Science and Discomfiting Discoveries

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Science and Discomfiting Discoveries

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Robert Jastrow (1925-2008) was a scientist of impeccable credentials. He was the founder and former director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, professor of astronomy and geology at Columbia University (New York) professor of earth sciences at Dartmouth College and head of the Mount Wilson Institute, which runs California's world-famous Mount Wilson Observatory. He was a recipient of the Arthur Flemming Award for Outstanding Service in the U.S. Government, the Columbia University Medal for Excellence and the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement.

Professor Jastrow was also a prolific science writer, particularly in astronomy, cosmology and space exploration. He didn't hesitate to speak his mind, particularly when it came to discoveries that discomfited his fellow scientists and their not-too-objective reactions to such findings.

His comments speak volumes about the attitudes—and at times outright bias—some scientists hold against the possibility of a Creator. Although personally an agnostic, he noted that scientific discoveries and the book of Genesis have much more in common than many of his colleagues have been willing to admit (emphasis added throughout in the following quotes).

"The astronomical proof of a Beginning places scientists in an awkward position, for they believe that every effect has a natural cause, and every event in the Universe can be explained by natural forces, working in accordance with physical law. Yet science can find no force in nature that might account for the beginning of the Universe; and it can find no evidence that the Universe even existed before that first moment. The British astronomer E.A. Milne wrote, 'We can make no proposition about the state of affairs [in the beginning]; in the Divine act of creation God is unobserved and unwitnessed'" (The Enchanted Loom: Mind in the Universe, 1981, p. 17).

"Scientists have no proof that life was not the result of an act of creation, but they are driven by the nature of their profession to seek explanations for the origin of life that lie within the boundaries of natural law. They ask themselves, 'How did life arise out of inanimate matter? And what is the probability of that happening?' And to their chagrin they have no clear-cut answer, because chemists have never succeeded in reproducing nature's experiments on the creation of life out of nonliving matter.

"Scientists do not know how that happened, and, furthermore, they do not know the chance of its happening. Perhaps the chance is very small, and the appearance of life on a planet is an event of miraculously low probability. Perhaps life on the earth is unique in this Universe. No scientific evidence precludes that possibility" (ibid., p. 19).

"The idea that the Universe exploded into being . . . is often called the Big Bang theory . . . It was literally the moment of creation. This is a curiously biblical view of the origin of the world. The details of the astronomer's story differ greatly from those in the Bible; in particular, the age of the Universe appears to be far greater than the 6,000 years of the biblical account [as typically misunderstood—the Bible actually allowing for a creation much older than that]; but the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are alike in one essential respect. There was a beginning, and all things in the Universe can be traced back to it" (Journey to the Stars: Space Exploration: Tomorrow and Beyond, 1989, p. 47).

"Now we see how the astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world. The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same: the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy. Some scientists are unhappy with the idea that the world began this way" (God and the Astronomers, 1978, p. 14).

"Theologians generally are delighted with the proof that the Universe had a beginning, but astronomers are curiously upset. Their reactions provide an interesting demonstration of the response of the scientific mind—supposedly a very objective mind—when evidence uncovered by science itself leads to a conflict with the articles of faith in our profession. It turns out that the scientist behaves the way the rest of us do when our beliefs are in conflict with the evidence. We become irritated, we pretend the conflict does not exist, or we paper it over with meaningless phrases" (ibid., p. 16).

"There is a strange ring of feeling and emotion in these reactions [of scientists to evidence that the universe had a sudden beginning]. They come from the heart, whereas you would expect the judgments to come from the brain. Why?

"I think part of the answer is that scientists cannot bear the thought of a natural phenomenon which cannot be explained, even with unlimited time and money. There is a kind of religion in science; it is the religion of a person who believes there is order and harmony in the Universe. Every event can be explained in a rational way as the product of some previous event; every effect must have its cause; there is no First Cause . . .

"This religious faith of the scientist is violated by the discovery that the world had a beginning under conditions in which the known laws of physics are not valid, and as a product of forces or circumstances we cannot discover. When that happens, the scientist has lost control . . .

"Consider the enormity of the problem. Science has proven that the Universe exploded into being at a certain moment. It asks, What cause produced this effect? Who or what put the matter and energy into the Universe? Was the Universe created out of nothing, or was it gathered together out of pre-existing materials? And science cannot answer these questions . . ." (ibid., pp. 113-114).

"A sound explanation may exist for the explosive birth of our Universe; but if it does, science cannot find out what the explanation is. The scientist's pursuit of the past ends in the moment of creation. This is an exceedingly strange development, unexpected by all but the theologians. They have always accepted the word of the Bible: In the beginning God created heaven and earth . . .

"Now we would like to pursue that inquiry farther back in time, but the barrier to further progress seems insurmountable. It is not a matter of another year, another decade of work, another measurement, or another theory; at this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived in his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries" (ibid., pp. 115-116).