Monday, October 7, 2013

The Nature of the Creation

The creation is either:
  • Real and knowable
  • Real but unknowable
  • Imaginary

An Imaginary Universe

It is possible that our universe is nothing more than a computer simulation that is being run by some super-intellect.  That it does not exist in the real world.  And that everything I see is only sophisticated programming.  And even my sense of identity and thoughts are nothing but a running program.  The creator of this universe may be nothing more than a nerdy computer programmer putting together a game for sale on the newest gaming platform in some advanced civilization.

If this was the case, is there any way to know?  I certainly think I am real, but how could I know for sure; unless I take one of the little pills from the Matrix.  The level of sophistication for this simulation is well beyond anything we could do today, but that is no real argument against some more advanced civilization having that capability.

The primary reason I have for rejecting this scenario is that it requires me to disbelieve my senses and intellect.  If I cannot believe that what I see, hear and touch is real; if I cannot believe that I am able to rationally consider the world around me and make decisions about it; then why try to make sense of what is going on around me.  If is a futile effort and has no chance of success.  

A Real but Unknowable Universe

A second possibility is that our universe is real, that it actually exists.  But at the same time the universe is unknowable.  We may think we are figuring it out, but in reality it is something else all together.  This may be because we are not as rational and intelligent as we think we are.  Or it could be because the universe creator built it in such way that we would be unable to discover the truth about it.  

Like the imaginary universe, this scenario might be true, and there would be no way yo distinguish it from one that was knowable.  I have the same problem with this possibility that I do with the imaginary universe.  If I cannot believe my senses, then what can I believe.  

A Real and Knowable Universe

The third possibility is similar to the second in that the universe is real.  But it differs by claiming that the universe is as it appears to be.  What we are able to see, discern and experience in the universe is indeed how it actually works.  

For someone like myself, this has a great deal of appeal.  I like trying to understand how the universe works, although I admit that my grasp of that is pretty surface.  And I want to believe that truth about the physical universe is discernible; otherwise the discovery process seems a bit futile. 

And, most importantly, it better fits with what I believe about a creator. While it is certainly possible that the creator produced us for his own entertainment, I believe it was actually for some more noble purpose.  While an imaginary universe would work well for his entertainment, it is hard to figure what purpose it might serve beyond that.  I also have a hard time seeing a creator producing a universe that is other than what it appears to be; it strikes me as a bit deceitful and for no purpose that I can tell.

I do believe, along with most people, whether they believe in a creator or not, that the universe is real, and that it is knowable.  We can profitably study it, and understand how it is put together and how it functions.  I also believe that is the proper role for science; studying the creation and learning how it works.

Nature of the Creation

As I sit here writing this, I see a big willow tree across the street with a crow sitting on an upper branch. The gray clouds are slowly moving past, the skyline of Seattle is highlighted in the distance, and a ferry should pass by soon.  And, because I believe the universe is knowable, I believe that all of those things I can see outside my window really are there.  In the same way, I believe that the other things I can see, whether first hand or through reputable scientific sources are the way that they appear to be, and that I can learn from them.

This is significant for me, because I find myself torn between two competing views of the universe.  One is the scientific perspective, that claims the universe is knowable and rational.  The other is one held by many Christians, and folks of other religions, that claim that what the universe so clearly tells us about itself is not actual reality.  An example of this is light from far distant stars.  Did it leave those stars millions, or billions, of years ago; or was it created in transit only a few thousand years ago, giving the appearance of having traveled for a few million years.

And if that light was created in transit, containing a history that is make believe, how do I know that the universe is any more than 15 minutes old.  If light was created with false history, why could I not also be created with false history, memories of something that did not actually happen.  If you want to claim that starlight is lying about its history, then how can you trust any other history?

Ultimately I have chosen to believe that what the creation reveals about itself is what it really is.  The rest of this article will deal with some specific aspects of what the creation reveals that have significance to me and my beliefs.

The Scope of the Universe

How big, and how old, is the creation?  I freely confess that the answers to those questions are beyond my training, and possibly intelligence, to discover on my own.  I actually struggle a bit in trying to understand the answers that others have discovered.  But there are many who have invested a lifetime in trying to answer those questions, and I am very grateful to them for that.

So how old do they say the universe is?  100 years ago the general consensus among scientists was that it was eternal, it had always been.  But nowadays the age estimate has dropped considerably; down to around 13.8 billion years old.  And that has some pretty tremendous implications.  An eternal universe has no need of a creator.  A universe that had a beginning does have a need for something to have caused it, a creator. 

While I read with great interest the descriptions of the tests used to determine the age of the universe, it is a bit much for me to be able to spit it back out in an easily understood form.  Instead I would refer you to a wiki article that provides some background on this. 

