Paul Hopkins: Science and religion, and the starry heavens above

It seems I stepped on a few toes with my Easter column on science and religion and the evidence for the historical Jesus.

It was not my intention to offend but let me now set the record: I spoke of the austerity of my Catholic upbringing in the Fifties and Sixties. Fact, it was austere. I wrote of a now decline in religious belief and church attendance. That too is fact. I outlined, albeit briefly, the case for and against the existence of a historical Jesus but agreed there was ultimately greater evidence that the Nazarene existed. I was not debating the divinity of Jesus and His claim to have been the Son of God. I was accused of being a non-believer, so let me address that matter. From as far back as I can recall I have pondered, indeed struggled with, the Big Questions: Who am I? Why am I here? And where am I going? The conundrum of the individual experience — why am I me and not you? — and just exactly what is consciousness? Do we have an eternal soul?

My faith, with which I struggle, is based more on scientific reasoning than religiosity. I believe in a Divine Originator, but not a god with anthropomorphic qualities, ie. human-like qualities. I believe that this 'It' encompasses All, evil too for a god outside of which other things exist defeats the very definition of what God is. To paraphrase Taoism, the God that can be defined (by we humans) is not the 'real' God. St Paul put it another way when he said: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of Man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him."

Ever since science rose to prominence as an intellectual and moral force in the 19th century, there has been a debate between two world views: the scientific and the religious. Darwin and Freud proposed views of the origins and the nature of Man that were dramatically contrary to religious, and specifically Biblical, ideals.

However, Darwin never ruled out a Divine Originator. That the laws of physics are so minutely fine-tuned, that there is Life, that you and I exist at all — a nano-nano second either side of the Big Bang and the ‘conditions' for such would not ‘be' — is, in the true sense of the word, a miracle.

Ergo, anything is possible. There is just as likely a God as there is not.

Some of the great thinkers — Thomas Aquinas, Galileo, Descartes, Sartre, Teilhard de Chardin, Alan Watts and CS Lewis to name a few — give me grounding and a thirst for further learning but within the realm of scientific thought.

Contrary to widespread belief, the modern Catholic Church is science-friendly: its support for Darwinian evolution contrasts sharply with the unscientific belief in Creationism of many evangelicals both here and across the world — a concept that Pope Benedict XVI rightly criticised in 2007 as "absurd".

Pope Francis is a scientist by trade, while Francis Collins, head of the first team to map the entire human genome, is an example of a highly visible and respected scientist who openly embraces a Christian faith.

Modern science, particularly astrophysics, alludes to — indeed, concludes of — an Original Cause or God. (Robert Lanza's Biocentrics and Bernard Haisch's The God Theory are not a million light years from Higgs boson and the God particle.)

My Catholic upbringing did little to answer any of the Big Questions. Science does, even with its simple assertion that nothing, no one thing, can be destroyed. That there is no such thing as 'no thing', and that for any thing, for matter, to exist it must be observed, consciously. I'm with Einstein too, who wrote: "To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty ... this knowledge, this feeling, is at the centre of true religiousness. In this sense, and this sense only, I belong in the ranks of devoutly religious.''

CS Lewis, the great English novelist and philosopher, started his life as an atheist, but later became a 'theist', and a devout Catholic. Lewis, like the proponents of intelligent design, looked at the world and was overwhelmed by its complexity and miraculousness. The "starry heavens above and the moral laws within" — to paraphrase Immanuel Kant — all pointing with unmistakable clarity to the 'Intelligence' that must have created the universe.

Parallels et al ..

Read Paul Hopkins column every Tuesday in the Meath Chronicle

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