An Astronomer’s Take On God
“Evolution as a materialist philosophy is ideology, and presenting it as such essentially raises it to the rank of final cause. Evolutionists who deny cosmic teleology and who, in placing their faith in a cosmic roulette, argue for the purposelessness of the universe are not articulating scientifically established fact; they are advocating their personal metaphysical stance.”
–Owen Gingerich, God’s Universe
Can a reputable scientist embrace the agnostic methodology of his discipline, accept evolution as currently the best explanation for the variation in organisms over time, and yet still believe that a deity had a hand in the genesis and unfolding of the cosmos?
In fact yes, and one need look no further than to the work of Owen Gingerich, Professor of Astronomy, Emeritus, at Harvard University. In God's Universe (Harvard University Press, 2006), Professor Gingerich makes a clear distinction between what is scientifically established fact and what is metaphysical assertion or belief. Certain prominent atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Gingerich tells us, blur the line between the two, as when they "deny cosmic teleology" and place "their faith in a cosmic roulette" and "argue for the purposelessness of the universe." One may accept or reject cosmic teleology, but it is not a matter that can be adjudicated by science, and the leading lights of atheism need to come clean on the matter.
Conceding that science has no other way of working than within a naturalist-agnostic framework, Professor Gingerich explains why he believes the universe bears the mark of a divine hand. Some of his argument rests on the issue of "fine-tuning" and the seeming impossibility that intelligent, contemplative life could have developed in this kind of universe; here he draws on the insights of such thinkers as Lecomte du Nouy and Fred Hoyle. Some of his argument rests on criticism of the so-called "Copernican principle": this is the idea that human beings "cannot flaunt a unique or special identity" -- that "everything we see around us is commonplace in the universe, that we are average beings in a run-of-the-mill planetary system in an average galaxy populated by scores of other mediocrities." "In full dress," Gingerich notes, "this is the principle of mediocrity, and Copernicus would have been shocked to find his name associated with it."
The aim here is not to recapitulate or dissect Professor Gingerich's argument but to offer a sampling of it. The passages below from God's Universe have been excerpted from pages 49-50, 57-60, and 74-77.
I. Fine-tuning: "The balance between the energy of expansion and the braking power of gravitation had to be extraordinarily exact."
"I can recall vividly from the time I was a young postdoc, the point when astronomers began to appreciate one of the most astonishing features of...[the Big Bang]...the incredible balance between the outward energy of expansion and the gravitational forces trying to pull everything back together again. Because in the expansion itself any slight imbalance in either direction would be hugely magnified, the initial balance had to be accurate to about one part in 1059 -- a ratio of 1 to 1-followed-by-fifty-nine-zeros, an unimaginably large number. Had the original energy of the Big Bang explosion been less, the universe would have fallen back in on itself long before there was time to build the elements required for life and to produce from them intelligent, sentient beings. Had the energy been greater, it is quite likely that the density, and hence the gravitational pull, of matter would have diminished too swiftly for stars and galaxies to form. The balance between the energy of expansion and the braking power of gravitation had to be extraordinarily exact -- to such a degree that it seems as if the universe must have been expressly designed for humankind. This is the classic example of what astrophysicists and cosmologists refer to as fine-tuning, and at that point the universe was fine-tuned indeed. If you are looking for design, how about this? Surely a beneficent Creator was at work to produce a universe fit for intelligent life!"
II. Possibility Of Design: "A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature" (Fred Hoyle).
"The Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, has written a book entitled Just Six Numbers, in which he describes six physical numbers that, if changed slightly, would produce a cosmos in which life could not exist. These include such things as the ratio of electrostatic to gravitational attraction. The coincidences seem too great to be ignored or written off as accidental. Somehow, the universe seems rigged, a 'put-up job,' as Fred Hoyle expressed it. One possibility is that the universe was intentionally and intelligently designed. As Aristotle might say, this could be a final cause, a meta-explanation that transcends ordinary scientific explanations, just as metaphysics transcends physics...Impressive as the evidence for design in the astrophysical world may be, however, I personally find even more remarkable the indications from the biological realm. As Walt Whitman proclaimed, 'A leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars.' I would go still further and assert that stellar evolution is child's play by comparison with the complexity of DNA in grass or mice...
