Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Faith and science: My complicated ideas.






     I am a person who believes in God.  I believe that we were created by Him, in His image.  I also have a career that is founded in science.  For my entire educational life I have been told that the two mix like oil and water.  Since high school I have had educators ridicule me for believing that God created the world.  I have been openly mocked on Facebook for trying to engage in a discussion about an intelligent design to the universe.  We live in a time where science is a religion, the accepted religion of the culture.  Beware, when you question what they believe, they get angry.

     At the same time, I have come to see my Christian faith as far more than a list of guiding principles for getting along in life.  I have seen God work in my life and the lives of people I know.  Today I am more convinced than ever that the Bible is the source of truth.  Consequently, over the last 30  plus years, I've had to come to a place where I can rationally blend my faith and scientific knowledge of how the universe works.  At times my faith has wavered, but when I asked myself hard questions about what I believed, I always came back to one point.  Either this universe is the result of random chance and nothing ultimately has any meaning, or it was created and designed by what must be an unimaginably intelligent Being.  Logic tells me that order doesn't arise out of chaos, especially when the complexity of the order of the universe, at any level you choose to look, is more complex than what we can entirely understand.  I always come back to God and the things I have seen Him do.

     As a father, I am concerned that I see the culture rubbing off too much on my children.  They are constantly bombarded with the message that faith is meaningless.  They are told that science is the only truth.  Even their cartoons are teaching them an evolutionary world view.  I have heard my boys arguing about if dinosaurs lived millions of years ago or not. At the same time, they are constantly being sucked into a virtual reality through games and movies where truth is able to be rewritten and they can exist in a world separated from reality, to the point that the virtual worlds are far more enjoyable than real life.  How am I, as a parent, supposed to deal with this?  How do you teach your children or at least supply them with enough of a foundation that they will be able to weather the storms of an anti-christian world view without losing their faith.  I want my children to know that it is okay to question what they believe, because if God is true and rational, then our thoughts and observations should lead us back to Him.

     Over time I've developed some ideas, that although purely speculative, at least allow me to combine my faith with what I know about science in a logical way.  I've tried to explain my thoughts to others with various degrees of success.  I think many people might think I've become a heretic, while others see me as a religious fanatic. There has to be a proper balance between the two, I may have not struck it completely, but I've come close enough that I can live with it.  I want to at least put down my thoughts in writing in a way that my kids can hopefully understand.  They may not care, they may not agree with me as they get older, but I want them to know what I believe and why I believe it.  In a few short years they will have to decide what they believe as they launch out into the world.  I don't want to leave them totally unprepared.  I can at least give them a starting point to begin forming their own beliefs.

From this point on, read at your own risk.  I am going to try and explain my thoughts on this subject.  I have no idea if it makes any sense to anyone else, but here goes:

     As I look into the whole Creation/Evolution/Intelligent Design discussion, there are a few assumptions that lay the foundation for what I believe.  First of all, the universe exists.  We are here, in reality.  Secondly, there was a beginning to the universe.  Third, the universe is so complex, and so well structured that it is impossible to have come about by random chance.  If there was a designer and creator of the universe several things must be true about Him as well.  He must be rational and unimaginably intelligent.  He must exist outside of and apart from the universe.  Existing before and outside of the universe, he is not limited by space and time (which exist as part of the universe). Since God exists outside of the universe, there is no way science can prove or disprove his existence.  Only if he were to choose to interact with the universe, would we be able to perceive or understand him.

     Starting from those assumptions, I have in my mind a concept of how God, standing outside of this universe (whatever that may be) might create us and how that creation would appear to us.  The most important thing to understanding God, is understanding what it means for him to exist outside of space and time.  I read a book long ago that first got me thinking along these lines.  It is called Flatland: A Romance In Many Dimensions written by Edwin A. Abbott in 1884.  It is a book that describes in easy to understand terms what a 2 dimensional person in a 2 dimensional world experiences when he becomes aware of the 3rd dimension and then allows us to extrapolate what our experience might be if we interacted with higher dimension than the 4 we can perceive.  I read another book later on that was more purely mathematically based called Flatterland that expanded on these concepts.  Most recently I found a book by the Christian astrophysicist, Hugh Ross that attempts to apply these concepts to Biblical concepts such as the Trinity, and Predestination vs Free will, as well as creation.  Granted these are not easy concepts to grasp. 

     Then last month, Karlye signed Will up for a community college sponsored class on video game design.  Last week as I sat through the end of his class and he showed me what he was doing when he made a simple video game, I suddenly had an inspiration.  I think I have found a way to communicate what I have been thinking in a way he could understand.  I want to get it in writing while it's fresh in my mind.  I think it makes sense of a lot of things that we have been arguing about in the back and forth war between religion and science.  It relates to my kids because they can understand virtual worlds and how they are created.  They can see a game from both the perspective of the game designer/programmer and from the character in the game.  They can see that it is possible to have two completely different and yet equally true experiences of the game.  I think that these concepts can give us a better understanding of the universe and it's Creator.

