20th Century Science and Faith
The 21st century should be a very exciting time for Christ-followers. We get to look back on the 20th century and see the new discoveries in science that have changed our understanding of how the world works. These new discoveries strongly support the Biblical world view. Contrast this with the 19th century that gave us scientific views that undermined the Bible. This was the century that gave us the theory of Evolution which made God optional – He was not needed to explain the presence of the life. On the other hand, major scientific results of the 20th century undermine the foundations of the theory of Evolution and instead support a theistic view of the universe.
You may ask: why this is important? The problem is that the mainstream cultural view is still grounded in 19th century thinking and is still atheistic at its core. Our schools still teach science and a world view from the 19th century and earlier. 20th century science is only lightly touched upon. Only those going to college get significant exposure to 20th century science. Even then, the implications of the scientific results are not unpacked for the students – the implications that militate against the 19th century atheistic view.
The results of the 20th century are actually consistent with the Bible in a very fundamental way. The Bible is clear that when we study nature we would become aware of God. Consider Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” What this verse asserts is that when you study “what has been made” – or, the natural world, or the creation – we will see God. Science is all about studying the natural world in great depth. So, when we do science, we should see God. The Old Testament also says the same thing. Consider Psalm 19 which starts by saying “The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” In modern terms, if we study the sky and space we should see God. If we do astronomy or cosmology we should see God. As you will see, 20th century science has unwittingly bumped into God – many times. But it is nearly impossible for our scientific community to acknowledge that, for reasons we will try to understand.
The Big Bang
The story of the Big Bang is a wonderful story that affirms the Bible strongly. You see if you lived before the 1930s you would have to make a leap of faith to believe the Bible’s first sentence Gen 1:1: “In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth”. At that time scientists not believe there was a beginning. They believed that the Universe was always around and that it was un-caused. This view dominated until the late 1920s when Hubble observed indicated the galaxies were moving away from us. Additionally, the further away they were, the faster they were receding. This suggested that the universe was expanding. If the universe was expanding then, it must have had a beginning.
This was deeply disturbing to the scientists. Even in 1959 a survey of leading Astronomers, found that two-thirds believed that the Universe had no beginning. Today the Big Bang theory is widely accepted. But the beginning is still very troubling. It is troubling because it provides a strong argument for the existence of God.
Here is the argument. Anything that begins to exist must have a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore the universe has a cause. Stephen Lane Craig unpacks this old argument beautifully in the book The Case for A Creator by Lee Strobel. RC Sproul approaches this from a different angle by pointing out that there are really only two options: either the universe was created by a eternal entity or the universe has always existed and is eternal. Since the Big Bang theory shows that the Universe has not always existed, the only option that remains is that the universe was created by an eternal entity that is not the Universe – that is not matter or energy. You see, the Big Bang was also a beginning of time and space. This means the Cause cannot be anything that is matter or energy which operates in occupies time or space.
Let’s look at this in another way, so you don’t miss the point – Here is a scientific result that strongly implies that there is a Cause that is not made of stuff, that is outside time and space – yes, eternal – and that has enough power to create something as magnificent as the Universe.
The question that would arise is why we do not hear this from our scientific community? The answer may be found in the verses immediately preceding and following our passage. “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened." (Romans 1:18, 21 NIV)
What this says is that when we fallen humans bump up against God in nature, our tendency is to suppress that truth. This is not just a condition of scientists but all people. Scientists are humans too and so it applies to them as well.
There is another related reason. The scientific community sees these conclusions as a problem because it challenges a foundational belief. The Big Bang theory implies that matter and energy are not the only things that exist. This directly undermines the fondly held assumption which says that matter and energy are the only things that exist. In other words, nature consists of particles and energy and nothing else. This reflected in our science today. If you recall the equations you studied in school you will recall that all physics equations deal with only matter and energy and time. This foundational view is called scientific Materialism. In a real way Materialism stands between us and seeing God in nature.
Let’s now look at another discovery of the 20th century, this time from the world of Biology.
Everyone has heard of DNA: it is a long molecule found in each cell of every living creature. DNA, which stands for Deoxyribonucleic Acid, was first observed by Frederich Miescher in the late 19th century. But its true importance and structure were discovered the middle of the 20th century due to the work of James Watson, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin.
To understand the importance of the DNA molecule, consider a butterfly. Suppose we weigh out the right amounts of the elements that make up a butterfly, put them in a bag and shake them up, a butterfly does not flutter out. Why not? Just like you cannot make a cake by putting all the ingredients and shaking them up, you cannot make a butterfly. A recipe is needed. And also you need someone to put the ingredients in the recipe together.
Where is the recipe for a butterfly? Yes, it is the DNA molecule in the cell. At the heart of every cell is the amazing DNA molecule which for all intents and purposes is the library of recipes for the proteins in our body. This information is in digital form, like in our computers. Each DNA molecule can store some 800 MB of data.
