French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Catholic theologian, Blaise Pascal (1623–1662), made many notable contributions to mathematics and physical science including a study of hydraulics which lead to the development of the syringe.
Pascal was also the first to formally use probability theory, a mathematical analysis of uncertainty such as the outcome of a dice roll or the likelihood of a success of a trip to the moon. The first use of probability theory was Pascal’s Wager which asks people to decide how best to live their lives based on the uncertainty that a Christian God exists or does not exist.
The instructions for the game are this:
Although there is no right or wrong answer, Pascal argues some wagers offer more potential benefits. There are four possible outcomes to the game:
Pascal argues that the best way for rationale people to handle the uncertainty of God’s existence is to live as though God does exist and seek to believe in God. This yields the highest benefits for the least risk.
While Pascal’s Wager is an odd way to view God and faith, it does raise some interesting questions.
He is consistently ranked one of the most influential guitarists of all time. He is the only three-time inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was seriously considered to replace George Harrison of the Beatles in 1969 but settled for marrying Harrison’s wife. Known to many as “Slowhand”, he has also been called “God”. Many of his works contain expressions of faith, but his self-acknowledged failings have gotten the most attention. He is Eric Clapton.
The nickname, Slowhand, came from the slow clapping of audiences as Clapton fixed broken guitar strings on stage when a member of the Yardbirds in the early 1960s. The “God” moniker came from anonymous graffiti found near London’s Islington Tube Station that boldly proclaimed, “Clapton is God”.
Clapton was born in 1945 to an unwed, 16-year old English girl and a Canadian soldier who shipped off to war before his birth and who returned to Canada afterwards without seeing his son. One story suggests the young Eric believed the grandparents who raised him were his parents and his mother was an older sister.
By 1970, at the age of 25, Clapton had already been a powerful force in such well-known groups as The Yardbirds (“For Your Love”), Cream (“Sunshine of Your Love”) and Derek and the Dominos (“Layla”).
While playing with Blind Faith in 1969, Clapton composed both lyrics and tune for the song, “In the Presence of the Lord”. He also witnessed to becoming "a born-again Christian" after seeing "a blinding light" and sensing God's presence. However, his conversion wouldn’t protect him from himself.
He was good friends with the Beatles’ George Harrison but was so infatuated with Harrison’s model/photographer wife, Pattie Boyd, that he wrote “Layla” for her in 1970. Clapton and Boyd partnered up in 1974, eventually married in 1979 and divorced childless in 1988.
Clapton spent the early ‘70s nursing a heroin addiction: trading it for an alcohol addiction that lasted into the ‘80s. "Bad choices were my specialty," he said. In 1987, he claims to have finally fallen to his knees and "surrendered" to God, dedicating his sobriety to his newborn son, Conor, from his affair with Italian model Lory Del Santo. Four years later, Conor fell to his death from the window of a Park Avenue skyscraper.
While his career continued to flourish through addiction and tragedy, Clapton admitted, “… I have never failed to pray in the morning, on my knees, asking for help, and at night, to express gratitude for my life and, most of all, for my sobriety.”
“Slowhand” has 19 Grammy awards including those for “My Father’s Eyes” and “Tears in Heaven”. Both hugely popular songs reflect on personal tragedies with hints of faith. When asked about prayer and faith, Clapton said, “I choose to kneel because I feel I need to humble myself when I pray, and with my ego, this is the most I can do. If you are asking why I do all this, I will tell you … because it works, as simple as that."
One can’t help but wonder and marvel how God has revealed himself through this other “God”.
Critics frequently point to the 1633 trial of Galileo Galilei as an example of Christians being anti-science. Unfortunately for the critics, the facts show just the opposite. However, the facts also reveal the Galileo issue was still being debated more than thirty years after man landed on the moon.
The Galileo affair was all about the question of whether the Sun and planets revolved around the Earth (geocentric model) or whether the Earth and planets revolved around the Sun (heliocentric or Copernican model). Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 - 1543) explained his heliocentric model in On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres. Galileo simply helped validate the heliocentric model with observations made through his new telescope.
