November 30, 2014

In Their Own Words XXIII: Invisible Doesn't Mean Imaginary

I'll apologize up front for this post. It is going to be a longer denser read due to the concepts behind it. Some times the gem is buried in the details or sometimes it is hidden in plain sight and requires a little discernment to see it. The next two quotes sort of countermand one another and both come from scientists (sort of). One is from the intellectually self-limiting Isaac Asimov who was as an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University. He is best known for his science fiction novels such as the Foundation series and the Robot series that included the book titled I, Robot. The other quote is from the more logical and better studied Monsignor Georges Lemaître who was a Belgian Jesuit priest, astronomer and professor of physics at the French section of the Catholic University of Leuven. He was best known for first proposing the theory of the expansion of the universe (after the Big Bang), widely attributed incorrectly to Edwin Hubble. First up, Asimov.

Science is uncertain. Theories are subject to revision; observations are open to a variety of interpretations, and scientists quarrel amongst themselves. This is disillusioning for those untrained in the scientific method, who thus turn to the rigid certainty of the Bible instead. There is something comfortable about a view that allows for no deviation and that spares you the painful necessity of having to think. ~ Isaac Asimov - The 'Threat' of Creationism. Science and Creationism (1984), p192. 

We sadly read a pretentious condescending statement from Asimov. He essentially says that because Christians look for absolute truths, knowledge and rigidity in their worldview, they are somehow intellectually inferior for doing so as compared to intellectuals or academics who pursue scientific uncertainties through theory and experimentation (as if the scientific method is the only valid way to ascertain truth). Scientific types that are unquestioningly accepting of unquantified data and relativistic knowledge are intellectually superior because they are continually willing to revise their theories in a postmodern way to match solely what they can physically observe. All this while simultaneously ignoring half of reality in the metaphysical. This of course, ironically, is a self-limiting of knowledge similar to that which Asimov has just accused bible believers of.

What is even more fascinating is that science has admitted that they have long sought the “Final Theory” or what is more commonly known as the “Theory of Everything”. This theory is in reference to a hypothetical presence of a single, all-encompassing, theoretical framework of physics that fully explains and links together all physical aspects of the universe. It is currently one of the greatest unsolved problems of physics. So if scientific and academic experts are content with constant change and relativistic knowledge, why are they looking for a complete or comprehensive answer to everything in the physical universe? It seems as if they are looking for closure and firmness in their answers. The same as Christians are accused of desiring and find in the Bible.

It is here we begin to see the truth in the condescension of Asimov’s comment. I don’t think it is an issue that science does not want rigidity, but rather it is an issue that they can’t find it. Asimov’s comment appears more like envy than patronizing rhetoric. Science existentially seeks the same things Christians do. They seek to answer the same types of questions through different methods: Why are we here? Why does the universe exist at all? Because they deny God, they are forced to explain reality without God which is an insurmountable task. They are trying to explain the creation without a Creator. They generally (not always) acknowledge the universe had a beginning so it has to have had a cause. If it had a cause it had it have had an Uncaused Cause (God) create it or we would end up with a logic error called Infinite Regress. Science therefore puts the cart before the horse by trying to kill the horse first and remove it from their equations. So enter our second quote.

As far as I see, such a theory [of the primeval atom] remains entirely outside any metaphysical or religious question. It leaves the materialist free to deny any transcendental Being. He may keep, for the bottom of space-time, the same attitude of mind he has been able to adopt for events occurring in non-singular places in space-time. For the believer, it removes any attempt to familiarity with God, as were Laplace's chiquenaude or Jeans' finger. It is consonant with the wording of Isaiah speaking of the 'Hidden God' hidden even in the beginning of the universe ... Science has not to surrender in face of the Universe and when Pascal tries to infer the existence of God from the supposed infinitude of Nature, we may think that he is looking in the wrong direction. ~ Monsignor Georges Lemaître-'The Primeval Atom Hypothesis and the Problem of Clusters of Galaxies' (1958) 

So I guess what we should ask at this point is: What is Monsignor Georges Lemaître saying here and how does it relate to Asimov? First, Monsignor Georges Lemaître is talking about the Primeval Atom here. We know it today as the singularity before the Big Bang Theory. By saying it is "outside any metaphysical or religious question.” He is implying that science or scientific fact should not be viewed in isolation (but nor should religion). Conversely, he is also being very careful not to say that they should always be mixed too. He is tiptoeing between to realms of knowledge without saying either is wrong. Interestingly, he implies that the atheist position might be wrong later when he mentions the God of biblical Isaiah.

When he mentions Isaiah's God we see what side Lemaître falls on (as a theist). It also clarifies why atheists can “stand outside any metaphysical or religious question." It is because God is Spirit at the point of creation (in Isaiah's reference) and is physically invisible to the nonbelievers. Because it is General Revelation and not Special Revelation at this point, He is also ambiguous or “unfamiliar” to the believer at the point of the creation. To me, it appears Lemaître is tying theology and naturalism together here, not pushing them apart. Because of God's spiritual nature at creation we can only see Him through His creative act(s) General Revelation or through documentation of said event (the Bible). Seeing God though His physical acts is ironically one of the main points and reasons for having written Genesis 1 and 2. We see a God of creation and action in these two chapters. It isn't until we get Special Revelation through the Bible and Jesus that we can physically see God Himself (John 14:9). Yet even then it requires faith to see God.

