NPR admits existence is a mystery

All too often, scientists and others give the impression that we know very nearly all the answers to the major questions, and there’s little left except filling in the details. This was a widespread attitude in the late 1800s, too, about the same time that Darwin’s theory became widely adopted. Soon after, physical science took some strange new turns, with Einstein’s General and Special theories of relativity and quantum mechanics. Our “knowledge” of the solar system and universe has increased and undergone some alterations, too. There are still a lot of major mysteries and unresolved discrepancies, so it is very strange that some people seem to think that “Science” has pretty much figured out everything and left no room for the supernatural and religion.

So I found it refreshing to see an article on the NPR website that points out that “There was a big bang and the universe appeared and that’s how we got here” isn’t really settled and the end of the story. 

“Could All Really Come From Nothing?” by Marcelo Gleiser, October 15, 2015, begins with “The origin of the universe is one of the most difficult realities we ponder,” and doesn’t end up with something like, “but now we’re about to figure it out” or “but we have a pretty good idea.”

Of course, Gleiser doesn’t question the statement “the universe started at the Big Bang some 13.8 billion years ago,” but he does admit that as to what came before that or what caused it,  “our theories hit a hard wall.” He claims that philosophers struggled with the problem for thousands of years, and before that, “religions across the globe dealt with the same issue by positing the existence of deities that are beyond the laws of cause and effect.”

Hmm. Well, I’d have to disagree with that to some degree on a couple of points. As I recall, the deities of Egypt, Sumer, Akkadia and Babylon, the Philistines and the Canaanites, and the Greeks, were all secondary, sprung from some eternal Chaos, and none were the cause of all else, but merely formed or ruled over parts of what existed, or shaped the Earth and Sky from pre-existing materials (such as the bodies of previous gods or monsters). (As I recall, the Hindu belief is based on an eternal entity, but in Hindu doctrine our individual existence and that of the universe is but an illusion or dream which we should seek to escape and join the reality of being part of the One.) Only the Hebrew God simply exists of Himself and calls into real, physical existence all the heavens, the Earth and its waters, and all the living things. A number of scholars have claimed this belief in a single Creator of all nature and nature’s laws provided the basis for modern science.

Another thing I would like to point out is that even with the arrival of philosophy, and for that matter, modern science, it was still (with some exceptions) allowed that the First Cause was God, or the unknown entity before and above  all gods. Galileo, Kepler, Bacon, and Newton all left the origin of things and the ordering of the universe to God. I think it was not until Pierre-Simon Laplace that a leading scientist would boldly say that God was a hypothesis he had no need of.

Gleiser rather mildly says, “Scientists tend to prefer other kinds of explanation about the world, including those that deal with issues of origins.” As I’ve indicated, scientists at first left the questions of origins alone. These questions are simply outside the scope of the fundamental practice of science.  Now, science includes making up stories (hypotheses and theories) based on the assumption that natural processes alone can explain everything, for all time. So a more accurate statement would be “Scientists now are expected to provide only materialistic explanations for everything.”

Here is the admission at the heart of this essay which I really like: “…we are far from understanding the physics of the Big Bang. In fact, it isn’t even clear that we can provide a complete scientific explanation of the origin of the universe.” Ah, now this is more like the sort of humility, or simply a logical and realistic evaluation, that everyone should exhibit, especially scientists. Gleiser also points out that “current ideas about there being a multiverse, a collection of universes of which ours is one, will not help … They still use a conceptual structure derivative of present-day physics.”

Gleiser holds out hope, however, that a new kind of science or scientific approach will have better luck. As he gropes toward what approach that will be, he suggests a (surprise, surprise) naturalistic, evolutionary one: “…a new way of depicting the laws of nature not as static truths about the world but as emerging behaviors that unfold and take hold as time elapses.” Well, “hope springs eternal…”

Actually, there is an approach to explaining the origin of the world, using a form of mathematics. Dr. Robert A. Herrmann,  Professor of Mathematics (Retired) of the U. S. Naval Academy, has used non-standard analysis to set forth a generalized grand unification theory, or “theory of everything.” It is not theological, but it does demonstrate that a theological explanation is at least as rational as any “scientific” materialistic explanation. As the laws of nature have been shown to be discoverable and understandable to our rational minds and logical analysis, so, too is it logical to conclude they could have been conceived and set in place by a rational, logical mind. Dr. Herrmann has also set forth several ways that the world and the universe could appear or actually be far older than a simple measure of the time they have been in existence.

It seems to me that most people want life, the universe, and everything to be all tied up in a neat and pretty box of explanation; everything simple and straightforward, no loose ends, contradictions, or paradox. I’ve seen attempts to explain such theological mysteries as the Trinity or Christ’s sacrifice, becoming sin for us (2Cor. 5:21) and forsaken by the Father.  On the other hand, there are the atheists who would have everything to amount to nothing more than mindless interactions of energy and its condensed form, matter, so that a growing number are claiming that even our perception of being unified entities is but an illusion created by the electro-chemical activity of our brain cells. I think it is inevitable that there must be more to reality than we can imagine, and many things will be strange, paradoxical, even contradictory to beings such as us in a universe that has us in it. I think it is wonderful, and I’m looking forward to discovering many more wonders and taking all eternity to ponder them.


References from-nothing

philosophy: “Could All Really Come From Nothing?”
OCTOBER 15, 2015 7:18 AM ET