Stromatolites, science and the Bible

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One of my friends, Peter Ross, was convinced that Science has it wrong and the Bible has it right: God created the universe and our earth 6.000 years ago. And he loved fossils: wherever he went, he collected them. And then he realized that these tiny stomatolites indicated that this earth is billions of years old:

“Thanks to study of these tiny bacterial fossils, we have ample evidence that the world has radically changed over the many billions of years, for example, recent studies in Stomatolite fossils have evidenced that the early earth contained very little to no free oxygen in the atmosphere. See a stromatolite is a living pillar of bacteria, specifically cyanobacteria (formerly called blue-green algae).

Cyanobacteria carry out photosynthesis by splitting water and release oxygen as a byproduct. Stromatolite fossils housed microbial mats safely within their rock layers. The layers formed bands that show how the sediments settled, similar to tree rings, revealing information about Earth’s past. According to the modern time scale, 3.5 billion years ago, stromatolites appeared on Earth. During times of high activity, these microbial mats produced abundant oxygen, which reacted with iron to form iron oxide that was deposited in sediments. When photosynthetic activity was low, little oxygen was produced, and we find no iron oxide formed which resulted in light colored bands of minerals deposited. After over 50 million years of this process, we see through the fossil record that all the banded iron bearing stromatolite fossils disappear, replaced by solid iron oxide layers of rock. Scientists deduce that it was at this time the stromatolites had produced enough oxygen to significantly and permanently change the atmosphere to an oxygen-containing one. This means that life, in the form of these stromatolites, existed prior to an oxygen rich atmosphere, and thanks to their life cycles, we see such a slow gradual rise of oxygen in the fossil record.”

And he understood that God’s eternal plan can cover these long time span easily.

This story was shared in the facebook group Celebrating Creating by Natural Selection. If you wish to discuss  the idea that evolutionary science and God are harmonious truths, please join us! “We are open to everyone, especially anyone who loves science and wants to celebrate Darwins’ powerful theory and would like to worship the creator who designed such an elegant system and works through it!”

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Werner Heisenberg, From the known to the unknown

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“The existing scientific concepts cover always only a very limited part of reality, and the other part that has not yet been understood is infinite. Whenever we proceed from the known into the unknown we may hope to understand, but we may have to learn at the same time a new meaning of the word ‘understanding’.”

Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976)
German theoretical physicist and one of the key pioneers of quantum mechanics

 

Pope Francis: Finding truth and joy in research

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On 11 June 2016, Pope Francis said to the summer course participants at the Vatican Observatory:

“God’s creation, and our own place in it, is shared by men and women of very diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. All of us dwell under the same sky. All of us are moved by the beauty revealed in the cosmos and reflected in the study of the heavenly bodies and substances. In this sense, we are united by the desire to discover the truth about how this marvellous universe operates; and in this, we draw ever closer to the Creator.

He also mentioned hardship and joy that we can find in  the daily work as scientists:

“Dear brothers and sisters, scientific research demands great commitment, yet can sometimes prove lengthy and tiresome.  At the same time, it can, and should be, a source of deep joy.  I pray that you will be able to cultivate that interior joy and allow it to inspire your work.  Share it with your friends, your families and your nations, as well as with the international community of scientists with whom you work.  May you always find joy in your research and share the fruit of your studies with humility and fraternity.”

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read more here: Radio Vatican: Pope Francis speaks to participants of Vatican Observatory summer course

James Clerk Maxwell: Light in Nature and in Faith

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The Scotch physicist James Clerk Maxwell FRS FRSE (13 June 1831 in Edinburgh – 5 November 1879 in Cambridge) was one of the chief figures among 19th century physicists. His most notable achievement was formulating the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation, bringing together for the first time electricity, magnetism, and light as manifestations of the same phenomenon.  Maxwell’s equation for electromagnetism have been called the “second great unification in physics” after the first equations by Isaac Newton. He saw great significance in a universe where the laws of nature fit together like pieces in a puzzle. In those links, he saw the existence and goodness of God and the mystery of the divine.

