Math, God and Man

“God made the natural numbers,” the nineteenth-century algebraist Leopold Kronecker famously said, “and all the rest is the work of man.”  (Jordan Ellenberg,  How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking, p 104)

Mathematics is one way that we can approach the universe around us – a way to know reality.  It is also an interpretation of reality – for math says reality can be known and predicted and described by formulas.  Math says there are patterns to be recognized everywhere in the cosmos, and that the entire cosmos can even be understood as a relationship of numbers and formulas.

We recognize the truth about mathematics and science in the Akathist Hymn, “Glory to God for All Things.”  There we sing:

In the wondrous blending of sounds, it is your call we hear. In the harmony of many voices, in the sublime beauty of music, in the glory of the works of great composers, you lead us to the threshold of paradise to come, and to the choirs of angels. All true beauty has the power to draw the soul towards you and make it sing in ecstasy: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!  

 The breath of your Holy Spirit inspires artists, poets, scientists.  The power of your supreme knowledge makes them prophets and interpreters of your laws, who reveal the depths of your creative wisdom. Their works speak unwittingly of you. How great are you in your creation! How great are you in man!

Glory to You, showing your unsurpassable power in the laws of the universe.

Glory to You, for all nature is filled with your laws.

Glory to You for what you have revealed to us in your mercy.

Glory to You for what you have hidden from us in your wisdom.

Glory to You for the inventiveness of the human mind.

Glory to You for the dignity of man’s labor.

Glory to You for the tongues of fire that bring inspiration.

Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

Music is another part of the universe which is very mathematical.  Anything with patterns is mathematical as well.  That is why beauty is said to be mathematical – what we see or hear as beautiful is often patterned and thus can be described by mathematics.  The patterns and order of the universe are all describable by math.  And in Orthodoxy we recognize God the Trinity as the Creator of all the order in the universe.

Faith and Reason

Though opposing faith against reason seems to be a modern issue resulting from a scientific mindset opposing faith, the difference between faith and reason has been long understood in the Church, centuries before the modern scientific age.   St. Isaac the Syrian for example sees faith as greater than reason/knowledge because knowledge really deals only with the things of this world while faith deals with things beyond this world.  Knowledge is thus limited to the study of nature, but then there exists the world beyond nature – divinity, spiritual beings, heaven, the soul.  The natural world has its edges and limits, and thus knowledge is bound and limited.  The life beyond nature is an existence which might be boundless, and thus is greater than nature itself.

“For knowledge is opposed to faith; but faith, in all that pertains to it, demolishes laws of knowledge—we do not, however, speak here of spiritual knowledge. For this is the  definition of knowledge: that without investigation and examination it has no authority to do anything, but must investigate whether that which it considers and desires is possible… but faith requires a mode of thinking that is single, limpidly pure, and simple, far removed from any deviousness. See how faith and knowledge are opposed to one another! The home of faith is a childlike thought and a simple heart… But knowledge conspires against and opposes both these qualities. Knowledge in all its paths keeps within the boundaries of nature. But faith makes its journey above nature.”  (The Spiritual World of St. Isaac the Syrian, page 257)

Becoming Little Children

“Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them,and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'”   (Matthew 18:2-4)

Christ’s words that we are to become as little children, or else we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, have at times been a puzzle to me.   I’ve wondered, what was it about children that Christ believed to make this statement?  Look at any books of theology and mysticism, they are anything but child like.

In my parish, some might think, “like children?”   You mean …  disruptive, noisy, restless, misbehaving, distracting?

“Like children,” the Lord Jesus Christ says.

Probably one of the best explanations I’ve ever read illuminating Christ’s teaching, comes from a most unlikely source.   I’m a fan of  humorist and fiction author Douglas Adams, who was not a believer and certainly not trying to understand the Gospel.   In his book, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish,  Adams has the character Wonko the Sane say:

“I’m a scientist and I know what constitutes proof. But the reason I call myself by my childhood name is to remind myself that a scientist must also be absolutely like a child. If he sees a thing, he must say that he sees it, whether it was what he thought he was going to see or not. See first, think later, then test. But always see first. Otherwise you will only see what you were expecting.”

