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.

Science or Faith?

Galaxy
The Bible

In an 1822 letter to theologian James Smith, American founding father, third president of the United States, and principal author of its Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, wrote,

“Man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without a rudder, is the sport of every wind. With such persons, gullibility, which they call faith, takes the helm from the hand of reason and the mind becomes a wreck.” (emphasis mine)

Had Jesus made no miracles in his lifetime, do you think his apostles would still have followed him? Had he not been truly resurrected by God, do you think that Christianity could have possibly taken root in the Roman Empire? Remember that he was crucified as a revolutionary and given the death penalty (like the modern electric chair) by the state. So, you see, your faith too must be based on facts and reason.

We, Christians, have a tendency of quoting a verse from the Bible assuming it is the truth. We believe the Bible to be infallible because we assume it is God’s Word. Fine, but what evidence do we have that it was indeed written by God himself? What if it was not? Then, our faith would be built on sand, no? We do not even know who wrote about 97% of the Protestant Bible. Catholics and Protestants cannot even agree on the number of books that constitute the Bible, not to mention the Jews who are the original authors of the Bible (the Old Testament). Doesn’t that tell you something? We only know for certain that Paul of Tarsus (better known as Saint Paul) wrote only 7 of the 13 letters attributed to him. The other 6 letters were written in his name posthumously, and their doctrine contradicts that of the previous 7 because times had changed by then.

We know, from his own account in these seven authentic letters, that Paul was a staunch Pharisee who persecuted Christians: by “persecuting,” I mean he used to kill them. But then, suddenly, something happened to Paul (we don’t know exactly what): he tells us that God “revealed his Son,” Jesus, to him. Paul even tells us that he knew Jesus died crucified, and yet, he personally saw the resurrected Jesus. So, thank God, we have a skeptic who turned believer in the blink of an eye. We thus have solid evidence by a skeptical eyewitness that Jesus died and was indeed resurrected. There is hardly any doubt that Jesus died crucified: we even have testimony of it outside the New Testament scriptures. Besides it passes the criterion of dissimilarity: it is not something a follower of Christ would invent out of the blue, unless it was true, because it would be detrimental to a Christian’s cause; so it has the ring of truth. But had it not been for Paul’s writings and his emphatic testimony in those writings, Jesus’s resurrection would have sounded like an old wives’ tale to us twenty-first Christians.

Yet the account of Paul’s own conversion does not jibe with that given by the evangelist we refer to as “Luke” who also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. I wish I had enough space to show this clearly here, but you can check it out yourself: compare the details of Paul’s conversion in Galatians 1:13–20 with that in Acts 9:1–22, and see if you can possibly reconcile them. Paul says he did not see or consult any Christians for three years while Luke says he was taken care of by Christians while he was blinded for three days; meanwhile, Paul doesn’t even mention anything about his being blinded.

Paul swears, before God, that he is telling the truth in Galatians, but it does not really matter for biblical inerrancy believers who is telling the truth, one of the two accounts is false (if not both). So now, I pose this question to you: If one of the two accounts of Paul’s conversion is false, how can we still believe that the Bible is God’s Word? Is all the Bible false? Certainly not! But we need to be careful when quoting from the Bible. The Bible authors, like every one of us I presume, tried to find God, but they did not always get things right.

I am positive biblical inerrancy believers think I am talking nonsense here: maintaining that there are no apparent biblical contradictions that cannot be reconciled. So, I shall quote from New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman’s book Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible. (For starters, notice the subtitle of his book.) Now Ehrman was initially a staunch biblical inerrancy believer, but he changed his mind after going to a seminary and obtained a doctorate in biblical studies. In his Jesus, Interrupted, Ehrman writes,

“We have seen lots of discrepancies in the New Testament in this chapter, some small and relatively inconsequential, others important for understanding what the different authors wanted to say. Some of the discrepancies could probably be reconciled if sufficient interpretive ingenuity were brought to bear; others appear to be flat-out contradictions. … The discrepancies are significant because they show that the view of the Bible as completely inerrant appears not to be true.” (p. 59 emphasis mine)

If you’re not yet convinced that there are contradictions in the Bible, consider this. The Old Testament in Isaiah states that there is only one God: “I am the Lord, and there is none else: there is no God, besides me.” (Isaiah 45:5) While the New Testament, in John’s gospel states that “In the beginning was the Word [Jesus], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) So, according to the Bible (the Christian Bible rather) there is more than one God. These are two statements that go diametrically opposite our reason.

It is of significance to note that it is only John’s gospel that claims Jesus is divine. In fact, Mark’s gospel portrays Jesus telling a rich man, “Why callest thou me good? None is good but one, that is God.” (Mark 10:18) Note that this meets the criterion of dissimilarity; it is not something a follower of Jesus would write out of the blue unless it really happened: it means he probably did say it—it has the ring of truth. Indeed, even John’s gospel concedes that Jesus is not exactly divine for he also portrays Jesus saying, ” The Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28) If Jesus were truly God, no one could possibly be greater than him. The Son of God par excellence, yes, but God, no.

