The three explanations for the origin and evolution of the universe
The three explanations for the origin and evolution of the universe
Author: Juan Luis Lorda
Published in: Actualidad catequética 225-226, pp. 134-148.
Date of publication: 2011
- Three global explanations and three models of man
- The Christian image of man is a great way of evangelisation.
- grade bibliographic
God's two books
The Gospel is a great revelation of God, a new light to illuminate all things in this world. It tells us about God and man and their relationship to each other. From the Christian point of view, the revelation of the Gospel is, in reality, the "second" revelation, because God has already spoken in creation, when he formed nature: "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims the work of his hands" (Ps 19:1).
This is why there is an old tradition of Christian thought that speaks of God's "two books": that of nature and that of revelation. St. Augustine beautifully puts it this way: "The book is for you Sacred Scripture, so that you may hear it. And the orb of the earth is a book for you, so that you may see it" *(1).
This image expresses well the Christian view of the two kinds of knowledge that come from God: that which we find in nature and that which comes to us through revelation.
What's new in the book of nature
On the origin of man and the world, we used to have only the Genesis account and some ancient myths and fables. Since the mid-19th century, we have had another account of the origin of species and of man, the one initiated by Charles Darwin, which has been completed and refined as we have learned more about genetics.
And, since the mid-20th century, we also have a new account of the origin of the world: the Big Bang, the big explosion. According to the evidence we have, the present universe came from the explosion of an enormously dense point, and it is still expanding.
Both scientific theories are more than hypotheses because they have accumulated evidence in their favour. This evidence seems sufficient to argue that both hypotheses shape the history of our universe. Although we do not know all the details nor can we check them perfectly, because of the enormous distance of time and the impossibility of repeating these processes on a laboratory.
In the case of evolution, the fossil record is something like a jigsaw puzzle in which almost all the pieces are missing and the ones we have are broken. But they are significant enough. Moreover, it is likely that, in the coming years, we will achieve greater genetic confirmation of how the leaps between species have been made, as more is known and the genomes of the species can be better compared.
In the case of the Big Bang, the indications are also very strong, but it is a limiting case: because in that explosion not only the whole universe as we know it originated, but also all its parts, particles and laws, from the unfolding of an original point. Therefore, the original moment is like a kind of limit of our physical knowledge and beyond it we can only go with our imagination.
It should be borne in mind that scientific research in these fields is very difficult and is a step-by-step process. You have to be well informed to understand the significance of small advances, of a finding in the field of palaeontology, genetics, astrophysics or particle physics. Or new hypotheses that are formulated. This information is often very difficult to pass on. There is a big gap between scientific research and what can be communicated to the public. For this reason, we should not pay too much attention to the sensationalist news stories that are splashed across the media throughout the year. It is better to turn to quality specialist journals with truly scientific criteria *(2).
A unified universe
The fact is that with these readings of the book of nature, our idea of the universe is very different from what it might have been, say, a hundred years ago. Today we can tell a story of the universe from an original moment to the present moment. We can describe the whole unfolding of the subject with the shaping of the universe as we know it, including the earth, which is a very curious and surprising system. And the whole evolution of life with its manifold richness and also its many curiosities and surprises. Certainly, we cannot recount the details, and we do not know many transitions, but we can recount the broad outlines.
It is a single story: a story where everything has arisen and where everything is related: all the Structures of the subject and all living organisms. Everything has been made from an original point and everything is made from the same thing.
We have never had such a unitary idea of reality. The people of other times lived in a world full of seemingly unconnected mysteries. There were many partial explanations and many unknown mysteries. Today we do not know everything, but we know that everything is connected. This is an important and somewhat new fact in the history of thought. Perhaps one of the most important facts in the history of thought.
Modern science has made these important readings in the book of nature. Advances in physics, chemistry, biology and astrophysics have led to the conclusion that everything is made of the same thing, of the same elementary components. Moreover, the two great theories we have discussed (evolution and the Big Bang) tell us that everything is part of a single story. "Everything" means everything we can see in the universe: all the bodies in space, all the bodies on earth Materials , all living beings and mankind. Everything is part of the same story.
