James G. Acker
Religion & cosmology article
Organization: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center - Greenbelt, MD USA
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (James G. Acker)
Interesting article from "New Scientist" 27 Feb 1993, page 10:
"Cosmologists explore links with religion" (Roger Lewin)
It was just a year ago that a team of astrophysicists
announced the detection of "ripples" in cosmic background
radiation, a faint and distant impression of galactic order
that emerged from the Big Bang, 15 billion years ago.
George Smoot, the team leader based at Lawrence Berkeley
Laboratory, California, captured headlines worldwide when he
said, "If you're religious, it's like seeing God."
Since then the results have been confirmed by
astronomers at Princeton University and the Mass. Inst. of
Technology; but cosmologists are still worrying about God.
Smoot was one of the star attractions at the AAAS (American
Association for the Advancement of Science). He expressed
wonder at human beings' "audacity to construct a theory of
The inclusion of a session on "The religious
significance of big bang cosmology" on the usually so
scientifically proper programme took many people by
The session was organized by Robert John Russell,
director of the Center for Theology and the Natural
Sciences, Berkeley, California. Speakers not only explored
the parallels between modern cosmology and theology but also
sought more fundamental links. For instance, the creation-
from-nothing theology can be cast as merely a coincedental
analogy with the image of big bang cosmology. But Russell
would like to go further, anchoring them in common
For Russell, Western culture has obscured the common
foundation of cosmology and religion. Imagine two
neighbouring oceanic islands, he said. They look separate,
but in fact rest on the same bedrock, which becomes evident
when the waters are removed. The same is true of cosmology
and religion, he argued: the waters represent the notion in
Western culture that science and religion must be separate;
and the bedrock on which cosmology and religion rest is the
notion of "contingency".
By this Russell means that in both theological and
cosmological models there are many possible universes
(depending either on God's whim or on initial physical
conditions) and the one we inhabit depends upon -- is
contingent upon -- what "choices" were initially made. "The
common role of contingency in both fields leads to a fresh
perspective on why science and theology can be consistent
with each other and need not be compartmentalised," said
Ian Barbour, professor of religion and professor of
physics at Carleton College, Minnesota, expanded on the
theme of contingency, but expressed caution as to how far it
might be taken. For instance, although a particular
cosmology might explain how a particular universe came to
be, it can never explain why. That is the role of theology,
and relates to what Barbour calls "contingent existence".
Science and religion are more in harmony in the
emergence of order in the Universe, suggested Barbour, which
he referred to as "contingent laws". By the 18th century
the theistic view of order in the Universe was that God's
role was simply to start the mechanism, after which the
Universe could unfold according to the laws of nature.
This, said Barbour, is echoed in the emergence of higher
levels of order in complex systems, according to the
concepts of complexity theory. The order is contingent upon
the laws of lower levels in the system, but cannot be
predicted simply from knowledge of the laws.
Barbour said he was cautious about marrying cosmology
with theology because "in the past God has often been
invoked to explain gaps in the prevailing account. This has
long been a losing proposition as one gap after another has
been filled by the advance of science."
My own comments: That sure would have been a fun
session to attend!
Barbour's final (quoted) comment is very telling to
those who take shelter in "macroevolution" and "abiogenesis"
as indicating God's action. Careful, careful!
I have a little trouble with Barbour saying that a
particular cosmology can never explain "why" a particular
universe came to be. Very true -- and self-evident besides.
So what? I agree with him that accessing a reason for the
Universe's existence -- and our own -- is the role of
Any other comments?
| James G. Acker Occasional Genius |
| email@example.com Regular Swimmer |
| "A young man of Novorossisk |
| Had a mating procedure so brisk, |
| With such super-speed action |
| The Lorentz contraction |
| Foreshortened his prick to a disk." |
From the point of view of Science and Religion, I think the session
is very misguided. Smoot's comment, concerning the ripples in the
background radiation, that "If you're religious, it's like seeing
God", seems to me to smack of sensationalism. This remark got a lot
of press. Here is one quote from the article to illustrate my point:
"... Russell means that in both theological and cosmological models
there are many possible universes ..." -- what THEOLOGICAL MODEL?!?
Such terminology runs throughout the article - terminology that
tries to make religion somehow more palpable to the age of science.
While I'm at it here is another section of the article: " ... although
a particular cosmology might explain how a particular universe came to
be, it can never explain why. That is the role of theology ..." I hope
to God that theology doesn't degenerate into that. According to Karl
Barth, one of the greatest theologians who has ever lived, "The subject
of theology is the history of the communion of God with man and of man
with God." (fr. Dogmatics in Outline, Ch. 1, p. 1). Hopefully theologians
will remember this and not seek an uneasy marriage with science, one that
is only sure to damage them.
As for the science at such a meeting - I'm very sceptical of this
too. It seems to be prone to sensationalism and mainly for media
consumption (or grant acquisition).
> | James G. Acker Occasional Genius |
> | firstname.lastname@example.org Regular Swimmer |
> | |
> | "A young man of Novorossisk |
> | Had a mating procedure so brisk, |
> | With such super-speed action |
> | The Lorentz contraction |
> | Foreshortened his prick to a disk." |
There once was a man from Nantucket
Whoes ..... :-)