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Science, Faith, and the Existence and Attributes of God

 

In this article, Dr Slyper argues that the scientific evidence for the existence of God is overwhelming, and it defies logic to confine His existence to the straightjacket of faith. 

 

Until the modern period, understanding of the natural world was greatly influenced by the ideas of 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 exist between Aristotle’s works, Catholic theologians such as Augustine, and 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, 17th century scientists such as Isaac Newton continued to view their scientific work in religious terms, as demonstrating the glory of God within the natural world.  By the 19thcentury, however, 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 functioning universe became the dominant direction within science, while the concept of design within the universe became a matter of religious belief. 

 

There are religious Jewish thinkers who also feel that science has little to contribute to theological issues.  In his latest book “The Great Partnership: Science, Religion and the Search for Meaning,” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks 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.”(p72)    

 

Sacks will devote an entire chapter to discussing the improbability of the natural world being other than the creation of God, which could imply that science has something to say about matters related to theology.  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 article 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 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.  Furthermore, while it is true that science cannot provide moral direction, this does not mean that science is silent about meaning within the cosmos.  In fact, modern science has much to say about God, His attributes, and the purposefulness within His universe.

 

Firstly, a definition.  This article will define a proof as a proposition that cannot be refuted, either because of its internal logic or because of the weight of the circumstantial evidence.  God’s existence clearly can never be demonstrated experimentally.  Nevertheless, this does not mean 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 and determination of His attributes are 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 1960’s.  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 imagined.  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.   

 However, it was the work of Penzias and Wilson working in Bell Labs in the 1960’s that transformed the Big Bang from theory to fact.  Their discovery was fortuitous.  They had noticed background interference in their radio telescopes, and they set out to discover its source.  Pointing their telescopes to distant galaxies made no difference to this interference, which seemed to permeate space.  They published their results.  Meanwhile, another group of physicists had postulated that if the Big Bang theory was correct, then light from this event should pervade the universe.  Very shortly after the 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 of the Big Bang would now be discernable as radio-waves, or more accurately microwaves, which have a broader frequency than light waves.  This must be 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 in a small primordial focus, and all subatomic particles, energy and light are derived from this focus.   Before this event 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 the metaphysical, but this does not make it less of a fact. 

 

Despite this, there are 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, and it is only by chance that 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 single or multiple, 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 since it is a reality, can only be the work of God.

Not only can God’s existence be proven from the Big Bang, it is also possible to derive important religious principles from this event.   Since God’s existence preceded the creation of matter, God is non-corporeal.  Space is a function of matter.  The existence of God preceded matter, and He is therefore above space.  This means, for example, that God is not 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 some time during its billions of years of evolution, but was present at its inception, being a function of the fundamental forces of physics that were also created at the time of the Big Bang.  If this were not so, the events in the aftermath of the Big Bang could not be studied mathematically.  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, which is described mathematically by Einstein’s general theory of relativity, but has yet to be linked to quantum physics, and is therefore 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, for example, 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 being another unknown force that appears to permeate the universe. 

 

A useful analogy for the unity of the universe is the Apple i-phone.   At least initially, and arguably even today, this phone is the most integrated of all smart phones in terms of its internal functioning and computer linkage.  It defies logic to suggest either that this 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 a smart phone, it is even more so for the integration of our exquisitely coordinated universe.  In fact, 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.” (quoted in The Challenge of Creation: Judaism’s Encounter with Science, Cosmology, and Evolution by Rabbi Natan Slifkin.

 

The unity of the universe under the sovereignty of God is one of the fundamental principles of the Torah, and was clearly enunciated by the prophet Moses in Deuteronomy:

 

“Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d. Hashem is One.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

 

There are many interpretations of this verse, which was to become the first verse of the Shemah prayer, and all describe fundamental aspects of God.  The simplest and most literal explanation is that this verse expresses belief in monotheism and has the meaning: “Hear O Israel … Hashem is the [only] One.”  

 

The Medieval exegete Rashi, no doubt bothered by the duplication of the name Hashem in this verse, provides an eschatological explanation based on Midrash Sifri.  [In the future], Hashem will be One:

 

The Lord who is our G-d now, but not (yet) the God of the (other) nations, is destined to be the One Lord, as it is said, “For then I will give to the peoples a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one consent (Zeph 3:9).  And (likewise) it is said, “And the Lord shall be king over all the earth; on that day shall the Lord be One and His name One” (Zecharia 14:9)

 

The Talmud suggests that this verse describes God’s role as the Creator and Coordinator of the universe.  

 

R’ Jeremiah was sitting before R’ Hiyya b Abba and the latter saw that [R’ Jeremiah, who was reading the Shema was the prolonging the word “echod” (one)]” very much.  He said to him: “Once you have declared Him king over [all that is] above and below and over the four corners of the heaven, no more is required.” (TB. Berochos 13b)

 

In this passage, the Talmud is telling us that it is Jewish practice to prolong the word “echad” (one) in this sentence of the Shema prayer so as to provide just enough time for contemplating God’s sovereignty over the unity of the natural world. 

 

A Universe with Purpose

 

From its inception, our universe has demonstrated purposeful design.  The first atom formed as a result of the tremendous heat of the Big Bang was hydrogen.  This is the simplest atom in existence and consists of a single neutron, proton and electron.  The heat of the Big Bang also permitted the fusion of two hydrogen atoms to created helium, composed of 2 neutrons, 2 protons and 2 electrons, and 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 could be added under the appropriate physical conditions.  It is a conceptually simple system expressed in a beautiful arithmetic progression.  Thus it is evident that the first created matter carried within it the potential for the formation of all future matter. 

