The next four essays will move into the most difficult part of this discussion, partly because of its complexity, but also because it involves the highly charged subject of evolution. By the end of this series you will hopefully be convinced, if not already, that there are many aspects of this subject that are well supported scientifically, and there are some aspects that remain problematic. We will look at both. Unfortunately, due to the nature of this forum, it will not be possible to explore these complexities in detail but hopefully areas of common ground will emerge.
This particular discussion is actually more about the cosmological context and framework for thinking about evolution. In this regard, I would like to start off this discussion by considering the two ends of the physical spectrum—the quantum world, and the cosmological universe—the very small and the very large.
A superficial observation might suggest to us that inorganic matter is unchanging. But with the help of the microscope and other instruments we now know with a degree of certitude that the apparent reality is different than the actual reality, for with the discovery of the atom, and subatomic particles—protons, neutrons, electrons, and even smaller subunits—we now understand that at levels that cannot be observed directly there is a tremendous amount of ongoing activity. Intuitively, we might suspect this, because we can observe changes in appearance of inorganic matter over time—oxidation, fossilization, etc., but at the quantum level we now know that everything is in motion and ever changing. This concept is easier to grasp with organic matter because change is so much more apparent—seed, egg, conception, birth, maturity, and death. The fundamental point is that all matter at its lowest level is marked by a dynamic existence.
At the other end of the spectrum—at the cosmological level—the common understanding 100 years ago was of a universe that was fixed and eternal, this view commonly being referred to as the “Steady State.” But with the advent of powerful telescopes, and other sophisticated instruments, a whole new paradigm of understanding emerged. We now know that nothing is fixed in the heavens, and that positions are in a constant state of change relative to one another.
Our own position within the Milky Way Galaxy is engaged in an ever-shifting relationship. But one of the most stunning discoveries has been that distant galaxies are not only receding from us, but that they are also receding from each other. In short, the universe appears to be expanding.
The current operative model can be explained by theoretically putting this expanding universe into reverse motion. By doing so, it comes together at a point of infinite density about 13.7 billion years ago, and is frequently referred to as the “Big Bang Cosmology” due to the apparent expanding universe. This event is part of what is now generally recognized as the beginning—at least the beginning of the current cosmological process that is unfolding.
This understanding represented a huge advance in the relations of science and religion, for it brings both communities into agreement that the universe as we know it, has not always been. This should be understood as a very significant development.
Nevertheless, there are, no doubt, many Adventist’s who approach these findings with skepticism, and likely so because of the amount of time required for this event to have actualized. Yet, we have already shown in an early segment of this series that this age dating of the cosmos fits quite compatibly with the rest of the age dating of physical matter that has occurred. Can we conclude that this is a mere coincidence, or is it part of a puzzle that fits together quite logically?
With everything in motion throughout the cosmos all the way down to the quantum level, there is a sense in which creation is not simply describable as a past event, but must be thought of in terms of ongoing cosmological evolution. The old saying that you can never step into the same river twice, also applies to the universe we live in. When we wake up in the morning, we welcome a new and different universe than that which was the day before.
Now, for the most significant question, “How does life fit into this equation?” In a foundational sort of way, from the cosmological point of view, we must think of the organic biological world we inhabit and consider how it could have materialized from a very inorganic beginning—all from the framework of the Big Bang Cosmology. Certainly that event—with the range of variables that could have played out—would seem to surround the existence of life anywhere in the universe with improbability(1). From our limited perspective, when we compare that initial event with the cosmos in its present configuration—complete with the existence of life—it sure does seem remarkable. But here we are, and for Gerald Schroeder, it “has all the markings of being the product of design(2).” In fact, this outcome has the ability to lend support to metaphysical considerations. I suspect that many will find this as the basis for common ground. __ Jan M. Long, J.D., M.H.A., works for the County of Riverside, California.
- See Gerald L. Schoeder, God According to God (HarperCollins: New York, 2009), p. 20. He gives a nice discussion the anthropic principle. However, it should be noted that there are several versions of this principle, and only a minority of physicists who subscribe to it would identify themselves as theists.
- Ibid. p. 67; p. 80. Schroeder notes among other things that, “we reside on a very special planet at a very special location within a very special stellar system, formed at just the right position within the right kind of galaxy. The earth’s distance from the sun…put us in the only habitable zone within the solar system.” This general approach is sometimes referred to as the anthropic principle. Its shortcoming is that it cannot provide a full statistical accounting from a limiting Earth-based perspective since we simply do not have enough information. But given that life is only possible within a very narrow range of conditions, of all possible conditions, it is as if the universe was finely tuned in order for things to have turned out as they did. What we can deduce is that from an Earth-based perspective, the odds certainly seem incredible as a chance occurrence. We will consider the probability question from a different angle in a later installment.
Read all the previous articles in this series: The Search for Common Ground on Genesis.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2774