Friday, August 12, 2011

Architect and Engineer

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and without Him not one thing came into being. (John 1.1-3)

Dead Horse

“Curiosity,” Stephen Hawking's new TV series, would appear ready-made for believers who regard faith and science as two halves of a greater whole. The same can be said of devout atheists, whose faith is science. Odds favor both groups comprising the bulk of the audience for its first episode, “Did God Create the Universe?”—with the remnant split between casually interested, non-religious viewers and Biblical literalists tuning in to be outraged by Hawking's stridently anti-Creationist stance. (Why Big Bang and Darwinian opponents flock where their beliefs are ridiculed is a mystery worthy of its own series.) In his latest book, The Grand Design—which Creationists pummeled soundly—Hawking makes no bones about dismissing belief in God as a medieval superstition. Citing immutable natural laws like gravity and inertia, he concludes there’s no need for a Creator. Ergo, the universe is a cosmic machine naturally endowed with self-perpetuating forces that explain its origins and existence.

Hawking, who naïvely supposes the faith-science relationship hasn’t advanced since Galileo’s discovery of Earth’s orbit brought down the Vatican’s wrath, flogs a dead horse. Parlaying the universe’s origins into a pretense for presuming God isn’t real, he ignores a premise enlightened believers of all creeds intuitively grasp: God and Nature, science’s Big Bang and Scripture’s Dawn of Time, Genesis and Darwin are “yes/and,” not “either/or,” propositions. An enlightened mind can’t dispute Hawking's opinion it’s medieval to reject scientific evidence that the corrects Creation narratives’ factual inaccuracies. Yet putting all one’s eggs in the science basket to disprove faith (which, by definition, can’t be empirically proved), is no less literal and, hence, every bit as medieval.

It’s scientifically reckless of Hawking to negate God’s existence as a self-evident corollary of natural law without first investigating the possibility invisible faith and apparent fact can, and do, coexist. While he needles his moribund is-God-real question, the postmodern world—believers and non-believers alike—wrestles with a much bigger, far more relevant mystery: What is God’s role in our world and lives? For regardless if one perceives God is real, the global population’s overwhelming faith in divine power indubitably plays a supremely significant role in daily life. Simply contemplating God as a phenomenon of faith—an unquantifiable Force of Nature unto Itself—puts just-the-facts-ma’am types like Hawking out of their depth. Yet what is curiosity if not jumping in over one’s head to see what’s there? The most curious aspect of “Curiosity” is Hawking's obvious discomfort with it.

Not One Thing

In a recent Walking in the Shadows post (“Is That Hubris or What?”), Sherry Peyton compares Bible literalists and atheists and finds, “Both agree, that both evolution and God cannot be [compatibly] true. Both, in utter arrogance, choose one side or the other because they, in their superior believing minds, believe that their constructs of God are unquestionably right.” Her frank appraisal leads to a sage reminder that balancing both sides requires humility to confess we can’t possibly nail down answers to all the questions. Conclusive proof of the universe and humanity’s origins ultimately would dispense with any need for faith or science. Believers who mistake Scriptural truth for empirical fact make trusting God’s Word pointless. If it’s all there in black-and-white, why is faith such a big deal? One doesn’t need faith to read newspapers and textbooks; they record objectively verifiable facts. But the Bible purposefully provokes questions and triggers doubts to engender faith; it’s packed with truth we can’t understand without accepting its invitation to believe.

In a similar way, science subscribes to data and observation as a means of constructing theories that provide logical insights into what we can’t comprehend. To borrow from “Curiosity”, while science can define an eclipse’s mechanics, it can’t explain why one occurs because no one knows why or how orbital gravity and inertia exist. That’s my gripe with Hawking's hubris to propose our capacity to quantify and observe Nature’s mechanics obviates the need for a Creator. Knowing with a reliable degree of certainty that immutable natural forces generated our vast universe, planet, and its astonishing diversity of life forms begs the same question the Creation narratives address. All Hawking does is transpose the question from “Where did we come from?” to “Where did the forces of Nature that got us here come from?” He implies they preexist the cosmos and because they’re immutable, they will outlast it.

Hawking and those who agree with him believe this, which fundamentally places them alongside we who believe God preexists and will outlast Creation. Either way, trying to unravel the mystery of existence mandates faith in a Creative Source, which John 1.1-3 majestically declares: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through the Word, and without the Word not one thing came into being.” Not one thing came into being without God—not a star, an organism, not one force of Nature. A Creator isn’t needed for the universe to exist? Such logic falls apart by not dismantling God’s role in creating the forces it credits with constructing the cosmos. Why don’t Hawking and his confrères do that? It can’t be done.

