Text of talk by Vatican Observatory director on ‘Science Does Not Need God. Or Does It? A Catholic Scientist Looks at Evolution’
it contains about 100 billion galaxies each of which contains 100 billion stars of an immense variety.
For 13.7 billion years the universe has been playing at the lottery. What do I mean by the lottery? When we speak about a small chance we mean that it is very unlikely that a certain event would happen. The “very unlikely” can be calculated in mathematical terms. Such a calculation takes into account how big the universe is, how many stars there are, how many stars would have developed planets, etc. In other words, it is not just guesswork. There is a foundation in fact for making each successive calculation.
A good example of a chance event would be two very simple molecules wandering about in the universe. They happen to meet one another and, when they do, they would love to make a more complex molecule because that is the nature of these molecules. But the temperature and pressure conditions are such that the chemical bonding to make a more complex molecule cannot happen. So they wander off, but they or identical molecules meet billions and billions of times, trillions if you wish, in this universe, and finally they meet and the temperature and pressure conditions are correct. This could happen more easily around certain types of stars than other types of stars, so we can throw in all kinds of other factors.
The point is that from a strictly mathematical analysis of this, called the mathematics of nonlinear dynamics, one can say that as this process goes on and more complex molecules develop, there is more and more direction to this process. As the complexity increases, the future complexity becomes more and more predetermined. In such wise did the human brain come to be and it is still evolving. Can we call this process “destiny?”
Science for a Believer
How are we to interpret the scientific picture of life’s origins in terms of religious belief. Do we need God to explain this? Very succinctly my answer is no. In fact, to need God would be a very denial of God. God is not the response to a need. One gets the impression from certain religious believers that they fondly hope for the durability of certain gaps in our scientific knowledge of evolution, so that they can fill them with God. This is the exact opposite of what human intelligence is all about. We should be seeking for the fullness of God in creation. We should not need God; we should accept her/him when he comes to us.
But the personal God I have described is also God, creator of the universe. It is unfortunate that, especially here in America, creationism has come to mean some fundamentalistic, literal, scientific interpretation of Genesis. Judaic-Christian faith is radically creationist, but in a totally different sense. It is rooted in a belief that everything depends upon God, or better, all is a gift from God. The universe is not God and it cannot exist independently of God. Neither pantheism nor naturalism is true.
If we take the results of modern science seriously, then what science tells us of God must be very different from God as seen by the medieval philosophers and theologians. For the religious believer modern science reveals a God who made a universe that has within it a certain dynamism and thus participates in the very creativity of God. Such a view of creation can be found in early Christian writings, especially in those of St. Augustine in his comments on Genesis. If they respect the results of modern science, religious believers must move away from the notion of a dictator God, a Newtonian God who made the universe as a watch that ticks along regularly. Perhaps God should be seen more as a parent or as one who speaks encouraging and sustaining words. Scripture is very rich in these thoughts. It presents, indeed anthropomorphically, a God who gets angry, who disciplines, a God who nurtures the universe. God is working with the universe. The universe has a certain vitality of its own like a child does. It has the ability to respond to words of endearment and encouragement. You discipline a child but you try to preserve and enrich the individual character of the child and its own passion for life. A parent must allow the child to grow into adulthood, to come to make its own choices, to go on its own way in life. Words which give life are richer than mere commands or information. In such wise does God deal with the universe. It is for reasons of this description that I claim that Intelligent Design diminishes God, makes her/him an engineer who designs systems rather than a lover.
These are very weak images, but how else do we talk about God. We can only come to know God by analogy. The universe as we know it today through science is one way to derive analogical knowledge of God. For those who believe modern science does say something to us about God, it provides a challenge, an enriching challenge, to traditional beliefs about God. God in his infinite freedom continuously creates a world which reflects that freedom at all levels of the evolutionary process to greater and greater complexity. God lets the world be what it will be in its continuous evolution. He does not intervene, but rather allows, participates, loves. Is such thinking adequate to preserve the special character attributed by religious thought to the emergence not only of life but also of spirit, while avoiding a crude creationism? Only a protracted dialogue will tell.
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