14 June 2007

Creation, evolution, and the origin of the universe: rehashing Aristotle

During the first few days of June, Gallup conducted a telephone poll asking respondents about their views on evolution vs. creationism. USA Today reports the following results: 53% of respondents think that the theory of evolution is either 'definitely true' or 'probably true.' 66% think that creationism is 'definitely' or 'probably' true. Clearly there's some substantial overlap here, which makes sense when you consider the 'scientific creationists,' who believe that evolution may well be true, but that God kind of 'set up' the process to work just the way it did (and still does), and so is still responsible for the creation of living things and especially humans. Although this viewpoint deviates from the technical details contained in the Bible, it's easy to see why it's satisfying to people of a religious inclination who are also enthusiastic about the scientific endeavor.

But there's no need to stop there: a sufficiently creative (hah) creationist can accommodate any amount of scientific data by continuing to move the 'God threshold' further back in time, until finally God becomes merely the guy who flipped the switch on the Big Bang, or whatever story of the origin of the universe you prefer. From that point on, the universe proceeds according to its own design, following physical laws, acting basically the same as a universe untouched by divine intervention, but always propelling itself forward to whatever God had in mind. Some questions about this kind of situation:

Could God intervene if he wanted to, violate his own laws of physics? In other words, what about prayer, etc.? Is this created universe more like an ant farm, which is blocked off from further interaction with the observer, or is it more like a sea monkey aquarium, where the observer can stick his finger in and whirl it around a bit whenever he feels like it? Does the system keep on ticking along, even if God gets bored with watching? For those who think our universe is an oscillating universe, eternally bouncing back and forth between the Big Bang and the Big Crunch, what's God doing, running simulations? Why? What's he trying to find out?