On Monday I received in my mailbox a hand-delivered notice informing me about a series of three evening lectures that were to be given at my local community center this week. The first one was yesterday and was on the topic “Science and Faith-What the universe can and cannot tell us about God”. Since it is a topic I am interested in and was nearby and I had nothing to do at that time, I decided to go and find out what it was about. The notice said that these events are organized by a group named Gospel Odyssey.
The audience was small at the beginning, consisting of just five young people (I guessed high school or college students) and me, though later during the talk another two adults and four young people entered. The speaker was a pleasant forty-something man who introduced himself by stating that he had BS and doctoral degrees in physics (condensed matter), which of course perked my interest as a fellow physicist.
After starting with a quote from Psalms 19:1-3, he showed a series of slides that scaled size scales by factors of ten, going from a proton to the large scale structure of the universe. This was all standard science stuff that many have seen. I was glad to hear him say that the
Earth Universe was 13 billion years old, so he was not a young Earth creationist at least. But it was clear from the biblical quotes that he interspersed into his talk that he was a Christian.
His basic argument was the familiar one that the universe is fined-tuned, and that this implied a creator. He had three pieces of evidence for fine-tuning. One was the familiar one that the density of the universe seemed to be exactly equal to the critical density but the other two pieces of evidence (that the net electrical charge is zero and that there are three spatial dimensions) were not the ones you normally hear and are not usually considered problematic.
He then went on to pose three questions and give his answers.
Q: Can science prove god? A: No
Q: Can science disprove god? A: No
Q: Is there a contradiction between science and god? A: No
He went on to expand the last point by saying that there were three categories of knowledge: science, faith, and superstition. The conflict was actually between science and superstition, and it was superstition mixed up with faith that created the perception that there was a conflict between science and faith. He said that faith was not intended to fill in the gaps in scientific knowledge but that it was superstition that tried to do that. He said that science enabled us to appreciate the workings of god.
He divided humans into body, soul (in which he included the mind), and spirit and said that that the first two represented the ‘how’ of life and were accessible to science but the third (spirit) gave the ‘why’ of life and was what had filled a void in his own life and gave it meaning.
He then opened it up for questions but there were none. I had not been planning to say anything, hoping instead to hear what the young people might ask but as there seemed to be nothing coming from them, I asked some questions to get the discussion going. I asked him how, if there was no contradiction between science and god, he could account for things like the resurrection of Jesus and other miracles that flatly violated the laws of science. He said that god had the power to intervene and violate the laws of science if needed and it was clear that he took the biblical accounts of Jesus walking on water and so on as literally true. I asked him if Jesus had a bodily resurrection and was lifted into the sky, whether that meant that his body was floating around in the universe. He said that Jesus’s physical body was in heaven. I asked him how it could be that Jesus’s physical body crossed the boundary from the physical universe to heaven and he said that Bible was silent on this.
So his assertion that there was no contradiction between science and god was basically true by definition because god was allowed to intervene to do anything he wanted whenever he wanted and this was not counted as a contradiction. I asked him if that meant that the miraculous events reported by other religions (Islam and Hinduism and Judaism) should also be taken as interventions of god and he said he did not know much about those events in those religions to make a judgment about their veracity.
After the talk ended I had a brief and friendly chat with him. It turned out that he got his undergraduate education at Case Western Reserve University but a couple of years before I arrived here and he got his doctoral degree from Harvard before turning to evangelism. He is now the pastor of a local nondenominational church. So his path was diametrically opposed to mine since I started out as an ordained lay minister in the Methodist Church but became an atheist after I got my doctoral degree.
He seemed like a nice guy and I would have liked to explore issues further with him but did not want to hog his time when there were a few young people around who seemed to want to talk to him
However he is giving another talk on Thursday on whether biblical principles should inform government and I may go to that too, since I suspect that my views may differ from his.