"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." This well-worn opening verse to the book of Genesis has been the answer to man's question How did the cosmos begin? from the beginning of recorded history until recent times. But today, in our computer space-age, can we say that this statement is still relevant? Is this a valid and believable account of our origins? One thing at least will be widely agreed upon about the biblical verse: it relates time, space, and matter in a stunning economy of words, all the more remarkable for the fact that these three most basic entities are mutually required. That is to say, no one entity can exist without the other two. No matter who the author was in the remote past, it certainly was someone with great wisdom and insight. Taken quite literally, the statement offers the reader a straightforward explanation for the origin of the universe and all it contains, making no apology for the fact that the account involves supernatural creation ex nihilo, creation of something from nothing.
Knowledge of the world comes to us either directly or indirectly through our five senses. Man has systematized that knowledge in order to gain an understanding of nature; the exercise is called science and the motivation is usefulness. The discipline of science has generally been in opposition to religion, for the latter claims that there is a further sense beyond the five senses by which man attains true wisdom: divine revelation, acknowledged to be an unprovable concept beyond the natural realm of scientific inquiry and man's understanding. However, because of association with peculiar religious practices, any suggestion of the supernatural is not accepted with enthusiasm by the orthodox scientific fraternity, and history shows that there are good reasons for this rejection. With the progression of scientific understanding and techniques, particularly during this century, the need to appeal to any supernatural explanation has given way, time and time again, as the light of science has revealed perfectly natural explanations. While it is acknowledged that there are still a great many things for which science as yet has no explanation, it can be said with confidence from the past that it is only a matter of time and research before all of nature's mysteries are revealed. It would appear to be very rational, then, to consign a supernatural account of our origins to that diminishing body of folklore that at one time included wishing wells and fairy rings.
|To leave the argument at this point, however, would be to take a superficial
approach, especially on the question before us, the origin of the universe.
Harlow Shapley, a professor of astronomy at Harvard University, expressed the modern view of the beginning of the universe when he said, "In the beginning was the Word, it has been piously recorded and I might venture that the word was hydrogen gas" (Shapley 1960, 3). This is the usual scenario presented to the public in imaginatively illustrated popular books, magazines, and even films, such as the ever popular Walt Disney production Fantasia. No one has yet proven, however, where the hydrogen or the energy came from in the first place. Statements like Shapley's cannot be taken as an explanation for the very beginning. Some try to get out of this corner by proposing that the universe, in whatever form, has always existed, that there never was a beginning. But this proposal begs the question, and it seems easier to accept a supernatural creation of something from nothing than to try to conceive time without a beginning.
At this point logic brings us to the crux of the matter regarding origins. Once it is recognized that there has to be a beginning, regardless of the explanation for that beginning, we then have to concede that there was timelessness before the beginning. Here we enter a realm quite beyond scientific inquiry or man's comprehension. Whether we like it or not, the argument would seem to force an acknowledgment of a supernatural state of being prior to the familiar natural state that involves time, space, and matter. Perhaps it is possible to express this argument from another viewpoint, considering the extent of space at this present time rather than spacelessness before the beginning.
Harlow Shapley, 1885-1972. A popular public speaker, he was subpoenaed in 1946 for his Communist sympathies and elected president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science the following year. (Author's collection)
The popular scientific press speaks about giant radio telescopes reaching to the outer limits of the universe, yet this can surely mean only reaching to the limits of our present-day technology, not to the limits of space itself. Human reasoning tells us that space must continue indefinitely, yet, again, this is like saying there was no beginning to time, and evades the question. The alternative is to concede that there is a limit to the extent of space, but that at the boundary we pass from space to spacelessness -- and once again we are confronted with passing from the natural to the supernatural realm.
When we consider the origin of matter referred to in the Genesis verse as "the earth", the situation becomes even less clear. The dictionary defines matter as anything that occupies space, so it is evident that space must have existed before matter was created to occupy it. Genesis is thus seen to be set out in the correct logical order. Matter, as we know, consists of ninety-two different kinds of atoms or elements, which in various combinations make up all the material stuff around us: the atmosphere, rocks, and every living thing, including ourselves. Scientists have been working for more than half a century to determine the structure of the atom. They have long since concluded that not only is there design in the hydrogen atom, but energy is necessary to keep it all bound together. And, moreover, that energy had to be expended to put together in the first place what has turned out to be a complex little unit of matter. Greater complexity of design and more energy are, therefore, associated with more complex elements.
To suppose in the face of all this that it all happened by chance, as many scientists do, appeals as much to a supernatural explanation as it does to say that some enigmatic clockmaker designed it all and wound it up at the beginning. The clockmaker argument, by the way, is not new but was presented by William Paley in 1802. Paley, however, took his point of departure from the evidence of design in nature, such as the eye. The argument we are presenting takes us back to the very beginning, to the intelligence directing the energy to assemble the subatomic particles within the nucleus of the atom. Here again we have reached the limits of scientific inquiry and confront the unprovable supernatural.
Professor Shapley's view that "in the beginning... there was hydrogen gas" does express, in a very succinct way, the basis for a belief system that lies entirely within the apparent compass of man's reason. While this naturalistic view scorns the miraculous as an explanation, an element of miracle must nevertheless be involved since the mechanism for bringing order out of disorder is said to be chance. The alternative explanation recognizes that nature is ordered and highly complex, openly concluding that an intelligent Creator was responsible and that miracle was involved. In either case, each view is based on faith, since there were no witnesses to our origins neither can they be repeated in a laboratory; they are essentially the unknowable and unprovable.
The naturalistic explanation for the origins of matter and man did not begin with Charles Darwin in the nineteenth century but appears side by side with the supernatural explanation at the time of the Greeks and undoubtedly goes back even beyond this early period of man's history. An important consequence of this line of thinking follows: by denying an intelligent Creator, or even denying that he is vitally interested in the affairs of man, then men must look to man as the intelligence necessary to run the affairs of the world. This is humanism. Humanism has steadily risen in opposition to theism throughout history, reaching a peak at the time of the French Revolution in 1789. The work of Charles Darwin later provided the scientific foundation for humanism. Since his time, humanistic reasoning has been built upon this foundation until it has become the dominant worldview today.
All this is far from being a dry academic issue since our personal thinking and approach to life are crucially dependent on whichever of the two opposed belief systems we choose to adopt. In a society that claims to be democratic, it would seem only reasonable that every human being be given the opportunity to exercise a free-will choice deciding between the one belief system or the other to provide the anchor point for their particular worldview. The pertinent evidence must therefore be presented and at the same time all the half-truths and speculations cleared away. It is the hope of this book to enable the reader searching for answers to make the decision intelligently.
The first chapter traces the rise of humanism from the Greeks to the French Revolution and attempts to show why ideas have arisen rather than simply stating the traditional and often barren list of names and dates. The next few chapters expose the men and their ideas responsible for raising the platform upon which Charles Darwin began his work. By Chapter Five we reach Darwin himself and see a little more of the man and the well-spring of his ideas than is found in the usual biography.
Indeed, vignettes of the lifestyle of many of the other personalities
are recounted, not only to show their human side, but also to allow the
discerning reader to judge the quality of water in each particular well-spring.
From Darwin, the chapters then branch out into some of the most important
areas of human endeavor related to our world-view. Most of the controversial
issues in the anthropological, biological, and geological sciences are
discussed and the chapters continue into medicine, physics, and theology;
all have the purpose of exposing not only who said what but, most importantly,
why they said it. In the final chapter, the consequences of the step-by-step
progression of humanism through the centuries becomes evident in the social
sciences. Finally, we see how the entire system becomes justification for
a new world order under one elitist government.