It is common for pop culture favorites, e.g., Bill Maher  and Jon Stewart , to ridicule religion and argue that it is a natural enemy to science. It helps that their audiences are probably as disinterested in science as they are in religion. Whenever people of faith can be portrayed as opposing a position taken by any atheist professor at any university, the bat signal is beamed to crank up the late-night joke factory, which feeds the next day’s video clips.
However, the premise underlying many of those type jokes rarely get a second or longer look. Enter John Lennox, a mathematician and Christian, who provides a great example in how to defend the faith in the video of his talk at the Socrates in the City forum. It was based on one of his books, Seven Days That Divide the World. In it he reminds us why science should be about always asking questions, not taking dogmatic positions. Mr Lennox is all about big subjects, fitting for someone who actually had C.S. Lewis as a lecturer.
For example, how surprised do you think a typical Maher or Stewart viewer would be to learn that the science community had completely flipped its position regarding the origins of the universe in their lifetimes? Georges Lemaître, a Belgian astronomer and professor of physics is credited with first proposing the theory of an expanding universe in 1927. However, the accidental discovery of background radiation in the 1960’s is when a significant shift began taking hold and by the late 1990’s, the latest science orthodoxy was established, the big bang theory.
Prior to listening to Mr. Lennox’s lecture, I was aware that the big bang theory gained credence due to the radiation discovery in the 1960’s. But Lennox made me focus on where the debate was prior to that discovery. There were two competing world views, the science community predominantly on one side and people of faith on the other:
- Naturalism – universe is as it always was – no point of origin – steady state theory
- Theism – universe did have a point of origin and God created it
Lennox recalls that a prominent editor of a science magazine reacted at the time of the radiation discovery to the idea that the universe might have had an origin, saying “we cannot go down this road believing there was a beginning, because it will give too much leverage to people who believe the Bible.”
If you think Mr Maddox an outlier, James Rochford in his book Evidence Unseen, details the reaction of other scientists:
… in 1931 Arthur Eddington wrote, “I have no axe to grind in this discussion [but] the notion of a beginning is repugnant to me… I simply do not believe that the present order of things started off with a bang… the expanding Universe is preposterous… incredible… it leaves me cold.”
Geoffrey Burbidge was the late atheistic professor of astronomy at the University of California, San Diego. He despised the theological implications of the Big Bang so much that he said anyone adhering to it was joining “the first church of Christ of the big bang.” John Maddox wrote, “Apart from being philosophically unacceptable, the Big Bang is an over-simple view of how the Universe began, and it is unlikely to survive the decade ahead… It will be a surprise if it somehow survives the Hubble telescope.” In a similar vein, German chemist and physicist, Walter Nernst wrote, “To deny the infinite duration of time would be to betray the very foundations of science.”
Several of these quotes come from Robert Jastrow’s book God and the Astronomers. Jastrow was the founding director of the Goddard Institute at NASA. He is agnostic, not Christian. And yet he makes an observation about these men that is stunning. Jastrow writes, “There is a strange ring of feeling and emotion in these reactions. They come from the heart, whereas you would expect the judgments to come from the brain.” It seems clear that these atheistic scientists were uncomfortable with the Big Bang, not because of the scientific facts, but because of the theological implications.
How different are today’s atheistic scientists from those? Parallel universes anyone? Eric Metaxas is amazed at the unbelief.
By the way, that pioneering Belgian physicist in the 1920’s, Georges Lemaître, had a day job. He was a Roman Catholic priest. I’m glad Fr. Lemaître didn’t have our extensive media in his day.
He would have been such a joke.