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A new riff on Religion, God and Science

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Sir John PolkinghorneImage via Wikipedia

According to Owen Gingerich is emeritus professor of astronomy and the history of science at Harvard University. Link to his piece

In delineating the history of the concept, Oxford’s Peter Harrison has concluded that today, science, insofar as it assumes the reality of mathematical laws, operates with a tacitly theistic assumption about the nature of the universe. The mere existence of this underlying rationality of the universe, its deep ontology, points toward a divine creative reality that we can label as God’s agenda.

The physicist John Polkinghorne reasons along the same lines when he writes that we must “face the fact that science is privileged to explore a universe that is both rationally transparent and rationally beautiful in its deep and accessible order. … Something profound is going on in science’s exploration of our deeply intelligible universe that calls for metascientific illumination.”

What does this view purchase for the religious understanding of the world in which we find ourselves? Some events that seem totally incredulous to those of us who take seriously the world’s stability and dependability, such as the resurrection of Jesus after his crucifixion and entombment, can be seen not as rare suspensions of the laws of nature, but as the intersection of a more fundamental spiritual universe with the physical universe embedded in it, a physical universe in which the ontological laws of nature always hold, but which is only a subset of the total reality. It is a matter of faith that such a spiritual universe exists, and by the same token, also a matter of faith to deny its existence.

I find it interesting to refer back to Einstein’s views about his own faith, for example:

Every one who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe-a spirit vastly superior to that of man/woman, and in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is indeed quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive.

But he did draw a line concerning the limits of “a spirit vastly superior to that of man/woman”:

I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and doings of mankind (either the individual or collectivity).

I can’t imagine that Einstein would accept that the physical universe is embedded within a spiritual universe, whose Highest Power could interrupt the lawful unfolding of the physical universe in any way. But I can imagine that Polkinghorne et al can suggest that the physical must be embedded in a God run spiritual universe. The Highest Power can undo the Laws of Nature at will. Surely that would have upset Einstein as much as Quantum Physics did or “God can’t play dice with the Universe”.

Now that I have listened to Robert Anton Wilson’s views on the philosophical implications of our human sense of “reality” (see the link below) once we have accepted the “reality” within the microscopic quantum universe, I can begin the understand how Polkinghorne et al need their own perception of their higher spiritual reality to reconcile their acceptance of science while subscribing to belief in God’s power over the physical universe.

Wilson’s explanation simply points out that human beings are subject to the limitations of the tools used to perceive and measure the “reality” they exist in. We see “our reality” depending on our perspective of what we can perceive and observe with the tools we choose to use or invent.

And then there is this view of the natural limits on the grasp that human beings can have of “realities”!

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2008/08/26 at 15:23

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