Saturday, February 22, 2014

Theological Aversion to the Big Bang

It may sound strange, especially to those who've grown up believing that science is solely concerned with following the evidence wherever it leads and that the scientific enterprise has nothing to do with religion or philosophy, but in fact for many scientists their science is driven and guided by their theology.

I'm not talking about creationists who make no secret of their desire to harmonize the empirical evidence for origins with the scriptural narrative. I'm talking rather about those scientists who consider themselves naturalists and who insist that science rules out God.

It seems fair to say that for many of these men and women what they accept as sound science must conform to their atheistic worldview or else they'll dismiss it as implausible. The reception some scientists gave to the idea that the universe began in a cosmic explosion is an example. Facetiously dubbed the Big Bang theory by Fred Hoyle in the 1940s it received its most astonishing evidential support fifty years ago this year so perhaps it's fitting to use it as an illustration of how scientists are directed by their theological beliefs.

Denyse O'Leary, writing at Evolution News and Views last October reminds us of a number of revealing statements by prominent scientists which demonstrate the extent to which they and/or their colleagues are influenced by their theology, or in this case, their atheology:

Physicist Arthur Eddington exclaimed in 1933, "I feel almost an indignation that anyone should believe in it [i.e. a cosmic beginning] -- except myself." Why? Because "The beginning seems to present insuperable difficulties unless we agree to look on it as frankly supernatural."

"These men and women have built their entire worldview on atheism," says cosmologist Frank Tipler referring to his colleagues: "When I was a student at MIT in the late 1960s, I audited a course in cosmology from the physics Nobelist Steven Weinberg. He told his class that of the theories of cosmology, he preferred the Steady State Theory because 'it least resembled the account in Genesis.'"

In 1989, Nature's physics editor John Maddox predicted, "Apart from being philosophically [i.e. theologically] unacceptable, the Big Bang is an over-simple view of how the Universe began, and it is unlikely to survive the decade ahead."

Stephen Hawking opined in 1996, "Many people do not like the idea that time has a beginning, probably because it smacks of divine intervention. ... There were therefore a number of attempts to avoid the conclusion that there had been a big bang."

Quantum cosmologist Christopher Isham recalls: "Perhaps the best argument in favor of the thesis that the Big Bang supports theism is the obvious unease with which it is greeted by some atheist physicists. At times this has led to scientific ideas, such as continuous creation or an oscillating universe, being advanced with a tenacity which so exceeds their intrinsic worth that one can only suspect the operation of psychological forces lying very much deeper than the usual academic desire of a theorist to support his/her theory."

For many scientists their science is shaped by their metaphysical worldview, not vice versa. This would not be particularly troubling if it weren't for the fact that so many of them insist that the only thing that shapes their science is the evidence. The popular notion is that scientists have no philosophical axes to grind and that they only deal in cold, hard facts, but this is simply not the case.

It'd be well to keep this in mind when we hear people like Al Gore pronounce that the science on, say, climate change or Darwinism, is "settled." Science is never settled, and it's foolish to claim that it is. One's likely motive for doing so is to try to protect a philosophical position that the claimant doesn't wish to have exposed to scrutiny.