The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Apr 14, 2012

The Christian and the origins of the universe

"Let's start at the very beginning," sang Julie Andrews in the iconic 1965 musical The Sound of Music, and I think Christians would be served well by doing the same thing. While debates about evolution, intelligent design, the flood, etc. are all good and well (and I am not embarrassed by my own Creationist beliefs), I believe that one of the more profitable levels of dialogue in scientific apologetics centers around the question of the origins of the very universe itself: "In the beginning, God created . . .”
I’ll confess that I’m something of a sci-fi fan (and a complete nerd), but in the process of reading good science fiction, I’ve also become interested in reading theoretical physics aimed at the layperson, including such well-written works as Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory, Kenneth Ford’s The Quantum World: Quantum Physics for Everyone, and Paul Davies’ The Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the Universe Just Right for Life? In the process of reading science, I’ve come to believe that the nature of the universe’s existence presents an insurmountable problem for those holding that science, by itself, contains all the answers. I’ve recently had the privilege of contributing a peer-reviewed article that deals with this issue (see below).
Back in the day of the steady-state theory of the universe, this was less of a problem for the agnostic. If the universe was eternal, then what need for an eternal creator? Ironically, the advent of the so-called Big Bang theory  caused many scientists to heap scorn on its proponents. In fact, physicist William Bonner even suggested, regarding the big bang theory, “The underlying motive is, of course, to bring in God as creator. It seems like the opportunity Christian theology has been waiting for ever since science began to depose religion from the minds of rational men in the seventeenth century” (quoted in Singh, 2004, p. 361; see bibliography). In the Soviet Union, proponents of the Big Bang were viewed as promoting a “something from nothing” creation and were actually persecuted. Stalinist Andrei Zhdanov, for example, sent physicist Nikolai Kozyrev to a labor camp in 1937 (Sing, 2004, p. 363) Clearly, for many the concept of an origin of the universe implied something outside of science that had to cause that origin.
[Writer’s note: I am not suggesting here that the secular Big Bang theory with all of its trappings is the same thing as Genesis 1:1, nor am I suggesting that the Big Bang, as modern science conceives of, is compatibile with a literal view of Genesis 1. What I am pointing out is simply that many scientists viewed the Big Bang theory with disdain simply because it seemed to point to an Originator of the universe. My overall point in this post concerns how scientists grapple with the very existence of the universe, and how their explanations are, in my opinion, inadequate. Also, I do think it's significant that physicist George P. Thomson once said, "Probably every physicist would believe in a creation if the Bible had not unfortunately said something about it many yhears ago and made it seem old-fashioned" (quoted in Singh, 2004, 361-362)]
Since the middle of the 20th century, the Big Bang model has gradually become accepted by the majority of the main-stream scientific community. Since then, however, various theories have popped up which indirectly attempt to solve the “problems” that a non-eternal and life-bearing universe raises. These theories were not developed in order to put God out of the equation per se, but they are nevertheless often used as a means to discredit a deity. M-theory, for example, searches for that ultimate, all-encompassing set of facts/equations that will once and for all explain why the universe is as it is. Multiverse theory (not necessarily the same as M-theory, though many hold to both) attempts to explain the fact that we have a universe uniquely (and against all odds) geared to towards life by positing that our universe is simply one of many (possibly infinite) universes, and so naturally one of them is bound to have supported life. In response, one can always (like the obnoxious kid who always asks “why” in response to every statement) ask why M-theory has to exist at all, or why any universes, let alone ours, exists in the first place. The bottom line is that both a master-theory and the existence of multiverses become something that must be taken for granted, in the same way that Christians take for granted the existence of a personal deity.
In contrast, physicist Paul Davies recognizes many of the pitfalls inherent in modern cosmologies and instead tentatively posits a self-causing universe, a universe that contains its explanation and cause within itself. This is powered via observers (in Davies’ model, only a universe with life could exist in the first place) and quantum mechanics (see Davies, 2006, pp. 222-269, esp. 254-259 and 266-267; my description is of necessity a considerable simplification; the interested reader should read Davies for himself or herself, especially The Goldilocks Enigma).
First of all, let me say that Davies is a pleasure to read (at least his popular level works, though his more technical material can also be fascinating). Furthermore, Davies has taken a lot of scorn for daring to suggest that scientists have traditionally taken many things (e.g., the existence of the universe’s laws) on “faith,” and in the midst of criticism Davies has been reasonably calm and respectful (see, for example, his dialogue with other scientists in the online magazine Edge, December 2007, etc.; www.edge.org/discourse/science_faith.html) Indeed, Davies does not hold to his views in that dogmatically obnoxious way that characterizes some (whether they be scientists or theologians!) In fact, at one point he states, “At the end of the day, all the approaches I have discussed [including the one that Davies prefers] are likely to prove unsatisfactory. In fact, in reviewing them they all seem to me to be either ridiculous or hopelessly inadequate . . .” (Davies, 2006, 258-259) Overall, I greatly enjoy reading Davies and respect his work.
Nevertheless, I attempt to dialogue with and counter his ideas in my latest article, “The Emergent, Self-explaining Universe of Paul Davies – a Summary and Christian Response,” Science and Christian Belief vol. 24:1 (April 2012): 33-53. My overall point is that a self-causing, self-explaining universe still falls short because the method via observation by which it causes itself remains a mechanism that must be taken for granted. In other words, we can always ask “Why is there such a thing as self-causation in the first place, and what is the mechanism that allows this self-causation?” Similarly, quantum mechanics itself seems to be taken for granted, since even though the quantum laws are caused by backwards causation via observation, yet the quantum laws seemingly have to exist in the first place to allow such backwards causation. Whatever causes whatever, we are still left with the need to take such a backwards-causing mechanism for granted. [to the reader: if your head hurts at this point, never fear; so does mine!]
Here’s the bottom line: regardless of quantum mechanics, backwards causation, M-theory, or anything else, the very existence of the universe cries out with a very loud “why” that nothing inside of science itself can explain. Positing backwards causation or M-theory or multiverses remains just as much a presupposition (and, dare I say it, “faith”) as the belief in a personal God. Whatever you hold to, you have to have a starting point, or (in the case of Davies), a “starting point” that is actually the existence of a mechanism for self-causation that can explain a self-creating loop of a universe. This brief thought does not do justice to the debate, but I nevertheless believe it to be correct. Everybody has to start with some form of presupposition, some form of staring point.
In contrast, for the Christian this starting point is (in the words of J. Houghton) “the God out there [who] has entered our world in the person of Jesus” (Houghton, 2000, 158).  In other words, the ultimate Starting Point of all has become one of us, offering hope and redemption from our sins. We are not the cause of our own existence via observation, but rather the cause of our own suffering through our corrupted nature. Nevertheless God, in the form of Jesus Christ, who is “himself before all things” and through whom “all things are held together” (Col. 1:17, NET) offers hope for us and the universe through his death on the cross and resurrection.