His Christian faith permeated his scientific work and, according to his own testimony, was at times a source of inspiration. One of his prayers was:

“Almighty God, Who hast created man in Thine own image, and made him a living soul that he might seek after Thee, and have dominion over Thy creatures, teach us to study the works of Thy hands, that we may subdue the earth to our use, and strengthen the reason for Thy service; so to receive Thy blessed Word, that we may believe in Him Whom Thou hast sent, to give us the knowledge of salvation and the remission of our sins. All of which we ask in the name of the same Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

He favored a world-view which includes ideas like the ones in the modern chaos theory such as ‘sensitive dependence to initial conditions‘. In his 1873 lecture on determinism and free will, he says:

“The subject of the essay is the relation to determinism, not of theology, metaphysics, or mathematics, but of physical science,—the science which depends for its material on the observation and measurement of visible things, but which aims at the development of doctrines whose consistency with each other shall be apparent to our reason…

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Maxwell can be seen, together with Poincaré, as a forerummer of Lorenz’ Butterfly effect (1963) . Image credit

For example, the rock loosed by frost and balanced on a singular point of the mountain-side, the little spark which kindles the great forest, the little word which sets the world a fighting, the little scruple which prevents a man from doing his will, the little spore which blights all the potatoes, the little gemmule which makes us philosophers or idiots. Every existence above a certain rank has its singular points: the higher the rank the more of them. At these points, influences whose physical magnitude is too small to be taken account of by a finite being, may produce results of the greatest importance. All great results produced by human endeavor depend on taking advantage of these singular states when they occur.

There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.

The man of tact says “the right word at the right time,” and, “a word spoken in due season how good is it!” The man of no tact is like vinegar upon nitre when he sings his songs to a heavy heart. The ill-timed admonition hardens the heart, and the good resolution, taken when it is sure to be broken, becomes macadamised into pavement for the abyss.

It appears then that in our own nature there are more singular points,—where prediction, except from absolutely perfect data, and guided by the omniscience of contingency, becomes impossible,—than there are in any lower organisation. But singular points are by their very nature isolated, and form no appreciable fraction of the continuous course of our existence. Hence predictions of human conduct may be made in many cases. First, with respect to those who have no character at all, especially when considered in crowds, after the statistical method. Second with respect to individuals of confirmed character, with respect to actions of the kind for which their character is confirmed.”

John Henry Newman on evolution and man’s origin

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“Does Scripture contradict [Darwin’s] theory?—was Adam not immediately taken from the dust of the earth? ‘All are of dust’ —Eccles 3:20 — yet we never were dust — we are from fathers. Why may not the same be the case with Adam? … I don’t know why Adam needs be immediately out of dust — Formavit Deus hominem de limo terrae [God formed man from the dust of the earth]—i.e. out of what really was dust and mud in nature, before He made it what it was, living.”

John Henry Newman, Letter to E.B. Pusey (The Oratory, 5 June 1870)

Pope Francis to Scientists on Lemaitre, Einstein and Aquinas

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Dear friends,

I extend a heartfelt welcome to you all, and I thank Brother Guy Consolmagno for his kind words.

The issues you have been addressing during these days at Castel Gandolfo are of particular interest to the Church, because they have to do with questions that concern us deeply, such as the beginning of the universe and its evolution, and the profound structure of space and time, to name but a few.  It is clear that these questions have a particular relevance for science, philosophy, theology and for the spiritual life.  They represent an arena in which these different disciplines meet and sometimes clash.

As both a Catholic priest and a cosmologist, Msgr. Georges Lemaître knew well the creative tension between faith and science, and always defended the clear methodological distinction between the fields of science and theology.  While integrating them in his own life, he viewed them as distinct areas of competence. That distinction, already present in Saint Thomas Aquinas, avoids a short-circuiting that is as harmful to science as it is to faith.

