Are science and religion hopelessly at odds with one another in their view of truth? Not if you read physicist Michael Guillen’s new book on truth, which shows that the two sources of truth, scientific and religious, are not opposed but in surprising agreement
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About the Author
Dr. Michael Guillen, former ABC News Science Editor and Harvard physics instructor, is host of the History Channel's Where Did It Come From? and producer of the award-winning family movie Little Red Wagon. He's also a bestselling author, columnist, and popular speaker. He is president of Spectacular Science Productions Inc., and Filmanthropy Media Incorporated. For more on Dr. Guillen go to www.michaelguillen.com.
Read an Excerpt
How Science and the Bible Agree
By Michael A. Guillen
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2015 Michael A. Guillen, PhD
All rights reserved.
BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
OBJECTIVE TRUTH EXISTS
Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.
* * *
Faith and Reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.
POPE JOHN PAUL II
WHEN I WAS A KID, one of my favorite riddles went like this:
A boy journeying through a foreign land arrives at a fork in the road guarded by two men in native dress. One man belongs to a tribe that always lies; the other, to a tribe that always tells the truth — but the boy doesn't know which is which. One road leads to danger; the other, to safety. Riddle: What is the one question the boy can ask the two tribesmen to make sure he takes the right road?
I will give you the answer later in this chapter, but first I want to ask you another question. It is the simple but deep question that Pontius Pilate put to Jesus, who claimed to represent the truth: "What is truth?"
When I was science editor for Good Morning America, I did a story about a tourmaline mine in Southern California. The best part of the assignment was that I got to go mining for gems, something I'd never done.
I was led deep inside the earth to a cramped space where the air was cool and humid. With my bare hands, I dug into the cave's creamy mud wall and soon struck something hard and sharp-edged. I seized the mystery find, pulled it out, and wiped it off. That's when I saw it: a magnificent, fully formed, pink tourmaline gemstone.
I imagine truth — objective truth — being like that. Something real and beautiful. Something natural, not of our making, with definable qualities, waiting to be unearthed.
Do such truths actually exist?
I claim they do. And in this book, I elaborate on ten objective truths that I consider amazing because of what they tell us about life, the world, and the Creator. And because — wonder of wonders — science and the Bible agree on all ten being absolutely, positively, demonstrably true.
Obviously, my position is at odds with skeptics who believe that science and the Bible cannot possibly agree on anything, and with relativists who insist that objective truth doesn't exist, not in science and certainly not in religion. But the evidence for my thesis is considerable, as you will see.
Why does it matter that objective truth exists? For one thing, because the journey of life is noted for its vexing forks in the road. Whenever we come to one, we are forced to choose which path to take. And our choices are based on ... what? Ideally, I submit, on truth. Objective truth — there is no better GPS than that.
However, if objective truth doesn't exist — if there is nothing and no one totally reliable to help guide our steps — then there is no absolute distinction between the road to safety and the road to danger. If truth is relative, nothing has any absolute meaning.
Amazingly, science and the Bible believe in the existence of objective truth. Each believes in the existence of a strict, inflexible criterion — an axis mundi, a supreme court, a final, transcendent referee — that judges matters objectively. Each in its own way attempts to elevate us above the din of mere opinion by offering a clear-eyed view of reality — the two distinct views combining to produce a single, majestic, stereoscopic panorama.
For science and the Bible, "right" and "wrong" are not arbitrary. They are based on physical or spiritual laws upheld by formidable evidence and the test of time. Laws that are natural and not man-made. Laws that help us choose the right paths in life. Laws every bit as dazzling as gemstones — and infinitely more precious.
There is a great deal scientists don't understand. The highly acclaimed American physician and author Lewis Thomas put it this way: "The only solid piece of scientific truth about which I feel totally confident is that we are profoundly ignorant about nature."
Moreover, there are times when scientists, being human, are not truthful. In 1974, during Thomas's tenure as president of New York's Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, an immunologist there named William Summerlin was caught cheating on certain skin transplant experiments. He used a felt-tip pen to make it look as if skin from a black mouse had been successfully grafted onto a white mouse.
Notwithstanding these weaknesses, science represents an extraordinary, centuries-long, collective effort to discover objective truths. At one time or another, individuals from virtually every part of the globe have contributed to its advancement. But one particular people — the Greeks of the sixth, fifth, and fourth centuries BC — is rightfully credited with getting it started.
Historians call it the "Greek Miracle," a series of game-changing insights and discoveries about the physical world made by extraordinary persons such as Thales of Miletus, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The complete list is long and impressive.
The Greek Miracle happened a long time ago, but it came home to me one afternoon when I was in Greece, shooting a segment for Where Did It Come From?, my History Channel television series. During a break in the filming, I stood on the beach of a remote island and gazed out at the Aegean Sea. Small isles gathered in the near distance were partially shrouded in haze, giving them an otherworldly appearance. I mused about how this remote venue had given birth to revelations — objective scientific truths — that drastically altered the trajectory of human history. I wondered, Why here? Why the Greeks? Was it something in the water?
