Monday, August 01, 2022

The God Who Lurks Behind Modern Science

Last week an interesting question emerged from the comments revolving around  discussion of Lawrence Krauss's A Universe from Nothing. [1] Our Friendly atheist critic "Anonymous" ["Pixie"] said..."But we can easily imagine universes without God. It's not so easy to imagine a universe without any laws of physics." My response: "Modern science formulated the notion of laws of physics from taking out the personality of God and leaving the calculation of mind with power,you talk like science arrived at it;s viewpoint in one afternoon with no knowledge of religion. In reality it slowly evolved out of religious faith with help of thinkers who regarded both as truth." In paraphrasing the general discussion my basic position might be typified by one phrase I uttered: "physicist Stephen Hawking claimed that when physicists find the theory he and his colleagues are looking for - a so-called 'theory of everything' - then they will have seen into "the mind of God". At this point Skeptical chimes in with his usual  vibrato:
- Joe, that is religionist propaganda. It was a metaphor - not to be taken literally. I will grant you that numerous religionists have misinterpreted what Hawking said. But Hawking WAS an atheist. Let me tell you what Hawking later said about his statement on knowing the mind of God (NOT seeing into the mind of God): Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation,” he said. “What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God’ is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an atheist.”[2]
    I know he's an atheist. I never said he believed in God. I said his idea borrowed from the general concept of God. Throughout that discussion  Pixie kept saying that the concept of God is not used in science now. I am not sure what he thinks he's getting out of that realization, but it's essentially true  but also misleading. While God is not an operative concept in science today the God concept lurks behind the history of science and modern sciences are shaped by various attempts to take God out of the picture while capitalizing upon the effects of God.  In other words the laws of physics are shaped by taking the personality of God away and leaving the power and law  giving in place.The concept of God is covertly operative in modern science in that way and also in that modern science clearly seeks a  transcendental signified to ground it;s law making upon.

Physicist Paul Davies tells us modern science has tended to avoid questions about the origins of physical law. They've left the question unanswered,  "Traditionally, scientists have treated the laws of physics as simply "given", elegant mathematical relationships that were somehow imprinted on the universe at its birth, and fixed thereafter. Inquiry into the origin and nature of the laws was not regarded as a proper part of science." [3]\
This shared failing is no surprise, because the very notion of physical law has its origins in theology. The idea of absolute, universal, perfect, immutable laws comes straight out of monotheism, which was the dominant influence in Europe at the time science as we know it was being formulated by Isaac Newton and his contemporaries. Just as classical Christianity presents God as upholding the natural order from beyond the universe, so physicists envisage their laws as inhabiting an abstract transcendent realm of perfect mathematical relationships. Furthermore, Christians believe the world depends utterly on God for its existence, while the converse is not the case. Correspondingly, physicists declare that the universe is governed by eternal laws, but the laws remain impervious to events in the universe.[4]
He reminds us: "Dumping the problem in the lap of a pre-existing designer is no explanation at all, as it merely begs the question of who designed the designer. But appealing to a host of unseen universes and a set of unexplained meta-laws is scarcely any better."[5] I don't think he takes seriously the anti-theological Jibber jabber about designing the designer,I think that;s just his way of saying how can we know with final certainty which it is?

That craving for certainty is the impetus behind grand unified theory of everything. Why add “of everything?” That clearly points to the transcendental signified.
In his best-selling book "A Brief History of Time", physicist Stephen Hawking claimed that when physicists find the theory he and his colleagues are looking for - a so-called "theory of everything" - then they will have seen into "the mind of God". Hawking is by no means the only scientist who has associated God with the laws of physics. Nobel laureate Leon Lederman, for example, has made a link between God and a subatomic particle known as the Higgs boson. Lederman has suggested that when physicists find this particle in their accelerators it will be like looking into the face of God. But what kind of God are these physicists talking about? Theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg suggests that in fact this is not much of a God at all. Weinberg notes that traditionally the word "God" has meant "an interested personality". But that is not what Hawking and Lederman mean. Their "god", he says, is really just "an abstract principle of order and harmony", a set of mathematical equations. Weinberg questions then why they use the word "god" at all. He makes the rather profound point that "if language is to be of any use to us, then we ought to try and preserve the meaning of words, and 'god' historically has not meant the laws of nature." The question of just what is "God" has taxed theologians for thousands of years; what Weinberg reminds us is to be wary of glib definitions.[6]
Weinberg tells us the theory of everything will unite all aspects of physical reality in a single elegant explanation.[7] Exactly as does the TS! It's really describing a prescriptive set of laws, so it seems. If their theory can only give descriptions of how the universe behaves how is it going to explain everything? It seems explanatory power only comes with certainty about how things work. That is weaker with probable tendencies than with actual laws. Why are they looking for a single theory to sum it all up if they don't accept some degree of hierarchical causality?[8]

They still use the model of physical law, but they deny its law-like aspects, yet they want it to be unalterable and to sum everything up in one principle. Don't look now but what she is describing is Transcendental Signified, which is the basic job description of God.

