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Science and the existence and omnipotence of God

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Until the modern period, our understanding of the natural world was greatly influenced by the Greek philosopher Aristotle, much of whose natural science focused on demonstrating the purpose within nature. Since we live in a purposeful universe, a fertile symbiosis was able to develop between the writings of Aristotle and Catholic theologians such as Augustine, and hence the theology of the Christian church. However, as the centuries progressed, Aristotle’s approach became an impediment to scientific progress, and the study of purpose was replaced by the study of etiology and mechanisms. Despite this, a 17th century scientist such as Isaac Newton continued to view his scientific work in religious terms as demonstrating the glory of God within the natural world. By the 19th century science and religion would sever their relationship. Science would distance itself from matters of religion, and religion was expected to keep its nose out of science. Thus it was that the notion of a randomly developing universe was able to become dominant within science, while the concept of design within the universe became a matter solely of religious belief. 

Even an influential Jewish religious thinker as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was able to state that science has little to contribute to theological issues. In his book “The Great Partnership: Science, Religion and the Search for Meaning” he writes:

The heavens proclaim the glory of God; they do not proclaim the existence of God. All that breaths praises its Creator; it does not furnish philosophical verification of a Creator.”1

 

Sacks will devote an entire chapter of this book discussing the improbability of the natural world being other than the creation of God. Nevertheless, this does not dissuade him that only religion provides meaning to life and only religion provides answers to such ultimate questions as the existence of God.  

 

​This chapter will argue that this approach, whether in the name of science or religion, shortchanges both. The scientific evidence for the existence of God is overwhelming, and it defies logic to confine discussion of His existence to the straightjacket of faith. Moreover, limiting His existence solely to faith implies that science-based arguments provide only intimations of His existence and are therefore open to discussion and doubt. While it is true that science cannot provide moral direction, this does not mean that science is silent about meaning within the cosmos. In actuality, modern science has much to say about God and the purposefulness within the universe He created.

 

Firstly, a definition. This chapter will define a proof as a proposition that cannot be refuted, either because of its internal logic or because of the weight of circumstantial evidence. Clearly, God’s existence can never be demonstrated experimentally. This does not mean, though, that His existence is not open to proof through a plethora of scientific evidence, particularly in relation to the beginning of the universe. 

 

​In this essay, proof for the existence of G-d is based on the following:

  • Scientific evidence that the universe had a beginning at which time energy and matter were brought into existence from non-existence. 

  • Scientific evidence that the universe possesses unity. 

  • Scientific evidence that the universe has purpose.

 

Matter and Energy from Nothing

 

It is suggested that the following two propositions constitute logically irrefutable proof for the existence of God:

1.  No physical process can begin without a Primary Cause.  

2.  Matter and energy cannot create themselves spontaneously but require the creative activity of a super-natural Being.”

 

The Big Bang has been considered proven since the 1960s. Prior to this time, most physicists favored the Steady State Theory, which postulated a stable universe without beginning or end. 

However, by the beginning of the 20th century a series of discoveries in astrophysics began casting doubts on a steady state universe. Using ever more powerful telescopes, far galaxies were found to be a lot more distant from Earth than previously assumed. Light emanating from these galaxies also demonstrated a spectral shift, implying that they were moving further away from earth, a fact incompatible with a steady state universe.   

 

It was the work of Penzias and Wilson working in Bell Labs in the 1960s that transformed the Big Bang from theory to fact. Their discovery was fortuitous. They had noticed background interference in their radio telescopes and they investigated its source. Pointing their telescopes to distant galaxies made no difference to this interference, which seemed to permeate space. 

Meanwhile, another group of physicists had postulated that if the Big Bang theory was correct, light from this event should permeate the universe. Very shortly after a Big Bang, neutrons, protons and electrons would have combined into hydrogen atoms. Light would no longer be trapped, and photons, or particles of light, would be disseminated into the universe. Since the universe is expanding, the frequency of these light waves would be “stretched,” and this echo would now be discernable as radio-waves, or more accurately microwaves, which have a broader frequency than light waves. This was the cosmic background radiation discovered by Penzias and Wilson. For their fortuitous discovery, Penzias and Wilson were awarded a Nobel Prize in 1978.