A wonderful world
If we have not lost our capacity for wonder, we will easily realise that this is a wonderful statement. There are many people who no longer have the capacity for contemplation, who are no longer in awe of anything, who find everything "normal"; because they get used to things and then they no longer admire them. But to those who have retained these very human capacities, the story of the universe will seem absolutely fascinating. The most wonderful story that can be told. All known reality has emerged here. In that sense, the progress of science is truly fascinating.
The story about the history of the universe is much more wonderful than a fairy tale and could even be told as a fairy tale: "Once upon a time there was a very small but enormously dense point, and suddenly it burst forth radiating a fabulous amount of energy. And then...".
For a Christian, this story is an almost self-evident manifestation of God's power. Seeing so much intelligence and so much wonder reminds him of the famous phrases at the beginning of Psalm 19: "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims the work of his hands" (Ps 19:1).
On the other hand, for people who have a materialistic vision, it is a pure display of "chance and necessity", to use this binomial reminiscent of the famous book by Monod, award Nobel Prize in medicine and modern representative of biological materialism. Everything has happened without any sense and in an unforeseen and absurd way. And it is still meaningless and absurd: from the first explosion to human existence. This clashes so strongly with our sensibility that it hardly affects normal people. But there are many theorists who argue that the universe is indeed the blind fruit of chance and necessity. And therefore, in the end, absurd.
Three models for explaining the universe
Because our modern scientific picture of the universe has become so unitary, the possible explanations have been greatly reduced. That is, the global way of understanding the world or of representing what it is like. Therefore, it can be said that there are very few possible worldviews left, very few global visions of the world. And these are the ones we are going to present now for comparison.
From entrance, there are three possibilities:
- The world comes "from below": there is no God and the world has made itself, by chance and by the casual emergence of internal laws that have directed growth. So, at bottom, indeed, the world is absurd. It cannot have any logic. This is the materialist thesis, which is defended by many people, including scientific experts, although perhaps without going to its ultimate consequences.
- The world comes "from above": it is made by an intelligent being, God. Therefore, it does not come "from below", but "from above". And the explanation of its internal order, of the emergence of Structures and of its very laws, is that it has been thought up by an intelligent being. Benedict XVI likes to think of the very "mathematical entrails" of the world*(3). Galileo said that nature has a mathematical core, but this marvellous order deserves an explanation.
- The world itself is God, or at least divine. This is the third possibility. Although it may seem surprising from entrance, this position is quite widespread. It is advocated by some ancient pantheisms or Eastern pantheisms. award And it is also the stance hinted at by some important modern scientists, for example, the Nobel physics laureate Schrödinger or Einstein himself. The characteristic of this position is to convey to the universe the most important feature that can be found in it, human consciousness. In such a way that, although it is not a person, they give the whole a certain consciousness or, at least, they consider it with a certain global logic as the foundation of all consciousness. The whole can be called "God", although they do not generally think of it as a personal being. It is more something than someone.
These are the three great possibilities. Materialists reduce wonder to chance. Pantheists" think of the world as a wondrous whole with all properties. Believers think of a wonderful world created by an intelligent being, which is not confused with the world. These are the possible positions. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes them as follows: "Some philosophers have said that everything is God, that the world is God or that the becoming of the world is the becoming of God (pantheism). (...) Others finally do not accept any transcendent origin of the world, but see in it the pure play of a subject that has always existed (materialism)" (CEC 285).
Three different men's models
The three global explanations give rise to three models of the human being:
- If the world is a meaningless coincidence, the human being is also a meaningless coincidence. And he is worth no more than the rest. This has untenable practical consequences. Our western culture and our democratic institutions are based on the idea that every human being has a special dignity that must be respected. But if it is a bit of subject accumulated by chance, we do not see why it should be specially respected. Of course, this scientific or "scientistic" materialism is eroding the instructions of our democratic culture, when it makes people lose dignity in borderline conditions (abortion, euthanasia, perhaps soon eugenics).
- If the world was made by God, man can be, as the biblical message advocates, "the image of God". He is a person in the image of the divine persons. An intelligent and free being, capable of good and love, and who fulfils himself by loving, in the image of the divine persons. The radical explanation of the uniqueness of human consciousness would come from God. If not, it can only come from the subject.
