Science and Belief

This post and the next were written as one, then I realised that it/they looked better separate… Now that I’ve separated them, I think they relate to each other quite a bit - but putting them back together again seems like too much effort!

I live my life on a sort of tightrope of belief. I believe, with my whole heart, that I am a much-loved child of God. Indeed, it is hardly 'belief' - more a deep certainty. My belief in God is about as certain as my belief in the correctness of, for instance, the Laws of Thermodynamics or the value of Pi. Because, as well as being a Christian, I am, by training and profession, a physicist... Although physicist is not really my identity as such, a lot of my thinking is done in the way a physicist thinks, but I identify far more as a child of God.

I know I’ve said this before, but I think it bears repetition here. In some sense, science is my how, and Christianity my why. Science says nothing about why we're here, but is very good at describing how the world works. In contrast, Christianity doesn't do a particularly good job of explaining how the world works, but is brilliant at giving meaning, a 'why', to life. I need both. I need to know how the world is; I also need to know why the world is.

I am not satisfied to take, for instance, the Genesis story literally; nor to take 'recent creation' as literal 'history' or an explanation of how the world is; it simply doesn't stack up in the face of the evidence. That doesn't make it untrue... it's just true on a different level and in a different way. It deals with why, not how. It explains our relationship with God; how it was marred, and the steps God began to take to put things right again. I also can't accept a nihilistic vision of the world - as an unfeeling, pitiless, void in which a few bags of chemicals scurry around a little ball in the vastness, without 'cosmic' meaning or purpose. There has to be more than just that explanation, or everything is pointless and worthless.

There is a tension there, and multiple sources of doubt - in both directions. Sometimes, the world seems purely 'physical', and it is hard to see a space for God in it - the existence of God then seems almost absurd; at other times, my world is so spiritual that the intangible is almost tangible - God seems so close that I could reach out and touch Him; I have had to open my eyes when praying, virtually convinced that I would see a figure standing before me, nail-marks in his hands, whispering 'Shalom; peace be with you.'

In some ways then, I am almost at war with myself. But in other ways, the two 'belief systems' reinforce each other...

Standing in the starlight, gazing upwards, I think it takes a physicist's mind to even begin to appreciate the vastness of space, and the awesome power of the universe; therefore how much more awesome and powerful must God be? Beyond comprehension in every way. I am utterly insignificant in cosmic, let alone divine, terms; and yet, God, in his infinite wisdom, chose to love me, and the other little 'bags of chemicals' scurrying around on this tiny ball of rock drifting in the vastness of the cosmos. Without the comfort of that knowledge, the universe would be a very impersonal, pitiless, even frightening, place. Without the 'feel' for God's 'magnitude', I would probably feel as though I was too small to be significant to God; but having an inkling of how unimaginably 'big' God is, I have no trouble understanding that he has the capacity to know and care for every one of His creatures, whatever and wherever they are.

Physical law is at the same time very complex and yet very simple and elegant. The same (or similar) patterns occur on vastly different scales, and in vastly different 'physical systems' - to the extent that it seems inconceivable to me that there isn't a driving intelligence behind it all, who derived great joy from dreaming it into being.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2022