09 November, 2010

Radical Amazement: Dancing with God & Einstein



“Science does not seek to “prove” that there is or is not a God - that falls into the realm of theology. But those who do believe are not looking for proof, only for images that more accurately reflect reality so that we can live in greater fidelity to what we already know to be true. At the same time, science does not contradict what our faith teaches. While the discoveries may be new, the truths that we will reflect upon are timeless, found in the depths of Christian tradition and its spiritual practice.”

These words by Judy Cannato from her recent book “Radical Amazement: Contemplative Lessons from Black Holes, Supernovas, and Other Wonders of the Universe”, are reflective of opinions offered in a variety of current books by experts as diverse as the Dalai Lama, Michael Novak and John Polkinghorne.  Each of these authors points to a remarkable convergence emerging from the many threads of modern science in which mirrors the truths taught in Judeo-Christian scriptures.

This is not a conclusion that the proponents of a ‘science only’ approach to investigation of creation expected to reach. It is proving difficult for many in the scientific community to believe that evolution and modern physics are revealing truths that have already been ‘discovered’ by the discipline of theology. They are not alone. Proponents of both disciplines have been challenged by these new advances in science. Biblical literalists experience recent  scientific and mathematical discoveries as  challenging what they deem to be ‘gospel truth'. They refuse to acknowledge that ‘gospel’ and ‘truth’ are not always synonymous terms even if they are never in absolute conflict. While their fidelity and evangelistic zeal are to be admired by all Christians, their literal scriptural interpretations hardly reflects a majority opinion of believers today. Yet they may be convinced by recent discoveries of archeologists now seems to explain our existence as a species using a narrative that is startlingly close to the Genesis account of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden. Nevertheless it is an axiom of science and theology to follow where the evidence leads. Whether it supports one or the other paradigm or not, it's unsettling to all.

However, now is hardly the first (or last) time that such a redefining of our cosmology was necessary to assert, even at the cost of one’s life. From Socrates to the  recent Christian martyrs, advocates from both sides of these essential debates about “who or what we are”, have paid the ultimate price for their convictions. And yet, certain truths continue to be affirmed amidst the changing of the cosmos, reflecting both constancy and change in our evolving paradigm of understanding the truths of creation. Cannato offers this anecdote, taken from the life of Albert Einstein, as evidence of how difficult it can be for adherents of either group when confronting such a paradigm shift.

“Steeped in Newtonian physics, Einstein operated out of the world view that the cosmos were fixed, much like a machine. But while doing the mathematical computations that led him to propose the Special Theory of Relativity, he began to see the sweeping implications of his work. If his calculations were correct - and we know that they are - the universe rather than being fixed, was expanding in all directions. Implied in this insight was the idea that the expansion was away from a single point from which all matter emanates. Einstein, stunned by the implications of his work and reluctant to offer information that would so radically alter what for centuries had been held as truth, fudged his number equations! He changed the numbers in order to maintain a static, fixed universe. It took another mathematician, Russian Alexander Friedmann, to call Einstein on his ‘mistake’. Later, in 1931. Edwin Hubble invited Einstein to view the cosmos from is observatory on Mount Wilson, enabling him to see with his own eyes that the implication of his theory was true, that the universe was indeed expanding.”

It not easy to shake up the consensus of one's peers, even for geniuses like Einstein, Copericus or Thomas Aquinas - but each in his own way sent deep tremors through the consensual understanding of creation of their time. Today we are presented with a plethora of voices, each speaking from the perspective of their particular discipline, who are positing that humanity as a species is approaching such a transformational moment again; a moment that will provide a potential rapprochement of the cosmologies of faith, ethics and science.

Thomistic philosophy, Aquinas’ gift to Catholic theology, provides a system which is mirrored by recent discoveries in the field of Special Relativity. For example,  Thomism teaches that everything that exists possesses the ‘accidents’ of its distinct existence, but essentially everything that is, is composed of one ‘substance’ which he labeled ‘Prime Matter’. Physics now teaches that all matter is simply a different frequency of light or radiation that emanated from the flash of the Big Band;  light that has evolved into matter. Matter which itself then evolved into life and ultimately (at least as far as we are concerned as humans) to a point where sentience and self-awareness emerged. It is not hard to see the parallel nature of these two explanations.

