Initial comment by N Beale: This is in many ways an annoyingly "gee-wizz" programme. The presenter cleary has never heard of Godel's Theorem and contrasts "scientific proof" with "faith" in a very naive way. But there are some intresting people and interesting remarks. I haven't had time to annotate it all - but my annotations are in blue so they are not confused with the text.

"TESTING GOD" : KILLING THE CREATOR"

Programme 1

Voice over:

"The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And God said, let there be light". Genesis.

 

For millennia, we accepted that our world had been created by God. Then science began to challenge this belief.

 

To be fobbed off with a cheap supernatural explanation, it really doesnít explain anything. I think it actually is mentally degrading.

Commentary:

But however much science advanced, a complete explanation of creation remained elusive.

Physicist: University of Cambridge

If you ask it at a very deep level, if you want to know why is the universe the way it is, we are nowhere near answering that question in science. And weíre no closer now than the Ancient Greeks were.

Commentary:

In the days when creation was a mystery, belief in God gave meaning to our struggles, to our lives.

 

But was God real, or just something we had invented to cover our ignorance and ease our pain?

Jocelyn Bell Burnell: Astronomer, The Open University (she actually discovered pulsars and should have shared the Nobel with Ryle and Hewish)

I can never prove to somebody else the satisfaction that the god that I perceive is not simply a figment of my imagination. But I personally donít believe that I have invented God.

Commentary:

The modern rational world finds fewer of us drawn to church, or speaking of god. Yet a yearning for there to be a reason for our existence out there has never gone away.

Jurgen Moltmann: Theologian, University of Tubingen

If you feel the absence of god, you also feel the dark night of your soul. You listen to nothing, you see nothing, you taste nothing, you just close yourself in.

Roger Penrose: Mathematician, University of Oxford

If youíre saying has science somehow removed the mystery of that, absolutely not. If you like, the god problem has got pushed from one place to a deeper place.

 

Killing the Creator

Commentary:

There are no simple answers on this journey. More than 20 years ago, minister and theologian, Don Cupitt, had a mission to explain the meaning of God in peopleís lives. In radio and television he articulated a belief in God that made sense in the modern world.

Don Cupitt: Theologian, University of Oxford (a notorious God is Dead nutter - not at all a mainstream theologian)

I think until the 1950s and 60s, it was possible to believe that there were certain fixed certainties out there by which one could live. But cultural change, since that time, has gradually eroded the certainties for all of us.

Commentary:

But his mission has not ended as he expected.

 

In the last few years he has found it impossible to reconcile his once simple faith with the rational and scientific world around him.

Don Cupitt:

Itís very hard to describe how oneís whole system of thought gradually changes and evolves, but it does. I think many people suddenly wake up one morning and find they no longer believe some belief thatís been very important to them in the past. I used to think there was reality out there, God out there, so I saw life as a kind of dialogue between oneís self and the supremely real, in relation to which one lived. God was the basis on which everything else exists. God was the foundation of everything. That god is dead. That god is dead. That god is dead.

Commentary:

Cupitt stands in a long line of intelligent thinkers who have found traditional religious teaching co-exists uneasily with scientific discovery.

Paul Davies: Theoretical Physicist. Adelaide University

I think itís undeniably true that if you look at the great revolutions in human thought, going back say to Copernicus, and then followed by the work of Newton and Darwin and then Einstein, each of these, in their own way, I think, has shaken the foundations of the Christian religion, I think weíre talking very much of Christian terms in this discussion. I canít say for other religions, but as far as the Christian religion is concerned, which was the dominant religion in Europe where science began, it has been, historically, a sequence of retreats by religion in the face of scientific advance. I think itís got to the point where most people probably feel that science has won the battle, that religion has very little to offer when it comes to explaining the natural world.

Commentary:

Ever since science first looked at the heavens and puzzled at what lay beyond, Godís unquestioned role as Creator has been under attack.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell:

In the Middle Ages in particular, they understood a certain amount of scientific process, and then there was a gap in their understanding, and they understood the next bit. So they God did this bit that we donít understand. Then as their scientific knowledge increased, the gap narrowed and God was out of a job.

