The universe astronomers and biologists describe for us is an unfolding entity of enormous magnitude and complexity, the result of a journey through time of almost 14 billion years. Deep space and deep time; black holes and anti-matter; natural law and stochastic processes, these and other features of the way things are have all played a part in bringing into existence a teeming mass of biological life on a remote planet in a far corner of an almost infinite whole.
One species above all stands out on the remote planet, at least to itself: homo sapiens, by all accounts a god-prone species committed to inhabiting narratives in which reality is imagined to have phenomenal and noumenal dimensions; to pondering Steven Pinker’s list of imponderables: subjective experience, the self, free will, conceptual meaning, knowledge, the difference between right and wrong.
That same species, biologists inform us, adapts to its environment with mixed results through the opposing social strategies of selfishness and altruism. Its cognitive faculties are remarkable in that they excogitate things of no apparent survival value: art and music, poetry and prayer.
If this is a fair description of the spectacle the universe offers, to the question, why is there this something, rather than nothing or something else, alternative answers are conceivable. One answer, pronounced by Darwinian scientist Richard Dawkins, goes like this:
The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.
-- Richard Dawkins, "God's Utility Function," Scientific American 275 (5) (November 1995) 80-85; 85
Another answer, offered by Darwinian scientists Francis Collins, T. G. Dobzhansky, and Francisco Ayala as paraphrased by Kenneth Miller, himself a biologist who finds God in evolution, goes like this:
The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, the wisdom of a provident and purposeful God, intent upon a fruitful and dynamic world, and committed to a promise of freedom that makes genuine love possible. -- from Kenneth Miller’s Georgetown Lectures, 1/29/09
Why all the fuss about evolution? Because too many people believe that accepting the view that we live in the universe physicists and biologists describe for us involves thinking that life is an enormous rat race, a hopeless endeavor in which there is no evil, no good, at best, nothing but indifference.
But that’s just Dawkins, and even if Dawkins talks that talk, he does not walk that walk. Like people in general, he makes his words and actions purposeful; designs projects; preaches about the good of this and the evil of that; and tries to make the world a better place. He is, in his own words, a “cultural Christian.”
It is possible to maintain that every phrase in Genesis 1-3 is true in the sense of being a precise expression of physical and metaphysical truths in language appropriate to the time and place in which they were written. The more one knows about the Ancient Near Eastern context in which Gen 1-3 was written and to which it responds, the easier it is to see that.
At the same time, it is possible to plow ahead as a scientist and believer at the intersection of physics and biology. A fine example of a young scholar doing just that is Ard Louis. He is enamored, both as a scientist and a person of faith, with the fact that biological individuals continuously self-assemble in real time. If there is a God, what does that say about the God who created us, who made us in his image? Is God the continuous self-assembler par excellence?