A child sees things and is not troubled by whether it is believable or not, whether it makes sense or not, whether it is logical or not, whether it conforms to reality or not.  The child sees first, and may not make proper sense of what he or she sees, but the vision is clear – innocent, unspoiled, not jaded or cynical.

I remember once hearing an aviation investigator say that some of the most reliable witnesses of a plane crash are children.  They tend to report what they saw without trying to interpret or make sense of what they saw.   The more a person knows about aviation, the more they try to make sense of what they were viewing as the plane goes down.  They don’t report what they saw but what they thought must be happening – what makes sense to them, rather than what they saw that didn’t make sense.

A child experiences, even before understanding.  Logic and reason can cause some things we see to disappear or fade away. To understand fully, we must be clairvoyant – we must see clearly and see all that is, not just that which makes sense to us, or reinforces what we think or agrees with what we think.  If we see only what we are expecting, we conform reality to ourselves, rather than experiencing all that is there.

As one sage said, “if we only read those parts 0f scripture with which we agree, then we are not listening to God, but only to ourselves.”

Wonko the Sane continues:

“But always see first. Otherwise you will only see what you were expecting.Most scientists forget that. I’ll show you something to demonstrate that later. So, the other reason I call myself Wonko the Sane is so that people will think I am a fool. That allows me to say what I see when I see it. You can’t possibly be a scientist if you mind people thinking that you’re a fool.”  ( The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,  Kindle Location 10562-10567)

A truth teller always risks sounding like a fool to some because he or she may be the first to see something or may see that which others cannot see ever.   Sounds a great deal like a “fool for Christ” or a prophet.   Or perhaps returning to becoming like a child, it reminds me of the children’s story by Hans Christian Andersen, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

The Mystery which binds Science and Religion

Pure atheistic materialists would claim that nothing exists beyond the empirical reality we encounter through our senses.  They endeavor to explain everything in the universe by causal relations with the rest of the empirical universe.  It is a self-contained system.  Sometimes discoveries emerge which cause the materialists to admit that there may be more to the empirical universe than previously acknowledged.  So their sense of the material universe does grow to include dark matter, dark energy, parallel universes, bubble universes and the like.   Theory or experience may lead to the conjecture about these unobservable aspects of the universe which remain beyond our direct observation but are suggested because current theory and knowledge cannot fully account for the known universe (as it turns out 70% of the universe is dark energy and 25% is dark matter while the to us observable universe is only about 5% of all that exists).

For example, physicists puzzle over why gravity is such a feeble force.  As noted in the July 2012 issue of DISCOVER MAGAZINE, it is not easy to explain how a small “magnet can pick up a paper clip even though the gravitational force of the entire earth is pulling the clip down.”   This led to speculation that perhaps there are other spatial dimensions, so far unknown to us, that affect the force of gravity.  Dr. Eric Adelberger of the University of Washington and colleagues have invented a pendulum, a torsion balance, which would be able to detect whether on some micro scale gravity breaks down.  So far they have not detected any unusual results in how gravity works.

Another scientist who acknowledged that there are things science cannot explain is Sir Andrew Huxley   who died in May of this year.  Huxley was a   neurophysiologist who was responsible for discovering how a nerve impulses work which opened the door for much of modern neuroscience.  Sir Andrew considered himself an agnostic and admitted “that there is no scientific explanation for the fact that we are conscious.”   That fact plays a significant role in Raymond Tallis’  APING MANKIND:NEUROMANIA, DARWINITIS AND THE MISREPRESENTATION OF HUMANITY.  Tallis, though an atheist himself, is not shaken by the fact that there are some things in the universe which science cannot yet explain.  He is willing to acknowledge that there are some things we do not know, and may never know.  His book is  a rebuttal to the claims that some atheists make about neuroscience proving there is no free will.  His take on the world is that realism demands even materialists to acknowledge that currently our state of understanding certain realities is incomplete and we in fact cannot explain everything purely from materialism.  It is dishonest to contrive theories denying for example, free will, just to maintain an atheistic belief.

