A synthesis by Harrie Jorna
Religion and science
After my secondary school I ended up in a deep crisis in my faith: The bible told some stories that really couldn’t be true. To visit a church felt for me as hypocritical. After learning the ideas of Stephen Hawking I was able to form a synthesis of religion and science. I could cope with it successfully in my personal life and as a teacher.
Harrie Jorna, ex-teacher in chemistry, youngest brother of Father Ben Jorna, the Netherlands
A well-known quote from the Bible (Joshua 10: 12-14) says: "… ‘O sun, stand still at Gibeon…So the sun stood still… And the sun stopped in the middle of the sky and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day.” Obviously in those times one thought the Sun turned around the Earth in one day. This so called geocentric world-view in which everything turned around the Earth as if it were the centre of the Universe, was thrown into doubt when Galileo Galilei in 1616 observed through his self-made telescope several moons turning around the planet Jupiter. Then he postulated – only as a possible hypothesis – the heliocentric world-view, in which the Earth turns around its axis in one day. But yet Galilei was severely punished for this by the Roman Catholic Church. Only 376 years later Pope John Paul II rehabilitated him. In 2008 some people in the Roman Catholic Church even proposed to erect a monument for him in the Vatican. At that time pope Benedict XVI praised him as a great astronomer.
A modern miracle?
So it was not the Sun that suddenly stood still, but the Earth did. What would happen in that case, is explained in the first chapter of What If? the very funny book of Randall Munroe with the subtitle: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions. (ISBN 9781848549579 (2014) London, John Murray General Publishing Division)
The sudden stop of the Earth would have initiated a deadly devastating storm of 1700 km/h magnitude; unless the miracle included a simultaneous sudden stop of the whole atmosphere at the same instant as well.
What happened then really in Gibeon? Maybe that day it daylight lingered remarkably longer than normal (midsummer-day?). The story bears all the hallmarks of Jewish storytelling and follows the understanding of nature of those days. Besides: maybe by day is meant not 24 hours, but just not-night. Then the story is not very miraculous anymore. But still it is told from the geocentric point of view of those days.
In part 2 of Solar (Noordhoff, Groningen, The Netherlands, 2004) on page 49 there is a quotation of the first of the two creation-stories. It says that on the first day the light is created (not the Light: that’s God himself, and He isn’t created) and on the fourth day the Sun. That’s of course impossible: the Sun is our main source of light. This gave me the idea for a pupil-assignment: one of ten assignments out of which the pupils could choose one, till they had made enough of them to have a high enough score for General Science. It read as follows: Think of a synthesis between Religion and Science. One pupil excelled: she wrote a piece of work of 200 pages! Within it she neatly arranged all the relevant concepts: the Big Bang, the evolution of the universe, the origin of life and the evolution of it, the evolution of some ape(s?) to the first humans. Her overall-conclusion was: don’t take biblical stories literally. The central issue is, of course, what do these stories explain to us: the message. That is the case with the creation-story in the Bible: something absolutely beautiful has come into being! That’s why it’s told seven times. The number of days in a week, the time of one moon-phase, not meant as a holy number primarily.
The Big Bang
It’s possible to explain the idea of a Big Bang childishly simply as follows. The sound of the alarm of a fire brigade has a higher pitch when it moves towards than when it’s going from you. Something like that happens with the colours of the rainbow: light is a vibration as well. When a star is moving from you, its colours shift towards red. Thus it’s found that all stars (except for the Andromeda galaxy) are moving from us. You can show this by blowing up a balloon with little stars printed on it. They all move away from each other: the ones near each other and the ones opposite each other as well. Then push the rewind button. All stars will move to one common infinitely little point with an infinite density: a so called singularity. That singularity exploded 13.8 billion (± 0,27%) years ago. The remains of it still form a huge shell around us: the background-radiation, 3 K ‘warm’ causing the ‘snow’ on your TV-set when it can’t catch a channel. You can’t imagine simpler evidence!
A non-romantic God-concept
And what existed before that singularity? Absolutely nothing! Nothing till in that infinite little point within a fraction of a second all the mass of all the 100 billion times 100 billion stars were born. Without any cause!?!?!?! For the whole series of speculative events during the first 10-6 second see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Bang. The events after that first microsecond we actually can reconstruct in nuclear experiments. But in fact it was a change from absolutely nothing to something. And that is called, if it did not happen all by itself, creation. And for that a creator is needed. And that creator is called God (or Allah, or Yahweh. The three monotheistic world-religions have mutually declared those three are one and the same.) And if the Big Bang happened just as a coincidence, then the ‘miracle’ is so much the greater, and for that – and for everything that came out of it – we must have at least as much respect.
The Big Bang-theory is mostly thought of as being the product of the minds of scientists like Stephen Hawking, but in fact the
first who postulated it is Georges Lemaître, a Belgian Catholic priest and scientist at Louvain University. In his book A Brief History of Time (1988) Hawking still needed a God as the cause of the Big Bang. Now he rejects that idea because God hadn’t any choice between different possible universes.
The old-fashioned God-concept: an old man with a white beard can now be replaced by an abstract idea of the Creator with a number of philosophically logical characteristics: among them almighty, un-material and eternal: He already existed a long time before the Big Bang (although time didn’t exist then) and He will stay forever. For Him time doesn’t play a role. The creation of the universe as we know it – a consequence of the Big Bang – obeying the laws of nature – was foreseen by Him. He co-created the full ‘software’ of nature (the laws of nature, the evolution of the universe: the galaxies, the solar systems, the Earth; the coming into being of primitive life out of the primordial chemical soup and the evolutionary process towards the appearance of intelligent life) at the moment itself of the Big Bang. It seems predestination: your being is preconditioned, but God gave us a free will and our own conscience and so He doesn’t interfere.
That God ‘is’ love, is theologically logical: He wanted to share His goodness with a creature
that has feelings to understand that, a creature that can wonder about its origin, its meaning and purpose.
The Bible certainly has a lot to teach us, but we surely can – more and more – also learn from nature. In the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church the Bible is not infallible in scientific matters.
Some day we will fully understand what happened in the beginning of time. That’s good to know, but what’s much more important, is how we cope with it, and thus cope with each other: live eco-friendly lives and show solidarity to all people on earth.
1. The official point of view of the Roman Catholic Church is: there is no conflict between evolution and the doctrine of faith. Pope John Paul II recognized evolution as more than a hypothesis.
2. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information or a guest lecturer appearance.
To view the corresponding PPT click HERE
Harrie Jorna, ex-teacher in chemistry, youngest brother of Father Ben Jorna, the Netherlands.