Archeology provides similar evidence that points to parallels with the Genesis account of how we came to exist as a species. We now know that our progenitors like ‘Lucy’ were steps in our genetic progress that introduced the various components of what we now call homo sapiens, distant cousins from our history who possessed some but not all the capacities that we do. We have discovered that humans actually sprung from a single source in Central Africa. So, whether we hold to evolution or not, ontologically we can declare a priori that there existed a ‘first’ man and woman from whom we all sprang. This is the same narrative contained in Genesis. This is another strand of the emerging convergence which is obliterating the wall that divides the wisdoms of science and Judeo-Christian theology.


In fact, various branches of the physical and social sciences proffer similar discoveries and advancements from  their specific disciplines that are adding to our understanding of mysteries of the universe. Answers that seem to confirm the intuitions and teachings of Christianity. 


Is science revealing the 'face of God'? If so, it would a 'radical amazement' for many today.

19 comments:

  1. I'm sorry to say this, but applying the theory of evolution to your reasoning, just tells us that once upon a time, we were only cells, cells are asexuel and this is from the law of biogenesis.

    So explain to me where are Adam and Eve in this, if its true ?

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  2. Anonymous: You've missed my point. Archeology now says that every human alive today comes from one place in Africa... home of a genetic 'Adam and Eve' - not necessarily the persons of scripture. I am simply pointing out that this science (just as physics is doing in studying the cosmos) is discovering that scripture contains more 'truth' than moderns have given it credit for.

    Fr. Tim

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  3. Thank you for this article.

    I have just come across the address to Pontifical Academy of Sciences by John Paul the Great which could be an addition to your points.

    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/speeches/1998/october/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_19981027_p-a-ciencias_en.html

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  4. Science says humans evolved gradually over time from non human ancestors. We can trace our lineage back to single cell organisms billions of year ago. Christian religion says God created man in his own image. There is no creation of man in science, oonly gradual evolution. The fact that humans all humans evolved from ancestors who lived on the African continent has nothing to do with the Genesis myth.

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  5. Michael,

    "The fact that all humans evolved from ancestors who lived on the African continent has nothing to do with the Genesis myth."

    You call evolution a "fact", but you might consider evolution is not a fact; from what I understand, it is only a theory. It has never been proven; nor has it been observed. For a scientific theory to become a proven fact, it must meet certain requirements, which has never been done for the theory of evolution. Professor Philip Stott, a christian creation scientist, who is very knowledgeable on the flaws of the theory of evolution and has demonstrated in his slide-show presentations that the theory is full of holes. He has also demonstrated the long age of the earth theory has also been demonstrated to be faulty.

    The biblical account of creation is a supernatural occurrence, as are other supernatural events recorded in the Bible. For that reason it is not possible to explain it with the scientific method. Those who believe in the Genesis account are doing so I believe on the basis it is a supernatural occurrence.

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  6. That life on this planet evolved over time from a common ancestor as stated in the theory of evolution is as much of a fact as the sun is the center of the solar system as stated in the heliocentric theory. I would suggest that you remove your religious blinkers and accept this scientific evidence as it is, one of the strongest theories we have based upon dna, fossil, embryonic development, distribution of animal life and lastly current observational evidence.

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  7. STG: You are using the word 'theory' in an inappropriate sense. A scientific theory is one that is supported by evidence and facts and seeks to explain a process of investigation. Put another way, it is the intelligent cobbling together of facts to explain reality in a way which elucidates a process of nature.

    It is called a theory because it is always open to correction, testing and sometimes even being overthrown in the light of new evidence.

    It is more than just a mental construct.

    Fr. Tim

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  8. Tim,

    You said "STG: You are using the word 'theory' in an inappropriate sense."

    Michael,

    You said "I would suggest that you remove your religious blinkers and accept this scientific evidence as it is, one of the strongest theories we have based upon dna, fossil, embryonic development, distribution of animal life and lastly current observational evidence."

    Gentlemen,

    Obviously you accept as fact what is in essense only a theory based upon other theories, assumptions, and presuppositions.

    Unfortunately, as most people, you have probably not heard an alternate point of view. It is understandable that you would accept as fact something that is unproven but has had wide distribution and touted as fact for the past 150 years.

    Professor Philip Stott, has written an excellent little book called "Vital Questions" where he examines the theory of evolution and other related matters in the light of accumulating scientific evidence.

