There might seem some disjunction between this discourse’s subject, and Passion Sunday, if so, I apologise. In 1956, the existence of the Neutrino was affirmed in the journal Science, although it had been postulated by Pauli in 1930. It was, however, a year or two later that I got to hear about it (although it’s downhill all the way, news often reaches us ‘down ‘ere’ ‘bit late’). I was at school, and we were assembled in the Gym. to hear a talk from a Scientist at Exeter, about this. It all seemed bafflingly improbable: a particle with no discernible mass, nor any electrical charge, nor could its position or velocity be ascertained. Given that Rutherford had ‘split the atom’ in 1917, and that there were physicists denying the very possibility of doing this right up to the time of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – understandable, since the very name ‘atom’ means ‘that which cannot be cut’ – and that I was in the ‘Arts’ stream at school, this all seemed pretty arcane and of little practical importance. It also seemed to contradict the experience of one’s senses: things were ‘there’ and could be seen, held in the hand, weighed, felt; you could place your solid but light ruler on the edge of your solid, heavier desk, and get it to make a sound – several, if you slid it up the lid while it was still twanging; if a vexed Master hurled a blackboard rubber, because you’d opened your desk-lid while he was talking, it hit with a resounding bang which, if your head was under the lid at the time, you felt! But here were all these Scientists telling us that Matter and Energy were the same thing, and that the solid wood of the desk was just lots of excited tiny bits of nothing much spiinning round endlessly. So, one put it to the back of one’s mind.
Thirty or so years later, sitting in a Staff-room, I idly picked up a copy of ‘Science Today’, and found myself reading an article about ‘gluons’. Checking the cover, I found it was not the April issue, and was confounded: apparently, they were now saying that all these busy little bits of nothing were held together in their excitability by other little bits of nothing… and then, there were Quarks…Leptons… Hadrons…Anti-gravity…Dark Matter… well, as they say ‘You couldn’t make it up’
Einstein is credited with having said: ‘the only irrational thing about the Universe, is that it is rational.’ Well, my Arts stream mind, seeing a simple statement like this ‘For each neutrino, there also exists a corresponding antiparticle, called an antineutrino, which also has half-integer spin and no electric charge. They are distinguished from the neutrinos by having opposite signs of lepton number and chirality.’ (Wiki) , tends to sigh, ‘give me old-fashioned irrationality, any day!’ One thing, is seems to me, is, however, abundantly clear: the Universe is an infinitely more mysterious and wonderful place (can I say ‘place’?) than it seemed in those innocent days when it was confidently assumed and asserted that, one day, Science would have explained everything, so that LaPlace’s bold declaration ‘je n’ai pas eu besoin de cette hypothèse’, dispensing with God, would be verified by the end of the nineteenth century. Now, per contra, it seems likely that humans will never reach an end in their quest to determine what, ultimately, everything is. Einstein again, ‘There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.’
The ‘Design Argument’ was most elaborated by William Paley, with, not only the Watchmaker analogy, but – I quote from Hastings Rashdall’s similar ‘Six Lectures’ – ‘Consider a city-Feast: what manducation, what deglutition, yet not one Alderman choked in a Century!’ (on the design of the Epiglottis), but Darwin’s theory rather dented that form of the argument, with its stark implication, ‘Grow an Epiglottis, or choke to death!’ (G.K. Chesterton was, acutely, to observe that Darwin’s theory was not about ‘survival of the fittest’ but ‘survival of the survivors’). Still, we do seem to detect purposiveness in all living things, whether its flowers opening petals to the sun and closing them for rain, or ants farming aphids. So, Thomas Aquinas, while placing this argument as mere fifth of his ‘Five Ways’, still accords it its place:
The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack knowledge, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that they achieve their end, not fortuitously, but designedly. Now whatever lacks knowledge cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is directed by the archer. Therefore, some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.
Kant, too, accorded this form of argument great respect, deeming it “the oldest, clearest and most appropriate to human reason” while discounting it. Fred Hoyle memorably, suggested that the chance of the universe arising through natural, random forces was derisory, as Wickramingshe put it: “The chances that life just occurred are about as unlikely as a typhoon blowing through a junkyard and constructing a Boeing-747.”.
At the very least, then, the ‘Cosmological’ argument can, like Anselm’s, like Pascal’s ‘wager’, can let some of us be content to believe, to ‘live our live… as though everything is a miracle.’