Sunday, 9 November 2014

David Hume, the Big Bang and the Resurrection

David Hume (1711-1776) was a philosopher at a time when the universe seemed to be governed by mechanical laws such as those of Newton and Kepler, discovered or as yet undiscovered, and eternal. Miraculous events did not fit into this tidy eternal clockwork scheme and therefore, he concluded, they had not happened. Reports of miracles were immeasurably more likely to be the result of ‘knavery and folly’ than a supernatural agent. My understanding is that he did not directly question the Resurrection but his followers, with questionable logic, saw this as a consequence.

Yet, as St Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD)  stated, anyone seeing the universe for the first time, fresh and free of the bias of trivial everyday life and habits of mind, would witness a miracle. Every child witnesses such a miracle. Plato said something similar in his cave allegory as did Aristotle when he envisaged underground beings emerging into the light of day. The same would apply to beings on a planet permanently shrouded in cloud and seeing the planets and stars moving in an orderly way from night to night (assuming the planet had such celestial order in its sky) as the cloud cleared for the first time. 

Recently I learned of a woman who gained her hearing after being born deaf. From her reaction on the YouTube video she obviously saw this as a miraculous event. In the last analysis it was because the skills, logic and technology needed to make this happen originated outside the universe, beyond space and time and so not able to be investigated by science.

In our time the universe seems stupendously miraculous in two ways which cannot be obscured by the fog of mechanistic scientism or deadened by day-to-day trivia.

  1. It is precision engineered to allow sentient beings to come into existence in our particular part of space and time.

  1. It started from outside of space and time i.e. from outside the dimensions in which we exist.

Both Augustine and David Hume, if they were alive today, would, I suspect, find the revolution in physics and cosmology through the 20th century truly miraculous.

After Hume mechanistic science continued to develop up to the early 20th century. Then Einstein showed the extraordinary nature of space-time and Heisenberg et al introduced us to the bizarre phenomena of the quantum world. Then Lematraire, Hubble and others came up with the theory that the universe, including space, time, energy and matter, came into existence in a Big Bang where there had been nothingness. This theory has been progressively verified with empirical evidence over the last 80 years.  Even without black holes, dark matter, dark energy and  mathematical suggestions of extra dimensions, our existence would be stranger than any pre-20th century person could have envisaged. See Deep mystery of existence.

Biology has radically transformed in the last few decades, leaving the reductionist Darwinism, which started in the mid nineteenth century, at best inadequate to explain, among much else,  the gulf between inanimate matter and the  purposeful trillion atom complexity of the first  organisms (cells without nuclei) or the rapid evolution of the first therapod dinosaur in only 10,000 years after the mass extinction of 201.564 million years ago.

Thus whatever led to all this, and to us having inbuilt senses of justice, good and evil , a desire to survive, thrive and seek truth, and with a whole panoply of means to accomplish good or evil -reason, science, philosophy, psychology, medicine, counseling, sociology, politics, rhetoric, democracy, physical strength, creativity, empathy, art, music, literature, drama, humour, manual dexterity, interpersonal skills, leadership, charisma, sport and much else – must have at some point made a free decision and have the property of personhood. I call it God, moreover a God that cares about the end point of his Creation enough to intervene in our world and make a course correction after we had gone astray through our free will decisions.

The  Resurrection of Jesus was the means to this. It is was witnessed many times in the month or so between the Crucifixion, and the Ascension, sometimes by a single person, sometimes by several and on at least one occasion by 500. All the accounts in the Bible were written down in Koine Greek 300 years before the Roman church was established. They were written down at a time when the spoken word was accurately remembered. Rabbis could often recite the entire Old Testament from memory. Moreover there were numerous people around to question the accounts.

That Jesus was more than a good man is beyond question. He claimed to be the Son of God, so if this was not the case he was a madman. Yet a madman would not have been taken seriously as a threat to the Jewish and Roman establishments. More importantly he could not have come up with the earth-shattering wisdom that transformed history and on which liberal non-believers now base their 'beliefs' in human rights and freedom without even being aware of where these beliefs come from.