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Ultimate Matters: Science & The Mind of God

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Certain it is that a conviction, akin to religious feeling, of the rationality or intelligibility of the world lies behind all scientific work of a higher order… This firm belief, a belief bound up with deep feeling, in a superior mind that reveals itself in the world of experience, represents my conception of God.” (Einstein, Ideas & Opinions)

I now believe that the universe was brought into being by an infinite Intelligence. I believe that this universe’s intricate laws manifest what scientists have called the Mind of God… Why do I believe this, given that I expounded and defended atheism for more than a half century? The short answer is this: this is the world picture, as I see it, that has emerged from modern science.” (Anthony Flew, There is a God, 2007)

One thing above all interests me, and most humans – and that is whether ‘God is’, and whether the rationality and life of the human mind and heart is best understood, therefore, as our own feeble resonance with the Mind of God.

Is the insight of Einstein true, that “the laws of nature manifest the existence of a spirit vastly superior to that of men, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble”?  Because if so, this lapsed Jew is teaching us again the fear of the Lord, and that is the beginning again of wisdom for our era.

As prominent atheist Antony Flew found, the honest intellect that follows the evidence where it leads may well be brought to Einstein’s “firm belief, a belief bound up with deep feeling, in a superior mind”, the Mind of God. Yet it is not only Einstein whose deep delving into “the rationality or intelligibility of the world” has led him to “a conviction, akin to religious feeling”.

After Einstein and his theory of relativity, the next greatest scientific development in the 20th century was quantum physics. Listen to the four founders of quantum physics – Max Planck, Schrodinger, Heisenberg, and Paul Dirac:

Max Planck dismisses those who think science and religion are incompatible: “There can never be any real opposition between religion and science; for the one is the complement of the other.” [i]

Schrodinger points to the inadequacy of science alone to deal with great categories like goodness and God: “The scientific picture of the world around me is very deficient. It gives me a lot of factual information… but is ghastly silent about all that is really near to our heart, that really matters to us. .. It knows nothing of beauty and ugly (sic), good or bad, God and eternity…”

And Heisenberg testifies: “I have repeatedly been compelled to ponder on the relationship of these two regions of thought (science and religion), for I have never been able to doubt the reality of that to which they point.” [ii]

Finally, Cambridge Professor Paul Dirac points us respectfully to the Mind of God revealed in the exquisitely beautiful laws of nature when he says: “God is a mathematician of a very high order and He used advanced mathematics in constructing the universe.” [iii]

Even Darwin has something to say on the subject of the Mind of God: “[Reason tells me of the]…impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe… as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind…” (Autobiography)

And in our own day and place, another leading agnostic scientist, the Australian cosmologist Paul Davies, writes an entire book called “The Mind of God”, from a position similar to Einstein’s:

“I belong to the group of scientists who do not subscribe to a conventional religion but nevertheless deny that the universe is a purposeless accident. Through my scientific work I have come to believe more and more strongly that the physical universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as a brute fact. There must, it seems to me, be a deeper level of explanation. Whether one wishes to call that deeper level ‘God’ is a matter of taste and definition.”

The authentically numinous “conviction, akin to religious feeling” which comes with deep contact with the astonishing rationality and beauty of the physical world, is open even to us lesser minds if we are prepared to read the likes of Flew, Davies, or the Cambridge physicist / theologian John Polkinghorne.

And then the question obviously arises, as the rigidly rational Flew puts it:

“Where do I go from here? … The question of whether the Divine has revealed itself in human history remains a valid topic of discussion. You cannot limit the possibilities of omnipotence…”

This revived awareness of the Mind of God through humble scientific insight gives dignity back to the question of whether that Mind might indeed be intensely interested in, possibly even actively engaged with, the universe. That, says Flew, remains “a valid topic” because, once one grants – with Einstein – “the existence of a spirit vastly superior to that of men”, it is not for us to circumscribe the activities, if any, of that spirit. “You cannot limit the possibilities of omnipotence…” says Flew.

The outrageous idea that the Mind of God might see fit to involve itself in our own affairs, to write Himself into our story, would have to be the Biggest Idea possible for the human mind to contemplate. And that idea is the one upon which our once-vibrant culture was built, and remains the one foundation upon which it might be revitalised.

The Christian “Idea of God Incarnate” was captured in five words of Greek, scratched on parchment in the late first century by a man who had laid his head on Jesus’ chest the night before He was executed. John 1 asserts the great culture-creating idea, the notion that the transcendent logos did involve itself, visibly and knowably, in merely human affairs: kai o logos sarx egeneto (“and the Word became flesh”…). The rest is history.

This theory of the intervention of the Mind of God into human history remains, as Flew concludes, a valid topic of discussion, because “you cannot limit the possibilities of omnipotence”.

And I love that idea. If it were true then it would be the one thing that matters. For us pitiful creatures who are only ever half awake and so soon dead, insight into the Mind of God and – more to our needs – into the Heart of God, must be the ultimate matter of life and death.

[i] Max Planck, Where is Science Going? Trans. James Murphy (New York: Norton, 1977), 93.

[ii] Werner Heisenberg, Across the Frontiers, trans. Peter Heath, (San Francisco: Harper & Row 1974), 213.

[iii] Paul Dirac, “The Evolution of the Physicist’s Picture of Nature” (Scientific American 208, no.5 (May 1963): 53.

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