​The universe is estimated to have begun about 13¾ billion years ago.  At time zero, all matter and energy of the universe was concentrated within a small primordial focus. All subatomic particles, energy and light are derived from this focus. Before time zero there was nothing. The initiation of the process whereby matter and energy were created from nothing cannot be described scientifically since it is in the realm of metaphysics. Nevertheless, this does not make it less of a fact. 

 

Despite this, there have been well-known physicists who have attempted to remove God from our universe by suggesting that our universe is one of an infinite number of universes. Only by chance does the one we live in possesses the physical laws and scientific constants that make physical existence possible. However, the existence of multiple universes is unproven and un-provable. Moreover, all universes, whether one or many, all require a beginning and the creation of matter and energy from non-existence. 

An alternative argument, that all matter and energy spontaneously spun themselves into existence equally defies logic and all principles of science. The creation of something from nothing can only be metaphysical and can only be the work of God.

​Not only can God’s existence be proven from the Big Bang, but it is also possible to derive important philosophical principles from this happening. Since God’s existence preceded the creation of matter, God is non-corporeal. Neither is he limited by any of the forces or constants of nature.

 

The Unity of the Universe

 

The universe possesses unity, meaning that it functions as an integrated whole. This unity was not added to the universe sometime during its billions of years of evolution, but was present at its inception, and was a function of the fundamental forces of physics created at the time of the Big Bang. 

These forces are described by the Standard Model, which is a mathematical model linking together three of the four primary forces of physics, namely electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force. These forces are derived from subatomic particles called “bosons,” which were also created at the time of the Big Bang. The word “boson” is a technical term describing the quantum properties of these particles.

The force of electromagnetism is transmitted by a boson particle called a photon, and this force holds electrons in orbit around the neutrons and protons of atomic nuclei. The strong nuclear force is derived from a particle called the gluon, and is responsible for the binding of protons and neutrons together within atomic nuclei.  Z and w bosons transmit the weak nuclear force, a force responsible for forms of radioactive decay. This force also governs the fusion of helium atoms into hydrogen atoms. The sun is composed of helium, and its fusion into hydrogen releases energy, a process vital to us on earth. 

 

The fourth fundamental force of physics is the force of gravity. This is described mathematically by Einstein’s general theory of relativity. It has yet to be linked to quantum physics and is not included in the Standard Model.

The newly discovered Higg’s boson has nothing to do with the transmission of forces, but provides subatomic particles with mass. If not for this particle, subatomic particles involved in the weak nuclear force would speed away into the universe at the speed of light. The excitement regarding the recent discovery of the Higg’s particle, or “the God particle” as it is sometimes called, stems from its role as the lynchpin of the Standard Model. The existence of this particle was first postulated by Peter Higgs in 1964, and its discovery provides a unification of much of the subatomic world, with the exceptions of gravity and dark energy. The latter is another unknown force that appears to permeate the universe. 

A useful analogy for the unity of the universe are smart phones. These can be highly integrated in terms of their internal functioning and computer linkage. It defies logic to suggest either that their integration arose spontaneously and now continues by chance or that it was the product of unsupervised doodling by multiple programmers. If this is true for smart phones, it is even more so for the integration of our exquisitely coordinated universe. The essential unity of our universe was already evident within milliseconds of the Big Bang, being represented by the fundamental forces of nature, their bosons, their linkage within the Standard Model, and the physical constants of nature. 

The unity of the universe follows directly from the notion of a single Creator. Looking at the scientific discoveries of his time, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch wrote the following in the 19th century in his Collected Volumes:

“…  would not Judaism not be justified in viewing this idea of a universal unity, which enquiring minds have already pierced together from the textbook of the universe and which man’s consciousness yearns to express, as nothing less than the long-awaited triumph of the truth of Judaism? This is the truth with which, thousands of years ago, Judaism first appeared in the midst of a chaotic multitude of gods proclaiming that there is only one sole God in heaven and on earth, and that all the phenomena of the universe are founded upon His law.”

 

Our purposeful physical and biological universe and quantum physics

 

Our universe demonstrated purposeful design from its inception. This design is very evident in the world we live in, and it permitted the science of Aristotle to flourish for hundreds of years.

