovae)
• Gravitational lensing
Distant objects appear to shift as we
view them from different parts of the
Earth’s orbit. The angle of shift gives
the distance once we know the size of
the orbit. For other stars, the
amplitude is always less than 1
arcsecond (which happens at a
distance of 3.26 light-years).
Energy balance limits the
combinations of
temperature and
luminosity for stars. We
can calibrate, for
example, the possible
luminosities of solartemperature stars. Then
brightness plus inverse
square law (often plus
reddening by dust) gives
Lensed Images of QSO 0957+561
Lenses and more lenses
All: HST
The character of God and the
nature of Creation
• Distances are important: lookback time
• Is it real, or a vast 3D movie production?
Psalm 19 (NIV)
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the
work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they
display knowledge.
There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth,
the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the
motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative
positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon,
the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of
animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he
holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it
is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a
Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture,
talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means
to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show
up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.”
Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis
(by the way – compare “literal” and “concrete”)
Cosmic Timescales
Direct measurement
Radioactive decay
Stellar evolution
Distances and light travel time
Hubble “constant” and redshifts
Evidence for constancy of physical laws
over space and time
Crab Nebula
Explosion observed A.D. 1054
Expansion of nebula (and slow fading) still seen (in
images and via Doppler shifts)
Central pulsar rapidly spinning and decelerating
Radioactive decay
Uranium/thorium and kin
Cosmic-ray ages of meteorites
Existence of short-lived isotopes in stars
U/Th ages of a few stars
Stellar evolution
• Ingredients: properties of atoms, E=mc2, gas
• Results: self-luminous stars in hydrostatic
balance (usually)
• Lifetime depends on mass and luminosity
• Sun: 10 Gyr. Vega, few hundred Myr. Red
dwarfs, a trillion years?
• Test: Hertzsprung-Russell diagram
We must avoid a God-of-the-gaps notion, which puts God always
receding before human understanding. Christians, of all people,
should embrace each revelation of the intricacy of creation (even Carl
Sagan figured that one out!). Look at a baby's development before
and after birth - that it's commonplace makes it no less a miracle.
C.S. Lewis’ “seeing eye” - Gagarin didn't see God in space because
he couldn't find Him on Earth.
“If God exists only in the gaps, then God is diminished, rather than
glorified, with each new discovery - hardly satisfying for people of
faith.” (Rick Fienberg, Sky and Telescope)
Howard van Till lists several things that evolution (cosmic or
biological), as a scientific concept, does not entail:
As a scientific concept, cosmic evolution does not entail a particular
specification of the status of the Universe relative to God.
As a scientific concept, cosmic evolution does not provide an
explanation for the origin of the Universe.
Evolutionary processes are not inherently naturalistic.
Evolutionary processes are not inherently devoid of purpose.
The evolutionary character of the formative processes at work in
cosmic history is neither normative for, nor necessarily extendible into,
the arena of social, ethical, or religious values.
Uniqueness of Earth
“Third-generation” star for right makeup
Universe had to last long enough
Coupled history of sun/atmosphere
Need big Moon for stability?
Orbit in the Goldilocks range
Plate tectonics
Big oceans
The Anthropic Principle
• Certain features of the Universe must be so
in order for intelligent beings to behold it
and ask these questions
• Is this merely luck of the draw from
(infinitely?) many trials, or is it more
The question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”
remains unanswered in the multiverse picture, and in all
attempts at a purely physical understanding (or, as Stephan
Hawking puts it, “Why does the universe go to all the bother of
“As we look out into the Universe and identify the many
accidents of physics and astronomy that have worked together
for our benefit, it almost seems as if the Universe must in some
sense have known that we were coming.”
—Freeman Dyson, Disturbing the Universe, 1979
“Would you not say to yourself, ‘Some supercalculating
intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon
atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom
through the blind forces of nature would be utterly
minuscule?’ Of course you would...A common-sense
interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has
monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and
biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking
about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts
seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion
almost beyond question.”
—Fred Hoyle, in Engineering and Science, 1981
Reacting to “Intelligent Design”
• The movement makes a two-part claim
• Political agenda makes scientists see red –
“creationism in a cheap tuxedo”
• What would random versus designed
Universes look like?
• Methodological naturalism again
• Does this threaten to shut down inquiry?
• Related to Theology of the Cross?
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