Google the name Jeremy England and you’ll come across headlines like this: “God is on the ropes: The brilliant new science that has creationists and the Christian right terrified,” “Jeremy England, the Man Who May One-Up Darwin” and “Has science just disproved God?”
All of the articles focus on the work of a 33-year-old scientist named Jeremy England, one of academia and science’s rising stars.
But the irony of the man who is being described as the “next Darwin” is that England himself prays every day, and is also a student of Judaism and the Torah.
So, what does England’s work mean for people of faith? Do his theories about the origins of life conflict with Genesis? How should new science affect our faith?
We recently spoke with writer and speaker “Science Mike” McHargue about what England has proposed, what it says about creation and how Christians should react.
For readers who aren’t familiar with what Jeremy England is proposing, could you give a brief explanation of how he sees life coming into existence?
It is quite fascinating. He’s created a mathematical model, not just a working theory, but an elegant mathematical description that basically says life is an inevitable consequence of thermodynamics given the right conditions.
Theories about this have been floating around for awhile, that life is more efficient at creating waste heat, and therefore creating chaos in the universe, than ordinary matter. What Jeremy has done that’s so fascinating is work out a plausible mathematical model that describes that process.
One way I’ve heard it described is that his mathematical formula shows that if you have the right conditions, then life isn’t only possible but inevitable.
In the same way we know today that given a large cloud of hydrogen and helium, given time, a star is inevitable, the universe has curious self-organizing principles, many of which are well understood.
What we don’t understand is how life self-organizes, and so, potentially, Jeremy’s work goes a long way into helping us understand the curious self-organizing principal of matter into life.
One interesting thing about Jeremy is that he is a devout Jew and is a believer in God. How do you see his theory having implications for believers?
The first thing we’ve got to understand is right now this is a hypothesis, kind of like the multiverse theory. It’s getting a lot of press, but it doesn’t actually have any falsifiable claims yet. There’s absolutely no way to test it. At best, it’s a hypothesis, at worst, it’s really kind of a mathematical philosophy.
We’ve known for a long time that despite an overall trend for chaos, the universe also has a tendency toward local organization. The questions we’re wrestling with is: Is this the sign of an architect of some kind, or is it just the way things are from a completely natural perspective?
You can take this same information and have it make sense in either of those views. Both camps, I believe, will claim this as a win. Naturalists will say, “Well, of course the universe is structured this way.” We have frameworks by which this is plausible from a naturalistic perspective.
People of faith will say, “No, this is a slam-dunk. This is more evidence that the universe reflects some creative intelligence or master planner architect.”
So I think, like so many things in science, everybody will claim it as a win.
In the media, it seems like there have even been headlines and stories taking the two different angles in terms of its religious implications.
There’s this great quote Neil deGrasse Tyson said, that basically, “God has to be more to you than just where science has yet to tread.”
There’s this tendency right now [for religious people] to say, “What science knows is science, and what we don’t know is God.” And for non-religious people: “Science is science and what we don’t know are things that science will eventually find out.”
The way I view God absolutely involves what we already know. I see God revealed just as much in physics, neurology and cosmology as I do in Scripture and theology and prayer: God is present in all of these places and available if we’re just willing to open our eyes to the wonder and the mystery that is our maker.
I would caution people of faith from constantly retreating as science advances, and instead dwell in the knowledge that we have, and the way that it reveals that life is both a miracle and a gift.
How do you read the Bible in the proper context so that your faith isn’t shaken when there’s a new discovery or theory like this one?
God is with us wherever we are. He was with us in a garden, and He was with us in a burning bush. He was with us in an ark, and in a tabernacle and in a temple, then incarnate as a man.
Wherever we have been, God has been there and met with us and kept moving and moved forward with us.
I look at Scripture as the stories of people of faith—people who are serving and loving the same God I am. So when I see new science, it doesn’t scare me at all. It doesn’t freak me out that ancient people had ancient understandings of science.
Of course they filtered God through certain astronomical models or different ideas about how the universe is structured. That’s the way they understood the world. I am not afraid at all wherever science goes.
Heisenberg said that the first gulp from the glass of the natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but God is waiting for you at the bottom of the glass. I have found that to be remarkably true: The more I learn about the miracle and majesty of creation, the more God is revealed to me.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.