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Uncaused Cause

Lemaître & Einstein
Fr Georges Lemaître and Albert Einstein

The English astronomer, Sir Fred Hoyle, coined the term “Big Bang” to mock the theory proposed by Belgian priest, astronomer, and professor of physics, Fr Georges Lemaître, that the universe had a beginning. The scientist Hoyle died in 2001 never accepting that the universe had a beginning.

Albert Einstein also could not accept the clear conclusion of his own calculations that the universe was not static. So, in 1917, he introduced a “cosmological constant” to make his calculations fit his presumptions.

In the 1920s, Fr Lemaître worked with Einstein’s general theory of relativity, but he did not bring to it Einstein’s prejudices of a static universe that had always existed. Instead Fr Lemaître brought in the idea that the universe is expanding, from observations known as a ‘red shift’ – a Doppler effect, indicating that galaxies are moving away from us. Fr Lemaitre published his ideas in 1927. Most scientists just could not cope with his idea that the universe has a beginning. Scientists deal with cause and effect. And if the universe has a beginning…

Einstein’s response to Fr Lemaitre was, “Your calculations are correct, but your grasp of physics is abominable.”

Of course, observations over the years have shown Fr Lemaitre to be right, and Einstein acknowledged the blunder he made.

Pope Francis, addressing the Pontifical Academy of Sciences this week, said what to many of us is obvious, “The Big Bang, which nowadays is posited as the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine act of creating, but rather requires it. The evolution of nature does not contrast with the notion of Creation, as evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve.

Tragically, fundamentalist theists and fundamentalist atheists inadvertently cooperate together so that a Christian leader (in this case the Pope) accepting contemporary scientific positions is somehow newsworthy!

I am forever needing to explain that I think the universe began with a Big Bang more than 13 billion years ago and that we evolved. And that my first reaction to a story with a talking snake is to understand its genre to be fable! And I wonder with distress why everyone is so agile using metaphors and understanding language to be richly metaphorical except in religion and spirituality.

I have previously expressed my distress that not more Christian leaders, including our bishops, appear reluctant to publicly declare their acceptance of the science of origin – evolution is the elephant in the empty nave.

The Pope again: “God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life.”

To me the way we should be reacting to what the Pope is saying is expressed well by The Eye of the Tiger (a sort of RC The Onion): “In a stunning break with centuries of Catholic teaching, Pope Francis announced today that the force of Gravity is real …and denied that every falling object is pulled downward by an angel created for that specific purpose by Jesus and Mother Mary.”

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22 Responses to Uncaused Cause

  1. I’m sure you don’t intend this, Bosco, but many Christians leap to the naive conclusion that the “Big Bang” was the beginning of everything in the sense that it is an objectively discernible creation ex nihilo requiring a creator. (His Holiness’s wording could be interpreted to support such a view.) But this merely pushes the “God of the Gaps” argument back 13 billion years to the point where we are tempted to use it for lack of data.

    The ancient pagan philosophers believed that the universe was everlasting, without beginning or end. (Everlasting, not eternal: for them, only God existed outside time. Their universe had infinite past and future but still had to experience time in the fleeting present, whereas for God the infinite past and future were all one simultaneous “now”.) It makes little difference whether we imagine that everlasting universe as nested spinning Ptolemaic spheres (as the ancients did) or as the varied outcomes (the Big Bang being one) of quantum vacuum fluctuation.

    Thomas Aquinas taught that the creation of the world ex nihilo could not be arrived at by natural reason in the absence of divine revelation. Indeed, he warned against trying to argue for a “beginning” of the world based on scientific reasoning, “for this would give unbelievers the occasion to ridicule, thinking that on such grounds we believe the things that are of faith” (ST I, q. 46, art. 2).

    Aquinas’s conclusion — including his warning against subjecting ourselves to the ridicule of “unbelievers” — seems to be validated with every fresh attempt to elucidate the origins of the universe.

    The God we proclaim is the ground of existence, the very condition of all being, not a link in the chain of causation. And the good news is that this God has revealed himself to us as close to us, intimately involved with our (seemingly) cosmically insignificant lives. Indeed, it sometimes appears that the whole universe exists as a means to bring us consciously into that relationship with him. The pinnacle of evolution was not the appearance of human beings, but the growth of a tree cut down and shaped into a Cross.

