The City Summer 2016

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bang?

Why Christians should not Run from Science[1]

Craig A. Evans

Science and conservative Christians have not always been on good terms. This is mostly so because some Christians think science and the book of Genesis are at odds. Genesis seems to say that the universe was created only six or seven thousand years ago, while science speaks in terms of millions and billions of years. Accordingly, conservative Christians think they must choose between science and the Bible. They urge their youth to think this way and then they are dismayed when the best and the brightest go off to university and embrace science, sometimes believing (wrongly, of course) that the Bible, especially the early chapters of Genesis, has to be rejected.

This ultimatum — either science or faith — is tragic, because it is so unnecessary, so wrong, and so harmful. Rightly understood, the Bible has nothing to fear from science. Rightly understood, science offers a great deal of support to the Bible’s teaching that God made the world a long time ago and that he did so in a step-by-step process that reached its culmination in the appearance of humankind on a planet ideally suited to support intelligent life.

Genesis, the first book of the Bible begins with the familiar words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1, the RSV is used unless otherwise indicated).  Modern science at one time rejected the idea of a beginning, holding instead to the view — called the “Steady State” — that the universe was eternal. In the 1950s and 1960s, however, scientists recognized that the universe did indeed have a beginning (popularly called the “Big Bang”) and that physical matter is not eternal. This discovery created a problem for atheists because scientists know that something cannot come from nothing. Not surprisingly, a growing number of scientists now believe that some powerful and intelligent Being initiated or created the universe.

The implications of the Big Bang are so troubling for some committed atheists that they try to salvage the Steady State belief, either by redefining “nothing” (i.e., as something after all) or by hypothesizing an endless number of failed universes that preceded our own (called the multiverse hypothesis). The first option is nonsense. The second is pure science fiction. Both options are attempts to recover some form of the discredited Steady State hypothesis.

Ongoing scientific research — thanks in large part to the Hubble Telescope — has shown how amazing our solar system is and how unique the planet Earth is. Not only is our planet perfectly suitable for complex life, but it is perfect in design and location to enable intelligent life to study the universe. The odds for all of this to have happened by chance are extremely slight, perhaps nonexistent.[2]

The creation story in Genesis is not “scientific” in any modern sense. This was never its intention. Its principal purpose is to reveal that the universe came about by a loving Creator God, who designed planet Earth in a way that not only sustains human life but maximizes our opportunities for cultural, intellectual, and spiritual growth. Ours is a world of remarkable beauty, abundance, diversity, and wonder. Our world offers us far more than what we need to survive. It presents us with sights, sounds, tastes, and aromas that go way beyond the necessities. Our world instructs us, inspires us, fills us with awe, and points to the creative power of a loving God. It is no wonder the Hebrew psalmist long ago declared, “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge” (Ps 19:1–2). Creation does indeed proclaim the greatness and goodness of God.

The message of the creation story in Genesis becomes much clearer when we compare it to the creation stories in the ancient Near East. We have stories from Egypt, Sumer, Assyria, Babylon, and other ancient city-states and kingdoms. In all of them, typically after a series of battles, a hierarchy of gods emerges. For example, one Egyptian creation story goes like this:

The All-Lord said, after he had come into being: “I am he who came into being as Khepri [the morning sun god]. When I had come into being, being (itself) came into being, and all beings came into being after I came into being. Many were the things which came forth from my mouth, before heaven came into being, before earth came into being, before the ground and creeping things had been created.”[3]

This story goes on to tell of the defeat of a great dragon.

In the ancient Babylonian story called Enuma Elish (“When on High”), probably the best-known ancient creation story apart from Genesis, we read:

When on high the heaven had not been named, firm ground below had not been called by name, naught but primordial Apsu [God of fresh water], their begetter, (and) Mummu-Tiamat [“mother”-goddess of salt-water], she who bore them all, their waters commingling as a single body; no reed hut had been matted, no marsh land had appeared, when no gods whatever had been brought into being.[4]

The story goes on to describe the battle between the parent gods (Apsu and Tiamat) and the younger gods, led by the heroic Marduk, who slays Tiamat and her commander Kingu. From the former he forms the sky and sea; from the latter’s blood he creates people. As his reward Marduk is given lordship of the universe. If one is familiar with Greek mythology, this creation story will remind one of the defeat of the Titans at the hands of the younger Olympian gods, led by Zeus. In all of these stories the gods are themselves part of creation. There is no god who is apart from creation itself.

Although there are some parallels between the creation story of Genesis 1–2 and other ancient Near Eastern creation stories, the differences are noticeable and significant. First and foremost, Genesis speaks of only one God, through whom all of creation came into being. There are no squabbling deities and no mighty Titans to overthrow. Second, creation is distinct from God himself. The heavens and the earth are not made from the bodies of slain gods or accidentally left over from battles and destruction. Third, according to Genesis, God created the heavens and earth in an orderly and systematic way. With respect to each stage of creation God sees that “it was good” (Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25). Each stage was designed. The Genesis creation story concludes with the words: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (1:31). Finally, human beings are created “in the image of God” (1:26). Humans hold no special place in the creation stories of the ancient Near East, but they do in the creation story in the book of Genesis.