     I like to play video games.  One of my favorite types of games is the MMORPG, or for you non-gamers, a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing game.  In these games there is a huge world that is open to freely explore as you interact with millions of other people playing the same game at the same time.  You have series of quests that you can chose to do to advance your character, there are certain events that take place, but just like in real life, there is no set way of going about how or what you want to do.  There are complex rules that control your actions in the game, but there is also a huge amount of freedom that you have as a character in the game.  The enjoyment of the games comes from the ability to immerse yourself in a new world and experience the thousands of things the programmers have created for your enjoyment.

     One thing I never really considered is how a programmer sees the game.  Then I sat in Will's class and saw the fundamentals of video game creation.  Will was programming a simple game.  He first had to create a room, a blank slate on which to build his game.  Next he had to create objects in the game.  Every object had to be assigned certain properties such as movement, rules of what it would do upon interacting with other objects, etc.  There was no specific order in which the objects had to be placed in the room and Will was able to go back and edit objects once they were placed.  The timeline a player in the game experiences means absolutely nothing to the game designer.  Suppose, for example, that in order to complete a quest a character must complete 4 challenges before he unlocks a 5th and final challenge.  As a player, I would never experience the final challenge until I have experienced the 4 preceding events.  A game designer could begin by programming the final event and work backwards ending with the design of the first challenge. As a player, I experience the flow of the game in a linear fashion.  A game designer is outside of the game world and sees the game from a non-linear fashion.  He designs a game knowing what I will experience as a player, while I play the game not knowing what each experience will lead to.   He could simultaneously be building landscapes in the game in multiple areas of the game world while as a player I can only be in one place at any given time.  Also once a piece of code is written, the programmer does not need to rewrite that code every time he wants to use it again.  He simply can copy and paste it into the program whenever he needs it.

     How does this relate to God creating the universe?  Well, here we can let our imaginations run a little.  Of course this is all hypothetical and at best would be a very over-simplified picture of God the creator, but let's think about this a bit.  God first creates the universe out of nothing.  It is a blank space.  He can't just plop down people into empty space, because we wouldn't survive.  First he has to put in place all the elements that sustain life.  Basics such as matter, energy, and time would come first.  To me it is not unreasonable that this sudden explosion of all matter and energy would appear much like what scientists describe as The Big Bang.  In fact, one of the biggest problems for evolutionary theory is the Big Bang, because that implies a definite beginning and a finite amount of time for the infinitely improbable series of random accidents leading to life to occur.  

     As time and space expands, God would be able to populate his new universe with particles, then atoms as conditions "within the game" allow them to be stable.  Later he can add stars, galaxies, and planets all interwoven and held together with gravity.  His creation is gradually being populated with the necessary objects to sustain life.  From God's perspective as the designer, time is just a variable, another coordinate at which an object is placed in the system.  He could just as easily move an object to a different time coordinate as he could from one point in space to another.  He can sit and observe multiple positions in time simultaneously.  He can do this, because unless one is inside the system, controlled by the rules of the system, there is no progression of time.  

     Now imagine with me that you have been playing one of these games for several years and have reached the highest level in the game, you now are playing end game content. Because it took you several years to reach that point in the game, can you say anything about how long it took the game designer to build the game?  No, because he isn't bound by the time constraints of the game.  Or put it this way.  Suppose if you played the game for 10 hours, you could increase your character's level by 1.  If I started out at level 1 and played my character to a level of 100 would take 1000 hours.  So in the game you meet another character that is level 80.  How old is that character?  Well, from an in the game perspective the character would have to be at least 800 hours old.  But suppose the game designer created a level 80 character and placed it in the game.  It would be brand new with the apparent age of 800 hours.   The player in the game would say it was 800 hours old and from his perspective, he would be correct because within the game it takes time to progress through the levels.  The designer would say it had been created instantaneously and he would be correct because he is not controlled by the game rules, he makes them.

     Now think of the universe as a hugely complex video game again.  From our perspective, we have to follow the rules of time.  A certain amount of time has to progress for changes to take place.  We measure the rate of change over time and then can extrapolate back to estimate longer passages of time.  Since there is no way within the physical laws of the universe to alter that rate of change, we assume that if something appears to be a certain age, then it is that age.  Operating outside of the system, God could create an object and place it in the system fully developed at any point in time he likes, making it simultaneously created in an instant (to Him), and old (to us).  He could have created you and placed you in your particular time coordinate before he created Abraham Lincoln.  My point is time is only important to us because we experience it.  God is outside of time and is not in any way constrained by it.  Because of this, I think when people argue about the age of the universe, it is irrelevant.  No matter how old the universe appears to us, God created it from an outside reference point.  If it took Him an instant or a week (although who can say what a week is to God) it would still appear to be billions of years old, because from our perspective inside of time, that is how long it appears to have existed and we cannot tell otherwise.  Even the most ardent supporters of a 6 day creation that I have talked to admit that there is apparent age.  My point is that all age is an appearance that we perceive and God does not.  Some people just can't get past that point. I understand, but can you at least see some validity to my idea?