    • Thanks, Jesse. I think I see what you are getting at, but I am not totally clear. With my science background (I taught physics and maths), I am particularly interested in the science of origins. I think you are saying this does not prove God, certainly not the God who is intimate with us. I am saying that my scientific understanding is not in conflict with my relationship with God. Should the scientific theory change radically – I do not foresee my faith life being destroyed. [If, for example Hoyle is proved correct, and Fr Lemaître wrong, my faith would be fine; Gen 1-fundamentalists would struggle]. Blessings.

      • We are in total agreement, Bosco. I’m simply urging that when we express our exasperation with fundamentalists of both extremes we must guard against suggesting that our comfort in accepting modern science somehow shows that our faith is somehow better supported or more “reasonable” than theirs — or that our faith is in fact supported by modern science.

        We should, as you put it, be spiritually indifferent to the theories of a static or dynamic universe. (Though we may be intellectually engaged on one side or the other!)
        Science, as a method, can neither confirm nor undermine faith. It has no tools or methods relevant to that subject.

        Which is not to say that the universe, however it is understood to have begun, is not an inexhaustibly rich field for theology.

  2. ‘And I wonder with distress why everyone is so agile using metaphors and understanding language to be richly metaphorical except in religion and spirituality.’ Perhaps sadly, it is because many people’s experience of religion and in particular Christianity is one that is sold in black and white absolutes where there is no room for metaphor? Yet surely there is the case to be made that we can to some extent only begin to know of Creator God through metaphor.

  3. Hi Bosco

    I think both the Creationistl and Scientific views of the origin of life due to how long ago it all happened and the lack of absolute proof on both sides require equal ‘faith’, to be believed.

    I would encourage Christian leaders to say they accept evolution if they indeed do so.

    I think it is wise to be aware that the scientific view of evolution and the Big Bang does not teach in schools and universities about a Creator being in any part a possibility in the process of human evolution. But the theory is taught as if it is the only truth.

    My concern lies in the experience of people who having being taught with the assumption of the abscence of a creator in evolution have found this to be one of the biggest stumbling blocks to their acceptance of Christ – how can teachers be wrong?. While I know two friends for whom this was problem came to believe in Jesus, and once doing so had no difficulty accepting the metaphor of creation, I know another for whom it still keeps him apart from God.

    If more christians who do believe in evolution say so this may provide a way to engage with those who adhere to evolution, however, I doubt this would have a significant impact unless formal scientific teaching also acknowledges the possibility of a creator as a part of their theory.

    For me reading the latest exciting discovery of a fish who is said to now be my oldest ancestor, is less convincing than the truth conveyed in the metaphor and myth of the Genesis creation story, and I find the use of metaphors deepens meaning. Like C.S.Lewis I am loathe to see bibllical myth as fiction. As he stated in his conversion story, he had always viewed christianity liike all the greek mythology until he was struck with the stark reality that this particular myth was true.

    After all Science is the study of empirical cause and effect of what already exists in the material world formed by the Creator, and absent of other dimensions of truth such as the spiritual realm; right? : )

    Cheers
    Cathy

    • Thanks, Cathy. I’m afraid you and I approach things quite differently. I do not “believe” in evolution, just as I do not “believe” the planet is round, nor do I “believe” that we cannot travel faster than the speed of light. Until proved otherwise, these are things I hold, I accept. Belief for me is a different category, and part of the problem is that people think that the way they prove that God exists is by using the same processes that one would in science or history. I do not “believe” that Jesus was a historical person – I accept this, just as I accept that Julius Caesar was a historical person. My belief in Jesus lies in my commitment to him, or rather my belief in his commitment to me. I believe Jesus is fully God. That is quite a different category than that he was a historical person, which none of my intelligent atheist friends would deny. I would not expect God to appear in the teaching of a biology class, or a history class, or a mathematics class, or a geography class. That does not in any way mean I, as a believer, do not think of God as acting in biology, history, mathematics, or geography. Nor do I think that other myths are not true – I just don’t limit truth to what actually, historically happened. Blessings.

  4. Hi Bosco

    I think I understand what you are saying. Is it that what you ‘accept’ is what you take as being a ‘literal fact’ at the present (although this could change if evidence is provided), however, belief is ‘belief in’ something or somebody as in you believe in Jesus as loving you (which is immutable) which belongs to another dimension of understanding?