The other half of the opening question for this section deals with the size of the universe.  And the answer to this is incomprehensible to me.  I can grasp a distance of 3000 miles from here to the far coast of the US.  The 98 million miles to the sun is nothing but a very large number, outside my frame of reference.  So a universe with an estimated 46 billion light year radius, and rapidly growing, is mind boggling.  And that's just the part we can see; no idea now big the whole thing is.  And this is an observable universe with an estimated 100 billion galaxies, each with from 10 million to a trillion stars.  

The observable universe gives every indication that it is 13.8 billion years old with a radius of 46 billion light years, containing an immense number of stars.  But does it really, or is it just an illusion?  If it is not as it appears, then the alternative is that it was created in such a way as to give the appearance of something else.  It may be that it was created 10,000 years ago, or 5 minutes ago, but with the illusion that it was actually much older.  It may be that the law of physics are not constant throughout the universe, making our attempts at studying the age and size of the universe to be futile efforts.  But as expressed earlier I much prefer reality to illusion.

Why So Big and Old?

I find 13.8 billion years to be an awfully long time.  But to a creator who sits outside of time, it is meaningless.  Never-the-less, I can't help but wonder why he would take so long to produce intelligent life, if that was indeed his purpose in creation.

If the universe is only 10,000 years old, then I know of no practical reason that it is so big.  The whole creation would not need to be bigger than our solar system.  But its size and age do become important if it went through the evolutionary stages that it is revealing to us.

It turns out that if one is going to kick start a universe with just an immense mass of raw materials and operating laws, then it is going to take a very long time to produce all of the elements required for life.  Hydrogen and Helium were produced as the early universe cooled and expanded after the Big Bang.  But apparently all of the other elements are forged within stars, and ejected when they explode, something that takes a very long time.  So in a very real sense, we are all made of star dust.  Pretty cool!

The Diversity of Life

What is the origin of life?  How has it taken such a variety of forms here on earth?  Is there life in the universe apart from earth?  The Bible says God created life in all its diversity, and is silent on life elsewhere.  Science has no answer to the origin of life, but says that all of the current life forms have evolved from a common ancestor.  It also says that life is likely throughout the universe.

Where did life come come.  Did the creator produce an initial life form that took shape and diversified into the profusion of forms we see today?  Did the creator produce life multiple times, once for each species that has lived on earth?  Or did he create the laws that govern the universe in such a way that intelligent life was inevitable?

It seems most likely to me that all known life on earth has a common ancestor.  While the Theory of Evolution does not answer all the questions I have, it does provide a framework that makes sense to me, and does explain the dramatic similarities in so much of life today.  Why do nearly all birds, reptiles and mammals have a bilateral form, 4 limbs, a head and tail, two eyes, two ears, 1 mouth, reproduce sexually, have similar circulatory, respiratory and digestive systems.  To me at least, the differences between species are not as dramatic as the similarities between them.  I would expect that if each were designed and created individually, there would be a much greater diversity in form and function.  I know that if I was in charge of creating the animals there would be at least one beast with an odd number of legs, and maybe eyes all the way around rather than just a pair in the front or sides.

The only argument I know of against evolution is that it is contrary to the traditional interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis.  But even this passage only claims that God created, or made them, each according to their own species.  It provides no mechanism for how this occurred, other than "God said".

As to how life began, I don't know.  I am OK with either God's direct intervention (a miracle) to start life, or that the laws he put into place at creation made intelligent life inevitable.  I am inclined to go with the later but for no real reason other than it is more elegant.  The answer to that does have an impact on the question of life elsewhere in the universe.  If it requires a miracle, then life may be limited to this planet, unless the creator choose to also perform that miracle elsewhere.  If intelligent life is inevitable because of the laws that control the universe, then life is likely fairly common throughout the universe.

Ramifications

If the universe began in a "Big Bang" 13.8 billion years ago, and has then slowly evolved from that time; and if all life on earth began with a common ancestor and then diversified in some fashion similar to the Theory of Evolution; then there are some significant reconciliation issues with the more traditional Christian beliefs that include a recent creation without any evolution.  One cannot simply drop replace a young earth with no evolution, with an old universe and evolution, without an impact on other beliefs.

In particular, issues of inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible and the fall of man need to be considered.  This will be done in later posts.  I have heard the question raised about the possibility of being a Christian and accepting evolution.  There are those who claim they are incompatible, and I have been branded an atheist by some because of that.  But as far as I am concerned, the mechanisms that the creator used to produce earth and the life on it, and what we believe about that, is really of no significance in a persons salvation and walk with their creator.

Other Related Blogs
Creation and the Big Bang
The Bible and Science

No comments:

Post a Comment