As I was thinking about the above two points, I read with great interest an article by Fr. John Breck in the Number 4, 2011 issue of ST. VLADIMIR’S THEOLOGICAL QUARTERLY, entitled “God in a Quantum World.”  Fr. Breck explores some of the new science that is emerging which challenges long held beliefs by scientists; some of these beliefs were thought to be certain and non-negotiable.  The marvel of science is of course that new evidence requires new theories, and so “scientific truth” is something that becomes modified over time as new evidence demands new theories.  Breck says that especially in France new questions are being asked by scientists which challenge the established order of things in physics, evolution and the neuroscience of consciousness.  He offers a list of ideas that are being challenged in science today, but I’ll jump to his concluding comments for the sake of brevity.

“If a person cannot accept an ‘apophatic” approach to reality, declaring what it is not before seeking to affirm what it is, then there is little way of dealing with the givens of quantum mechanics and general relativity.”

Some of what the new scientific discoveries are showing is that there is built in the physics of the universe some indeterminacy or uncertainty.  There actually are things we cannot know – not because we lack the instruments but because of the very way things are.

One of the mysteries at the quantum level of the universe is that the conscious observer is needed for certain events to take place – they remain in an indeterminate state until observed.  Breck writes:

“On the quantum level, consciousness is also required  to ‘bring into existence’ elementary particles and, variously, to determine their mass, location and velocity.  This is scientific fact, demonstrated experimentally and repeatedly over the course of the last century.”

Here we enter into a most marvelous mystery of the universe: if a conscious observer is needed for certain things to exist on the quantum level, then in fact we humans as observers also are creating or bringing into existence things which before were not.   This means two important things: 1) we actually are co-creators with God in the world, and  2) absolute determinacy, which so many atheists materialist rely on as the basis of their own epistemology, is simply false.  At the quantum level at least determinacy makes no sense.  There is mystery in the universe, and free will is quite possible.  Strangely, even before we understood the laws of quantum mechanics, we were observing the quantum universe and thus bringing things into existence, even though we were unaware that it was our conscious observation that was making certain things exist.

“If we have the capacity to bring elementary particles into physical existence by the sheer act of observation, then perhaps something analogous occurs in the realm of God’s own being and activity . . . God, who creates not by modeling clay from a riverbed or from some pre-existing, unformed matter, but rather by an act of conscious perception that looks upon the world and ‘sees that it is good’ (cf. Genesis 1).

It might well be, then, that God creates ex nihilo and sustains the creation by employing the very quantum laws that he himself devised.”

For believers all of this means that we do not have to choose between science and religion, or between faith and reason.  For what may be emerging is that science is recognizing that mystery is part of the universe, and that there may be more to the universe than we can measure or observe or test in experimentation.

A Fusion of Prayer and Medicine

Tomorrow morning, June 7, I will be undergoing surgery on my lumbar spine intended to correct some problems that have been worsening as I have aged.

Following the six hour surgery and time in recovery, at some point I will be challenged with the words,

“Get up and walk.”

I hope in that moment to hear the voice of Christ and not just the nurse.  I will need Him  as Peter needed Him when he began to sink beneath the waves.   It will be a moment of synergy – the surgeon will have done his part, Christ will do his part, and I will have to do my part.   A good friend, Dr. N. Eike, says the surgeon’s job is to remove those things which are preventing healing from taking place: a wonderful perspective.

I will not be posting any blogs for a few days as I convalesce.  I have been working on a blog series which I hope to begin in a week or so on PRAYER.

It is something I will be relying on and wrestling with in the next few weeks as my activities will be curtailed for at least one month.  A measure of how well I am recovering might be how soon I am able to resume posting blogs.  I’ve been told for the next 30 days there will be very limited activity, so I’m not sure what to expect in the recuperation process.

Meanwhile, I ask for your prayers.

