Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The "Whats" and the "Hows"

Many of you will remember from your younger days the "relationship" questions you faced on some standardized test to which you may have been subjected.  Here is one such question I just created:

Charles Darwin is to James Watson & Francis Crick, as the Bible Book of Genesis is to:
A.  Jesus Christ
B.  Billy Graham, Divinitatis Doctors
C.  Hawkins and Krauss, Doctors Philosophiae
D.  The Biblical book of Revelation

Marked your answer? 

OK, let's take the first part of the question; what is the relationship of Darwin to James Watson and Francis Crick?  As we all know, Charles Darwin was the first to suggest, as was later established by DNA analysis, that the incredible variety of plants and animals present on this planet is the result of differentiation by "evolution," a process which Darwin linked to the ability of those best adapted to their environments to pass on their characteristics to their progeny (sometimes mistakenly referred to as "the survival of the fittest".)  

Evolution as a theory had been controversial for many years after Darwin, in large part due to the lack of a scientific explanation of the process for differentiation and transmission to progeny.  His observations were clearly presented, but how had this process occurred?  If you could not explain how evolution could occur, then instantaneous creation of life in all its varied forms by "God" seemed an equally reasonable alternative.  

In 1953, in what is considered the most respected scientific journal in the world, Nature, two scientist, James Watson and Francis Crick, published their paper "Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid" and the how of evolution was revealed to the world (a different form of "revealed" truth.)  Subsequent research with DNA analysis over following decades confirmed what Darwin had predicted more than a hundred years previously.

So, the relationship question in the first part of the statement as I see it is:  Darwin demonstrated to the world WHAT happened, and later Watson and Crick demonstrated to the world HOW it happened.

So, the question could be restated "If Genesis tells us that the world was created from a "void," then who can tell us how it happened?"  

Genesis says "the earth was without form, and void was on the face of the deep"  and "God created the heaven and the earth."  This is one of several "ex nihilo" traditions, very similar to Sumerian and Egyptian creation myths.  Since there has to be something from which the earth (and the cosmos) can be created, and some initial cause, then an infinitely existing god seemed a reasonable candidate for the "how" of creation.  After all, you can not create "something" from "nothing," or can you?

Now, from the world of cosmology, astrophysics, and quantum mathematics, emerges what may be the answer to what many have considered the ultimate question . . . how did "this" all come to be, unless it was a supernatural creation by God?  The answer is perhaps a summation of many minds interacting in a community of science, but I suspect the principle names my grandchildren will read of are Stephen Hawkins and Lawrence Krauss, as these two have separately published writings accessible to the average person who is willing to spend a bit of time grasping the concepts they have laid forth in their recent books.  They showed that a true void, "nothing, no space, no matter, not even time" is a very unstable state that will quickly degenerate into "something."  The resulting universe will violate no laws of physics . . and in fact the sum total of energy in our universe is . . . zero . . . . i.e. nothing!

Each of these brilliant minds have shown that, while not disproving that a god created the universe, such a divinity is not necessary.  You really can get "something from nothing," as difficult as the concept may seem on it's surface.  It is both how and why we have "things" rather than "no thing."   I believe it was either A.C Grayling or Betrand Russell who pointed out that the fundamentals of any religion can be explained to someone in 30 minutes, but it takes a lot longer and a lot more discipline for someone to study and grasp the science that brings understanding of how "things" exist.  

On The Origin of Species was such a blow to the creation myth, that now, after a century of denial, even the Vatican officially endorses the phenomena.  I suspect that eventually science will convince the Catholic church that, like evolution, a natural explanation for how the universe came into being, including the "Big Bang," will be accepted, even if clothed in religion as a way through which God acted at the origin.

The correct answer is, of course "C."