    If my interpretation of your position is correct we do approach things from a different angle. Although I agree truth is more than historical events, and there are some current understandings which I accept as most likely but would be willing to change if more information came to light.

    For me belief or faith in Jesus means I simultaneously believe in His presence in history is both literal and immutable, alongside His position as being fully God and present in and through us. Although I admit this does not mean I think every persons interpretation of said historical actions are necessarily correct!! What I struggle with in looking at what you say is I am unable to separate my belief in Jesus as God’s Son from my belief in Him as a historical person, for to me the historical Jesus who said ‘Who do you say I am?’ is the same Jesus who is now Lord. I do accept the possibility some historical facts of His life as we understand them now could either be added to or proven to be contentious, but this to me is human error of recording and does not the reality of who He was while a part of the historical human story.

    I would not believe in the historical Caesar in the same way simply because he was Caesar the person, not Caesar fully human and fully God.

    I would be surprised to see God appear in Geography, Biology etc too! A little tongue in cheek on my part. However, I would challenge that if the teaching of classes defer from empirical science and delve into areas such as teaching theories of origins which are equivalent in substance re evidence as myth is in the teaching of religion, an acknowledgement of other possibilities of origins be included.

    All the Best, Cathy

    • Thanks, Cathy.

      I am emphasising different epistemological categories. How we know stuff. I think this is very important.

      2+3=5
      humans landed on the Moon
      we evolved
      Jesus is God
      are four different categories, and we use different methods to establish their truth. I, hence, do not use the term ‘belief’, for example when speaking about 2+3=5, and no matter how many laboratory experiments demonstrate that 2+3 does not equal 5, I will continue to hold that 2+3=5 and that laboratory experiments are not the appropriate way to investigate that type of truth.

      The investigation whether the historical Jesus actually did say, ‘Who do you say I am?’ is able to be undertaken by atheists. You yourself acknowledge that some parts of the Bible evidence “human error of recording”. In my approach, then, such errors do not affect my faith in God, in Christ’s divinity, nor in the inspiration of the scriptures as the Word of God, as these are different categories.

      I, hence, struggle to know what you are referring to in your desire of “acknowledgement of other possibilities of origins” in a science classroom. There are people who insist that the world is not a sphere, but a flat disc. I might mention that to make a certain point in a classroom, but I would not give it any credence in teaching science – and would be distressed to see this theory being given equal time in any curriculum.

      Blessings.

  5. Hi Bosco

    Thank you for the fuller explanation of your reasoning. I think I would have a more peaceful time of it (intellectually speaking) if I were able to align different methods of establishing truth with different types of categories (epistemology) and keep them apart from each other. But my brain has an annoying habit of seeing truth holistically, that if something is true it is true despite the category and epistemology one uses to investigate it.

    For example if I were to ascertain, search or seek the truth of whether evolution is a viable theory I would take into account the mathematical probability of life coming out of the Big Bang, or the probability of the three components of DNA simultaneously coming into existence at the same time (maths), I would look at the scientific evidence such as fossils etc to see if they provide credible evidence to back up the concept (science), I would look at the historical context that surrounded the idea of evolution and the people involved in its development (history) and I would search the scriptures and pray, for knowledge and spiritual discernment over whether or not it was to be accepted (religion). If one category proved wanting, then I would have to decide whether there is sufficient reason to doubt the idea or whether the epistemology used in this category is unreliable.

    Christians come to faith through investigating the historical Jesus, some through spiritual experiences, some through the study of sciences (e.g archeology, physiology), and others through evaluating the mathematical probability of life existing independent of a creator and looking at the order of the existing universe. That God would place truth of His existence in all categories makes sense to me if one believes if we seek Him we will find Him, or that He is in and through and of all things. This of course is my position and I accept others perceive such things differently.

    My comment “acknowledge other possibilities of origins” is to due to theory of evolution not having enough evidence to fit into sciences accepted way of determining truth. That is the theory of evolution has produced a degree of evidence when it has been investigated but not in my estimation enough to be considered as acceptable within its own epistemological standards of being a proven theory.. Hence, either acknowledging evolution is therefore one possible theory of the scientific origin of humans, or that one may look to other categories for explanations is merely being honest. It is my understanding that one of the foundations of science is that is an adaptable in its application, adapting or replacing one concept with another if new evidence comes to light. As such I am surprised when then focus is on the teaching (not necessarily the investigation) of evolution it is taught like it is the only option for the origin of humankind.

