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FAITH AND SCIENCE OR FAITH VS SCIENCE? - PART 2

Fr Billy Swan



New Evidence for God

The second part of my talk draws our attention to relatively recent scientific discoveries that, I argue, have made faith in a creator God more plausible and not less.

The first concerns the shift in understanding from us inhabiting a static and eternal universe – a view that was in place up to the mid-twentieth century - to a realization that we live in a dynamic, expanding universe that had a beginning about 13.8 billion years ago. Now if all things that began to exist have a cause and because the universe began to exist, then it follows that the universe had a cause – something caused it to move from non-existence to existence almost 14 billion years ago. This cause could not be contained with the material world itself, nor could it exist within time. This primary cause needed to transcend space and time and yet act within it. Based on this argument from logic alone, does this not make the Judaeo-Christian faith in a Creator God more plausible? Or does not the infinite dimensions of an expanding universe move us closer toward faith in an infinite God? Does the discovery of the universe as relational and dynamic not lead us closer to faith in a God who is relational and dynamic, the God who Dante famously described as “the love which moves the sun and the stars?” (Paradiso XXXIII, 145).

Or take Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity that showed how time, mass and energy are intrinsically related. Or how neutrons and electrons that make up basic atoms, elements and compounds are not like lego bricks stacked one on the other but are interconnected by electrical bonds. In the light of this relational evidence, when Pope Francis insists in Laudato Si that ‘everything in creation is interconnected’, it would seem that what he is saying has a solid scientific basis.


What all this suggests is that the natural world appears to be analogical of deeper spiritual realities. Another way of saying this is that God’s fingerprints are found in the make up of creation in a way that tell us something about Him. This was something intuited by the authors of Scripture.

For the writers of the psalms, the permanence of the sun, the moon and stars was analogous to the eternity and magnitude of God and his unchanging attributes. As the sun, moon and stars remain permanently in the sky so ‘his faithful love endures forever’ (cf. Ps. 72:5; 136:4, 8-9). For the authors of Scripture, what the sun, moon and stars provide is light - a favorite image employed to convey God’s radiant presence to creation: ‘Let the light of your face shine upon us’ (Ps. 4:6).


In the New Testament, Jesus teaches his disciples using images, metaphors and analogies drawn from the natural world, accompanied by an eagerness that his audience would understand it all in relation to God and God’s revelation in him. In one key passage from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus famously pointed to the sunlight as a metaphor for the Father’s indiscriminate love that is offered to all. He urges his disciples to love their enemies ‘so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on the bad as well as the good’ (Matt. 5: 45). Just as sunlight gives itself in the same measure to all creatures irrespective of how they are able to receive it, so the Father’s love is offered to all people, irrespective of how they are willing or able to accept it. He pointed to the vine and the branches to describe our living communion with him and members of faith communities. He pointed to trees, figs, wheat, seeds, sheep, fish and of course people to teach something of God. Again, Christ could not have done this had there not have been a fundamentally organic relationship between the material world and deeper spiritual realities.


For Paul this organic relationship exists because both the visible and invisible worlds originate from the same source. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul states the faith of early Christians that “in Christ, all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible” (Col. 1:16). Later, in the prologue of St John’s Gospel, it states that all things had their being through him. Therefore, the logos or Word through which all things were made is the principle that unites the physical and metaphysical dimensions of reality. But are there any new examples from what we know of creation today that connect with the mysteries of faith? Here I offer just two.


Christians believe that redemption happens when God’s offer of love is accepted and allowed to transform something negative into something life-giving. Drawing from the analogy of photosynthesis, we can say that the energy from the sun is analogous of God’s uncreated and unconditional love. When the energy of sunlight is received by chlorophyll in a plant cell, it combines with carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and water within in the cell, to produce oxygen and food.

Analogously, when the grace of God comes to us from Christ in the Spirit (symbolized by sunlight as explained by Jesus in Matt. 5:45), it stirs up the divine life we already have through baptism (symbolized by water) and effects redemption by breaking down dysfunctional elements in our nature (symbolized by carbon dioxide). The power of God’s grace then transforms these harmful compounds into other elements that benefit ourselves and others (symbolized by oxygen and glucose). As the glucose nourishes both the plant itself and those who eat the plant, so our transformation benefits us and those around us. The harmful effects of carbon dioxide have been widely publicized in recent years as being the main contributor to greenhouse gases which are the cause of climate change. Therefore, any process that breaks down carbon dioxide into life-giving oxygen is an appropriate analogy for the redemptive work of Christ who absorbed the cacophony of sin and dysfunction in the world onto himself in order to break it down and give the world back blessing and new life in its place. As photosynthesis is going on all the time, so too is Christ’s redemptive work - removing and breaking down all that is harmful and poisonous and changing it into new life, new joy and new freedom. All the work at both the physical and spiritual levels is God’s for his love never stops giving and working.


