James G. Acker Apr0293 02:18PM Religion + cosmology article Interesting article from +quot

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James G. Acker Apr-02-93 02:18PM Religion & cosmology article Organization: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center - Greenbelt, MD USA From: jgacker@news.gsfc.nasa.gov (James G. Acker) Message-ID: ------------------------------------------------------------------ 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 creation". The inclusion of a session on "The religious significance of big bang cosmology" on the usually so scientifically proper programme took many people by surprise. 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 philosophical terrain. 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 Russell. 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 theology. Any other comments? =========================================================== | James G. Acker Occasional Genius | | jgacker@neptune.gsfc.nasa.gov 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 | > | jgacker@neptune.gsfc.nasa.gov 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 ..... :-) -- bob singleton bobs@thnext.mit.edu

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