Before the immensity of space-time, we humans can experience awe and a sense of our own insignificance, as the Psalmist reminds us:  “What is man that you should keep him in mind, the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps 8:5). As Albert Einstein loved to say: “One may say the eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility.” The existence and intelligibility of the universe are not a result of chaos or mere chance, but of God’s Wisdom, present “at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old” (Prov. 8:22).

I am deeply appreciative of your work, and I encourage you to persevere in your search for truth. For we ought never to fear truth, nor become trapped in our own preconceived ideas, but welcome new scientific discoveries with an attitude of humility. As we journey towards the frontiers of human knowledge, it is indeed possible to have an authentic experience of the Lord, one which is capable of filling our hearts.

Greeting Address to the participants of the Conference organized by the Vatican Observatory,  Friday, 12 May 2017

Source: Vatican homepage 

 

 

Stanley L. Jaki – Science as a Pathway to God

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Stanley L. Jaki was born in 1924 in Györ, Hungary. He entered the Benedictine Order in 1942. After completing his undergraduate training in philosophy, theology and RoadofScience200mathematics in 1947, he went to the Pontifical Institute of San Anselmo, Rome, where he received a doctorate in theology in December 1950. In 1948 he was ordained a priest. Dr. Jaki held the STD in systematic theology, Istituto Pontificio di S. Anselmo (Rome, 1950), a PhD in physics from Fordham University (1957), and several honorary doctorates. Dr. Jaki gave the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh in 1974-75 and 1975-76. The lectures were published as The Road of Science and the Ways of God. In 1987, he was awarded  the Templeton Prize for furthering understanding of science and religion. Jaki authored more than two dozen books on the relation between modern science and orthodox Christianity.

From 1951, Dr. Jaki taught systematic theology at the School of Theology of St Vincent College, Latrobe, Pennsylvania. During this time, he attended in the same college courses in American history, literature, mathematics and sciences to secure American recognition of his undergraduate training done in Hungary. He received his BS from St Vincent College in 1954. The same year, he began doctoral research in physics in the Graduate School of Fordham University, New York, under the mentorship of the late Dr. Victor F. Hess, the discoverer of cosmic rays and a Nobel-laureate. Dr. Jaki’s thesis was published in the June 1958 issue of Journal of Geophysical Research under the title, “A Study of the Distribution of Radon, Thoron, and Their Decay Products Above and Below the Ground.” Between 1958 and 1960 he did research in the history and philosophy of physics at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley. From 1960 to 1962 he was Visiting Fellow in the Program for the History and Philosophy of Science at Princeton University. From 1962 to 1965 he wrote the important work, The Relevance of Physics (University of Chicago Press, 1966). From 1975 to his death, he was Distinguished University Professor at Seton Hall University, in South Orange, New Jersey. He held doctorates in theology and in physics and was a leading contributor to the philosophy of science and the history of science, particularly to their relationship to Christianity.

He was among the first to claim that Gödel’s incompleteness theorem is relevant for theories of everything (TOE) in theoretical physics. Gödel’s theorem states that any theory that includes certain basic facts of number theory and is computably enumerable will be either incomplete or inconsistent. Since any ‘theory of everything’ must be consistent, it also must be incomplete.

He died on 7 April 2009 in Madrid, Spain following a heart attack. He was in Spain visiting friends, on his way back to the United States after delivering lectures in Rome on Faith and Science at the Pontificio Ateneo Regina Apostolorum.

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Sources: Griffolds Lectures,  Wikipedia

Further recommended reading:

John J. Mulloy, Fr. Stanley L. Jaki on Science as a Pathway to God

John Beaumont, Does science disprove God? A great philosopher-priest showed that it couldn’t 

Stacy A Trasancos, Fr. Stanley Jaki’s Definition of Science