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Current Events

Thoughts on the Existence of God

Paul Johnson, 06.20.05


Of all the fundamentalist groups at large in the world today, the
Darwinians seem to me the most objectionable.  They are just as strident
and closed to argument as Christian or Muslim fundamentalists, but unlike
those two groups the Darwinians enjoy intellectual respectability.
Darwinians and their allies dominate the scientific establishments of the
West.  They rule the campus. Their militant brand of atheism makes them
natural allies of the philosophical atheists who control most college
philosophy faculties.  They dominate the leading scientific magazines and
prevent their critics and opponents from getting a hearing, and they secure
the best slots on TV.  Yet the Darwinian brand of evolution is becoming
increasingly vulnerable as the progress of science reveals its weaknesses.
One day, perhaps soon, it will collapse in ruins.


Weak Underpinnings

Few people today doubt the concept of evolution as such.  What seems
mistaken is Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection, whereby species
evolve by infinitesimally small stages.  Neither Darwin nor any of his
followers--nor his noisy champions today--was a historian.  None of them
thought of time historically or made their calculations chronologically.
Had they done so, they'd have seen that natural selection works much too
slowly to fit into the time line allowed by the ages of the universe and
our own planet.  The process must somehow have been accelerated in jumps or
by catastrophes or outside intervention.

        {tho' I've not seen Bird's work, many clever people have tried to
estimate whether there has been enough time for darwinian evolution.  The
usual result is such huge uncertainties as to render the exercise
inconclusive.
        But I think the error is not merely quantitative but worse  -
qualitative: as I put it, megatime is no substitute for purpose in the
creation of coordinated working ecological order.  - RM }

There are five other weaknesses the Darwinians cannot explain away either.
The best summary of these can be found in Richard J. Bird's Chaos and Life
(Columbia University Press), page 53.  Warning: This book is tough going
but will reward the persistent.
If the theory of natural selection is incorrect, then the Darwinians' view
that there is no need or place for God in the universe is itself weakened,
though not necessarily overthrown.  Physics, however, increasingly tends to
suggest that there is a God role, particularly with regard to the origin of
the universe.  We now know this occurred about 13.7 billion years ago, and
our knowledge of what happened immediately afterward is becoming
increasingly detailed, down to the last microsecond.
Few now doubt there was a Big Bang. We know when it occurred and what
followed.  But we are just as far as ever from understanding why it
happened or what--or who--caused it. Indeed, all calculations about the Big
Bang are based on the
assumption that nothing preceded it.  It took place in an infinite vacuum.
There was no process of ignition, or traces of it would have been left.
Hence, this fundamental happening in history seems to conflict with all the
laws of physics and our notions of how the universe operates.  It was an
event without a cause.
It also produced something out of nothing.  More: It produced everything
out of nothing.  The expansion of the universe has proceeded ever since,
and all the creative processes involved in it--including Earth and homo
sapiens--were written into the laws laid down in that first tremendous
explosion. We do not have to believe in an entirely deterministic universe
to see that the first microsecond of history foreshadowed everything that
has followed over the last 13-plus billion years.
If the laws of physics cannot explain how and why this event occurred, we
must invoke metaphysics.  And that means some kind of divine force.  I've
been rereading what Sir Isaac Newton wrote about God in the second edition
of his Principia (1713).  Newton saw God not as a perfect being--or any
kind of being at all--but as a power, what he termed a "dominion."  "We
reverence and adore Him on account of His dominion," he wrote.  This power
was exercised "in a manner not at all human   in a manner utterly unknown
to us."  Newton knew God only through His works.  "He is utterly void of
all body and bodily figure, and can therefore neither be seen, nor heard,
nor touched."  Our knowledge of Him is limited "by His most wise and
excellent contrivances of things."


"... and the Word Was God"

This notion of God as an impersonal power or force, wholly outside the laws
of physics, fits with the role assigned him as author of the Big Bang.  And
since that primal event there has been no need of further intervention by
God in the affairs of the universe.
Or has there?  I've also been reading Guy Deutscher's The Unfolding of
Language (Metropolitan Books) and reflecting on the nature of words.
Speech is the greatest of man's inventions and the mother of all others.
Yet, in truth, nobody invented it.  Its emergence and evolution proceeded
in ways that are still almost a total mystery.  It is as close to a miracle
as anything associated with human beings.
Both the Hebrews and the Greeks, in different ways, believed there was
something divine about "the word," or logos.  The Greeks thought the word
was the abstract principle of reason exhibited by an orderly universe.  The
Jews thought it the image of God, the beginning and origin of all things.
It is possible, then, that the giving of the word to humanity was the
second intervention of the metaphysical force or dominion in the process of
history.  That, I think, is the conclusion I have come to in these
difficult matters.  What will be the third, I wonder?

Paul Johnson, eminent British historian and author; Lee Kuan Yew, minister
mentor of Singapore; and Ernesto Zedillo, director, Yale Center for the
Study of Globalization, former president of Mexico; in addition to Forbes
Chairman Caspar W. Weinberger, rotate in writing this column.  To see past
Current Events columns, visit our Web site at www.forbes.com/currentevents.