Science and Its Discontents

 

The current occupant of the Lucasian Chair at Cambridge is Stephen Hawking whose life’s work has been the study of cosmology.  As the origin and ultimate fate of the universe impinges on religious questions, it is perhaps inevitable that he would find himself thrust into discussing the metaphysical implications of his studies.   It has been suggested that Hawking believes there is no need to invoke the concept of God to answer the question of how the universe came to be.  This can only be a misreading because it is a logical impossibility for science to have an opinion on the matter.

 

This is because science is ultimately a description only of phenomena we can experience through our senses. Rather science assumes that if we see something happening, then that physical event must have had a physical cause.  As a result science is antithetical to superstition and religions that deny the Judeo-Christian concept of “secondary causation.”

 

Indeed, the Book of Genesis in the Bible for the first time in human history provides a polemic against magic and mysticism.   Rather than nature being animated by numerous mischievous spirits or a pantheon of gods and goddesses, or an all-powerful tribal-chief god who recreates everything micro-second by micro-second according to his arbitrary whim, or by unexplainable and unquantifiable cosmic forces that somehow oscillate between opposites to achieve a mystical balance, Genesis postulates a universe created with its own intrinsic properties which, once created, evolves according to consistent and understandable natural laws.  Looking beyond the undeniable beauty of the allegorical description of creation in the Bible, which mainstream Christianity has always taken to be inspired but not dictated, to the enshrined moral principles, the tradition of Genesis over the last four millennia, is the foundation on which the Christian invention of modern science is based.

 

But as our understanding of science advances, we ever more recognize its limits.   Science continues this logical retreat into smaller and smaller gaps of expertise which began with its inception in the ancient world of Classical Greece.   Many early thinkers recognized that either the universe must have existed forever in an infinite chain of cause and effect or must have been created in a single supernatural event.

 

The Penrose-Hawking Singularity Theorem suggests that a consequence of Einstein’s General Relativity is that the universe must have sprung from an infinitely small point or essentially from nothing.   But any possible scientific description of something from nothing is meaningless because the putative physical cause must by definition have had no prior existence.  

 

If we can’t describe something scientifically because it has no physical existence neither can we understand the “cause” of the “original cause” much less predict any of it.  Or as the song in the “Sound of Music” succinctly puts it

 

            “Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could…”