Issues in Interdisciplinarity 2019-20/Truth in the Creation of the Universe

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Introduction[edit]

There have long been discussions across the disciplines about the origin of the universe we live in today. This is a many stranded debate, and although it is generally conveyed as a dispute between science and theology, it is also important to appreciate how disciplines such as Art, Literature, Computer Science and Philosophy play into this issue. Each discipline represents their own version of truth surrounding the question of creation, providing an array of evidence through contrasting methodologies to strengthen their arguments. The issue of 'power' is also prevalent throughout these arguments; due to historical stereotyping and biases about the validity of different types of evidence altering how many of the disciplines are perceived.

Creation truth across the disciplines[edit]

Physics[edit]

The Hubble Space Telescope

The physicist’s truth about the creation of the universe stems from initial discoveries made by Edwin Hubble throughout the 1920s. Hubble observed, using his space telescope, that the universe was expanding which in turn means that it must have been more condensed at previous points. An explosion, known to us as the Big Bang, then sent said condensed matter into all directions, creating a version of the universe we know today.

This positivist version of truth concerning the creation of the universe is supported by extensive scientific research. This research is so comprehensive that we can now estimate the age of the universe, which is predicted to be between 10 and 15 billion years old. However, this evidence does not necessarily contradict religious explanations for creation. A survey conducted in 2009 found that ‘just over half of scientists surveyed… said they believed in some sort of deity or higher power’[1]. Dr Jennifer Wiseman, a Christian astrophysicist who received her bachelor’s degree in physics from MIT, then went on to do a PhD in Astronomy at Harvard university and now works as a senior astrophysicist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre[2], summarises the relationship between religion and science by stating ‘I find that most people really realise that there are deeper questions of life that science can’t fully address, and they don’t really see why there should be any conflict’[3].

Theology[edit]

In John 17:17 of the Bible, Jesus speaks to God on behalf of his disciples saying “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth”. The nature of truth is very important to the Christian faith, as it is taught that there is an absolute truth; that truth is the word of God, as truth is the reality that God has created and defined.[4] Truth in Christianity surrounding ‘the creation of the universe’ is presented in the form of creationism.

Creationism by definition is “the doctrine that matter and all things were created, substantially as they now exist, by an omnipotent Creator, and not gradually evolved or developed”.[5] Due to many Christian denominations having a strong belief in biblical inerrancy; that the bible is “without error or fault in all its teaching”, this means that the Genesis creation narrative is interpreted as a factual account of how the universe was created. This account states that God created the cosmos from nothing in six days by an act of free will, and then blessed the seventh day, making it sacred. Evidence for creationism has often been argued by intelligent design theory; “that certain features of the universe and living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection”.[6] It was argued by Thomas Aquinas, an 11th century Catholic philosopher, that "wherever complex design exists, there must have been a designer; nature is complex; therefore nature must have had an intelligent designer."[7] Hence, many Christians believe that due to the complexity of our world, it must have been designed by an omnipotent creator: God.

Though creationism is a strong argument within Christian theology, there is also substantial argument for biblical allegory amongst many Christian denominations. This is the view that the bible is a text from which metaphorical meaning can be drawn, rather than a factual account. This allows for belief in both a scientific and religious truth simultaneously, as they are no longer mutually exclusive.

Art and Literature[edit]

From as early as Cavemen times around 6,000 years ago, the cosmos has been depicted in art. Archaeologists have uncovered depictions of the "upper world", "lower world" and "middle world" along with "bird men" who were significant features of creation stories at the time[8]. This demonstrates that through the medium of art, early societies were able to depict their truth surrounding the creation of the universe.

The Creation of Adam by Michaelangelo.

More recently, Michelangelo's depiction of the Book of Genesis on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel depicts God creating the Earth in six days, resting on the seventh[9]. The Creation of Adam, on the central section of the ceiling, portrays Man being created in the image of God, providing an explanation for both the creation of the universe and of humanity[10]. These pieces of artwork can be interpreted as the artists' version of truth surrounding these momentous events. However, as the Sistine Chapel paintings were commissioned by Pope Julius II, Michelangelo's artwork might be more reflective of the Catholic truth surrounding the creation of the universe, raising questions about the role of power in the presentation of truth.

In Literature, the creation stories have been told and retold many times in both fiction and non-fiction writing. Perhaps the most well-known of theses texts is John Milton's Paradise Lost. In this text Milton portrays a universe where Heaven is at the top, Hell at the bottom and chaos in between. 'Milton's account of Creation depicts God taming the wild abyss and creating a World of beauty', however several scholars have commented on the parallels between science and religion within Milton's work. Sir Paul Nurse emphasises the relationship between Milton and Galileo, with Milton citing sun spots and other cosmological phenomena observed through Galileo's telescope within Paradise Lost; 'Milton slips seamlessly between the traditional religious views of the time and the modern 17th century thinking on science'. Having examined both perspectives, Nurse stated he was "still not sure, which is embarrassing to admit for the president of the Royal Society!". Karl Popper examines the similarities between science and faith, expressing the fact that 'Science avoids un-testable theories, unlike religion which takes matters on faith. However this is somewhat of a fallacy, as science itself depends upon assumptions that come close to matters of faith'. This amalgamation of science and the arts has prompted the 'philosophy of.. "One Culture"' acknowledging the fact that an appreciation of different disciplines cultivates a more universal truth. Art and Literature have become spaces of discussion about some of the big questions debated today which are imperative to the formation of a more comprehensive and inclusive truth surrounding the question of the creation of the universe.[11]

Computer Science[edit]

Computer science has a strong positivist philosophy towards truth; it looks for an empirical truth that is rational, objective and based on scientific methodology.