Davies, Paul. The Goldilocks Enigma: Why Is the Universe Just Right for Life? Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Originally published in the US under the title Cosmic Jackpot. For more relevant works by Davies, see the various works I cite in my S&CB article “The Emergent, Self-explaining Universe of Paul Davies.” As noted above, Davies is very readable and enjoyable and does a fairly good job in his popular books of making complex issues in theoretical physics  understandable.
Himes, Paul. “The Emergent, Self-explaining Universe of Paul Davies – a Summary and Christian Response.” Science and Christian Belief 24:1 (April 2012): 33-53. This article was originally a paper presented to Dr. Kenneth Keathley’s class “Christian Faith and Science,” a doctoral seminar at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Houghton, John. “Where is God? Thinking in More Than Three Dimensions.” Pages 157-160 in God for the 21st Century. Ed. Russell Stannard. Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation, 2000.
Singh, Simon. Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe. New York: Harper Perennial, 2004. A history of the Big Bang theory. Those who love mathematics are also encouraged to check out Singh’s fascinating book Fermat’s Enigma.
Note also that in the same S&CB issue as my own article there are two other interesting articles on cosmology: 1. William E. Carroll, “Aquinas and Contemporary Cosmology: Creation and Beginnings,” and 2. John Turl, “Do Many Worlds Make Light Work?”

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