Commentary:

Since the Renaissance, science has pushed God back. But not until the Ď60s did the gaps for which he was needed look like disappearing altogether. The breakthroughs made by astronomers and physicists began to make it seem that scientific inquiry, not the word of God, was the route to absolute truth.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell:

There was a fantastic decade or two in the 1960s, early 70s, where radio astronomy in particular pulled in a number of major discoveries. It was an incredibly exciting time, very heady, and just the kind of circumstances where you might go overboard and think youíd hit "Absolute Truth" with capital A and capital T. There were several things that I can recall happening; one was the discovery of pulsars that I was involved with. When we first stumbled over the pulsar signals, we were quite sure there was something wrong with the equipment.

Commentary:

The signal they had come across was unlike anything they had ever seen or heard before. These pulsars were stars more massive than the sun, but smaller than the moon. The fantastic density of these exotic objects would provide the first clue to where our universe itself had come from. This, not the word of God, seemed the material of creation now.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell:

It turned out there was nothing wrong with the equipment, and these pulsars are tiny, tiny stars. Theyíre compact, theyíre very dense, and they opened up a whole new load of physics.

Commentary:

It seemed the universe was capable of things even Einstein hadnít suspected.

 

One of the men working at this frontier was Roger Penrose. He was convinced that pulsars were only the beginning, and that there were things in the universe that the known laws of physics couldnít explain. Singularities of infinite density, known today as black holes.

Roger Penrose:

If you have a situation where thereís enough material falling together, which in the situation we now call a black hole, Einsteinís equations run out, if you like, theyíve come to a place where you canít continue them. The singularities tell you an end of the very notion of space time geometry, as described by Einsteinís equation. So, in a sense, weíve got to have something new. Thatís the end of the physics that we knew before, if you like.

Commentary:

Penrose wanted to prove that matter could disappear, but in doing so, he inadvertently came across the back door to creation, because if matter could disappear in to nothing, then it was only one bold leap to imagine the reverse, that matter could appear out of nothing: the Big Bang.

Roger Penrose:

The work that I did, and then, subsequently, Stephen Hawking, showed that the same applies when you work your way back to the beginning of time. You find again there is a singular state, and thatís the Big Bang singularity.

Commentary:

Penrose and Hawking's work was a revolution. They had proved that theory could explain even the beginning of the universe. Scienceís next triumph was to find the physical proof.

This timing is wrong - Big Bang theory and the discovery of the Cosmic Background predates Hawking and Penrose.

It came unexpectedly. On a clear spring day in 1965, on a hilltop in New Jersey, came an unbidden whisper.Scientists working here at Bell Labs were the first to hear, lost in the roar of the universe, a whisper of the moment of creation.They found their microwave antenna had a persistent hiss.At first, they thought it was pigeons living in the horn antenna. Then when they saw the frequency of the sound, they realised this ugly hiss was exactly the frequency theory had predicted the radiation from the Big Bang would have.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell:

Yes, discovering that cosmic microwave background, or the heat or hiss left over, certainly made astronomers much, much more confident that they understood the Big Bang and 15 billion years swathe of the universal history. And certainly for those of us who are astronomers and religious, the question promptly comes up, what was godís role in all this, or even did God have a role in all this.

Commentary:

For some, this sound of the background radiation is the sound of godís absence. The picture it produces on a television, a vision of a creation without a creator.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell:

Did god have a role in all this?

Paul Davies:

Thereís no need to have a creator god who sits around for all eternity, planning a universe, and then presses a button, makes the Big Bang go bang. We donít need that any more, and I think itís a rotten idea theologically anyway. I think itís a good thing we dispose of the god who is there before the universe.

Commentary:

So in this modern age, physics has become our Satanic tempter. Promising to rid us of god and answer all our questions, asking us, why prefer superstition over knowledge, why blind faith over inquiry. "Why but to awe, why but to keep you low and ignorant, his worshippers. He knows that in the day you eat there of, your eyes which seemed so clear, and yet are dim, shall perfectly be open and cleared. And you shall be as gods." Satan, from ĎParadise Lostí But have the very certainties of science robbed us of what we most desire, a purpose for our lives, a reason for being here.

