God of the Gaps?

Supernova

One of the most basic principles of physics is that “energy cannot be created or destroyed.” This means that all the energy in the universe can only change form: for example, from falling water to electricity, from electricity to heat, from heat to light. Nothing can come out of ‘nothingness’: we need something to ‘create’ something else. This is what science says, so far.

Now, from Einstein’s theory of relativity, we get his most famous formula, E=mc2, where ‘E’ stands for energy, ‘m’ stands for mass (or quantity of matter—analogous to weight) and ‘c’ stands for the velocity of light in a vacuum. What this formula boils down to is that all matter in the universe is a form of trapped energy: like motion, electricity, heat, light, and so on. So, according to the above most basic principle of physics, it could not possibly have just popped up out of nothingness.

So, “why is there something rather than nothing?” Because of this dilemma, there was a time when scientists thought that matter was always there. However, unlike nowadays, most scientists, in the past, believed in some form of supreme being, so they did not have much of a problem postulating a created universe. But modern scientists ask, “where did God come from?” This is a perfectly valid question, analogous to “where did the universe come from?” What is false is to come to the conclusion that such a question leads to an eternal regress and, consequently, that there must be no God.

It is practically impossible for our mind to admit a first cause—something that exists but was not caused by something prior. Would you accept, for example, matter as a first cause, or would it be energy, or would it be electromagnetic radiation, or would it be quantum space, or would it be the big bang? Would you accept the big bang as a first cause? Wouldn’t you ask how and why it happened? Do you see the eternal regress also here? Yet, we exist, nobody can deny that: so, there must have been some first cause! So it’s natural to ask, “why is there something rather than nothing?” Creation from nothing is not something that science accepts; nor is it something the Bible reveals, despite what many believers think. It is the only thing that makes sense to our reason; nothing else makes sense: everything else leads to an eternal regress.

We don’t know where God came from, that’s true, but it doesn’t follow that he does not exist. Although we have no clue where the universe came from, we certainly cannot say that it does not exist. In other words, whether God exists or not is indeed a scientific question: the reality out there. Did God create us or did we create him because we cannot explain so many things in our universe—a ‘god of the gaps’?

Some might retort, “How can science tell whether God exists or not if he is invisible and intangible? Science only deals with the natural while God is supernatural.” However, science also makes conclusions from the evidence it collects. It does not only arrive at conclusions by what we see and feel. Science didn’t see atoms when chemistry first postulated them, but we can see them now: we are now sure they truly exist.

Let us suppose you were given an extract from any book: you don’t know who its author might be, but you know there is intelligence behind it. Someone must have written it: it never even enters your mind that it could possibly just have come about by chance. In other words, you might not know how that extract came to be but you know, for sure, that someone with intelligence is or was behind it. Even more so if you are given a book of a thousand pages, say.

Now, from the big bang theory, we can conclude that our universe is about fourteen billion (1.4 x 1010) years old. Most people think that anything can happen by chance, at least once, in such a length of time. However, do you think that a book of a thousand pages, say, could be written by inserting random characters (letters, spaces, and punctuation signs) in that amount of time. I see you are thinking about it. But take the completed book and start changing letters, spaces, and punctuation signs at random: at the throw of six dice, say (the sum of the six dice representing a previously defined character). Do you think it will ever make more sense than what the author wrote originally? Why not? Because you know very well that every inanimate thing in nature deteriorates and runs down: it gets worse not better. It is only intelligence—life—that can improve things: the universe, as a whole, is running down continuously: indeed it is our real indication of time. So again, how did the universe start ‘wound up’?

One must admit that the big bang theory strongly suggests a moment of creation by God. Indeed, most Bible believers think that it was revealed in its first verse: “In the beginning God created heaven, and earth.” But does it really? If so, why did God create them again bit by bit from the third verse onward: light, sky, seas, land, vegetation, sun, moon, stars, sea animals, birds, land animals, and humans (Genesis 1:3–26). So, the first verse in Genesis is only a title or a summary of what the author was going to detail in what follows. Now, how did God create all these things, according to the Bible? Does the Bible say that God created everything out of nothingness? No, because in its second verse, before any of the above was created, it has, “And the earth was void and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God moved over the waters.” Where did the “earth” and the “waters” come from? The “seas” and the “land” were created later, in the third day, no? According to the author of Genesis, the “void and empty” earth together with the waters of the “deep” were the raw materials out of which God “created” heaven and earth: the same way a sculptor uses a raw piece of marble, say. You don’t agree? Here is what former nun and religious affairs author and commentator Karen Armstrong writes in her book A History of God.

