Quarks and Creation – World Religion Essay
This week we listened to John Polkinghorne speak about similarities that progressive science and theology share. Polkinghorne served as Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge University, and is a Fellow of The Royal Society all before becoming an Anglican Priest at
the age of forty-nine. Both the scientific world and the theological world are searching for truth. Polkinghorne has published many books and articles on this topic. He has found many connections between quantum physics and religion and does not believe that they are competing but rather they help to explain the other quite well.
The quantum world is a complex world. Things on the surface are not always easy to believe or see. Reality is equally rich; it is full of many layers. However science is limited at times because it only looks at one layer at a time. Important things are learned this way but we also know that the humans experience is one that presents a great amount of complexity. Humans treat things in their wholeness much like a painter looks at a piece of art. A scientist might look at a painting and try to figure out the composition of the medium as apposed to just stepping back and enjoying the painting. Or stepping and enjoying the complexity that is found when all different elements are experienced at once.
Beauty is an interesting thing and a word not often thought of when we are describing math. However, mathematical beauty is something that Polkinghorne finds when trying to understand the laws of nature. This is because the fundamental laws of nature are generally very mathematical based; concise but deep. These are simple equations that make up one line or two with a limited number of simples. If they are not beautiful equations then they generally not correct says Polkinghorne. So what appears to be simple is actually quite deep. Those who speak the language mathematics agree on what a beautiful equation is in the world of science.
In the 18th century people starting to say “science can explain everything” but when questions were proposed that science could not answer the idea of the “God of the Gaps” came about. This is a God that does those things that science was yet to explain. But this is a pretty limited view of God because once science is able to explain a problem thought to be left up to God; God is no longer needed. Another fundamental flaw of this perspective of God is to say that if nature does it, we don’t need.
By 19th century scientists were arguing about such ideas as the fundamental composition of light. Is light a particle or a wave? The Quantum Field Theory was later discovered and allowed for the idea that if you propose a particle question about light you can get a particle answer and if you ask a wave like question you get a wave answer. Polkinghorne uses this example to better explain the dilemma of life of Jesus. He was both a man and so much more. This also helps to show that science is fully engaged in the idea of faith. Often times a scientist will know that something is true because the result is seen but it takes time to develop a way to actually witness the process.
Polkinghorne says that Genesis 1 and 2 were clearly not written as scientific books. They were more like poems used to teach people about the awesome power of God. Genesis 1 for example does not have a correct sense time nor is the order of creation correct. For example stars come on the 4th day but the sun came on the first. You can not read poetry and believe it to be prose and in this way creationist are actually being disrespectful to scripture. It took 14 billion years to get where we are now. Certainly God is not in a hurry and is obvious to see that creation is an on going process. How arrogant to think that we are final product of God. God created something more interesting than a ready made world. We live in a world of true becoming.
So if we live in a world of true becoming then God does not know the future because it has not happened yet. This is not an imperfection just a reality. God is not the puppet master of the universe nor can God can make 2 + 2 = 5 because someone chooses to pray for it. God operates under the laws of nature or the laws of God. Polkinghorne proposes that the laws of nature are simply the laws of God.
The laws of God have a shadow side to them as well. For example we believe that having tectonic plates is important but sometimes they slip, when they slip they create earthquakes. The hard answer is that nature is allowed to be the way God made it. God doesn’t will the act of a murderer or the death by an earthquake but simply allows them to happen as they are the downside of free will. Suffering is built into freedom. How could a good God build a world that has so much suffering some ask? Our problems with suffering are actually just deep existential problems, “why is this happening to me?” The Christian God is not simply a stand off God, Christ suffered too. Perhaps this is part of the draw that Christianity offers. Jesus was nailed to a cross as a human and also felt the human emotion of being forsaken by his father.