Clearly God lurks behind science. First in its development going back to the practices  then if nothing else the preoccupation of modern physicists to escape God leads to modeling the universe after God;s work. They may not name God in the laws of physics but they are definitely conscious of working arouind him. The furthermost back I can go in finding thinkers who tried to formulate laws about the workings of the physical world is Heraclitus 335 BC. Even he had a theological view that was interspersed with his physical understanding.[9] "...He is deeply concerned with the moral implications of physical theory.....Heraclitus recognizes a divine unity behind the cosmos, one that is difficult to identify and perhaps impossible to separate from the processes of the cosmos,"[10]

In modern times the link between the making of laws of physics under Newton and God as law giver via Newton's Christianity is well documented. First his central role as the modern notion of physical law is well developed. [11]Some may be tempted to write off Newton's Christianity with "everyone  was a Christian back then," no one who has studied Newton would say that. His Christianity was not only sincere but advanced:
His polished writings on theology were not the musings of a dilettante but were the products of a committed, brilliant and courageous analyst. If he had published his ideas in the late seventeenth century, he would have had to leave the university, and would almost certainly have retired to what he would have seen as the freedom of his manor in Lincolnshire. He would never have enjoyed the senior political and administrative positions he was awarded in the early eighteenth century and indeed, would never have written the Principia or Opticks. With his appointment at the Mint, and the fame he garnered as a result of his work in the exact sciences, he shed the identity of a retired Cambridge don, and became an eminent metropolitan public figure. He was promoted to Master of the Mint on Boxing Day 1699, and in 1703 he was made President of the Royal Society, being knighted for his services to the state two years later.[12]
We see science began as far back as we can go  and in its early modern phases as an expression of God's creative working. In the old days scientists tried to understand God by understanding nature, now they try to play God by understanding nature.


[1] J.L.Hinman, "Review and Debunking of Lawrence Krauss's A Universe From Nothing." comments, Metacrock;s Bloog, (MARCH 06, 2019) [accessed 3/15/19]

[2] Skeptoical quoted Ibid,

[3] Paul Davies, "Yes the Universe looks like a fix: But That Doesn't Mean a God Fixed it." The Guardian, (June 25, 2007) 19.7 EDT [accessed 3/15/19]

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6]Counter balance foundation, “Stephen Hawking's God,” quoted on PBS website Faith and Reason. No date listed. Online resource, URL the URL for the website itself: accessed 8/26/2015.

counterbalance foundation offers this self identification: “Counterbalance is a non-profit educational organization working to promote the public understanding of science, and how the sciences relate to wider society.  It is our hope that individuals, the academic community, and society as a whole will benefit from a struggle toward integrated and counterbalanced responses to complex questions.” see URL above. The faith and reason foundation helped fund the PBS show. I first found the piece “Stephen Hawking's God'' early in the century, maybe 2004, certainly before 2006. It was on a site called Metalist on science and religion. That site is gone.

[7] Steven Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory: The Scientist's Search for the Ultimate Laws of Nature. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. 1994, 3, also 211.

[8] Counterbalance op cit

[9]Daniel W. Graham, Heraclitus (fl. c. 500 BCE) Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, no date.  [accessed 3/15/19]

Graham is at Brigham Young University


[11] Joshua Filmer, "Sir Isaac Newton: Father of Modern Science," F Futurism The Byte (December 25th 2013) [accessed 3/15/19]

[12]Robert Iliffe, "Newton's Religious life and Work," The Newton Project (2013) [accessed 3/15/19]

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Joseph Hinman's new book is God, Science and Ideology. Hinman argues that atheists and skeptics who use science as a barrier to belief in God are not basing doubt on science itself but upon an ideology that adherer's to science in certain instances. This ideology, "scientism," assumes that science is the only valid form of knowledge and rules out religious belief. Hinman argues that science is neutral with respect to belief in God … In this book Hinman with atheist positions on topics such as consciousness and the nature of knowledge, puts to rest to arguments of Lawrence M. Krauss, Victor J. Stenger, and Richard Dawkins, and delimits the areas for potential God arguments.

1 comment:

Kristen said...

Yes, science has its foundations in the belief that the physical world is good, that it's valuable and orderly and worth understanding. Those ideas were not inherent in all ancient cultures, most of which viewed the world as a hostile place governed by capricious and selfish gods. We take these assumptions about the basis for science as a given nowadays without really noticing where they came from.