- If the world itself is God or a kind of divine whole, everything is part of the same. Everything is divine or emanation united with the divine. Then the human being can only be a transient spark of the whole. A part which has temporarily separated and which temporarily manifests a personal consciousness, but which is called to unite and merge into the Whole, as advocated by Eastern pantheisms (seen in the Buddhist or Hindu tradition). There cannot be a strong personal identity, but only a transitory one. This is why it is common to find in these positions a belief in reincarnation or transmigration of "souls".
The "capital letters" problem
We are used to talking about great human dimensions, such as love, justice, freedom and beauty. They seem so important to us that we can write them in capital letters: Love, Justice, Freedom, Beauty.
But if the world is chance and necessity, these human dimensions cannot have much substance or make much sense. What sense can love or justice have in a world that arose from elementary particles by chance? In physics, there is mass or charge, but there is no love or justice. If they are not dimensions of the subject, and there is only subject, they can only be illusions of the spirit. Something fictitious. Love can be nothing more than instinct and, at bottom, physics. And justice can only be a human illusion that has no basis either in physics, which knows only attractions and repulsions, or in biology, where the law of the jungle prevails. Neither in physics nor in biology is there justice. It belongs to people who recognise their own dignity and who know that they are different from subject and from animals.
Only if the world was made by God can these very human dimensions be reflections of a personal God. God has him in fullness. Man can have him as an image. He cannot have him in fullness, but he can really have him. There can be in his life something that really is love and justice and freedom and beauty. And not only appearance, but reality. Only before the personal God can the human being be considered a person and have these personal dimensions. For Christianity, the human being is loved forever. That is why he has a personal, spiritual and immortal soul.
It is easy to make materialistic statements, but it is very difficult to live as a consistent materialist, because it contradicts the most elementary aspirations and usages of the human condition. Every materialist should seriously question whether it makes sense for him to love his children, his spouse, his parents or his friends. Does such love make sense? Is it logical to love a child more than a piece of furniture, if they are the same thing? And the same applies to your aspirations or your claims for justice: do they make sense in a universe that is chance and necessity? Why should you aspire to love or defend justice instead of accepting chance and necessity? But how can one be a materialist and defend justice?
And if materialism, which seems so serious, turns out to be so inhuman, is there not an error of approach? If we start from our reductive idea of subject and end up denying the human, is it not because we have the wrong method? Should we not start from the existence of these human dimensions, which are at least as real as those of subject, to show that the world is richer than the materialist vision? Or is it that justice does not exist because we do not have a thermometer to measure it?
The problem of freedom
The topic of the "capital letter" of freedom is special. Liberty is a great human dimension, much extolled in the history of our modern world. Important statues to Liberty have even been erected in Paris and, above all, in New York (a gift from the French State).
But if the world is only subject evolved by chance and necessity, there can be no real freedom. Chance means pure chance; and necessity means determination, absence of freedom. If the subject is not free and man is only subject, there is no freedom in man. And then all modern culture, even all human culture has fallen into a fundamental error. It continues to live in myth and not in science.
Of course, here too it is impossible to be consistent. If we think that freedom does not exist and that everything we do is dominated by chance and necessity, a lot would have to change. But any attempt to take this assertion seriously is a kind of joke. For if we think that chance and necessity is the explanation for everything, we must think that we think it out of pure chance and necessity, not because it is logical. The subject is neither logical nor non-logical. It is just chance and necessity. And consequently, thought, and everything we think, can only be chance and necessity, whether we think one thing or the opposite.
Pope Benedict XVI put it very sympathetically at the University of Regensburg: "In the end, this alternative presents itself: What is at the origin? Either creative Reason, the creative Spirit that realises everything and allows it to develop, or Irrationality that, without thinking and without realising it, produces a mathematically ordered cosmos, and also man with his reason. But then, human reason would be a chance of evolution and, in the end, irrational" ( Homily in Regensburg, 12.IX.2006).
