373 “Science at the Doorstep of God”

For more than a decade Robert Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D., has been publishing a series of thoughtful treatises touching on science, philosophy, and theology.  His recent Science at the Doorstep to God:  Science and Reason in Support of God, the Soul, and Life after Death  (San Francisco:  Ignatius Press, c.2023; Kindle Edition) digs into current evidence lending credence to the Christian tradition.  He believes the intellectual “landscape is changing” with many of the old objections to the Christian faith collapsing.  Interestingly enough, younger scientists (66 percent) are more likely to believe in God than older ones and only one-third identify as agnostic or atheist.  Among physicians, three-fourths believe in God while only one-fifth claim to be skeptics.  “It is also worth noting,” says Spitzer, “that most of the originators of modern physics were religious believers, including Galileo Galilei (the father of observational astronomy and initial laws of dynamics and gravity), Sir Isaac Newton (father of calculus, classical mechanics, and quantitative optics), James Clerk Maxwell (father of the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation), Max Planck (father of quantum theory and co-founder of modern physics), Albert Einstein (father of the theory of relativity and co-founder of modern physics), Kurt Gödel (one of the greatest modern mathematicians and logicians and originator of the incompleteness theorems), Sir Arthur Eddington (father of the nuclear fusion explanation of stellar radiation), Werner Heisenberg (father of the matrix theory of quantum mechanics and the uncertainty principle), and Freeman Dyson (originator of multiple theories in contemporary quantum electrodynamics)” (p. 16).

       Such intellectual giants were fully aware of the limitations of natural science, restricted as it is to observational data and inductive reasoning.  Scientific truths are not universal truths because they are focused on the empirical world which can never be known in toto. It’s certainly an important way of knowing—but not the only way.  Scientists (as scientists) cannot know, as do mathematicians, that numbers are quantifiable universal ideas, not empirical data.  Scientists (as scientists) cannot know, as philosophers do, that some truths are a priori, necessarily true, as in the laws of thought.  Scientists cannot (as scientists) know history as historians do,  relying upon what Aristotle said are testimonies, credible eye-witness accounts.  Virtually all logicians insist that “intrinsic contradictions (like square circles or asserting a propositional statement is simultaneously right and wrong) are impossible (and therefore false) at all times everywhere, without exception.”  We also know many things about ourselves, derived from introspection and memory, that afford us important truths.  So Spitzer endeavors to show how evidence from a variety of trustworthy sources lends credence to trans-physical realities such as God, freedom, and immortality.  He believes the evidence will show that there must be a Creator and that man has “a transphysical soul capable of surviving bodily death, which is self-conscious, conceptually intelligent, transcendentally aware, ethical/moral, empathetic/loving, aesthetically aware, and capable of freely initiated actions” (p. 30).  

The best current scientific evidence shows that the universe came into being in an instant—the “big bang.”  Since Monsignor Georges Lemaître, a colleague of Einstein’s, set forth the Big Bang theory in 1927, a hundred years of studies have led, almost inexorably, to the conclusion that the material world is not eternal.  Lemaître “showed with great mathematical precision that the expansion of the universe as a whole was the best explanation of the recessional velocities of distant galaxies, but his conclusion was so radical that Einstein and others found it difficult to accept” (p. 35).  But in 1929 Lemaître’s theory was confirmed by Edwin Hubble at the Mount Wilson Observatory.   Hubble invited Einstein and Lemaître to speak at the observatory in 1933, and “Einstein reputedly said, ‘This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened.’  Since that time, Lemaître’s theory has been confirmed in a variety of different ways, making it one of the most comprehensive and rigorously established theories in contemporary cosmology” (p. 36).  Everything points to an instantaneous beginning point!  “If a beginning of physical reality is a point at which everything physical (including mass-energy, space-time, and physical laws and constants) came into existence, then prior to this beginning, all aspects of physical reality would not have existed—they would literally have been nothing” (p. 52).  Ex nihilo—from nothing—everything that now exists began to be.  So Christians had proclaimed, purely on the basis of Scripture, for centuries.  Now cosmologists favor that view.

