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On purpose: Four blows against scientism to lift your spirit

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 01, 2019 | In Reviews

Why do so many scientists and popularizers of science keep insisting that their knowledge of how things work qualifies them to deny the existence of God? They like to assume, I guess, that God is superfluous to requirements. And why do so many of our cultural pundits and teachers insist that there is nothing special about the human person, that there is no purpose in the universe, and that the only reality is materialistic randomness?

I ask these questions because not only are these positions inherently absurd but nobody who espouses them lives in accordance with them. Nobody lives as if his or her life has no meaning, though some are sufficiently convinced of it to stop living. More often, people manufacture these ideas, accept them, or use them as excuses to evade the gnawing sense that they are living under a judgement, and must somehow shape their lives accordingly. And, frankly, they’d rather not. So I would say that people are confused by these ideas but also find them exceedingly convenient in the moment.

All the more reason to demonstrate how absurd they are!

1. Creation ex nihilo

The so-called scientific experts are fond of telling us that the world and all that is in it are not the result of an intelligible process caused by an intelligent agent but rather the result of random combinations of elements. There are two aspects of this particular delusion (the second is considered as item 2). The first is the mistaken idea that “creation” is somehow a fashioning of things out of some pre-existing material. These people think that God creates as we do, by recombining elements to make new things. But that is not at all what they must explain.

What they must explain is why there is something rather than nothing at all. Especially in a scientific age in which advances in physics strongly indicate the universe had a particular beginning point a little over thirteen billion years ago, and in which it is clearly understood that everything in the material universe is contingent on something else, true scientists ought to realize that they have been brought sharply against the question of how there came to be anything at all in the first place—and that this is a question science itself cannot answer. This sort of question is not amenable to the application of the scientific method. It demonstrates instantly that each discipline has its own objects of study and must use the methods appropriate to those objects. The physical sciences have physical things as their object of inquiry. By their very nature they take the existence of these things as their starting point, and cannot look beyond the beginning of that existence.

About real creation, that is, about creation out of nothing (ex nihilo)—as opposed to what we might crudely call cobbling things together—physical scientists have absolutely nothing to say. Any opinions scientists may offer are either admittedly not derived from scientific study at all or they are improperly and ideologically derived through an enormous category mistake.

2. Non-random randomness

The second aspect of the creation issue is the pseudo-scientific claim about randomness. The problem here is that too many allegedly scientific thinkers are willing to use the term “random” to mean “unpredictable behavior within a given range” in scientific study while pretending in the world as a whole that it means “totally without any cause-and-effect relationship, completely unpredictable, and bereft of any possible purpose”. A simple example must suffice here. When we roll a pair of dice, the result is random within the scientific definition but not random at all in the larger, ordinary sense of the word. In fact, rolling a pair of dice will always turn up a number of spots between two and twelve, and rolling the dice a large number of times will result in each possible total appearing within a predictable statistical range.

For example, a total of seven will appear most frequently because there are more combinations that can result in seven than for any other result. This is true of all behavior in nature that scientists call “random”. Not only is the behavior always limited in its range of results but also the frequency of each result within the range has always proven to be predictable once the nature of the process is thoroughly understood. The known half-life of radioactive elements is a perfect example. Radioactive decay, atom by atom, may be faster or slower in each case; but in the aggregate, the decay of the substance which is composed of billions of these atoms is perfectly predictable, so that the half-lives of various substances are well-known and can be used for such tasks as determining the age of extraordinarily old things (i.e., dating).

Yet the concept of randomness is much abused to convince people that everything about their life and being is accidental, undesigned, unpredictable, and purposeless. Oops.

3. No design without a designer

The point of the often semi-deliberate errors propagated in items 1 and 2 is, of course, to convince those with a firm belief in concepts such as right and wrong that things have worked out the way they have in this world, and even in our own very being, without any design or purpose and, therefore, without any Designer. We have already seen that this argument is based on category mistakes (a form of stupidity) and verbal sleight-of-hand (a form of dishonesty). But scientific study itself gives it the lie, for science could never have arisen in the first place (nor could it continue bearing fruit) unless the material reality it studies is astonishingly well-ordered throughout. The entire concept of physical science postulates this order as something that can be studied and understood, which is why science never developed in cultures which had no fundamental grasp, nor even a solid belief, in the providential orderliness of the universe. It is why the first germs of science appeared under the influence of an ordered philosophy in the ancient world, and why science came into its own in the West, under the influence of Christianity, and nowhere else on earth.

If we introduce something called the “anthropic principle” here, the case becomes even more clear. The physical sciences themselves have determined that the conditions which support biological life depend on a very large number of variables each of which must have values within a very narrow range. When all is said and done, scientists have actually fairly thoroughly demonstrated that our world is characterized by the astonishingly rare and unlikely combination of circumstances necessary for human life; further, that nothing even close to this exists in any of the other world systems we have been able to study; and finally that the universe is actually too young for this combination to have occurred by chance (like the monkey hammering out lines from Shakespeare, given enough time at the keyboard). It is the singular coherence of this state of affairs that we call the anthropic principle.