"Even Hoyle, normally agnostic, was staggered by these apparent touches of design, writing, 'A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.' In his allusion to the biology, he in effect agreed that the formation of, say, DNA is so improbable as to require a designing principle. Such biochemical arguments were popularized about sixty years ago by Pierre Lecomte du Nouy in his book Human Destiny. Lecomte du Nouy wrote: 'Events which, even when we admit very numerous experiments, reactions, or shakings per second, need an infinitely longer time than the estimated duration of the earth in order to have one chance, on an average, to manifest themselves can, it would seem, be considered as impossible in the human sense. (Emphasis in original)
"Lecomte du Nouy went on to say, 'To study the most interesting phenomena, namely Life and eventually Man, we are, therefore, forced to call on anti-chance, as Eddington called it; a 'cheater' who systematically violates the laws of large numbers, the statistical laws which deny any individuality to the particles considered.’
"The game plan for evolutionary theory, however, is to find the accidental, contingent ways in which these unlikely and seemingly impossible events could have taken place. The evolutionists seek not an automatic schema, but some random pathways that could be at least partially retraced from the fragmentary historical record by induction."
III. Science Is Not Metaphysics: "Science remains a neutral way of explaining things, not anti-God or atheistic."
"Some of the most spirited and vocal defenders of evolutionary theory, such as Richard Dawkins, use their stature as scientific spokesmen as a bully pulpit for atheism. Dawkins claims that evolution makes atheism intellectually fulfilling. I suppose he single-handedly makes more converts to Intelligent Design than any of the leading Intelligent Design theorists. Or we might take Cornell University's evolutionary biologist and historian of science William B. Provine, who, in defending the gospel of meaninglessness, has written that if modern evolutionary biology is true, then lofty desires for divinely inspired moral laws or some kind of ultimate meaning in life are hopeless.
"Evolution as a materialist philosophy is ideology, and presenting it as such essentially raises it to the rank of final cause. Evolutionists who deny cosmic teleology and who, in placing their faith in a cosmic roulette, argue for the purposelessness of the universe are not articulating scientifically established fact; they are advocating their personal metaphysical stance. This posture, I believe, is something that should be legitimately resisted. It is just as wrong to present evolution in high school classrooms as a final cause as it is to fob off Intelligent Design as a substitute for an efficacious efficient cause.
"Have I seriously faced the query: Dare a scientist believe in design? There is, I shall argue, no contradiction between holding a staunch belief in supernatural design and working as a creative scientist, and perhaps no one illustrates this point better than the seventeenth-century astronomer Johannes Kepler. He was one of the most inventive astronomers of all time, a man who played a major role in bringing about the acceptance of the Copernican system through the accuracy of his tables of planetary motion.
"One of the principal reasons Kepler was a Copernican arose from his deeply held belief that the sun-centered arrangement reflected the divine design of the cosmos: the sun at the center was the image of God, the outer surface of the star-studded heavenly sphere was the image of Christ, and the intermediate planetary space represented the Holy Spirit. These were not ephemeral notions of his student years, but a constant obsession that inspired and drove him through his entire life...
"Today Kepler is best remembered for his discovery of the elliptical form of the planets' orbits. This discovery and another, the so-called law of areas, are chronicled in his Astronomia nova, truly the New Astronomy. In its introduction he defended his Copernicanism starting from the conviction that the heavens declare the glory of God:
If someone is so dense that he cannot grasp the science of astronomy, or so weak that he cannot, without offending his piety, believe Copernicus, I advise him to mind his own business, to quit this worldly pursuit, to stay at home and cultivate his own garden, and when he turns his eyes toward the visible heavens (the only way he sees them), let him with his whole heart pour forth praise and gratitude to God the Creator. Let him assure himself that he is serving God no less than the astronomer to whom God has granted the privilege of seeing more clearly with the eyes of the mind.
Kepler's life and works provide central evidence that an individual can be both a creative scientist and a believer in divine design in the universe, and that indeed the very motivation for the scientific research can stem from a desire to trace God's handiwork.
"To believe in a designed universe requires accepting teleology and purpose. And if that purpose includes contemplative intelligent life that can admire the universe and search out its secrets, then the cosmos must have properties congenial to life. For me, part of the coherency of the universe is that it is purposeful -- though probably it takes the eyes of faith to accept that idea. But if a person accepts that understanding, the principle that states that our universe must be well suited to life also becomes the evidence of design. This brings to mind a few lines in Whitman's Leaves of Grass:
A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he...
I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners,
that we may see and remark, and say Whose?
"In reflecting on the question of design, I have attempted to delineate a subtle place for it in the world of science. Intimations of design can offer persuasion regarding the role of divine creativity in the universe, but not proof. Science remains a neutral way of explaining things, not anti-God or atheistic. Many people are extremely uncomfortable with a way of looking at the universe that does not explicitly presuppose the hand of God. Endorsing the scientific viewpoint, as I remarked at the outset, does not mean that the universe is actually godless, just that science generally has no other way of working."
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