Lost and Found

G. K. Chesterton once told a story about "an English yachtsman who slightly miscalculated his course and discovered England under the impression that it was an island in the South Seas." The yachtsman "landed (armed to the teeth and speaking by signs) to plant the British flag on that barbaric temple which turned out to be the pavilion at Brighton." Expecting to have discovered New South Wales, he realized "that it was really old South Wales." Chesterton was talking about the way in which we cast off the truths we learned as children, only later, if we are fortunate, to rediscover them as adults. What we dismissed as "simple" often turns out to be far more profound than we ever imagined. According to Stephen M. Barr, a theoretical particle physicist at the University of Delaware, what's true about people is also true about science. In his new book, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, Barr tells us that after the "twists" and "turns" that science took in the twentieth century, it, like Chesterton's yachtsman, wound up in "very familiar surroundings": a universe that "seems to have had a beginning . . . [and is] governed by laws that have a grandeur and sublimity that bespeak design." Instead of man being merely the result of a "fortuitous concourse of atoms," we now know that the "universe and its laws seem in some respect to balance on a knife's edge" -- exactly what is needed for the possibility of life. A slight deviation here or there, and we wouldn't exist -- the anthropic principle. These and other "recent discoveries have begun to confound the materialist's expectations and confirm those of the believer in God," writes Barr. Notice, he said "materialist's," not "scientist's." As Barr makes clear, sciences like modern physics can and must be separated from materialism. Materialism is the belief that nothing exists besides matter, and it is a philosophical opinion. It may have, as Barr puts it, "[grown] up alongside science," but it's not science. Remember that, a critical point. The assumption that you have to take a materialist worldview in order to do science is simply wrong. There's nothing about physics, for example, that assumes, much less demands, that view of the universe. In fact, many of the greatest scientists, like Newton, Galileo, and Copernicus, were religious believers. Despite these facts, philosophical materialism has become so identified with science that scientists, and the general public, often have trouble telling them apart, which is why the discoveries that Barr describes come as a surprise, and their implications are resisted by many within the academy. These implications aren't inconsistent with science, but rather with their dogmatic materialist worldview. Resisting these implications has required ingenious, almost fanciful, attempts to interpret the evidence in a way consistent with the materialist worldview. Tomorrow I'll tell you about some of these discoveries and how they have "damaged the credibility of materialism." It's an important story about how science, far from being the enemy of faith, is only at war with those who, against the evidence, insist that England is "Tahiti." For further reading and information: Stephen M. Barr, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith (University of Notre Dame Press, 2003). Robin Collins, "Religion and Science Revisited," First Things, November 2003. Joshua Gilder, "Signposts of the Divine," National Review, 21 April 2003. BreakPoint Commentary No. 031204, "We've Been Lied To: Christianity and the Rise of Science." Roberto Rivera, "Gods and Peanuts: Reason and Revelation," BreakPoint Online, 22 May 2002. Al Dobras, "It's All about Luck," BreakPoint Online, 7 April 2003. BreakPoint Commentary No. 020627, "Considering the Evidence." (Archived commentary; free registration required.) Jimmy Davis and Harry Poe, Designer Universe: Intelligent Design and the Existence of God (Broadman and Holman, 2002). Dale Alquist, G. K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense(Ignatius Press, 2003).


Chuck Colson


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