So, why did the evangelist we refer to as “John” claim that Jesus was divine? Because he wanted to make him greater than the Roman Emperor, who was considered divine and was even worshiped. The Romans’ reasoning regarding the emperor’s divinity was axiomatically simple. In his book God and Empire, biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan writes, “Their logic was flawlessly simple. Gods run the world. Caesar runs the world. Therefore, Caesar is a god.” (p. 20) John’s gospel, written around 100 CE, was the last of the four gospels written; it is therefore the least reliable: because writers tend to mythologize their heroes (like Robin Hood or Zorro) later in time when there are no eyewitnesses left to challenge what they wrote.

Assuming every verse in the Bible to be God’s revelation (and therefore infallible) is one of the factors that led the church to declare the “mystery” of the Trinity. However, in his book AD 381, ancient Greece and Rome historian Charles Freeman shows that, in an effort to unite the Roman Empire in its religion, the emperor Theodosius forced the church to declare what he personally believed regarding the nature of God. In his introduction to the book, Freeman writes,

“The story, as this book hopes to show, is well documented, but an alternative narrative, that the Church itself came to a consensus on the nature of the Godhead, is still the dominant one in histories of Christianity. The ‘consensus’ approach glosses over the violent antagonisms the debates over doctrine aroused and the pre-eminent role the [Roman] emperors played in their resolution.” (p. 2, emphasis mine)

The mystery of the Trinity would be no mystery at all if one were to let go of the untenable “axiom” that the Bible is infallible. In fact, although Jehovah’s Witnesses also believe in the infallibility of the Protestant Bible, they do not believe that Jesus is also God. In their New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, they work around this biblical contradiction by rendering the first verse of John’s gospel as, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god (or ‘was divine‘).” (John 1:1, emphasis mine) However, according to the Bible Hub: Interlinear website, the Greek original uses the same word (except for the ‘case’: i.e., subject, object, etc.) for both “God” and “a god” (or “divine”). (See: https://biblehub.com/interlinear/john/1-1.htm.)

Consequently, we can only hold on to what is tenable in the Bible. So then, do we pick and choose what we like from the Bible? That is very dangerous if not irresponsible. But if you follow your reason: what your inner self tells you is true or false in the Bible, then the Bible becomes a source of inspiration to you—but in the ordinary sense. If we were truly made “in the image of God,” (Genesis 1:26) that would not be in our bodies but in our intellect. Deuteronomy tells us that God’s law is not far from us, in the sky or across the sea, that it might be difficult to obtain and know about; no, it is hardwired to our inner being—it is God’s signature in every one of us:

“This commandment, that I command thee this day is not above thee, nor far off from thee: Nor is it in heaven, that thou shouldst say: ‘Which of us can go up to heaven to bring it unto us, and we may hear and fulfill it in work?’ Nor is it beyond the sea: that thou mayst excuse thyself, and say: ‘Which of us can cross the sea, and bring it unto us: that we may hear, and do that which is commanded?’ But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayst do it.” (Deuteronomy 30:11–14)

References:

Bible Hub: Interlinear. https://biblehub.com/interlinear/john/1-1.htm.

Crossan, John Dominic. God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2008. (ISBN: 9780060858315.)

Ehrman, Bart D. Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them). New York, NY: HarperOne, 2009. (ISBN: 9780061173936.)

Freeman, Charles. AD 381. London, UK: Pimlico, 2009. (ISBN: 9781845950071.)

Jefferson, Thomas to James Smith, 1822.

Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. New York, NY: Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York Inc., 2013.

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

Author Introduction

My name is Carmel Paul Attard. I was educated by Jesuits, and I also became a Jesuit for over six years. I have a bachelor of science degree in physics and mathematics and taught the subjects at advanced/college level for over five years. I am also a Bible enthusiast, and my main interest is how God, the Bible, and Christianity relate to science and reason.

I self-published three books: Is God a Reality?—A Scientific Investigation, Is the Bible Infallible?—A Rational, Scientific, and Historical Evaluation, and Faith and Reason: Disturbing Christian Doctrines.

Is God a Reality? Full Cover

Is God a Reality? was published in February 2017.

Is the Bible Infallible? Full Cover

Is the Bible Infallible? was published in September 2019.

Faith and Reason. Full Cover

Faith and Reason was published in December 2020.

More detail regarding my blogged articles may usually be found in my books.

Comments and insights are always welcome, even if in disagreement. I shall do my best to discuss them cordially. You can contact me personally at carmel0547@hotmail.com.