Science: Mind and Matter

So where are we? Science is now probing at levels in nature where phenomena seem to blur and dissolve into ephemeral wisps of energy. The quest for “reality” has led us into regions that seem decidedly surreal.

If, as John Bell said, we are coming to the end of our human capacity to really grasp what we are learning, will we find ourselves once again groping in the dark? Or are the astounding discoveries of the last few decades pointing us in another direction? If the tools and methodology of physical science are reaching their limits of discovery, yet revealing there is still more to uncover, does this mean that there is an aspect of creation we will never comprehend? That is what we will discuss in this chapter.

“A ‘god’ we can wholly explain is no bigger than our little minds” — W.A. Pratney

In their quest to define the natural world, scientists are suspicious of theories that lean toward complexity. Their experience and intuition tell them that there must be an underlying simplicity and order. As physicist John A. Wheeler wrote: “To my mind, there must be at the bottom of it all…an utterly simple idea. And to me, that idea, when we finally discover it, will be so compelling, so inevitable, so beautiful, that we will all say to each other, ‘Oh, how could it have been otherwise?’ “

As Paul Davies wrote in his book Superforce: “If physics is the product of design, the universe must have a purpose, and the evidence of modern physics suggests strongly to me that the purpose includes us” (page 243).

Sir John Eccles, Nobel Prize winner and neuroscientist, said science “cannot explain the existence of each of us as a unique self, nor can it answer such fundamental questions as: Who am I? Why am I here? How did I come to be at a certain place and time? What happens after death? These are all mysteries that are beyond science.”

Another Nobel Prize winner, physicist Richard Feynman, wrote: “If you expected science to give all the answers to the wonderful questions about what we are, where we are going, what the meaning of the universe is, and so on, then I think you could easily become disillusioned.”

These are not the kind of statements that we are used to hearing from pragmatic men and women of science. But then, they themselves did not expect to be confronted with this situation. Their discoveries have taken an unexpected turn and cast them upon an unfamiliar shore. They set out to discover the what, where, how and when of the universe, but have arrived at the point where they must confront the question of why. But is it not the traditional role of the philosopher and theologian to question life’s purpose and meaning?

It is. It is time to bring theology back into the discussion.

The Search for Certainty

In our day of post-Newtonian physics, chaos theory and supergravity, the wave-particle duality of matter and radiation, and Heisenberg’s ominous-sounding Uncertainty Principle, some physicists have set out anew on the quest for the holy grail — a Theory of Everything.

In today’s culture, physics blends easily into metaphysics. Or so it seems. There are mathematicians and scientists at the end of the 20th century who sound much like theologians.

But then, it has always seemed logical to many acclaimed physicists and researchers that there is more to the cosmos than meets the eye. British astronomer Fred Hoyle is one. Hoyle once invited a Cambridge audience to envisage the possible existence of what the astronomer Laplace had referred to — a “supermathematician,” a superior intelligence “capable of working out in full detail all the consequences of the laws of science” (John Houghton, Does God Play Dice: A Look at the Story of the Universe, page 147).

To Hoyle, the concept of such a supreme intelligence might bring humanity much closer to understanding the meaning and purpose of the universe.

“The Sacraments of Heaven”

In our day, no less a figure than Albert Einstein gave credit to the Judaeo-Christian doctrine of creation as the essential starting point for coming to grips with the cosmos. “Science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration towards truth and understanding,” Einstein commented. “This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion.”

“God plays dice with the universe. But they’re loaded dice. And the main objective of physics now is to find out by what rules were they loaded and how we can use them for our own ends” — Joseph Ford

There have always been scientists and mathematicians unafraid to bring God into the picture. The astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) was inspired to think that with the aid of a telescope and scientific equations he “could think God’s thought after him.”

Charles Coulson, who held chairs of physics, mathematics and chemistry, was in the tradition of those earlier thinkers who viewed science as “a fit subject for a Sabbath day.” In his 1955 workScience and Christian Belief, Coulson commented: “The reality of God affects every issue, since whatever we see, wherever we look, whether we recognise it as true or not, we cannot touch or handle the things of earth and not, in that very moment, be confronted with the sacraments of heaven.”

A World Beyond the Physical?

