A Cosmic Wrench in Our Power Grid

Thoughts on scientific, technological and moral advancement and religion.


The podcast, Unbelievable, with host, Justin Brierley, is becoming a favorite food for thought. I just listened to Steven Pinker vs Nick Spencer: Have science, reason & humanism replaced faith? Pinker is an atheist professor of Psychology from Harvard, and Spencer is billed as a member of “the Christian think tank, Theos”. The subject was “Pinker’s recent book ‘Enlightenment Now’, addressing his claim that science, reason and humanism are the drivers of progress in the world, not religion”.

As with most of the episodes I have listened to, this one was a very civil and respectful “debate”, really more of a dialogue, on the respective points of view. This civility and respect sets Unbelievable apart from more reactive “discussions” of controversial topics.

In this particular discussion, the focus was on Pinker’s optimistic view of humanism bolstered by science and technology echoing the familiar theme that we are progressing as a species as we free ourselves from religion with the aid of science and technology carrying us forward. Pinker minimizes the influence of religion on the enlightenment and the sudden advancement of science that accompanied it, while Spencer argued that the influence of religion is what fundamentally motivated and shaped those movements.

Spencer agreed with much that Pinker says about the progress of modern man, though he disagrees that science has shaped the moral advances we have experienced. He says that the value of the individual and sanctity of human rights is at heart a religious concept. He even points out that Pinker has to resort to the religious term, sacred, to describe these concepts as some evidence of the religious influence.

I have long toyed with the notion that we are not as advanced, morally, as we think ourselves. The 20th Century was the bloodiest of all centuries. Characteristic of the 20th Century was the genocidal bloodshed and cruelty of the atheist regimes under Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot and others. Some would add Hitler to the hit list of atheist genocidal despots, but that point is often argued, with religionists foisting Hitler on the atheists, and the atheists pushing him back on the religionists.

Hitler is somewhat of an enigma, generating an almost religious following marked by a personality that modeled a religion-like fervor. Pinker and Spencer debated whether Hitler was influenced by Darwinism, with Pinker countering that Hitler despised Darwin.

Though the truth of Hitler’s motivations my remain a mystery, and despite the unprecedented genocides perpetuated in the 20th Century, Spencer agreed with Pinker that we have progressed morally into the 21st Century. We generally exhibit a higher morality, however you slice it, (at least in the western world) in modern times than ever before, and this higher morality tracks scientific and technological progress.

As the two men carried on the conversation about the relative influences of religion and scientific and technological advancement on that progress, some thoughts occurred to me that I hadn’t considered before. I would agree with Spencer that religion (principally Judeo-Christian principles in the west) has largely carried us to this place where, ironically, we are finding no more need of God.

This perspective, also, flows from those same Judeo-Christian roots that holds out human pride as the principal problem (sin) of humankind. Having achieved a degree of independence and comfort through the advancement of technology, we believe “can do this” on our own (to paraphrase the testosterone influenced enthusiasm of my former teenage boys).

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Discussion on Science and the Bible

What do the science and the Bible have in common? Some thoughts from a physicist.

Michael Gillan Interview with Jeff Zweerink

Since I was in college and first read the Bible in a world religion class, I have found the Bible to be uniquely layered in its meaning and personally intimate at the same time. It was like no other book I read, and still is.

I read the Bible for the first time in a World Religion class, so I read it in light of and comparison to the other major world religion texts. In that comparative study, I found the Bible to be exceptional in its depth of meaning, intricacy and nuance.

My religion professor took the position (I later found out) that all roads lead to the top of the same mountain. He didn’t favor one text over another, least of all the Bible. He presented all the texts to be read on their own merit, letting them “speak for themselves”.

This is the way I approached them. I was a seeker, not knowing where truth was to be found, but assuming that all world religions contained nuggets of the ore. I viewed philosophy and great literature the same way, seeing them as deposits of truth to be explored and mined for their value.

I have to say that I found myself becoming a bit of a skeptic about science. I now understand that the skepticism would have been more appropriately leveled at scientists, who often acted (and apparently believed) as if science has a corner on truth and that all truth should be viewed through a scientific lens.

I have since learned that this “scientism” is a caricature – an exaltation of science beyond the scope and limitations of science and what we can and should expect of science. Science is the study of the natural world – matter, energy and motion. Science cannot tell us why we appreciate beauty, for instance, or even what beauty is.

But, I have also learned that science is beautiful in itself. Science unveils some of the most beautiful and wondrous facets of the universe we live in.  That we can even “do” science is beautiful and wondrous in itself!

Following is an interesting interchange between physicists about science and the Bible. I hope you enjoy it as much as a I did.

Does the Bible Speak to the Age of the Universe?

Will the entrance exam to get into heaven depend on your understanding of the age of the universe?