Let me hear joy and gladness;

let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

(Psalms 51:8)

I am hoping that my bones will be rejoicing after surgery!  The Psalmist is both bold and hopeful.  He boldly expresses his belief that it is God who has crushed his bones – he is not blaming God but acknowledging God’s will in the world.  The Psalmist then asks in hope that God will now allow his crushed bones to rejoice.  It calls to mind the Book of Job the Long-Suffering:

And Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”  In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.  (Job 1:21-22)

As I prepare myself for surgery, offer up holy words from  THE WISDOM OF ST ISAAC OF NINEVEH:

“Before you fall ill, search out a doctor for yourself.  Before difficulties come upon you, pray; then, when the time of distress comes, you will discover prayer, and it will provide an answer for you.”

“When you are ill, say ‘Blessed are those who discover the purpose set by God in the things that God brings upon us for our advantage.  God is bringing this sickness for the sake of the soul’s good health.’”

“If you believe firmly that God cares for you, then you do not need to worry about the body, nor need you be concerned about discovering ways how to conduct your life.  If, however, you doubt God’s care, and want to look after yourself without God, then you are the most miserable person imaginable.”

I have lived and wanted to live in such a way as to look after myself and not to be looking for or dependent on God’s care.  Now I am to submit my body and soul into His hands and trust in His care.  It is a step of faith.

“Into your hands, O Lord, do I commend my spirit,

bless me, have mercy on me, and give me eternal life.”

Christ the Physician of Soul and Body

(The above icon was done by the hand of Daryl Cochran.  He gave it to me as a gift in preparation for my surgery.)

Free Will and Tradition

3 Holy Hierarchs

“But I must explain myself a little more clearly. A good many men do not draw their conclusions from the very nature of reality, but merely consider the way men have lived before them; and so they fall completely short of an accurate judgment about reality, and they take, as their criterion of what is good, irrational custom instead of sober reason. Hence they force their way into political office and power, they make a good deal of merely external show since they are unaware of the fact that all this will come to an end after this life. For custom is no sure guarantee for the future, for very often this may lead us to the goats and not to the flock of sheep. My meaning will become clear if you will consider the words of the Gospel. If you consider that which is proper to man, that is, his reason, you will despise the force of custom as irrational, and you will never choose as good that which brings no advantage to the soul. We must not then seriously consider the footprints of those who have gone before us like so many cattle leaving their trace upon the world. For what is best to choose is not clear from sense phenomena – nor shall it be until we depart from this life; then we will know whom we have followed. The man then who merely follows in the tracks of those who have lived before, and takes the custom of this world as his guide in life, and does not distinguish good from evil on the basis of actual reality, very often makes a mistake, and in the day of that just Judgment he becomes a goat instead of a sheep.” (Gregory of Nyssa, From Glory to Glory, pg. 161)

Free Will and Biology (1)

This is the 3rd blog in this series which began with Environmental Clues, Shaping Behavior and Free Will (1).  In the previous blog, Environmental Clues, Shaping Behavior and Free Will (2), we began considering a USA TODAY article  Why We don’t Really Have Free Will written by respected evolutionary scientist Jerry Coyne.   Coyne is also ardently committed to materialistic atheism which leads to his denial of a soul, of free will or of any non-materialist force which might act upon material creation.   All human behavior for him results from chemical and biological forces – the laws of physics.

Coyne believes that neuroscience has now proven that free will is but an illusion.  My question is whether what Coyne claims is proven science is rather merely his own beliefs – his philosophy, or ideology,  which colors his science.  For it seems to me all that neuroscience can establish is that mental processes have some basis in biological/chemical processes.  Since free will is immaterial, how can science whose thinking is limited to materialism, prove or disprove it at all?

We are after all carbon based beings.  Our minds, selves and souls have no real existence apart from our bodies – that is the very way we were created.  So, yes, at some point all mental and spiritual activities will show some physical signs in our brains or in our nervous system.   When we think, our brains are physically functioning.  The same is true when we make a choice.  What neuroscience can see is the activity of the brain already shaped by experience, and indeed the brain physically goes into action before we begin to act.  This does not and in fact cannot disprove free will.

