Text of talk by Vatican Observatory director on ‘Science Does Not Need God. Or Does It? A Catholic Scientist Looks at Evolution’
found in modern science.
I would like now to address some of these issues by demonstrating with a series of slides the best modern scientific view of the universe in evolution: physical, chemical and biological. As a Christian believer I would then like to draw some implications from the science presented. The following text represents the essentials of that presentation.
The Cosmos and Life
How is a star born? It happens by the laws of physics. A cloud of gas and dust, containing about 100 to 1,000 times the mass of our sun, gets shocked by a supernova explosion or something similar and this causes an interplay between the magnetic and gravity fields. The cloud begins to break up and chunks of the cloud begin to collapse. And as any gas collapses, it begins to heat up; as it expands, it cools down. In this case the mass is so great that the internal temperature reaches millions of degrees and thus turns on a thermonuclear furnace. A star is born. Thermonuclear energy is the source whereby a star radiates to the universe. You need a very hot piece of the universe to do this, and so you can only get this thermonuclear furnace by having a cloud collapse and raise the temperature. You can only get it, in other words, in stars, with one exception, namely, in the very hot early universe before galaxies or stars were born.
Stars also die. A star at the end of its life can no longer sustain a thermonuclear furnace and so it can no longer resist against gravity. It collapses for a final time, explodes and expels its outer atmosphere to the universe. This may happen nice and peacefully or it may happen in a violent cataclysmic explosion, called a supernova. The most famous of these is the Crab Nebula which has a pulsar at the middle as its dead star.
So stars are born and stars die. And as they die they spew left over star matter out to the universe. The birth and death of stars is very important. If it were not happening, you and I would not be here, and that is a scientific fact. In order to get the chemical elements to make the human body, we had to have three generations of stars. A succeeding generation of stars is born out of the material that is spewed out by a previous generation. But now notice that the second generation of stars is born out of material that was made in a thermonuclear furnace. The star lived by converting hydrogen to helium, helium to carbon, and if it were massive enough, carbon to oxygen, to nitrogen, all the way up to iron. As a star lives, it converts the lighter elements into the heavier elements. That is the way we get carbon and silicon and the other elements to make human hair and toe nails and all of those things. To get the chemistry to make amoebas we had to have the stars regurgitating material to the universe.
Obviously this story of star birth and death is very important for us. Out of this whole process around one star, which we call the sun, a group of planets came to be, among them the little grain of sand we call the Earth. An amazing thing happened with that little grain of sand when, in the 16th and 17th centuries with the birth of modern science, we developed the capacity to put the universe in our heads. We do that by using mathematics and physics, and to some extent the laws of chemistry and biology. Since we have the capacity to put the universe in our heads, further questions come to us, even some, as we shall see, which go beyond science.
How did we humans come to be in this evolving universe? It is quite clear that we do not know everything about this process. But it would be scientifically absurd to deny that the human brain is a result of a process of chemical complexification in an evolving universe. After the universe became rich in certain basic chemicals, those chemicals got together in successive steps to make ever more complex molecules.
Finally in some extraordinary chemical process the human brain came to be, the most complicated machine that we know. I should make it clear that, when I speak about the human brain as a machine, I am not excluding the spiritual dimension of the human being. I am simply prescinding from it and talking about the human brain as a biological, chemical mechanism, evolving out of the universe.
Chance or Design
Did this happen by chance or by necessity in this evolving universe? Was it destined to happen? The first thing to be said is that the problem is not formulated correctly. It is not just a question of chance or necessity because, first of all, it is both. Furthermore, there is a third element here that is very important. It is what I call “fertility” or “opportunity.” What this means is that the universe is so prolific in offering the opportunity for the success of both chance and necessary processes that such a character of the universe must be included in the discussion. The universe is 13.7 billion years old, ...
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