Interview of the Week


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For this week’s session, Day Star’s president, Fred Heeren interviews the following four astronomers to discuss where science ends and faith begins:

ARNO PENZIAS, 1978 winner of the Nobel prize for physics, co-discoverer of the cosmic background radiation, Vice-President, Research, AT&T Bell Laboratories.

GEORGE SMOOT, leader of the NASA COBE satellite team that first detected cosmic “seeds” for our universe, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.

ROBERT GANGE, thermo-physicist, Princeton, New Jersey, President of The Genesis Foundation.

ROBERT JASTROW, founder of NASA’s Goddard Institute, now director of the Mount Wilson Institute and its observatory.

Where Science Ends

HEEREN: Dr. Jastrow, is there anything we know now from quantum mechanics or inflation theory or anything else that can explain how the universe—and space itself—could have come out of absolutely nothing?

photoJASTROW: No, there's no, this is the most interesting result in all of science. Whether they came out of nothing or out of a pre-existing universe, as a product of forces that we have never discovered, no one knows the answers to that question, because the circumstances of nearly infinite heat pressure and density at the beginning of the universe necessarily wiped out any trace of a previous universe. So time, really, going backward, comes to a halt at that point. Beyond that, that curtain can never be lifted. . . .

As Einstein said, scientists live by their faith in causation, and the chain of cause and effect. Every effect has a cause that can be discovered by rational arguments. And this has been a very successful program, if you will, for unraveling the history of the universe. But it just fails at the beginning. And that is really a blow at the very fundamental premise that motivates all scientists.

As both a working scientist and a Christian apologist, Robert Gange brings a unique perspective to the issue of where science ends and faith begins. Dr. Gange serves as president of the Genesis Foundation in New Jersey, an organization chartered to show that the Bible is trustworthy from a scientific perspective. As the author of the book, Origins and Destinies, he argues that people of faith must be careful not to try to cross-fertilize the separate realms of science and faith. And science, he told me, has no business trying to deal with questions about ultimate origins.

GANGE: Science is, in my view, a Ph.D., meaning P for predictions, D for data, and H for hypothesis. Those are the three essential elements of science. Now the predictions have to be logical, the data have to be reproducible, and the hypotheses have to be falsifiable... So what happens here in science is that observations are made, and data is acquired through those observations that are replicated through other workers elsewhere. And so in that sense, the data is accepted as real because other people see it also. So it's a collective enterprise.

Then, that data inspires a hypothesis. There's a hypothesis that comes up to explain what one sees. That hypothesis in turn begins to produce predictions as to what else ought to be if the hypothesis is true. So then additional data gathering inspired by the hypothesis occurs. And again, it's reproducible. And so long as the hypothesis continues to answer every question that we can think to ask of it, it remains true. The moment it cannot be altered to satisfy what we're asking of it, it's falsified.

I've really quickly gone over this, but the fundamental point that I'm trying to bring out is, nowhere in that enterprise does the word faith appear. This is a collective judgment on the part of an international community of people who are trained in various disciplines and who meet on a regular basis in different ways to basically create some sense out of what is seen and understood. Faith is an entirely different issue... In my earlier years, I used to say, "Yeah, you can cross-fertilize those two." But as I've grown older, I tell you, in the last analysis, faith is truly a thing separate and apart from science. Now I will say that science is a friend of Scripture and not a foe. And especially when you get to the question of origins and the question of destiny, science has no place there...

There are only three categories of events in space and time: events that are reproducible, events that are unpredictable, and events that are singular. An event that's reproducible is the data of science. If you, for example, want to measure how fast an apple hits the ground when released a certain height above the ground, you can repeat that over and over and over again. . . . So reproducible events lend themselves to scientific inquiries. Whereas unpredictable events lend themselves to statistical inquiries. Events that are singular lend themselves to legal inquiries. And the question of whether there was a creation of the world or there is a destiny to man are singular inquiries. These are singular events. The creation of the world is a one-time event—it's a legal inquiry. Science has no proper jurisdiction in the question of origin or destiny.

To me, science is useful in helping us see that biblical faith can be reasonable, that it is not reserved for people who are ignorant of the real world and how it works. I have not created this web site to prove the Bible. Nobel-prize winning physicist Arno Penzias, however, appears to take a further step in separating science from faith:

PENZIAS: I do not believe that anyone should ever say that science agrees with religion. What I would say, which I think is a far more powerful statement, and one which allows people to be religious, is to say, the modern observations of science do not disagree with religion. . . . The double negative, the "not to disagree" I think is far more powerful, because after all, if tomorrow we find the steady state theory is right, would that mean you'd stop giving to charity?

HEEREN: Good point.

PENZIAS: We're merely saying that if science for a while goes into disagreement, we don't lose our faith. If we go back to Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed—it's a traditional, Jewish text, which says... I think it's, "Do not trust the words of any man [meaning particularly Aristotle, who taught an eternal universe], for it is the foundation of our faith that God created the universe from nothing, and that time did not exist before."

