Friday, August 05, 2005

Let the Battle Begin

Coyne's piece is posted.

So why does there seem to be a persistent retreat in the Church from attempts to establish a dialogue with the community of scientists, religious believers or otherwise? There appears to exist a nagging fear in the Church that a universe, which science has established as evolving for 13.7 x 109 years since the Big Bang and in which life, beginning in its most primitive forms at about 12 x 109 years from the Big Bang, evolved through a process of random genetic mutations and natural selection, escapes God’s dominion. That fear is groundless. Science is completely neutral with respect to philosophical or theological implications that may be drawn from its conclusions. Those conclusions are always subject to improvement. That is why science is such an interesting adventure and scientists curiously interesting creatures. But for someone to deny the best of today’s science on religious grounds is to live in that groundless fear just mentioned.

Perhaps the following picture of God’s relation to the created universe, as that universe is seen by science and interpreted by a religious believer, may help to assuage that fear. In the universe, as known by science, there are essentially three processes at work: chance, necessity and the fertility of the universe. The classical question as to whether the human being came about by chance, and so has no need of God, or by necessity, and so through the action of a designer God, is no longer valid. And so any attempt to answer it is doomed to failure. The fertility of the universe, now well established by science, is an essential ingredient, and the meaning of chance and necessity must be seen in light of that fertility. Chance processes and necessary processes are continuously interacting in a universe that is 13.7 x 109 years old and contains about 1022 stars. Those stars as they “live” and “die” release to the universe the chemical abundance of the elements necessary for life. In their thermonuclear furnaces stars convert the lighter elements into the heavier elements. There is no other way, for instance, to have the abundance of carbon necessary to make a toenail than through the thermonuclear processes in stars. We are all literally born of stardust.

How did that come about? Take one simple example: two hydrogen atoms meet in the early universe. By necessity (the laws of chemical combination) they are destined to become a hydrogen molecule. But by chance the temperature and pressure conditions at that moment are not correct for them to combine. And so they wander through the universe until they finally do combine. And there are trillions and trillions of such atoms doing the same thing. Of course, by the interaction of chance and necessity, many hydrogen molecules are formed and eventually many of them combine with oxygen to make water, and so on, until we have very complex molecules and eventually the most complicated organism that science knows: the human brain. While science cannot claim to know all of the links in this evolutionary chain, nor especially the passage to living organisms, there is very strong evidence for a large degree of continuity in the whole process. Carbon, for instance, found abundantly in both biotic and non-biotic systems, has remarkable bonding properties and those are necessary for life as we know it. Thermodynamics works in the same way in the non-living and living world. Information storage and transmittal is very similar in non-living and living systems. Life began on the earth, which formed about 4.5 x 109 years ago, within about the first 400 million years, a relatively rapid transition to life. In fact, the search for life’s origins may be in vain. There may be no clear origin, no clear threshold as seen by science, between the non-living and the living.

It'll take the science flunky in me about 18 hours to get through the piece, but that's life... I read Ratzinger during my Chemistry classes. Look where it got me.

Discussion is open.



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