November 17, 2002
TO INFINITY, AND BEYOND!:
The New Convergence
(Gregg Easterbrook, December 2002 , Wired)
[D]ecades of inconclusive inquiry have left the science-has-all-the-answers script in tatters. As recently as the '70s, intellectuals assumed that hard science was on track to resolve the two Really Big Questions: why life exists and how the universe began. What's more, both Really Big Answers were assumed to involve strictly deterministic forces. But things haven't worked out that way. Instead, the more scientists have learned, the more mysterious the Really Big Questions have become.
Perhaps someday researchers will find wholly natural explanations for life and the cosmos. For the moment, though, discoveries about these two subjects are inspiring awe and wonder, and many scientists are reaching out to spiritual thinkers to help them comprehend what they're learning. And as the era of biotechnology dawns, scientists realize they're stepping into territory best navigated with the aid of philosophers and theologians. We are entering the greatest era of science-religion fusion since the Enlightenment last attempted to reconcile the two, three centuries ago.
Look up into the night sky and scan for the edge of the cosmos. You won't find it - nobody has yet. Instruments such as the Hubble Space Telescope's deep-field scanner have detected at least 50 billion galaxies, and every time the equipment is improved, more galaxies farther away come into focus. Space may be infinite - not merely vast, but infinite - encompassing an infinite number of galaxies with an infinite number of stars.
All this stuff - enough to form 50 billion galaxies, maybe fantastically more - is thought to have emerged roughly 14 billion years ago in less than a second, from a point with no physical dimensions. Set aside the many competing explanations of the big bang; something made an entire cosmos out of nothing. It is this realization - that something transcendent started it all - which has hard-science types such as Sandage using terms like "miracle."
The interesting question is why scientists are so willing to cling to the most fantastic theories that they and their brethren dream up, but are so hostile to any fantastic ideas from their culture's Judeo-Christian past. Shouldn't the latter at least force them to acknowledge that their desperate grasping at the former likewise represents mere faith?
Posted by Orrin Judd at November 17, 2002 8:46 AM
As a former scientist, I can tell you that there are plenty of Christian scientists, plenty of Christian Nobel laureates in physics (my field). The atheists are vocal, that's the only reason for the popular perception that scientists are anti-religion. One reason for this is that the atheists are imperialists, they ardently want to persuade people that science can somehow refute religion and want to exploit the authority of their positions and institutions to dominate laypeople's opinions. Religious scientists, on the other hand, generally do not have strong evangelical impulses. They are content to do their work, raise their families, and worship quietly.
As for your observation that 'many' scientists believe in God: this is true as far as it goes, if you count the workaday scientists. Apparently, the higher ones standing in the scientific community, the less likely you are to believe in God:
Most of the membership of the National Acadamy of Sciences (93%) do not believe.
Easterbrook, who has a long track record not
only of believing thing for which there is no
evidence but even of believing things there is
evidence against (global warming) is not a
I too am in awe of the size of the universe.
I don't know how big it is. Whatever it is, though,
it's a given. You work with what you got.
The idea that theologians will help to understand
the workings of the cosmos is ridiculous. What
program of experiment and observation are
they leading us to?
Not only do they not have a program, they are
opposed to a program.
No one would propose that the thumbsucking
theologians of 2002 are more theological
than, say, Augustine or Aquinas; but did
either of those guys have a clue to how things
It is the same with Orrin's hobbyhorse of
antidarwinism. Where is the antidarwin
research program? What are the results?
There ain't no such animal.
The notion that science's ideas are fantastic,
and that that creates doubts about them, is
illogical. Whatever science comes up with is
going to seem fantastic. There have never
been any non-fantastic ideas in science.
I find it fantastic that an airplane weighing
250,00o pounds can rise into the air just
because of a pressure differential between the
surfaces of its wings which are only 3 or 4
feet apart. But it does not follow that angels
are lifting it up.
As far as that hobby-horse of OJ's, I tend to agree with him. I say that after years of study (and first simply accepting what was handed to me in school). Darwinism is a panchreston, with all the attached problems. It's like trying to do astronomy using only the Anthropic Principle: sure, it explains some things. Hell, it 'explains' everything
- and that is a problem. Brady finally wrote an exasperated rant that captures my dissatisfaction better than I ever could put to paper. If that is not recent enough for you, try the new one by Colin Patterson....
Brady is at
Patterson is at
I cannot help but think we are missing something big. It may be deterministic, or not.
Bruce -- Interesting stats. I find them incredible; I suspect there was a strong selection bias. I was at Berkeley and Harvard, and knew a number of Christians in the physics and astronomy departments. My thesis adviser in graduate school was a Nobel laureate and a devout Christian. I wouldn't care to hazard a guess as to percentages attending church, but I am sure that the survey's 7.5% among physicists and astronomers is too low.
Also, the survey's finding that more believe in immortality than in God is absurd. How can we possibly be immortal, unless there is a God who can make us so? The laws of physics imply that immortality in this world is impossible. That discrepancy alone suggests that the survey is badly flawed.
Antidarwin research programs? Where are the anti-Easter Bunny research programs? Until something is "proved", how disprove it?
Orrin, I don't mean programs designed to
disprove darwinism. I mean, if darwinism is
the wrong road, where are the research
programs designed to explicate biology under
a different theory?
There aren't any.
And, as a close student of darwinian biology,
I know that darwinism does not pretend to
explain everything. In particular, it does not
have anything to say about the origin of life,
nor does it claim to know much about
Darwinists never expect to have anything to
say about origins, but they are hopeful that
the current program will reveal most of the
details of development eventually.
Meanwhile, what have the antis offered?
*cough* Copernicus *cough*
I'd agree with Harry on his above post.
To date I've yet to see any antidarwinist counter the proof of evolution from molecular biology.
I give you the wolf and the chihuahua. Man created the one from the other. Thus evolution, a process conceived and guided by intelligence. Disprove.
I remember a survey (I cannot name it right off the top of my head) of scientists that showed mathematicians had the highest percentage of believers (~44%) and biology the lowest (~5% (?) ). Make of that what you will.
As an engineer, I noticed that my engineering peers were much
more likely to be conservative politically and theologically than the physicists I encountered, even though both received similar academic training, at least up to a point. Dunno what that is all about...
Orrin, dog development is an example of artificial selection. It has not yet created speciation.
If you take a bunch of purebreds and let them alone for a few generations (about three is all it takes), they will revert to average dogness -- the yellow type that Democrats prefer to Republicans.
If you were to take some purebred chihuahuas and isolate them (say, on an island), they might or might not breed true as chihuahuas.
I recommend reading one of Ernst Mayr's books. He has written several dozen and is remarkably good at explaining where the common view of darwinism diverges from what darwinists actually say. (He is the last survivor of the trio that explicated the "modern synthesis," so you can take him to the bank.)
You are obviously an intelligent and widely read man, Orrin, but you don't know nuthin's about darwinism. Sorry.
As far as we've observed, evolution has never done more than the dog trick either. That's the point.