    Cheers, Cathy

    • Thanks, Cathy.

      I only have time to respond to one of your points: could you please explain to me how you calculate “the mathematical probability of life coming out of the Big Bang”?

      I have just flipped a coin 40 times. This is the result: HTTHHHTHTHHHTHHTTTTHTHHTHHTHTHHTHTTTHHTH
      The chance of that result is, as you know, 1 in a trillion. Would you then say that “taking into account the extremely high mathematical improbability” of that result, that this result did not happen?

      Blessings.

  6. Hi Bosco

    I don’t … if I was intent on investigating evolution I would need to rely on the figures of respected and qualified mathematicians more able than I.

    No the flipping of a coin with the probability of a specific result being one in a trillion does not mean it ‘did not happen’.

    The probabilities in respect to the Big Bang or Evolution are far greater than this however:
    Probability of the formation of a single enzyme the building block of a gene required for DNA to exist by chance – 1 in 10 to the power of 40 000 (more attempts than stars in the known universe).
    For the conditions of life to exist if there was a Big Bang 10 to the power of 26 of 1%

    And my conclusion, in the mathematical category life as we may know it still may have happened through a Big Bang but the likely-hood is small.

    Don’t take me wrong, I have no issue with Christian’s who accept the Big Bang and subsequently evolution as an explanation of beginnings of the universe, even if I choose not to – although I do enjoy the odd debate. Belief in the life, death and resurrection of Christ, redemption and salvation, for me is what unifies the Church and is most important. I just wouldn’t get “distressed” over clergy who don’t adhere to the ‘science of origin’ nor those who profess they don’t agree the world was formed in seven days. No doubt we will all find out many errors in our thinking in many areas when we finally meet the one who knows for sure!

    Blessings, Cathy

    • Thanks, Cathy.

      Could you give us the (preferably online) reference to the calculations by the respected and qualified mathematicians of the two probabilities you quote.

      If these are suggesting that 10 to the power of 40 000 is anything like the number of stars in the known universe, then certainly they are dealing with numbers quite different to most scientists. Yes – that number is more than the number of stars…. ummmm…. much more (something like 10 to the power of 39,975 times more) 🙂

      But as you agree, however low the probability of something happening, if that is actually how something happened – that is what we appropriately study. There was a relatively good chance (in comparison to your calculation) of the Germans winning World War II, or of Mitt Romney being the President of the United States, but I would not support an education system that taught those as alternative theories of history.

      Using your approach of crossing epistemological categories, what is the probability that a human being can be God? What is the probability that the Resurrection (not a resuscitation) happened? What is the probability that there is life after death?

      Blessings.

  7. Hi Bosco

    The link is http://www.wnd.com/2001/06/9702/ – paragraph 4. It is quoted from Ravi Zacharius’s book “Jesus Among Other God’s” which I have ironically read. And yes you are right it is more than the stars in the universe, it appears I mis-quoted the version actually reads as more than the atoms in all the stars in the universe! (wish I knew how to do smily faces in blogs). A mathematician I may not ever be….

    Ah you provide a challenge! Well my cross epistemological brain might say, one could take all historical records of Jesus’s claims of being God and performing miracles, and work out how probable is it that said independent sources report the same information. In this case the lower the probability the higher the possibility what is recorded is true. Then you could apply the religious or I prefer spiritual realm or category, and, but only if truth was genuinely being sought, and see if the bible says anything about Jesus being God or as I prefer One with God, and try praying for this to be revealed if it is indeed true.

    Told you to be thankful you don’t have my brain!

    One could reply but ah you use the history category before employing the mathematical category. Yet this is my point I am unable in all situations to see them as completely separate, I do acknowledge while the disciplines of science, maths and history deal with the material world (mostly), the religious category while no less and to me more also deals with the spiritual realm – one which history may encomppass but is less acknowledged in science and maths.

    Besides isn’t “I created you in the image of God” far more appealing than “I created you through the evolution of an amoeba”?

    Enjoy your day, Cathy

    • Thanks, Cathy.

      Your clarification that “the version actually reads as more than the atoms in all the stars in the universe” actually makes little difference whatsoever. Your number is still 10 to the power of 39,920 times more than the number of atoms in the known universe.

