Houghton on the Relationship Between Science and Faith

Bill Moyers’ new PBS series, "Faith and Reason" has had some very interesting interviews with diverse people from a wide range of faiths. This last week featured an interview with Sir John Houghton , widely recognized as one of the world's preeminent climatologists (he is Director General of the Britain's Meteorological Office, Chair of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, and is Co-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Scientific Assessment Committee). He has become as well-known for his theories on the compatibility of science and religious faith as his scientific achievements.

Here’s an excerpt of the interview that really intrigued me, about how he sees the compatibility between science and religious faith.

BILL MOYERS: Here's the questions I wrestle with, If God is the creator who created a universe which is, in so many ways, incomprehensible, even as you and I are sitting here, the-- the galaxies that we can measure by telescopes have-- have-- have expanded another couple of million miles, right?

SIR JOHN HOUGHTON: Sure. Sure. Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: That's so incomprehensible to me. Why did God keep so much of it secret? Why did he make it so hard to find out? Why did he not reveal what is to us incomprehensible?

SIR JOHN HOUGHTON: I would just turn that around and say: Why is it that we actually can comprehend so much? Because it was Einstein who said, you know, the most incomprehensible thing about the universe it that it appears to be comprehensible! And when you think of the fact that we can, as human beings, we have the ability to understand, to some degree, the basic equations and mathematical structure and all those things which are the basis of the-- of the universe and its cosmology and the Big Bang and all those things, the very little particles and the enormous galaxies and-- and all those, we can get to grips with some of it. And that's very remarkable.

Because why should-- we have that propensity and that capability? We're just very small creatures on a minute ball in the middle of this very vast universe. And yet we have that propensity. Why do we have that? It's very hard to see that evolving in any way, although we may find scientific reasons for why-- why we've, you know, the way God makes things make themselves.

BILL MOYERS: Made things make themselves?

SIR JOHN HOUGHTON: Well, God has made things that make themselves. And that's very clever. You know, if you make something-- you know, a gadget, I was involved in the early days of space instrumentation, you know, making space devices. And, of course, you had to throw them into space, and then you couldn't touch them at all afterwards. So you had to make sure that they lived on, whatever happened.

BILL MOYERS: Was this the notion that you came about of God, the watchmaker? God makes the watch and then lets it run on its own?

SIR JOHN HOUGHTON: Well, that's part of that story. But it's cleverer than that. Because, you see, watches don't make watches. They don't make actual watches. But God is actually-- God's creation, you find things that or-- the ways in which the whole, you know, basic structure of science operates-- and astronomy.

I was more interested in astronomy than biology because-- because I was a physicist. And when you look at stars and you realize that stars are made by-- the very small parts of the atoms and-- and the nuclei within stars-- you know, stars collapse in the first instance to create high densities. And then the high densities get very hot. And then those very hot interiors, elements are made. You make helium. And then you make carbon. And then you make uranium. You make-- make all these elements within the stars. Then the stars blow up into supernovi. And they condense together again to make new stars. And those new-- well, our sun is one of those new stars. And out of that great mess of elements came the Earth.

And you think, well, there is God going through a very long process, taking billions of years-- in order to create something like the Earth. He doesn't do it overnight. But he-- he built into the very structure of the universe absolute basic, you know, el-- particles and the elements or things that make the particles work. God is a-- is a story -- is a story of things that are making themselves.

BILL MOYERS: So is God the name of what we don't know?

SIR JOHN HOUGHTON: You say we don't know-- I-- but I would say God is the name of a person we can know. It's this knowledge of God which-- I mean, if we don't-- if-- if we just call God or put the name of God on-- everything we don't know, that's a very big mistake.

That's a mistake the people who talk about intelligent design make, in a way. They say, "We don't know about things which are going on in the natural world. We don't understand various things and the process in which life has come into being or of the creatures who have come into being. So we'll put God as the name called intelligent design as the name on some of those little bits." And that's making God far too small. Because God is the great intelligent designer. The whole thing is intelligent design!

Read the Transcript HERE

Watch the interview HERE

Read David Neff’s interview with John Houghton, "Looking After Creation: Acclaimed physicist Sir John Houghton discusses his motives and passion for a cooler world climate" (Christianity Today, April 2006)

technorati: , ,

No comments: