A recent piece by liberal pundit Paul Rosenberg says that “God is on the Ropes,” thanks to a “brilliant new science” that has the “Christian right terrified.”
Over the centuries God has shown himself remarkably resilient to every attempt to kill him off, and the odds are that He will survive this latest effort, but that doesn’t keep Rosenberg from getting teary-eyed over the thought.
The God-slaying discovery touted by Rosenberg refers to a theory, based in thermodynamics, which proposes that the emergence of life was not accidental, but necessary. The theory has been advanced by a young MIT professor named Jeremy England. According to England, “under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.” In other words, life itself would be a product of evolution from simpler, non-living systems.
Whereas near unanimity reigns in the scientific community regarding the origins of the universe, science has had much less to offer concerning the origins of life. Natural selection, of course, presupposes life and seeks only to explain the survival and gradual change of reproducing species. It does nothing to explain the genesis of life, or how it came about given its statistical improbability.
Francis S. Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and former leader of the monumental Human Genome Project, wrote that “no current hypothesis comes close to explaining how in the space of a mere 150 million years, the prebiotic environment that existed on earth gave rise to life.”
Sir Fred Hoyle, the celebrated English physicist and cosmologist, thought that the appearance of life on earth was all but impossible, from a statistical standpoint. In his 1981 book Evolution from Space (with Chandra Wickramasinghe), Hoyle calculated that the chance of obtaining the required set of enzymes for even the simplest living cell was one in 1040,000 (one followed by 40,000 zeroes). He came up with the fanciful image that the probability of life originating on earth is no greater than the chance that a hurricane, sweeping through a scrapyard, would have the luck to assemble a Boeing 747.
So if true, England’s theory would represent an incredibly important breakthrough for the scientific community. The fact that it has received only modest attention suggests that it may yet be far from verifiable, but sounds interesting nonetheless.
But the real question becomes, why would this be a problem for believers, let alone for God? Why should Christians be afraid of the verifiable findings of science? Many on the Left still languish under the illusion that science and faith are irreconcilable adversaries, while most believers have no problem whatsoever with science and welcome its advances as testimony to the power of the human intellect and the intelligibility of creation.
As students of history know, the natural sciences grew out of Christian culture. As the sociologist Rodney Stark has so convincingly shown, science was “still-born” in the great civilizations of the ancient world, except in Christian civilization. Why is it, Stark asks, that empirical science and the scientific method did not develop in China (with its sophisticated society), in India (with its philosophical schools), in Arabia (with its advanced mathematics), in Japan (with its dedicated craftsmen and technologies), or even in ancient Greece or Rome?
Science flourished in societies where a Christian mindset understood nature to be ordered and intelligible, the work of an intelligent Creator. Far from being an obstacle to science, Christian soil was the necessary humus where science took root.
Liberal humbugs like Paul Rosenberg will continue to try to pit science against faith, hoping against hope that they will be able to put “God on the ropes.” Based on the historical record, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome