Origins & Science
Alister E. McGrath (Westminster John Knox Press: March 2008), 288 pages.
Are there viable pathways from nature to God? Natural theology is making a comeback, stimulated as much by scientific advance as by theological and philosophical reflection. There is a growing realization that the sciences raise questions that transcend their capacity to answer them — above all, the question of the existence of God. So how can Christian theology relate to these new developments? In this landmark work, based on his 2009 Gifford lectures, Alister McGrath examines the apparent “fine-tuning” of the universe and its significance for natural theology. Exploring a wide range of physical and biological phenomena and drawing on the latest research in biochemistry and evolutionary biology, McGrath outlines our new understanding of the natural world and discusses its implications for traditional debates about the existence of God. The celebrated Gifford Lectures have long been recognized as making landmark contributions to the discussion of natural theology. A Fine-Tuned Universe will contribute significantly to that discussion by developing a rich Trinitarian approach to natural theology that allows deep engagement with the intellectual and moral complexities of the natural world. It will be essential reading to those looking for a rigorous engagement between science and the Christian faith. ~ Product Description
Time Magazine Interview, cited in Einstein and Religion, Max Jammer (Princeton: 1999) p. 48.
I 'm not an atheist, and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written these books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations. I am fascinated by Spinoza's pantheism because he is the first philosopher to deal with the soul and body as one, not two separate things.
"An Ideal of Service to Our Fellow Man" in This I Believe (1950).
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious — the knowledge of the existence of something unfathomable to us, the manifestation of the most profound reason coupled with the most brilliant beauty. I cannot imagine a god who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, or who has a will of the kind we experience in ourselves. I am satisfied with the mystery of life's eternity and with the awareness of — and glimpse into — the marvelous construction of the existing world together with the steadfast determination to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature. This is the basis of cosmic religiosity, and it appears to me that the most important function of art and science is to awaken this feeling among the receptive and keep it alive.
Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universes (Macmillan: 2007), pp. 180, 185.
The concept of a universe materializing out of nothing boggles the mind. What exactly is meant by "nothing"? If this "nothing" could tunnel into something, what could have caused the primary tunneling event? And what about energy conservaton? ... The initial state prior to the tunneling is a universe of vanishing radius, that is, no universe at all. There is no matter and no space in this very peculiar state. Also, there is no time. Time has meaning only if something is happening in the universe. We measure time using periodic processes, like the rotation of the Earth about its axis, or its motion around the Sun. In the absence of space and matter, time is impossible to define. ¶ And yet the state of "nothing" cannot be identified with absolute nothingness. The tunneling is described by the laws of quantum mechanics, and thus "nothing" should be subjected to these laws. The laws must have existed, even though there was no universe. ... A quantum fluctuation of the vacuum assumes that there was a vacuum of some pre-existing space. And we now know that the "vacuum" is very different from "nothing". Vacuum, or empty space, has energy and tension, it can bend a warp, so it is unquestionably something. As Alan Guth wrote, “In this context, a proposal that the universe was created from empty space is no more fundamental than a proposal that the universe was spawned by a piece of rubber. It might be true, but one would still want to ask where the piece of rubber came from."
"The Dawkins Confusion" at ChristianityToday.com (March 1, 2007).
Since we have been cobbled together by (unguided) evolution, it is unlikely, he thinks, that our view of the world is overall accurate; natural selection is interested in adaptive behavior, not in true belief. But Dawkins fails to plumb the real depths of the skeptical implications of the view that we have come to be by way of unguided evolution. We can see this as follows. Like most naturalists, Dawkins is a materialist about human beings: human persons are material objects; they are not immaterial selves or souls or substances joined to a body, and they don't contain any immaterial substance as a part. From this point of view, our beliefs would be dependent on neurophysiology, and (no doubt) a belief would just be a neurological structure of some complex kind. Now the neurophysiology on which our beliefs depend will doubtless be adaptive; but why think for a moment that the beliefs dependent on or caused by that neurophysiology will be mostly true? Why think our cognitive faculties are reliable?
