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Scientific Musings Regarding God

One of my friends at the University of Washington was Milt Gordon (God rest his soul).  Milt was a real scientist, and Chairman of the University’s Department of Microbiology.  After I had left academia, Milt did some successful work (not just theory or studies) in plant genetics.

Trapping Milt Gordon

One evening, as Milt and I, with our wives, were driving back to Seattle after a day in the mountains, I decided to lay a trap for Milt.  “Milt,” I asked, “are they still using the science textbooks you used in high school?”

Milt was surprised that I would ask such a foolish question: “Of course not, Ted.  They’re ‘way out of date.”

“Well, how about the books you used in college?”  Milt gave the same answer, but without the surprise.

“Surely, Milt, some of the science books you used in grad school are not outdated.  Do you use any of them?”

“No, Ted.  Science is rapidly changing.  New discoveries are being revealed as quickly as they can be published.”

“Milt, what about the books you are using now to teach your students – how long will they stay valid?”  Milt thought about that, and told me that almost all of them would be superseded within five years, and that perhaps an especially excellent text in a slow-moving field might have a life as long as fifteen years.

After a pause, I sprang the trap on my (Jewish) friend Milt.  “Milt, what about the books you used in Hebrew school, which taught about your right relations with God and with other people?”  Silence.  Milt was thinking, reflecting.  “No, Ted, those are not out of date.”

The next time I saw Milt was a week or two later, at a little party at his home.  Milt was wearing a yarmulke — a Jewish skullcap — which I had never seen him do.  His son Peter, a tall teenager, asked, “Dad, why are you wearing a yarmulke?”  Milt simply said, “Because I’m a Jew, and I’m a man.”

Trapping Quarks

That was years ago.  More recently, last week, in fact, I was thinking about quarks.  Quarks are subatomic particles which exist for a very short time – something like a milli-zilli-nano-picosecond, or whatever your real scientists call it.  Nuclear physicists have never seen, heard, felt, smelled or touched quarks, even with their refined instruments.[i]   The existence of quarks is inferred from studies of the results of high energy collisions in particle accelerators such as cyclotrons and linear accelerators — and in the results of cosmic ray activity.

Anyway, a few specialists in their field have whimsically labeled six varieties (or “flavors”, believe it or not) of quark: Up, Down, Charm, Strange, Top, Bottom.

Do quarks really exist?  Don’t ask me.  My science studies included only two years of physics and a year of chemistry at Cornell, plus a lot about electricity.  Quarks were not even discovered until 1968, and the Bottom quark was discovered in 1995.

One last item about quarks.  There are many published scientific discussions about the behavior of quarks in the “Big Bang.”  Really!  Here’s this theory about the mechanics of the beginning of the cosmos, billions and billions of years ago; and serious theoretical physicists are publishing about the actions of short-lived quarks ‘way back then.

You ask, what have quarks to do with a study of the Bible, of God and the ultimate nature of man?  Good question!  To answer it, let’s approach it from the other end.  We Christians have heard from atheists that God does not exist.  Whenever Christians tell such a person about something God has done in their lives, the atheist explains it away somehow.  And when stories of the actions of God are published, these atheists call it “anecdotal evidence.”  The Bible they dismiss as a fabric of tall tales and myths.

In support of this line of thinking, they especially favor the citation of “scientists.”  It is the scientists, supposedly, who deny that any evidence exists for “intelligent design” in the universe.

Three Rebuttals

First, the vast majority of these atheists exhibit ignorance.  They don’t even understand the things they presume to speak of.  Their ideas are borrowed from other people.  They are not thinkers you can re-educate, and they are not scholars in the pertinent sciences.[ii]

Second, even the educated persons, “scientists” and others, are almost always unqualified to voice an opinion on matters of God.  Take me as a counter-example.  I do not regard my scientific studies as qualifying me to decide whether quarks really exist, or whether they are just a convenient model to use until the next scientific discovery outdates them.  And if I were to assert my opinion as authoritative on such a matter, you would be right to regard me as an arrogant fool.

And so a “scientist” who has not even devoted a year or two trying to learn about God, claims to speak with authority on that topic.  Sheer nonsense!  These scientists spent four years in a college science curriculum; they devoted four or five years to postgraduate studies in their specialties; and probably they participated in experiments and studies even beyond these eight years.[iii]  Let them tell me about the quarks they have studied.  I won’t argue with them.  But where do they get off telling you and me that there is no God?

The most that such “scientists” could honestly say — applying the true scientific method  — is that they have not perceived any evidence of God.  The most honest of them might confess that they have not even looked for evidence of God, that their models of the universe have been structured on premises oblivious to any involvement by the Creator.

