03 May 2010

Science and faith - a view from Nature

I've just spotted a piece by Philip Ball in the journal 'Nature'. The cosmic microwave background radiationHe makes some very good points and supports my own views about the awesome behaviour of the natural world. He states,
Were I inclined to believe in an omnipotent God, I should be far more impressed by one who had intuited that a world in which natural selection operates autonomously will lead to beings that function as well as humans (for all our flaws) than by one who was constantly having to make adjustments.

Quite! Unlike Philip Ball, perhaps, I do believe in an omnipotent Prime Cause. I have often thought that the power behind the universe would have to be exceptionally clever to design physical laws that would require energy to bundle itself up in tiny packets that would interact in just the right way to form atoms of hydrogen and helium on the tiniest scales which would then coalesce gravitationally on very large scales to produce galaxies and stars.

These same physical laws ensure that stars will create all the elements up to iron and supernova explosions will synthesise the rest. Simple sugars, amino acids, and nucleotides will form in conditions that are not uncommon in the dusty discs around later populations of young stars, planets will form in these discs and life will arise almost inevitably. Once self-replicating systems are present Darwinian evolution is certain to begin its work and more and more complex life forms will appear as the millions and billions of years pass. Intelligence seems to be pretty much inevitable too.

So much from so little - indeed so much from absolutely nothing! This is one of the reasons I find it impossible not to believe in a power behind the universe. And somehow, though he might not agree, I don't think Philip Ball will hold that against me. Our positions are at the same time only slightly different yet fundamentally opposite. I believe in a Creator, he doesn't, yet we both see the same mechanisms operating and bringing about the rich universe we live in.

Truly, faith and science have no reason to argue. It saddens me greatly to see disagreements about the origin of the universe, evolution, palaeontology and the rest. It particularly saddens me as a trained scientist to see that most of the arguments against science are based on misunderstandings or false assumptions. It alarms me that matters like anthropogenic global climate change are dismissed. And it angers me when scientists' motives and morals are questioned. Scientists are not immune to mistakes or even (rarely) deliberate fraud, but the overwhelming majority are seeking for truth - verifiable, testable, truth.

(See also my previous post.)

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