Thursday, December 29, 2016

Physics, Philosophy, and Theology

Higgs-Bosons, Up, Down, Charmed, and Strange Quarks, Anti-matter, Dark-Matter, and Light as both wave and particle - at one and the same time. These are the present realities of physics which even the public has come to accept as incomprehensible, but real. How can one begin to understand a universe that contains this many uncertainties, paradoxes, and seeming impossibilities? Yet, this is what our contemporary mind has been trained to do by the realities of our physical world. It did not start with Albert Einstein, but his descriptions of the Theory of Relativity did much to train the world to believe two contradictory truths at once. This is one of the hallmarks of our post-modern culture and this influences philosophy and theology as well as science. As Alistair McGrath puts it.

For an orthodox Christian theologian, the doctrine of the Trinity is the inevitable outcome of intellectual engagement with the Christian experience of God; for the physicist, equally abstract and bewildering concepts emerge from wrestling with the world of quantum phenomena. But both are committed to sustained intellectual engagement with [these] phenomena, in order to derive and develop theories or doctrines which can be said to do justice to them, preserving rather than reducing them. Both the sciences and religion may therefore be described as offering interpretations of experience. (McGrath, 1998, p. 88)[1]

The Bible speaks of the Creator God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8); the canon of the Bible has now been established for many centuries and will not be changed; but theology has and will change. Science, philosophy, and theology must change, as they are interpretations of experience. God remains the same, but humans have passed knowledge and experience from one generation to another, slowly building a base of wisdom and information that allows us to relate to our physical, philosophical, and theological world. Humans, as a collective, know much more about the universe today than we did prior to God’s Abrahamic covenant with his people. Humans are not the same people today as those who interacted with him in the Middle-East or African deserts of those times. So, the unchanging God has chosen to change the way in which he has interacted with humans. First, he chose a way to interact with those who lived in the days of Adam and others before the Abrahamic Covenant. The details of this interaction are sparse and hard to ascertain, but clearly different from his covenant with Abraham. Then, there are all those who lived under the covenant of Abraham, as described in Genesis 12:2 and 3.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

Next, there is the Mosaic Covenant, described in Exodus 19, in which God reminds his people of their obligation to obey all that he has commanded them in the Law, and the people respond with, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do!” 

The next change that occurs within the way in which God interacts with his people is the Incarnation. In this covenant, God himself steps into history, biology, and physics, in the form of Jesus Christ, Immanuel. The Good News of the New Testament is the covenant between God and people who choose to follow Jesus, who is the Lord. As far as we know, this represents the last iteration of God’s interaction with his people, before the final judgement and the renewal of all in the definitive Kingdom of God.

Again, I need to remind myself and my readers that this is not about God changing, the Bible changing, or the cultural perspective of humans changing. This is about the information, wisdom, and experience of humans that shape how God chooses to interact with his created beings. As humans grow, mature, and advance in technology, God chooses to interrelate to us in new ways.

The previous discussion about how God has chosen to relate to humans may give us cause to pause in our desire to be completely and definitively correct in our assessments of anything in life. If science has the potential to discover new things that shape the way we view life, then theology and our understanding of the Bible can and will change as humans mature and change. We should not be too quick to decide that we have the last word on any given topic, theological or secular. Some new fact or feature may be discovered which requires an attenuation, correction, or confirmation of our assessment. In other words, on some given topic, we might be wrong.

Works Cited: 
McGrath, A. E. (2007). Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

[1] Alister McGrath, Dawkins’ God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 1998), 88.

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