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Science, Evolution, and Theology

Some thoughts on Science, Evolution, and Theology  

This is a 2-part essay.  The first part is a discussion by me about Science and Evolution and how the public greatly misunderstands how a scientist thinks about random events.  The second part is how a physics professor, Thomas A. Cahill, extends the idea of a created world to the Creator. Unfortunately, Professor Cahill died in May 2019.  I have also included a copy of his obituary if you want to know more about him.

Science and Evolution. by John G Clark March 2021

Chance Events and Evolution.

Often when people talk about evolution the comment comes up “It all chance, if we could do it over we would get something entirely different”, This Is a gross misunderstanding of what a physicist means by “chance”.  A physicist cannot talk about “chance” without also discussing “probability”.  Not all outcomes are possible (there are conservation laws) and those that are possible are not necessarily equally likely.  Let me give you a trivial example of what I am talking about,

Consider the roll of a pair of dice. The outcome of a single roll is not predictable, but I can say the following - You can only get a whole number between 2 and 12 and long term, you will get the same number of 2’s or 12’s and 6 times as many 7’s as either. 

Thus, if you roll the dice 3600 times and plot the results you will get ~100 2’s and a straight line up to ~600 7’s and a straight line back down to ~100 12’s.  The number of 2’s and 12’s will not be exact but will be within plus or minus approximately a square root (10, 10%). 

If you roll the dice 36,000 times you will get ~1,000 2’s plus or minus approximately a square root (31, 3%).

Ifi you roll the dice 36,000,000 times you will get ~1,000,000 2’s plus or minus approximately a square root (1,000, 0.1%).

The point is that the result of a large number of chance events is extremely predictable. A system can be designed based on probabilistic events to produce a desired result.  Saying that it is “all chance” does not preclude a knowable result   Quantum Mechanics is all chance.  That is the way the world works.  The results of a individual event cannot be predicted, only the results of a large number of events. Thus, if you could restart the evolutionary process you are will end up with pretty much the same thing.  It will not be identical, but it will be familiar.

The number of physical constants (speed of light, Planck’s constant, etc.) and the probabilities associated with any possible chance event are uniquely tuned for the creation and evolution of the universe and life.  Such a view of the universe recalls the Watchmaker’s analogy, if you find a watch there must be a Watchmaker somewhere.  The fundamental physics of the universe implies a design.  If there is design, there must be a designer.  That is a Creator.  Whether or not the Creator is the God as described by the Christian Trinity is another issue.

Science and Theology by Thomas A. Cahill
(from his book Critical Masses: Exposés of a Catholic Nuclear Physicist 2018)

Physical Theology In a series of posts on my Facebook page in May 2017, I summarized my thoughts on physics and belief. Essays on Physical Theology – My take on physics and faith Summary of Physical Theology – Facebook 2017

Physical Theology 0

The Quakers say, “If you are accused of being a Quaker, is there enough evidence to convict?” My students put it to me this way: “How can you be a Christian and a physicist?” So in the next weeks, I will give a short summary of how my physics helps my spirituality. Feel free to skip the summaries, and I am not interested in feedback. At the end, I will make an announcement of a new initiative.

 Physical Theology 1  

We live in a universe with laws of physics we can discover. From Einstein: “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is at all comprehensible.” We see the same laws that we have discovered in the laboratory are also valid in space and time, back to just after the “Big Bang.” The key to these discoveries is that we can test hypotheses by the experimental method, supporting some, discarding those that fail. Without validation, there is no science.

Physical Theology 2

One of the most stunning discoveries of the 20th century was the “Big Bang,” the moment 14.3 billion years ago when this universe came into existence. At that instant, there came into being three dimensions of space, one of time, all the energy of the universe, and the laws of physics. These general laws shaped all aspects of our universe via fundamental parameters that cannot be predicted but have to be measured. One of the 30 or so is the speed of light in vacuum, “c,” key to E = mc2. If the “Big Bang” had spawned a slightly smaller “c,” we would have had a universe with almost no stars.

Physical Theology 3

According to the laws of physics, we live in an impossible universe. The “Big Bang” violates conservation of energy and other laws of physics, and thus the “Big Bang” itself must have been spawned by some greater reality. However, this is a reality we can never access by the experimental method and thus can never go beyond speculation – philosophical, theological or scientific speculation. Many of my students assume that eventually science will explain everything. The news? Science is going in the opposite direction,and making the dilemmas worse.

Physical Theology 4

According to the laws of physics, we live in a universe in which life is statistically impossible. Even a tiny tweak of just one of the ~ 30 fundamental parameters, Planck’s constant h, and we lose all organic chemistry and biology. But every one of the constants set by the “Big Bang” must be set within narrow limits to make our universe possible. This is so unlikely as to cause some physicists to fall back on innumerable parallel unobservable universes and pure chance. So paraphrasing Einstein, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that we exist to discover that it is at all comprehensible.”