2 Corinthians 4:18 ~ “as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 

Lemaitre is correct. He is not using duplicity here to straddle both sides of the fence (which he's been accused of by non-theists) but just the opposite. Just because God is invisible to the eye does not make Him non-existent or imaginary, that would be a false inference based on the data presented. What Science fails to philosophically comprehend and firmly grasp is that our sense experience can deceive us which is exactly what 
René Descartes' told us hundreds of years ago.

God gave both the Bible/Special Revelation  and science / General Revelation for Christians to discern their world. This does not conflict with the principles outlined in the Bible. He gave General Revelation from which we glean scientific knowledge and we have Special Revelation from where we find a salvational God. In Lemaître's thinking, God cannot be reduced to the role of just a scientific hypothesis and science cannot be viewed in terms of absolutes because human knowledge based in its observer is finite limited. As I said, sense experience can fool us. In a way science amputated from God ceases to have moralistic purpose but to haphazardly mix them together sometimes forces man’s lack of understanding on God through science thereby diminishing God in the mix. Likewise, because of human flaw, philosophy and theology in religion when kept in isolation from scientific thought, can change into an outdated self-enclosed system or become a dangerous ideology.

Again, he is correct. We see the same in Fundamentalist Islam today with their backwards barbaric practices. A religion devoid of the God of the Bible, therefore enables an absence of morality and ethics (i.e.: beheadings, rapes, genital mutilation, suicide bombing, etc). We see the same in the use of technological weaponry by Islamic terrorists. Science devoid of a moral belief system like Christianity is a suicide bomb or Jihad waiting to happen.

Sadly, we see the same sort of fundamentalist ignorance in Asimov’s quote. It is an atheist fundamentalism. It is at this juncture that these two comments relate. It is here we see that Monsignor Georges Lemaître, having not self-limited his knowledge to just the scientific nor the theological sees the danger of either of them in isolation from one another but also sees the danger in the mindless mixing of both without a plan (like that of General and Special revelation in the Bible).

Asimov, having precluded the biblical or metaphysical makes a deadly assumption Lemaître doesn’t make. He assumes it is unintellectual to include the truths of Scripture (by implication religion in general) in his thought processes. Whether he realizes it or not, by doing this he has removed the absolute moral and ethical restrictions that keep science in check. In other words: Who tells the geneticist that cloning humans is wrong or even dangerous? Guns can be used to hunt for food but also used to kill men. Nuclear technology can be used to fuel factories and homes or it can be used to vaporize cities. Religion might start the wars or end them but it is clearly science that supplies the weapons to kill the people.

Science does not give us morality nor ethics, it gives us data and information. How data or information is interpreted and utilized is a matter of ethics and morality. Morality and ethics can only come from a just moral/ethical law giver or for Christian explanation purposes…from God. Considering Asimov’s quote is so condescending, it is clear he did not think through his logic and philosophy completely nor correctly. His thinking is dangerous. Lemaître on the other hand carefully does things like distinguish between creation and beginnings. The first having theological implications and the second having chronological and philosophical implications. He realized that the beginning(s) of the world and the creation itself could draw different inferences and deductions. Asimov just truncates creationism and tosses it out a window in his atheist fundamentalism. Asimov was comfortable substituting God with science at the moment of creation even though science through observation was impossible at that point because no one was here to observe it.

Lemaître as a Jesuit priest on the other hand knows there was no one to observe the Singularity or Big Bang so it could’ve only been the Creator that documented or attested to its inception. It is at that point Lemaître appeals intellectually, philosophically and biblically to the hidden God of the Prophet Isaiah. Lemaître is assuming that there needs to be two levels of understanding to comprehend Creation (theological-special / science-general). Asimov assumes there only needs to be one (science). In doing so, Asimov can never prove scientifically what he would set out to prove…because there was no observer to account for Creation when he eliminates God as a source of observation to ascertain the facts of Creation.

Everything else is just pure theory and speculation bereft of observational science. It then becomes an issue of history or “historical” science which basically interprets evidence from the past and statistically creates functional models. The only historical sources we have for the creation/inception of the physical universe therefore are ironically….religious texts most often viewed as myth. The very thing Asimov discredits in his quote. Any attempts to recreate the Big Bang in a particle accelerator brings us back to a place of speculation based on modern observational science. Depending on which side you ask, both might tell you the other side is just fabricating fanciful stories to account for something they themselves never saw firsthand. Essentially, both are then drawing conclusion based solely on faith in their sources of information. Which source of information would you trust: A divine source or a human source? Where is your faith being placed?

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