Before and After the Big Bang
by Richard DeRemee
There are two contrasting "world views." The first is called
materialism. It asserts that all reality can ultimately be explained in
terms of objective physical elements and principles that can, in turn,
be discovered and understood by exercise of the scientific method of
inquiry. It is implied that
even moral-ethical and other metaphysical principles arise from a
similar basis and need not be explained by the existence of non-material
forces or principles. This view excludes the concept of a first cause, a
divine creator or God.
The other view may be called non-materialism or immaterialism. Essentially, this is the view espoused by religion.
It postulates the existence of a primordial divine creator or
spirit that pervades and presides over the material world.
It holds that the material world is only one part of reality;
there is an over-arching domain of non-material reality that points to
the idea of God.
Tension between these views has existed to a greater or lesser degree
since the Enlightenment
when the authority of the autocratic church was questioned and personal
freedom began to assert itself.
In Western societies humankind extolled reason as the remedy for
personal and social ills.
Tension between these two world views has increased in more recent
times, coincident with the exponential rise of science and technology.
There is now frank antagonism between the two. Nevertheless, respected,
intelligent people by the millions continue to hold religious beliefs
and follow lives based on religious principles despite mounting
empirical knowledge that would tend to refute many religious ideas.
This fact suggests there is a resilient hunger in the human
species for thoughts beyond the material world.
Some scientists have suggested that ultimately all reality including
religious sentiments will be incorporated into a final unified material
theory. This would
reconcile all apparent inconsistencies between the two world views.
Finally all moral and religious impulses would be absorbed and
fit snugly into scientific empiricism.
Not only have scientists challenged religion and the non-material view
of reality; opposition has also come from the
liberal Christian community. This community finds the church out
of contact with current reality and in a mode of senescence and in the
throes of death.
Furthermore, they assert that creeds are no more than instruments of
coercion rather than true statements of faith. The liberals contend
there are no absolute truths. All truth is shifting and relative. There
is no such thing as divinity, i.e. there is no God and Jesus Christ
cannot, therefore be His Son. Jesus is venerated but not worshiped in
the usual sense. Liberals offer many other criticisms of traditional
Christianity but I will stop here for the moment.
I am in the late years of my life. My entire professional career was
based on science. Between
the hours of work I married, raised a family and enjoyed the simple
pleasures of living. I was baptized into the Augustana Lutheran Church
founded by immigrant Swedes. My indoctrination into the church was
traditional. There was no doubting the reality of God or of his Son.
Right and wrong and making moral choices were accepted facts of life.
I may have wavered in my faith from time to time but I never ventured
far from the stream. How can it be that I, a person of science, find my
faith to be the most important aspect of my being and world view? Is it
a contradiction? Can one be
a materialist and a non-materialist at the same time? I say an emphatic,
yes! When I need materialist solutions to a problem such as making a
diagnosis I use the materialist compartment of my mind. Conversely, when
I contemplate the nature and meaning of life I switch to my non-material
According to liberal Christians it is a zero sum game. That is to say,
the more that science and technology define reality the smaller becomes
the realm of faith and religion. I have found that not to be so in my
I am sure I am not alone.
I perceive flaws in the arguments of both science and liberal Christian
thought. First I will address how science may not provide us with the
truth we seek.
Science and Truth
Stephen Hawking, in his book A Brief History of Time suggests
that the discovery of a unified theory (it should really be considered a
law if all truth is revealed)
would be the ultimate triumph of human reason for then we would know the
mind of God."
E. O. Wilson has asserted,
"Religion will possess strength to the
extent that it codifies and puts into enduring, poetic form the highest
values of humanity consistent with empirical knowledge" (Atlantic
Monthly, April 1998, p.70).
Both scientists would seem to believe that the material world is the
only ultimate reality, to which the non-material world must finally
The current state of human development suggests we have not yet
arrived at that final point nor does it seem likely it will be reached
in the foreseeable future.
Thus, a number of questions arise.
First, how reliable is the scientific community in revealing truth?
Second, when the chain of scientific inquiry has reached its end
and the question of the existence or absence of God is faced, by what
criteria will the decision be rendered?
What are we mortals of fleeting viability to do until scientists
discover final truth?
Regarding the first question concerning the reliability of the
scientific community in revealing truth, I speak from my experience as a
scientist and physician.
