Mal Garvin – “How atheists are being left behind.” (excerpt)
Time for change
There is a remarkable build-up of new evidence in the sciences, from quantum physics, neuro-science and astrophysics, all showing the scientific community it’s time for a change in thinking.
Those academics who can get past their own prejudices are starting to see there is more going on than their old paradigms have been able to grasp. Stephen Hawking, well known British cosmologist and a man known to push against his first wife’s faith, said recently in a rare moment of clarity, “The whole history of science has been the gradual realization that events do not happen in an arbitrary manner, but they reflect a certain underlying order, which may or may not be divinely related.” He went on to say, “The odds against a universe like ours emerging out of something like a Big Bang ,are enormous. I think there are clearly religious implications.”
A spiritual understanding of the universe
This was just the kind thinking that started getting Communist party intellectuals nervous before the collapse of their atheistic empire in the old U.S.S.R. They found that their brightest young scientists were, on the basis of their science, declaring that they were beginning to believe in a spiritual concept of the universe. Stalin must have turned in his grave to hear this, followed by current president Vladimir Putin’s chastising of the West for not protecting the heritage of the Christians around the world and in particular those of the Middle East.
It’s as if the universe knew we were coming.
In the words of Professor Freeman Dyson, research physicist at the Advanced Institute at Princeton, ”The more I examine the universe and study details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known we were coming.”
Noted Physicist Professor Paul Davies – hardly an evangelist for religion – said, ”A careful study suggests that the laws of the universe are remarkably felicitous for the emergence of richness and variety. In the case of living organisms, their existence seems to depend on a number of fortuitous coincidences, that some scientists and philosophers have hailed as nothing short of astonishing…This causal order does not follow from logical necessity; it is a unique property of the world and one for which we can rightly demand some sort of explanation.”
The new and active conversation between science and religion
The situation has changed remarkably. Scientist and theologian John Polkinghorne says there is now an active conversation between science and theology. He believes it began with the publication of Ian Barbour’s ground breaking book “Issues in Science and Religion.” Though published back in 1966, its influence has been unfolding and developing ever since.
The positive change in thinking was framed by Hungarian-British chemist and philosopher Michael Polanyi (1891-1976), whose writing helped free science from the limitations of its empiricist prison. This made it possible for the two disciplines, science and theology, to enter into a mutually respectful conversation.
Those who have missed the boat
Every now and then we come across the likes of Richard Dawkins who as a biologist, has completely missed out on this historic dialogue. One almost feels a little sorry for him as we discover videos of him debating those who are more than his equals, like Professor John C Lennox, Professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford. It becomes embarrassingly clear in these exchanges why many of Dawkins academic colleagues are red faced at the thinness of the philosophic underpinning of his arguments. Dr Lennox has no trouble gently blowing away Dawkins’ straw men and empty assertions that he put up as arguments.
The whole of science depends upon the predictability of the laws of nature
Richard Feynman Nobel Laureate in physics, expresses the emerging position on the remarkable order that’s found in the universe: “The fact that there are patterns at all to be checked is a kind of miracle. That it is even possible to find a rule, like the inverse square law of gravitation, is some sort of miracle.” He admits that, “It is not thoroughly understood at all, but because of its very presence, it undergirds science, it leads to the possibility of prediction – that means it tells you what you would expect to happen in an experiment you have not yet done.”
The magic of laws that can be formulated
The very fact that those laws can be mathematically formulated was for Einstein, a constant source of amazement that pointed beyond the physical universe. Allan Sandage, was widely regarded as the father of modern astronomy, and the He was also the winner of the 1991 Crafoord Prize (astronomy’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize) and the joint recipient of the inaugural Gruber prize in cosmology in 2000, and a foreign member of the Royal Society. He said “I find it quite improbable that such order came out of chaos. There has to be some organizing principle. God to me, is a mystery but is the explanation for the miracle of existence – why there is something rather than nothing.”
The very miracle of existence has caused many academics to think again.
All of these thought leaders have caused other academics, along with Mark Worthing, to assert that “We are undergoing a paradigm shift of such significance that a new era in the history of science and theology is being heralded.”
There is what is termed, a burgeoning of associations of scientists and theologians interested in each other’s disciplines. In Australia to name but a few: The Institute for the Study of Christianity in an Age of Science (ISCAST); The University Science Faith Network; The Symposium on Science and Theology of the Australian Theological Forum, and the Centre for Theology Science and Culture, based at Flinders University Adelaide.
The dance between science and faith is becoming more harmonious.
In his book, The Dance between Science and Faith, research scientist Dr. Nick Hawke writes, “As science pushes its frontiers of knowledge, it is beginning to bump up against ultimate questions and this has helped prompt a new dialogue between the disciplines.”
This quiet build-up to a renewed interest in human spirituality became public with a Time Magazine cover story headlined, “God is making a comeback.” It reported, “In a quiet revolution in thought and argument that hardly anyone would have foreseen only two decades ago , God is making a comeback. Most intriguingly, this is happening in the crisp intellectual circles of academic philosophers.”