Hasn’t science disproved religion?

Science asks the questions: ‘how?’, ‘what?’ and ‘why?’. Let’s consider one of the simplest atomic particles and ask the question: ‘What are electrons?’ The answer is not in the least straightforward. It used to be though that electrons were small balls of negative charge. Now it is known that they are waves at the same time. Particles and waves are completely different, but an electron is both of them at the same time!

If this ‘what’ question is difficult, the ‘how’ question is more difficult still. We know that electrons are essential for life and the universe to exist, but how did they come into being? Physicists are still trying to answer this question. If the universe began with the Big Bang, then where did the energy come from? It is well known that energy cannot be created out of nothing. Physicists are also interested in the ‘why?’ question: ‘Why do we have electrons?’ The universe needs them, but why is the universe here at all? Why do have ‘something’ rather than ‘nothing’? Was there a time when there was no universe? Interestingly, we now know that time is not absolute. Time can be stretched out, so a second can be a different length depending on circumstances. We can even talk about the history of time because there was a time when time was not.

As we learn more about he world around us we can see that it is not a chaotic, random result of chance but a perfectly balanced ‘creation’. Many physicists refer to the being that pushed the universe from non-being into being as ‘god’. We should not overstate this though; when Albert Einstein, for example, talks about ‘god’, this is not a God that is prayed to or worshipped but simply a convenient way of explaining something that is inexplicable. This existence of some form of creating power is one way in which scientists try to explain why the numbers that quantify the laws of physics are so precise. A slight change in the values of any of these numbers would make the universe inhabitable or cease to exist altogether.

The Nobel Prize winning physicist Frank Wilczek refers to the universe’s Creator as ‘The Artisan’ because that is the only way he can explain his discoveries – according to Wilczek, there is so much beauty and symmetry in the universe it can only have been created by a lover of beauty. St. Gregory Palamas refers to God as the ‘Craftsman’ for exactly the same reason.

The media tends to underemphasize these profound questions from modern physics in favour of perpetuating the debate about evolution. However, accepting even the most outrageous theories of evolution cannot solve the problem of how and why the universe exists at all. The physicist Prof. Andrew Barr explains:
Evolution is a far stranger thing even than reproduction. For what evolution means is that from a soup of very simple particles there emerge spontaneously all the complex entities that are capable of reproducing themselves. The entire genetic system by which organisms assemble themselves from microscopic seeds spontaneous assembled itself from a mere bath of chemicals. The fact that nature has the capacity to do these things should arouse wonder and puzzlement. It forces us to confront of whether there is something special about the laws of nature themselves that makes it possible. Or would any kind of universe, governed by any kind of laws, have the same capacity to bring forth life spontaneously?.... What we shall find is that our universe’s openness to biological evolution appears to be a consequence of the fact that its laws are indeed very special. A slightly different set of laws would, it seems, have led to a completely, lifeless sterile universe. [1]
Atheists have chosen evolution as their battle-ground because most modern Protestantism is based on a literal interpretation of the Bible. Any attack on the Bible therefore completely undermines the Protestant faith. The theory of evolution has caused relatively little controversy within Orthodoxy. Most of the debate tends to be simply Protestantism versus atheism, a contest in which Orthodoxy has little interest. This is not to say, of course, that Orthodox Church teaches that the universe and everything that exists within it came into being by a combination of chance and natural selection.

There are different evolution ‘camps’ within the Orthodox Church, but Orthodox Christians have little need, unlike most Protestants, to ‘prove’ that the Bible is correct. We know that the Bible is true because our Church compiled it. We also understand that not every interpretation of what the Bible ‘says’ is true. The Orthodox Church does not teach the Bible can always be given a literal interpretation or that the meaning of every passage is clear and understandable to all.

We can say though, that anyone who rejects the Church’s teaching on creation and the special role of mankind in the world will have great difficulty in believing the Gospel accounts of the miracles of Christ. It is only by faith, and by growing in the Church by grace and spiritual struggle that we can begin to comprehend the many mysteries surrounding the creation of the universe and our place in it.

Science is not the enemy of Orthodoxy because the pursuit of both is truth. Real science studies the truths of nature, but it cannot prove whether anything outside nature exists. In Orthodoxy, we seek the truth about ourselves, in order to see ourselves as we really are and to see the extent of our sins.

[1] S. M. Barr, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2013) p.112


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