The design within our universe began from very simple beginnings. The first atom formed as a result of the tremendous heat of the Big Bang was hydrogen. This is the simplest atom that exists and it consists of a single neutron, proton and electron. The heat of the Big Bang also permitted the fusion of two hydrogen atoms to create helium, composed of 2 neutrons, 2 protons and 2 electrons. These two atoms constituted the earliest matter of the cosmos. 

 

​They also constituted the building blocks from which all subsequent matter was derived. More complex atoms were formed under the influence of the extreme heat of decomposing stars, a process termed stellar nucleosynthesis. Our planet Earth is composed of a multitude of natural elements formed from the dust of far-off stars that have clumped together under the influence of gravity.   

 

​The complexity of the 94 chemical elements or atoms comprising the universe is described by the periodic table. Each element in this table differs from the proceeding element by the addition of one proton plus one electron, with the number of protons constituting its atomic number. Atoms can therefore be conceptualized as building blocks, with the first piece of the set (hydrogen) so designed that additional complexity can be added under the appropriate physical conditions. Conceptually it is a simple system expressed in a beautiful arithmetic progression whereby the first simple, created matter carried within it the potential for the formation of all complex, future matter. 

 

Modern science accepts with little argument that the biological world also evolved in an evolutionary way. All animals arose from unicellular organisms. This would have entailed changes, or in scientific language mutations in the genetic material, DNA or RNA, of these organisms.

 

The religious world can accept evolution. What it cannot accept is Darwinian evolution, or the concept that the biological world arose as a result of random mutations. In other words, that the evolutionary process proceeded without guidance and that the universe we see around us arose totally by chance.

 

This point is emphasized in the Bible’s first creation account. The situation for plant life is described as follows:

And Elokim said: “Let the earth sprout vegetation of plants bringing forth seed, trees of fruit yielding fruit each after its kind (lemino), which have their seed in them on the earth. And it was so (Genesis 1:11).

 

And for the animal world:

 

And Elokim said: Let the earth bring forth living soul, each according to its kind (lemino); animal, and creeping thing, and beast of the land each according to its kind (lemino). And it was so (Genesis 1:24).

 

The operative word in these sentences is “lemino.” The biological world of animals and plants was created “by its kind (lemino),” or as we would say nowadays by species.

 

All the animal and plant species we see around us are viable species. We never see mixed up or incomplete species, although we do see defects as a result of rare mutations. However, these mutations are unable to perpetuate themselves. Moreover, each animal and plant species is biologically unable to mix its genetic material with other species. Everything biological from the simplest to the most complex stays within “its kind.” Not only this, but the male and female of each plant and animal also stays perfectly true to “its kind.” In other words, for the evolution of each species, evolution must have proceeded along two tracks producing unique males and females of the same “kind.”

 

This means that on the one hand each species is extremely tight at a molecular level so as to prevent genetic drift. On the other hand, there must have been enough flexibility within its genetic material to allow for its evolution. How could both these opposing trends be the case?  The reality is that on a scientific level we do not know.

 

The evolutionary process involved multiple steps that are so complex that it is impossible that they proceeded by chance alone. In fact, even no more than the development of a single enzymatic reaction is highly complex. It needs processes for its embryonic generation, a means of biochemical interaction, means to affect its cellular action, and processes that influence its reaction rate at an organelle, organ or whole animal level.

 

Moreover, it is unlikely that any evolutionary step arose in a manner that was not in a natural manner, i.e., that it arose miraculously. Hence, if we accept natural evolution, then we have to say that chance itself is controlled by God.    

 

Until the 1920s, the notion that God controls and influences the natural world would have been difficult to accept since there was no place for Him in this world other than as an observer. Until that time it was held that the universe functions like balls on a pool table. Every action leads to a further reaction, all of which follow the laws of Newtonian physics. If God wished to control nature, He would have had to break its laws, i.e., do it miraculously. 