Physical Theology 5

With a universe exquisitely tuned for life, then life is not just an accidental organic smear on the surface of a rare rocky planet but the reason for the entire universe to exist. Thus I believe life will be found wherever liquid water is or has existed. I predict life will be found on Mars burrowed in the periodically damp gravels near the poles and/or in geothermally heated springs. These conditions are far less extreme than the sulfur-based life we see on Earth in the deep-sea thermal vents. So next time you look up at the stars, realize that you are actually seeing an enormous garden, a garden of life, a garden of spirit.

Physical Theology 6

Spirit? We know at least one example (us) of carbon-based life evolving to the point where indeterminacy arises, but we confidently expect myriads of others. We and our cosmic companions can choose, evaluate the impacts of our choices, and choose again, and are thus no longer bound by determinism. We and our cosmic companions can discover the great soaring cathedrals of science and develop spiritual dimensions that lie outside of physics – beauty, music, courage, altruism, art, and the greatest of these, love.

Physical Theology 7

Some find comfort in the unprovable speculation of a gazillion random “Big Bang” universes in which one by chance could have the ingredients for life, thus reducing humankind to an accidental organic smear on a rocky planet. I prefer to focus on the facts of a unique universe that we can observe. But this leads to the “forbidden question”: Why? Why would a creative entity go to all this trouble (Hubble Deep Field…) to develop creatures that could learn of the universe and develop spiritual values, only to die and decay? I propose that it is to harvest the life experiences of freely choosing beings to somehow enrich the greater reality that started it all. This theme has been repeatedly addressed in science fiction, and I recommend Arthur Clarke’s book Childhood’s End for the best example of this genre.

Physical Theology 8

In order to increase the harvest of spiritually attuned creatures, the creative entity could improve the harvest by giving guidance, enhancing the number of creatures that choose to protect creation and especially fellow sentient beings, and have the wisdom to express gratitude for the creative entity’s initiative. One such indirect enhancement could be wide belief in an afterlife despite all physical evidence against its existence.

Physical Theology 9

However, spiritual inspiration, even in well-meaning humans, can go off the deep end, including us-versus-them tribalism, religious conversion by conquest, institutionalized marginalization of sub-populations, slavery of several kinds, human sacrifice on an industrial scale, and other abominations against love. To minimize such aberrations, the creative entity might decide that humans need a more direct enhancement by some specific intervention in history. Such an enhancement would first of all have to be effective, long-lasting and universal, and meet the goals of maximizing the harvest of spiritually competent beings.

Physical Theology 10

I believe Christianity comes closest to the goals of the creative entity. It has a firm basis in love, equality of all sentient beings, intense altruism, and a focus on the spiritual goal of an afterlife that matches my concepts of the creative entity’s goals. No other potential intervention comes even close to the facts of Jesus’s acts and message, facts supported by both Christian and non-Christian documentation. The earliest Christians were so convinced of Jesus’s message, actions, and the promise of a glorious life after death that for centuries they suffered and died for the message, and by dying, triumphed. Christianity has persisted intact for 2,000 years, embraces a large fraction of humanity, and is the basis for the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

Physical Theology final (1)

Personally, I am a Vatican II Catholic, the liberal face of an organization that has persevered for 2,000 years and which, despite its all too human failings, has produced countless people who I deeply admire. And as to my promised initiative, in order to preserve these thoughts in much greater detail, I am finishing this book, Critical Masses. It basically is a memoir that includes my appreciation for times when I discovered the solace of a Catholic Mass in unlikely places around the world.

Physical Theology final (2)

Critical Masses also recognizes many of the wonderful people who have so enriched my life, as well as all the juicy parts that are left out of my academic CV. These chapters and topics include “Through DeGaulle’s A-bomb factory with an American passport”; “Go boldly where no chip has gone before” (that’s about Pioneer 10); “Murder Most Foul” (not guilty, I swear); “My stint as a purported CIA agent” (and fuel to an Indian nuclear reactor), “Kali’s toe, Radioactive Ga63, and Mother Theresa”; Cahill = Kahlil in Arabic, “From Gutenberg to the Dead Sea Scrolls”; Chernobyl and “a Davis student with really hot pants”; and “We have met the enemy, and he is us”(about global climate). Expect it from my publisher, EditPros LLC, Davis, in 2018.

Cahill, Thomas A..
Critical Masses: Exposés of a Catholic Nuclear Physicist  Kindle Edition  2018

EditPros LLC
Suite 206
428 F Street
Davis CA 95615

Thomas A Cahill (deceased) Physics Professor University of California – Davis
 Not Thomas Cahill the Author of the “Hinges of History” Series.

Thomas A. Cahill’s Facebook page

Thomas A. Cahill

December 8, 2018  · 

Dear friends, I must bid you farewell since I have been diagnosed with an incurable bone marrow cancer (MDS) and have only months to live. I have lived a wonderful life, and while I am not fond of dying because of the sadness it will cause in those I love dearly, I do not fear death. Physics has convinced me (and others) that we live in a universe designed via the Big Bang for carbon-based life and creatures that can evolve to self-awareness with spiritual dimensions, on Earth and probably myriads of other worlds. I personally hold the Christian revelation as the best documented and most altruistic standard that best fits the needs of the life-based universe. I will await my reuniting with my darling wife, since I truly belief love will persist, but I also hope my very human curiosity on life on other planets will also be satisfied.