       Still more:  the more we know the more it appears that the universe is “fine-tuned” with a precision that defies chance and accident.  Consider, as did Roger Penrose, the low entropy of our universe in light of the Big Bang.   He calculated the improbability of this combination as a “number is so large that if it were written out (with every zero being 10-point type), our solar system could not contain it.  It is the same odds as a monkey perfectly typing the manuscript of Shakespeare’s Macbeth with random tapping of the keys in a single try!  The odds of this happening by a one-off random occurrence is, by most physicists’ reckoning, virtually impossible.  Yet this low entropy did occur at the Big Bang, which allowed an abundance of life forms to develop within our very spacious and complex universe” (p. 65).  How could this be unless the world is more than mere matter-in-motion.  When Sir Fred Hoyle (one of the last stout, atheistic defenders of the “steady-state” theory) “discovered the need for exceedingly precise fine-tuning in the resonance levels of oxygen, carbon, helium, and beryllium needed for carbon bonding and carbon abundance, his atheism was shaken to the core.  Upon considering the options for how such precise fine-tuning might occur, he concluded as follows:  ‘Would you not say to yourself, “Some super-calculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly minuscule.’”  A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.  The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question’” (p. 58).  

Noted scholars have calculated that our “nearly flat universe” was most unlikely.  For it be be as it is, only one nanosecond after the Big Bang its mass density “would have to have been very close to 1024 kilograms per cubic meter.  If the mass-energy had been only one kilogram per cubic meter more, the universe would have collapsed in on itself by now (inhibiting the formation of life), and if it had been one kilogram less per cubic meter (out of 1024 kilogram per cubic meter), the universe would have expanded so rapidly that it would have never formed stars or galaxies necessary for life” (p. 69).  How it possibly happened is hard to imagine—but it seems to have happened precisely that way.   Still more:  “All four universal forces—gravitational, strong nuclear, electromagnetic, and weak—are exceedingly fine-tuned for life” (p. 70).  In the light of so many factors, Spitzer says:  “The ultimate explanation for fine-tuning will have to be not only transphysical (immaterial), but also intelligent to conceive the mathematical systems underlying our physical laws.  This transphysical intelligence will also have to transcend all material/physical processes, structures, and realities so that it can both conceive of those realities and infuse them with mathematical determinations and structures.  The ultimate explanation of fine-tuning, therefore, seems inescapably to be a transphysical/transmaterial conscious intelligence” (p. 95).  After compiling mountains of additional scientific evidence pointing to the fine-tuning of the universe, Spitzer says Fred Hoyle’s “superintellect” is in fact God the “maker of heaven and earth.”  Such evidence points to the high probability of God’s existence, though empirical science can never definitely prove or disprove it.  “Recall that all scientific evidence must be grounded in observable data.  But since God (an unrestricted reality transcending space and time) is not only beyond our universe (the furthest extent of our observational data), but also transcends our sensorial apparatus (and therefore can remain hidden), science will never be able to disprove His existence by its proper method” (p. 102).  Indeed, as the Psalmist said:  “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork” (Ps 19:1).

Turning from empirical science to philosophical metaphysics, Spitzer updates and defends Thomas Aquinas’ famous “proofs” for the existence of God.  The Angelic Doctor “seems to have been the first philosopher to have recognized the full implications of an uncaused reality existing through itself” (p. 111).  (This chapter builds material presented in his earlier treatise, New Proofs for the Existence of God.)  He believes Aquinas had two important metaphysical insights:  a “distinction between existence and essence” and the “priority of existence over essence” (p. 132).  Rooted in these principles he argued, in various ways, that whatever exists must have a cause and said (in Spitzer’s words) that:  “Since everything in reality (except the one uncaused reality) must be a caused reality, and since all caused realities require an uncaused reality to be their first cause, then the one uncaused reality must be the first cause of everything else in existence.  This is what is meant by ‘the Creator of everything else in existence’.  Therefore, the one uncaused reality is the Creator of everything else in existence.  Conclusion:  Therefore, there must exist one and only one uncaused, unrestricted reality that is the Creator of everything else in existence. To say otherwise requires you to argue a contradiction (an impossibility) or to deny the existence of everything (including yourself):  The unique, uncaused, unrestricted Creator is referred to as God.  Therefore, God as defined, exists” (p. 113).  Inasmuch as things exist there must be an “uncaused, unrestricted Creator” sustaining them.  

