Thank you to the organizing committee of the National Prayer Breakfast for giving me the opportunity to discuss with you the interplay between the discoveries of science and the teachings of the Bible.
I bring you blessings of peace from my hometown, the city of Jerusalem where many of our thoughts about God originate.
I have to say right at the start that an evening after dinner talk is also fraught with obstacles, not the least of which is staying awake. SO, if you notice persons dozing off, please do not wake them. Let them sleep. Science has come to the rescue of the boring after dinner speaker. Science has proven unequivocally that sleep improves the immune system. So who ever sleeps through my talk will be healthier when they leave than when they came in.
But if I wanted to wake up the table I might ask you to discuss a few of the classic science-Bible debates now. Want to heat up the room? How about Adam? Really the first person? I thought people go back 80,000 years. Of course it all depends on how we define what makes a person a person. And evolution? What does the Bible say about that? Divine or Darwin? According to the Bible, it looks as if it might be a mix of both. These are questions I’ve taken up in my books.
I wasn’t always part of the science-Bible dialogue. For me, there was science for certain, and the Bible had stories.
Then, on a clear autumn morning in the Nevada desert, that was about to change.
My doctoral studies at MIT were an unusual combination of earth sciences and nuclear physics. That mix led me to witness a series of nuclear explosions: the testing of atomic bombs.
On that morning, I was sitting on the roof of a Department of Defense pickup truck atop the Rainier Mesa, in the United States’ Nevada Test Site.
Anyone from Nevada?
It’s about an hour and a half by car out of Vegas. I was part of a team to test what was predicted to be a moderately low yield tactical nuclear weapon designed with a new configuration of the uranium core. The weapon was buried deep within the mesa. I was one of a handful of scientists allowed to be on the mesa. The others were miles away, below on Yucca Flat. My colleagues whose job it was to estimate the energy release assured us that yield would be so low that they would be willing to stand at the epicenter atop the mesa and merely bend their knees to absorb the shock. I was 5 football fields back from the epicenter.
Calculating the potential power of a nuclear weapon is a mix of science and speculation. Today we were to discover the speculation can be way off base.
It was a bright, windless day and the stillness was as intense as the desert heat. I finished my bagged breakfast, and waited.
Five seconds to detonation, high-speed movie cameras started to whir. Four flashbulbs fired, marking the moment of detonation on the film.
At first, it seemed as if that was the end, for aside from the noise of the cameras, the desert remained silent.
Then it arrived.
My truck started to rock as if I was in a storm at sea.
The mesa turned into a bowl of shaking Jell-O.
The face of the mesa fell away to the alluvial flat below, a millennium of erosion in an instant. A sort of time warp in the jargon of relativistic physics.
The access road, the only exit we knew, was gone.
The Geiger counters were clicking. A radioactive cloud was coming towards us.
We retreated, bouncing over the rough desert terrain.
A few grams of uranium 235 were to have been converted into a modest burst of exquisitely hot energy.
As Einstein would say…. E equals ..MC squared.
We like to think humans are in control but at that moment I knew we weren’t.
Two hours later I was still trying to calm my nerves with a whiskey sour by the hotel pool in Las Vegas. It did not help. My life had changed. I found myself writing a letter to the only person of spirit whom I knew—and that barely—the MIT campus Rabbi.
That energy that blew the face of the mesa apart may have come from our tinkering with nature. But the bang it produced was intimately related to the big bang of creation
I had literally felt the Power behind the power…..
But the problem was, I wasn’t sure what that Power was.
That began a journey of exploration for me. Soon I was on my way to Jerusalem for deeper study. I signed up for what is called a yeshiva, where people study Bible 14 hours a day. I learned that just as I had skeptical questions about the Bible, my fellow students had questions about science. There was a common problem. It’s called ignorance. My ignorance of the Bible. Their ignorance of science.
I discovered that the Bible isn’t just about stories. Every word and every letter of the Bible is hypertext with wisdom embedded within.
King Solomon didn’t use the word hypertext but he understood the concept. He described it in Proverbs 25:11.
“A word well-spoken is like apples of gold in a dish of silver. “
When we look at the silver dish from a distance we can see the dish and its beauty and its value, but we can’t see what’s inside the dish.
Only when we bring the dish close in and see inside the bowl do we see the apples of gold. What’s the silver dish? The literal text of the Bible, the frontal teaching: do this, don’t do that, act this way, don’t act that way.
The golden apples are the deeper meaning held within the text: why the Bible spells a word in one location differently from another, why it chooses a specific word among many possibilities.
What’s true for biblical exegesis is true for nature as well.