      Whenever someone comes up with the sort of super-huge probability numbers that you are relying on, good mathematicians should be immediately suspicious that the person doing the calculation does not understand well how probability works. Sally Clark was famously imprisoned for the the murder of two of her sons based on Professor Sir Roy Meadow’s argument that the chance of two children from an affluent family suffering sudden infant death syndrome was 1 in 73 million. The good professor simply did not understand probability, and nor did the court that convicted her, nor the appeal court that upheld her conviction.

      Whilst I think your approach to my question about the probability of a human being being God is back to front, I would also challenge your “all historical records of Jesus’s claims of being God and performing miracles, and work out how probable is it that said independent sources report the same information” – how many independent eye-witness historical records of Jesus’s claims of being God and performing miracles can you think of?

      As to your final point, I have absolutely no issue with God creating me in God’s image and doing this through my parents having sex. Similarly, I have absolutely no issue with God creating humanity in God’s image and doing this “through the evolution of an amoeba”. Do you have any issue with the former? If not, why with the latter?

      At the end of the day, I’m not sure if we are seeking the “more appealing” version or the true one.

      Blessings.

  8. Hi Bosco

    If it is “still 10 to the power of 39,920 times” more attempts than the number of atoms in stars in the universe then surely that just makes the probability of an enzyme of DNA occuring by chance even more unlikely?

    I accept probability is just that probability, it gives to us an indication of what is most likely or not. It is not fact.

    What is the difference between God creating man and woman in His image and then many years later me being begotten by my parents who hold this image or God forming humans through the evolution of an amoeba and me by chance being born to parents in God’s image many years later? Yes, the first is certainly more attractive.

    Although I ascertain to adaptation within but not between species, like begetting like, speaking theoretically it would make little difference to me theologically how God chose to create humanity. This is totally His perogrative.

    However, if I am correct chance is essential to evolution and God working through evolution to produce a human in his image necessitates a prior plan cancelling out chance. For a Christian (who is unable to separate categories : ) ) to accept evolution (assuming there is enough evidence for it) and retain faith in being created in God’s image a reconciling between the two ideas or the choosing of one or the other is necessary.

    Kind Regards
    cathy

    • Just quickly, Cathy:

      You say: “If it is “still 10 to the power of 39,920 times” more attempts than the number of atoms in stars in the universe then surely that just makes the probability of an enzyme of DNA occuring by chance even more unlikely?”

      My response – check what I wrote again, please. My point was that this probability number, 1 in 10 to the power of 40,000, is not correct. It is constructed by someone who does not understand probability, particularly confusing how such calculations are done.

      God’s plan and chance are NOT in conflict as you suggest. If sentient life is modelled, for example, by coins in the form of HTTTTH, then by tossing coins often enough, HTTTTH will appear. God creating me is part of God’s plan – are you suggesting then that the chance involved in my conception cancels out God’s plan to create me? Or are you now denying chance in an individual’s conception as well – your logic leads to that conclusion.

      Blessings.

  9. I am saying if God intentionally plans to create a human in His image, whatever way this happens, how can it be by chance if He has already decided, or because of His omnipotence, knows the end result?

    Could scientists or people in general accept evolution was not a random unplanned occurrence but a method to create human life as we know it.

    : ) Cathy

    • I think in your first sentence, Cathy, you are confusing omnipotence with omniscience. Classical understanding of God’s omnipotence includes the ability to achieve God’s purpose through chance.

  10. Okay I am nit picking here now.

    God may chooose to acheive His purposes through using the natural laws of chance but the end result is still not a chance occurrence if He has purposed it.

    In such a way do I see my own existence, God used man’s free will in my birth, however my existence was predetermined beforehand by Him; ‘before you were born all the days of your life were written in my book’ ‘even as he chose us in Him before the foundation of the world’.

    Can the majority of scientists concede the real possibiity other theories for the origins of man outside of their own worldview that may not have been by a process of random chance? “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”

    So in the current time theology can accomodate the possible formation of man through God using chance, but many scientists not the formation of man by God, whether of dust or through evolution, accepting chance by itself alone can produce the complexity of the human body. Can we as Christian’s faithfully accept the teaching of later as truth?

    Cheers Cathy

  11. «So, we got it wrong with the gays; we are going down in the polls. We have to find quickly something to climb up again… Something that everybody believes in, and where the collateral damages are few or even nonexistent… Yes, the Big Bang and the evolution!»

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