The differences between the creation story in Genesis and other creation stories of the ancient Near East could not be starker.[5] In contrast to these stories, Genesis declares that all of creation is good, all of it has a purpose, and the high point of creation is humanity, whom God blesses, gives the earth to care for, and commands to multiply (1:26–30). The creation story of Genesis reveals a loving God who has prepared a healthy, beautiful, and enduring home for the beings he has made in his own image.

This is one of the most important teachings in the Bible. It means that we humans are very important. We are much, much more than smart, two-legged animals. Our very existence is part of God’s design and plan. We are so important to God that he has taken the trouble to provide for us in a way that we might not only survive but flourish. All of this implies that our lives have meaning and purpose.

Thanks to modern science we can now appreciate how well made, protective, and nurturing our planet is. Our planet is warmed by a sun that is just the right size, a sun that emits higher than average photonic energy but lower than average levels of dangerous radiation.[6] This means that our sun has what it takes to support life but at the same time not destroy it. Our planet and the other planets in our solar system have stable orbits. (Irregular orbits, like the erratic orbits of planets in other solar systems, would pose great danger to life on planet Earth.) Our planet is protected by several large gaseous planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) that shield us from catastrophic impacts by asteroids. Our planet has an optimal rotation, an ideal tilt of its axis, and an orbiting moon that is just the right distance from the Earth, travels at an optimal speed, energizes our tides, and stabilizes the Earth’s rotation. It is this fine-tuning of our world that weighs so heavily against atheistic theories of random chance. Well known biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins senses this problem, suggesting that if chance cannot explain the origin of life on earth, then perhaps we should entertain the idea that aliens seeded the earth with life. This of course does not solve the problem; it simply tries to explain a mystery with another mystery — and a highly unlikely one at that.[7] In short, to extricate himself from a science problem Dawkins appeals to the stuff of science fiction.

There is even more fine-tuning to be considered. The planet Earth has a liquid, molten center that permits continental drift and tectonic plate movement. Without this feature we would have no mountains. In fact, most if not all of the land on our planet would be under water if it were not for the movements of landmasses. Our planet’s core is highly metallic, which creates our magnetic poles, which stabilize our atmosphere and together with our atmosphere protect us from deadly radiation from outer space and our own sun. In addition, our planet has enormous quantities of water, without which complex life would not be possible.

How our planet got its water is yet another amazing part of the story. Our water came from the Asteroid Belt, which orbits the Sun, between the planets Mars and Jupiter. Whatever the cause of perturbation, great chunks of ice fell out of orbit and plunged onto Earth. Astronomers estimate that today only 1 percent of these giant icebergs remain orbiting in the Belt. What is not easy to explain is why very few of these icebergs fell onto Mars (which is why there is very little water and ice on that planet). After all, Mars is much closer to the Belt. One would think that much, perhaps most of this ice would have landed on Mars. Instead, most of this ice landed on Earth and that is why we have our great oceans and many other bodies of water. But we have just the right amount of water — not too much and not too little. Explaining all of this in terms of chance is not convincing.

These are only some of the most important features of our life-sustaining planet. There are many more. All of these amazing features underscore the words spoken long ago: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31).

The human being is the highpoint of God’s creation. There is nothing like us. We may be made of essentially the same stuff from which many animals are made, but in all the important ways we are vastly different. Scientists sometimes point out that apes and chimpanzees are very close to humans, with a DNA overlap of approximately 96 percent.[8] True enough, but the 4 percent makes all the difference in the world. Brains of apes and chimpanzees do not possess the capacity for language and abstract thought.[9] No ape wonders what life is all about. No chimpanzee asks where he came from and what the future holds. In short, apes and chimpanzees do not ask the big questions. They do not even know that there are questions to ask.

Humans are distinctive, too, in their appreciation of beauty. Only humans are aware of the beauty of sight and sound and then in a variety of ways attempt to imitate, interpret, and expand upon it. No ape has ever composed a symphony or endeavored to paint a portrait. No ape has grappled with moral issues or pondered what is right and wrong. But humans do all these things. Humans are aware of the wonder of the world. Humans are moral and spiritual beings. Humans rejoice in what is good but are troubled by evil. Humans wonder where God is in all of this. No animal gives a moment’s thought to any of these things.

The Psalmist was so impressed with the wonder of human life that he declared to God:

I will praise You; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made . . . My substance was not hid from You, when I was made in secret . . . Your eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in Your book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:14–16 KJV; modified)

The language of this passage strikes us moderns as quaint. Though it is not scientific, it contains great truth. We humans are indeed “wonderfully made.” There is nothing in the physical world that comes close to the human brain. Recent discoveries in neuroscience are breathtaking. How our brains think, make decisions, create, and access memory is astounding. Ongoing research is also probing the spiritual and moral dimension of humans. Intriguingly, studies show that the human being is much more than a mere physical brain.[10] These studies seriously undermine the theories of atheists and materialists who reject the existence of God and the reality of the spiritual or nonmaterial.[11] In fact, the findings of modern science convinced longtime philosopher and atheist Antony Flew that there must be a God after all. Flew is to be commended for his honesty and integrity. After sixty years of atheism he changed his mind in 2004. In a book that appeared in 2007 he explains why he did.[12] However, many atheists do not want there to be a god, whatever the evidence suggests.[13] This perspective is clearly expressed by atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel: “I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God, and, naturally, hope that I’m right about my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”[14]