But let us get to the heart of the matter. If human beings are only subject, dominated by chance and necessity, they cannot really be free. The only materialist way out of this argument (attempted by many) is to take refuge in quantum mechanics. It turns out that all physics is deterministic, except the physics of subatomic particles, quantum physics, where we cannot determine exactly the position and velocity of elementary particles (electrons, photons) nor their behaviour (as a wave or as a corpuscle). This is, at final, Heisenberg's indeterminacy principle. According to the current scientific view of things, the subject is totally determined, except in this sphere. The solution would then be to try to relate human freedom to this sphere of indeterminacy. This is what Penrose does, for example (The Emperor's New Mind). And others follow.
But this is a tragic (or comical) misunderstanding. Indeterminacy means that we do not know where something is or how it will behave. But freedom is more than not being able to foresee what will happen. It is precisely deciding what will happen. We certainly cannot know how a person will behave, because he or she is free. In this respect, people's behaviour is similar to that of subatomic particles: it is unpredictable. But free people think about what they are going to do and are capable of freely building constructions that are the fruit of their spirit, like Toledo Cathedral, for example. It can be said that Toledo Cathedral was undetermined because, before it was built, there was nothing to suggest that there would be a cathedral on that site. But Toledo Cathedral is not the fruit of indeterminacy, but of human freedom, which is full of thought, of project, of imagination, of creative decisions. Something that neither elementary particles nor any other sphere of the subject have.
Therefore, it is almost a joke to try to relate human freedom to quantum mechanics. Human freedom is fundamentally related to intelligence. We are free because we are intelligent. And intelligence is almost as big a mystery as freedom. It is the most obvious test that there is more to the universe than subject. That there is thought, that there is freedom, that there is goodness, that there is justice, that there is love. And all these dimensions of the human person are what Christians defend as part of the image of God. As the image of a good, free and creative God, a free and creative human being, who wants to be good and just, makes sense. And who considers it a great good to love and to be loved. These dimensions are the clearest test of how the universe is to be contemplated. If we only want to explain it from subject, from biology or from personal realities, the explanation is not such.
From what we have said, we can see to what extent the Christian worldview is consistent with the condition and aspirations of the human person. To show this coincidence is a great way of evangelisation, as Pope John Paul II pointed out. In his speech to the Spanish theologians in Salamanca, he said that Christian thought "must seek in the essential Structures of human existence the transcendent dimensions which constitute man's radical capacity to be challenged by the Christian message in order to understand it as salvific, that is to say, as a response of gratuitous fullness to the fundamental questions of human life. This was the process of theological reflection followed by the Second Vatican Council in the constitution Gaudium et Spes: the correlation between the deep and decisive problems of man and the new light which the person and message of Jesus Christ sheds on them" *(4).
Compatible or incompatible?
The Christian message has no problem with the data or with the theory of evolution, or even with the Big Bang hypothesis. On the contrary: the scientific story is becoming more and more "marvellous": beautiful, astonishing, mysterious... In that sense, if we do not lose our contemplative capacity, it is increasingly close to Christian sensibility. After two centuries of materialistic professors who repeated that " subject is neither created nor destroyed" and who branded Christian creation as an absurd tale, it turns out that the scientific vision of the universe increasingly resembles a creation out of nothing. Although this cannot be physically proven.
What is incompatible with the Christian faith is a materialistic or reductionist interpretation, which claims that all this wonder comes "from below", that everything is subject, which, without any sense and by pure chance, has been growing. This contradicts the sense of faith. But, as we have just seen, it also contradicts common sense. And our direct experience of reality: order and structure need explanation.
It should be noted that in the United States there is a very lively discussion between what is called creationism and evolutionism, which is not only science but materialistic ideology. Traditional Christian movements, generally Protestant, aspire to have a "creationist" theory taught in schools at the same level as an "evolutionist" theory, which is often not only a scientific worldview, but also an ideological and materialistic worldview. If I only explain the facts of evolution, I am in the realm of science. If I explain that the world came into being by pure chance, I introduce an ideological position that cannot be demonstrated at laboratory or by studying fossils.
Arriving at the idea of a creator God is beyond scientific data. But it is a possible deduction, of a philosophical nature, when looking at the whole of reality. For us Christians, this deduction is reinforced by our faith.