Note, I would emphasize the
not science as such.
The scientific method, if followed impeccably, should
theoretically allow a complete understanding of the material universe. It should be pointed out, however, that science is both
practiced and administered by fallible people.
As a physician scientist it is at once sobering and enlightening
to realize that when I started medical school over 50 years ago, the
peptic or duodenal ulcer was a different disease than it is today.
In earlier times it was considered to be the result of an over
production of acid by the stomach in an individual unusually susceptible
to stress. Guided by this
concept we treated our patients with antacids and attempted to modify or
eliminate sources of stress.
Results from conventional treatment based on science were not bad but
relapses frequently occurred.
If complications occurred, surgery could be used to cut out the acid
producing tissue. Today
duodenal ulcer can be considered an infectious disease caused, at least
in part, by a bacterium, H.
pylori. Only rarely is surgery necessary. Perceived reality at one
point in time is different from that at another point in time although
the realities were the product of scientific inquiry.
All scientists are aware in their individual disciplines of
similar examples wherein newer data revised, modified or even refuted
earlier concepts. In fact,
it is a well-known aphorism in the scientific community that
While there may be the conviction that someday all reality will be
explained by science, the scientist must meanwhile work in the daily,
grubby world of uncertainty.
For the time being, science should be viewed as a method of inquiry, not
the sole road to all knowledge.
The uncertainty in science is not only the result of the faulty
application of the scientific method or incorrect interpretation of
data; it may also result from contemporary political or personal
For example, it is doubtful if a scientific study showing the
positive effects of cigarette smoking could be published in a
peer-reviewed journal . I
know of a number of salutary effects. However, most discrete
investigators would dissociate themselves from such data either out of
personal bias against smoking or fear of censure by research funding
agencies or by the tobacco-phobic public at large. What research is funded, either by public or private
agencies, is frequently related to political popularity as much as
purely scientific imperatives. Much research is continued and prolonged
as much to create steady livelihoods as it is to create knowledge.
The human fallibility element cannot be easily dismissed.
The reliability of data from any scientific community must often
be open to question and evaluated on a case by case basis.
When the chain of scientific inquiry reaches its end and the question of
the existence or absence of God is faced, by what criteria will the
decision be rendered? This
second question raises important issues about how scientists apprehend
data. What standards, indicators or devices will be used to determine if
God exists or not? Given
the current corrigibility of science, the frequent misapplication of the
scientific method, the misinterpretation of data and often overarching
influence of politics on science, the final road to final truth is at
In addition, most scientific data are derived by indirection.
That is to say, the scientist is rarely able to actually touch or
see the actual substance or principle under investigation.
Rather, these are detected or measured by tests devised to detect
or measure effects or manifestations of the substances or principles in
question. A case in point is the measurement of certain blood enzymes.
The actual amount of enzyme is indirectly calculated by measuring
products of the enzymatic reaction.
In turn, this product is reflected as a color or radioactivity
change in the detection system. Such indirect methodology is usually
accurate enough for the situations in which it is employed and is
usually cost effective. Such indirection is still a potential source of
error. When it comes to the
final detection and even measurement of God, will it be by indirection
or will it be face to face?
It is possible that at the end of science mankind may possess all
knowledge of the physical world but the
"why" of it may not be answered
Finally, let us assume that science is on the right track to solve all
the mysteries of life, be they material or non-material.
Quite likely that epiphany is a long way off, many years if not
millennia. What is the individual to do in the meantime?
Should we simply content ourselves by the assurance that someday
one of our species will finally reach the door of truth?
Or do we make the best possible accommodations with life as our
experiences and traditions have taught us?
For life to have meaningfulness it must have some sort of current
relevance. To be sure it is unwise to encumber life by refuting
self-evident material reality.
In this context I am reminded of the Church's condemnation of Galileo
whose adherence to scientific facts brought him at odds with religious
dogma. The Church's credibility was damaged by this act.
But I do not consider the material world to be irreconcilably at odds
with the non-material world.
Effective citizens will invoke principles of the material world in
certain circumstances and non-material principles at other times where
they are appropriate. I
believe one can realistically live with one foot in science and the
other in the world of mystery and subjectivity inherent in religion.
The trick is to develop a proper balance.