The complex functions of human language, thought, and memory are astounding. Not even the most powerful computer can compare, for computers are nothing more than data storage and retrieval mechanisms whose functions are programmed by humans. Computers cannot think or make independent decisions, no matter what you see on television or read in popular science fiction. Indeed, the popular notion of “artificial intelligence” has been widely debunked.[15] One science writer speaks of artificial intelligence as a myth. He is quite correct, for no computer possesses consciousness. Without consciousness there can hardly be “intelligence” in the true sense of the word. A computer functions; it does not think. And a computer’s functionality is no better than the computer’s programming.[16]

Thanks to the Human Genome Project we now know that human DNA contains more than three billion bits of information, that almost all human cells contain this information, and that each human being has anywhere from ten trillion to one hundred trillion cells. These facts boggle the mind. No wonder the Hebrew Psalmist of long ago expressed his amazement.

Throughout most of its work Dr. Francis Collins headed up the Human Genome Project. Perhaps the single most astonishing discovery was that the human genome is a code. And code is another word for language. It is not enough to have the genetic information; it has to be in the proper sequence, as surely as words must be in their proper sequence. The implications of this discovery are enormous, for mindless chance speaks no language. Dr. Collins rightly concluded that the human genome sequence, which he calls “the language of God,” provides clear evidence of an intelligent, creative power.[17]

What Genesis says about creation, and specifically about human beings, is supported by modern science and will no doubt receive additional support in future research and discovery. Christians do not and should not run from science. It is not an enemy to faith; it is a friend and ally.

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CRAIG A. EVANS, PhD, DHabil, is the John Bisagno Distinguished Professor of Christian Origins and dean of the School of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University. He has published extensively on Jesus and the Gospels and has appeared in several television documentaries and news programs.

[1] This essay has been adapted from God Speaks: What He Says, What He Means (Worthy Publishing, 2015), with permission of the publisher.

[2] For an excellent treatment of the formation of the Universe and the uniqueness of our solar system and our planet, see Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards, The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2004). See also William A. Dembski, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998); and Denyse O’Leary, By Design or By Chance? The Growing Controversy on the Origins of Life in the Universe (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 2004).

[3] James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 6.

[4] Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 60–61.

[5] Ancient Indian and Chinese creation stories are similar to those of the ancient Near East. For further inquiry, see David A. Leeming and Margaret Adams (eds.), A Dictionary of Creation Myths (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994); David A. Leeming, Creation Myths of the World (2nd ed., Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2010).

[6] See Gonzalez and Richards, The Privileged Planet, 66–67, 133–36.

[7] Dawkins made this extraordinary comment on the National Public Radio program “Fresh Air” (28 March 2007).

[8] Asao Fujiyama, Hidemi Watanabe, Atsushi Toyoda, and Todd Taylor, “Construction and Analysis of a Human-Chimpanzee Comparative Clone Map,” Science 295 (2002): 131–34; Pascal Gagneux and Ajit Varki, “Genetic Differences between Humans and Great Apes,” Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 18 (2001): 2–13. Some scientists bump up the percentage of agreement between humans and apes to 98 percent.

[9] For more on this important point, see John Eccles and Daniel N. Robinson, The Wonder of Being Human: Our Brain and Our Mind (New York: Free Press, 1984), 104–13; Mario Beauregard and Denyse O’Leary, The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of the Soul (New York and Toronto: Harper, 2007), 13–19.

[10] Besides the books by Eccles and Robinson, The Wonder of Being Human, and Beauregard and O’Leary, The Spiritual Brain, see the highly technical collection of studies in Edward F. Kelly, Emily Williams Kelly, et al., Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century (Lanham and New York: Rowman & Little, 2007). Ongoing scientific research has demolished theories of materialism and physicalism. Kelly and Kelly regard materialism as superstition.

[11] For studies of science and faith, I recommend the following books by Alister McGrath: Science and Religion: An Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998); A Scientific Theology (3 vols., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001–2003); and A Fine-Tuned Universe: The Quest for God in Science and Theology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009). I also recommend the following books by John C. Lennox: God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (Oxford: Lion, 2007); Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target (Oxford: Lion, 2011). See also William A. Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge between Science and Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999).

[12] See Antony Flew, There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (New York: HarperOne, 2007). Flew died in 2010.

[13] On this important aspect of the debate, see James S. Spiegel, The Making of an Atheist (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2010).

[14] See Thomas Nagel, The Last Word (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 130, as quoted by Spiegel, The Making of an Atheist, 11.

[15] See John R. Searle, Mind: A Brief Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) 74; Beauregard and O’Leary, The Spiritual Brain, 19–23.

[16] See Ari N. Schulman, “Why Minds Are Not Like Computers,” The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology & Society (2009) online.

[17] Francis S. Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (New York: Free Press, 2006).

 

 

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