Saturday, August 1, 2009

Evidence or Revelation?

Bible topics widely thought to refer to scientific topics should be approached with care. We must be sure we are using the Scripture mainly to affirm God’s sovereignty and His relationship to His creation rather than as a science textbook. One startling 80-year-old discovery, however, seems to have been addressed in scripture 2700 years ago by several writers, and is now revealed to be prescient from a scientific perspective. We speak of the expansion of the universe, an artifact of the Big Bang.

There are eleven Old Testament passages which address the agency of God in “stretching out” the universe. Six of those passages are found in the book of Isaiah: 40:22, 42:5, 44:24, 45:12, 48:13, and 51:13. Job 9:8, Psalm 104:2, Jeremiah 10:12 and 51:15, and Zechariah 12:1 complete the catalog. Five verses use a verb to indicate the stretching was action completed, while seven others use a different Hebrew verb to indicate the stretching is a continuous, ongoing action. One verse, Isaiah 40:22, uses both verb forms.

In 1998 astronomers discovered, to their surprise, that the stretching was accelerating. This caused great excitement, because in an expanding universe the degree of fine tuning necessary for life to exist anywhere is incredible. Many well-known Christians in the science profession cite this particular example of fine tuning as evidence of the hand of God, the Designer. As I read the responses of atheistic, naturalistic scientists to these design proposals, it is clear they are unimpressed. They propose alternate explanations, such as creative multiverse theories, and generally scoff at the idea that our universe’s obvious design features have any theistic significance. Scientists who support naturalism do not envision the possibility of an omnipotent designer at work in the cosmos. Their commitment to philosophical naturalism forbids it.

Scientists, thanks to Albert Einstein, recognize the relationship between energy and mass. The mysterious dark energy apparently driving the accelerated expansion makes up about 72% of the “stuff” in the universe. With respect to the necessity of exquisite fine tuning in an accelerating expansion, the verses in Jeremiah cited above caught my eye: “God…stretched out the heavens by his understanding” (NIV). It could mean an omniscient and omnipotent God is stretching the universe at precisely the correct rate to allow life to exist. Consider Psalm 68:34: "Proclaim the power of God...whose power is in the skies." Psalm 89:5 reads, “The heavens praise your wonders, O Lord.” In this passage, the Hebrew word for wonders could also be translated as miracle. Of course, this could refer to angelic adoration of the miracle of redemption. But it is fascinating to imagine God’s miracle-working hand controlling the precision of universal expansion!

The Bible passages cited above do not consist of scientific proof with respect to the “stretching” of the heavens. Absolute proof is a difficult and elusive standard. My personal leaning on matters of the science/faith connection is toward evidentialism, but one cannot rely completely on evidence. A belief system is made reasonable and rational by evidence. Faith is strengthened by evidence and reason, but confirmed as truth in our hearts by revelation.