Most notably, the ancient Greeks were the first to come up with the idea of a universe — a kosmos, Pythagoras called it — that wasn't nearly as wild and crazy as humans had always thought. It was, instead, a thoroughly rational world that, given time, our brains could figure out.
In order to make sense of nature's dazzling variety, Aristotle lumped together plants and animals that shared certain important physical traits: body type, behavior, habitat, and so forth. (For more on this, see chapter 10.) It is like what many kids do when, after trick-or-treating, they sort through their booty and separate it into piles of candy types. With that simple, systematic technique, Aristotle founded the discipline of biology.
Euclid brought the same semblance of order to the infinite variety of numbers and shapes. He gathered together countless practical mathematical formulas that had been used for centuries by farmers, astronomers, and surveyors and fitted them together into a single, logical body of knowledge. Thus was plane geometry born — to this day, taught in high schools all over the world. One of the objective truths Euclid proved is this: the interior angles of any triangle on a flat plane — be it fat, skinny, long, or short — always add up to 180 degrees. It is not a relative truth, not an opinion shaped by cultural, political, or gender biases. The total of the angles is 180 degrees, period.
Last century, after Albert Einstein articulated the special and general theories of relativity, many people took it to mean that everything is relative, including truth. They couldn't be more mistaken. According to Einstein's special theory of relativity, different observers will routinely disagree on superficial realities, such as distances and times. But the laws of physics themselves are not a matter of opinion; they are not relative. They are identical for everyone. They are objective truths — Lorentz invariant, to use the lingo of special relativity. An illustration of this fact is simple: leap from atop a skyscraper and you will fall with increasing speed. No matter who you are, no matter what you believe is or is not true, count on it: in the end, you will go splat.
Likewise, in life we can disagree on who is the greatest athlete, fashion designer, or pop singer of all time. And we can back up our opinions with evidence. But either the earth circles the sun or it doesn't; either atoms exist or they don't; either the continents drift or they don't. These things are objective truths or they aren't, no matter what anyone says.
Generally speaking, in science, objective truths come in several guises.
First, they can appear in the form of laws. In addition to Newton's well-known law of gravity, we have Coulomb's law of electrostatic attraction and repulsion, the law of entropy, the law of energy conservation, the law of action and reaction, among many others.
Second, objective truths can appear in the form of fundamental physical constants — the vital statistics of material reality. To name just a handful, we have Newton's constant of gravity (6.673 x 10-11, newton meters-squared per kilogram-squared), the electric constant (8.854 x 10-12 farads per meter), Planck's constant (6.626 x 10-34 joule-seconds), and the speed of light in a vacuum (299,792,458 meters per second). These numerical values and their decisive influence on how things work in this world are not matters of opinion; they are absolutely true for anyone anywhere in the universe.
Third, objective truths can appear in the form of theories. Examples are the special theory of relativity, general theory of relativity, quantum theory, big bang theory, inflationary theory, theory of thermodynamics, theory of evolution, and so forth. Theories are far and away the most volatile among the three categories of absolute truth; they are subject to change, even to being overturned. But so long as they are supported by the latest evidence, they are universal verities — and science acknowledges them as such.
Whatever form they take, objective truths in science deal strictly with the physical-material behavior of the universe and everything in it. By its own admission, science is neither qualified nor designed to settle age-old questions about any phenomena that might (or might not) exist beyond the physical-material. I refer here to questions such as these: Does God exist? What's the point of the universe? Of life? Is there an afterlife? A heaven? A hell?
This wasn't always the case, by the way. The earliest scientists — among them devout Christians, Jews, and Muslims — felt quite comfortable including God in their hypotheses, invoking him as the final cause of all physical phenomena. They commonly viewed experiments as rigorous ways to elucidate scriptural truths and were confident that science was affirming God's existence.
Typical of that widespread sentiment were the words of Sir John Herschel, a late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century English-born astronomer in England: "All human discoveries seem to be made only for the purpose of confirming more strongly the truths come from on high, and contained in the sacred writings."
By Charles Darwin's time, science had largely abandoned its historic role as God's champion and, more than that, had avowed its fundamental incapacity to pass judgment on religious matters, one way or the other.
Today orthodox science outright excludes God from the scientific method — a self-imposed restriction that upsets many people but shouldn't. Like any human enterprise, mainstream science is entitled to define the rules by which it plays. Disagree with them, disobey them, if you wish, but you will not be considered part of the orthodoxy if you do.
To reiterate: modern, mainstream science excludes supernatural explanations not because it has decided that God doesn't exist or proven that physical-material reality is all there is (something that truthfully it can never do); it does so simply because the aim of modern science is to find strictly rational explanations for the natural world.
Not only is that a reasonable thing to want to do, but I submit that it is fundamentally compatible with religion generally and the Bible specifically. In fact, a Christian could argue — as I do — that science's success at explaining the natural world rationally is guaranteed because the natural world is the creation of a rational God.
