Back in the dim past of human existence, long before we had developed a written language, our ancestors probably looked with fear upon natural phenomena like thunder and lightening. Eventually, someone in the tribe who was smarter and more imaginative than the rest created the explanation that supernatural beings were responsible for these natural phenomena, which might have calmed the fears of the group. It also elevated that person to the status of a wise man (shaman) who knew of these things. Imagining a spirit world that could control the physical one and render aid signified a great leap of intelligence among our ancestors because it required them to conceive of something beyond their personal experience, something abstract, which was no mean feat. Conceiving of things abstract is the very essence of intelligence. In that common beginning of all knowledge, science (in the limited sense of simply a description of the world around us) and religion (as a belief in the supernatural) were the same.
Once supernatural beings were imagined to exist and control the world around us, it was only natural that a shaman somewhere formed the idea that the tribe could ask the supernatural beings for help in important matters they faced, such as the hunt. After all, the supernatural beings were immensely powerful, and their help would be enormously advantageous. Ultimately, tribes’ shamans created out of whole cloth rituals to formalize these supplications for aid and to appease the supernatural beings, thereby increasing the chance aid would be granted. These rituals helped bind the tribe together. Religion was born.
Religion has always given us relief from an otherwise often mirthless and sometimes cruel existence. Like Christians in the Roman Colosseum and Jews in Nazi death camps, it has given us hope in hopeless times, strength in the face of hardship, and courage in the face of doom. It brings us the joy of worshipping a Being greater than ourselves and the promise that mortal death brings eternal bliss in the presence of the Timeless One. Religion has given our lives meaning unknown to other creatures.
We should draw a distinction between religion and a belief in a supernatural world because religion is much, much more. Religion begins with a belief in a supernatural God, but also includes a systematic procedure of worship and a dogma based on auxiliary beliefs that mortals like Moses, St. Paul, Muhammad, and a host of others claim derives directly from God. It’s these auxiliary beliefs, such as in the divinity of Jesus or that Muhammad is the final true prophet, that are the foundations for the numerous religions that have been a part of the landscape of our beliefs in the supernatural. Many people confuse these auxiliary beliefs with the fundamental belief in a supernatural God and accuse those who reject their specific set of auxiliary beliefs with not believing in God, which is not necessarily true. The followers of Islam are an excellent example because they call anyone an unbeliever who does not accept Muhammad as the last true prophet of God. The scribbles in this book will look at some of these auxiliary beliefs and then focus on the existence of a spirit world inhabited by God, which is the core belief of all religions.
No belief about the supernatural is provable, whether it’s in the existence of a supernatural God or in the auxiliary beliefs that we mortals conjure to make the supernatural more understandable to us, which means all such beliefs are simply opinion. Although probably more than 90 percent of the World’s population would strongly object to the word “opinion,” that description of religion is proven accurate by the number religions with differing views. If there were fact among them instead of opinion, there would be one religion that few could deny, although history has shown that nearly any aberrant belief can find people who are able to sustain it.
Each of us is entitled to our own beliefs in the supernatural—to our own opinion—but none of us are entitled to force our personal beliefs on others by any means whether it be by social pressure, the power of law, or the threat of death. Some of our personal opinions might accidentally be true, but we’ll never know the truth about the supernatural until we die. It’s important for our continued evolution as a species, perhaps even for our continued existence at all, to understand that all our religious beliefs are opinion. Science has progressed to the point that we understand a great deal about the Universe we inhabit, and it’s time, even well past time, for us to gain a similar understanding about ourselves. Our international squabbles continue without letup, we’re putting a tremendous strain on the Earth’s ability to support our burgeoning horde, and the disagreements and intolerance between religions has increased beyond reason and has escalated to serious killing. We can overcome these flaws in our species only by learning more about ourselves.
As our ancestors learned more and more about the world we inhabit, some of them realized that supernatural explanations weren’t always satisfactory for how it worked and that natural explanations were usually better. Natural explanations usually led to a better understanding of our world that, in turn, led to other natural explanations, and the collection of these natural explanations led to a scientific vision of the beautifully logical and coherent structure of our world that one would expect of an all-knowing Creator. No more was the world explained only by innumerable individual acts of a divine God. Science and religion had parted ways.
Religion has had a love-hate relationship with science ever since they parted ways. It loves science when it supports religious opinions but hates it when it disagrees with religious opinions. On the surface, this is somewhat puzzling because all religions believe that God created the Universe, and science is simply the organized study of that creation. The core of that love-hate relationship probably lies in science requiring proof of all claims, which limits it to the study of natural explanations of “what is” and excludes speculation on where “what is” came from, making it unable to officially consider a divine creator. Religion, on the other hand, from the time of that first shaman on some stormy night eons ago has never required proof of any claim. It’s always been enough for believers to simply have faith in the words of the shaman. So the enmity of religion for science is probably based in the unwillingness of science to yield to the primacy of religion in the struggle for people’s minds.
Religion retained its belief that a supernatural God continually influences the unfolding of the Universe and elaborated its various auxiliary beliefs into the great religions of the modern world, but ever since Thales, a Greek, science began to look for natural explanations for how the Universe works. It developed a formal system for finding these explanations, called the scientific method, and rigorous internal checks to validate its findings. This is not to say that scientists don’t occasionally falsify their work; they are, after all, only human with all the flaws that humans have. But the cross checks that are an integral part of scientific study eventually uncover such lies, and a scientist’s life work is then relegated to the trash heap, as has happened.