Knowledge of God, Alvin Plantinga and Michael Tooley (Blackwell: May 2, 2008), pp. 4-5.
God has created the world, but he also sustains it in existence; without this sustenance, the world would disappear like a candle flame in a high wind. Further, God governs the world in such a way that it displays a certain constancy and regularity. These regularities are everywhere: heavier-than-air objects dropped near the surface of the earth fall down rather than up; bread is nourishing but mud is not; there is breathable air near the surface of the earth, though not at 35,000 feet or under water. Unlike rocks, seeds planted in soil sprout and take root; heavy steel beams will hold a lot of weight for a long time; a confined explosion will exert pressure on the wall of its container. It is by virtue of these regularities that human beings can act in the world, can learn about it, and act on what they have learned.
A response to Amanda Gefter's "Creationists Declare War over the Brain", The New Scientist (October, 22 2008). Cited in "EPS Philosophers Respond to New Scientist Article On 'Creationism' and Materialism" on the Evangelical Philosophical Society Blog (October 23, 2008).
It is possible that a materialistic explanation of consciousness might be found, but that does not make the claim that consciousness is non-physical an argument from ignorance... At any given time, scientists should infer the best current explanation of the available evidence, and right now, the best evidence from both neuroscience and rigorous philosophical analysis is that consciousness is not reducible to the physical. Churchland’s refusal to draw this inference is based not on evidence, but on what Karl Popper called "promissory materialism," a reliance on the mere speculative possibility of a materialistic explanation. Since this attitude can be maintained indefinitely, it means that even if a non-materialist account is correct (and supported by overwhelming evidence), that inconvenient truth can always be ignored. Surely the project of science should be one of following the evidence wherever it leads, not of protecting a preconceived materialist philosophy. Isn’t it that philosophy — the one that constantly changes its shape to avoid engagement with troublesome evidence, either ignoring the data or simply declaring it materialistic — that most resembles a virus?
The Literal Meaning of Genesis 1.19.39, trans. John Hammond Taylor, Ancient Christian Writers: The Works of the Fathers in Translation, ed. Johannes Quasten et al., vols. 41-42 (Newman Press: 1982), 41:42-43.
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 as 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.
Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love, trans. Albert C. Outler (circa 420 C.E.), chap. 3, sec. 9.
When it is asked what we ought to believe in matters of religion, the answer is not to be sought in the exploration of the nature of things, after the manner of those whom the Greeks called "physicists". Nor should we be dismayed if Christians are ignorant about the properties and the numbers of the basic elements of nature, or about the motion, order, and deviations of the stars, the map of the heavens, the kinds and nature of animals, plants, stones, springs, rivers, and mountains; about the divisions of space and time, about the signs of impending storms, and the myriad other things which these "physicists" have come to understand, or think they have. For even these men, gifted with such superior insight, with their ardor in study and their abundant leisure, exploring some of these matters by human conjecture and others through historical inquiry, have not yet learned everything there is to know. For the Christian it is enough to believe that the cause of all created things, whether in heaven or on earth, whether visible or invisible, is nothing other than the goodness of the Creator, who is the one and the true God.
Religion and Science (New York: Oxford University Press), pp. 108-09.
Theology still tries to interfere in medicine where moral issues are supposed to be specially involved, yet over most of the field the battle for the scientific independence of medicine has been won. No one now thinks it impious to avoid pestilences and epidemics by sanitation and hygiene; and though some still maintain that diseases are sent by God, they do not argue that it is therefore impious to try to avoid them. The consequent improvement in health and increase of longevity is one of the most remarkable and admirable characteristics of our age. Even if science had done nothing else for human happiness, it would deserve our gratitude on this account. Those who believe in the utility of theological creeds would have difficulty in pointing to any comparable advantage that they have conferred upon the human race.
"An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish" (1943) in Bertrand Russell on God and Religion (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1986), p. 209.
