Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Endless Forms so Beautiful and most Wonderful

Many scientists have found it necessary to speak or write about God, regardless of the views that they hold, be it theistic, agnostic or atheistic. Atheists like popular science writer and prominent zoologist Richard Dawkins are certain that evolutionary biology demonstrates the non-existence of God. Listed as one of the top intellectuals of the world, the ideas of this Oxford professor and writer of many popular books such as ‘The Selfish Gene’ and ‘The Blind Watchmaker’ are sure to carry much weight in the minds of the general public.

So here we have two Christian scientists attempting to write about God and science, with particular emphasis given to their respective fields of expertise. Owen Gingerich, Research Professor of Astronomy and Science History at Harvard University, and author of many books on astronomy as well, comes up with a little book called ‘God’s Universe’. Kenneth Miller, a cell biologist at Brown University, author of many Biology textbooks and well known Biology lecturer, writes about God and evolution in ‘Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution’. The fact that both authors feel the need to speak about the other person’s field shows the interconnectedness of the different scientific fields. Indeed, it is in these fields of cosmology/astronomy/quantum mechanics and biochemistry/evolutionary biology that the discussion of God often enters the fray.

Gingerich draws upon the fine-tuning of the cosmological constants necessary for the forming of life as evidence for the possibility of a Creator. Nothing really new, but I am impressed by the way he reconciles both science and religion, both as separate spheres of knowledge defined by Aristotelian divisions of efficient causes and final causes in explaining phenomena.

There are multiple levels of explanation for any phenomenon. God’s role as Sustainer can be described in Aristotelian terms as a final cause, the ultimate teleological reason something happens. Today, scientists play by the rules of a game of coherence, putting together an integrated picture of how things work, without recourse to the miraculous or to ultimate reasons. Essentially, scientists’ quests take place in the realm of efficient causes, thus, much as I might believe that the universe is best understood in terms of intelligent design, I don’t think that would get a spacecraft to Mars or explain how the laser in the grocery store checkout line works. With regard to final causes, intelligent design make a good case for a coherent understanding the cosmos. But they fall short in supplying any mechanisms to serve as the efficient causes. As a philosophical idea, intelligent design is interesting, but it does not replace the scientific explanations that evolution offers. ~ Owen Gingerich, God’s Universe

Religion and philosophy seek to answer the ‘whys’. Science seeks answers for the ‘hows’. He is also quick to criticize those who elevate the theory of evolution into the sphere of final causes, as if it could tell us why we are here, when such views only reflect the proponent’s own metaphysical stance. Kenneth Miller takes the same stance:

Materialist science, even in principle, cannot tell us why the universe of matter is structured in a way that prevents us from understanding it fully. Or why nature forever entangles the observer with the system we seek to understand. Or why we should concern ourselves with seeking the answers to such questions. The ultimate physics of nature did not complete a chain of cause and effect. It left an open window on events, a break in causality that is significant not because science cannot master a few tiny details of the physical universe – but because it cannot even address the question of why nature should be constructed along such elusive lines. Absolute materialism does not triumph because it cannot fully explain the nature of reality. The tools of science itself have discovered that scientific materialism has a curious, inherent limitation. And we are certainly left to wonder what to make of that. It could be just a puzzling, curious fact about the nature of the universe. Or it could be the clue that allows us to bind everything, including evolution, into a worldview in which science and religion are partners, not rivals, in extending human understanding a step beyond the bounds of mere materialism. ~ Kenneth Miller, Finding Darwin’s God

I found both books to be very enlightening and refreshing on different matters; Gingerich’s on the multiple levels of explaining phenomena; Miller’s on the beauty of natural selection and evolution. The only other books that I have read on evolution are from the ‘young-earth creationist’ viewpoints, which I now agree is seriously flawed.

We already know that we live in a world of natural causes, explicable by the workings of natural law. All that evolution does is to extend the workings of these natural laws to the novelty of life and to its changes over time. A God who presides over an evolutionary process is not an impotent, passive observer. Rather, He is one whose genius fashioned a fruitful world in which the process of continuing creation is woven into the fabric of matter itself. He retains the freedom to act, to reveal Himself to His creatures, to inspire, and to teach. He is the master of chance and time, whose actions, both powerful and subtle, respect the independence of His creation and give human beings the genuine freedom to accept or to reject His love. ~ Kenneth Miller, Finding Darwin’s God

Purpose rather than design, intention but not a universe worked out in exquisite detail from a celestial blueprint. A world ordered to God’s purposes could be achieved in any number of ways, not merely through a preordained design. Surely the existence of fossils of extinct creatures shows not a universe laid out according to a plan for instant perfection, but a universe that makes itself. This recognition suggests that in some fashion the powerful transcendence that brought the universe into being, and which sustains it, has self-imposed limitations. ~ Owen Gingerich, God’s Universe

I will never look at the world around us in the same way again. When I walked out of the house on Monday evening, and looked up at the sky covered with gray clouds, I could sense that the world has become a much more beautiful place to me. Can reading a few books do that to you? After a long sojourn in theology and biblical studies (having read quite a large amount of related material), I find my love for science and the quest to understand the natural world springing to life again! My childhood fascination with dinosaurs and the living world, as well as my later passion for astronomy and cosmology have now been reignited. Maybe its time to pull out Hawking from my bookshelves again! It’s quite interesting to note that Gingerich and Miller both quote the closing of Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’ in their books.

Clearly, we live in a universe with a history, a very long history, and things are being worked out over unimaginably long ages. We live in an incredibly vast cosmos, something that goes hand in hand with a long history. Stars and galaxies have formed, and elements come forth from the great stellar cauldrons. Like the little bear’s porridge, the elements are just right, the environment is fit for life, and slowly life forms have populated the earth. As Darwin wrote at the end of On the Origin of Species, “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms so beautiful and most wonderful have been and are being evolved.” ~ Owen Gingerich, God’s Universe


At 6:11 PM, Blogger The Hedonese said...


You would find good conversation partners (theological scientists) here:


Ron Choong is also part of it, and let's just say there are no YEarthers here. Ya, the issue is not about the age of the universe or the extent of the flood... not even about science versus faith.

The crux of it all is about whether the universe is designed with purpose or not :)

At 6:35 PM, Blogger sojourner said...

hey thanks for the link bro! interesting...

who's Ron Choong? :P


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