Obituary from the Davis Enterprise (Newspaper)

Thomas A. Cahill

By Special to The Davis Enterprise

Thoms A Cahill

March 4, 1937 — May 1, 2019

Tom Cahill passed away at home on Wednesday, May 1, 2019, surrounded by family, after a yearlong battle with bone marrow cancer.

Born in 1937, Tom grew up in Sudbury, Mass., on a rural property where he served as shepherd to his family’s flock of sheep. He received a bachelor’s degree in physics from Holy Cross in 1959 and his Ph.D. in nuclear physics from UCLA in 1965.

At UCLA, he met Virginia (Ginny) Arnoldy at the campus Newman Center and they were married in June, 1965. In 1966, Tom received a NATO Fellowship to France to study nuclear astrophysics, and he and Ginny lived for a year in a small town outside Paris.

Tom joined the faculty at UC Davis in physics in 1967, and conducted research using the cyclotron of the Crocker Nuclear Laboratory. An early project used CNL’s cyclotron to test the computers of the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft for radiation resistance. Tom liked to say that he had held in his hands hardware that has since left the solar system.

Beginning in 1971, Tom began to work on the problem of California air quality. Tom tracked lead from freeways into neighborhoods and was one of the small team that successfully advocated for the lead- and sulfur-free gasoline that is essential to California’s clean cars.

Tom was appointed Director of Crocker Nuclear Laboratory in 1980 and used the opportunity to develop a national aerosol and visibility network. In 1988, it expanded into the current nationwide IMPROVE program, widely considered the best air quality and visibility network in the world. Tom ran the aerosol component until 1997. For this work and other projects he was awarded the UCD Academic Senate Academic Public Service Award in 1994.

During the 1980s, Tom worked with Prof Dick Schwab of the history department on using the cyclotron to perform nondestructive analysis of ancient texts, including the Gutenberg Bible, fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Vinland Map.

As a teacher, Tom was proudest of his Physics 10 course, “Energy and the Environment,” which he initiated in 1970 and taught until he retired in 1994. Tom’s greatest legacy was serving as thesis advisor and committee chairperson to more than two dozen Ph.D. students in six different graduate groups (physics, atmospheric sciences, ecology, chemistry, geography, and geological sciences). He published hundreds of journal articles, symposia and book chapters.

Tom took early “retirement” in 1994 and continued research in two areas: health effects of ultra-fine aerosols and aerosol impacts on global climate. In 2001, he measured pollutants from the collapsed World Trade Center, which resulted in several journal articles showing dangers to workers and first responders and led him to testify before a congressional committee.

In terms of global climate, Tom founded the DELTA Group (Detection and Evaluation of Long-Range Transport of Aerosols), and worked with international collaborators on the massive ACE-Asia study in 2001. Starting in 2003, Tom was asked by the NSF to design and set up an aerosol station at the Greenland ice cap to track Asian pollution transport, which he operated until transitioning it to a colleague earlier this year. In 2014, he won the Outstanding Emeritus Professor Award at UC Davis.

In 1988, Tom and Ginny bought 196 acres of wildland on Putah Creek near the Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve, and in 2015 achieved their goal of donating it to the UC Natural Reserve System as the Cahill Riparian Preserve.

Ginny and Tom traveled widely, sometimes as part of work and at other times just for fun. Often this involved river rafting and hiking with their children.

Upon receiving the news of his illness, Tom entered a clinical trial to potentially help himself and, more importantly, to increase scientific knowledge and benefit future patients with myelodysplastic syndrome. In the year since his diagnosis, Tom used his time to develop a new aerosol sampler for determining the health effects of ultrafine aerosols from freeways on local residents.

Tom published two science books, including “I Can Breathe Clearly Now: Protecting Yourself from Air Pollution,” (2016), based on 45 years of his work, plus five science-fiction novels and an autobiography, “Critical Masses: Exposés of a Catholic Nuclear Physicist” (2017). He has published articles on science and religion in America Magazine, reflecting his belief that physics and faith can go hand-in-hand.

Tom is survived by Ginny, his wife of 53 years; children Cathy and Tom Cahill; sister Barbara Melone; and his nieces and nephews. Tom loved and was very proud of his children, who, inspired by his enthusiasm and optimism, both became scientists and professors.

In lieu of flowers, Tom’s family suggests donations to the UC Davis Foundation for support of the Cahill Riparian Preserve, Catholic Relief Services, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Loaves and Fishes/Maryhouse, Sacramento, or a charity of the donor’s choice.

A Memorial Mass will begin at 11 a.m. Friday, May 24, at St. James Catholic Church, 1275 B St. A reception will follow in the Parish Memorial Center.

Your comments are welcome 


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