Spitzer also presents evidence showing we are, by nature, more than mere mortals.  We have a non-material or transphysical soul that explains why we are able to do some very interesting and significant things.  This is especially evident in the many persuasive near death experiences that have received scholarly attention for several decades.  Millions of people have reported having such experiences, and the research shows that they “cannot be thinking, seeing, recalling past memories, or remembering new data” with their biological brain.  There’s something more than grey matter at work here!  To Spitzer:  “here is the mystery.  Even though these patients have no meaningful brain functions, they report being able to think, see, remember, and move. What’s more, they report highly unusual data that can be validated by independent researchers after resuscitation” (p. 144).  Most amazingly:  blind people actually see during their out-of-body states.  “The phenomenon of people blind from birth accurately reporting data throws all known natural explanations of near-death experiences into question because blind people have no visual images in their physical brains that could be projected into imagination, visualization, or hallucination” (p. 147).  To those reporting on their near-death experiences there is no question regarding the reality of their souls.  More than mere matter we are most deeply spiritual beings.

A single anecdote (involving persons two of my recently deceased friends, Terry and Loretta Arnholt, knew quite well) is telling.  A young boy, Colton Burpo, the son of a Wesleyan pastor in Nebraska, had a near-death experience when he was four year old.  He told his parents he had sat on Jesus’ lap, heard angels sing, and met his great grandfather. “Most interestingly, he described an encounter with his deceased sister, who ran up to him and hugged him while he was in ‘heaven’.  She told him that she died in her mother’s tummy, and that she had not been named by their parents.”  When Colton told his mom he had two sisters she was perplexed since she had never told him about her miscarriage.  But he insisted:   “‘I have two sisters.  You had a baby die in your tummy, didn’t you?” She asked, “Who told you I had a baby die in my tummy?” … “She did, Mommy.  She said she died in your tummy.’  Mother Sonja tried to be calm but “was overwhelmed.  Our baby … was—is!—a girl, she thought.  Sonja focused on Colton, and asked:  “So what did she look like?”  “She looked a lot like [his sister] Cassie,” Colton said. “She is just a little bit smaller, and she has dark hair….” Asked to name her, Colton said, “She doesn’t have a name. You guys didn’t name her….” “You’re right, Colton,” Sonja said. “We didn’t even know she was a she.” Then Colton said something that still rings in my ears: “Yeah, she said she just can’t wait for you and Daddy to get to heaven.” When Colton went to another room all his mom could say was:  “Our baby is okay,” (p. 152-154).  

That we are souls indwelling bodies is further evident in our remarkable ability to think.  In defining us as “rational animals” the ancient Greeks were right on target.  We want to know—as young journalists learn—answers to questions regarding who, what, where, when, how, and why.  We cannot not think!  It’s ingrained in us to ask questions.  We do more than perceive things, as do animals, for we take sense perceptions and develop mental concepts.  Our language reveals this.  Only “3 percent of our words signify perceptual ideas, and about 97 percent, conceptual ideas” (p. 168).  We want to know what causes things to be as they are.  Aristotle’s enduring genius was evident when he showed how we invoke material, formal, efficient, and final causes to fully explain things.  To build a house we need wood and nails (materials), a plan (the form), a builder (the efficient cause) and a reason for building it (to secure shelter, the final cause).  Few ways of thinking make more sense—yet all too many moderns consider only material and efficient causes.  We can see differences and similarities in things.  We can understand that some things occur earlier or later than other things.  We can think abstractly, as is most evident in our use of language.  “In sum, without an understanding of high-order concepts such as ‘similarity’ and ‘difference (with respect to the question of what), ‘cause’ and effect’ (with respect to the question of why), and ‘earlier’ and later’ (with respect to the question of when), we would have no understanding whatsoever—no conceptual ideas, no predicates, no syntactically significant language; we would be reduced to the level of perceptual ideas alone” (p. 173).   Consequently, we must, Spitzer says, have a “preexperiential awareness of high-conceptual ideas” revealing “a transphysical origin capable of grasping relatability without reference to what is related.  This points to the existence of a transphysical soul” (p. 169).  

As does our self-consciousness!  “Self-consciousness was recognized to be transmaterial by Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas, both of whom noticed that this act of self-reflectivity requires that the same act of consciousness be both content of thought and thinker of thought simultaneously” (p. 197).  We not only think—we know we are thinking.  We’re aware of ourselves and continually make decisions rooted in our ability to think. We can make decisions because we’re free to do so.  Our reason and will make us  free.  Whereas hard-core evolutionary determinists deny it, Spitzer counters with persuasive evidence favoring free will.  Scholars such as Rudolph Otto studying religious experiences have documented “a fundamental, prerational experience of what he termed ‘the numen’ (a spirit or divine power) underlying these experiences.  The numen is experienced as an interior presence of a transcendent ‘wholly Other’, which is mysterious, overwhelming, fascinating, and awe-inspiring, as well as desirable, inviting, and enchanting” (p. 216).  In such moments the sacred dimensions to reality impress us and we have a “spiritual awakening” that often makes all the difference in how we thenceforth live.  To ignore or deny such experiences diminishes us, for we are most fully human when knowing what’s ultimately real.  