 

However, quantum physics tells us that the subatomic world is a very strange place indeed. There is a duality in the subatomic world, such that light and subatomic matter can function both as particles or in the form of waves. The position and momentum of subatomic particles can also never be precisely determined (Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle). This means that the positions of electrons in an atom can only be described in terms of probabilities. Potentially, electrons can be found at any distance from the nucleus, although depending on their energy level they exist more frequently in certain regions around the nucleus than others. In other words, the quantum world is not a precise, deterministic world, but a fuzziness of probabilities. God operates within this subatomic fuzziness and is thereby able to do with nature as He wills. Or put another way – He controls chance.

 

Albert Einstein believed in God. He also had philosophical problems with the quantum physics being described in his day. He believed in a deterministic universe governed by the forces and laws of nature and could not conceive of a universe functioning by chance as implied by quantum physics. “God does not play dice with the universe” he is reported to have said in a debate between himself and the well-known physicist Niels Bohr. Chance produces chaos, which is the very opposite of design.

 

There is a solution to this dilemma, although not necessarily one that Einstein was prepared to accept. This is that it is God who throws the dice. Within the fuzziness of the subatomic quantum world, God has the ability to control chance and to thereby create design and purpose in His universe. 

 

The role of the Jewish people is to convince themselves of these truths and to promote them to the rest of the world. This would explain some agricultural laws found in the Torah:

 

You shall observe my statues: you shall not mate your animal with another species, you shall not plant your field with mixed seed; and a garment that is a mixture of combined fibers shall not come upon you (Leviticus 19:19).

 

These laws are repeated again in the book of Deuteronomy although with a slightly different emphasis:

 

You shall not sow your vineyard with a mixture, lest the growth of the seed that you plant and the produce of the vineyard become forbidden. You shall now plow with an ox and a donkey together. You shall not wear combined fibers, wool and linen together (Deuteronomy 22:9-11).

 

Hence, a Jew should not mate a male beast with any kind of domestic or wild animal that is not of its species. Nor should a Jew plant together two species of crops in his field, such as wheat together with barley or beans with lentils. Different trees can be planted together, but not in a vineyard.

 

This group of statues can be explained by saying that God created a perfect world and He does not wish for man to interfere with His creations.3 But this is inadequate. Different animal species cannot be successfully mated together. (The only exception is the product of a union between a donkey and a mule which produces a donkey. However, the donkey is infertile). Planting two crops in a field has no influence on subsequent generations of plants. Spinning together wool and linen in a garment has no effect on the future source of the fibers. Rather, what these laws are emphasizing is not the perfection of creation, since this is obvious, but it is a Creator who made it so. These statutes have no practical benefit to society but are meant to impress on the Jewish people a fundamental religious concept. This is explained by Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch in his commentary to the Torah: 

 

It is quite evident that already in mixing of seeds the prohibition goes further than forbidding any interference in God’s Laws of Nature regarding mating. It is rather to bring man in his work of plant culture to the thought of the Creator’s rule of leminahu (by its species) and thereby to God Himself, the Lawgiver in Nature whose lawgiving does not begin with the Jewish Nation or even with man but whose law rules all formative force, and to Whom the smallest seedling and the tiniest fiber of all organic life yield obedience.4

 

In sum, science can provide a sense of meaning and purpose to the universe, since science is the investigation of a universe formed by a Creator who endowed it with meaning and purpose. It can also lead us to philosophical truths. It can provide us, for example, with an appreciation of the omnipotence of a God who has the ability to influence every subatomic particle in the universe and through this ability can influence chance and the evolution of the animal, plant and physical worlds. 

References

1.  The Great Partnership: Science, Religion and the Search for Meaning” by Jonathan Sacks, p72. Hodder & Stoughton; First Edition, 2011.

 

2. Quoted in The Challenge of Creation: Judaism’s Encounter with Science, Cosmology, and Evolution by Rabbi Natan Slifkin.

 

3. Sefer HaChinuch. Law 244 by Rabbi Pinhas haLevi of Barcelona. Translated by Charles Wengrov. Volume III, p90. Feldheim Publishers Jerusalem/New York. The Sages tell us that there is no prohibition in mixing fruit trees except in a vineyard. There is a prohibition in grafting fruit trees, although not in eating the fruit from such a tree. There is no prohibition in altering species by DNA manipulation.

 

4. The Pentateuch. Translation and Commentary by Samson Raphael Hirsch. Leviticus 19:19. Judaica Press, 1989.

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