In the United States, creationist positions are sometimes held by fundamentalist Protestant groups, sometimes advocating a purely literal interpretation of the Bible, including calculations of dates for the creation of the world, which would have been about 5,000 years ago. The Catholic position, on the other hand, has long understood that the story is not about conveying physical facts about the constitution and structure of the world, but the religious fact that it was made by God.
From the Catholic point of view, God created a world that has its own laws. There is nothing wrong with the universe developing according to its own dynamics, including "coincidences". That is why the Christian faith is perfectly compatible with the "data" we have today about the origin of the universe and of life forms, including man. For us, creation is a marvel of God's power and is still at work in the history of this world and, in particular, in every human being that is born.
The value of "capital letters
As we have said, all the signs tell us that the world also comes "from above". Everything that "seems more" than subject is for us a sign of God, a way to God, and a presentation of Christianity. We have mentioned some of the great human dimensions, which are dear to us, and which are a great testimony of the transcendence of the human person, of the constitution of the universe and of its divine origin.
In this way of contemplating human reality we coincide with many other people, believers or not. With many people who perhaps do not have a religious dimension to life, or at least a Christian dimension, but who spontaneously grasp the value of reality. For these people, the coincidence between what they feel and Christian doctrine can be a great way of evangelisation. Christianity responds to people's deepest aspirations. Let us review them.
1) Christians believe in the value of the Person, in his dignity, because he is not only subject, but "image of God". Anyone who believes in the value of the person approaches the world "from above", approaches faith.
2) We believe in the value of Justice, which is not an aspiration of subject, but a quality of God and of the personal world created by Him. Everyone who "hungers and thirsts for justice" also hungers for God's personal world. It is not the law of the subject or the law of the jungle.
3) We believe in the value of Love, which is not a property of subject but of God. Everyone who has a high idea of personal love and an aspiration for communion among people and peace among people, is desiring God and is approaching the Christian point of view.
4) We believe in the value of Truth (and Knowledge and Meaning of Life), everything created contains the mind of the Creator, therefore it can be thought. And human life has meaning. The very idea of truth speaks to us of divine intelligence. For the fruit of chance is absurdity. Anyone who loves truth and seeks the meaning of life is assuming that it exists and is approaching faith.
award 5) We believe in the value of Beauty, physical, moral and spiritual, God's reflection in the world and in people and in the most beautiful things in people (justice, love and truth: "Only beauty will save the world", according to Dostoevsky's famous phrase (which inspired the famous speech of the Nobel Prize winner Solzhenitsyn -1972-).
The benefit of catechesis on creation
Christians see the world "from above" and "from below", according to the two books we have been given to read: the book of nature and the book of faith. We see them as compatible, even if we do not know all the details. And we marvel at their beauty, at God's creative love.
The catechesis on creation is to provide the light in which to look at the world. It is to speak of the other book, which allows us to look up and see the "wonder" of the scientific account, as well as explaining the meaning of human life in the world created by God. With its truth, beauty, love and justice. With the eternal value of each person. Also with the value of nature, full of chance and necessity, and of marvellous dimensions created by God and reflecting God. With a formidable and astonishing display that fills us with wonder and devotion.
On the "two books" of nature and revelation
G. Tanzella-Nitti, The two Books prior to the Scientific Revolution, in Annales Theologici 18 (2004) 51-83; J. Seibold S. J., Liber naturae et liber Scripturae. Medieval patristic doctrine, its modern interpretation and its present-day perspective, in Stromata (Univ. St. Michael the Saviour) 40 (1984/I-II) 59-85. The topic is in St. Augustine, in St. Bonaventure and in many medieval authors. The Liber creaturarum, by Ramon Sibiuda, is famous. Galileo also used this topic when defending his position, in his letter to Christina of Lorraine.
I had already dealt with this topic in Las cuatro cosmovisiones, collected in my book Para una idea cristiana del hombre, Rialp, Madrid 2010. Materialism is a way of thinking that runs through the whole of history. Pantheism" has ancient religious versions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism...); modern ones (New Age) and non-religious but rather philosophical versions: some ancient (Spinoza) and others more recent (Schrödinger). In Einstein it was more a kind of mentality than a constructed doctrine and had no particular religious connotation, but rather an admiration for the universe.