So what Maimonides said was that just because science is inconsistent at the present time with the tenets of our faith, don't believe it. So in other words, we are saying we can't have it both ways. We can't have scientists say that when there's disagreement, as there was in the days of Aristotle, that therefore we should stop believing. . . . Our ancestors had enough faith to believe even when science happened to be against them. I think it demeans religion to attempt to strengthen religion with this agreement. . . . I think instead what we ought to say is, "I think it's significant that there's no disagreement." I would hate to have a religion which is based on science. . . . It's a double negative. In my case, what I will always say is what we find is there's an absence of inconsistency.

HEEREN: Couldn't I turn that around just as well though and say the findings of the 20th century are consistent with the concept—"

PENZIAS: No. That's very different. That's very different.

HEEREN: Really.

PENZIAS: I think the absence of inconsistency is very different—to me—from consistency. I think there's a subtle difference, and I would insist on the difference. Because consistency between the two implies a much larger congruence. . . . The scientific perspective is a limited one. And because it's so limited, I think it's really that in this little part we find the absence of disagreement is much better than the agreement.

Curious to know if this was a commonly held view for scientists, I asked Dr. Jastrow about this distinction.

HEEREN: Arno Penzias told me that he would never say that any finding from science is consistent with the concept of a Creator, but rather he would only say that a finding is not inconsistent with such a concept.

JASTROW: Yeah, that's a very funny turn of language of my physics colleagues. "Not inconsistent with" is an identical synonym for "consistent with."

HEEREN: Well, that's the way it struck me, but he wanted to make that very careful distinction.

JASTROW: They all do, but there isn't a distinction. But I think what he wanted to say was that the presence of an intelligent being, a Creator, a designer, was independent of our physical knowledge, that science could not illuminate the question of such an entity existing.

HEEREN: Do you feel that this extreme carefulness about avoiding all talk of a Creator is a necessary one for good science, or that some scientists use it as an excuse to avoid thinking about God?

JASTROW: They tend not to be philosophically inclined. Maybe the point is that they feel instinctively that such a question is not answerable within the limits of their field. So since their basic understanding of the world is that everything should be answerable, they just don't like to talk about it.

When I talked about the consistent/not-inconsistent distinction with George Smoot, discoverer of the famous ripples in the microwave background radiation, he told me:

photoSMOOT: When scientists say something is consistent, they say, "The theory says that the earth is round, and I went out and measured an eclipse and I saw the shadow of the earth go across the moon, and it was round to within one percent, it's consistent with the theory that the earth is round." See, consistent, for scientists, means it's very supportive.

This helped me to see that, in the language of scientists, to say that the God of the Bible is consistent with science is practically the same as saying that science proves the existence of the Bible's God, as if science has found evidence to prove 99 percent of all that the Bible tells us about Him. Obviously, if science was that powerful, it would leave little room for faith. Faith would undoubtedly be easier if science had such power, but if faith became as common as dirt, could it then be as valuable a thing in God's eyes? There may be wisdom in listening to the admonitions of Arno Penzias and Robert Gange, who both see the need to clearly separate faith and science.

So of what use, from a spiritual viewpoint, is all this exploration into the findings of science? First, if the data of science do not contradict a book claiming revelation from God, then a skeptic can no longer use science as an excuse to reject that book. The Day Star Network is not here to encourage anyone to build his faith on science. At the same time, the findings reported in this series could help remove some major stumbling blocks to faith. After all, many have been taught (or have assumed) that the findings of science are inconsistent with books like the Bible. This needs to be cleared up. For the believer who wishes to talk to the skeptic today on his or her own terms, this may be an essential step before the skeptic will even begin to take a particular holy book seriously.

Further, what we can say is that the discoveries of modern science are consistent with a creation event and with intelligent design, as demonstrated in Day Star’s book, Show Me God. Atheism and religions that make out God to be one with the universe are inconsistent with modern cosmology; and during the periods of the Bible's composition, all other religions were inconsistent with modern science. Those who first believed in the God of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian New Testament stood alone against the views that surrounded them. They had neither the ability nor the need to have their beliefs "vindicated" by 20th-century cosmology.

Today, I maintain that the greatest scientific discoveries of our century make great conversation starters for the one who wants to tell others about his faith—especially if that faith is in a holy book that proclaims a beginning for our universe and a superintelligence behind the natural world as a transcendent Creator.

You'll find the whole history of these twentieth century cosmological discoveries, and the bigger implications for everyday life, in Day Star's new book, Show Me God.

To Robert Jastrow, “the most interesting result in all of science” is that the chain of cause and effect in our universe can be traced back just so far before we come to a sudden halt, a “curtain that can never be lifted.” This is apparently where science ends and faith begins. The alternative might be that, through science we could discover a purely natural beginning for the universe, or that through science, we could discover God. This last alternative is clearly absurd, which makes us wonder if God has purposely set up the universe this way. Finding God, then, is always an act of faith, or free will. Not irrational faith, but not pure intellectual power, either. Otherwise, what kind of justice would reward us eternally according to our ability to do scientific research?

How much do you think science will ever be able to tell us about the God or non-God behind this universe? If you don’t think that science can enlighten us on the question now, then how else might a person go about finding God?

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