Rather than denying it, the Church embraced Copernican theories to such as extent that in 1582 it replaced the Julian calendar with the improved Gregorian calendar, the one we use today. While the Church saw Copernican theories as valid, they hesitated acknowledging them because they seemingly refuted portions of the Bible such as:
So, the real problem was alignment of some Biblical interpretations with clearly visible physical reality.
Shortening the story… Galileo embarrassed Church leaders by telling them how to rationalize Copernican theories and the Bible. In 1633, he was ultimately found "vehemently suspect of heresy", sentenced to house arrest and had his writings banned. The Catholic Church eventually dropped the general prohibition on books advocating Copernican theories in 1758 but did not rescind the 1633 decisions against Galileo or his writings until 1820.
If you assume this ends the story…think again.
It wasn’t until 1992, that the Church recognized Galileo as “a brilliant physicist”. Then, in 2000, Pope John Paul II issued a formal apology for the mistakes committed in the Church’s 2,000-year history, including the trial of Galileo. A statue of Galileo was erected inside the Vatican walls in 2008…more than 400 years after the fact.
Galileo’s situation demonstrates the church is made up of humans who can be slow to react, but it is definitely not anti-science. In fact, there are scores of examples showing that the science that underlies modernity is a direct result of Christianity: medicine, hospitals, education & higher education, reading & writing for the masses, logical reasoning, experimentation and scientific investigation, empirical science and much more.
This is a story about an ardent atheist (one not believing in deities) who is also strongly believed in some type of Intelligent Design (ID).
The theory of Intelligent Design suggests that Creation is not a random act of nature but required intelligent intervention to develop in so many otherwise inexplicable ways.
The late Sir Fred Hoyle was a renowned English astronomer who discovered how carbon (the basis of organic life) is created in the Universe. Sir Fred said of his discovery:
“Would you not say to yourself, "Some super-calculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature [random events] would be utterly minuscule. A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question."
In 1949, Hoyle coined the term “Big Bang” theory although he had a different theory for the origin of the Universe. He rejected evolutionary biologists’ theories that life originated on Earth and vehemently opposed the notion that life happened as result of random events. It may be his unusual flair for entertaining analogies to describe the improbability of random events that he is best remembered for:
“A junkyard contains all the bits and pieces of a Boeing 747, dismembered and in disarray. A whirlwind happens to blow through the yard. What is the chance that after its passage a fully assembled 747, ready to fly, will be found standing there? So small as to be negligible, even if a tornado were to blow through enough junkyards to fill the whole Universe.”
"At all events, anyone with even a nodding acquaintance with the Rubik cube will concede the near-impossibility of a solution being obtained by a blind person moving the cubic faces at random. Now imagine 1,050 blind persons each with a scrambled Rubik cube, and try to conceive of the chance of them all simultaneously arriving at the solved form”.
You gotta love this kind of stuff!
While Hoyle dismissed traditional notions of faith, he was pointedly adamant that life was not an accident:
“Once we see, however, that the probability of life originating at random is so utterly miniscule as to make it absurd, it becomes sensible to think that the favorable properties of physics on which life depends are in every respect deliberate .... It is therefore almost inevitable that our own measure of intelligence must reflect ... higher intelligences ... even to the limit of God ... such a theory is so obvious that one wonders why it is not widely accepted as being self-evident. The reasons are psychological rather than scientific.”
For Hoyle, Christianity did not offer enough specific answers about life and death, but he explained his own hopes for an afterlife: “What I would choose would be an evolution of life whereby the essence of each of us becomes welded together into some vastly larger and more potent structure. I think such a dynamic evolution would be more in keeping with the grandeur of the physical Universe than the static picture offered by formal religion.”
In many ways, it seems as though “Sir Fred”, as he was sometimes known, was much less an atheist than a questioning scientist. Accepting nothing on faith or open to chance, he clearly sought answers to the questions we all have…the source of the Design and purpose of the Designer. Hopefully, he has found those answers beyond what he imagined.