Cornerstone

“Science asks, ‘HOW are we here?’ Faith asks, ‘WHY are we here?’”

One way of framing the science/Bible dispute over origins is saying that these two approaches frame the question differently. Science asks, “HOW are we here?” Faith asks, “WHY are we here?”

Two books that brilliantly address the HOW question are “A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing” by cosmologist Lawrence M. Krauss, and “Life On The Edge: The Coming Age of Quantum Biology” by two brilliant authors, Johnjoe McFadden and Jim Al-Khalili, now out in paperback.

Reading books like these is part of my attempt to keep up with the shouting match (hardly a conversation) between those who feel that a scientific explanation of how we got here is the only viable version and those who accept a biblical version of life and the “why” question, in my case, trusting that meaningful life starts with an acknowledgement of the God described in the Holy Bible.

Both of these books are wonderfully clear in their explanations, witty in their presentation and well-reasoned. Dr Krauss’s book sets out to explain the cosmos that surrounds us and forms our “home”, arguing that the potent combination of powerful natural forces, abundant matter and the possibility of a multiverse which births universes (including ours) is both plausible and persuasive. It negates the need to posit a supreme being to explain existence and life. I think his attempt to answer the question “How is it possible that something could come from nothing?” is persuasive and well-argued. He describes a kind of “rich-soup nothingness” that—like a mother’s womb—argues for a likely birth-source of our universe. He states categorically, “One thing is certain…The metaphysical ‘rule’…that ‘out of nothing, nothing comes’ has no foundation in science.” (pg. 174)

McFadden and Khalili are focused on the phenomenon of “life”. They argue that the development of the theoretical science of quantum biology has given plausible language to create believable, if not complete, answers to where life came from. They push back hard on the stance that “life cannot come from non-life” by arguing that the properties governing the movement of cells and the preexistence of vast amounts of energy sources in the physical universe point to the likelihood that random cells might readily become organized and reproducing cells. It is not, they think, a step too big for blind nature to take.

Reading works like these forces me to revisit the basic claims of Scripture, the understanding of deliberately created life that must sit at the core of my understanding about why we are here, and how we are here, if I am to believe the Bible. 

I need to fairly frequently revisit such powerful and fundamental issues as purpose, self-awareness and the tragedy of death. Equally important, but perhaps at a step down from these issues is the essential understanding of relationships, loving, ethics, and wisdom, all powerful biblical themes.

These serious, thinking authors make me ask: “Am I a ‘who’ or a ‘what’?” “Do I matter?” “Can I legitimately be selfless, even if it means I don’t survive?” “Is there really such a thing as worship?”

Far down the priority of questions, but not to be left out is the issue of how do I engage in a conversation about these issues meaningfully with people like Messrs. Krauss, McFadden and Al-Khalili?

The Bible is much less clear on beginnings than I might wish. It minimizes explanations, cloaks it in symbolic words, attributes it to God without really explaining what that means, and moves quickly along to more important items such as God’s relationship with ancient peoples—which it deals with in detail—and the outrageous behavior of kings, villains and heroes. It doesn’t take much Bible reading to know you’re not in a “science” book.

Even if we get that the Bible is ancient and speaking meaningfully to people with a pre-science mindset, in our culture, this language has become a block, or at least a damper, to serious discussions on these topics. We have poetry and ancient writing on our side, but the empirical evidence seems to be interpretable so that biblical statements about beginnings compare poorly.

Yet I also note that in both of these books, the questions that are unaddressed are the ones most clearly addressed in the Bible. The meaning of life, the puzzle of death, the question of eternity - these are all issues that the Bible focuses upon with emphasis. It’s as if the “whys and hows” of life are in the hands of scientists, but the “where and who” are in the hands of Bible students.

This is not a new battle. Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung were seeking to set aside religion as superstition around the turn of the last century. “Waiting for Godot”, a play about two men doing absolutely nothing, was written by Samuel Beckett just after the conclusion of World War II. Dr. Carl Sagan’s popular multi-part television series “Cosmos” was aired in 1980, with each episode introduced with the words, “The Cosmos is all there is, or was, or ever will be.” These are merely single beats in a drumming that continues and increases. At the same time, I hear a chorus of voices announcing belief in the reality of the biblical God, and that chorus is also growing louder.

There are persuasive arguments made by responsible and intelligent people on both sides. As a (hopefully) responsible and intelligent person myself, I cannot choose to ignore the choice between them. To live between them is to live with constantly battling motivations and conclusions. Is my life about getting what I can for myself, or giving what I’ve got away because I am infinitely rich in the God of the Bible? Do I end my life because it is meaningless anyway, or stand willing to sacrifice my life because I am eternal? Does anything that happens here have any importance beyond this life, or is it all truly “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”?

I have chosen my understanding and it is the biblical one. But for years I lived by the “Sagan standard”: there’s the universe of matter and energy and that’s all there is. I keep reading because I feel the need to frequently challenge my decision for Lord Jesus, and to honestly keep it fresh and current. It’s a lot of work, but the danger of professing one while subconsciously living according to the other is the most dangerous place to be in real life.

Jim Leonard

Jim serves Cornerstone through pastoral care and by overseeing internal ministries and administration.

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