The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom

Gerald L. Schroeder

The late Professor Richard Feynman, formulator of much of modern physics, in the opening volume of his classic, The Feynman Lectures on Physics, describes what science can do for religion: Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars—mere globs of gas atoms. Nothing is “mere.’ I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination—stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year- old light. A vast pattern—of which I am part—perhaps my stuff was belched from some forgotten star, as one is belching there. Or see them with the greater eye of Palomar, rushing all apart from some common starting point when they were perhaps all together What is the pattern, or the meaning or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artist of the past imagined. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were like a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia be silent?

But science has its limitations and the skeptic too much realize this. It can never speak of the purpose of life, the “why” which Feynman so emphasized. Colleagues who follow in the footsteps of Einstein would do well to render to the Bible that which is the Bible’s, the search for purpose.

Using logic, scientific knowledge, and ancient biblical interpretations, I discuss here the duality, not the dichotomy, of science and Bible.

As a scientist, I look at the universe and try to extract underlying principles by which it functions. I rely on the inherent consistency of nature. If the laws of nature are not fixed, if they are being tampered with in some miraculous way, then science is useless. The consistency of nature is a basic tenet of all scientific inquiry.

The consistency of nature is also a basic tenet of biblical religion. Eight hundred years ago, the kabalist Nahnmanides wrote that “since the world came into existence, God’s blessings did not create something new from nothing, instead the world functions according to its natural pattern.” In secular terms, kabalah had stated that the laws of nature were and are adequate to channel our universe towards the development and sustenance of life.

Professor Weinberg is an avowed skeptic, if I understand him correctly, but even he agrees with Nahmanides. “Life as we know it,” Weinbereg writes, “would be impossible if any one of several physical quantities had slightly different values....One constant does seem to require fine tuning.” This constant has to do with the energy of the big bang. Weinberg quantifies the tuning as one part in 10120. Scientific notation is an understatement and so I will expand that exponential into decimal notation. If the energy of the big bang were different by one part of

1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

There Would Be No Life Anywhere In Our Universe.

The universe is tuned for life from its inception. Genesis agrees: when life first appears on the third day, the word creation does not appear. We are merely told “The earth brought forth” life. Earth had within it the necessary properties for life to flourish

Michael Turner, the widely quoted astrophysicist at the University of Chicago and Fermilab, described that tuning with a simile::”The precision,” he said,”is as if one could throw a dart across the entire universe and hit a bull’s-eye one millimeter in diameter on the other side

Scientists discover astonishing facts every day, Whether it’s physicists realizing how a tiny difference in temperature at the time of the big bang would have obviated the possibility of life as we know it, or biochemists discovering the miraculously complex, delicate balanced molecular machinery that makes blood clotting possible, scientists face the wonders of our existence very directly. Why, then, is it that a hard core of vocal scientists are avowed atheists, taking their discoveries of the wonder of nature as sufficiently edifying ends in themselves?

My wife, the author Barbara Sofer, was privy to the notes of a private meeting held at Princeton between the late prime minister of Israel David Ben-Gurion and Albert Einstein. Their conversation might have turned towards the politics of the young state of Israel. Instead, immediately they focused on what really intrigued them, whether there was evidence for a higher force directing the universe. Both agreed there was such a force, a central power. Yet neither Ben-Gurion nor Einstein had a feeling for formal religion.

The spark is there in all of us. Still, we may intellectually reject the very explanations our emotions tell us are true.

Aristotle, 2,300 years ago, observing that nothing comes from nothing, assumed that nothing ever will—or ever did. Therefore he defined the universe as eternal. This stood in sharp contrast to the claim made a thousand years earlier in the opening sentence of the Bible, that there had been a beginning to the universe. “In the beginning....”(Gen. 1:1). Aristotle found no conflict between an eternal universe and belief in a supernatural god. He believed in a host of them.

The Bible’s claim for a creation and Aristotle’s denial of it gave impetus to several early attempts at estimating the age of the universe. The most quoted of these estimates is the much maligned calculation made by James Ussher, archbishop of Armagh, Ireland (1581-1656).

Summing the generations listed in the Hebrew Bible and then estimating the reigns of rulers thereafter, he arrived at an autumn creation date: high noon, 23 October 4004 B.C.E. The exaggerated exactness seems a bit bizarre. But then how would a cleric know about creations of universes? Not surprisingly, a contemporary of Ussher’s, the famous German astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), the scientist who discovered that the planets revolve around the sun in elliptical, not circular, orbits, disagreed with Ussher’s estimate. Kepler thought the creation occurred in the spring.

Today, their use of the Bible for the purpose of science seems misplaced. What does the Bible have to do with scientific reality? One’s turf is spiritual, the other’s physical, or so we have been taught. Actually, the Bible, properly understood, can be a handmaiden of science (and vice versa). As such it is instructive to note that Ussher’s and Kepler’s calculations of an approximately six-thousand-year-old universe are infinitely closer to our current estimate of time since the big bang than was either Aristotle’s opinion of that of two thirds of the leading U.S. astronomers and physicists, who in a 1959 survey agreed with Aristotle. Human logic sided with Aristotle but was in error. The biblical paradigm of a beginning to our universe, a creation, was correct. The error in the biblical age of the universe was not in the Bible, but in how Ussher and Kepler used the details of the Bible to make their calculations.

Though Kepler was a committed Christian, his work had the touch of heresy. (The idea that any discovery can be heretical is beyond me, but the Church managed to do away with quite a few scientific heretics. Galileo escaped only because of his longtime friendship with the pope.) Kepler’s discovery of the elliptical orbits of the planets did not sit well with the religious establishment. Circles were perfect geometric shapes, ellipses defective. An infinitely powerful God would be expected to produce perfect orbits. The Bible did not claim this. The Church did.

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