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CREATION SCIENCE MAKES SENSE, BUT...

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By C. Fred Alford

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The Montréal Review, July 2021

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Many Christians, and almost all adamant atheists, see creation science as a backdoor to sneaking God into school curricula, and public life generally.  Among most educated people, creation science lacks respect.  Wikipedia defines creation science as "a pseudoscientific form of...creationism, which claims to offer scientific arguments for certain literalist and inerrantist interpretations of the Bible."  But what if we think about creationism more generally, as the claim that mind created the universe?  Then it makes perfect sense, especially when you consider the alternatives: that the universe created itself, or that it has existed forever.  "Perfect sense" doesn't mean automatically true.  It just means that it rests on a good argument.

The odds

One argument for creationism is that the conditions under which the universe could form, including planets on which people could live, are so unlikely as to be virtually impossible.  Roger Penrose estimates it as 1 in 10 10123 . That is, 1 in 1 + 23 zeros.  It's a big number.  Physicists have estimated that the entire universe contains "only" 1080 elementary particles (Moyer, p. 238).*  

The only alternative is God, or so some creationists conclude.  But that puts it too narrowly.  What if instead of God we say "mind"?   We'll see.  But couldn't life have formed itself, lightening setting off a chain reaction in a pre-biotic chemical soup?  It's possible, but again unlikely in the extreme, perhaps impossible.  As John Walton wrote in the Times Literary Supplement, “intense laboratory research has failed to produce even one nucleotide (RNA component) under geologically plausible conditions.”  Scientists have faced “insuperable problems” in explaining the origin of the information that would need to be present in “the chains of nucleotides required for the RNA world.”  RNA is the first genetic molecule capable of reproducing itself. 

The big bang . . . and then what? 

Today most scientists agree that the universe began with the big bang.  The universe has not always existed.  It came into existence about 14 billion years ago, is continuously expanding, and will end in about 100 trillion years when it finally collapses into itself.  But what turned this tremendous explosion of energy into the form of galaxies which contain solar systems, at least one of which includes a planet capable of supporting human life?  What organizes all this energy? 

Mind is a good answer, and one upon which many scientists, as well as philosophers like Alfred North Whitehead, agree.  Intelligent design, a term which has also fallen into disrepute, is just another way of talking about mind.  If, that is, we don't cheat, assuming that mind must mean God. 

Fine tuning

"Fine tuning" in physics refers to the fact that many properties of the universe fall within a narrow and unlikely range that is essential for complex forms of life to exist (Meyer, p 207).

A number of physicists believe that mind is the best, and certainly the simplest, explanation for "fine tuning."  Occam's razor (among competing explanations, always prefer the simpler one that adequately explains the phenomenon) supports mind. 

Cambridge physicist John Polkinghorne said that although he did not think that the fine-tuning evidence proved the existence of God, he did think that a theistic designer provided a much better explanation of the fine tuning than any materialistic hypothesis. As he put it, “Well, I don’t say that the atheist is stupid. I just say that theism provides a more satisfying explanation.” (Meyer, p 229)

Another Cambridge physicist, Nobel laureate Brian Josephson, explained why mind is the best explanation for fine tuning.

It could have been [that there was] some mind around before the kind of universe we know came into being. And if that were right, that mind could, as it were, have intentions for the universe and been able to set it up so that the end result came out right.

In an interview for PBS television, Josephson estimated that his confidence in intelligent design as the best explanation for the emergence of life as about 80 percent (Meyer, p 229). 

I could continue to quote physicists, but it would add little to the discussion.  The main point is that it is a thoroughly respectable position among many scientists that the universe, and particularly human life, is the result of a process directed by mind.

Mind is not God

But what's mind?  An intelligence that we can hardly imagine.  Mind is not God.  None of the attributes of God, as depicted in the Old or New Testaments, is implied by the claim that mind guided the creation of the universe.  They are two separate claims.  Not only that, but the claim that mind guided the universe adds nothing to the claim that the Judeo-Christian God exists. (I don't know enough about Buddhism to venture an opinion; some amateurs find Buddhism and quantum physics compatible, but this seems to be a popular misconception.**)

Think about it?  God created the universe, but that was only the beginning.  He made man and woman in his own image, so that humans could worship God and know right from wrong.  God loves us, and taught us to be kind and generous with each other.  Love God, and love one another as God has loved you.  It's a good summary of the Lord's teaching.  And none of it has anything to do with the likelihood that mind created the universe.  It has nothing to do with "mind" as a general term for a supervising intelligence, which is how I have employed the term.  "Mind" doesn't even have anything to do with theism, if we define theism as belief in a Supreme Being. 

Most who write about creationism assume that this supervising intelligence must stand outside the universe it has ordered into being, but there is no reason it must be transcendent.  Why couldn't mind be a property of the universe itself?  Only, I think, because the tendency to equate mind with God is so attractive.  Just consider the title of the book that stimulated my comments, Return of the God Hypothesis.  Science, it argues, has made it possible for us to believe in God again.  In fact, science has made God no more, or less believable, than before.  Science has nothing to do with it.

God is a way of talking about our supreme values, and the meaning of life generally.  God- talk usually takes the form of stories that illustrate these values, and the cost of ignoring them.  God-talk is often concerned with the afterlife (heaven), but not always.  Jews seem far less interested in the afterlife than Christians.  As Søren Kierkegaard argues, belief in God rests on a leap to faith, a subjective choice that rests on no evidence but one's own subjectivity.

Conclusion

Belief in and stories about God are the way humans make sense of this world, something they have done for thousands of years.  Science is another way to understand the world, as well as being very good at helping us do things with it.  Neither the idea that science undermines God, or that science supports God, properly understands these two narratives.  They share the capacity for wonder, but only the God narrative tells us why and how to be better people, and perhaps to share in His divinity (for Christians, that would be communion).  Finally, the God narrative tells us how to better use science for human welfare.

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C. Fred Alford is Professor Emeritus at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he taught ancient and medieval political philosophy for thirty-eight years. He has written eighteen books on diverse subjects: psychoanalysis and politics, natural law, trauma theory, and the legacy of the Holocaust. While not a professional theologian, Alford wrote a book on Emmanuel Levinas, one on natural law, and still another addressing the book of Job.

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* The odds would change if there were not one universe, but many (multiverse).  But that is only an imaginative hypothesis.  For now, only one universe is real.
** https://www.thegreatcoursesdaily.com/does-quantum-mechanics-support-buddhism/ 

References                      

Stephen C. Meyer, Return of the God Hypothesis.  HarperCollins, 2021
John Walton, The Times Literary Supplement 5567 (December 11, 2009), p 6.
Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, edited by David R. Griffin and Donald Sherburne.  The Free Press, 1978, pp. 342-351. 

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