“In Babylonian myth—as later in the Bible—there was no creation out of nothing, an idea that was alien to the ancient world. Before either the gods or human beings existed, this sacred raw material had existed from all eternity. When the Babylonians tried to imagine this primordial divine stuff, they thought that it must have been similar to the swampy wasteland of Mesopotamia, where floods constantly threatened to wipe out the frail works of men.” (p. 7, emphasis mine.)

In other words, even according to the Bible, God did not create the universe out of nothingness: in fact, the Bible implies that matter was eternal, like God. Still, Christians quote its first verse out of context: professing that the Bible knew before the scientists that the universe was created out of nothingness. In reality, the context does not say so. Now, were science to tell us, unequivocally, that matter is eternal, I think everyone, deep down, would still ask how it got there. It makes me wonder, therefore, how Christians could possibly still consider the Bible infallible since it implies that matter is eternal—unless they never understood it.

Now, in his book A Universe from Nothing, physicist Lawrence Krauss claims that there is no such thing as ‘nothingness’: that our quantum space automatically creates matter and antimatter (such that the average energy of the universe remains zero) continuously. Although I find the concept intriguing, I still think it is unconvincing: keep in mind that there was no quantum space prior to the big bang. Moreover, it begs the question as to how and why the big bang started from literal nothingness, and thereby creating such a quantum space. I think the book fails to deliver the essence of what it claims.

There are two things that could have happened after the big bang: (1) it could have produced a starry universe (like ours), or (2) it could have ended up entirely in black holes. Stars consist mainly of hydrogen (their fuel) and helium (the by-product of two fused hydrogen atoms). For life to exist, it is absolutely necessary that a starry universe be formed first. All the other hundred-odd chemical elements (including carbon—the basic element of life) are formed during a star’s explosion at the end of its life cycle—termed supernova. We are indeed literally stardust! Black holes, on the other hand, are a gravitational self-crunching of a large quantity of matter resulting from its massive size. The gravity inside these regions becomes so great that practically nothing can come out of them—not even light.

In his book Other Worlds, theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and astrobiologist Paul Davies states that the odds for a starry universe (rather than a black-hole universe) happening after the big bang, assuming the current laws of physics, are 1:101021 (i.e., 1 followed by 1021 zeros: pp. 160–61, 168–69). Moreover, in a coauthored book, Quantum Gravity 2, mathematical physicist Roger Penrose states that the odds against a life-sustaining universe occurring after the big bang are 1:1010123 (i.e., 1 followed by 10123 zeros: pp. 248–49). Note that there aren’t enough stable particles (i.e., protons, neutrons, and electrons) in the visible universe (estimated at 1080, i.e., 1 followed by 80 zeros) to represent just the zeros of this number.

What this means, in practice, is that our universe would never have formed the way it did unless it was coaxed to—possibly by a powerful supreme intelligence. If we think that invoking God as an explanation for our universe is simply filling up our ‘scientific gaps,’ then only a prohibitively minute incidence of chance is left. And if we were to believe such miracles by chance, then we have no need for science at all: chance will explain everything for us. But science, as you probably know, is supposed to rely on probability not chance. Consequently, from string theory, science postulates a multiverse of some 10500 universes, most of which are failed universes. Besides our inability to prove their existence or to know anything about these alleged universes, this number is nowhere close to 1010123.

