Thursday, March 13, 2008

Dust in Space

Hard on the heels of the announcement that a Roman Catholic priest has won the prestigious Templeton Prize comes this rather interesting story. I won't repeat all the technical details, but one thing seems clear: our planets are made of dust.

Swirling dust clouds around baby stars eventually grow up to be grains of sand-like particles; and someday, they may be rock. And then even planets, in a process that takes so long as to be mind boggling.

Some people seem to think that science and religion must be in conflict with each other, with one shining brightly through the gloom and the other swirling around in angry obscurity. First, they say, we had the age of religion where no one wanted to know the "how" of things; now we're in the age of science, where the "how" is explored to the infinitesimal level while the "why" is overlooked as irrelevant.

But either generalization is far too sweeping, and quite wrong. The early scientists were rather religious people, after all: pagan, but religious nonetheless. And though the unfortunate incident involving Galileo gets blown out of all proportion, the Church has never been the enemy of science, only of secularism, which tries to pretend that because science has demonstrated how creatures might have developed over centuries this therefore proves that the creatures never needed a creator, a non-sequitur to end all non-sequiturs.

The religious person who enjoys learning about our wonderful universe will never feel his faith called into question by his studies (though, alas, it may often be called into question by his professors). Learning the marvelous ways of God doesn't, or shouldn't, lessen one's appreciation for Him; it is not, after all, as though God were merely a skilled conjurer, and the universe a trick which the debunker can now replicate to show how easy it all was.

Though I sympathize with the proponents of Intelligent Design (mainly because in school textbooks the theory of evolution has been secretly replaced with the practice of materialistic secularism), evolution, properly understood, isn't an enemy of Christianity. It may not be right, either; one of the problems of scientific dogmatism is that scientists are rather religious about their theories, and have trouble looking objectively at evidence which doesn't fit a preconceived notion. Evolution may not be the whole story, or even part of it; but if it is, this doesn't provide any greater challenge to religion than an understanding of how planets might be formed, or what stars are made of.

If scientists ever start to claim that they can look to the swirling clouds of dust in space and see the origins of the human soul, then we might have grounds for religious objection. More than likely, though, what we would have would be just hubris on the part of science, a not entirely unheard-of phenomenon. For without the Creator, even the dust in space is illogical in its presence; even if we could somehow rationalize the dust, and the space, and the stars, and the planets, and even the men, we could never begin to explain why the latter can strive for greatness, appreciate beauty, weep in sorrow and in joy, or believe to the point of death that they contain within them an eternal component that has a bright eternal destiny, a destiny that lies far beyond the destiny of dust.

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