I'll try and keep this as brief as I can. I am a physics major at UC Davis and I would consider myself to be an atheist at this point. I was interested by your response to Carl Sagan. With all due respect to Carl, he certainly does not represent me or the science as a whole. Frankly, much of what he says concerning science, astronomy, and theology is preposterous.
I believe in the 'moral laws' you proposed, but for different reasons. A society who disobeys these laws will not live long. Promiscuous people will tend to die of sexually transmitted disease. Cultures who lie, cheat and steal will never flourish. Those who dishonour their mother and father will tend to be more miserable because of it. But why must this be attributed to a punishing God?
These laws of society and religion differ by region it seems. The ones you mention are universal because they seem to transcend geography and are applicable nearly everywhere. Muslims can't drink milk. That's because it's hot where the faith was born, I guess. milk spoils, those who drink it are struck down apparently by God. Nature, not God, tends to strike down certain people or societies. I obey the 'moral laws' of Jesus for my own reasons. And I find that I obey them better than most catholics I know. If Jesus says this is all I need to do to get into heaven, why does the church or God prefer the catholic who disobeys the laws to me?
I agree that the faults of science are many and it is true that those established will often persecute those opinions which they find distasteful, much like the church. In this respect scientists are not always attentive, intelligent, responsible, or reasonable. But the greatest enemy of these attributes is the catholic church. Galileo tried his whole life to be a good catholic and still be intelligent and reasonable. The church insisted that the earth was the center of the universe. I have heard that not all the popes are in heaven. If they are indeed so fallible like all humans, why preach such stifling conformity with the doctrines of the pope? It is this terror and conformity which tend to prevent free thinking and reason, man's greatest ally and apparently the church's greatest enemy.
The catholic church takes a much different stand concerning cosmology and the 'big bang' than it did with Copernican theory. That is because the classical big bang theory predicts the universe had been a singularity, a point at which science and the theory itself breaks down. What science fails to explain has always been attributed to God, so this theory is perfect for those who believe in divine creation. At a conference at the vatican, the pope advised leading experts that they should not inquire into the big bang itself since it was the moment of creation. How is this conducive to reason or intelligence? It seems that the church acts only in its own interests to protect its power. A quantum theory of gravity suggests that there would be no singularity, no point at which science breaks down which we must attribute to divine creation. The church is hostile to this, as it was to Galileo. Why is science and cosmology attacked when it does not fit the mold of divine creation? I suspect that it is because it casts doubt on the existence of God.
Science has benefitted humanity far more than collecting stamps ever will. Science is the product of human curiosity which seems to have evolutionary benefits. If you did get this far, I thank you for your time. I found your reply to Sagan very interesting.
Thanks for your e-mail and permission to attach it to my article on Carl Sagan. I believe these questions are not exclusive to you and me. Perhaps others would like to join this discussion.
First of all about Carl Sagan. I have to confess I never saw his "Cosmos" programs, though I did hear people talk about them. What I do know about him comes from a few random articles and some research on the Internet. I take him to be representative of "scientific imperialism." That is, he uses the great authority of science to advance claims well beyond what the scientific method would allow. Whether he is a good astronomer, I leave to people like yourself to judge.
What really caught my attention was your own testimony to the moral law. I was reminded of the young man in the Gospel who told Jesus that he had kept the commandments. He was not boasting, just stating a simple fact. Jesus looked on that young man with love and said, "There is one more thing you need to do..." (Mk 10:21)
I am not Jesus so I will not presume to tell you what that "one more thing" might be for you. However, I do detect in your letter a certain fear which may prevent you from making a great step. Like many people you are concerned that faith will be opposed to reason. I want to reassure you that the Catholic Church rejects that dichotomy; it is called "fideism."
Fideism was advocated by a third century theologian named Tertullian. He asked "What can Jerusalem have in common with Athens?" For Tertullian Jerusalem represented faith, worship, submission, spirituality, while Athens was philosophy, reason, but also human vanity and ultimately idolatry. The two cities could never peacefully co-exist. His motto was "I believe because it is absurd!"
The Catholic Church steered away from such schizophrenia. She entered into a lively dialogue with Greek philosophy. In fact she saw in it an opportunity for a deeper understanding of her faith. For example the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. declared that Jesus is "One in Substance" (homoousion) with the Father. That word, taken from Greek philosophy, can be found nowhere in the Bible but it is a true understanding of who Jesus is.
Reason or "philosophy" was embraced. (That embrace paved the way to Western science, but that is another story.) Still the most important knowledge can only be gained by faith. Augustine hit the mark when he said, "I believe that I might understand."
Augustine had another great saying which sheds some light on the particular concerns you raise: "The Bible does not so much instruct us how the heavens go, but how to go to heaven." Even at the time of Galileo the Church did not see herself in the business of teaching natural sciences. I refer you to an "on line" article which discusses the Galileo affair.
This is getting too long, Dave, but before I close I have a couple of questions of my own. My curiosity was piqued by your statement:
"the classical big bang theory predicts the universe had been a singularity, a point at which science and the theory itself breaks down."
Could you further explain to me and others who are without much scientific background?
Also please give a footnote for: "At a conference at the vatican, the pope advised leading experts that they should not inquire into the big bang itself since it was the moment of creation." I remember reading something like that in Hawking's book "History of Time," but it sounded strange. Hawking had another minor reference to the Church which I knew in fact was incorrect. It made me wonder if he hadn't gotten the pope's statement a little wrong.
Anyway, Dave, I hope to hear back from you. I know some important concerns have not been addressed, e.g. in what sense does God punish disobedience of the moral law? Maybe others would like to jump in.
Fr Phil Bloom ("seapadre")
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