Scientists are among the few who are comfortable with uncertainty.They know that all their knowledge is provisional and is only the current best explanation of how the Universe is put together. Current knowledge is simply a stepping stone to a better understanding in the future, and scientists are generally content to be merely part of a great, ongoing process of discovering the truth. When Sir Isaac Newton wrote, “If I have seen farther than others it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants” he was being generous, but he was also being truthful. That scientists understand all their knowledge is provisional and merely another step toward the truth is why they’re generally less reluctant than most people to admit they’re wrong, although such admissions are hard to make when they’ve spent their whole careers on a point of view that’s suddenly obsolete, which sometimes happens. For example, Einstein never accepted Quantum Mechanics because it viewed subatomic processes as random events describable only through probabilities (he once said “God doesn’t play dice”) and, as a result, gradually drifted out of the main stream of modern Physics (which is largely, though not exclusively, based on Quantum Mechanics). However, the Theory of Relativity will always place him among the giants on whose shoulders future scientists will stand. Sir Arthur Eddington, who brought Relativity to the English speaking world and who first proposed that hydrogen fusion powered the Sun, strongly opposed Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar’s theory on the maximum mass of exhausted stars known as white dwarfs. Chandrasekhar was subsequently proven to be right and won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1983 while Eddington gradually lost much of his stature in the scientific community.
The ability to admit error is a great strength of science because it allows progress. Religion falls into the trap of claiming to be derived directly from God and, thus, is without error. When religion is found to be in error (such as the Catholic Church when it denied that the Earth revolves around the Sun) it reveals itself to not truly be derived from God after all, but from man. For centuries, the Catholic Church was so powerful that no one dared to point out the error, and the Church ignored its error to successfully lessen the blow to its credibility. Because science is so rigorous in its pursuit of knowledge, most religions don’t confront it about its findings. Only Christianity seems bent on a head to head confrontation by sometimes getting involved in scientific matters such as when some folks in York County, Pennsylvania tried to get a religiousbased view of evolution installed in the Dover Area School District’s high school biology course.
Now science is getting close to becoming involved in religious matters. Physicists are striving to explain how the Universe sprang into existence and why it appears the way it does by marrying the Theory of Relativity with Quantum Mechanics, the two most accurate descriptions to date of how God put the Universe together. The two leading candidates for this marriage are String Theory and Loop Quantum Gravity. Both have attempted to mathematically run time backwards past the Big Bang to a time before the Universe came into being. For String Theory, the result of this exercise is a description of a pre-Universe existence that consisted of multi-dimensional membranes (called “branes” for short) that occasionally come together to form Big Bangs of Universes such as our own. This begs the question of creation because it doesn’t answer the question of where these branes came from. They’re simply kicking the can a little further down the road as Alex Flippenko has said.
Loop Quantum Gravity researchers at Pennsylvania State University ran time backward past the Big Bang to reveal a universe that’s the mirror image of our own (contracting instead of expanding). The flaw in both of these exercises is that they assume the physical principles that describe our Universe, such as space (of arbitrary number of dimensions) and time, are valid before the Universe came into being, which is a very big assumption. For example, in Lecture 7 of the Geology V1001x Course, Dinosaurs and the History of Life, at Columbia University, says, “In the Beginning There Was a Singularity. No time or space; our present physical laws did not apply.” The view (opinion) of these scribbles is that physical laws didn’t exist until the Deity created them when the Universe was created.
Science has always assumed that the rules by which the Universe operates are the same everywhere in the Universe. This makes sense within our Universe because the various parts of the Universe would never be able to see one another if the rules were different in different places. We’re aware of the Universe only because it’s all operating by the same laws of nature. But the assumption that the rules by which the Universe operates (natural laws) existed before the Universe came into being is seriously questionable, and whatever existed before the Big Bang is, therefore, probably not a fit topic for science (except as a fun mathematical exercise), but is a religious topic. We have to understand, though, that describing the way our Universe operates is the primary goal of String Theory and Loop Quantum Gravity. Describing pre-Universe existence is, for some scientists, simply a mathematical exercise to test the validity of the new theories by seeing if they can mathematically make the transition through time zero (the Big Bang), because General Relativity blows up at time zero. Any true description of the operation of the Universe should be as valid at time zero as it is today.
In the late twentieth century, scientists began to realize just how delicately balanced the Universe is. If any of the large numbers of constants in the rules that describe how the Universe works were much different that they are, the Universe could not exist in its present form, and we would not be here. (These “constants” are translation quantities that correctly convert measurement units such as feet and meters on one side of an equation to the proper units on the other side.) For example, if a quantity known as the fine structure constant were only 4% different from what it is, carbon could not be fused in stars, and there would be no carbon-based life such as ourselves. The idea that the Universe is finely tuned to allow our existence has been dubbed the Anthropic Principle, which basically says that we are here to observe the Universe only because the Universe is structured in such a way that we can be here. Scientists are aware that the Anthropic Principle has very clear religious overtones, although they’re careful to not to speculate on the religious (supernatural) implications.
So these days we have religion dabbling in scientific matters and science skating around the edges of religion. However, both see the Universe from only their own perspective. They might disagree that they are so myopic, but they’re too close to their own viewpoint to make a dispassionate, unbiased assessment. This book is an effort to integrate science and God to gain a more complete viewpoint than each can offer separately. It’s a small contribution to the dialog between religion and science. We desperately need to open this dialog because the human race will be the better for it, and each can gain from the other. In a time such as now when religious zeal threatens to become deadly in the extreme, it may even be our salvation. So let the games begin.
The chapters that follow are, of necessity, extremely brief summaries of events, and no effort is made to explain fundamental processes such as meiosis that are woven into the narrative. That these processes exist is sufficient for the purpose of this work. Entire volumes could be, and indeed have been, written on each subject.