Recently, it is worth noting a new "biologicism", which is more than materialism because it tries to explain all human reality on the basis of an elementary biological law: the law of conservation of the genetic heritage. With this they try to explain the whole development of evolution, with the growth of complexity and all the characteristics of human culture. This is the position of Richard Dawkins, from his book The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker. He is an important scientific populariser who is viscerally anti-Christian, with a strong presence in the media. He differs from pure materialism in that he does not refer to the properties of the subject, but to a biological law. Apart from the fact that many of its simplifications are not admissible, a general consideration must be made: if a biological law is admitted which cannot be conceptually reduced to the laws of physics, how can the existence of this fundamental law be explained? And why shouldn't there be other higher laws if that one exists?
On the compatibility of the Christian worldview with the scientific worldview
It is not always easy to find balanced popular literature that combines a good knowledge of the state of science and sufficient Christian sense. On the one hand, one needs good scientific information; on the other hand, one must be able to distinguish between science and ideology.
Mariano Artigas, physicist and theologian, has done a great deal of work in this field, with many works on evolution Las fronteras del evolucionismo (Palabra 2004); las relaciones Ciencia y fe. Nuevas perspectivas (Eunsa 1992); Ciencia, razón y fe (Science, reason and faith) (Palabra 1992); as a more global essay , La mente del universo (The mind of the universe) (Eunsa 2000). His Oracles of science, in which he describes and judges the positions of some great scientists and science popularisers, is awaiting translation. And together with the geneticist Daniel Turbón, Origen del hombre. Science, Philosophy and Religion (Eunsa 2007).
The work of Agustín Udías, Full Professor of geophysics at the Complutense University of Madrid, El universo, la ciencia y Dios (PPC, 2001) also deserves attention. I have always held in veneration the small and lucid book by the German mathematician and physicist Pacual Jordan, Creación y misterio (Eunsa, 1978), although it requires a minimum of scientific and mathematical (statistical) knowledge to understand it.
Also worth mentioning is Stanley Jaki's Physics and Religion in Perspective (Rialp, 1990). Jaki was a great scholar of the philosophy of science and its relationship with religion, and he argued that the development of Western science is largely due to the fact that Christian faith "disenchanted" the world and gave man the mandate to dominate it: The road of science and the ways to God (Univ. of Chicago, 1978).
For his part, A. Fernández-Rañada, in Los científicos y Dios (Trotta, 2002) sample the Christian faith and the Christian impulse of many great scientists. In this sense also J. M. Riaza, La Iglesia en la historia de la ciencia (BAC, 1999).
Of particular interest is the testimony of Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, which has conducted the research on the human genome. His book How Does God Speak? (Temas de hoy, 2007) is a very intelligent and nuanced book on these questions, with a Christian sense. Also interesting is Diego Martínez Caro's book, Genesis. El origen del universo, de la vida y del hombre (Homolegens 2008), which, in addition to a good scientific presentation, raises questions of faith at the end.
On all these topics, information is available online on the web pages of the University of Navarra's CRYF work group . It can be easily found at any search engine on the Internet.
- "Liber tibi sit pagina divina, ut haec audias; liber tibi sit orbis terrarum, ut haec videas" Enarrationes in Psalmos 45, 7 (PL 36, 518).
- Internationally, Science, Nature, etc. are well known; in Spain, Investigación y Ciencia
- "I find it almost unbelievable that an invention of the human intellect and the structure of the universe coincide: mathematics invented by us actually gives us access to the nature of the universe and enables us to use it. Therefore, the intellectual structure of the human subject and the objective structure of reality coincide: subjective reason and objectified reason in nature are identical. I believe that this coincidence between what we have thought and the way in which nature is realised and behaves is an enigma and a great challenge, because we see that, in final, it is 'one reason' that unites them both: our reason could not discover the other if there were not an identical reason at the root of both" (answer at the meeting with the young people of Rome and Lazio, IV 2006, taken from Zenit).