     More difficult for me to conceptualize is the development of species and the apparent evolution over time of the various species.  Evolutionary theory is the holy scripture for the modern scientist.  You don't question it.  You just accept it on faith.  Because of this, most scientist will stop listening once you mention that there are serious issues with evolutionary theory. For example, while there is significant divergence and genetic changes within a specific species, the process of evolving from one species to another should result in a multiple of intermediaries. We don't see these transitional species now or in the fossil record.  There are large passages of time where we see no evidence of new species developing and then suddenly within a geologic instance a whole multitude of new species appear to have rapidly evolved.  There are issues of the mathematical improbability of something more complex than a simple amino acid developing by change without the perfect conditions in a well designed system, and yet we are supposed to believe that Complex strands of DNA able to carry copies of trillions of genetic codes just happened to come together and develop a way to self replicate.  That complex systems like blood clotting cascades with multiple necessary parts all working together developed all the parts simultaneously.  I find faith in evolution no less demanding than a faith in God.  In fact I think it take far more faith to believe the mathematically impossible happened by itself, than to believe that an intelligent being designed a working system that would be self-sufficient.

     How do I try and rectify a belief that God created all species and then Mankind as more than just a mere animal with the obvious (although incomplete) progression of genetics from lower species to higher species?  I think theistic evolution is a cop-out.  It doesn't address the problems with evolutionary theory and also weakens God's role in the Creation of man.  I believe that Man is unique in all creation, because he is created in the image of God, with the ability to think and create, but mostly because he is inherently moral, though fallen.  He is not just the most evolved in a long line of animals.

     So let's go back to my video game analogy.  Video games are written in computer code, life is written in genetic code.  When a programmer wants to insert a new object in the game, he doesn't start over from scratch and rewrite all the code.  Instead, he inserts tried and tested blocks of code that have been compiled into sub programs (forgive me, I am not knowledgeable of programming jargon).  So object A is representation of a flower.  I can cut and paste the code for this multiple times to produce multiple flowers.  Suppose flower A is a white flower and I want to create a red flower object.  Do I need to rewrite the entire code?  No, I just need to alter the line that determines color and leave the rest of the code intact, to produce a new flower B.  Now suppose I want a flower bush in my game.  I can modify the code to produce multiple flowers connected to a common base.  That is over simplified I know, but I think it conveys the idea I'm getting at.  Once God had designed the first DNA strand, he would not have needed to redesign it, only modify it.  Once he built the first cell, he would not have to recreate the cell, just combine multiple cells to make the first multicellular animal.  As he designed more diversified species gradually increasing their complexity and placed them in the appropriate time and space coordinate of this "game", it would have the appearance of a gradual development from species to species over time but would not require the interim species which don't seem to exist.  This is different from evolution because each species is created individually by God.  He would have to place single celled organisms in time first in order to break down nutrients into a form that would be usable by higher species.  So he placed them in the time continuum a "billion" years ago. He then placed the more advanced species into creation at a point in time where they could survive.  When he finally created Man, He would place him at a point in time where he could survive and thrive. man would share the biology of all life (plants and animals), but he would be more than just another animal, because God gave him a soul.

     Is that how God did it?  I don't have the foggiest idea, but it seems like one plausible explanation. For me, if I can come up with a plausible explanation, then I know God could.  It is not scientifically provable or disprovable, because once again, whatever method God used, he was operating outside of this universe.  Science is only able to function within this universe and is therefore unable to comment on God.  For me at least, this lets me live my life in a way that I can believe in a God who created me without seeing any contradiction to my faith or what is observable in the world through science.  Smarter people than me can no doubt tear this line of reasoning to shreds, but I would rather talk about how faith and science complement each other than to endlessly harp on about how they can't exist together.

     I know that this all seems a little esoteric.  I don't think I'm totally off base though when I talk about multiple dimensions and God operating outside of time.  Modern string theory predicts the existence of at least 10 dimensions in the universe.  We only experience four.  I think that there is so much that we don't understand about this universe and so how can we really grasp what lies beyond it.  I think too that most if not all the apparent contradictions we see between faith and science are based in the fact that we are looking at things from the constraints of the four dimensions we experience.  Could we imagine an eternity beyond them (which Christian doctrine states there is), then we are far less likely to get hung up on the silly arguments that plague us and often make us look ignorant or unable to give a rational explanation for what we believe.

     I hope that this will generate a lot of discussion.  Discussion is good.  Some people will question my faith when they read this, some my grasp of science, and others my sanity.  So what is your input? Let's begin a discussion.