Postcards From the Margins: God and Science

f_0474Have you heard the news about Big Bang theory?  In a great post, Big Bang Fingerprints, on my new favorite website, Killing the Buddha, Jessie Szalay explains the discovery:   

We all leave our traces. Even campers who fastidiously carry their garbage out of the woods leave footprints behind. Flora and fauna from millions of years ago are found fossilized in the sand. The universe leaves traces behind, too. On March 17, scientists announced that the Big Bang, the universe-creating explosion, left its own traces all those 13.8 billion years ago. And now, we have found them. 

It’s a confirmation of the theory of cosmic inflation (explained in an entertaining comic by Jon Kaufman, a member of the BICEP2 team that made the discovery described above).  In a related article, Five Reasons to Care About Big Bang Inflation Theory Discovery, Miriam Kramer writes, If scientists can nail down the nitty-gritty of cosmic inflation, they might be able to work backwards even further to find out what set off the Big Bang in the first place.

Ah.  Now we’re at the heart of the matter.

Towards the end of her excellent essay on KtB, Jessie Szalay writes:  I want my conception of science, of the universe, of the spiritual and the transcendent to allow space for something more than myself. Than humans, than Earth, than astrophysics, than even the Big Bang.

What if God is the greatest-ever scientist?

I love science because scientists are buddha killers.  The best thing about science is that nothing is certain and every new theory is challenged.  For centuries physicists thought the universe was infinite in both time and space.  Then along comes Einstein and then the Big Bang and now real evidence of cosmic inflation and guess what?  It looks like he universe had a start.  It looks like it has boundaries.  Scientists won’t take it for granted; every study has to be duplicated, every result confirmed in other experiments by other groups.  Even then, whatever’s new is only provisionally true, and only until the next great discovery is made.

We wonder what was before, and what else there is.  We read of “multiverses” instead of the universe.  We think (fear?) science might lead us to God, or to no god.  Of course we do.

In my church we use the word “laity,” or “lay people,” to distinguish everyday Catholics from clergy–those who have been ordained for religious duties.  Sometimes “lay person” is also used to describe someone whose knowledge is subordinate to that of any of a number of other professionals–scientists, for example.

In both cases–God and science–I’m laity.  And I’m okay–perfectly fine, in fact–with the notion that things are true until they’re not.  And it’s also fine when the people I turn to for guidance in things I don’t fully understand (priests and physicists, both) say that they’re not sure, either. That there are lots–multiverses, perhaps–of possibilities.

Some day we might be sure, of all things God and all things science.  But I’m not counting on it, and on a good day I’m guessing God’s having some fun watching us as we try–heroically, really–to figure out even a fraction of the amazing science that got us here.


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