The old love song asks:
Tell me why the stars do shine
Tell me why the ivy twines
Tell me why the sky’s so blue
And then I’ll tell you just why I love you.
I have always found it an affecting little bit of music. I’ve gone so far as embarrassing middle school kids on youth retreats by making them sing it to each other while holding hands around the campfire. Sure, they probably still hate me, but I think it will do them less harm in the long run than singing Kum Ba Yah.
It’s the hook at the end. Tell me those things first, and then I will reveal the secret of my love.
Because God made you is why I love you.
The song has theology, thoughts on origins, and it asks real questions, maybe the one real question: Why? As soon as that question is raised, then we are tumbling deeper into questions of ultimate ends and goals, and nearly everything else in between, even issues of human worth.
The question “why” ambles reaching a simple—but far from simplistic—conclusion: “Because God.” Stars shine, ivy twines, the sky is blue because God made them to be, and I love you just because God made you.
There is another possibility. A panel discussion of physicists, entitled “The Universe: No God Required” at the recent SETIcon II conference, offered a different conclusion. It’s just the laws of physics. Why do the stars shine? “Because with the laws of physics,” astrophysicist Alex Filippenko of the University of California, Berkeley, is quoted, “you can get universes.”
This was in response to the question whether the Big Bang required a “divine spark” to set it off.
Filippenko didn’t answer that directly. He instead went off on an excursion, asking why there are laws of physics. Maybe those required a divine creator who made the spark to get them going? Maybe, but he questions further, what made the divine spark? “I don’t know what produced that divine spark. So,” Filippenko concludes, “let’s just leave it at the laws of physics."
“No god required” means the laws of physics are a “just because” proposition. They are there because they are there.
That incidentally takes care of shining stars, twining ivy, and you. Of course it doesn’t make for much of a song about origins, love, and destiny, but it would be a heresy of science to hint at the majesty of God while discussing, say, the formulations governing gravity. And I’m not sure we would want God in there anyway, at least not in the way that creationists sometimes would like.
Scientists started doing science as if God did not exist long ago, at least back to Descartes, and the habit is well established. He thought mathematics and physics could tease out more about God than any jumped-up band of theologians. It wasn’t his idea to displace God with science, but that’s what happened in his “mechanical universe.” To Descartes, a rational cosmos spoke of a rational God. This same rationalism could be extended to the structures of society and government, since all springs from a scientific God.
After that, it wasn’t necessary to mention God at all. Science and the cosmos worked just fine without him. Besides, doing science as if God is not relieved everyone of a lot of trouble. Gravity, after all, knows no sectarian limitations and it is hardly the thing likely to launch another Thirty Years War.
The term now is the Spontaneous Universe. In the 2010 book Grand Design, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow just blare away about it: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist.” Let’s see: “Because spontaneous creation made you is why I love you”?
I don’t think so. I’m perfectly content knowing the mechanics. The sky’s blue due to refracted light. But why is the light refracted? Do the properties and conditions of refracted light explain, if only in part, why I exist?
The trouble isn’t that science assumes God’s absence from the get-go. Christians and other religionists, after all, are not unfamiliar with the Hidden God. The trouble is that some scientists assert that science has proven there is no God. Hawking has said religious faith “is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” And how would he know that?
“I don’t think you can use science,” back to Filippenko for a second, “to either prove or disprove the existence of God.”
There is a modesty I can applaud, one that does not shut the door to our love of the created things God makes.
Russell E. Saltzman is dean of the Great Plains Mission District of the North American Lutheran Church, an online homilist for the Christian Leadership Center at the University of Mary, and author of The Pastor’s Page and Other Small Essays. His previous On the Square articles can be found here.
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