Monday, September 1, 2008

A Brief History of Science

"One of our greatest discoveries has been that the universe has not existed forever but that it had a definite beginning in the Big Bang, about 15 billion years ago." Stephen Hawking

For at least the last 3000 years, philosophers and scientists have been on a voyage of discovery. At times they have undoubtedly wandered up some blind alleys; but generally they have been exercising their powers of intuitive deduction to better our understanding of the Universe.

However, in the Big Bang Theory, the sensitivity of the initial conditions required to ensure that the Cosmos lasted long enough for the complexity we see around us to develop (in just the right way to bring about useful things like solar systems) is truly mind-boggling. Faced with the remarkable way in which we are indeed suited to our surroundings, a common way for removing the need for a Creator or Designer is to say that, had it been any other way we would not be here to observe it. However, many perhaps more open-minded scientists, such as Paul Davies (1992) and George Smoot (1993), do not accept this argument. They remain honestly bemused by the massive improbability of the Universe being the way it is – able ultimately to support life - purely by chance. Why is it, then, that despite all of this, in many spheres of life and culture, Christianity has continued to be marginalised?

For some Christians the (young) age of the earth is a non-negotiable article of faith, but for most it really is not an issue. Yet, it seems many scientists never give Christianity a second thought because they think it’s unscientific and that all its adherents have got their heads buried in the sand. However, even if someone has reservations or doubts about Darwin’s theories (and those which have followed), that does not mean that they must therefore believe the Earth is only 6,000 years old! As with many things in life; it just isn’t as simple as that.

So much for science and theology; what about philosophy and theology? One of the things that distinguishes humans from animals is our ability to reason. Certainly, within the animal kingdom, there is a great range in the complexity of thought processes of which any individual type of animal is capable. A baboon can be seen to display behaviour that indicates an ability to think and learn (and thereby to interact with its surroundings), which a goldfish clearly does not. Nonetheless, however clever apes, whales, or dolphins may be, it is widely accepted that humans are the only ones capable of pondering the nature and purpose of their own existence.

Philosophy and theology have had a long, healthy, and productive relationship. However, to believe simply that one grew from the other is to fall foul of the central plank of humanist ideology; as many anthropologists believe that “man created god in his own image”. This is not just a very neat summary of their beliefs, however, it is also of course a clever-sounding reversal of Genesis 1:26 – “God created Man in His own image.”

Their argument goes something like this: Early Man found many things in the world about him scary and beyond comprehension. So, in order to rid himself of fear, Man invoked the existence of gods, identifying each with an aspect of nature that worried him, such as thunder and lightning, for example. As Man’s understanding has increased – so the argument goes – the scope or necessity for gods has decreased. This is often referred to as the “god of the gaps” theory. Charles Darwin fell into this trap when he put it on record that the problems he could see with his theory of evolution would be solved by the advancement of science in the years to follow. However, this has not proved to be the case...

Nevertheless this utopian dreamlike view of science and scientists has since lost little of its popularity, despite being entirely intellectually dishonest (in my opinion). Surely, it would be more honest and humble to admit that, although there are some things about which we can be fairly certain, for example that the sun will come up tomorrow, there are other things that we should admit that we may never know (or, at least, never be able to prove scientifically)? However, there are also some things that are just not in the domain of science to be proven or understood: Surely it is outrageous to suggest that the finite - indeed spatially very limited - mind of Man could ever fully encompass, comprehend, and understand a Universe that is infinite? (and if not infinite then, also that which lies beyond it – but that is another question altogether).

No comments:

Post a Comment