Coyne writes:

The first is simple: we are biological creatures, collections of molecules that must obey the laws of physics. All the success of science rests on the regularity of those laws, which determine the behavior of every molecule in the universe. Those molecules, of course, also make up your brain — the organ that does the “choosing.” And the neurons and molecules in your brain are the product of both your genes and your environment, an environment including the other people we deal with. Memories, for example, are nothing more than structural and chemical changes in your brain cells. Everything that you think, say, or do, must come down to molecules and physics.

True “free will,” then, would require us to somehow step outside of our brain’s structure and modify how it works. Science hasn’t shown any way we can do this because “we” are simply constructs of our brain. We can’t impose a nebulous “will” on the inputs to our brain that can affect its output of decisions and actions, any more than a programmed computer can somehow reach inside itself and change its program.

I really don’t have much trouble with Coyne’s description of us as biological beings.  That is a fact of both Christianity and science.  When God created the earth and brought humans into existence, however and whenever that may have occurred, humans were made with physical bodies which do follow the laws of physics, biology, chemistry and nature.  Even for those of us who admit to the existence of the mind and soul and self would have to admit that at the moment that humans were created as part of the physical world, any non-material activity (thought, emotion, choice, memories, learning, etc) of the human will have some corresponding physical/physiological activity which can be studied by science.  So when we think, decide, choose, pray, hear God, whatever, there will be something happening to our physical brains and bodies.  We are created as one human being.  We are not dualists.  Our spiritual selves co-exist with our physical selves, and when our physical selves cease to exist, our spiritual self departs this earth.  Thus Coyne’s assertions about our biological selves pose no threat to ideas about a soul or about free will.

Coyne further declares that “True ‘free will,’ then, would require us to somehow step outside of our brain’s structure and modify how it works.”   I am not sure why he believes that free will requires us to step outside of our brains for he offers no explanation for that claim.   It seems based in some dualistic assumption of his that mind and brain cannot be related or that self and brain cannot be related.   Since God created us body, soul and spirit, we live as an integrated whole being.  The soul/self and body are in-personed in an individual.    The exercise of free will thus requires us to use our physical brains to make decisions and choose behavior.  (In the Scriptural description of Sheol – the place of the dead – the dead cannot praise God or do anything.  Why?  Because these dead are separated from their bodies – they exist but without the body aren’t able to do anything.  See Psalm 6:5).    In choosing to do anything we rely on memories which are mysteriously recorded in the electronics and chemistry of the brain.   And also mysteriously we have not only our own memories and learning, but we have instincts recorded within our brains – the memories of distant ancestors also which have become part of us.  These things are more mysteriously recorded somehow in our DNA and then brought to life in each being of our species.

Coyne declares science can’t show anyway that “we” can get outside of our brain structures.  I would say of course not because science by definition is limited to studying and understanding physical realities.  Thought, emotion, memories, creativity, information, wisdom all have non-materials manifestations and so cannot be studied by science.  All science can do is study the physical brain but how exactly an old memory exists in the brain is not known even though we can through neuroscience see it coming to life through neural activity.

Further, I ask, how exactly does creative thought come into existence – we create something new, a new sound or technology that never before existed and yet we can imagine it and create it.  These are not things recorded in our brains, but our brains being used by us to create new ideas, images, and things.

In imagination, emotion, creativity, wisdom, knowledge, inventiveness, we see the human brain doing things far beyond simply calling on memories recorded in chemical or neural activities.   In this way it appears to me that Coyne ignores a great deal of what the brain can do in order to prop up his materialist ideology.

Next:  Free Will and Biology (2)

Being Human: The Relationship between Mind and Brain

This is the 6th Blog in this series which began with Science and the Church:  Are the Facts In?  The previous blog is The Genetic Side of Being Human (II).  We are now considering  some of the ideas and claims of James Le Fanu in  his book,  Why Us?: How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves.

Le Fanu accepts many parts of the theory of evolution but remains unconvinced that the theory of evolution alone can adequately explain many of the developments that are said to be part of human evolution or which can be seen in the historical record (for example, the historical record shows a sudden extinction of many species and the unexpected explosion of new species rather than the theory expected gradual appearance of new species over time).