    At the start of his book, he says:

    "The wisdom of man has progressed through several stages. The "wise" men, the philosophers of history, long considered that human reason was all that was needed to arrive at knowledge of "truth". But many conclusions reached by pure reason, after being held for centuries perhaps, were found to be simply not true. The problem was that reasoning always had to start with assumptions. The fact that the conclusions were sometimes wrong suggested that the initial assumptions were faulty." Chap.3 p.1

    He further points out that "one can only be reasonably sure of the conclusions if every item of data relevant to the problem is available for consideration. That, unfortunately for science, is not usually the case. Huge gaps in available data may have to be filled in by presupposition and assumption. Such assumptions are totally dependent on the world-view, the underlying belief system, of the seeker after knowledge."

    The history of science demonstrates that he is correct. Three hundred years ago, chemists were convinced that fire was caused by something escaping from a burning body. They called "phlogiston".

    After weighing the products of combustion, it was found that the sum of all burned components weighed more than the initial weight of the sample. Instead of abandoning the theory, they developed another theory that phlogiston had "negative mass".

    There are other examples, even in the past century, where science has been found later to have been wrong. There have been a number of major errors made by science.

    In the area of paleoanthropology, when scientists have examined the remains of humans and apes, they have boldly announced the discovery of the "the primitive ancestors of man". They have later been found to be wrong. It is not uncommon for an ape-man to be reconstructed from one or two teeth.

    The discovery of Nebraska man was to be a prime evidence for establishing the "fact" of evolution. Nebraska man was re-constructed from one tooth.

    Professor Osborne reasoned that "because the tooth had such a shape, the jaw must have had a particular shape to hold it. Because the jaw had such a form, the skull must have had a specific shape for it to fit onto. To hold such a skull the body must have had such a shape and so on. Such reasoning produced not only the Nebraska man but his tools, his wife, her cooking utensils and the hut they lived in."

    Nebraska man was given the impressive name of "Hesperopithecus" and took his place on the "family tree of Man". Finally it was discovered, to great embarrassment, that an identical tooth was found with it's original owner, a wild pig!

    So much for the scientific method.

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  9. Gentlemen,

    So how did scientists make these errors concerning the origin of man? The answer has to do with the paradigm which they held to.

    Professor Stott explains that until the middle of the last century, almost all scientists held to a different paradigm. Most scientists believed that the God of the Bible had created the universe and everything in it we see today. They interpreted their observations in accordance with this world view or paradigm.

    The prevailing paradigm today which guides scientists in their thinking is secular humanism. It maintains that "life is purely a natural phenomenon which came about through biological evolution".

    The professor says "science is not the infallible source of true knowledge that many have been led to believe. It relies heavily on the views of the scientists themselves."

    Everyone accepts that a wrist watch required a designer at some point. The human eye is vastly more complex than a watch and obviously requires a designer. Charles Darwin admitted in his famous book, the Origin of the Species, that "the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree." But says Professor Stott "this is exactly what is required to believe in the theory of evolution."

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  10. Dear Michael and Tim, You two are correct!

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  11. Another interesting angle to this subject is the Vatican's attempt to syncretize christianity, and in particular the Genesis account of creation with science. The reason they do this is to try to retain the millions of followers to their point of view. Many people lack the faith to accept the literal interpretation of Genesis but are quite willing to believe a man-made interpretation that will, at least on the surface, appear to reconcile the contradiction between the two. To be accepted by the world, one must sell out the truth for the sake of popularity.

    By setting themselves up as the final authority on the interpretation of Scripture, they have painted themselves into a corner. At this point the masses of faithful now expect that they will have the true answers to the whole question of how to interpret Genesis and the claims of modern science such as the theory of evolution. This has left them coming up with philosophical reasonings that sound logical on the surface, but if one digs a little deeper, not really. Syncretism does not answer the real challenge to them by those who accept the biblical account. One either believes the biblical account of creation or rejects it in favour of a man-made explanation.

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  12. Steve MacLeod11 November, 2010

    Hi Father Tim
    Have you read any of the work of Reasons to Believe and the Scientests connected with this organization. They have recently put forward a a testable model for creation. They are authentic Christ believers but they are not what you would call creationists. They hold that the Earth and the Universe is billions of years old etc. They might have something you may find interesting or useful

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  13. Fr.Tim: It's a shame that your blog post is being hijacked by creationist/literallist nonsense. I appreciate that you have a bit more patience for this than I do. Schlastic efforts to reconcile big bang cosmology and subsequent evolution with Christian thought are admirable. Though I cannot share your faith, your argument is cogent and clear.

