faith and reason - Department of Physics and Astronomy
In the beginning… Science, reason, and faith 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. Reason • 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 Naturalism 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 oceans. 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 -1900 • 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 waters. 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 darkness. God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning--the first day. Creation 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 centuries.” Genesis - a theological bombshell • • • • Deliberate Designed Purposeful Humanity has a place • Creator exists outside space and time Contemporary creation stories • • • • Babylonian Egyptian In the Americas Nordic “Evolutionism” • • • • • 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 Symbolism 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 Creation? • • • • • • 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 more… “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 in… GALAXIES YOU ARE HERE 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 ROSAT GALEX Kitt Peak Spitzer VLA 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? Eras? 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 machines 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 distance. Lensed Images of QSO 0957+561 HST Lenses and more lenses All: HST 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 • • • • • Carbon-14 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 laws • 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 significant? 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 existing?”) “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?