Science: Weirder Than Any Religion

“People see me
I’m a challenge to your balance
I’m over your heads
How I confound you and astound you
To know I must be one of the wonders
Of god’s own creation
And as far as you see you can offer
No explanation.”
–Natallie Merchant

In “Jesus Weren’t  No Christian” I wrote that “Christians” do not stand for much that’s in the spirit of Christ as he’s depicted in the New Testament. In other words, there’s a huge gulf between Christianity and what it claims to originate from. Christians tend to be straight-laced conservatives who emphasize clean, traditional living, whereas Christ was a radical who lived a rootless lifestyle, consorted with outcasts, broke rules, and upset conventional expectations.

Similarly, there is a gulf between those who profess a scientific outlook on reality and the foundation this scientific outlook rests on.

I realize there are all stripes of scientists with different ideas about reality and God. And I’m not arguing that logic has no place in our outlook or that science hasn’t been a powerful and beneficial force through human history. I’m arguing that you can’t explain the universe with logic. And if you try to, using science as your authority, you’ll shoot yourself in the foot.

Scientific atheists like Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, argue against the supernatural, spiritual or scientifically unprovable. They explain our attraction to religion or spirituality in terms of psychology and brain chemistry and, stopping here, think they have arrived at the ultimate cause for our urge to “believe.” But they haven’t gone back far enough. They’ve chosen to stop at brain chemistry because that fits their logical, “scientific” outlook. This is exactly like a Christian who believes in original sin and then looks back to Tertullian (an early Christian writer who invented original sin) as a justification for that belief, without looking back further to Christ who seemed if anything to believe the opposite.

In both cases, the belief was chosen first and then an inaccurate label was attached to it to confer authority to that belief. The belief is the starting point, a justification is found, and then the justification is touted as proof. The Christian chose the belief in original sin and then attached the inaccurate word “Christian” to it. The scientific atheist chose the belief in logic and then attached the word “scientific” to it. Neither went back far enough–to their sources.

In Christianity, the source is Christ. What is the source when it comes to science? Let’s start with physicists’ current theory of how the universe began. In the beginning, there was nothing. No space, no time, no matter, nothing. Gee, that’s easy to picture. Then a “singularity” appeared–an infinitesimally small speck of infinite density–and this expanded out at blinding speed into the universe we know and love. Picture the earth squeezed down to the size of the period at the end of this sentence. That’s already impossible to imagine. But the singularity was smaller than that and contained billions and billions of times more matter, namely all the matter in the universe (that’s billions of galaxies, each containing billions of stars). None of this is logical in the everyday sense of that word. In fact, it’s mind-boggling. It’s beyond anything any mythology or religion has ever dished up. Yet, this is what cold, hard-headed, logical science believes.

Extrapolating logically back in time, then, physicists have arrived at a mind-blowing scenario. Similarly, when they have examined matter at tinier and tinier levels, they again discovered utter weirdness. First of all, it turns out, matter is made up of particles called atoms. Atoms are made up of a nucleus–protons and neutrons–with electrons orbiting it. When you change the number of protons, you change how something looks and acts. For example, atoms of lead have 80 protons but atoms of gold have 79 protons. All protons are identical, but take away one from a lead atom and you get gold. That’s weird. But nowhere near as weird as it gets.

It also turns out that these atoms are mostly empty space. That’s because there is so much distance between the electrons and the nucleus (protons plus neutrons). To picture the relative sizes, imagine if you enlarged a nucleus to the size of a pea and put the pea in the middle of a football stadium. The electrons would be as far away as the outer walls of the stadium. The rest is space. So every solid thing you see around you is mostly empty space. (The reason you can’t put your hand through a table is not because your matter is actually making contact with the table’s matter; rather the negative charge of your electrons are pushed away by the negative charges of the table’s electrons. This means we never really touch anything—we just experience something’s electric field!) But it gets even weirder.

It turns out electrons, like light, sometimes act as though they’re particles and sometimes as though they are waves (all matter is energy in “solidified” form). Also, in accordance with Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, the more precisely you know where an electron is, the less precisely you can predict where it will be, and vice versa. In fact, the principle of causality breaks down completely as one enters the tiniest “quantum” world. In this world, the observer affects the behavior of the observed. For example, a particle of light, known as a photon, has a certain probability of showing up in different places. Once someone observes it, the photon “decides” to appear at a particular location. In other words, the photon of light wasn’t at any particular spot until someone observed it. In addition to all these shenanigans, many quantum physicists believe there are almost infinite parallel universes, constantly branching off from existing universes, playing out all possible outcomes and choices at each instant in time. Their logical science has led them to this and many other bizarre proposals too numerous to mention.

So it looks like when scientists have pursued cause and effect back in time or down to the tiniest levels they can, they’ve been led into the realm of what may be fairly described as the miraculous. And for this fundamental miracle, they can offer no explanation.


About nosuchthingasastraightline

I grew up in tiny Lyme, New Hampshire, where I drew, roamed the surrounding woods, and first entertained the idea of God while listening to my mom's Beatles records. I studied biology at Harvard University where I wrote for The Harvard Lampoon and also began writing poetry. I have since made a living variously as a comedy screenwriter, teacher, and private tutor in math, science and writing. I’ve released three CDs of original music as the singer-songwriter and guitar player for Crooked Roads (listen to latest tracks here: My poetry writing has been inspired by Rumi, Billy Collins, William Carlos Williams, e.e. cummings, Antonio Machado, Federico Garcia Lorca, and others. My two books of poetry, "The Morning I Married the Sky," and “Free this Morning” are both available on Amazon.
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2 Responses to Science: Weirder Than Any Religion

  1. here’s my take away from your post: you’re really smart!

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