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  14. @Michael

    Actually, heliocentric theory works, from a certain point of view.(obi-wan talk, I know) Everything we know about outer space, we know by viewing from the central point of earth, and it goes around the sun. Functionally, then we are at the center of the universe, as we basically can see objects within a given sphere with earth's orbit at its center.

    And actually, from the point of view of earth, everything does move around us. The sun literally rises and sets every day, if we take ourselves as the point of reference. Whne you think about it, any measurement of velocity is relative to a given point of reference. Normally, we take the biggest thing around as a reference - the earth, in that case moves around the sun, but there is no reason why we can't just use the earth, the sun, or betelgeuse as absolute reference.

    On the Adam/Eve thing, the bible does not say that Adam and Eve were created out of nothing, but from the dirt and Adam's rib. The rib thing is clearly not a scientific explanation, unless we find an ancient cloning/genetic design machine in central Africa, but when you look at it from a fable point of view, then it makes more sense. Man came from things that were not men, which were of the earth (Monkeys!) and all living humans came from an original couple. This is what the science is telling us, though I find it a little difficult to believe - what about inbreeding?

    Anyhow, I ramble, but the point of all this is that if you're not hellbent on defending a particular interpretation of events, biblical or otherwise, this whole world makes a lot more sense. Or, at least you'll be able to see where the crazy arguements make sense to their proponents, and keep your head in the clear, more or less.

    Cheers, and God Bless

    PS - this is a different anonymous

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  15. Chris: Thank you for the compliment.

    Fr. Tim

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  16. A geologist cracks open a piece of shale, and observes the fossil remnants of an animal that lived on earth a long time ago. As the shale exists, as does the fossil. This justifies a note in the geologist’s log, “Today I found a fossil.” It is a true statement; it is a fact.

    From such evidence, and evidence observed elsewhere, a reconstruction of the geological past become possible. It is built up from numbers of facts being brought together, such that a geologist might say, “ Where there is land now, once there was ocean, and in that ocean there were many fish.” In this way he can reconstruct a possible world very different from what exists now.

    This possible world may be considered just a matter of imagination. But it would seem much more than that. The geologist would be inclined to say, “ The Devonian period, a time
    when fish were dominant, really did exist.”

    Thus the statement, “This fish lived in a Devonian sea,” would be considered true even though the fish is now dead, and the Devonian sea is no more.

    We have reasonable “confidence” that we can so speak of the past. There can be facts about the past. But perhaps better word than “confidence” is perhaps “faith.” Faith that our representations of reality, either of the past, the present, and perhaps even the future, have a very good chance of being true. This is to say that there is standard of truth which is retained and applicable to a number of different circumstances, spread over time. That we have recurring faith that truth is possible, supports the notion that that God is possible. Without a recurring sense of what is true, it is debateable whether we could ever be considered sane.

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  17. Tim is a long-suffering and patient soul. He is to be commended for allowing freedom of speech from people such as myself who disagree and express a contrary view. I hope that God blesses him somehow for his tolerance. I imagine there are some who would simply shut out opinion contrary to their own. It would be a very boring blog if all we heard from were those who agree.

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  18. I have this image of the Big Bang being something intensely bright and visually spectacular. However, hang on a minute!

    We see things because of radiant energy/eye being stimulated/nervous system and brain responding/ and all this being decoded into a visual event within the mind. Thus the universe is illuminated because it is seen, not because it is intrinsically visible. The energy that we do see is only a small part of the radiant energy in the universe. Still, being able to see is definitely a privilege, and visualization is remarkable feature of our psychological makeup. What we could claim is that our minds light up the universe. That having be said the originating ties to perception must not be forgotten, and not everything that we can visually imagine is real;
    we must guard against delusion.

    The eye, however, and the visible world are remarkably attuned for each other. The world and the universe are seemingly meant to seen- all part of a very coordinated effort, within which we are able to participate. Though individually we are challenged to establish the significance of ourselves, we are nevertheless can be inspired by the wonder of creation.

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