Any one thing which happens in the evolution of a species requires many other evolutionary changes as well.  For example in humans, the large brain requires that a mother’s pelvis and birthing canal must be capable of giving birth to a baby with such a  shaped head AND it requires that much of the brain’s development occurs after birth so that human babies are born almost totally helpless as compared to other primate babies.  Thus the evolution of a larger brain requires the evolution of the pelvic region of human women, the evolution of a bone structure to support the top heavy head over a bipedal body, and the delay of the brain’s development until after birth.   Many “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” type dilemmas for evolution theorists to explain.

“Similarly, the elusive workings of the human brain would seem to defy any simple evolutionary explanation.”  (Kindle Loc. 770-71)

It is the brain itself which captured much attention from Le Fanu as he considered the mystery of what it is to be human.  The relationship between the brain cells and conscious thought for example are not yet resolved.   Here again he thinks despite huge advances in scientific knowledge about the brain, there are huge gaps in our understanding which speak to the limits of science and the profound mystery of being human.

“‘We seem as far from understanding [the brain] as we were a century ago. Nobody understands how decisions are made or how imagination is set free.’”  (Kindle Loc. 458-59)

Though new methods of doing brain scans have made visible to us areas of the brain involved in various mental activities, how these processes actually work is not totally known.   Brain functions can be spread through large portions of the brain and how the various areas of the brain work together and the fact that even “silent” portions of the brain are essential for these functions is little understood today.   In addition how DNA works to make the brain what it is remains a mystery.

“…  the dominant features of the brain remain its ‘silent’ areas, with their capacity to integrate and unify thoughts, sensations and emotions into a continuous stream of conscious awareness.”  (Kindle  Loc. 3732-34)

Le Fanu says it is the existence of continuous conscious awareness – a real fact of being human which though related to the material brain is not coterminous with the brain –  which speaks to us of a non-materials aspect of our being (see also my blog Is This Your Brain on God?).

“… unprepossessing three pounds of brain tissue confined within our skulls, like a vast intellectual black hole absorbs the most searching forms of scientific investigation.”  (Kindle  Loc. 3747-48)

The brain is able to deal with information and abstract concepts – non-material reality.  The human is capable of successfully relating to this non-material reality of information, knowledge and emotions, which for Le Fanu is evidence of why evolutionary theory based solely in materialism is inadequate for understanding what it is to be human.  One needs to look beyond materialism to begin to grasp the truth about life and humanity

“… first, how just a few thousand genes might instruct the arrangement of those billions of neurons with their ‘hardwired’ faculties of language and mathematics; and second, the physical basis of that all-encompassing property of neuroplasticity by which the brain incorporates into itself the experiences of a lifetime.”  (Kindle Loc. 3738-40)

The mystery of being human will not, according to Le Fanu be resolved by scientific materialism, because part of being human involves non-material characteristics – consciousness and conscience, processing information and knowledge, experiencing the world through emotions.

“… the central enigma is clear enough: how to reconcile what the brain is with what it does?”   (Kindle  Loc. 2984-85)

The relationship between mind and brain is a mystery that Le Fanu thinks materialistic science cannot resolve because it introduces the non-material reality into scientific study  and science says it is limited to physical realities.

Of course the secular scientist will object that this is nothing but another “god of the gaps” objection which will be over come in time.    Or perhaps it really does point to a truth about being human – the non-material aspects of human existence are every bit as real as the material.

Next: Being Human: The Relationship between Mind and Brain (II)

The Mystery of Ourselves

This is the 3rd Blog in this series which began with Science and the Church:  Are the Facts In?  In the previous blog, Christianity and Science, we looked at some of the comments of Dr. Gayle Woloschak in her article “The Compatability of the Principles of Biological Evolution with Orthodoxy” in the ST. VLADIMIR’S THEOLOGICAL QUARTERLY, Vol 55, No. 2, 2011.   With this blog we begin our look at some of the claims of James Le Fanu in  his book,  Why Us?: How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves.   Part of Le Fanu’s criticism of science is that it is so focused on materialism that it misses the greater mysteries which are visible in the science itself.