Rocky Kolb: Cosmologist, Fermilab

In the past it was just believed that 6,000 years ago, last Tuesday, god created the universe, and thatís the end of it. but we never learned anything there, thatís a dead end. Every culture has had a cosmology, and it used to be that cosmologists wore robes and were associated with religious things, and now itís the scientists who are the cosmologists, and there is a different way of understanding nature based upon science, based upon experiment, rather than based upon some sort of revealed truth of scripture.

Commentary:

The gospel according to physics left us on the fringes of creation.

Rocky Kolb:

We, on the earth, do not occupy any special position in the universe. We are certainly not at the centre of the solar system, weíre not at the centre of our galaxy, and our galaxy is not at the centre of the universe. The universe exists on the basis of the laws of nature, and we are here riding along in the expansion of the universe, and weíre here for a few billion years until the sun burns out, and I donít think thereís any meaning to that.

Commentary:

But do we really have to accept this godless universe, or is scienceís claim to victory over god premature?

Commentary:

The great breakthrough of the Big Bang theory of the 1970s had been to show that just as matter can collapse in on itself, until it disappears in to absolutely nothing, so by simply reversing the equations, matter could spring out of nothing. But the theory left unanswered the deeper question, of why there had been a Big Bang at all. All they really had a was a theory without a cause.

Paul Davies:

Itís important to understand that the Big Bang theory was around for a long time, without any attempt to explain what caused the event itself. So, you know, in the 50s and Ď60s, when the evidence was piling up in favour of the Big Bang theory, it was considered that the originating event was off limits, that it was simply an event without a cause, so one can say nothing at all about what set the thing off in the first place.

Commentary:

So, for a while, it seemed the Creator God, like some endangered species, would survive in this last gap in our knowledge.

Paul Davies:

So long as the originating event was outside the scope of science, it was always possible to argue that one had to have god to, as it were, light the blue touch paper. I always regarded that as the last refuge of the god of the gaps. If science canít explain something, you wheel god in to offer an explanation.

Commentary:

If science was finally going to close that last refuge of the god of the gaps, scientists needed to investigate what the universe was like when it began. To do that, they needed to find a way of looking much further back in time than they could with any telescope, right back to the very first instant of the universeís existence.

Rocky Kolb:

No matter how large of a telescope we build, we canít look out in space, back in time, earlier than 300,000 years after the Bang, because for the first 300,000 year history of the universe, the universe was so hot and dense, we could not see through it. So we have to find another way of looking at the early universe, and the way we can do it is to re-create what we believe the conditions of the early universe to be, recreate them in the laboratory, and thatís what we do at Atom Ssmashers, at Particle Accelerators.

Commentary:

At Particle Accelerators, like Fermilab in America, scientists use immense machines to recreate the conditions of the Big Bang.

 

Deep underground in the massive Tevertron Collider, thousands of supercooled magnets use vast amounts of electricity to accelerate plasma beams of matter and anti-matter to almost the speed of light.

Franco Bedeschi: Physicist

When weíre running the machine, the amount of our electricity bills run around $1 million per month.

Commentary:

Once the beams have reached the highest energy levels the magnets can stand, they are collided in this vast particle detecting machine.

Catherine Newman Holmes: Project Manager, Fermilab

(name) is the collider detector at Fermilab, thatís what we call this monster detector here. Particles will collide in the centre of this detector, but actually it would be what is in there, you can see the places where the beam comes in.

Commentary:

When collisions occur within the detector, it is not fragments of particles that are produced, it is pure energy.

Rocky Kolb:

At Fermilab, we can create energies that were present in the universe four pico-seconds after the Bang, four millionth, millionth of a second after the Bang, when the temperature was a gazillion degrees. Itís - the numbers are so large, or so small that itís sort of beyond our everyday experience.

Commentary:

At such extreme temperatures, in line with the strange laws of quantum mechanics, the energy takes on the form of the primordial particles of the Big Bang. In effect, the scientists are forcing in to existence the very first things which existed in our universe.

 

If the scientists can recreate conditions like the Big Bang, in which matter appeared out of nothing, what need for a creator?

 

In effect, this is an experiment for replacing the blue touchpaper god.

 

What Fermilab does is examine our universe in the instants after the Big Bang, when the universe was entirely governed by quantum mechanics. But in pushing their understanding all the way back, scientists contributed to a major theoretical breakthrough. They realised the nothing, the very void from which our universe sprang, is itself governed by the same bizarre principles of quantum mechanics.