My remarks are made not to detract from the immense contributions of
science to humanity. The
principles of the scientific method of inquiry are absolute and
immutable. As a scientist,
I have seen their worth and benefited by them.
However, I have also witnessed distortions of reality imposed in
the name of science. What
seems to have happened at this point in history is an imbalance of the
two worlds in favor of science.
I am concerned that the popularity of science has dulled a critical
analysis of its claims and accomplishments.
Most people seem to be unaware that science makes mistakes that
can have far-reaching consequences for their lives.
They do not understand that scientists are vulnerable to human
weaknesses that can undermine the process of scientific inquiry.
Maybe scientists are frequently right or mostly right but they are not
always right. We need to
maintain as prudent a skepticism about science as we would about some
religious cults. In the meantime, as science continues its quest for
truth, we cannot wait to establish our individual world views. To be
sure, the physical world is grandeloquent. It is counterpoised by the
other world of mystery and myth that is salt to the material world.
We must not neglect or reject either world at this time in
Problems posed by Liberal Christianity
to me incongruent that one can be a Christian and not believe in a
non-material reality. If God is excluded, Jesus Christ becomes only
Jesus of Nazareth. He has no divine status. This I believe has serious
implications in explaining the historical development of the Christian
Church and prospects for its future.
I would seriously question there would be a religion called Christianity
if Jesus had not been considered divine by the early church founders.
Moreover, I doubt the Christian Church would have become universal if
Jesus had not had the putative power of His Heavenly Father. By
stripping Jesus of his divinity he becomes a purely human cult figure to
be venerated, not worshiped.
There have been many significant people who have lived lives of moral
rectitude and espoused noble principles. I would cite the great American
President, Abraham Lincoln as one on my list. Lincoln is venerated but
not worshiped and he has no church.
The next issue that needs clarification is that of the often-used word
It is said that God is nothing more than a human construct. I have
trouble with the logic of this claim. First of all, what can there be
other than constructs? The human mind is the only portal to information
I know of. Just because the construct comes from the human mind tells us
nothing about the primary stimulus of the construct or of its
authenticity. It is an illogical assertion that should be challenged.
There seems to be fear of Christian traditions, and particularly a fear
of absolute truth. It is, in liberal thought, virtuous to hold no firm principles
because they are in continual flux based on current circumstances. Under
such a mentality, it is difficult for me to see how one can establish
confidence in other persons or predict how reliable they may be.
Personally, I believe there are absolute truths, though they may
sometimes be hard to interpret and to apply to changing circumstances.
As I contemplate the fear of
absolute truth, what I hear is a fear of
authoritarianism and orthodoxy. Unenlightened and ill-motivated
authority can pose problems. However, I think it unwise to construct
artificial barriers against the possibility of
enduring fundamental truths in the hope of avoiding the
remonstrance of authority figures.
often cited as the cause of
intolerance and exclusion. Traditions can be changed and there
are probably more traditions in the church that encourage tolerance and
inclusion than do not. It is inaccurate to automatically invoke
tradition as the culprit. More likely than not, fault lies with society
and not only with faith and its traditions. How can traditions best be
changed? Should it be by blunt frontal assault? Or is it best
accomplished by education and gradualism?
another controversial issue in liberal circles for a number of reasons.
Creeds smack of authoritarianism. Supernatural events such as virgin
birth, rising from the dead and going to heaven cannot be accepted by
rational persons. It is non-sense, so it is said. To me the Apostles
Creed defines the character of my faith in mythical symbolic terms. How
can we begin to even try to approach God and His creation other than
with symbols? Language is simply too ineffective.
It must be obvious to anyone who has been in a Christian Church or
observed Christians that they believe in symbols as representing an
ineffable reality. Jesus does not bodily walk among the parishioners.
Yet He is every where at the same time. He is spirit. In the creeds an
attempt is made to grasp this difficult invisible reality.