Whenever someone proposes a new, real, scientific theory, scientists in the field endeavor to develop a means to verify or disprove the new theory.  When Einstein promulgated his Special Theory of Relativity, he was confident of its mathematical basis; but he nevertheless insisted that before the theory be accepted, it must be verified.  The great English astrophysicist, Arthur Eddington, devised the famous solar eclipse experiment of 1919, which verified Einstein’s conclusion that space gets curved by gravitational fields.

Therefore, if a real “scientist” wanted to prove that God does or does not exist, that “scientist” would devote a few years to research about God — not necessarily theology.  Then the “scientist” would try to devise an empirical experiment wherein God’s presence or absence would be clearly demonstrated.

Well, of course this has not been done.  Mere assertion, combined with social status, take the place of serious investigation.  Our “scientists” today seem to be the same kind of religious authorities as Ibn Hazm, an 11th century Muslim theologian, who asserted on his own authority, and without proof, that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us.

Compare Hazm’s allegation with the theory of evolution.  Again, I am not competent to judge whether or not evolution was the process whereby the different forms of plant and animal life developed on earth.  For the sake of the argument, just suppose it really was the means.  How in the world does anyone dare to say that there was no intelligent purpose behind the evolutionary developments?[iv]  The most such a person might assert with authority is, “There was no intelligent purpose in creating my own mind.”

The third rebuttal is brief.  If thousands of years and millions of testimonies about the workings of God are mere foolishness and unverified anecdotes, then what are a few years of a very few persons testifying that they have detected quarks?

Towering scientific geniuses — Newton and Einstein, for example — saw the creation as evidence of God’s greatness. Why, then, should anyone give credence to certain scientific midgets (who in matters of science stand on the shoulders of these giants), when these small minds assert, with no proofs, not even any evidence, that there is no God?[v]

Finally, even if I had not experienced in my own life many proofs of God’s love and care, I would not have the faith that it takes to assert that there is no God.  For those who have the faith that there was no purpose in bringing them into the world, the best and worst they can hope for is that they are right, and their lives and thoughts are indeed meaningless nullities.

_________

Endnotes

[i] Notice that the author did not say “scientists.”  He does not like the inaccurate generic labeling of persons as “scientists.”  He is too fussy for contemporary tastes.  He consdiers that volcanologists, zoologists, marine biologists, meteorologists, etc. should not be lumped together, as in “scientists tell us . . . .”  He wants to know what branch of science is their specialty.  He seems to think that a chemist might not be qualified to comment on quarks, etc.

[ii] In a caustic, unspiritual mood, the author called such persons ‘parrots.’

[iii] Only with great difficulty did the author restrain himself from saying that such scientific specialists learned more and more about less and less, until at last they knew everything about nothing.

[iv] The author proposed a conundrum.  How could a mind created by random chance hope to know anything at all about a creator?  If there is no God, then surely there can be no survival advantage to believe in God.  Yet almost all societies believe in God.  A prominent society that denied God – the Soviet empire – did not survive even one century before falling apart.  Today, the United States, as it becomes more and more atheistic, is in the process of decline and fall.  Clearly, there is survival advantage in recognizing God.

[v] Please try hard to avoid cynically assigning to some of the Quarkists, and others, the mercenary motivation of getting HUGE, GIGANTIC, STUPENDOUS amounts of money to conduct their researches.


Theodore Kobernick is a retired Protestant pastor whose wide education includes degrees in English, training in aviation electronics, engineering, real estate, pastoral studies, and Americal history. He has taught English at the University of Washington (Seattle), and various courses in writing at St. Martin's University (near Olympia, WA).  Phi Beta Kappa from Lake Forest College, IL. He and Paula have been married for 35 years; they live in Vancouver, WA.


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  • I was a sophomore at Cornell when I took two semesters of biology. I will never forget how, in the lecture on evolutionary theory, our professor confidently concluded in front of an audience of several hundred young people that evolution proves that “God is not required.”

    I was not practicing my Catholic faith at the time but even in my muddled state I could tell he was far overreaching. If evolutionary theory does not require God, then something is wrong with the theory, because the evidence for God is overwhelming.

    I can only speculate as to why he denied what his very nature must have told him was true. I’d say he was living in fear of what the truth might hold. It’s a pitiable state for any man, but more so for a doctor of philosophy. We should pray for atheists, because for many I think God is the only one who can snap them out of it.

    • noelfitz

      PH,

      I have very happy memories from my time in Cornell. One of my most vivid memories is driving on the left side of the road. I can recall how patient the upstate NY drivers were before I got to the right lane.