As if this were not conclusive enough for the existence of God, we come to the question of life. The simplest living cell is that of a bacterium. In his book Signature in the Cell, science philosopher Stephen Meyer shows that the odds against a minimally complex functional living cell (having only 250 proteins of a mere 150 amino acids each) arising by chance alone are about 1:1041000 (i.e., 1 followed by 41,000 zeros). On the other hand, in his book The Design Inference, mathematician William Dembski calculates the total probabilistic resources of the entire universe, since its very beginning fourteen billion (1.4 x 1010) years ago, to be only about 10140 (i.e., 1 followed by 140 zeros) opportunities. This leaves the minute probability of 1:1040860 (i.e., 1 followed by 40,860 zeros) for the simplest living cell to pop into existence strictly by chance; and that is in the entire time the universe has existed. It is no wonder that, in his book The God Delusion, self-declared atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins graciously admits,

“No indeed, chance is not the likely designer. That is one thing on which we can all agree. The statistical improbability of [living] phenomena … is the central problem that any theory of life must solve. The greater the statistical improbability, the less plausible is chance as a solution: that is what improbable means. But the candidate solutions to the riddle of improbability are not, as is falsely implied, design and chance. They are design and natural selection. Chance is not a solution, given the high levels of improbability we see in living organisms, and no sane biologist ever suggested that it was.” (p. 145.)

Now, in his book The Selfish Gene, Dawkins also admits that a replicator is required for life to start evolving from inanimate matter into a living cell; he also admits that a replicator can only happen by pure chance. He writes, “At some point a particularly remarkable molecule was formed by accident. We will call it the Replicator.” (p. 15, emphasis mine.)

Dawkins imagines a “simple” molecular replicator occurring, by chance, that eventually evolves chemically from inanimate matter to a living cell. The problem I find with this hypothesis is that the odds against an efficient replicator occurring by chance alone are also astronomically high. For a replicator to reproduce itself efficiently (i.e., without making any errors), it must be very sophisticated. If not, errors will accumulate in a very short time until it stops functioning as a replicator—termed error catastrophe. In other words, it will not have enough time to evolve into something better before it actually disappears. Normally things get worse with time, not better: very rarely do they get better by chance: it is only exceptionally that something gets better. As Meyer puts it,

“If, on the one hand, [one] invoked natural selection early in the process of chemical evolution (i.e., before functional specificity in amino acids or nucleotide strings had arisen), accurate replication would have been impossible. But in the absence of such replication, differential reproduction cannot proceed and the concept of natural selection is incoherent. On the other hand, if [one] invoked natural selection late in the scenario, he would need to rely on chance alone to produce the sequence specific molecules necessary for accurate self-replication.” (pp. 275–76.)

In actual fact, the simplest replicator that exists is a bacterium cell, and, as we saw above, the odds of its happening by chance alone is practically nil. All we know for certain, so far, is that life only comes from previous life. Would we be filling another ‘science gap’ if we propose God as the source of life, or shall we resort to chance again?

Finally, although in 1953, biochemists Stanley Miller and Harold Urey managed to produce amino acids in a semi-random manner, they produced no sequence specificity. Moreover, nothing impressive has happened since then: modern biology books still refer to their experiment in trying to mislead our children into believing that life emerged spontaneously from inanimate matter—termed abiogenesis. The result of their experiment is equivalent to producing some (not all) of the letters for a book. So, if humans will ever be able to produce a living cell in the lab, it will most probably only prove that human intelligence is required to produce it—like writing a book—not just chance.

References:

Armstrong, Karen. A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1994. (ISBN: 0345384563.)

Davies, Paul Charles William. Other Worlds: Space, Superspace, and the Quantum Universe. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1980.

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. New York, NY: Mariner Books, 2008. (ISBN: 9780618918249.)

Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2006. (ISBN: 9780199291151.)

Dembski, William Albert. The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance Through Small Probabilities. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Distefano, Matthew. Homework Helpers: Biology. Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press, 2004. (ISBN: 1564147207.)

Isham, Christopher J., Roger Penrose, and Dennis William Sciama, editors. Quantum Gravity 2: A Second Oxford Symposium. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1981.

Krauss, Lawrence M. A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing. Simon and Schuster, 2012.

Meyer, Stephen C. Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2009. (ISBN: 9780061472794.)

The Holy Bible: Douay Rheims Version (Challoner Revision), 1752.

Published by costantino22

I was educated by Jesuits, and I even became a Jesuit for more than six years. I have a bachelor of science degree in physics and mathematics, and I am also a Bible enthusiast. My main interest is how God, the Bible, and Christianity relate to science and reason.

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