Throughout the last 400 years, during which the growth of science had gradually shown men how to acquire knowledge of the ways of nature and mastery over natural forces, the clergy have fought a losing battle against science, in astronomy and geology, in anatomy and physiology, in biology and psychology and sociology. Ousted from one position, they have taken up another. After being worsted in astronomy, they did their best to prevent the rise of geology; they fought against Darwin in biology, and at the present time they fight against scientific theories of psychology and education. At each stage, they try to make the public forget their earlier obscurantism, in order that their present obscurantism may not be recognized for what it is.
"Science and Religion" in Bertrand Russell on God and Religion (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1986), p. 167.
In recent times, the bulk of eminent physicists and a number of eminent biologists have made pronouncements stating that recent advances in science have disproved the older materialism, and have tended to reestablish the truths of religion. The statements of the scientists have as a rule been somewhat tentative and indefinite, but the theologians have seized upon them and extended them, while the newspapers in turn have reported the more sensational accounts of the theologians, so that the general public has derived the impression that physics confirms practically the whole of the Book of Genesis. I do not myself think that the moral to be drawn from modern science is at all what the general public has thus been led to suppose. In the first place, the men of science have not said nearly as much as they are thought to have said, and in the second place what they have said in the way of support for traditional religious beliefs has been said by them not in their cautious, scientific capacity, but rather in their capacity of good citizens, anxious to defend virtue and property.
Geoffrey Simmons M.D. (Harvest House: Feb 15, 2007), 288 pages.
Dr. Geoffrey Simmons focuses on the millions of structures and systems on the Earth that came about all at once, entire... with no preceding links, no subsequent links, no “sideways” links. To illustrate, he surveys examples like... the hummingbird and its circulatory system, insects and insect–eating plants, the role of the thousands of species of viruses, chemical signals and the sensory apparatus that detects them, the self–regulating capacity of the Earth’s ocean/air/soil system. It’s clear: Nature contains only leaps, not links. Only the intelligence and purpose of an all–powerful Designer can explain the intricate creatures, connections, and “coincidences” everywhere.
Daniel C. Dennett (Penguin : February 6, 2007), 464 pages.
In his characteristically provocative fashion, Dennett, author of Darwin's Dangerous Idea and director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, calls for a scientific, rational examination of religion that will lead us to understand what purpose religion serves in our culture. Much like E.O. Wilson (In Search of Nature), Robert Wright (The Moral Animal), and Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene), Dennett explores religion as a cultural phenomenon governed by the processes of evolution and natural selection. Religion survives because it has some kind of beneficial role in human life, yet Dennett argues that it has also played a maleficent role. He elegantly pleads for religions to engage in empirical self-examination to protect future generations from the ignorance so often fostered by religion hiding behind doctrinal smoke screens. Because Dennett offers a tentative proposal for exploring religion as a natural phenomenon, his book is sometimes plagued by generalizations that leave us wanting more ("Only when we can frame a comprehensive view of the many aspects of religion can we formulate defensible policies for how to respond to religions in the future"). Although much of the ground he covers has already been well trod, he clearly throws down a gauntlet to religion. ~ Publishers Weekly
The Ragamuffin Gospel (Questar Publishers : 1993), 32.
