Return to 2nd Quarter 2023 articles.
How could a man living over 2,000 years ago accurately calculate Earth's circumference? How could he even know that Earth is spherical? How can some people today believe that our planet is flat when everyone has seen pictures of Earth taken by satellites in space? How can people believe that the universe and life came about by accidental circumstances?
Those may be too many questions at once. Let us try looking at them one at a time. The first man to accurately calculate Earth's circumference in about 240 B.C. was a Greek mathematician, geographer, astronomer, music theorist, and poet, and his calculations were amazingly accurate.
THE MYTH AND THE FACTS
A myth originated from a fiction work by nineteenth-century American author Washington Irving and other authors. Irving wrote a less-than-accurate “biography” of Christopher Columbus. In it, the Spanish authorities questioned Columbus' plan to sail west to Asia by going east because they thought the ships would drop off the edge of a flat Earth. The truth is that European scholars at that time knew that our planet is a sphere. In fact, Columbus did too, but he believed it was 25% smaller than it actually is. He should have paid more attention to Eratosthenes.
Ancient Greek scholars, as early as the fifth century B.C., recognized the spherical nature of the planet based on observations such as lunar eclipses and ships sailing across the ocean. So Eratosthenes set out to accurately calculate Earth's circumference using mathematics and the shadow cast by two similar rods placed in the ground in two locations at noon on the summer solstice.
MANUFACTURING THE WAR
That answers the first two questions, but what about people today who believe the Earth is flat when there is plenty of evidence otherwise? That is an example of people believing what they want to believe and refusing to accept the evidence. There is a connection here to the so-called war between science and faith.
Scientist and philosopher John William Draper was instrumental in starting the war with his book History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science, published in 1874. He claimed that the church was hostile to the advancement of science and that the early church fathers believed that scripture said the Earth is flat. That concept of a war between science and theology was further advanced and popularized by historian Andrew Dickson White in his book The Warfare of Science (1876). Darwin had published his work On the Origin of Species in 1859, and the war was on.
Creating a war between science and faith seems to have been a goal of Draper and White and many advocates of Darwin's theory, such as Thomas Henry Huxley. The lack of scholarship on the part of Draper and White has been demonstrated. Meanwhile, Darwin's theory has had to be revised to what is now known as neo-Darwinism. Darwin thought that living cells were just globs of protoplasm. He had no idea that they are more like cities with factories, machines, and transportation systems operating on complex information contained in DNA. As biological science advances, Darwinian naturalism faces more challenges.
Historians of science David Lindberg and Ronald Numbers wrote in Beyond War and Peace: A Reappraisal of the Encounter between Christianity and Science (1986) that “there was scarcely a Christian scholar of the Middle Ages who did not acknowledge [Earth's] sphericity and even know its approximate circumference.” What many writers, including Draper and White, had overlooked was that the leading early scientists were all believers in God. In fact, their faith motivated their desire to know God through his creation.
SCIENCE GIVES EVIDENCE FOR FAITH
We can still know God through his creation, so the idea of a war between science and theology is incorrect. “For his invisible attributes, that is, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world being understood through what he has made” (Romans 1:20 CSB).
Many physical constants determine the universe's structure, and one of the most mysterious is the fine-structure constant represented by the Greek letter alpha (α). The fine-structure constant has been called the most mysterious number in physics. American theoretical physicist Richard Feynman called it “a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by humans.”
The fine-structure constant shows the strength of the interaction between electrons and photons. It also shows up in many other ratios in physics. The value is approximately 0.007,297,352,569 or 1/137. Physicists consider it mysterious because they do not know where it came from or why it has that value. They cannot explain why it exists at all.
If you are not a physicist, why should you care about the most mysterious number in physics? If the fine-structure constant had any other value, life as we know it would not be possible. If you changed that number, you would change the universe. A different value for the fine-structure constant would change the size of atoms and alter chemistry and nuclear reactions. No stable matter, no life, and no intelligent beings would exist. We would not be here.
