Back in 1951 Georges Lemaître warned Pope Pius XII about the opportunist use of science to support religious beliefs. Lemaître, a Catholic priest and astronomer, was responsible for the initial formulation of a “big bang” theory for the origin of the universe. He was reacting to the Pope’s claim that the new theory was a scientific validation of the Catholic faith. In his statement Lemaître said:
“As far as I can see, such a theory remains entirely outside any metaphysical or religious question. It leaves the materialist free to deny any transcendental Being… For the believer, it removes any attempt at familiarity with God… It is consonant with Isaiah speaking of the hidden God, hidden even in the beginning of the universe.”
Implicit in his statement was the idea that such opportunist use of science misrepresents science. It is also bad theology. This view was also articulated by Father George Coyne another Catholic priest and former Vatican astronomer (see “Scientism” in the eyes of the beholder).
Coyne points out that scientific knowledge is relative. Conclusions will alter as more evidence produces better knowledge of reality. Therefore a theology which justifies itself in scientific terms lays itself open to being proven wrong.
The naivety of apologetics
However, modern Christian apologists have refused to learn this lesson. They have not been able to resist the temptations and will often claim scientific support for their religious beliefs. In the process they make their beliefs vulnerable to evidence – which is no bad thing. But, in practice, they inevitably end up denying scientific evidence when it doesn’t support their religious beliefs.
One example of the inappropriate use of science by modern apologists is the “cosmological argument for existence of a god” as often advanced by William Lane Craig. This was also recently repeated on a local apologetics site. Simply put it’s a 3-step argument that says: 1) Everything that begins to exist had a cause; 2) The universe began to exist; 3) The universe had a cause. Of course it then goes on the claim that the logical cause is a personal omnipotent, immaterial, etc., individual – a god. Specifically the Christian God.
So, as presented, the apologists claim that they have “proved” the existence of their God from the “big bang” theory. (Although some Christian creationists claim that the “big bang” theory is wrong because it conflicts with the biblical Genesis account – I guess its all a matter of interpretation).
The argument starts with “common sense” propositions that matter can’t come out of nothing, that the “big bang” theory proves that the universe has a beginning and a cause. But it then falls back on a magical “explanation” for creation of matter and the universe.
Of course, modern science so often shows “common sense” to be incorrect when we investigate the very small, very fast and very big. That is why general relativity, quantum mechanics and much of modern particle physics is so counter-intuitive. Our common sense is based on our experience in the medium sized, slow moving world.
Apologetic arguments chopped off at the knees
The original “big bang” theory did not account for the formation of matter but science hasn’t been shirking. Modern infaltionary “big bang” theories include mechanisms of the formation of matter and radiation.
Also, modern cosmological theories open up the possibility of sibling universes and prior existing universes. Even the possibility of an eternal succession of universes – each one spawning daughter universes. (see figure below from John D. Barrow’s The Constants of Nature).
Interestingly, although these ideas may be speculative Roger Penrose recently suggested a way of finding “fossil” evidence for a pre-existing universe in the background microwave radiation of our current universe. In recent months this evidence may have been found (see Roger Penrose’s lecture Before the Big Bang: Is There Evidence For Something And If So, What?). Phil Plait also discusses the possibility of testing the existence of a prior universe (see What happened before the Big Bang?). See also Glimpse before Big Bang may be possible. The Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) space mission planned for 2019 may be able to detect gravitational waves which provide information of a pre-existing universe.
So, the arguments based on the formation of matter and the beginning of the universe have been compromised. We no longer have to rely on divine magic for the formation of matter and energy. The warnings of Lemaître and Coyne have come home to roost. Arguments relying on the “common sense” logic of the Craig’s cosmological argument have been cut off at the knees.
Going into denial
So how do the apologists handle this mess? Instead of admitting their error and retreating to pure theology they can think no further than resorting to defence of bad theology and denial of the science. They do everything to deny the possibilities coming out of modern “big bang” theory.
The silly thing is that the arguments 1) Everything that begins to exist had a cause; 2) The universe began to exist are irrelevant to the question of the existence of a god. That really just depends on the divine magic of step 3 which assumes a personal omnipotent, immaterial, etc., individual – a god. Specifically the Christian God. So why use them? Obviously only to give their “logic” some scientific credibility by referring to “big bang” theory.
Christian apologists often appeal to scientific “evidence” to provide credibility to their arguments. However, they just as willingly reject scientific evidence when it clearly counters their beliefs (look at their rejection of evolutionary science). Sometimes they will be completely blatant in this rejection and claim that science has no role in such questions. On the one hand they will claim (as did the author of the local apologist article) support from “big bang” theory for their “logical” proof of their god – then they will say that science cannot say anything about the formation of the universe!
The phrase “talking out of both sides of your mouth” seems appropriate here.