According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Discussions in Science and Religion - Week 2: "A Tale of Two Cities"




"Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics."
- Stephen Hawking, The Grand Design, pg 5

"The universe itself has no single history, nor even an independent existence."
- Stephen Hawking, The Grand Design, pg 6

INTRODUCTION

The title of Charles Dicken's "Tale of Two Cities" comes to mind when examining the philosophical and theological foundations behind the symmetry of science and religion - for a symmetry they most assuredly make each-to-the-other as unlikely companions giving necessary shape to each other's form and function. Begging the question which must lead-out first? Does Science? Does Religion? At first, many think religion had led out which either invigorated scientific discovery, or held it back. And then science willingly replied either to add to religious understanding, or to question all that religion held dear. Hence, the cathartic Ying-and-Yang pull of each discipline's tug upon the other has held a mystical attraction that is unlikely to abate, if ever, until the end of days.

Consequently, one finds it necessary to be as careful in developmental research and adjudicated thinking respective to either discipline's present understanding and conjectures. To not underplay, nor overplay, one's theories and philosophical insights to the detriment of the other, but to purposely try to allow each to temperately exist in an uneasy alliance between the other. Allowing each one as full a voice as the other while all-the-while attempting the high-wire act of balancing one's views - and knowledge of the other - in some primordial mix of positive critique, helpful questioning, perhaps homage, or complete indeference.

A good philosopher/theologian does not wish to be unawares of scientific research no less than a good scientist wishes to be unawares of the undercurrents in philosophy and theology. However, it would be naïve of either discipline to think that time does not create change to the behavior or impact of one upon the other. And since our focus at Relevancy22 is on the many contemporary topics of theology, it would be absurd to think that the Christian faith is held in some kind of a sealed time capsule irrespective to the ideas of science and society. To behave in a way that would not admit progression of theological perspective with the frenetic insights and topsy-turvy discoveries of postmodern research forcing the classical worlds of Greek logic and Medieval theology beyond yesteryear's inroads of enlightened modernism.

But to react to change by fighting it is not what is helpful to today's churched congregations. Nor should we be fearful of technology's rapid rate of flux and influx. But to be sensible in discerning its influences in a way that might be helpful to believers wishing to follow Jesus, who are themselves unsure just how to do this in today's 21st century techno-scientific revolution. One way to do this is to explore science's discoveries and our responses to its understandings perhaps by enlarging the boundary sets we live within that once gave us comfort and relief but now have become blown-to-bits if held beyond their normal life's expiration date (speaking philosophically, that is).

Thus the pastor turns to the philosopher/poet, or the scientist/theologian, or to the media's darlings who drive both good-and-bad ideas forward that s/he might explore with them the ramifications of their arguments, insights, and ideas. Philip Clayton is such a one who has spent a lifetime becoming conversant with both sides of the science-and-religion debate, working towards resolutions that might offer sanity in the face of seeming insanity. Comfort and counsel where there has been none. To this end, Philip has worked equally as hard at understanding science as he has religion... to be generous, reflective, constructive, and helpful. So that in week two's discussion of Cosmology and Quantum Physics we come to a place that must stop and reflect upon our universe's origins from both a biblical understanding as well as a scientific one.


ENTER THE QUANTUM PHYSICISTS

Accordingly, with such purposeful reflection has come my glad contentment for taking the time these past several years to explore these same subjects of theism and science on my own before coming to Philip's, or another's, aggregative counsel (and perhaps even aggravating! counsel, lol). While other fellow Christians were blasting the renown physicist Stephen Hawking for his atheistic reconstruction of the quantum universe I read with a vengeance all that he had to say on the subject trying to discern his understanding of quantum physics. So that by having read his thoughts I have found for myself a curious spiritual synthesis based upon the same equations-and-formulas Stephen felt well-advised to accept for himself in quite a different, more-materialistic direction.

So that when coming to Philip Clayton's quotations of John Wheeler about humans "changing the course of world history by mere observation" I could sense the misdirection of that phrase as to how it should more properly be used (sic, according to Hawking, our observation doesn't change the course of history of a particle, but views one instance of its infinite singular histories). That is not to say that Philip (or Wheeler) understate their exploration of quantum principles based upon the Feynmann Sum of Histories, only that they have selectively written of it within a context that presages their own understanding of cosmological science, rather than to run away from it as theologians. Even so, I'll let the ramifications of their conjectures be told by themselves as I have more probably misunderstood their observations already! (cf., pg 78 in Science and Religion).