The same “who” and “why” questions we wrestle with today were probed by Heraclitus of Ephesus, a Greek thinker who lived in the sixth century B.C. Heraclitus was a philosopher who was also a theologian:

Like most philosophers he longed to find the One behind the Many, some mind-steadying unity and order amid the chaotic flux and multiplicity of the world…if we could understand the world as a whole we should see in it a vast impersonal wisdom, a Logos or Reason or Word. (Will Durant, The Life of Greece, pages 144, 147)

The broad outlines of Heraclitus’ quest near the dawn of Western civilization seem curiously up to date. His formulation of the Logos as the unseen rational principle behind what we see — of a vast, impersonal mind behind matter — these ideas greatly influenced Greek thought:

Among the philosophers the precise significance of Logos varies, but it stands usually for ‘reason’…. The Logos is a shock absorber between God and the universe, and the manifestation of the divine principle in the world. (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, page 645).

The Greek Stoic philosophers adapted and extended this concept.

The Stoics asked, “What keeps the stars in their courses? What makes the tides ebb and flow? What makes day and night come in unalterable order? What brings the seasons round at their appointed times?” And they answered; “All things are controlled by theLogos of God. The Logos is the power which puts sense into the world, the power which makes the world an order instead of a chaos, the power which set the world going and keeps it going in its perfect order” (William Barclay, Daily Study Bible: John, Volume One, page 35).

The Jewish writer Philo of Alexandria, who lived at the time of Christ, adapted this classical Greek notion of the Logos as the agent of the world’s creation and ordering, the link between God and man:

He held that the Logos was the oldest thing in the world and the instrument through which God had made the world. He said that theLogos was the thought of God stamped upon the universe; he talked about the Logos by which God made the world and all things; he said that God, the pilot of the universe, held the Logos as a tiller and with it steered all things. (Barclay, ibid, page 36).

It is this concept of divine, superintending, creative power that is most prominently at the back of the New Testament writer John’s introduction of Jesus Christ: “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). The Greek idea of an impersonal principle of rationality that holds the universe together — the Logos — was given a more exalted and more personal and intimate expression in John’s Gospel.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him was nothing made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. (John 1:1-4)

Majestically and in measured prose, John moves toward his climax: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (verse 14). The Logos became Jesus Christ. John uses the Greek Logos for “Word” as an effective term that his first-century readers could understand.

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever” — Deuteronomy 29:29

But what of us today?

John’s stress on the Logos gives Christians the answer to the crucial “who” and “why” questions. Those answers are revealed in the work and role of Jesus Christ, who was God in the flesh. He was in the beginning. He was with God. And he was God. And he brought salvation to humanity. “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13).

Living in the Light

The universe, we have discovered, is more complex than anyone had remotely thought possible. Today’s scientific law is often tomorrow’s discarded theory. Yet, as we have seen, the oldest questions still persist — questions put forcefully by cosmologist John Gribbin and Martin Rees, professor of astronomy:

Why is our Universe the way it is? What is our place in it?… Why above all does the Universe have the symmetry and simplicity that have allowed us to make any progress in understanding it? These issues, where even the specialists are still groping for clues, are the ones that come up most frequently in general discussions. (Gribbin and Rees, Cosmic Coincidences: Dark Matter, Mankind and Anthropic Cosmology, page xiv)

They have even focused the question more sharply: “What features of the Universe were essential for the emergence of creatures such as ourselves, and is it through coincidence, or for some deeper reason, that our Universe has these features?” (Gribbin and Rees, pages xiv-xv).

Christians believe that their answer rules out such thought of cosmic coincidence. They believe that there is a higher intelligence not limited by the realm of time and space. They believe that God himself has come to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation,” the apostle Paul wrote centuries ago, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17).

What this means for scientists and lay people, those with little formal education and graduate students, the rich and the poor, the young and the old alike, is that there is glorious good news: There is purpose and meaning both for the cosmos and for each individual human life.

In the words of the evangelical thinker Francis Schaeffer: “The universe had a personal beginning . . . Before ‘in the beginning’ the personal was already there. Love and thought and communication existed prior to the creation of the heavens and the earth” (Genesis in Space and Time, page 21).

We, the created, are coming to understand our Creator. The challenge is to take the next logical step: to live in the light of that knowledge.


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