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FEATURE

Gimme That Spacetime Religion

Seeking Salvation in Science

by Regis Nicoll

Scientific achievement over the last one hundred years has been nothing short of breathtaking. In a mere wisp of human history, technology has advanced from wagon trains to space shuttles, bloodletting to antibiotics, horse power to nuclear power, and smoke signals to the internet.

Because of this unprecedented success, even cynics, who sneer at the very mention of Truth, approach science with a deference that, in a bygone time, was reserved for heavenly beings and their avatars.

Take science popularizer Gary Zukav, for instance. In his bestselling book The Dancing Wu Li Masters, Zukav marvels that “we need not take a pilgrimage to India or Tibet. There is much to learn there, but here at home, in the most inconceivable of places, amidst the particle accelerators and computers, our own Path without Form is emerging.”

The late Carl Sagan insisted that modern science could engender the same awe and wonder as religious faith. He went on to predict the popular acceptance of science-based religion. Years earlier, Sir Julian Huxley similarly envisioned a day when science would be the foundation for any viable religion.

The Greatest Story Ever Told

Today, judging by the number of television specials and news articles on string theory, climate change, black holes, and the latest fossil finds, it is clear that both the media and the public are enraptured with the Delphic postulations of scientists. Even the oracles themselves have fallen under the spell of their own imaginings.

For instance, remarking on a recent theory that neutrinos—wraith-like, subatomic particles—were the first products of the Big Bang, one scientist fancied, “We’re descended from neutrinos! They’re our parents.” Another researcher rhapsodized, “Neutrinos may tell us why we exist.”

But no one expresses the religious dimension of science more fervently than Carolyn Porco, research scientist for the Cassini project. Dr. Porco acknowledges that religion is an inextricable part of human culture—a part that science can equally, if not better, fulfill:

From energy to matter, from fundamental particles to DNA, from microbes to Homo sapiens, from the singularity of the Big Bang to the immensity of the universe . . . ours is the greatest story ever told.

I don’t know about the greatest story ever told, but her venerated materialism is certainly the tallest tale ever spun. Dr. Porco continues: “We find gods in the nucleus of every atom, in the structure of space/time, in the counter-intuitive mechanisms of electromagnetism. What richness! What consummate beauty!” Whatever.

Victims of Presuppositions

Welcome to scientism, a belief system founded on the conviction that everything from neutrinos to supernovae to conscious beings who marvel at such things are reducible to material processes explicable through science. It is a conviction based on neither observed fact nor experimental evidence, but rather on dogmatic faith in naturalistic science. In scientism, nature is God, science is revelation, and scientists are the new exegetes.

Echoing Dr. Porco, biologist Stuart Kauffman urges us to “reinvent the sacred” by embracing the universe “as a reinvention of ‘God.’” Kauffman has unflagging trust in nature, all the while acknowledging that her laws, including Darwinian evolution, cannot account for the world as we know it. Kauffman cedes that “beyond natural law . . . is ceaseless creativity.” But just when you think that he’s opening the door to the divine, the biologist adds this: “with no supernatural creator.”

Stuart Kauffman is a victim of his own presuppositions. In a world where God has been dismissed, there is no escape from the absurdity that the universe is its own cause and effect. While creation ex nihilo is awe-inspiring, creation per nihilo is, to put it as delicately as possible, feebleminded. Others have attempted to avoid that pitfall with theories that could have been lifted from The X-Files.

In the documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Darwinian pitchmen P. Z. Myers and Richard Dawkins were asked how life “went live.” Both admitted that they didn’t know, but when pressed, Myers mumbled something about life’s recipe riding through space on the backs of crystals. Dawkins haltingly offered that life originated from an extraterrestrial civilization. But if there hasn’t been enough time for life to sprout up on earth, there’s been even less time for it to sprout up elsewhere. Surely, Dr. Dawkins knows that. Surely.

Yet for one who once admitted, “I believe, but I cannot prove, that all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all ‘design’ anywhere in the universe, is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection,” there are few options left.

To the less dogmatically inclined, theories upheld by crystals and alien intelligence smack more of Scientology than science. Indeed, the blinkered faith of scientism has led to a “spacetime” religion that would have done L. Ron Hubbard proud. It even has its own ecclesial model.

A “Church” of Latter Day Scientists

Dr. Porco envisions a “Church of Latter Day Scientists” with a full complement of ceremonies, rituals, missionaries, and apostles. She dreams of particle accelerators and observatories as sacred sites, with museums, planetaria, and lecture halls serving as worship centers, while evangelists spread the “word” by praising the genius of Darwin. Her religion would even include church services:

Imagine congregations raising their voices in tribute to gravity, the force that binds us all to the Earth, and the Earth to the Sun, and the Sun to the Milky Way. . . . Can’t you just hear the hymns sung to the antiquity of the universe? . . . “Hallelujah!” they will sing. “May the force be with you!”

While Carolyn Porco doxologizes the Star Wars tagline, Rev. Michael Dowd goes from pulpit to pulpit preaching the gospel—no, not the good news of our salvation through Jesus Christ, but of our liberation and empowerment through Charles Darwin.

Darwin, Dowd explains on his website, gives us “a far more empirical way of talking about human nature than [we get] through stories like the original sin.” An article in The New York Times added that evolution “explains our frailties, our addictions, our infidelities and other moral deficiencies as byproducts of adaptation over billions of years. And that, [Dowd] says, has a potentially liberating effect: never mind guilt; once we understand our sinful ways, we can get past them.”

If that doesn’t ease your burden and get you right, you might try an Evolution Sunday service. Evolution Sunday is a church event celebrating Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution. One pastor who led such an event this year had this to say to Salvo columnist Denyse O’Leary:

Each person in the congregation had a 65-million-year-old cephalopod fossil to hold while I spoke. . . . They are tired of seeing God only through the size of their own imaginations. . . . In Jesus, I have discovered a Savior on the front edge of biological, social, and spiritual change. He showed us his own evolved ways of thinking in Matthew 6: “You have heard it said . . . but I say . . .”

A savior whose thinking (and perhaps essence) is subject to evolution? That might be a savior that even Richard Dawkins could worship. I can imagine, years from now, followers of a faith that never quite took hold, looking wistfully back to a more hopeful time, raising their voices in exhortation:

It was good enough for Sagan,
It was good enough for Porco,
It was good enough for Dawkins,
It’s good enough for me. •

 

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Articles from the current issue (Salvo 28: Spring 2014)

Highly Creative

Three More Things Only a PhD Can Believe

by Louis Markos

Repro-Technology

Artificial Conception & Its Discontents

by Mark Oshinskie

Data Basic III

Is Information, Not Matter, the Foundation of Life?

by Denyse O'Leary

 

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