Physics and God
It is often claimed that physics and God are attempts at explaining the same thing. That thing is the universe. The four big questions of existence are: “Why are the laws of nature what they are? Why does the universe consist of the things it does? How did those things arise? How did the universe achieve its organization?” Physics and God are both used as methods to answer these four questions.
In my previous post I touched on the issue of pre-Christian beliefs and made the point that Pagans were very disposed to truth seeking. The Ancient Greeks left behind a massive volume of literature which is still relevant today. The two most notable writers of the period Aristotle and Plato are essential reading for anybody who seeks to probe the ultimate questions. Yet with the coming of Christianity they were cast aside and ignored. Though modern science sprouted out of Christian Europe, we could mount an argument that it was due to the legacy of the Greeks and despite Christian philosophy that enlightenment came. Christianity waged war against the Paganism it replaced, and it dragged its feet (and still does) against the scientific thinking that has all but replaced Christianity. Pagan philosophy and science both seek to discover the truth in a way that Christianity does not.
Which God ?
In any discussion of physics and God it is to pagan god beliefs we must turn. The Christians created a god for their own ends, not as a means of uncovering the truth to the four big questions but as a means of political control. The Christians stole the concept of God from Paganism and created their own version. Roman commentator Celcus wrote at the time of the Christian usurpation:
“Many of the ideas of the Christians have been expressed better – and earlier – by the Greeks. Behind these views is an ancient doctrine that has existed from the beginning.”
Pagan beliefs associated the universe as a whole with God. The two are the same thing. This view is possibly the oldest form of God belief there is and I venture the most rational form of God belief there is. The pantheist God offers a real insight into the nature of reality that the God of Christianity does not. It is no coincidence that some of the greatest advances in knowledge and understanding have been made by those who expressed a belief in the God of pantheism.
Spinoza created a metaphysical system which even predicted the nature of the scientific method that was to follow. Einstein was eager to emphasize his belief in the God of Spinoza and not a god of the personal kind. Scientists and physicists have never been slow to discuss god, but it is the God of pantheism, the ancient God of the truth seeking Pagans, to which they more often refer not the Christian God.
Ask in university departments around the world and you will find that physicists believe that the four big questions are a part of what their subject is attempting to answer. When the answers to the ultimate questions become available, then physicists will agree on those answers.
In the theology departments around the world the theologians already have the answers. For them the answers to the four questions above are that God is responsible. But you will find no agreement on the nature of God amongst the theologians. To know what type of God is being used to explain the four ultimate questions you will need to know where you are and which religion’s God is being used as the explanatory idea. You will also have to accept, without evidence, features of this God which are irrational. The theological explanation therefore is a cultural explanation, the truth of which depends on your willingness to accept the postulation of an unverifiable entity.
So how do physics and God relate from the physicists perspective? The physicist may have a requirement for evidence, but does that prevent her from believing that a God may exist? Or does the requirement for evidence prevent the physicist from invoking the concept of God whilst engaging in descriptions of the universe? The short answer is no. But to truly understand the physicist’s conception we first need to understand the type of God that she is thinking about.
The Pantheist God
The most prevalent concept of God in the physicists mind is the pantheist God, the God that is expressed as being on a par with nature. Essentially God and nature is the same thing. Many physicists today are content with promoting the idea that God is a valid concept. The reason for this comes from some interpretations of quantum mechanics but can also stem from a variety of philosophical approaches to understanding the world. At the basis of physicists acceptance that God is a valid concept is the idea that the universe itself is a thinking entity. Not in the way that the universe sits around thinking, but in the sense that we humans are the means by which the universe has thought, or spiritual existence. The point is that the universe may only be able to exist with minds as part of that universe. We can quite readily understand this sentence if we replace the word mind for say space and time. Space and the matter within, as well as time, seem to be fundamental to the existence of any possible universe. The physicists are also aware that mind may be as fundamental to universes as space and time.
Most people who are new to pantheism often question the point in assuming that God and nature is the same thing. Isn’t this just a version of “sexed up atheism” as Richard Dawkins has claimed? As we can deduce from the previous paragraph the answer is no. Pantheism can come in a variety of guises. There can be physical varieties, spiritual varieties and dualistic varieties. Each brand can be assumed under the pantheist doctrine. But of most interest are the ones which come in the spirit flavour. Pantheism is most often expressed as a doctrine in opposition to a purely material philosophy, that all things are a consequence of matter.
The argument is that the universe (God) exists by necessity. As the universe causes itself then it has to exist in the way that it does and can exist in no other way. Again, everything that is a part of the universe is a part of the universe through necessity. There is no contingency. Had it been caused by something else, then the nature of that something else would determine how the universe is. As the universe is self caused then the universe is how it is, because that is how the universe is. Therefore the existence of minds is all a part of how the universe necessarily exists. The universe must contain mental phenomena.
Pantheism can be viewed as a form of atheism; atheism after all is a mere denial of the theistic god. Pantheism can also be viewed as a form of theism; all that exists is God, there is but one God and He is the origin of all things.
Grasping the few basic principles of pantheistic doctrine brings the four ultimate questions of existence into clear focus. To say that God did it is to say no more than that is how the universe is. The physicist in her investigations is attending to the detail of how God did it. A physicist cannot work with a theist god of the Christian church because it does not make any rational sense. From the pantheist position physics and God are intimately related. Indeed, physics is for many, the uncovering of the mind and structure of God. Physics and God are intimately related, but the physicist’s view of what God is differs greatly from the Christian definition.