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Discovering the Supernatural in the Natural

Jewish mystical tradition has long asserted that the scientific and rational oriented mind tends to see the natural in the Supernatural, while the religious minded person tends to see the Supernatural within the natural.

The modern Jewish mystic and scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel expressed the same thought even better, when he exclaimed that the religious consciousness begins with our capacity to wonder, “Wonder rather than doubt is the root of all knowledge.” Science–can certainly inspire this sense of wonderment, whenever we probe the mysteries of life in the universe.

Modern cosmology has developed a remarkable approach to the origin of the universe that has very profound religious implications. This cosmological approach has been called by some as the “Anthropic Principle.” The Anthropic Principle suggests that there may be many regions of a single universe, each with its own structure and laws; only a few might have conditions that exist on this world for the emergence of consciousness and intelligent life. Even more amazing and miraculous is how our conscious sense of personhood could ever have emerged out of the cosmic processes that began eons ago with the Big Bang.

As remarkable, the appearance of life is even on the pristine level, it is even more astounding that human consciousness has the ability to contemplate itself in relation to the universe. The Anthropic Principle shows that the organization of matter in the universe is not a slipshod or haphazard affair the universe reflects symmetry and order. British physicist Paul Davies observes that there are seven essential prerequisites that must be satisfied if life is to exist on the earth:

1. There must be an adequate supply of the elements which comprise our bodies, e.g., carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, phosphorus and calcium.

2. There must be little or no risk of contamination by other poisonous chemicals such as would be found in an atmosphere containing methane or ammonia.

3. The climatic temperature must remain within a narrow range of 5 to 40 degrees Celsius, which is a mere 2% of the temperature range from within the solar system as a whole.

4. A stable supply of free energy must exist, which in our case is provided by the Sun.

5. Gravity must be strong enough to keep the atmosphere from escaping into space, but it must be weak enough to allow us to move freely about on the Earth’s surface.

6. A protective screen must exist to filter out the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, which in our case is provided by a layer of ozone in the upper atmosphere.

7. A magnetic field must exist in order to prevent cosmic subatomic particles from raining on the Earth. Were the Earth’s circular orbit (a 3% variance) were like the elliptical orbit of the planet Mars, which varies from 50 million kilometers to 4.5 kilometers, the Earth would incinerate once a year when the Earth is closest to the Sun. [1]

Thus if the force of gravity were pushed upward a bit, stars would burn out faster, leaving little time for life to evolve on the planets circling them. If the relative masses of protons and neutrons were changed by a hair, stars might never be born, since the hydrogen they eat wouldn’t exist. If, at the Big Bang, some basic numbers the “initial conditions” had been shaken, matter and energy would never have formed into galaxies, stars, planets or any other platforms stable enough for life as we know it. And so on. At a 1981 symposium, Sir Fred Hoyle is reported to have said:

“The chance that higher life forms might have emerged in this way (through evolutionary processes) is comparable with the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junkyard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein.” Hoyle further said that “he was at a loss to understand” the compulsion of evolutionary biologists “to deny what seems to me to be obvious (i.e., that evolution is not tenable)–unless God utilized it as a means of creating the world we now know.”[2]

A Washington Post article by Eugene F. Mallove, an astronautical engineer, science writer, and Voice of America broadcaster, noted that “some cosmologists are proposing that the universe has been perfectly designed for life in a way that could not have happened by chance. There is an infinity of ways that the universe could have been set up that would have been more simple with fewer improbable coincidences. Of course in almost any of thesesimpler universes, the odds for the development of anything as complicated as life no matter how you imagined it would be nil.” [3]

Actually such odds may indeed be nil. One of my favorite early 20th century thinker was the French mathematician and philosopher, Pierre Lecomte du Noüy (1883-1947). He examined the laws of probability for a single molecule of high dissymmetry to be formed by the action of chance. De Nouy found that, on an average, the time needed to form one such molecule of our terrestrial globe would be about 10 to the 243 power billions of years. “But,” continued de Nouy ironically, “Let us admit that no matter how small the chance it could happen, one molecule could be created by such astronomical odds of chance. However, one molecule is of no use. Hundreds of millions of identical ones are necessary. Thus we either admit the miracle or doubt the absolute truth of science.”[4]’

For this very reason, Davies argues, “Orthodox Darwinian theory argues against the existence of intelligent life on other planet. On the other hand, if the answer is yes, we would arise again out of the biological soup, then it is pretty certain, Davies says, that intelligent life is not an unlikely accident but what he calls “a natural process of high probability.”

Therefore, life would almost certainly exist out there, not only on one or two other planets, but probably on thousands of them. It would also mean, Davies says, that conventional religious belief would face a challenge as serious as any in history. Such a discovery would force us to alter the Ptolemaic we have adopted about our uniqueness in God’s universe.

And it would also indicate that Darwinism, which is the reigning biological orthodoxy, is at least incomplete, if not wrong. “If human intelligence is just an evolutionary accident, as orthodox Darwinists claim.” Davies writes, “then there is no reason to expect that life on other planets will ever develop intelligence as far as we have . . .By contrast, if we ever did detect the presence of an alien intelligence, “it would suggest that there is a progressive evolutionary trend outside the mechanism of natural selection.” Davies’ opinion he calls it a conjecture that has some support is that Darwinism is indeed incomplete. He theorizes that consciousness is actually an inevitable product of nature, not the product of natural selection.

“After all,” Davies asks, “what Darwinian survival trait can be linked to the intelligence to do higher mathematics? None. Therefore consciousness must stem from other sources.” That idea, moreover, could bring great solace to those who feel alone in the inconceivable vastness of space. “The certain existence of alien beings would give us cause to believe that we, in our humble way, are part of a larger, majestic process of cosmic self-knowledge.” [5]

In my opinion, our existence in this universe is a given how we interpret our place in this universe depends on the kind of the mythic approach we adopt in interpreting the meaning of our existence. By the term “myth,” I mean the story or narrative we use to interpret the existence of life in this world. Darwinism represents one kind of mythic approach, while creationism represents yet another. Are creationism and evolutionism incompatible?

No, not really. For me, I follow the thinking of Maimonides, S. R. Hirsch, Teihard and Kook on this issue. Each thinker shows that a scientific view of the cosmos doesn’t have to conflict with a religious viewpoint. I think each “myth” can be seen as complementary to each other. Science and religion do not have to be antithetical.

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Notes:

[1] Paul Davies, Other Worlds (New York: Touchstone,1980), 143-144.

[2] Sir Fred Hoyle, “Hoyle on Evolution,” NATURE,Vol. 294, 104.

[3] Eugene F. Mallove, “The Universe as Happy Conspiracy: There are too many coincidences for life to have happened by chance,” (Washington Post, October 27, 1985).

[4] Cited in Paul A. Fischer’s article, “Is Science Moving Toward Belief in God?” The Wanderer, November 17th, 1985.

[5] Paul Davies, “Are We Alone‑‑ Philosophical Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life” (New York: Basic Books, 1995), 86-87.

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