Richard Feynman wrote that “all good theoretical physicists put this number up on their wall and worry about it.” Apparently, they worry about where it came from and why it is what it is. Feynman further wrote, “You might say the ‘hand of God' wrote that number, and ‘we don't know how He pushed His pencil.” Feynman was joking about the fine-structure constant, but we think it was written by the “hand of God.” We also believe “He pushed His pencil” so that he could create humans for a purpose.
PURPOSE IN THE UNIVERSE
“In a certain sense, you might say that the universe has a purpose, but I'm not sure what the purpose is. I don't believe in any religion I've seen. So in that sense, I am an atheist.” That statement by the British mathematician, mathematical physicist, philosopher of science, and Nobel Laureate in physics Roger Penrose appeared in an interview in New Scientist magazine. Penrose has won many awards and honors for his brilliant achievements. One of his endeavors has been to explore the origin of consciousness. He believes that the known laws of physics cannot explain the phenomenon of consciousness.
In the New Scientist interview, Penrose said, “whatever consciousness is, it must be beyond computable physics.” Penrose does not think that consciousness is accidental. He said, “I think the presence of consciousness, if I can put it like that, is not an accident.” If consciousness is not an accident, then it must be intentional. How can something be intentional without a mind that intends for it to be? How can it have a purpose without a purpose giver? Penrose stated in the interview that “nobody knows where the fundamental constants of nature come from.” He suggests that if those fundamental constants did not have the specific values they have, then the chemistry of life could not exist, and we would not be here. If those constants have the precise values for life, how could that happen without a conscious Designer?
Roger Penrose clearly states that he does not believe the universe and consciousness are accidents but seeks to explain them by quantum mechanics. However, he admits, “I would say that there is something going on that might resonate with a religious perspective.”
We agree with Penrose that the universe has a purpose. Purpose in the universe and purpose in consciousness can best be explained by a conscious Mind outside of the universe and beyond the reach of scientific analysis. This is not a “god-of-the-gaps” concept but logically seeking the best explanation. Following through with that understanding means that you, like everyone else, also have a purpose.
WORKING OUT THE DETAILS
In his book The Meaning of Evolution (1949), George Gaylord Simpson wrote, “It is already evident that all the objective phenomena of the history of life can be explained by purely naturalistic … materialistic factors.” In other words, neo-Darwinism explains life. With that in mind, he writes, “Therefore, man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind.” Despite Simpson's confidence, does naturalistic evolution explain life?
It is worth noting that Simpson began the paragraph from which I took the above quotes with these words, “Although many details remain to be worked out … .” That is an understatement! Those who insist that naturalistic, materialistic evolution explains life completely are purposely overlooking “many details.” Does naturalistic evolution explain life? Here are a few of the problems with that explanation:
- The origin of life
- The source of the genetic code
- The origin of sexual reproduction
- The lack of transitional fossils
- The development of complex organ systems
- The development of irreducibly complex molecular machines
- Barriers between the types of life forms
- Mathematical difficulties based on the number of evolutionary steps and the time required for each step, limited by the total time available
Those are just a few of the details that “remain to be worked out.” Darwin recognized some of them, such as the biological big bang of the Cambrian era and the lack of intermediate fossils. He expected those details would be resolved in the future. More than a century and a half later, there is still no resolution to those problems, and science has added many more to the list.
IS THE WAR REAL?
Are science and faith at war with each other? Does naturalistic evolution explain life and eliminate the need for God? Many scientists fully accept naturalism because the scientific community would shun them if they did not. Others accept it not because of its explanatory power but because they see no acceptable alternative. So when someone says that evolution has disproven the need for God, remind them that these are only a few of the reasons why naturalistic evolution falls short of explaining why we are here. We do have a purpose, and that purpose comes from our Creator.
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Scripture links/references are from BibleGateway.com. Unhighlighted scriptures can be looked up at their website.