As Hercule Poirot was fond of saying, it gives one furiously to think.

4. The involvement of God

In the eighteenth century, natural philosophers and scientists tended to fall into what we call Deism. So impressed were they with their increasing knowledge of how this world is organized, in that it goes on and on in accordance with its own material laws, that they tended to think of God as a master craftsman who built this great watch of a universe a very long time ago, set it running, and then had no further need to bother with it: God the watchmaker. And so, of course they presumed that God no longer bothered with it, or us. Nothing more clearly illustrates how, as we become more knowledgeable and more puffed up through pride, we seek arbitrary conclusions which enable us to evade responsibility. Both the proud and the pleasure-seeking wish to escape that gnawing feeling that they live under a judgment, and if under a judgment, therefore under a Judge, to whom they owe, what? Everything?

A frequent error Christian thinkers have made is to try to prove God’s existence by suggesting He is still needed as an explanation to fill gaps—that is, the aspects of material causality which scientists cannot explain. This is folly, for (as Thomas Aquinas pointed out centuries ago), such a supreme designer as God could design a universe in such a way that it unfolded or evolved, in accordance with its nature (or as we might say, in accordance with the physical laws that govern it), in a certain way and at a certain pace, to bring everything into the fruitfulness He had planned from all eternity. The problem with the “God of the gaps” approach is that it is doomed to a constant retreat as science discovers more about how things work, and explains more things that had not previously been understood in their material operations. We need to remember the initial problem: Why is there something rather than nothing? The answer to that cannot be filled in by science.

But there is more. For God, who brings things into being out of nothing must self-evidently sustain them in being if they are not to disappear. This may be confusing, but it becomes clear when we fully face the question of why there should be something rather than nothing. If by my infinite power I can will something into being (create it out of absolutely nothing) then clearly it is by my sustaining will that it must continue in existence. By ignoring this issue, too many people think they can dismiss God as a cause that, at the very least, we do not need any longer to postulate. But that is not true at all. Both the creation and the continued existence of everything that is depends on the difference between being and nothingness, a difference which we find difficult to conceive. But that difference can only be the active will of God.

Now here is a book

In this essay, I have been speaking only of matter. But we know, or ought to know, that human beings are persons with intellect and will, and so they have a spiritual as well as a material nature, and that it is precisely the purpose of our spiritual nature to make us wonder, to grasp the difference between good and evil, to set us upon deliberate paths, to sense the problem of judgment, and to revere the Judge. I will say no more, because this essay is not about Divine Revelation, except to point out that we also have evidence of special Divine intervention even in the material realm, in ways that go beyond the laws of nature. I am referring to miracles.

Now we come to the light at the end of the tunnel. One of the great masters of making exactly these points clear to everyone is Gerard Verschuuren, a biologist specializing in human genetics who also holds a doctorate in the philosophy of science. He has written a number of important books on this general subject, including one that I have mentioned several times before, Aquinas and Modern Science. But the best of his books on my particular topic today is a new one from Sophia Institute Press entitled In the Beginning: A Catholic scientist explains how God made earth our home. In this book you will find not only all the points I have made here but many others as well, along with a fascinating scientific review of the numerous ways in which the latest findings of the physical sciences fit together with these points like a hand fitting into a perfectly-tailored glove.

Consider the chapters: (1) The Timescales; (2) Dating techniques; (3) Creation or the Big Bang? (4) What comes with creation? (5) The evolution of the universe; (6) How the earth developed; (7) The evolution of life; and, (8) Were we meant to be here? There is even an appendix entitled “Is Planet Earth Unique?”. If you want to learn more, In the Beginning is (unsurprisingly) the logical place to start: Highly readable, and highly recommended.

Gerard Verschuuren: In the Beginning: A Catholic Scientist Explains How God Made Earth our Home, Sophia Institute Press, 2019, 182pp.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: jb5131013 - Nov. 04, 2019 11:13 PM ET USA Please see Dr Hugh Owen’s Kolbe Center for the Study of Creation for a rigorous defense of Creation vs Evolution.

  • Posted by: jb5131013 - Nov. 04, 2019 11:11 PM ET USA

    The book “In the Beginning” supports so-called “theistic” evolution. The Kolbe Center for the Study of Creation run by Dr Hugh Owen is recommended by Archbishop Athanasius Schneider, “ The myth of the so-called evolution brought the man of modern times to a life-style independent from his Creator with all the horrible cultural, social, moral and spiritual consequences. May the work of the Kolbe Center be wide spread and help to free the people of our days from the greatest myth of modern times.