DNA is pure information. The implications of this discovery are staggering. Until this discovery, any information we came across was always man made. Any time we saw a book, a piece of text, or hieroglyphics in a stone carving – it was always of human origin. We knew it was of human origin whether we understood what was written or not, and if the author was unknown. We know of no mechanism, other than a human mind, that can create information. Paul Davies, in his book The Fifth Miracle discusses the problem of the origin of life and states that that the real problem to be answered is the question of where “biological information came from”. He goes on to state, “I have come to the conclusion that no familiar law of nature could produce such a structure from incoherent chemicals with the inevitability that some scientists assert”. Davies is arguing why it is futile to look to conventional physics and chemistry to explain the origin of DNA molecules – which he calls “impossible objects”.
We find that information preexisted man. All of sudden we have information that is not of human origin. Not from a human mind. Here again we see how when the when we study the things that are made, we perceive God. Could this be the same Mind that created the universe? We would believe so.
Crick certainly believed that a mind was involved. He published a paper in 1972 that essentially claimed that aliens did it. Here we have an example of how when someone is presented with evidence that may challenge their foundational beliefs they will find a way to make it fit their foundational beliefs – however outlandish the conclusions may be.
But this discovery also challenges Materialism in a fundamental way. To see that, we have to move to another area of scientific endeavor called Applied Mathematics.
It might surprise the reader to learn that Information is essentially a 20th century discovery. The words we hear, books we read, music we listen to and movies we see are all information.
Information theory was developed by Claude Shannon of AT&T and now forms the basis for our global telecommunication systems including the cell phone networks and internet. He established the mathematical framework of information theory which is used widely in communication and computer science. In this theory he uses the bit as the basic unit of information. All information can be represented as bits. This means we can measure information. It can be argued that the invention of the idea of the bit ranks up there with the invention of the concept of zero. Shannon did not originate the concept of the bit, but introduced the idea to a wide audience in his famous 1948 paper titled "A Mathematical Theory of Communication" published in The Bell Systems Technical Journal. In it he acknowledges that the term bit was coined by a John W. Tukey.
Information should not be confused with the object the information is about. We instinctively tend to confuse information about something with the something. But these are two very distinct entities. As an illustration, imagine a crystal drinking goblet. The goblet and the information about the goblet are two different but related things. Information about the goblet can be shared among people, can be discussed, can be stored on a hard drive, and can be remembered. The crystal glass does not lend itself to this kind of manipulation. It is this abstract entity that the bit measures. It does not matter if the information is true or false; it does not matter if we understand the information. The information can be treated as a separate entity from the topic that the information is about.
So here is the question: is information real? In other words, does information actually exist physically or is it all in our heads? To answer this, consider a simple thought experiment. Let us say I asked you to raise your hand – and you did raise your hand. Then I asked you to lower your hand – and you lowered your hand. In this exercise, information was transmitted from me to you, and you raised your hand and then lowered it. Essentially information was able to cause a physical change – it caused an object that was several pounds in weight to go up and then come down.
So, now we have to ask ourselves if something that is not real could cause a real object like your hand to rise and fall. Clearly it could not. Information is very real. We buy information, we sell information. The commerce around information is huge; it is more than an industry – it is classified as an economic sector. The sector consists of sub-sectors such as publishing industries which includes the software publishing industry; motion picture and sound recording industries; broadcasting industries, including traditional and Internet broadcasting; telecommunications industries including mobile phones; web search portals, data processing industries, and information services industries.
If we can accept that information is real, we then ask if it is made of matter – is it stuff? Consider another thought experiment. If you asked me for a book, and in response I gave you the same amount of ink and paper as contained in the book, would you accept it as a satisfactory response to your request? Clearly not as these are not the same things. They may weigh the same, smell the same, have the same chemical composition, but they are dramatically different in what really matters. The difference is the information that is carried by the arrangements of letters on the pages. That arrangement is not the ink or the paper, but it is something else. So clearly information is not matter.
So now we are faced with something that is real, can be measured, can be bought and can be sold – yet is not matter or energy. Right here we see that there is more to nature than just matter or energy. So again, a 20th century scientific finding shows that Materialism is not a good foundational assumption for science. MIT Mathematician Norbert Weiner best summed this up as follows in 1961: “Information is information, not matter or energy. No materialism which does not admit this can survive at the present day.”
Further, as we saw, our discussion on DNA showed that information is found in nature – information pre-existed human beings.
So, clearly we have evidence there exists a mind that is not human. It is a mind that can write the recipe for a human being. It is Mind that can create a universe. It is a Mind who is of a power we cannot fathom. It is a mind that is outside time and space – or in other words it is eternal. Our science HAS bumped into Him – without looking for Him.
“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
So you and me, we are without excuse.
For more about the nature of information please refer to www.thephysicalnatureofinformation.blogspot.com
© 2012 George Valliath