Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Religious Person's Response to the Premiere Episode of "Curiosity"

In a special event Saturday night, all the channels under the "Discovery" umbrella showed the first episode of a new series "Curiosity." It seems as if the series is based on viewers submitting questions and they take an hour-long show to explore it. The first question is one of the ultimate questions, "Did God create the universe?" Fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on how you see it), they used the work of Stephen Hawking to delve into the issue at hand.

Being the religions nerd I am, as soon as I heard God, I had to DVR it. So I did, and I watched it yesterday. I gave myself a day for my thoughts to form into some sort of coherency and here it is:

There only continues to be a conflict between science and religion because the extremists on both sides insist there must be one. People who worship at the altar of science seem to have a compulsion to break down religion, to prove religion is false. Meanwhile, people who are obsessed with their religion seem to need to insult science whenever they can, to bash new discoveries and refuse to listen to new ideas. And then there are folks like me in the middle who just don't see what all the fuss is about. Science can't prove or disprove God. Religion can't nullify all scientific inquiry or discovery (although there needs to be a reservation for judgment when it comes to the morality of some scientific progress, but that's another topic).

In showing the "history" of the conflict between science and religion, Curiosity rehashed the old story of Galileo (which the Pope apologized for a few years back) and also mentioned Pope John XXI. According to Stephen Hawking, Pope John XXI met an ironic fate, denouncing science and then dying due to gravity and a crumbling building. I don't know where this accusation comes from. I can't find any reference to any denouncing of science by John XXI anywhere. John XXI was a physician. He asked for an extra room to have a quiet place to study medicine. How could a scientist denounce science?

In the last half hour of the program, we get to the nuts and bolts of Stephen Hawking's ideas. He points out that quantum mechanics shows that sub-atomic particles can and do appear out of nowhere and disappear just as mysteriously. Based on this, he postulates that the Big Bang could also appear out of nowhere. He shows that time did not exist prior to the Big Bang. God could not create the universe, according to him, because there was no time for God to exist in. I have two problems with this simple "proof" for the non-existence of a creator God.

1) It limits God. Is God really limited to the laws of nature? Is God really limited to our concept of time? I feel very uncomfortable saying "God can't do something." I don't even feel comfortable saying "God can't sin." In this "proof," Hawking seems to be running on the assumption that God is some sort of physical being that is ruled by all the laws that we are. I don't see God in such simplistic terms.

2) Where is nowhere? Okay, I admit, quantum mechanics does challenge our human assumption of cause-and-effect. We assume that everything has to come from somewhere, that everything has to have a cause. But I ask him, where is your imagination? Do you really hit a brick wall? Are you forced to say the universe comes from nowhere?

In the end, he says he is grateful for the time he gets to see the beauty of the universe. I ask, "Who are you saying 'thank you' to?"

I want to end this post with a story I've heard a million times:

"For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries." - Robert Jastrow

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