Regular Faculty

Response to Fr. Robert Spitzer "The Evidence of Creation and Supernatural Design in Contemporary Big Bang Cosmology and space-time geometry proofs"

Fr. Michael Dodds, OP 

First, I'd like to thank Fr. Spitzer very much for his truly splendid presentation.

Since many of his arguments have to do with time, I'd like to do two things with my allotted time here: first to reflect on why his Big Bang argument is timely, and second, to consider how that argument itself is timed.

Fr. Spitzer's offers a truly timely argument. Today, as the voices of so many "new atheists" echo around the cosmos, his work is most welcome. Some of these atheists, like Richard Dawkins, are respected scientists. They argue, however, that science inevitably entails a denial of God. Fr. Spitzer maintains, on the contrary, that the very discoveries of science lead us to God.

In his book, Fr. Spitzer carefully points out that "natural science deals with the physical universe and with the regularities which we call 'laws of nature.'"[i] In its work, science studies the world quantitatively, using the tool of mathematics. Although this mathematical method has given us all the advances in technology and medicine that we enjoy today, it remains only a method -- just one way of looking at the world.

A fundamental mistake of the atheist scientists is to think of this method not as just one way to look at the world, but as the only way. Another, more serious mistake is to think that beyond the things that this method can think of, there is simply nothing to think of at all.

How can they think that? Well, it all has to do, I think, with the way they think of their method. In accord with its method, science limits its study to things that are measurable. It looks at color, for instance, in terms of measurable wave lengths of light. A certain ideology that often masquerades as science, however, limits not just the study of reality but reality itself to things that are measurable. It proclaims that what is not measurable is not real. This is not true science, but the ideology of scientism, which tries to turn the method of science into a metaphysics, limiting reality itself to the things that science can study. When scientism is mistaken for science, science may seem to exclude the existence of God. If only what is measurable is real, and only material things are measurable, then God must be unreal since God is neither material nor measurable. (QED)

If science recognizes the limits of its method, however, it cannot exclude the possibility that many realities lie beyond its reach. One of those realities, as Fr. Spitzer points out, is God. He writes: "God is not an object or phenomenon or regularity within the physical universe; so science cannot say anything about God."[ii] When science is aided by philosophical arguments, however, as in Fr. Spitzer's project, then science itself may lead us to God, or lead us, as Fr. Spitzer says, to "a metaphysical conclusion that there must be something beyond physical reality which caused physical reality to exist."[iii] - A timely argument indeed.

But, onto my second question: How is the argument timed?

It's timed quite differently from the arguments that Thomas Aquinas gives for the existence of God in his Summa theologica. Aquinas puts his arguments in the here and now. His first way of showing that God exists, for instance, begins: "It is certain, and evident to our senses [right now, today, this moment], that in the world some things are [presently] in motion."[iv] He then presents an argument to show us that right now, in this moment, God's influence must be present in the motion that's happening before our eyes or that motion would not be possible. His argument is not that God did something centuries ago that is now producing some effect. He rather argues that the motion that is happening right now requires God's action now, and so God must exist now (and, of course, eternally). While establishing the existence of God, therefore, Aquinas also shows us that God is immanently present and active in the world at this moment.

Fr. Spitzer's argument is timed differently, since he puts his argument in the past. Unlike Aquinas' argument, therefore, it will not immediately entail evidence of God's presence and action in the world at this present moment.

Using the science of Einstein and quantum mechanics, Fr. Spitzer leads us back to the moment of the Big Bang, about 13.7 billion years ago.[v] He argues that the beginning of the cosmos which science discovers in the Big Bang is an absolute beginning. It is, he says, "a point prior to which there is no physical reality."[vi] The Big Bang, he maintains, was "the beginning of time itself (and of space too)."[vii] He concludes that "the evidence [of science] currently supports a reasonable likelihood of a beginning--a point at which the universe came into existence."[viii] If this conclusion is valid, then an investigation into the cause of that beginning would lead us directly to the transcendent Creator, just as Fr. Spitzer argues. Creation would no longer be a truth known only by faith, as Thomas Aquinas had taught, but a truth established by reason through empirical science.[ix]

One must ask, however, whether science, in keeping with the limitations of its method, can reach an absolute beginning or only a qualified beginning -- a beginning of the universe insofar as it can be known and studied by current science. We might say that Fr. Spitzer's argument certainly brings us something, but does it really provide us with nothing-- does it really bring us back to the "nothing" out of which God created the heavens and the earth" (creation ex nihilo)? In other words, can science show us that the moment of the Big Bang, which represents the beginning of our universe insofar as science can study it (a scientific question), is also the moment of the first instantiation of created material being (a metaphysical or theological question).

Writing in 1952, Pope Pius XII was also excited at the possibility of identifying the Big Bang with the moment of creation. He wrote: [I]t would seem that present-day science, with one sweeping step back across millions of centuries, has succeeded in bearing witness to that primordial 'Fiat lux' ['Let there be light'] uttered at the moment when, along with matter, there burst forth from nothing a sea of light and radiation, while the particles of chemical elements split and formed into millions of galaxies. [x]

Ultimately, however, the pope thought that arguments about the moment of creation are, as he put it, "outside the proper sphere of the natural sciences."[xi]

The Jesuit astrophysicist, William Stoeger, comes to the same conclusion. He writes: "The origins with which science can deal are always what we might call 'relative origins,' which are indeed very important, absolutely crucial, for us to understand. But they are not absolute, or ultimate, origins."[xii]

So, this leaves me with a question. Can science truly bring us to an absolute beginning of material creation or only a relative beginning of the cosmos insofar as science is able to study it? If science yields only a relative beginning, it may be unable to identify the Big Bang with the moment of creation. Even if science should prove unable to make that identification, however, the consonance between the conclusions of science regarding the scientific origins of the cosmos and the truths of faith regarding the beginning of material creation would surely remain. It's just that the one would not necessarily prove the other.

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[i] Robert J. Spitzer, New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 22. Back to text.
[ii] Spitzer, 22. Back to text
[iii] Spitzer, 23. Back to text. 
[iv] Summa theologica I, 2, 3, co. Back to text
[v] Spitzer, 16. Back to text
[vi] Spitzer 23. Back to text. 
[vii] Spitzer, 19. Back to text. 
[viii] Spitzer, 74. Back to text
[ix] Summa theologica I, 46, 2. Back to text
[x] Pope Pius XII, "Modern Science and the Existence of God," The Catholic Mind 50 (1952): 190. Back to text
[xi] "It is quite true that the facts established up to the present time are not an absolute proof of creation in time, as are proofs drawn from metaphysics and Revelation in what concerns simple creation, or those founded on Revelation if there be question of creation in time. The pertinent facts of the natural sciences, to which we have referred, are awaiting still further research and confirmation, and the theories founded on them are in need of further development and proof before they can provide a sure foundation for arguments which, of themselves, are outside the proper sphere of the natural sciences" (ibid.). Back to text
[xii] William R. Stoeger, "The Origin of the Universe in Science and Religion," in Cosmos, Bios, Theos: Scientists Reflect on Science, God and the Origins of the Universe, Life, and Homo Sapiens, ed. Henry Margenau and Roy Abraham Varghese (LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court, 1992), 263. See also William R. Stoeger, "The Big Bang, Quantum Cosmology, and creatio ex nihilo," in Creation and the God of Abraham, ed. David Burrell, Carlo Coglioti, Janet Soskice, and William R. Stoeger (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 152–75. Back to text