Which is one of the reasons I have been reading Philip's book on Science and Religion, and listening to his lectures, not that I might gainsay him, but rather glean from his many years of exploration, knowing that we each come from differing backgrounds, theistic needs, and perceptions. Like himself, I have become one who wishes to err on the side of science - and not on the side of past classical (philosopohic or theological) arguments. Nor fall prey to Hawking's ascetic observation that "philosophy (and faith) have not kept up with science." But to make a concerted effort to update my Christian faith in as intelligent a way as possible without voiding its historical past. Yet, perhaps, enhancing its ancient past with today's newer scientific discoveries formed in the symbiotic relationships of theoretical balance and mutual partnership.

As such, for literary reasons, Philip encapsulates the Age of Scientific Materialism into three empirical categories - idealism, indeterminacy, and interconnectivity. For purposes of this discussion he has found these categories helpful for his listeners even as I found them more restrictive, perhaps even prejudicing towards a certain philosophical outcome based upon assumed parameters and logical elocution. Still, Philip has simplified a difficult subject by utilizing a practical methodology which necessitates my abbreviated review as to its merits of reflection, and not to mine own literary hesitancies or theoretic perambulations.


First, Newton and Einstein, according to Philip, were determinists disbelieving that "God plays dice with creation." They wanted order and natural explanation right down to the very last gravitational pull-and-push of (atomic) energy. Shortly, quantum physics came into being, and with it the death of scientific absolutism, crouched within a mathematics that would make absurd all previous scientific statements when beheld in the light of quantum indeterminacy, Planck's constant, and Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. Shortly, philosophers derived the (weak) Anthropic Principle stating that the universe 'must be compatible with the conscious life observing it" (Hawking prefers the term "Selection Principle" instead). Quickly it was modified under multiverse theory (sic, many universes each unlike the other holding different natural laws, dimensions, etc, that are impossible for our type of quantum existence) to a biophilic theory that was friendly to the emergence of life and not just human life. Subsumed under that came Hawking's M-Theory which basically states that "we are what we are because we are" which is really a form of the Strong Anthropic Principle that predisposes even the very atomic structure of the universe towards human life (sic, its atomic bonds, molecular covalences, electronic spins, quantum phases, amplitudes, vibrational strings, and etcetera). Thus "our universe and its physical laws appear to have a design that is both tailor-made to support us and, if we are to exist, leaves little room for alteration. That is not easily explained, and raises the natural question of why it is that way (Hawking, The Grand Design, pg 162).

For Hawking this means that we, and our universe, are part of a larger, indeterminate process. But for the theist, it means that God is its Maker and Sustainer of all - however He arranges this universe that we live in. Moreover, it should be of note that Hawking, as a theoretical physicist, was exploring the idea of String Theory to that of the universe's origins. A theory that might lead to his Theory of Everything while accounting for the supersymmetries found between bosons (energy) and fermions (matter). It was an ambitious undertaking that few theoreticists are able to take - and those that can continue to vigorously research it (cf., Higgs-Boson research, amongst other efforts such as string theory). Accordingly, M-theory is the unified theory Einstein was hoping to find, and later in life revised his previous formulas to include the then unknown substances of dark matter (26.8%) and dark energy (69.3%) to balance off his equations of ordinary matter (which makes up 4.9% of the composition of the known universe). Making of him a dice thrower after all (even as we should be today).

CONCLUSION

The essence of Philip's arguments is one of finding the line between science and philosophy, and for him, as for myself, we each tend to erase that line as much as we can so that they both might bleed a little bit - if not a lotta bit - into the other. The other main argument Philip wishes to convey is that each discipline is housed within their own metaphysical arguments - certainly science, whether it is one of agnosticism or atheism, as much as theism, with its pushbacks and classicisms. As such, we must be aware that "today's lines can become tomorrow's laws" meaning that theoretical predictions, given time and observation, can become axiomatic and no longer postulates. As such, our theological certainties must always be tempered with epistemic humility... to be as skeptical of our own theological foundations as scientists have evidenced towards their own postulates and theorems.

What might we conclude then? That if we hold an eschatology that is orientated towards admission into a "New Heavens and New Earth" than more-than-likely we may show an evangelic carelessness towards ecological care and nurturing (even as the Reagan administrative did in its budgeting). Moreover, if we look to find God's integrity within creation's keeping than we will be disposed towards a quasi-science that misunderstands the physics of quantum indeterminacies - thinking we can change history merely by observing it. Not realizing that we are simply looking at one possible path of history over a sum of histories with infinite probabilities that is irrespective of the observer as timelines collapsed towards a state of singular infinities. (Which is why it was such fun to watch the TV show LOST as the Island timelines intersected, overlapped, bisected, and interfered with each character's timeline... better known as "quantum entanglement.") Of course the ramifications for the doctrines of sovereignty and evil can go far askew when held within a general misunderstanding of scientific principles. Even as Open Theism (cf. this site's sidebar under Theism) has thrived within this uncertain environment of humanity and creation (sic, the future is relational to both God and creation making it indeterminative in correspondent structure).

