Beliefs and Values in Science Education

By Michael Poole | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
'In the beginning …'
– cosmology and creation

'The mind of God'?

… we shall all… be able to take part in the
discussion of the question of why it is that we and
the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it
would be the ultimate triumph of human reason -
for then we would know the mind of God.

Stephen Hawking1

The closing words of Hawking's best seller, A Brief History of Time, are some of the most quoted in popular presentations about the origins of the universe. Hawking admits in 'A Brief History of A Brief History', 'In the proof stage I nearly cut the last sentence in the book … Had I done so, the sales might have been halved'.2 Others have adopted his words and The Mind of God3 became the title of another popular book on cosmology, whose appearance was marked by a debate at The Royal Society entitled, 'Has science eliminated the need for God?4The word 'God' features frequently in this chapter, since it does in much current popular literature on cosmology and the search for Theories of Everything (TOEs). So something must be said about its meanings. Public opinion polls produce high ratings for belief in God, and reflect the wide variety of meanings assigned to the word. To one person it means some 'force' 'behind' the universe, to another it is used for phenomena currently inexplicable by science, while to yet others it refers to a personal Being. Within this book, I am taking for my meaning the so-called 'God of the philosophers', viz. transcendent con scious agency, a cumbersome phrase which needs unpacking:
transcendent – greater than us, existing independently of the created world;
conscious – indicating the most appropriate language for God is personal language;
agency – an active cause through which power is exerted or purposes are achieved.

This somewhat clinical terminology is not intended to deny factors like relationships between God and people, but such considerations are not the concern of this book.

The chapter starts by looking at how beliefs, particularly about God – or the absence of God are embedded in many discussions about origins. This is followed by an examination of whether particular theories of origins have any implications for or against such beliefs. This necessitates reflecting on 'creation' as used in popular language and by scientists and theologians. Then, since certain vocal popularisers of science have gone to some lengths to promote the idea that scientific explanations of origins displace divine agency and purpose, the nature of explanation needs examining in order to assess such claims. The chapter ends with a look at the anthropic principle.

-81-

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