Rocky Kolb:

A picture of nothing is very different in the 20th Century than the picture of nothing before the advent of quantum mechanics. One of the basic tenets of quantum mechanics is a principle of uncertainty, namely the uncertainty principle by Werner Heisenberg. And because of the uncertainty principle, energy can be violated for a brief instant of time, so at any point in space, itís possible for a particle and anti-particle to pop out of the vacuum, existing for a brief instant, violating in some sense conservation of energy for an instant, before they annihilate and go back in to the vacuum. So if you could see nature on microscopic scales, you would not see a quiescent space, but what you would see would be a quantum foam, a frothing of particles and anti- particles popping out of the vacuum, and then annihilating again. So before the Big Bang there was nothing. There was no space and not time, no universe. There was no before and no after. Then because of quantum uncertainty, an expanding bubble of vacuum came in to being. This expanding bubble of vacuum grew to enormous size, and that is the entire universe that we see.

Commentary:

What Particle Accelerators have helped confirm is that the Big Bang did not need a supernatural cause. The void from which our universe sprang is, in fact, made of energy, positive and negative, in perfect balance. And why the Big Bang should have violated this balance, is because nature - at the quantum level - can and does suffer the uncertainty of random events.And more startling still, the scientists said nothing could precede that moment. So the Big Bang, the moment of creation, was just one random event in a timeless nothing.

Paul Davies:

The Big Bang was not the explosion of a lump of something in a pre-existing void, it was the origin of space and time as well as matter and energy. When people say, well, what happened before the Big Bang, the answer was nothing, nothing simply because there was no time before the Big Bang. Time itself didnít exist. Stephen Hawking said itís a little bit like saying what lies north of the North Pole, again, the answer is nothing, not because thereís some mysterious land of nothing there, but because there ainít no such place as north of the North Pole, while in the same way there ainít no such time as before the Big Bang.

Rocky Kolb:

The Big Bang was the emergence of time itself, and when you asked the question what came before, or what came after, you have in the back of your mind some picture of time is smoothly flowing, is smoothly flowing. But if the Big Bang was really the emergence of the universe, a very beginning of the universe, itís also the very beginning of time itself, the very beginning of time itself.. time itself.. time itself..

Commentary:

As strange encounter intuitive as quantum mechanics is, scientists have subsequently been able to check everything that they predicted with practical observations.

 

Nothing was needed to set the universe going. No blue touchpaper, no creator god.

 

Is this good news or bad?

Paul Davies:

Iím really quite delighted that the originating event of the universe, the Big Bang itself, can now be discussed entirely within the scope of physics, that we donít need to appeal to anything peculiar about setting the thing off.

 

This is a positive step here, because step number one is letís get rid of the ultimate god of the gaps, the god who presses the button and makes the Big Bang go bang. We donít want that sort of god, we donít want a god who makes the universe as a supernatural act, a time to equal zero. So thatís a great step forward. Then the question is, is there any room for god at all?

Traffic Police:

If science is trying to prove that there donít exist a god, that all of a sudden everything that we see and do came about by a Big Bang theory, so to speak, but how did they get those laws, the laws and the gravity and all that kind of thing, where did those laws come from? I mean, they based their laws on what somebody else gave. So who gave them the law?

Commentary:

That was the point. Quantum mechanics might replace the god who rested on the seventh day, but how could a random fluctuation of energy deliver a universe with everything just right to produce human consciousness?

Traffic Police:

Who put it together? Can they explain that? I doubt it.

Interviewer:

Thank you.

Traffic Police:

Take it easy. Have a good day.

Roger Penrose:

Well, thatís a good point, in a sense. Yeah. I mean where science has pushed these problems is not so much in the creation, but in the actual nature of the equations, the nature of the laws that we have, the quantum mechanics that we have and so on. Itís all very intricately constructed, and extraordinary. When you look at these things, you come across them, when you finally learn, you know, what it is that makes things behave in one way or another, we find these amazing mathematical laws which govern them. Weíd never have thought of them otherwise, theyíre just fantastic. Now, thatís where we are now, we donít know why the laws are of the form they are. Maybe weíll come to a better understanding later on. So, if you like, the god problem, has got pushed from one place to a deeper place.

