My grandfather introduced me to the writings and thoughts of Stephen Hawking when I was a young teen. I read much more from him in astronomy/physics electives in college and then in teaching apologetics later. I would describe Hawking as a paradigm-breaker. I would never claim to have been able to understand all that he wrote, or to feign interest in it all either. I always felt, though, that he was just a couple steps away from proving the divine origins of the universe without a doubt. That’s funny, I know, considering how often Hawking publicly denied the need for a Creator regarding the universe.
Just last week my grandfather and I were discussing Hawking’s latest description of the “pre-big bang”; which sounded incredibly close to the ancient Church’s belief in ex nihilo. We both wondered if Hawking reconsidered a divine origin or divine-initiated singularity in his last weeks of physical life.
Out of respect for Stephen Hawking and his family, I will not speculate on whether he ever settled his belief in God pre-mortem. His passing this morning did create a desire in me to have a brief, wider discussion about science and faith.
In my opinion, even the most secular aims of modern science end up pointing to God’s consistent handiwork in the universe and the life therein, even when they are presented in opposition to creation.
Consider, for example, the fascinating topic of light. The prime singularity that our most basic modern science textbooks include, which is often called the “Big Bang,” is described as an instant explosion of light. In Genesis 1 there was light (1:3) before the sun was created (1:14). There is a light that emerges in the universe from a greater source. It is a light that continues to expand and penetrate every part of the universe and beyond. As cosmologist Marcus Chown says,
“The constant thing in our universe isn’t space or the flow of time but the speed of light. And everything else in the universe has no choice but to adjust itself to maintain light in its preeminent position.”
Another example, is found in the way things work from the cosmos to cellular level. In everything there is design and movement. Therefore, the belief in a Designer and Mover has been held almost universally for millennia. For the vast majority of the last 2,000 years, the scientific progress and discovery went hand-in-hand with at least some form of the Church. Consider Aquinas’ “Five Ways,” which I have attempted to explain:
- Motion – Every movement has a mover.
- Cause and Effect – There must be an uncaused cause.
- Contingency – There must be a necessary being.
- Virtues/Vices – The idea of good must come from intrinsic goodness.
- Design – The universe is both intentionally and well put together.
In the last couple of centuries, however, the Church and science have entered a new schism of sorts. This is not true for all, but it is true for many. Many Christians fear that adherence to modern science threatens a historical view of the Bible, while others feel affirming the Bible’s claims makes one too simple-minded.
Stephen Hawking was a culprit in this area too, saying things like,
“So long as the universe had a beginning we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then for a creator?”
Over the years I have had fascinating conversations with physicists, geologists, and others who work in biological fields, who are also Christ-followers. The two things I hear them lament the most are: 1.) The scientific community‘s reluctance to see how clearly the Bible and the pursuit of modern science lineup; and 2.) The approach of far too many Christians who try to force a narrow interpretation of the evidence using bad science and theological shaming, ultimately resulting in complete dismissal of their assertions by the larger scientific community.
I am thankful for my first introductions to science by my grandfather, and that our journey continues. He has taught me well, and helped set me on a path that has included both the joy of discovery and the wonder of attributing everything that exists to the work of God.
So I want to end with a two-part question, and I would love to hear your responses. Can we use Scripture and science together to have open dialogue? Or should we furnish our own interpretation of Scripture first and accept only the science that matches?