Imagine how frightening and unintelligible the untamed world must have seemed to our earliest ancestors. Biblically speaking, this was the period immediately following the fall. A time when, having been banished from the garden and God's proximity, humans found themselves in a foreign, hostile environment.
In the account of Cain and Abel, we catch a flavor of that forbidding, godless world. After slaying his brother, Cain faces exile to a place even farther removed from God and the garden. He cries out to God: "I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me" (Gen. 4:14).
During the ages that followed, as we, the physical, emotional, and spiritual descendants of Adam and Eve, explored our scary new environs, we felt the urge to ask not only what and where but also who and why — a prompting, I believe, from some sort of vestigial recollection or genetic-like memory of our godly origins. (For more on this, see chapter 10.)
To a rational-materialist, our metaphysical proclivities indicate there is something very wrong with us — that our stubborn impulse to believe in a spiritual reality is the symptom of a mental weakness, the outward expression of a mass delusion. I myself believe just the opposite — that there is something very wrong with glibly dismissing a trait so clearly fundamental to who we are, a powerful human instinct that perceives the existence of something beyond the realm of our provincial five senses.
In his excellent book Instinct, T. D. Jakes likens our situation to a lion at the zoo that somehow knows there is a world beyond the locked cage, a lion that will escape from the cage the first chance it gets. "Our instincts," Jakes says, "are the treasure map for our soul's satisfaction."
My disagreement with rational-materialists aside, the amazing truth is this: from the get-go, we humans have felt compelled to explain the cosmos using not just temporal-physical language but metaphysical language as well. Before the founding of science, before the Greek Miracle, individuals from virtually every part of the world participated in the attempted explanation. Gradually they pieced together metaphysical worldviews — among them, what we now call Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism — that attracted first local and eventually large regional followings.
But then something happened in Israel in 2 or 3 BC that changed everything forever. I call it the "Christian Miracle," a series of game-changing disclosures about the metaphysical world by extraordinary persons such as Mary, Joseph, John the Baptist, and, above all, Jesus of Nazareth. I find it an interesting coincidence that the Christian Miracle happened not far from the Greek Miracle. Bethlehem is located just across the Mediterranean Sea from Athens, a mere 785 miles away. And like the Greek Miracle, the Christian Miracle comprises revelations given to a certain people that eventually spread throughout creation. Without the help of Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, Christianity went viral in the span of several centuries.
The Christian Miracle's chief disclosure is this: the Creator of the universe is not at war with us. Neither is his favor for sale; no number of brownie points can possibly buy it. God loves us freely and unconditionally.
According to Christianity, that good news is not merely an opinion. It is an objective truth applicable to everyone everywhere for all time:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
I will never forget my first trip to Israel. I checked into the King David Hotel in Jerusalem and stayed in a room facing the walled city. That first night, as I gazed out my window at the gate Jesus reportedly walked through to celebrate his final Passover on earth, I was overcome with a feeling similar to the one I'd had looking out at the Aegean.
This is a chosen place, I thought, where great objective truths about spiritual reality were revealed and where our final destiny will one day play out. It is a powerful feeling I experience every time I return to Israel.
Powerful. That is the best way to describe objective truths. Truths aren't objective because someone in authority says they are. They have a power all their own that delivers the goods over the long haul — be it in the controlled experiments of science or the dramatically rehabilitated lives of ordinary people. Objective truths have a unique persuasiveness that enables them to outmuscle trendy thoughts and cherished behaviors — even stubborn ones such as slavery in Africa, Europe, and America. It is how and why the followers of Jesus have endured — are, in fact, flourishing — long after the religions formed by adherents of countless other putative messiahs have died out. It is how and why on February 27, AD 380, Christianity was able to defeat unbelievably violent skepticism and persecution and become the official religion of the Roman Empire.
Excerpted from Amazing Truths by Michael A. Guillen. Copyright © 2015 Michael A. Guillen, PhD. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. Best of Both Worlds: Objective Truth Exists, 11,
2. Beyond Circular Reasoning: Time Is Linear, 24,
3. I Am Who I Am: An Entity Can Have Contradictory Natures, 38,
4. Seeing in the Dark: Significant Parts of Reality Are Hidden from Us, 52,
5. Not of This World: Light Is Unearthly, 70,
6. An Egg-straordinary Event: The Universe Was Created Ex Nihilo, 84,
7. The Certainty of Uncertainty: Truth Is Bigger Than Proof, 100,
8. La Vida Loca: Cause and Effect Can Be Disproportional, 118,
9. The Cosmic Grapevine: Instantaneous Communication Is Possible, 135,
10. Beyond Fleas and Grapes: Humans Are Unique, 154,
Scripture Index, 185,
Name Index, 187,
Subject Index, 190,
About the Author, 197,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Amazing Truths certainly strikes the right chords.