Commentary:

By the end of the 20th Century, scientists had an almost complete understanding of the fundamental particles and forces, which describe nearly perfectly how a creatorless universe works.

 

Only then, as they stood back from their victory, did they realise they were facing a far deeper question. Why these forces, why this maths? The intricate laws of physics were built around certain principles the scientists had observed in nature, but couldnít explain.

 

The focus now shifted to these parameters. Were they there by chance or by design?

Frank tipler: Cosmologist, Tulane University

Our set of physical laws have these arbitrary parameters in them. For example, the standard model of particle physics has seventeen, which are just put in by hand, which are determined by experiment. Theyíre not determined in the standard model by fundamental physics. That could be anything.

Commentary:

For many scientists, what they were was all that mattered. What else they might have been was irrelevant.

Paul Davies:

I think it was considered, you know, not quite real science because, after all, it is in a very real sense metaphysics, not physics, because weíre looking here not at the consequences of the physical laws, but a sort of meta-universe of different possible laws. In the early days, there was a feeling that this whole subject area was just a little bit dubious.

Commentary:

But a few realised these were precisely the questions physics had to answer. One of the most prominent was Frank Tipler. For Tipler, saying something was fundamental was not enough. He insisted there had to be a deeper theory of how the fundamental or constant parameters of the universe came to be so finely tuned.

Frank Tipler:

If you vary such things, like the proton mass, by a factor of two, then all sorts of weird things happen in the structure of stars. We canít have these long burning stars, like our own sun, if these structure constants are changed very, very much.

 

So, the question that arises, why do the constants have the values they actually do.

Commentary:

This deceptively simple question rocked physics. It meant that scientists had to explain why the universe was the particular way it was.

Paul Davies:

Now youíre in to much more fertile territory, because you can ask is there anything special or particular about the actual laws of the universe as opposed to other possible laws, other possible universes. And, lo and behold, well, there is rather a long list of rather special things. For example, if gravity was just a little bit stronger, or electro-magnetism a little bit weaker, or if the mass of the electron were just a tiny bit more, or the mass of the proton a little bit less, well, almost certainly the universe we see would be dramatically transformed. There probably wouldnít be complex structures, there probably wouldnít be life and observers and people like us sitting around pondering on the significance of it all.

 

So only in such a universe in which the values are very finely tuned, can intelligent life arise.

Commentary:

So the scientists had to explain the fine tuning of an apparently designed universe, without invoking a designer.

 

They realised there were only two other possible explanations.

Frank Tipler:

First of all, the over-riding law of physics which we have not yet discovered, which will be called the theory of everything, would say that there is only one logically possible universe, that when you understand this theory of everything, you will see that these apparently arbitrary physical fundamental constants are not fundamental at all, that they have specific values coming from the logical structure of the theory, and there is no other possible physical theory.

Commentary:

The theory of everything, if ever it were found, would not need arbitrary assumptions and constants to make it work. Everything would turn out to flow logically from explicable mathematical principles. But in the last few years physicists have discovered the cosmological constant. A number at the heart of the universe that is so strange, even the most hard core theorists feel it will never be explained. And without an explanation, they will never have the theory of everything.

Neil Turok: Theoretical Physicist University of Cambridge

When youíre faced with a cosmological constant, which is ridiculously tiny, it will be a powerful argument against theoretical physics ever explaining this number, because itís hard - simply because itís hard to imagine ten to the power of 100 - minus 120 ever emerging as a - some number of powers of pi and factors of two and those sort of things that will come out of mathematical formulae. So from a sort of pure physicistís point of view, when you look at this you just say sort of, ug, this is really ugly. Okay. Weíve got a long way to go. And that is one possible attitude, is that we are nowhere near actually explaining everything in the universe. There are weird coincidences we donít understand. Now, it could be the observations are wrong, okay, and we will go back to the golden days of physics where we wonít have to explain this terrible fine tuning. However, it could be theyíre right, and we have to explain the tuning.

Commentary:

Instead of a theory of everything, physicists then came up with a new idea to explain a way the astronomical odds against this universe being just right. It wasnít the only universe, there were trillions of them.

Frank Tipler:

The next explanation is that there are many universes out there in which the constants have all sorts of values, but we only see that tiny fraction of reality in which the constants have just the right values to allow beings like ourselves to evolve.