“We have lost that sense of living in an enchanted world. We might now, thanks to science, comprehend the universe of which we are a part, only to discover that its properties, as evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins puts it, ‘are precisely those we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good – nothing but blind, pitiless indifference’. We have lost, too, sight of the most significant factor of all – the exceptionality of the human mind.”   (Kindle Highlight Loc. 4195-98)

Some scientists who reject the idea of a Creator are hostile to Le Fanu’s thoughts as they are to theists who embrace many of the claims of science.   I, however, do not think that believers should feel so threatened by atheistic science.  According to modern physics, a little less than 5% of the universe is made up of matter,  about 25% is dark matter, and about 70% is dark energy.  So when we are looking at biology, we are to begin with looking only at that 5% of the universe which constitutes matter that we can study through the biological sciences.  And then we realize that the total percent of the matter in the universe which is properly the realm of biology and evolution is a much smaller portion of the total matter in the universe.  On the grand scale of things any theory of evolution is talking about a disproportionately tiny part of the known universe.   So for all the bluster evolutionary theorists like to muster against theists, they are talking about a small fraction of the universe anyway.  Theists are holding to ideas that take the entire universe into consideration not just that that miniscule portion of our planet that is the limit of evolutionary science.  Evolution at best describes a small fraction of the entire matter of the universe.  Of course it is the matter that is important to us, because it is our story and our history which is being discussed.  But for those who embrace scientific theism, there is a whole lot more to the universe than is being described or accounted for by evolution.  As Harvard science professor Lisa Randall says in her article on dark energy and matter, “If the history of science has taught us anything, it should be the shortsightedness of believing that what we see is all there is.”  (DISCOVER, November 2011, p 59)

Nevertheless, the fight between faith and reason, science and religion is mostly led on the religious side by fundamentalists and biblical literalists  as is obvious in such articles as the 17 October 2011 NY Times  The Evangelical Rejection of Reason by Christian authors and college professors Karl W. Giberson and Randall J. Stephens.  They belong to an evangelical tradition but distance themselves from those fundamentalists who reject science and reason.

“Americans have always trusted in God, and even today atheism is little more than a quiet voice on the margins. Faith, working calmly in the lives of Americans from George Washington to Barack Obama, has motivated some of America’s finest moments. But when the faith of so many Americans becomes an occasion to embrace discredited, ridiculous and even dangerous ideas, we must not be afraid to speak out, even if it means criticizing fellow Christians.”

So while the anti-scientific and anti-reason rhetoric belongs mostly to fundamentalists and literalists, the rest of Christianity cannot just look askance and avoid the discussion.   We have a responsibility to make the effort to bridge the gap between those who claim to embrace Christianity but who fear and oppose the claims of science.  It is the same science which made computing possible which measures the age of the universe.  While some people’s faith rests on the claim that Genesis is literally true, Genesis itself was not written to be a modern scientific study.   Namely, it doesn’t present claims that can be verified by tests of falsification.   It is a document that rests on faith, and doesn’t itself require that it be read literally.

James Le Fanu takes on the atheistic claims of some scientists and basically charges that some scientists have lost sight of their objectivity and the limits of science.  These scientists make atheistic assumptions about the universe and then try to conform the facts and reality to their assumptions, which is the opposite of the intellectual rigor which the falsification process in science demands.  Rather scientists should follow the facts to whatever truths can be derived from them.

“But that Fall of Man, toppled at last from his pedestal to confront the meaninglessness of his existence, has resulted, as we have seen, first in the most grievous social policies and, second, in his being deprived of his freedom, to become no more than a plaything of his genes. The source of all this mischief lies in the necessity to portray man not as he is, but as he has to be in order to incorporate him into an evolutionary theory that requires him to be different ‘only in degree but not in kind’ from his primate cousins.”  (Kindle Highlight Loc. 2947-50)

So Le Fanu claims to set out what man is, not what evolutionary theory needs him to be, and thus he reads the scientific evidence in a way different from the atheist.