Whereas it is true the church has had a turbulent and an often
inconsistent history of moral probity, it is misleading to feature that
aspect as representative. Repeatedly critics raise the Inquisition,
anti-Semitism, the Crusades, the Thirty-Years War, fundamentalism and
other such unsavory topics as reasons enough to distrust the church and
its minions. As with other human institutions there are good people and
bad, good behavior and reprehensible. I do not excuse nor exonerate the
church for any of that but there must be balance in our judgments. The
secular world is equally culpable.
revelation is a bugaboo. If one does not subscribe to a non-material reality
there can be no imparting of wisdom from God. End of discussion. Those
who subscribe to a non-material reality will assert this is the way God
feeds knowledge to the human mind. This is how constructs of God are
made. I recognize the character of the prophet who declares the
revelation is key to its authenticity. But if a non-material reality is
not accepted the issue of revelation can be dismissed.
A Fusion of Two Worlds
The only way I can explain the apparent contradictions of my life is to
postulate a life in two worlds, the material and the non-material. I
live in both the
"sacred" and the
"profane" worlds. My situation is not
unique. I am sure there are countless people who live the same way. Some
may not even be aware they pursue binary lives.
An image occurs to me in this context, one I saw in a movie. A wealthy
Japanese businessman comes home delivered by a chauffeur in a modern
expensive automobile. On entering his home there are flowers,
tranquility and incense. He takes off his business suit and sinks into a
steaming tub. Afterward he dresses in a traditional robe and sits on the
floor on crossed legs. There is no contradiction in the two worlds. They
In my view it is important and necessary to live in both worlds. If
humankind ever comes to the position where a non-material reality is
completely denied, society will be the worse for that. I subscribe to
the idea that moral rectitude derives from a source beyond the material.
I do not share the view that humankind is perfectible by its own
At the dawn of the human race natural phenomena were attributed to
various and sundry gods. Today we think in terms of a unified system
with a single source of beginning and a single creator or cause. To me
this is monotheism. There is one force that initiated the Big Bang. The
universe is continually expanding and theoretically will reach an
extremity where attractive forces will bring everything back to the
original nidus of energy or matter where it all began in the first
place. There is an eschatology inherent in the physical universe not
unlike that proposed by religion.
"God cannot be proved by the mere force of our reason."
Stephen Jay Gould, the eminent American scientist, proposed the concept
of Non-Overlapping Magisteria
to resolve the conflict between science and religion. A
... is a domain where one form of teaching holds the appropriate tools
for meaningful discourse and
the magisterium of science covers the empirical realm:
what the Universe is made of (fact) and why does it work in this way
(theory). The magisterium of religion extends over questions of
ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap,
nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for example, the
magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty).
I agree with both authorities. It is the way in which I can make sense
of my being.
Belief in a non-material reality should not be trivialized by citing a
supernatural world of goblins, angels on a pin, and bolts of lightning
emanating from an angry god. That is silliness.
What I do believe is that God is responsible for the Big Bang and its
ultimate conclusion. He continues to speak to the hearts and minds of
receptive people to guide them in the difficult journey on Earth. By
heeding such prompting an abundant life is possible. When natural law
overcomes our hopes and instills fear there is nevertheless consolation.
Without a belief in a non-material reality all of this is not possible.
Perhaps religion is moribund in many places. Over the many centuries
since Jesus walked among us there have been many ups and downs and ebbs
and flows of Christianity. This should not discourage us. It is my
profound belief that when and if Christianity is bereft of its
transcendental non-material underpinnings that will surely reduce it to
a cult status.
What caused or went before the Big Bang may seem like a nonsensical
concern. What comes after the Big Bang has subsided and imploded will be
considered a whimsy by many. However, it could be that such abstract
considerations are of immense importance in shaping how one views the
world and the universe and how our individual lives fit into this
I have suggested that
derived from the material world is
provisional at best. This fits with the liberal view of all truth
including that of the moral world. There is a distinction that must be
drawn as suggested by the Non-Overlapping Magisteria concept of Stephen
Jay Gould. In the Magisterium of religion there are absolute principles
that govern morality. The material world and its contingencies may
obscure those principles and present problems in their application.
Those who subscribe to a non-material reality will consider the material
setting in which to search for enduring truth.
In the great sweep of history we are but specks in time. All the world's
problems, all the mysteries of science, and all the great philosophical
questions will not be solved in the fleeting moments of our individual
existences. While we have sentient life we must make choices about how
we believe the world works and how such belief can maximize our chances
of happiness. There is a dread of despair and meaninglessness that
furrows the brow of human kind. Can materialism assuage it or is more