Rocky Kolb:

The laws of physics, the laws of nature are one way in the universe we observe, but in some other region, in another universe, the laws of nature may be completely different. So if we would step back and look on scales much larger than we can see in our universe today, we may see many isolated bubbles that are an enormous size, and would be universes in their own right. So it would be a multi-verse.

Commentary:

In this multi-verse, there would be every possible universe. So the fact that one of them turns out to be just right to support life, isnít so remarkable. This is a theory physics currently puts up as its explanation of the designer-free universe.

John Polkinghorne: Physicist and Theologian University of Cambridge

Well, you could say that there are perhaps just lots and lots of universes and thereís just one that by chance will produce carbon based life and, of course, thatís the one that we live in because we couldnít appear in any other. Thatís a very prodigal assumption that there are lots and lots of other universes and there would have to be trillions of them to make the argument plausible. And it doesnít seem to me to do any other piece of work than simply explaining away the fine tuning of this particular universe.

Commentary:

So itís either a prodigal number of universes or the last and, perhaps, most intuitive solution - god.

Frank Tipler:

A third explanation is that there is only one universe, and these particular constants were fixed by god for a purpose.

Commentary:

John Polkinghorne was, for 25 years, Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge, before he was ordained as a minister of the church.

John Polkinghorne:

I didnít leave science because I was disillusioned with it, but, simply, because theology I find even more interesting than physics, because, essentially, itís asking yet deeper and more comprehensive questions than science itself addresses. Itís asking the questions of meaning and purpose, is there something going on in the history of the universe. Well, science is really describing the process thatís going on.

 

The fundamental question on which science, I think, gets stuck, and which theology has an answer, is to say where do the laws of nature come from, where do the quantum vacuum come from, where are the laws of quantum mechanics to control it come from, where are the fields that are fluctuating in the vacuum, where did they come from. I think that belief in the world as a creation is a much more economic explanatory argument than simply supposing there are lots and lots of different universes.

Commentary:

The fine tuned laws of our universe are telling us that one way or another, reality is far larger than just our universe. Whether this ultimate reality is god or a vast multi-verse of universes, we cannot objectively know, unless, of course, we are willing to bring other kinds of evidence to bear.

John Polkinghorne:

The question would be then are the laws of nature in themselves sufficiently self-contained, sufficiently easy to accept as brute fact, or do they have features in them which point beyond themselves. It seems to me that their rational beauty and their finely tuned fruitfulness are features that do suggest there is more to learn than simply saying, thatís the way it happens to be. And it seems to me natural to believe that the rational order and beauty is an expression of a divine mind, and the finely tuned fruitfulness is an expression of a divine purpose.

Neil Turok:

To me thatís not an explanation, thatís just a cop out. I would say the whole goal of theoretical physics has been to see how much we can understand without invoking someone twiddling the dials. To the extent itís succeeded, and it has succeeded dramatically, all the technology around us is a result of physics at some level, and physical understanding. To the extent itís succeeded, itís been a justification of the attitude that we can make progress without thinking about someone twiddling the dials.

Paul Davies:

If you ask an atheist why are those laws, and where do the laws come from, I suppose the answer youíll be given is, well, there is no particular reason for them, they exist reasonlessly. Thatís the doctrine of cosmic absurdity. Itís a bit of an inconsistency there, because the whole idea of science is that weíre supposed to give logical and rational explanations for things, and if you trace that down to the starting point, the laws, and say, well, thereís no explanation for those, we just have to sort of accept them as given, as a brute fact, then that means doing a sort of backflip at the final stage. It says that we live in a universe which is rational and logical in every respect, but underpinning it is absurdity. So I find that rather sort of uncongenial. It seems to me that it ought to be rational right the way down.

Commentary:

So despite agreeing that our universe is special, and that its special quality needs explaining, science and religion still stand apart. Neither can produce the ultimate proof. Yet each sees the otherís explanation as more irrational than their own.