 

Design and purpose are integrally linked.  Chance produces neither design nor purpose.  Science has the means of investigating chance using the tool of statistics.  If a design or event within the cosmos is “statistically impossible”, then only a transcendent God can bridge this gap.  This is not a “God of the gaps” filling a scientific void, but a transcendent Being who functions beyond the limits of the purely physical.

 

The purposefulness of the physical world is one of the main themes of the first chapter of Genesis.  The Earth began in a state of “tohu vevohu” (unformed and void)” and became increasingly ordered.  God describes each day of creation as “good” and the whole of creation as “extremely good,” meaning that each aspect of creation fulfilled its purpose and contributed to the harmony of the cosmos.  Moreover, each aspect of creation was created in anticipation of its future purpose.  Hence, on days 1 to day 3 Elokim created stationary domains within the physical world which become filled, on days 4 to 6 with moving entities, the luminaries, fish, birds and animals.  In this way, day 1 is linked to day 4, day 2 to day 5, and day 3 to day 6 (see table below).

 

created for 

 

Day 1 - light and darkness

 

Day 4 - luminaries 

Day 2 - waters below and a firmament above

 

Day 5 - fish and fowl 

Day 3 - dry land and vegetation 

 

Day 6 - animals, man and woman

  

The Engagement of God

 

There is an important question to be asked with respect to God’s sovereignty over the universe – namely how much of a “hands-on” sovereign is He?  Or put in another way, is our present day universe a function of the laws governing the behavior of elementary particles and the constants of nature, or has God “tampered” with His universe?  This question has far-reaching implications, since if God is continually adjusting His universe, then the term “natural sciences” is a sham and the naturalness of the physical world an illusion.  Many, if not most, scientists would recoil at this suggestion.

However, quantum physics can tell us much regarding this question.  From quantum physics we learn that the subatomic world is a very strange place.  There is a duality in the subatomic world, and light and subatomic matter can function as particles or in the form of waves. The position and momentum of subatomic particles can 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 will exist more frequently in certain regions around the nucleus than others.  Thus, the quantum world is not a precise, deterministic world where subatomic particles function like billiard or snooker balls but a fuzziness of probabilities.  

 

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 the solution that Einstein the scientist was willing to take.  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.  The physical world we perceive also has a duality.  From the perspective of science the natural world runs naturally by chance.  From a theological perspective, it has God-endowed design and purpose.  Both notions coexist because they are both true.  

There are many indications that the Torah does not believe in a world run only by chance, as illustrated by the following quotations: 

 

“And Isaac entreated Hashem for his wife, because she was barren. And Hashem let Himself be entreated of him, and Rebecca his wife conceived.” (Genesis 25:21)

 

When Moses complained to God about the assignment He was proposing for him:  

 

Then G-d said to him, “Who makes a mouth for man, or who makes one mute or deaf, or sighted or blind?  Is it not I, the Lord?  So now, go!  I shall be with your mouth and teach you what you should say.” (Exodus 4:11-12)

 

Moses said to the Children of Israel, “See, Hashem has proclaimed by name, Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.  He filled him with Godly spirit, with wisdom, with understanding, and with knowledge, and with every craft – to make artistic designs, to work with the gold, with the silver ….. “(Exodus 35:30-32)

 

The unification of a sperm and egg, the expression of genetic defects and polymorphisms, the skills of an artisan, these are all matters science would consider to have arisen by chance.   Yet the Torah states that the situation can be otherwise.

In this section, we have clearly gone beyond the realm of fact into matters of faith, since there is no scientific evidence, other than from the design within the universe and the statistical improbability of much of this design being due to chance, that God has the ability to determine chance.  Nevertheless, this concept follows naturally from the nature of the quantum world.

It also provides solutions to problems that have puzzled Jewish philosophers throughout the ages, such as how God can have knowledge of the future and how there can be reward and punishment in this world.  However, if God can determine chance, these questions become non-questions.  He can determine the future as He wills.

 

Conclusions

 

It should come as no surprise that science provides meaning and purpose to the universe, since science is a manifestation of a universe formed by a Creator who endowed it with meaning and purpose.  Since science has meaning, it can also lead us to philosophical truths.  Science, for example, can provide us with a new appreciation of the sovereignty of God, in that our God is a God who has the ability to influence every subatomic particle in the universe. 

We are fortunate to live at a time in which the manifestations of God are becoming increasingly evident to those attuned to His presence – through His actions for the Jewish people and through science.  Science indicates that the universe has purpose.  Nevertheless, only religion can provide us with the direction to which this purpose should be channeled - for the individual, for society and for the world at large.  Judaism has clear expectations for the latter: 

 “For then I will give to the peoples a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one consent (Zeph 3:9).  And (likewise) it is said, “And the Lord shall be king over all the earth; on that day shall the Lord be One and His name One.” (Zecharia 14:9)

 

On a literal level the “pure language” described by Zecharia probably indicates the intent that will eventually transcend the speech of nations.  However, there is another pure international language that increasingly is able to recognize the sovereignty of God over every aspect of the universe.  This is science.

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