The slant of the earth, for example, tilted at an angle at 23 degrees, produces our season,. Scientists tell us that if the earth had not been tilted exactly as it is, vapors from the oceans would move both north and south, piling up continents of ice. If the moon were only 50,000 miles away from earth instead of 200,000 the tides might be so enormous that all continents would be submerged in water, even the mountains would be eroded. If the crust of the earth had been only ten feet thicker, there would be no oxygen, and without it all animal life would die. Had the oceans been a few feet deeper, carbon dioxide and oxygen would have absorbed and no vegetable life would exist. The earth's weight has been estimated at six sextillion tons (that's a six with 21 zeros). Yet it is perfectly balanced and turns easily on its axis. It revolves daily at the rate of more than 1,000 miles per hour or 25,000 miles each day. This adds up to nine million miles a year. Considering the tremendous weight of six sextillion tons rolling at this fantastic speed around an invisible axis, held in place by unseen bands of gravitation, the words of Job 26:7 take on unparalleled significance: "He poised the earth on nothingness." The earth revolves in its own orbit around the sun, making the long elliptical circuit of six hundred million miles each year — which means we are traveling in orbit at 19 miles per second or 1,140 miles per hour. Job further invites us to meditate on "the wonders of God" (37:14). Consider the sun. Every square yard of the sun's surface is emitting constantly an energy level of 130,000 horse power (that is, approximately 450 eight-cylinder automobile engines), in flames that are being produced by an energy source much more powerful than coal. The nine major planets in our solar system range in distance from the sun from 36 million to about 3 trillion, 6,664 billion miles; yet each moves around the sun in exact precision, with orbits ranging from 88 days for Mercury to 248 years for Pluto. Still, the sun is only one minor star in the 100 billion orbs which comprise our Milky Way galaxy. if you were to hold out a dime, a ten-cent piece, at arm's length, the coin would block out 15 million stars from your view, if your eyes could see with that power.
Michael Ruse (Prometheus: Mar 1, 1996)
This is in effect an anthology of selected writings dealing with the science vs. creationism issue. The author starts with Bishop Paley's famous blind watchmaker argument for a creator and brings the arguments up to date. As other reviewers have noted, the quality of the reading depends in some cases on the original author. However, Ruse has done a good job of including a variety of styles and levels, and a complete reading should give you a good overview of the arguments over the years. This makes a good reference book or a good reader for someone trying to familiarize themselves with the controversy. The extensive philosophical analysis of the trial arguments are indeed fascinating.
C.S. Lewis on Creation Myths said...
Reflections on the Psalms (Harvest Books: 1964), p. 171.
I suspect that many people assume that some clear doctrine of creation underlies all religions: that in Paganism the gods, or one of the gods, usually created the world; even that religions normally begin by answering the question, "Who made the world?" In reality, creation, in any unambiguous sense, seems to be a surprisingly rare doctrine; and when stories about it occur in paganism they are often religiously unimportant, not in the least central to the religions in which we find them. They are on the fringe where religion tails off into what was perhaps felt, even at the time, to be more like fairy-tale.
Michael Ruse (Cambridge University Press: Sep 6, 2004)
The author, a professor of philosophy and zoology at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, writes with bracing candor ("Let me be open," he begins. "I think that evolution is a fact and that Darwinism rules triumphant.") and sophisticated sympathy to Christian doctrine ("if one's understanding of Darwinism does include a natural evolution of life from nonlife, there is no reason to think that this now makes Christian belief impossible."). Writing this book, he also clearly had a hell of a lot of fun (disarming skeptical Christian readers at the beginning, he asks, "Why should the devil have all the good tunes?"). Can a Darwinian Be a Christian? answers its title question with heady confidence - "Absolutely!" - but the book journeys towards that answer with circumspect integrity. Covering territory from the Scopes "Monkey Trial" to contemporary theories of social Darwinism to the question of extraterrestrial life, Ruse applies an impressive wealth of knowledge that encompasses many disciplines. Readers may or may not be swayed, but they can't help but be challenged and edified by this excellent book ~ Michael Joseph Gross
Cosmos (Random House, Inc.: 1985), pp. 198-9.
We are, in the most profound sense, children of the Cosmos. Think of the Sun's heat on your upturned face on a cloudless summer's day; think how dangerous it is to gaze at the Sun directly. From 150 million kilometers away, we recognize its power. What would we feel on its seething self-luminous surface, or immersed in its hear of nuclear fire. The sun warms us and feeds us and permits us to see. It fecundated the Earth. It is powerful beyond human experience. Birds greet the sunrise with and audible ecstasy. Even some one-celled organisms know to swim to the light. Our ancestors worshiped the Sun, and they were far from foolish. And yet the Sun is an ordinary, even a mediocre star. If we must worship a power greater than ourselves, does it not make sense to revere the Sun and stars? Hidden within every astronomical investigation, sometimes so deeply buried that the researcher himself is unaware of its presence, lies a kernel of awe.