Paul Davies:

What are we trying to get out of ultimate explanations? Weíre trying to explain the world in terms of something that we can all agree on. Ultimately, we can say that is a starting point we accept as given. Now, thereís a famous parable, the ĎTower of Turtlesí, which I think goes back to Bertrand Russell, and Stephen Hawking recounts it in his famous book, and just to tell the story, itís that the lecturer is talking about the nature of the universe, and a woman stands up at the back and interrupts, and this sort of thingís happened to me, I might say, and she says, you might be very clever, but I know how the world is put together, and the lecturer says, well, do tell us, and she says, well, the earth is standing on the back of an elephant, standing on the back of a turtle, and the lecturer replies, well, whatís the turtle standing on, and the woman says, oh, you canít trick me, itís turtles all the way down. Well, I think that actually is a wonderful story. That explains really rather well the dilemma that weíre up against because, you see, if weíre trying to explain the world based upon something else, something supporting it, and then something supporting that and so on, what do we do? We either have an infinite regress, which isnít very satisfactory, or we have a sort of levitating super turtle that is something that you just have to accept as given. Its explanation lies within itself, maybe thatís a necessary god, maybe itís a set of laws that we simply accept as a brute fact. But itís always sort of unsatisfactory to have this levitating super turtle.

John Polkinghorne:

Now, of course, theology doesnít tell us where god came from, but everybody has to have a non-explained starting point. And my point of contention would be that a divine agent is a more fitting starting - unexplained starting point for a world that contains persons and values, as well as beautiful science, than simply the brute fact of matter itself.

Commentary:

So some scientists, like John Polkinghorne, accept that god is an unexplained starting point, but are quite happy with this.

 

Other scientists, like Neil Turok, reject god, but realise their own solution of an infinite number of universes solves the improbability of our universe being just so, but isnít really an explanation at all.

Neil Turok:

Weíre, in a way, forced to contemplate these parallel universes of possibility when we think about quantum mechanics.

Interviewer:

Why isnít that a solution then?

Neil Turok:

Itís not at all a solution. Itís why - why do all these possibilities exist, you know. Thatís an even deeper mystery. Why did somebody set in place all these different possibilities. Itís a much bigger problem than you had in the first place. It doesnít solve anything, it just makes it harder.

Commentary:

Proposing an infinite number of universes had a startling consequence. It meant inescapably that our physics was just one chance set of laws in one chance universe. The only reason scientists were studying it, was that it had, by chance, created them. So instead of allowing god to have defined our universe, what those scientists are saying is that the universe is defined by our presence in it, and the implications of this are profound.

Neil Turok:

We hoped we would explain everything about the universe, that was the dream. As soon as we start saying that the universe depends on us being there, we have retreated. Okay. And maybe we have to. Maybe that is the way the world works. And unfortunately, we will never have a theory that explains everything, weíll only explain the universe as containing us

Commentary:

So, in the end, for physics, when asked why this universe is the way it is, the answer, the unexplained first principle of this universe, the name of physicsís levitating super turtle is us, me.

Neil Turok:

We hoped we would explain everything.. We hoped we would explain everything about the universe. That was the dream. That was the dream.. We have retreated, and maybe we have to. We have retreated. We hoped we would explain everything. That was the dream, that was the dream, that was the dream.. If you like, you give up the chance of explaining the fact that we exist by just assuming it.

Commentary:

So the temptation of science has not succeeded. We are not yet as gods with the complete knowledge of why we exist. Physics did kill the old creator by revealing how the universe began without him. But in attempting to explain away the amazing coincidence of its fine tune design, the old physics killed itself too. And in doing so, it opened the door to a new and more subtle understanding of physics and of god.

John Polkinghorne:

Give a scientific story in terms of our unfolding of certain consequences of the laws of nature doesnít mean god didnít do it. It isnít either god or nature, it is a god who works through nature, the nature that god creates and holds in being.

Commentary:

So whether by divine creation, or simply by chance, the result is the same, our unlikely and extraordinary universe, poised between order and chaos between the land and the sea, is the narrow strip of restless potential that defines us and our world. A world poised for life, for us.

Roger Penrose:

People say, okay, you know, itís a great advance in understanding to say that weíre not the centre of the universe, and thereís all that universe out there, but itís not just distance which is important, itís not just mass thatís important. The important thing is consciousness, this quality which seems to have evolved on this planet.

Commentary:

Science itself has put us back where religion always said we were, at the centre of the universe. The miracle of creation is not that the universe exists, but that we are in it to witness it.Science and religion agree on one thing, we are the true measure of this universe.

To part 2.