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The Convergence of Science and Faith

BY Jim Cosgrove

November 3-9, 1996 Issue | Posted 11/3/96 at 2:00 AM

 

God&theBigBang:DiscoveringHarmony Between Science and Spirituality, by Daniel C. Matt, (Woodstock, Vt.: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1996, 200 pp., $21.95)

BOTH SCIENCE and religion have kept a wary eye on one another at least since Galileo's time. Recent scientific findings (e.g. quantum physics, Planck time, singularities, black holes, etc.) have been interpreted as substituting for, if not actually disproving, religious assertions that the universe was created by a Supreme Being. NASA's discovery of possible ancient primitive life forms on Mars posed the most recent challenge to traditional religious belief about God's and our own unique place in the universe.

In God & the Big Bang: Discovering Harmony Between Science and Spirituality, David Matt, a professor at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., seeks to stimulate the dialogue between religion and science. Borrowing from ancient Jewish mysticism (ìKabbalah“), Hasidism (a popular Jewish revivalist movement begun in the 18th century), other religious traditions (e.g., Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc.) and contemporary scientific discoveries, the author proffers both scientific and theological arguments in making the case for God. To a degree, he succeeds.

The book is divided in three parts. The first section,“The Big Bang,”expounds on the currently accepted scientific theory about the universe's origin, according to which, the universe originated some 15 billion years ago with an explosion in a point which—although smaller than a photon (an infinitesimally minute particle)—nevertheless contained all the material now comprising the universe. However, while scientists can describe with great precision what occurred only billionths of a second after the Big Bang, they cannot tell us what happened before that moment.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Georges Lemaitre, a Belgian priest and mathematician, first hypothesized that the universe began with the explosion of one primordial atom. In 1951, the Catholic Church declared that the Big Bang theory is not incompatible with biblical creation accounts.

Science, unable to identify an ultimate origin, can't convincingly postulate that the universe has meaning or purpose. Traditional Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious beliefs ascribe the origin of creation to God as Prime Mover or First Cause. The notion of a Supreme Being, apart from the chemical processes that brought about the universe, imbues creation with purpose. Not only does the universe have a beginning and an end; through its history, it also accomplishes its divinely-appointed purpose. How science and religion can contribute to this understanding serves is the subject of parts two and three of Matt's book.

Science concerns itself with investigating external, visible phenomena; religion deals with the inner life. But Matt also investigates God's relationship with creation. Thirteenth century Jewish mysticism holds that God constitutestheoriginalonenessandnothingness. Kabbalah's name for God, Ein-Sof (literally,“there is no“), is not intended negatively; the belief is not that there is nothing, but rather there is nothing but God. Everything, then, is imbued with the divine essence.

God's oneness at the beginning of time finds an analogy with science's notion of symmetry. At Planck time (1043 of a second after the Big Bang), the four forces of gravity are undifferentiated due to the compactness of matter at that time, making space and time meaningless. However at 1011 of a second, matter begins to differentiate. According to Hasidism, creation occurred when Godwithdrewfromaninfinitesimalspotthatwas nonetheless large enough for the cosmos. Creation, then, is never completely separate from the Creator. The primordial vacuum vacated by God always contained part of His essence.

Part three of Matt's book discusses how to discover the moral purpose of God's creation and put it into practice. The Jewish Torah provides guidance on how one is to live a life of love and of following God who is love. According to Hebrew numerology, the Hebrew words for“one”and“love”are equivalent numerically; and the two added together give the same numerical value for“Yahweh,”the personal name of Israel's God. As the universe grows and expands according to scientific laws, so too does commentary on the Torah and the revelation of God's providential plan for the universe, including the birth of other religions—engaging science and religion in genuine dialogue.

Father Pius Murray, C.S.S., is a professor of Old Testament studies and Director of Library Services at Pope John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass.