Finding God In Science
Can Science Prove That God Exists?
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
Does science disprove or prove the existence of God? Can science and God coexist, or must it always be debated within the parameters of God versus science?
In this week's video, Rabbi Fohrman adds to the great debate by asking about one of the interesting names of God and taking us on a whirlwind tour of modern cosmology. Can we truly find God in science? You decide.
Hi everybody, this is Rabbi David Fohrman and welcome to Parshat Va'era. You are watching Aleph Beta.
Last week, we spoke about a Midrashic analysis of one of God's names. This week I want to talk about a Midrashic analysis of another of God's names.
In this week's parsha, we meet the name Shakkai, shin-dalet-yud (we pronounce it “Shakkai” in deference to not using God's name unnecessarily). And the Sages have an interesting interpretation of this name. They saw it as an acronym for the words “Mi she'Amar L'olamo Dai,” “He who said to his world: ‘enough.’”
So what does it mean to say to your world, “enough”? So I cannot profess to know exactly what this means, or even exactly what it was that the sages meant when they said this; but I will tell you the thoughts that their language inspires, at least in my mind, when I hear that God has said to His world, ‘Enough.’”
The Debate on God, Science, the Cosmos, and the Universe
You know, the sages lived long before theories of modern cosmology but that declaration, "He who said to His world enough," really seems, in my mind, to evoke thoughts of things that scientists and astrophysicists say in our day and age about the very early universe.
As it turns out, the universe really did need reigning in. Had God not said to the universe, "enough," you and I probably wouldn't even be here today.
Let me review with you some of where modern cosmology is at in understanding the very beginnings of what we call creation.
There was a cataclysmic explosion. Somethingness came from nothingness, the big bang. According to modern physics, time itself, as well as space, came into existence. You can't say what happened before the bang. There was no before. In this massive explosion, everything begins.
And what was there after the explosion? At first all there was were these subatomic particles racing out from the center, there weren't even any atoms yet. Over time, the super-hot subatomic particles, speeding out from that initial explosion, cooled to a level that visible light first becomes apparent and in a blaze of brilliance, light comes into the world. Vayehi ohr.
Over time the force of gravity begins to cause these subatomic particles to coalesce, to draw near to each other, until the first, simplest atoms are formed: hydrogen atoms.
Hydrogen is the most plentiful element in the universe. It is a single electron orbiting around a single proton. And for a long time, that's all there is in the universe: these huge clouds of hydrogen.
But slowly, gravity draws the clouds closer together and friction between the hydrogen atoms causes the hydrogen to heat up, until the cloud becomes so dense and so hot that it ignites in a thermo-nuclear reaction. The hydrogen burns and transforms itself to helium. We call these burning clouds of hydrogen “stars”.
Now, for a long time, there was a universe with just stars in it. How did we get the rest of the universe? So it turns out that if a star is big enough, if it has enough mass, towards the end of its life as it nearly exhausts all of its hydrogen fuel, gravity begins to cause the star to implode upon itself; and now, as the star caves in on itself, the star explodes in a mammoth explosion that we call a supernova.
In the white-hot kiln of a supernova, all of the heavy elements are formed – carbon, gold, zinc, copper. These elements are cast out into space and become the building blocks of things that we call planets. Before you know it, you have got a universe going.
So it all sounds fairly simple, right? I mean, you start off with a big bang and pretty soon, you've got stars, you've got planets. Not so tough, right? But here is the interesting thing: the big bang, as you’ll recall, was an explosion.
Now, typically explosions are not terribly ordered things. If I threw a grenade into a room and surveyed the scene afterward, it is going to look pretty chaotic. There would be splotches of debris over there, shattered glass over here. It is the ultimate random event of an explosion.
The problem is, the big bang couldn't afford to be random. We wouldn't have the universe unless it was very, very finely tuned.
Finding God Through Science
Let me explain to you what I am talking about here. There is something that the cosmologists call the flatness problem.
It goes like this: remember right after the big bang, you have all these subatomic particles speeding out into space? How fast were they going? You see, if they were going a little bit too fast, gravity never would have been able to act upon them, to bring them together into atoms, to bring those atoms together into clouds; and all you would have had is a universe of subatomic particles, no stars, no planets, no nothing.
Okay, so they can't have been going too fast but what if they had been going a little bit too slow? Then gravity would have stopped the acceleration altogether and brought everything back into one big crunch and you wouldn't have anything.
Okay, so it had to be just right: not too fast, not too slow. But now, you might ask, what was the margin for error here? I mean, I guess we were pretty lucky living in this just-right universe; but how just right did it have to be?
What if I told you if the rate of expansion were 10 percent faster than what it was, we wouldn't have the universe; if it was 10 percent slower than it was, we wouldn't have the universe? You would say, yeah you know, we were pretty lucky, we had nine chances out of 10, of not having a universe, and we got lucky; and the one chance out of 10 prevailed and here we are.