The silver dish reading of the sun-earth system, is there goes the sun again moving around the earth. The apple of gold is , of course, quite the contrary and different from our total human perception. That’s the cosmic level.
For the Bible, it’s eminently true.
Let’s take the opening chapter of Genesis, the Creation chapter. Chapter 1 is divided into six days. At the end of each day, the same phrase is repeated as each day is numbered.
In English, it is usually translated as “there was evening and there was morning. Day one.” More events happened. There was evening and there was morning. A second day. There was evening and there was morning. A third day. And then comes the fourth day.
And behold, the sun is mentioned for the first time.
We have a problem here. There was certainly no sun on the first day. So how do we have evening which relates to sunset and morning which relates to sunrise? Today, in modern Hebrew the Hebrew word for evening is erev, but its meaning is derived from its root which means chaos or mixture. Why the relationship? With sunset, vision becomes blurry, chaotic. The exact opposite is with sunrise. The Hebrew word is boker, and indeed, it can mean morning. But since the sun isn’t yet mentioned, we have to find the apple of gold. When the sun rises, vision becomes clear, orderly. What the text has told us, is that something has happened in our universe that is totally unexpected. From out of a chaotic burst of energy, the ordered complexity of live has arisen.
There are three laws that govern all activities, all evens: the laws of thermodynamics, You can’t win, you can’t break even, and you can’t get out of the game—is that order never spontaneously arises from a disorderly system and remains orderly unless something in nature recognizes that order and preserves it.
Yet, here we have order arising from a chaotic burst of energy.
The Torah wants this message brought home, so repeats it six times in the subtle language or erev and boker.
What would science say? From the big bang creation, we have the complexity of life and brain and mind arising. Why is there something rather than nothing? How did consciousness arise from the inert molecules of rocks and water? There is no hint of self-awareness in the molecules that combined to form life, and yet self-awareness emerged. Atheists and believers agree on that wonder of emergence. The light beams of creation have become alive, feel love, joy, wonder. Where does the light beam have the chutzpah to feel love? From what does this arise?
Marshall McLuhan stated this perfectly: I’m not certain who discovered water, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the fish. Why wouldn’t the fish discover the water? For the same reason we take our consciousness for granted.
There were and still are questions about the details of our cosmic journey from the beginning to us here today. How fish evolved to become a frog; or a fin became a foot. Even more fundamental—how life started. A bit under 4 billion years ago from a mix of rocks and water and a few simple molecules life emerged. There’s no clue as to how that happened. The age of the universe, is it the Bible’s six thousand years or the sciences’ 14 billion years? Turns out that it’s both, literally, one reality viewed from 2 vastly different perspectives of time. We don’t time to go into the details here, but I can tell you that when I finished the equations that showed that 14 billion years measured from the time space coordinates of the earth are identical to the 6 24-hour days of Genesis measured from the time space coordinates of the Big Bang looking forward and saw that they matched, I went running to my wife Barbara and said Good Grief. The Bible might actually be true.
On my personal timeline, when I met Barbara, she was engaged in her own journey. We got married and had five children. As a family, we spent a fair amount of time exploring the caves where Neandertal and Cro Magnon co-existed. By first grade our children were reading the Bible in the original Hebrew. They asked how there could be people from so long ago. Weren’t Adam and Eve the first? And according to the Bible that was less than 6000 years ago. And what about dinosaurs? Where do they fit in?
Finding the answers that respect the discoveries of modern science and the ancient wisdom of the Bible has been the basis of my journey and my books.
Where do we stand today?
Less than 50 years ago, the vast majority of scientists believed that the universe was eternal. They believed there was no beginning. How could you get something from nothing? The Bible, they said, was wrong from the first sentence.
Then, two American scientists Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson at the Bell Labs in Horn Hill, New Jersey discovered something that was found to be the primordial radiation left over from the creation confirming a minority opinion that there had been a beginning, the world had a creation, what a fellow-scientist, a few decades earlier, had mockingly called the big bang
The difference between Bible and science is not whether or not there was a creation; both fields of wisdom agree on that now. The primary differences are when it happened—how long ago—and whether that which created the universe is active and interested in the world It created.
Projected on the screens is a diagram of our cosmic history, from the Creation to us here today.
NASA / WMAP Science Team
This diagram is directly from the NASA site on the web. You can download it yourself from the NASA web or from Google images. Just type in WMAP.
This is our cosmic history and the cosmic history of every other item in our magnificent universe. It is the concentrated knowledge of the scientific community and one of the most profoundly theological statements ever made by science — though the producers of this diagram may not have realized this.
The black is nothing, not a vacuum. Vacuums are empty space and space is inside the universe. The Bible would call the black God. Science would say, we don’t deal with that. We deal with the phenomena within the universe.
