‘The Believing Scientist’
Author: Stephen M. Barr
Publisher: William B. Eerdmans Publishing
Length: 226 pages
Release Date: Nov. 20, 2016
Available at: Kino Library
The conflict between science and religion, which we all hear about, is much like today’s politics — there’s nothing to it. If it were true that an irreconcilable conflict exists, we wouldn’t have Catholic priests like Copernicus (Sun at the center of the Solar System) and LeMaître (the Big Bang) discovering how the entire universe works. When we hear of secular scientists who dismiss religion, it’s because of their eviscerating short-sightedness, their oftentimes need to deny and denigrate religion, and their lack of understanding that scientific materialism — the notion that only matter exists — is their real problem, not religion.
In Stephen M. Barr’s new book of scientific essays, “The Believing Scientist,” this materialism is his first argument. If the universe is made up only of matter, then there is no place for God, or belief, or love, or altruism, or consciousness, etc. Even mathematics doesn’t deal with matter; show me “three”.
Here’s an example of this supposed conflict: Holy Scripture claims that the universe and everything in it was created in six days. There is nothing wrong with this, especially if we stop to understand that we cannot look at Scripture as one, single, literary type; it’s a whole library of literary genres. Thus, we must look at Genesis a little differently than a simple historical document. The key term is “days,” as in single, 24-hour days. Nothing in Scripture claims that definition of “day”, in fact we find out that to the Lord, “a day is like a thousand years” (2 Peter 3:8, etc.). But wait, there’s more, and this is the key: the Hebrew word for “thousand” is eleph, meaning all kinds of years, and therefore an indeterminate number of time periods, six indeterminate time periods.
Using scientific language, we can say that Creation occurred over the “initial acceleration” after the Big Bang, during “nebulae collapse,” during “planetary accretion,” during the Jurassic period, the Sixties, etc. No real conflict.
For Christians, especially Roman Catholics who have all the great scientists and the huge astronomical facilities right here on Mt. Graham in Arizona, science is never a problem; it’s the means to discovering the glory and beauty of Creation.
Barr first gets into evolution and Darwinism. Fundamentalist Christians and atheistic scientists battle witlessly and can only agree that evolution and biblical religion can’t reconcile. And yet popes shrug their shoulders and Catholic theologians look at the evidence and accept that evolution took place. The only place Catholics refuse to give ground is on the immutability of the human soul. Who knows if after hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, the human progenitor didn’t stand up, recognize itself, and THEN God let loose the soul?
Barr explains the concept of Intelligent Design, which should be a fairly obvious one. Catholics, especially scientists, look around the whole of the known universe and see order. Order doesn’t, in and of itself, mean design, but it could. However, as Barr points out, the treatment of Intelligent Design has produced very poor science and has set itself as opposed to natural science; not something good thinking Catholics can accept. Thus, we are left simply admiring the symmetry.
Barr then takes the big leap to address quantum physics — which itself has problems with materialism and determinism — because it deals with dualities and probabilities. Probabilities are not absolutes so science and mathematics have a tough time with them. Out of this came the Big Bang, to some Christians, proof that the universe was created by God. The problem is that people confuse beginnings with origins and they aren’t the same. We can trace back, very roughly, from today, back to yesterday, to last week, a year ago, two millennia ago, back approximately 14 billion years to the Big Bang. The argument is, if we can trace it back to a beginning, we can trace its origins; it ain’t necessarily true. The beginning of our universe and all the time after it are the only things we can deal with. Prior to the Big Bang, we don’t have a proverbial leg to stand on, but neither do the scientific materialists. We can say this, with all logic, and it can’t be denied, something accounted for all the star stuff at the beginning, something provided the impetus for that initial explosion. I don’t care what the materialists call, I personally call it, “God.”
This book is completely readable but takes some thinking, and if you want to get a handle on what science is really about it, Barr tells you.