Is Science an Enemy of God?

Posted on 2011 August 31


Are God and science enemies?Into that gaping cultural divide between liberals and conservatives is poured arguments about the Theory of Evolution. By and large, liberals are comfy with the theory but conservatives — especially those of an evangelical bent — are not.

Religionists get queasy when science tells them humans evolved from earlier, “lower” creatures. Where’s the room for “God made man in his own image”? Where’s the room for “God created everything in six days”? Therefore, evolution must be wrong.

Liberals, meanwhile, sometimes conclude that the God of the conservatives is so ridiculous that there must be no god at all. And you have Richard Dawkins calling for a campaign to rid the world of religion. And so forth.

It’s one thing to argue that evolution appears to contradict what we’re accustomed to believe about the Bible; it’s quite another to deny a scientific theory simply because it offends us. Similarly, it’s one thing to argue that the God of religion has attributes that seem arbitrary and nonsensical; it’s quite another to conclude, therefore, that there is no god.

I’m agnostic on the topic of God, so it’s easy for me to stand to one side and watch the debate with wry amusement. (Lately, in fact, I consider myself a “Possibilian“. You can look it up here.)

But I’ve often wondered if it’s possible to reconcile the beliefs of the two groups. And I’ve come up with an interesting explanation for the Book of Genesis:

One day, God decides it’s time to explain things to humanity. He appears before a group of shepherds in the ancient Middle East. The shepherds cower in terror. God says, “I’m not going to hurt you. I just want to clarify a few items of interest.”

The shepherds look at each other. One of them knows how to write; he starts taking notes.

God says, “To start with, about thirteen billion years ago, I created the universe–“

The shepherds are confused. One of them says, “Pardon us, Lord, but what is ‘billion’? And what is ‘universe’?”

God sighs and says, “A billion years is a very long time. But to me it feels like a day, so just write down that, on the first ‘day’, I created everything.”

The shepherd scribbles dutifully: “On the first day, God created the heavens and the earth.”

God says, “For awhile, there was a lot of random heat noise, and everything was a plasma– Oh, never mind. Just say that everything had no form.”

“Yes, Lord.”

…And in this way, God introduced some important concepts to humanity. These ideas we couldn’t comprehend right away, so he arranged the dictation to be symbolic, capable of eliciting better understanding as humans progressed.

Then one day, thousands of years later, we figured out the Theory of Evolution, but it appeared to contradict what the Bible says. After all, how could we have evolved in a mere six days? And liberals and religious conservatives have been arguing about it ever since.

With that in mind, recently I read a couple of online postings by Robert Ringer, a conservative libertarian best known for his 1970s book Winning Through Intimidation. (He later changed the title to To Be or Not to Be Intimidated, which he felt was, well, less intimidating.) I enjoy Ringer’s writing — he’s punchy, snarky, angry — though I don’t agree with all of his positions by any means. He’s pretty well convinced, for example, that President Obama is part of a grand conspiracy to destroy America’s economy and replace it with socialism, whereas I think the prez wants mainly to improve the economic conditions of African Americans, and is otherwise a mainstream liberal Democrat. I do, however, share Ringer’s libertarian disdain for big-government economics.

Anyway, Ringer argued that the Theory of Evolution can’t be right because it assumes we emerged through a strictly random process, which is like expecting monkeys, playing with typewriters, to produce the works of Shakespeare. He further believes that scientists think the course of the universe was entirely determined at the moment of the Big Bang, so that every atom has trodden a path laid out for it at the beginning. To him, this “atheistic predestination” leaves no room for human self-determination. The implication is that, in these respects, science is incompatible with God.

(Here are the relevant articles: Is Evolution a Crazy Idea? and Earthquakes, Hurricane Irene, and Evolution — Warning! These articles are not for the faint of heart. If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, you’ll likely become apoplectic. So take your blood-pressure meds first.)

To the best of my knowledge, Ringer has misconstrued both the science of evolution and the science of cosmology. His concern that these theories are atheistic is, I believe, unfounded. So, foolishly, I stepped in and wrote a reply, trying to reconcile the two sides. Here’s what I wrote:

“Mr. Ringer: There’s an interesting dilemma posed by your recent posts — namely, that evolution must be random, whereas the entire universe is predetermined. Solution: (1) evolution, in fact, _isn’t_ random; its course is chosen by the relentless pounding of the environment on biochemicals. That is to say, if the typing monkeys were _punished_ when they didn’t produce lines of Shakespeare, soon enough we’d have ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’. (2) The universe isn’t determined; its course is affected by quantum uncertainty and Chaos Theory, both of which introduce, not randomness exactly, but perhaps ‘spontaneity’ … None of the science involved disproves God; in fact, it speaks to God’s subtlety and imagination. Meanwhile, we don’t have to account for ‘before’ the universe, since time itself was created when the universe was formed. There’s no need, then, to deny science when arguing for God.”

…I wonder how much trouble I’ve gotten myself into.