We’re also deeply human when acknowledging our moral consciences.  We cannot not know that some things are right and wrong.  Just ask a seven year old boy whose bike has been stolen if he thinks it was right or wrong!  When we do wrong we generally want to make it right. Our conscience generally speaks in a still small voice rather than a loud speaker, but it’s almost always speaking, and “John Henry Newman held that this guiding moral force is one of the most important spiritual dimensions of human beings.  He showed that closely examining it could reveal the presence of God within us” (p. 228).  Spitzer draws upon great literature (e.g. Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment)to illustrate conscience’s power, and shows how it points us toward God as “a divine, loving, Fatherly authority figure.”  John Henry “Newman puts it this way: ‘[When we are] contemplating and revolving on this feeling the mind will reasonably conclude that it is an unseen father who is the object of the feeling’” (p. 230). 

Long ago Plato identified five kinds of uniquely human, transcendental desires:  “the desire for perfect truth, perfect love, perfect goodness/justice, perfect beauty, and perfect being/home.  Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas, as well as many contemporary philosophers such as Karl Rahner, Bernard Lonergan, Josef Pieper, and Jacques Maritain, have spoken of these same desires through the centuries.  What these philosophers recognized is that these five transcendental desires reveal that God is present to our consciousness, showing that we must be spiritual as well as physical beings” (p. 232).  To deny our transcendental desires is to reduce us to purely physical beings, which is too often done in the modern academy.  But to be truly human is to see in our desires something essential about us revealing something about the world beyond us.  However often we’re told there is no “truth” we keep coming back to affirm it by confessing our knowledge is imperfect.  Yet we would not know it’s imperfect unless we had a hunger for its perfection!  “Without at least a tacit awareness of perfect knowledge, we would not be able to grasp that our current knowledge is imperfect” (p. 234).  Similarly, our desires for love, justice, and beauty all point toward an ultimate Source Who simply IS the transcendentals. 

Though Spitzer writes for a general audience, at times his scientific expertise taxes this reader’s competence!  So when he endeavored to link quantum physics to the soul I was awed without fully grasping it all!  Nevertheless, his discussion of “Quantum Hylomorphism” is quite fascinating.  He notes that for centuries monistic materialists denied the soul and propounded theories widely embraced by scientists. “The whole of reality,” they said, “can be explained by material reality organized in more and more complex layers giving rise to higher-level activities, such as self-consciousness and thought” (p. 240).   Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, of course, challenged the materialists, and, interestingly enough, quantum physics may show how right they were!  Modern physicists generally talk of fields of energy rather than bits of matter in motion.  Consequently:  “If we consider material particles to be excited states of more fundamental quantum fields (as in quantum field theory) interacting in space-time (the curvature of which gives rise to gravitational effects), then we could say that the constituents of the physical world are not purely material in the way that early philosophers . . . conceived them.  Rather, physical reality has something in common with the content of a human mind—information fields that can be reduced to instantiated states capable of interacting with other physical realities and systems” (p. 243).  Then, perhaps, “a transphysical soul with conceptual ideas could act as a higher-order information field influencing all layers of lower-order information fields all the way down to quantum fields intrinsic to particles.  This would enable a free creatively intelligent self-conscious soul to interact with material reality at the lowest levels without being reduced to them” (p. 244).  To Spitzer, these recent developments in science provide clear evidence that we are essentially spiritual beings by tying together “the laws of quantum mechanics, general relativity, and classical physics while allowing for an autonomous, self-conscious, rational, and transcendent soul integrated with the material world through the layering of information fields” (p. 249). 

Science a the Doorstep to God is a challenging read!  But it’s worth the effort—and it’s certainly worthwhile to know there are fully-informed Christians working to defend the faith once delivered unto the saints!  Many surveys show that many youngsters abandon the Christian faith because they think science has disproved it.  Militant atheists such as Christopher Hitchens have persuaded them of this.  What they need to know, as Spitzer shows, is that many atheists have only a superficial knowledge of science and philosophy, while truly deep thinkers frequently acknowledge there must be a Mind behind our visible world, seeing that “the worlds were framed by the word of God” (Her 11:3).