Science and Religion-Commentary on a Sermon part 2

Continued from part 1…

The next step the Priest takes is slightly off. He says that “before God created…” This is actually a contradiction in terms. There can be no before God created because time is a created reality. Then at the four-minute mark the real problems begin. He says that unfortunately some Christians believe that creation ex nihlo involves what he calls a “virtual nothing” i.e. some pre-existing stuff that is very simple and the sort of clay that God uses to create His masterpiece, the universe. He uses the example of the singularity at the big bang as a possible “virtual-nothing” that some Christians think God used to create the world. The priest is correct in clarifying the meaning of nothing. There can be no virtual nothing. Actually, nothing can’t really be defined itself because it isn’t anything at all. It is simply the absence of being. However, serious Christians who believe in the big bang theory do not hold that the singularity is “virtual nothing” that God used to create the universe. Many Catholics accept the big bang theory because it is accepted in some form or another by scientists. This however does not mean that these Catholics reject creation ex nihlo. The problem is that the Priest falsely assumes that the two are mutually exclusive. First of all, with regards to the big bang theory, it is not as though the singularity is said to be eternal. The big bang theory in its current formulation involves a definitive beginning in time (or at least it demonstrates that this particular universe does not have an infinite past). Since the singularity is not eternal, it might have come into existence with time itself, or if time existed before the singularity in some other universe, there was a time before the singularity (even if not measured in the time of our universe). In either case however, it is no different from if God created the world as it is here and now 6000 years ago the way described literally in Genesis. In both cases there has to be a starting point, a first moment in creation, and a first bit of matter. Whether or not that first bit of matter was an infinitely dense point of all matter or matter in the exact form that it is in today is irrelevant. God still creates out of nothing. The singularity is not the eternally existent stuff out of which God fashions the universe. Rather, the singularity is the first stage of the universe itself which was created out of nothing. The very fact that the singularity is not eternal attests to this fact and supports creation ex nihlo rather than refutes it. Even more important however is that even if there was something that existed eternally, this does not overturn the doctrine that God created out of nothing. The Church teaches that the universe is not infinite in the past but this is actually a separate teaching from the doctrine of creation ex nihlo. In other words, it is possible (theoretically) that the universe is infinite in the past but still was created out of nothing. The reason is that the universe would still have an essence distinct from its existence thus require a cause to confer on it the act of existence, or reality. For various reasons, this would have to be God. But even if God was from all eternity creating this eternal universe, it does not mean He was creating it out of something. Creation would still only presuppose God’s will and not anything pre-existing or existing apart from God. Therefore, this Priest’s objection to the singularity on the grounds that it contradicts Church teaching on creation ex nihlo is unwarranted on two fronts.


Next, Father goes on to talk about how the big bang does not prove the existence of God and how the priest-scientist who first proposed the big bang stated just that. This is true however I think that Father gives an incomplete account here. Pope Pius XII states: “In fact, it would seem that present-day science, with one sweeping step back across millions of centuries, has succeeded in bearing witness to that primordial “Fiat lux” uttered at the moment when, along with matter, there burst forth from nothing a sea of light and radiation, while the particles of chemical elements split and formed into millions of galaxies. It is quite true that the facts established up to the present time are not an absolute proof of creation in time, as are the proofs drawn from metaphysics” This is taken from Pope Pius XII’s address to the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences. It can be found here: Incidentally, it seems as though Pius XII would disagree with this priest’s sermon.

At about 7:40 in the sermon, the priest asks how could an explosion (the big bang) create order. Now the problem with this is that it just muddies the waters. We need to be clear on the science and the philosophy involved. First off, if the big bang is at all relevant to God creating the universe, it has much more to do with the cause of the universe itself rather than of order in the universe. Thus philosophically to ask “what caused the order” is switching to an argument for the existence of God based on an ordering intelligence rather than a simple cause of existence. Scientifically, the priest’s statement also has a major problem: The big bang isn’t used to explain why the universe is orderly. The big bang is just an explanation of the first event in the universe. It explains the very beginning and thus can be an efficient cause of certain future events. However, it cannot, and no one says that it can or should, explain all things about our universe including the order. The big bang presupposes order in the laws of physics which govern it, so obviously, it is not a question of order. Therefore, to raise the problem of order in the universe really has nothing to do with the big bang and it appears as though the priest is grasping at straws.

Father proceeds to criticize Catholics who accept big bang cosmology and evolution. Evolution is in no way contrary to the Catholic faith. Pope Pius XII affirmed this in his encyclical Humani Generis and Pope John Paul II later reaffirmed this and remarked that in light of modern science, “evolution is more than a mere hypothesis.”  Two of the 20th century’s most prominent Popes seem to disagree with the priest. Further, the priest implies that somehow if God created the universe with the big bang and created the diversity of life through evolution, he somehow is an ineffective, unconcerned, failing God. This is the exact charge that atheists make against Christians sometimes. The problem is that these people fail to see something much deeper and greater in creation. God is not the great magician who waves a wand and poof-everything is the way it is. This could happen but would seem to be less intelligible than if God created the universe and directed it to unfold in an orderly manner to produce a final result. Remember that the universe is here for the glory of God. Here is an analogy: Imagine two story books. One book starts off in the middle of the story, characters unexplained, the setting not developed, conflicts that seem to have come from nowhere. Now imagine a story that begins slowly and gradually builds to create a great world of characters with deep personalities and relationships that are explained by earlier events and chapters. This story has conflicts that have developed over time as they do in real life, all fully explained without plot holes. In this second case, the story is richer, because it unfolds logically and beautifully.

This is how God’s creation works. Remember that God’s act of creation is not an act in the distant past; on the contrary, it is God joining an act of existence to the essences that He chooses at every instance. It is just as profound, if not more so, to create a gradually unfolding universe according to intricate and orderly laws so as to produce a great effect as if God created the universe without this unfolding of anything. In either case however, the act of creation itself (the conjoining of an essence to an existence) is really the same thing. It is not a process but an eternal act of God that must take place at every instance. Another analogy is useful: Imagine a great orchestra with many instruments all working together with melody and harmony to make a masterpiece symphony. A genius composer uses all of these instruments and takes time to develop the piece, each instrument doing its role in the performance at each time throughout the entire piece to produce a glorious end result. Another composer, although he may be good, might compose a piece that has fewer instruments (say just a simple stage band), all playing a simple melody. This piece does not have different movements or an introduction and a conclusion; it’s just the combination of a few verses and maybe a refrain. God could be like the second composer and just create as He wants it at the moment. Or he could be like the first composer and use a deep fundamental reality to gradually produce a beautiful and glorious symphony. In both cases however, the piece is fully written by the composer even if in the first piece the composer uses an entire orchestra rather than a simple band to produce the final sound.

Next, the priest talks about the Genesis story. Here he moves from the philosophy of creation to the Scriptural theology. We will deal with this in the next post.


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