Before the Facts

Entitling his refutation of God’s existence and creative role in the universe The Grand Design is Hawking's backhanded slap at proponents of “intelligent design,” the crafty, PC moniker adopted by science-hostile Creationists. It’s a petty gesture befitting both sides of this spat. Creationists and atheists alike expose their folly by reducing God to a day laborer, arguing for and against Genesis’ framing the Creation as a six-day task. Given all we’ve learned since its writing, we know Genesis doesn’t jibe with the facts. But even the ancients realized before the facts that Genesis uses the workweek as an organizing metaphor to depict the sequence in which the universe and life on Earth came to be. Throughout Scripture, Creation’s timeframe isn’t a sticking point; indeed, as we see in John, it’s seldom mentioned, because it’s unimportant.

What matters is exactly what John stresses: God is present at the beginning because God precedes the beginning. The laws of Nature Hawking vests with so much importance are visibly apparent in Genesis. God speaks the Word and they go to work. At God’s command, heavenly bodies reel through space and settle in fixed orbit. The Earth heaves and pitches and solid ground rises from the sea. Life begins in the water, takes to the air, and infests dry land. And, finally, we take shape in God’s own time by God’s own hand, in which the Laws of Nature reside.

Talk about hubris! It takes a lot of gall to confine the immortal God to a mortal timeline. Whether six days or millions of years, they’re a blink of an eye to God. Getting wrapped up in how long Creation took—let alone suggesting that proves or disproves God’s existence—is ridiculous. We don’t measure the Creator’s role by the hour, as if God were a cosmic worker punching a timecard. Because God preexists everything that is, including the forces that caused everything to be, God remains the universe’s Architect and Engineer. What’s more, God is still on the job, because Creation is an ongoing process. God is still speaking and forces are still coming into play and marvelously inexplicable new wonders are still appearing in the skies, on the earth, and in us. Surely we can all agree about that.

Most holy Creator, entice us to discover the gifts of faith and science. Help us to get over our craving to know it all, so we can truly believe You are our Source. Amen.

It makes a whole lot of sense to presume the universe exploded into existence. But it still doesn’t explain whence the forces of Nature that caused the explosion.


Sherry Peyton said...

I've been holding this post for a few days while my life settled back down so I could address it, I hope, with some intelligence.

We watched the show in question, and although I have always enjoyed Hawkings, I was disappointed in his reasoning. (I knew of his position long ago).

He played a game of..."time begins with the big bang. Time doesn't exist before, Space didn't exist before, since they are inextricably bound, and therefore there is NO THING before the exploding singularity. He literally defines it away.

The problem is that Hawking now is in a distinct minority among theoretical physicists. Most, I'd believe a clear majority, are convinced that there very much was a "before" our Big Bang, in fact this may be a very active multi-universe in which new universes are being created regularly.

Of course, ultimately this doesn't answer Hawkings claims, but frankly, the question of "what was before that?" is forever unreachable isn't it?

An very interesting panel discussion comprised of a theologian and three other theoretical physicists seemed to agree that there was certainly every possibility of a deity engaged in the creative act, although to be sure they were not inclined to accept a literalist interpretation.

I think Hawking was essentially dishonest in his argument. It plays well to the atheists, angers the people he wants to attack: the fundamentalists, and is just a sheer disappointment to those of us who believe and yet are open enough to see our God in a much greater grandeur than as a puppetmaster.

Thanks for your elegant argument Tim. You speak with great beauty the truth we all share.

Blessings, Sherry

Tim said...

Sherry, I'm so glad you chimed in to help bring clarity to this discussion--particularly to one point which I glossed over: Hawking's convenient connection of time/space and existence. In saying he's convinced the forces of Nature preexist the Bang, I didn't mean to imply they were eternally preexistent, but only that they were there as the catalysts of the main event. I need to go back and clarify that. Thank you.

I too found the discussion interesting in its non-committal inclusion of a Deity behind the universe. I'm also fascinated by the multi-universe theory, particularly since it makes God so much bigger! (And gets us further from the medieval idea that got Galileo into such hot water. We are not the center of the universe; God's creativity is not limited to us. And the real beauty I find in this is how our cosmic insignificance doesn't diminish God's concern for each of us. That's the greatest miracle of all, I think!

Thanks again for weighing in. You're so much more adept and better informed on this topic, I was very eager to get your thoughts. And thanks for the inspiration!