The diagram is a timeline. The universe expands in all directions but the diagram shows the expansion over time.
The vertical lines represents billions of years.
This NASA diagram is pure theology in two scientific statements:
One. The creation of the universe from nothing, via pre-existing laws of nature, and
Two, The emergence of conscious life from the burst of energy that marked the Big Bang creation, even though there is no hint of life or consciousness in that initial burst of chaotic energy or in the atoms and molecules of matter that formed from the energy of creation.
** In this diagram science has discovered God, literally.
Science and Bible today agree that our universe had a beginning. It took a few thousand years, but science has caught up to the Bible. Science refers to it as the Big Bang. The Bible calls it the creation. Equally significant is that both science and Bible agree that there was only one physical creation. Everything is the universe, from the stars of the galaxies to your body, is made from that burst of energy.
This is not poetry or new age. It is reality. When you look in the mirror in the morning, as depressing as it may be, you are literally looking at the energy of creation in a very special form, you.
But how did this stunning flow of life from inanimate matter to the intricate balanced complexity of life occur? What drove it?
The answer lies within the creating force itself. Note that the NASA diagram does not show God as the creating force. Science explains the creation as the result of a quantum fluctuation. The universe was created by a quantum fluctuation, that is, by an aspect of the laws of nature.
Consider the phenomenal implications of this scientific statement. If the laws of nature created the universe, they must predate the universe. They predate the physical world. They predate our concept of time. The laws of nature are not physical. They create the physical.
Put this together.
The laws of nature are outside of time. They are not physical. They are information or forces that created the physical universe from nothing.
Does that sound familiar???
You might note that that is the definition of the God of the Bible.
And a list of prominent atheists say, “If you want to call that God, call it God.” But would it be a God to whom you could pray? I believe there is strong evidence for this, but it’s a topic for another time.
That Biblical God might use quantum physics to create the universe is consistent with the Bible. God uses the laws of nature whenever possible. For example, at the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, (Exodus 14:21) God used a strong east wind that blew all night, to open the sea. Why all the information about the wind? A strong, east wind all night? Why not just say a wind? We needed that information to realize that it looked natural and so after the Israelites went through the open sea, the pursuing Egyptians followed them right in. Only when the waters started to return, did the Egyptians realize that God was acting here.
But realistically speaking, could a wind really open the sea? Two scientists decided to check this biblical claim out. They didn’t take a big fan down to Sinai. Instead they plotted into their computers what might have been the topography of the land around the sea, turned on a strong east wind, 40 mph out of the east for 8 hours. In their computer model the sea split. When turned off the wind and the water returned like a tidal wave. The exact description in the Bible. What is interesting about this study is that they published their results in the world’s leading peer reviewed journal of meteorology. Titled “Are there oceanographic explanations for the Israelites crossing the Red Sea?”
So what was the miracle? As they say in real estate. Location, location, location.
Each advance in science has moved our understanding of reality further from a simplistic, material description and ever closer to a realization that all existence is the expression of a meta-physical force.
Werner Heisenberg, Nobel laureate in physics, one of the parents of all modern quantum mechanics, stated this quite succinctly.
“The smallest units of matter are, in fact, not physical objects in the ordinary sense of the word; they are – in Plato’s sense – Ideas.”
The Bible, in the Book of Proverbs puts it this way:
“I am wisdom [wisdom is speaking here ]….. The Lord made me first [raisheet] of His ways before His works of old. I was there from the beginning, before the earth … Before the mountains rose, before the heights. When the heavens were formed, I was there.”
Wisdom is the first emanation of God.
Let’s return to the opening verse of the Bible.
As the oldest translation into a sister language Aramaic, 1900 years ago, reads like this: With a first cause of wisdom God created the heavens and the earth.
Wisdom is the substrate of all existence.
Our children are grown now. They have blessed us with 3 hands full and more of grandchildren. The oldest is 10. His name is Tzur, one of the Biblical names of God, literally rock, as in Rock of Ages. Like his father before him—now one of Israel’s promising young scientists –, Tzur has already come home from school with conflicts between the Bible and the science he’s learned in school and from visits to the Natural History museum.
Over cookies and milk we discuss those problems, and usually discover that more we learn of science and of Bible, the greater is the harmony between science and Bible.
We live at a time when we are fortunate to have the tools to study our origins. Science has revealed a reality that extends beyond the material, physical world we perceive. In the wonders of nature, science has discovered the wisdom of a mind underlying and forming the physical. It is as old as the Bible.
Isaiah (740 bce)
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped…. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwelled in the land of images, upon them the light has shone” (Isaiah 35:5; 9:1)