Next:  The Genetic Side of Being Human

Christianity and Science

This is the 2nd Blog in this series which began with Science and the Church:  Are the Facts In?  In this blog we are looking at some of the comments of Dr. Gayle Woloschak in her article “The Compatability of the Principles of Biological Evolution with Orthodoxy” in the ST. VLADIMIR’S THEOLOGICAL QUARTERLY, Vol 55, No. 2, 2011.   Woloschak is upfront that she is in the science camp which accepts the basic assertions of evolution as enjoying firm support from scientific evidence.

“Despite recent challenges, there is an overwhelming body of support for biological evolution in the scientific literature that comes from protein and DNA data, from the fossil and geological records, physiologic and functional studies, and much more…  Theodosius Dobzhansky, the son of an Orthodox priest, a practicing Orthodox Christian, and a noted evolutionary scholar wrote the following:

‘Let me try to make crystal clear what is established beyond reasonable doubt, and what needs further study, about evolution.  Evolution as a process that has always gone on in the history of the earth can be doubted only by those who are ignorant of the evidence or are resistant to evidence, owing to emotion blocks or to plain bigotry.  By contrast, the mechanisms that bring evolution about certainly need study and clarification.  There are no alternatives to evolution as history that can withstand critical examination.  Yet we are constantly learning new and important facts about evolutionary mechanisms.’”  (Woloschak, p 212)

Dobzhansky when he was alive was an Orthodox Christian and a noted evolutionary biologist whose work is still highly respected in the scientific community.  He had no doubt about evolution and maintained his faith in God.  Admittedly his acceptance of faith and reason is unusual in the world of evolution.    Woloschak however defends this scientific avoidance of God:

“While many feel confused and even angered by the fact that scientists can discuss creation without putting God into the story, these same people do not appreciate that there is humility in not discussing God.  There is a limit to what science can define, and that limit is based on the objective scientific approach of performing hypothesis-driven experimentation.  God is not subject to such testing…”  (Woloschak, p 225)

Woloschack rejects a notion embraced by some theists that God is simply the ultimate cause of the endless series of cause and effect that we know of as the universe.  Those who hold to God as simply the original cause of all that exists in fact according to her play into the hands of those who believe in complete scientific determinism (such as Einstein did).

“For example, if all around us are ‘effects’ and God is the only ‘cause,’ then deterministic responsibility for everything lies with God—he is ultimately responsible (and perhaps blameworthy) for all that occurs in the universe, while our ability to cause any changes in or around us fades into insignificance. . . .  Bulgakov argues that the proper description of God’s relationship to the world is that of Creator and creation, and that this is not the same as ‘The One Who Causes.’ ”  (Woloschak, p 226-227)

God is not merely the original cause of all the effects that now exist.  Woloschak quotes Theologian Sergius Bulgakov:

“’In general, the idea of the Creator and creation does not need to be translated into the language of mechanical causality, for it has another category, its proper one, that of co-imagedness, since the creature contains the living image of The Creator and is correlated with Him.  … The world does not have a cause, since it is created; and God is not the cause of the world and not a cause in the world, but its Creator and Provider.  God’s creative act is not the mechanical causation through Himself of the world’s being, but His going out of Himself in creation…’   This co-imagedness fits well with the Genesis context of humans being made in the image and according to the likeness of God.  Humans bear the imprint of their Creator, the icon of God.  We acknowledge this liturgically by censing the people during all liturgical services, censing the image of God in each person.”   (Woloschak, p 228)

The world is not all pre-determined by an original act of God.  There is both free will in humans and the uncertainties presented to us by quantum mechanincs that free the universe from pure determinism.

A few final points from Woloschak on evolution:

“…denying evolution is impoverishing the understanding of creation, which is one of the few expressions of God that humans are all able to perceive while still on this earth.”  (Woloschak, p 231)

“’…individual organism do not evolve. … Biological evolution, then, does not act upon individuals but rather on populations.” (Woloschak, p 211)

“…there is no theological justification for a view of God as the direct cause of small individual events.”  (Woloschak, p 224)

We don’t need to look to God as the cause of every little event on the planet for God empowered creation itself with creativeness to bring forth life.  What is being worked out on our planet is we humans cooperating with God to fulfill His will.

Next:  The Mystery of Ourselves