The mathematical Fibonacci spiral which is common in nature.

In a paper published by philosopher Nick Bostrom of the University of Oxford, he suggested that “at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “post-human” stage; (2) any post-human civilisation is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.” concluding the likelihood of the latter was by far the greatest.[12] The theory of the universe having been created as a computer simulation evolved from the idea of exponential human advancement. In 1972, the ‘Pong’ game was created which involved only simple pixelated sticks and a ball. In 2000 ‘The Sims’, a life simulation video game, was released, and now virtual reality games are gaming’s newest innovation. The prospect of a ‘post-human’ civilisation existing who have created a computer simulated universe seems not that preposterous. This idea of a 'higher power' draws significant parallels with theological creationism.

There have been numerous claims about evidence that back up this theory. First of all, the universe behaves mathematically (for example the Fibonacci sequence in nature) and thus it is argued that this reflects the computer code from which it was written. Furthermore, it has been said that the way everything in the universe can be broken up into subatomic particles imitates a pixilated video game. A simulation hypothesis also accounts for inconsistencies in quantum mechanics, such as the paradox of the ‘measurement problem’, which is that the measurements that support quantum mechanics theory should be theoretically impossible.[13]

Conclusion[edit]

Many of the disciplines examined within this chapter are very single-minded in regards to their version of truth surrounding the creation of the universe, and most hold a belief for an absolute truth. Thus, this is a prominent example of how the issue of truth prevents interdisciplinary research on a topic, which would inevitable lead to a greater understanding of the issue. There are individuals within each discipline who acknowledge the potential role of many different factors culminating in the creation of the universe; Scientists who believe in God and writers who portray both sides to the debate. However, as this specific case study is entrenched in historical power struggles and historical viewpoints crucial to the set up of certain cultures and institutions, it is difficult for these academics to come to prominence. We have concluded that the truth surrounding this question should not be categorised into one discipline, and it's is imperative not to prioritise scientific truth because it is quantifiable, but to recognise the potential role of many different versions of truth and evidence when examining how the universe came to be.

References[edit]

  1. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. (1999). The Origin of the Universe, Earth, and Life. [online] Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK230211/ [Accessed 25 Nov. 2019].
  2. En.wikipedia.org. (2019). Jennifer Wiseman. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jennifer_Wiseman [Accessed 25 Nov. 2019].
  3. Salleh, A. (2018). How can a scientist believe in God?. [online] ABC News. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2018-05-24/three-scientists-talk-about-how-their-faith-fits-with-their-work/9543772 [Accessed 25 Nov. 2019].
  4. MacArthur J (2009). What Is Truth? Grace to You. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
  5. www.dictionary.com. (2019). Definition of creationism | Dictionary.com. [online] Available at: https://www.dictionary.com/browse/creationism Retrieved 2 December 2019.
  6. Behe M and Meyer S (2018). What is intelligent design? Discovery Institute. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
  7. The Washington Post. Summarizing the Judgment on Intelligent Design. [Internet]. 2005 [cited 5 December 2019];. Available from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/2005/12/25/summarizing-the-judgment-on-intelligent-design/a3b1ad09-1120-4b48-9899-7a0e60d331ae/
  8. Kramer, M. (2013). Cave Art Reveals Ancient View of Cosmos. [online] livescience.com. Available at: https://www.livescience.com/37812-cave-art-reveals-ancient-view-of-cosmos.html [Accessed 2 Dec. 2019].
  9. En.wikipedia.org. (2019). Sistine Chapel ceiling. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sistine_Chapel_ceiling#Creation [Accessed 2 Dec. 2019].
  10. Learner.org. (2019). Art Through Time: A Global View - The Creation of Adam. [online] Available at: https://www.learner.org/courses/globalart/work/78/index.html [Accessed 2 Dec. 2019].
  11. Fox-Skelly, J. (2011). Darwin and Milton: two views of Creation | The Repository | Royal Society. [online] Blogs.royalsociety.org. Available at: https://blogs.royalsociety.org/history-of-science/2011/11/23/darwin-and-milton/ [Accessed 2 Dec. 2019].
  12. Bostrom N (2003). Are you living in a computer simulation? Published in Philosophical Quarterly Vol. 53, No. 211, pp 243-255. Retrieved 27 November 2019.
  13. Solon O (2016). Is our world a simulation? Why some scientists say it's more likely than not. The Guardian. Retrieved 28 November 2019.