Photo by Chris A. Fraley

The age of the Earth is a hot button topic for Christians today. Science suggests that the Earth is old, but a large segment of western Christianity has put down big stakes on the claim that the Earth is young. We have to be careful here that this tension doesn’t overshadow the Gospel.

The issue of the age of the Earth has almost become a litmus test in some Christian circles for belief in God. But is it a good litmus test? Does the Bible speak to the age of the universe?

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Inspiration or Artifice? Faith and Reason

From a presentation by Francis Collins at the Veritas Forum at the California Institute of Technology

Take a close look at the two images. What do they represent? We might say that one image represents science and the other represents religion (or faith). But which is which?

The images are similar, but one of them is manmade, and the other is something we find in nature. Do you know which is which? Is the manmade image the scientific one or the spiritual one?

I will answer these questions; at least I will answer them as they were described in a presentation given by Francis Collins, the manager of the Human Genome Project, at a Veritas Forum at Caltech University in 2009. In the process, we will explore the chief question examined by this eminent scientist: whether science and faith are compatible.

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Can Laws Like Gravity Create Something from Nothing?

If gravity created the universe, the universe wasn’t created out of nothing.

Photo by Tyler Drendel at the Garden of the Gods

I’m not a scientist, and I am not even “a science person”, though I have become much more interested in science as an adult than I was as a child. I am more of a philosophical and theological person. My background is English literature, world religions, and American jurisprudence (law).

We give scientists quite a bit of deference in our modern society, and so we should. They are peeling back the layers of this universal onion in which we live. Scientific discoveries are fascinating, life-changing and significantly valuable.

I would be quickly lost in the weeds in a discussion of science among scientists, but scientists are human. They have flaws, and they usually are not schooled in philosophy or theology.

For instance, Stephen Hawking, is one of the most brilliant scientists of our age. In his book, The Grand Design, he says, “In a world in which a law like gravity exists, the universe can and will create itself out of nothing.” This isn’t a statement of science; it’s a philosophical statement with theological impact. But does it make sense?

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The Ends of Science and Beginning of Faith

“A great scientist, even like Stephen Hawking, if he had to admit a creator, it would be unavoidable, he would have to seek him because he is a great scientist.”

Photo by Ted Wright near Grandfather, NC

I recently listened to a conversation between Ravi Zaccharias and Professor David Block. Professor Block is currently the director of the Cosmic Dust Laboratory at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and a Professor in the School of Computational and Applied Mathematics. His accomplishments speak for themselves.

David Block was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society of London when he was 19. Block had a paper (on relativistic astrophysics) published by the Royal Astronomical Society in London when he was 20. Block has a Master of Science degree in relativistic astrophysics and a PhD that focused on the morphology of spiral galaxies. He has participated as a visiting research scientist at Australian National University, the European Southern Observatory in Germany, Harvard University, the California Institute of Technology and the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii and other places.

And there is more. Professor Block has been featured on the cover of the prestigious scientific journal, Nature, twice. He won the NSTF-BHP Billiton award in 2013 for “outstanding contribution to SETI through Communication for Outreach and creating Awareness over the last 5 years – sponsored by the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA)”. He wrote a book for which two Nobel Laureates wrote the preface.

US astronomer, John Kormend, says, “David Block is to South Africa what Carl Sagan was to American astronomy – his pioneering discoveries are reshaping astronomical paradigms….” David Block was the person to accompany Stephen Hawking and introduce him when he met Nelson Mandela.[1]

These things are relevant when considering the conversation he had recently with Ravi Zaccharias. He isn’t just some self-important Internet pundit. He is highly respected for his science, and he is a Christian.

In that context, Block says, “A great scientist, even like Stephen Hawking, if he had to admit a creator, it would be unavoidable, he would have to seek him because he is a great scientist.”

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Is the Bible Scientifically Accurate?

Doesn’t the God of the universe know these things? Why doesn’t He get the facts right?!

Photo taken of friends at a church in Missouri viewing the eclipse

I listened to a presentation by Jon Jorgenson on Science vs. the Bible in which he addressed the question whether the Bible has any scientific errors. Jon’s YouTube channel is aimed at teenagers and young adults, and he is a prolific producer of inspirational and devotional material.

He acknowledges, the answer, literally, is yes. For instance, in Genesis, the author describes the Moon as a “lesser light”, but we know the Moon is not technically a light. It doesn’t generate light of its own like the Sun.

Another example is the parable of the mustard seed. Jesus calls the mustard seed the smallest of all seeds. We know that there are other seeds in the world that are smaller than mustard seeds.

For these reasons, we cannot honestly say that the Bible, on its face, taken literally, is scientifically accurate. It simply isn’t.

Jon offers that we shouldn’t expect the Bible to be scientifically accurate because it isn’t meant to be.  2 Timothy 3:16 states: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness”. (NASB) From this, he makes the point that the Bible is written for a different purpose.

Still, one might ask, doesn’t the God of the universe know these things? Why doesn’t He get the facts right?!

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