How Does Science Prove That God Exists?
Okay, but what if I told you that it wasn't one out of 10 but it was one out of 100? One part in 100 faster? No universe. One part in 100 slower? No universe. So then you would say, well you know, then I guess we were really lucky.
So what it is in fact then? Was it 10 percent? 1 percent? 0.1 percent? So cosmologists have estimated the actual margin of error here to be 1 part in 10 to the 54th power. That's your odds here. One part in 10 followed by 54 zeros. We don't make names for numbers that big.
To give you a sense of this, it is estimated that all the leaves in all the trees in all North American forests, that's about 24 zeros, 10 to the 24th power. Ten times the amount of leaves in all the forests in North America, that would be 10 to the 25th power.
We now think that all the atoms in the observable universe, that is about 10 to the 81st power; so somewhere between that, somewhere between all the leaves in all the trees of North America, and all the atoms in the universe, one part in that haystack, that's the chance you have of having a universe with stars. And remember, there is only one bang that we know of, I mean, this is our universe, either it works or it doesn't.
How Else Does Science Explain That God Is Real?
But you know, it is not just the flatness problem. There are other problems too, like the smoothness problem.
In the initial explosion of the big bang, if the subatomic particles that were ejected out of it came out kind of too clumpy, with regions really close together to one another, then you wouldn't have had hydrogen clouds that get together to form stars.
The clouds would have been so massive that gravity would have collapsed them into black holes. We would have had a universe of black holes. You don't get any life out of a black hole.
But if the universe wasn't clumpy enough – if it was too smooth – all the subatomic particles, they would have been too diffused. Gravity never would have acted upon them at all to bring them together into clouds. You would not have had any clouds of hydrogen at all, no stars, just a bunch of electrons and protons scattered throughout the universe.
Just clumpy enough so that the hydrogen clouds could come together to form stars; not too clumpy, or else it is black holes.
Well, again, what's the margin for error? This time it seems like it is 10 to the 10,123rd power. Ten by over 10,000 zeros. And I am not making this stuff up; that's how the British mathematician Roger Penrose estimated it. He is one of the folks who proved the existence of black holes to begin with.
Go out there, read the literature on this: "Universes," by John Leslie, "Just Six Numbers," by Rees; papers by cosmologists such as Davies and works by Stephen Hawking.
And it’s not just the smoothness and flatness problems; there are like 13 different other areas in which you've had to get it just right.
Proof That God Exists Through Science
The four strings of the four main forces of the universe: Gravity, electromagnetism, the nuclear weak force, the nuclear strong force. Now, these strings are plotted on vast scales, but their ratios had to be just right.
Just to give you an example about what we are talking here: the nuclear strong force is more or less 100 times stronger than electromagnetism. Electromagnetism is about 10,000 times stronger than the nuclear weak force. The nuclear weak force is about 10 thousand billion, billion, billion times stronger than gravity.
But all that had to be fine-tuned too. If electromagnetism is a little bit stronger, then all stars are red stars – too cold to ever become a supernova. If electromagnetism gets slightly weaker, all main sequence stars get to be very hot and short lived – you would never get any planets there either.
So when you add it all up, this exploding universe needed quite a dose of organization and order.
The Debate on God Vs. Science – or Can They Coexist?
So a very long time ago, the Rabbis and the Midrash said, “Shakkai, that name of God, who was Mi she'Amar L'olamo Dai, the one who says to his world, 'enough.'" Scientists today also evoke such a world, a world that needed to be reigned in, even as it was being created.
Were the sages of old alluding to what it is that we know today? It’s hard to make that case. But perhaps the words that our sages tell us live on in history, have a life of their own, and continue to deepen in their meaning as the ages pass.
If that’s the case, what more wondrous example of this is there than their explanation of the name “Shakkai”: He who said to His world, “enough.”
So if we stand back this week and last week, we really examine two names of God. We spoke last week about “Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh,” “I will be that which I will be,” a name that seems to connote ultimate empathy. This week, “Shakkai”, a God who turns to the universe and says “enough.”
But all of those names are just a prelude for the great name that the Exodus will reveal according to this week’s parsha: Yud and Heh and Vuv and Heh. I’ve spoken about that name in our series on Passover; I urge you to take a look.
The interesting question, I think, that we kind of need to ponder, is how these three names really relate to each other. What does it mean for God to have seen Himself, to have revealed Himself, as the “Shakkai” kind of God? And what does it mean for God to transition to the Yud and the Heh and the Vuv and the Heh kind of God, almost by means of this bridge of “Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh,” “I will be that which I will be”?
These are some enduring mysteries, at least for me. If you have any thoughts that you’d like to share, I’m interested in seeing them; please use our message boards. Have a very good Shabbat.