I do not believe that there is any real conflict between good science and good religion. There can’t be. If both science and religion genuinely seek truth and God is truth, they both seek the same thing. They are two sides of the same coin. The problem arises when either science or religion becomes entrenched and dogmatic in a theory or idea. This is where the conflict arises: Bad science and/or bad religion. The classic case is the Roman Catholic Church against Copernicus and Galileo and the heliocentric solar system. “You say the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth? Heresy, I say!”, said Pope. That was pretty stupid. But, to be fair, both sides have been guilty of arbitrarily turning speculation and theory into hard fact without total understanding or certainty.
In our contemporary world, it seems to me that science is often times doing better theology than the theologians. This is especially true in the field of Physics, including astro-physics, radio astronomy, and small particle physics. Let’s look at three examples:
Example 1: The Big Bang and the Voice of God
The Big Bang model is the prevailing cosmological theory of the origin of the universe. It postulates that the universe began as a very small, very dense, and extremely hot “ball” anywhere from the size of an atom to that of an orange. When this dense extremely hot “ball of fire” exploded it produced a “Big Bang” expanding outward in all directions, expanding into what our universe is today.
But, from where did this Big Bang come from? Theology had already provided an answer. In the beginning when God created all things he simply spoke—and it came forth from the word of his mouth! “And GOD SAID, Let there be light: and there was light” (Gen 1:3). The writer of Hebrews informs us that “The worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Heb. 11:3). In other words . . . God SPOKE, and BANG, it was!
But, back to science. Bell Labs built a giant antenna in Holmdel, New Jersey, in 1960. It was part of a very early satellite transmission system. Two employees of Bell Labs had their eye on the antenna. Arno Penzias, a German-born radio astronomer, joined Bell Labs in 1958. He knew the Holmdel antenna would also make a great radio telescope and was dying to use it to observe the universe. Another radio astronomer, Robert Wilson, came to Bell Labs in 1962 with the same idea.
When they began to use the Holmdel antenna as a telescope they found there was a background “noise” (like static in a radio). This annoyance was a uniform signal in the microwave range, seeming to come from all directions. Everyone assumed it came from the telescope itself, which was not unusual. Penzias and Wilson had to get rid of it to make the observations they planned. They checked everything to rule out the source of the excess radiation. It wasn’t urban interference. It wasn’t radiation from our galaxy or extraterrestrial radio sources. It wasn’t even the pigeons living in the big, horn-shaped antenna. Penzias and Wilson had to conclude it was not the antenna and it was not random noise causing the radiation.
Penzias and Wilson began looking for theoretical explanations. Around the same time, Robert Dicke at nearby Princeton University had been pursuing theories about the Big Bang. He had elaborated on existing theory to suggest that if there had been a Big Bang, the residue of the explosion should by now take the form of a low-level background radiation throughout the universe. Dicke was looking for evidence of this theory when Penzias and Wilson got in touch with his lab.
They didn’t realize it, but with their discovery of background cosmic microwave radiation in 1965. . . Penzias and Wilson were perhaps listening to the echoes of the creational voice of God! They won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1978 for their discovery.
Example 2. Empty Space or a Relational Universe.
The second example also comes from Physics. Science believes that only about 5% of the universe is made up of “normal” matter. But, the remaining 95% of the universe is not empty. Scientists speculate that the balance of the universe is made up of what they describe as “dark energy” (~68%) and “dark matter” (~27%). They aren’t sure exactly what either of these are, but they know they exist because of the measurable effects of the relationships between them and “normal” matter.
Scientists are finding that the energy is in the space between the particles of the atom and between the planets and the stars. They are discovering that reality is absolutely relational at all levels.
This is exactly what Christian mystics have been telling religion and the rest of the world for two thousand years. “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)
Example 3. More “Dimensions” Than We Thought
The last example comes to us from small particle physics. The “M theory” of small particle physics indicates (mathematically) that in addition to our classic four dimensions of spacetime (three dimensions in space: up/down, left/right, and forward/backward, and one dimension of time: later/earlier) there may be as many as seven additional dimensions we virtually know nothing about; for a total of 11 dimensions in theoretical spacetime.
Perhaps one or more of those seven additional dimensions of spacetime might be “spiritual” dimensions. Or perhaps all eleven dimensions may be evidence of the Divine Triune perichoresis, or circle-dance, which manifests in our spacetime yet also transcends it into the other dimensions that we just don’t have the “eyes” to see.
Regardless of the propensity of both science and religion to claim false certainties, I firmly believe that scientists and theologians alike are climbing different sides of the same mountain.