Scientific approach to God

December 3, 1999

THE pollster George Gallup once said: ‘‘I could prove God statistically. Take the human body alone the chance that all the functions of the individual would just happen is a statistical monstrosity.’’Polls aren’t always right, but they are usually accurate about landslides. And the statistical evidence that we were created, not evolved by chance, is more than a landslide it’s an avalanche on Everest.

Nobel prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg puts it like this: ‘‘Life as we know it would be impossible if any one of several physical quantities had slightly different values . . . One constant does seem to require incredible fine tuning.’’ That constant concerns the energy emitted during the Big Bang make it bigger or smaller, by one trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillionth and life could never have existed.

The Fermilab astrophysicist Michael Turner adds: ‘‘The precision is as if one could throw a dart across the entire universe and hit a bullseye one millimetre in diameter on the other side.’’All our natural instincts, religious beliefs, culture and myths and now even our statisticians point to the existence of God the creator.

But science points in the other direction, towards evolution and random mutation and blind chance. And science has an extraordinary record of being right. We see the miraculous rightness of science in the atom bomb, television, the space shuttle and the mobile phone all impossible fantasies a century ago.

Dr Gerald Schroeder, a former professor of nuclear physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the US Atomic Energy Commission, knows science has the power to win any existential argument. I met him in Jerusalem last month and then, by synchronicity (or a mild quirk of statistics), in London a few days later. ‘‘You can’t argue with atomic physics,’’ he told me. ‘‘I have witnessed the detonation of six nuclear weapons and my advice is, pray for peace. Pray for peace. ‘‘Mere fractions of a gram of matter were converted to energy during those tests in Nevada and the mountain I stood on was turned to a quivering, Jello-like substance”.

Schroeder talks the way he moves, in quick jerks, with an energy that is unnerving in his gaunt body. He wears a faded, embroidered kippah, clamped to his thin hair with broad silver clips and pokes fun at his piety: ‘‘When I was a kid, the synagogue I just about never went to was Orthodox.’’Not much about organised religion is sacred to Schroeder. What he believes in is the Bible, and he is battling to prove that the Bible was right all along. From Moses to Einstein is, he claims, a very short step.

The six days of creation, for instance, become a workable timeframe when Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity is invoked. In his book The Science Of God, Schroeder explains that time on a planet such as Earth appears to pass with lightning rapidity to observers at points in space where gravity is immensely powerful in a black hole, for instance. To a God of universal vastness, five million years on Earth would be the blink of an eye. Schroeder sets out the days of creation in a fascinating cross-table of creation and astrophysics, beginning:

Day One, 15.75 billion years ago, when ‘‘God separated the light from the darkness’’ after the Big Bang, says Schroeder, light literally broke free as electrons bonded to atomic nuclei.

Day Two, between 7.75bn and 3.75bn years ago, ‘‘God called the expanse sky’’ the disc of the Milky Way, including the sun, was formed.

Day Three, between 3.75bn and 1.75bn years ago, ‘‘God called the dry land Earth and the gathering of waters He called Seas’’ the appearance of liquid water was immediately followed by the arrival of bacteria and photosynthetic algae.

Day Four, between 1.75bn and 0.75bn years ago, ‘‘God made the two great lights . . . to dominate the day and the night’’ Earth’s increasingly oxygen-rich atmosphere became transparent.

Day Five, between 0.75bn and 0.25bn years ago, ‘‘God created . . . all the living creatures of every kind that creep, which the waters brought forth in swarms’’ sealife developed the blueprints of all future animals, before colonisation of the land began.

Day Six, between 250 million and 6,000 years ago, ‘‘God created man in his image’’ following the extinction of the dinosaurs, hominids and then humans appeared.

Schroeder is not a Creationist of the US Bible Belt kind. He isn’t demanding our schools cease teaching Darwin. He states that the Bible, properly interpreted, is first-rate science. And he is fulfilling the great physicist Max Planck’s manifesto: ‘‘There can never be any real opposition between religion and science; for the one is the complement of the other. Every serious and reflective person realises . . . that the religious element in his nature must be recognised and cultivated if all the powers of the human soul are to act together in perfect balance and harmony. ‘‘And indeed it was not by accident that the greatest thinkers of all ages were deeply religious souls . . . Science enhances the moral values of life . . . because every advance in knowledge brings us face to face with the mystery of our own being.’’

*Uri’s novels Dead COld and Ella are published by Headline at £5.99. Mind Medicine is Published by Element at £20.
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