Of course, beyond Philip's ideas of idealism and indeterminacy is the idea of interconnectivity. That we inhabit a universe of localized energy-and-matter that influences other localized energy fields as they correspond to our Galaxy, our Solar System, our interactions with this world, and even with each other and ourselves. That everything is interconnected thus making everything relational.... Which is an idea that I like a lot as a Relational-Process theist (cf. the sidebar Theism). Overall we must accept the dictum that "truth may be informed by the past but must not become necessarily led by it" as both time-and-circumstances, events-and-society, evolve with each passing era. That we are responsible to form reasonable, open-minded opinions realizing that God is a God who is much bigger than we can think or imagine. That our metaphysical arguments cannot dictate to Him his essence and being much less His activity upon, within, through, for, by, around, or on behalf of, His creation. That we are part of God's amazing creation even as we have been made co-creators with Him in remaking, renewing, redeeming, rebirthing, and resurrecting, this old world into one verily in His image.

How? By the Spirit's empowerment of submission, humility, grace, mercy, peace, and forgiveness. These latter spiritual practices of course speak to a Weak Theology that is necessarily deconstructive to classic theism's insistence upon God meticulous control of all things in a mechanistic, pre-determined world as once thought by Newton et al. Thus my preferencing of Arminianism here at this blogsite, led by Dr. Roger Olson. And no, Arminianism is not a virus, its the practical side of Christian faith living: cup of water, helping hands, free will sort of thing that doesn't believe in God's meticulous sovereignty, but in a non-coercive, indeterminant creation that willfully partners with God even as God partners with His creation by its active allowance and submission. Thus we bear a Christian faith that allows worldly wills to become submissive to God's holy rule-and-reign even as our own wills are becoming formed now in the Spirit's apocalyptic event.

I have used these examples above to show how science can be relevant to theology. That theology can, and does, change at the behest of societal movement, whether we think it does or not.... And thus, it is my hope that these past recent discussions on Science and Religion might move the church past its own metaphysical localities onto faith's broader epistemological planes of reflected, Spirit-filled movement. Perhaps then, it should be so... even so, like any good Battle Star Galactic fan would say, "So Say We All."

R.E. Slater
September 18, 2013


Addendum

*What is the Difference between Weak v. Strong Anthropic Principles? (sic Wikipedia)

From Ken G's internet posting on this issue: "Actually, those are the weak/strong versions of Tipler and company-- the more standard original distinction by Carter (I got most of this from Wiki) is simply that the weak AP says that 'given the fundamental parameters we observe, we have to live in a place and time that is conducive to life.' Thus the WAP is only relevant to resolving "fine tuning" problems in regard to why we are here now, as opposed to somewhere else later. Given the cosmological principle that all places are more or less the same, the 'fine tuning' that is resolved is purely temporal-- why we are here after 13.7 billion years and not 1 year or 1 decillion years.

The strong AP goes on to look at the fundamental physical parameters themselves, and asserts that they also have to be fine tuned such that we could come along at some point in space and time. So it talks about why if you monkey even just a little with the dimensionless ratios of the universe, you seem to dramatically alter the resulting likelihood for generating life.

The reason the SAP is more speculative is that it is not clear what you are comparing-- you can compare life as it might develop in different places and times, and might scientifically find evidence for such life, but life in other hypothetical universes would seem to be a nonscientific issue. So the SAP is not really considered testable science, it's more philosophy, whereas the WAP is on a more solid footing in regard to the general requirements of a scientific explanation.

Personally, I don't think the SAP gives us any understanding of why the parameters are what they are, beyond the obvious point that given the laws we have found, the parameters would have to be within certain ranges or we couldn't be here. That doesn't qualify as "understanding" in my book. The idea that this does not require "fine tuning" on the grounds that there can be many other universes with other parameters that are not fine tuned, but we had to show up here, seems a fruitless and untestable claim. For example, how would one attribute a "probability" to a "universe"? Should we allow the laws to be anything in these hypothetical universes, or assert the laws have to be the same only with different parameters? What are we doing?"


Related Stephen Hawking articles -
Lenticular Clouds at Sunset, Tioga Pass, Yosemite, California



Index to past discussions -
Index to past articles on "Science & Religion"







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