  • noelfitz

    Thanks CL. This is a great article. I like to see, from time to time, articles by non-Catholics, which show how close many of them are to us. But Pastor Kobernick sounds Catholic when he writes “God rest his soul”, which implies a belief in purgatory. Also as I wrote before protons are Catholics as they have mass.
    Also in our religion we need new books, for example to explain the new liturgies.
    Quarks owe their name to James Joyce, the Irish novelist, who wrote “Three quarks for Muster Mark!”. Thus prior to Joyce the word could not have been used. Hence new books are needed.
    The conclusion that the universe is about 14.5 billion years old fills one with greater awe than a belief it is only about 6000 years old.

    What do you think? Please reply.

  • noelfitz

    I hope this great article gets a debate going.

    I am reminded of the discussion between Napoleon and Laplace.
    Napoleon: “M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.”

    Laplace: “I had no need of that hypothesis.”

    I can understand Laplace’s view. Science attempts to understand from a natural view.

    If a student was asked why is the sky blue and replied because it is the will of God, he would not get full marks.

    Also it is impossible to prove God exists using the natural sciences.

    • Theodore Kobernick

      I wrote a reply to your earlier question, but I managed to lose it by touching a key.

      Look, science deals in proximate causes. The typical scientific conclusion at seeing Model T Fords emerge from the factory: the factory causes the Model T. But closer scientific investigation shows that the cause is not the factory, but the assembly line. A younger scientist writes a dissertation: it is the components brought to the assemply line which causes the Model T. But wait! says a rival scientist, ’tis the materials of the components that cause the Model T. And so on, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
      The unscientific Catholic, Protestant or Jew has the silly notion that it is Henry Ford causing the Model T — obviously not a necessary hypothesis (Pace! LaPlace and Occam).
      Noelfitz, the reason all this holds limited relevance for me is that the scientist cannot really direct me with regard to what I ought to do or think.

  • noelfitz

    Pastor Kobernick,
    I am so pleased that you took the time to reply to me. I like to get into discussions with friends here, but if I write something not terribly controversial I am ignored. If I write something controversial I am attacked.

    Let’s consider causes. This was a great Catholic thing, with St Thomas Aquinas following Aristotle. Please see http://www.aquinasonline.com/Topics/4causes.html, where the nude is not St Thomas, who was rather portly.

    The first cause is discussed in http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/first-cause.htm by Peter Kreeft, who is a bit sneaky, as he writes beautifully in apparently simple terms, but is really a very sound and deep philosopher.

    You conclude “Noelfitz, the reason all this holds limited relevance for me is that the scientist cannot really direct me with regard to what I ought to do or think.”

    In a former incarnation I was a scientist, so I cannot tell you what to do.

    You can tell me.

    How about “to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God. Christians and Jews follow Deu 6:5 “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might”. This coupled with Lev 19:18 “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD” is good advice for all Christians. The ten Commandments and the Beatitudes also help us on our way, but the one thing all are agreed on, no matter what religion we hold or none, is the Golden Rule, either in its negative or positive form – as you wish others to treat you treat them.

    But in Ireland we have a phrase that you don’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs, so I, as a humble ex-scientist, should not tell you what to do.

  • Theodore Kobernick

    Noel:

    After due consideration, I decided I am not your grandmother!

    Joking aside, are you Irish, are you in Ireland?

    Without joining Facebook, etc., Is there a way to carry on a conversation without cluttering these comment pages? If Mary gives you my e-mail address, I’ll be glad to exchange infrequent e-mails. I suffer a dearth of friends with whom to discuss these interesting topics. It takes me a long time to write an article I think MIGHT be worthy of publication — need to have a less formal way to exchange (and thereby develop) views.

  • noelfitz

    TK,

    I am in Ireland.

    Thank you for your post. I would like very much to be in contact with you.

    I have written to Mary asking her to send you my email address or for her to send me yours.

    Regards,

    NF

  • jamesm124

    I have one question for your argument. I, like you, do not believe that anyone can prove or disprove the existence of god. Opinions about god are a matter of feeling, not fact. Scientists, myself included, should not make any accusations about god based on their knowledge of science. At my university (in Canada) the first thing students of science are taught, BEFORE the scientific method even, is that god is outside of the realm of testable things. So, you ask why no scientist has ever bothered to design an experiment to test that god does not exist. I think a better question would be why have people who spend their entire lives living based on the assumption of god neglected to design an experiment to test any of the proofs you claim demonstrate the existence of god. You can’t call it proof if you can’t test it. My point is that while scientists are woefully mistaken in any assertion regarding the absence of god, theists are also mistaken in any assertion regarding the presence of god. God is a matter of feeling, not fact.