Another example is the two ways in which atoms come together to make compounds, keeping the whole material world stable. One way this happens is when atoms give or receive electrons one to the other in a relationship known as an Ionic bond; it also happens when atoms share electrons – a relationship known as a covalent bond.


One of the best-known examples of a compound held together by an ionic bond is Sodium Chloride, otherwise known as common salt. On their own, both the elements of sodium and chlorine are highly unstable. In the case of sodium, it seeks to give an electron away and in the case of chlorine, it seeks to receive the electron it needs for stability. On their own, these elements can be dangerous and destructive but when they come together in an ionic bond, they form something very stable and that preserves life, namely salt.


Perhaps the best example of a covalent bond is that between the two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen in a molecule of water. In the case of oxygen, it needs two electrons to stabilize and in the case of hydrogen, it has only one electron which it seeks to donate. And so, two atoms of hydrogen happily combine in a covalent bond with an atom of oxygen to form a liquid that is essential to all life.

When we examine the nature of the bonds and relationships between us humans, they too are characterized by the twin dynamics of giving/receiving and sharing what the other has.

A few examples to illustrate.


Take a couple who are dating and are getting to know each other better. Each of them is attracted to the other and experience what we call ‘chemistry’ between them. Each becomes aware of the gifts each possesses but also the gifts or qualities they themselves lack. One possesses the gifts the other lacks and vice versa. For each party, they receive from the other but they also give to the other as well. And it is because of that dynamic of giving and receiving that their relationship grows and deepens in love. Here we have what we might call an ionic relationship that mirrors the ionic bond that connects the salt in the container on the table of the restaurant when they go out for dinner. Just as a sodium atom needs to lose an electron to find stability, so we need to learn the art of losing, letting go and giving to another in order to connect with them: “Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it, but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25). Conversely, if all we did was give away then there would be no one to receive. So, like an atom of chlorine, being fully human and connected means that we need to receive as well as to give. And when we learn to graciously accept the gift of the other and of God then our connection with them grows.


Then there exists between the same couple what we might call a covalent relationship where they share values and interests in a way that makes their relationship stronger and more stable. This could be a shared interest sports, art, drama, movies, politics or something else. It also could be the gift of faith in God that both people are blessed with that unites them to the Lord but also brings them closer to each other. Here we think of the two hydrogen atoms that are united together in the atom of oxygen. And so, the relationship between the couple could be described as being both ionic and covalent, just like the bonds that connect the water in the glasses on the table of the restaurant where they have a date.


Of course, these ionic and covalent relationships are not limited to romantic couples but extend to friends, family members, societies and nations where relations between peoples are stabilized by mutual giving/receiving and sharing what is held in common.


This discovery that the natural bonds in the material world mirror human relationships should not come as a surprise to believers in the God whose essence is love - a love that is creative, mutual, reciprocal and generative in all creation – a love that is shared between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Given that the material world is composed of things held together in relationship, it points to a Creator whose essence is relational love. God has left his fingerprints on what he has made and continues to sustain. Because this is true, it means that the dynamic of relationship at the heart of the material world is a mirror of the same relationality in the immaterial world. To repeat the image from the Fathers and saints of the Church, the two books of creation and Scripture correspond because both come from the same author.


What ought to fascinate and excite believers is the growing appreciation in science of the relational nature of the material world and universe. This is something that theology insisted on centuries beforehand – that all creation contains images of heavenly realities and is marked by the relationality that is the essence of its Creator. God has indeed left his fingerprints on what he has created thus tracing a pathway that leads us back to Him.

These are just two examples of many fascinating analogies that connect ‘all things visible and invisible’. Others to be explored in a future talk might include the process of evolution and what St Paul calls ‘the groaning of all creation’ or the discovery of supernovas as pointing to Christ’s death and resurrection and our participation in it.


Conclusion:

This paper has tried to show that the current split between faith and science is an unnecessary and dangerous reduction to what we can know of the universe and our place within it. For scientists, we realise that our reason needs supplementation by revelation – a bigger picture which we ourselves are unable to glimpse fully by reason alone. Finally, I have tried to show how the existence of God can be inferred from reflecting on the structures of the natural world. To grasp the beauty of what God has created helps us to appreciate the even greater beauty of God himself. To paraphrase St Thomas Aquinas, the beauty of nature is like a trickle of water in comparison with the fountain of beauty to be found in God. A little science might unsettle us for a while and challenge our traditional beliefs. But much science will take us back to the Creator. Science does not replace God. Rather it leads to Him and reveals that God is more amazing than we could ever have realized.


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