God Is In The Details

I’m no physicist.  My high school algebra teacher would assure you that my math skills are more compatible with (maybe) balancing a checkbook rather than understanding the science behind the laws of the universe.  But that’s never stopped me from trying.  In college, I was blessed to study with a wonderful professor who made physics accessible to non-scientists like me.  Under her guidance, we were introduced to Einstein’s theories, quantum mechanics and the mysterious “dark energy.”  Since then I’ve enjoyed trying to keep up with the exciting discoveries that are unfolding in physics like string theory and the recent work in Switzerland exploring Higgs-boson, or “the God particle.”  The more I learn about the workings of the universe, the more I appreciate the wonder of creation and the power and majesty of the Creator.
As a Christian, I have no problem embracing all that science can teach us about our world.  I know that there is one Truth and so any facts that physics or any of the other sciences will uncover can never contradict the Truth of God.  I have friends who believe you can’t be a Christians and still believe in evolution.  But I believe that God can use any process He wants in His creation.  Our human attempts to understand His physical laws are what physics pursues.  From the forces that hold the stars in place to the behavior of the tiniest subatomic particles in a baby’s fingernail, physics seeks to describe the hidden fabric of the universe. 
The history of modern physics is almost as interesting as what physicists have discovered.  Everyone knows about Sir Isaac Newton, whose descriptions of the forces of gravity and inertia describe the visible world around us pretty well. Then along comes Einstein and suddenly the Newtonian universe just doesn’t explain much anymore.  For Einstein, matter and energy and time all get redefined and are shown to be much more flexible and inter-related than Sir Isaac had imagined.  Then with Max Planck and Niels Bohr, the specialty branch of quantum theory looks at the super-small interworkings of subatomic particles.  For me, this is where the astounding presence of God is most amazingly revealed.  The more we learn about the smallest bits of creation, the more we learn about the greatness of God.  One scientist notes that the universe seems “strangely overbuilt.”  There is an intricate reality which underlies our ordinary-looking world.  It’s as if God has created a beautiful, intricately-patterned golden chair…and then overlaid it with common wood.  The outside looks ordinary and functional, but within it lies an extraordinary treasure.
As a Catholic, this kind of reflection makes me think of the Holy Eucharist.  Beneath the appearance of ordinary bread lies the great gift to us of Christ’s own Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.  God seems to find joy in hiding Himself in the common and the ordinary.  After all, the Word became flesh as an infant born into an animal’s food trough.  He Who created the world humbled himself to become human and live among His creation.  The King of Kings hung out with unsavory people who were shunned by the intelligent upper-crust of society.  Yet in Him and His ministry the greatest universal force was revealed:  love.  Ironically, modern physicists are looking for the unifying theory that would explain both classical Newtonian physics and quantum theory.  The well-known physicist (and atheist) Stephen Hawking has devoted much of his life’s work to this effort.  He believes God is a “delusion” as he named his most popular book.  Rather than seeing the universe as the creative act of a loving God, Mr. Hawking believes that the universe is the result of random chance.  Without faith, maybe that’s how the world looks.  But I can’t look at a flower or read about quantum mechanics without seeing the hand of God at work.  And my love of physics and learning as much as I can about the smallest parts of creation reveals to me how much God loves us.  He has made for us an incredibly complex and beautifully-designed masterpiece in which He’s hidden treasures for us to discover.  All of creation thrums a song of thanksgiving to the Lord.  But God isn’t interested in being “found out” as the result of one of our science experiments.  He wants a relationship with each one of us developed over a lifetime, and meant to last forever.  For me, science and faith go hand in hand—not as adversaries, but partners.  Science reveals to me the glory of God and faith tells me where my intellect and curiosity come from.  Science looks for understanding and, at least for me, God says “I AM.” 
“..the first and most thrilling of all lessons of the universe…is the infinite and terrible power of small things.”
                                                                                                      —G.K. Chesteron


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Ruth Ann
    Jul 22, 2012 @ 22:58:53

    I simply enjoyed this post immensely! I, too, love science and have never found anything in it as a stumbling block to my faith. I find good science and good theology compatible precisely because they are ways of seeking truth, which ultimately is Truth.

    You are fortunate to have had that teacher who was able to introduce you to physics for non-scientists. Although I’ve studied biology and chemistry, I have never had a physics course. What I know of physics is what I’ve learned on television programs like NOVA or in simple books, and that’s not much.

    Incidentally, the author of The God Delusion is Richard Dawkins. Stephen Hawking recently wrote The Grand Design.


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