ISCAST opinion articles invite writers to share their perspectives on various science–faith topics to generate a constructive conversation. While ISCAST is committed to orthodox Christian faith and mainstream science, our writers may come from a range of positions and do not represent ISCAST.
In our scientific age, what are we to make of the mysteries of God?
The human mind loves to join the dots. We try to make sense of everything. Our journey in forming lines of logic and reasoning seems to begin as babies, when crying leads to a nice meal, some extra attention, and a cuddle. A few years on and we progress to dot-to-dot colouring books before learning to systematise all of life, neatly compartmentalising everything from personality types to academic faculties.
But how will a dot-to-dot species living in a scientific and technological age deal with the things of God, the mysteries of God?
First, we don’t have to study the Scriptures for long to realise that God will not fit into any box of our making. He tells us this himself: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).
Second, let’s not overrate science! Science is limited, and even what it thinks it knows still has the incomprehensible in it. When it comes to understanding reality, things are not always what they seem. Joining those dots may still be out of reach.
Take a rock for instance—a perfect example of something that isn’t what it seems. A rock is typically a hard, heavy, dense solid. It certainly feels that way when one hits you in the head. But zooming into what’s going on inside a rock—and in fact all matter—reveals that it isn’t really solid at all. All matter consists of miniscule atoms, which, in turn, consist of an even tinier nucleus being orbited by even smaller electrons. Matter is mostly a whole lot of empty space! It’s what’s going on within that space that gives materials like rock its familiar properties.
Then, just when the nature of rocks is enough to get our heads spinning, onto the scene comes a bigger mystery. The 2011 Nobel Prize for physics was awarded for the discovery of dark energy. While the effects of dark energy can be measured and known to be real, nobody really knows what it is. Sure, we are getting more and more data but much remains hidden. As for dark matter, that’s of even greater interest. It basically describes the astronomic problem of most of the universe being missing. All of what astronomers can describe in the universe only adds up to approximately five per cent of the mass of the universe. Here enters dark matter to fill the giant gap like a giant tube of invisible silicon sealer. “Dark,” in this sense at least, describes our ignorance of a highly mysterious created order. [Editor’s note: ISCAST fellow Ken Freeman won the Prime Minister’s prize for science for being the first to calculate that the luminous, visible matter in galaxies is only a small fraction of their overall mass.]
Science has made incredible discoveries but any attempt at a “theory of everything” seems misguided in light of the mysteries of God.
No doubt, science has grown our understanding of reality. Yet, contrary to what many believe, it is not a god-like source of knowledge. Confining ourselves to this materialist perspective will make us like Richard Dawkins, who implies that science is able to answer all of life’s great questions, if not now then in the future.
It’s precisely this perspective that led one of the world’s most renowned scientists, the late Stephen Hawking, on his long and determined pursuit of the theory of everything: a theory to explain all known phenomena. Many other scientists still pursue this idea, but any attempt at a “theory of everything” seems misguided in light of the mysteries of God.
Science certainly teaches us many incredible things. But perhaps more importantly, science teaches us about what we don’t know, rather than what we do. The further we grow in our understanding, the further our eyes see infinite, mind-boggling complexities, with more questions than answers. When it comes to truth, the hunt is unceasing as we search for meaning, purpose, and reality. Yet we may continue in our pursuits with curiosity dovetailed with wisdom and humility, If we are to let God be God, it is important to acknowledge our ignorance and the chasm between his all-knowing divinity and our finite human understanding. As Alfred North Whitehead once observed, “It is not ignorance, but the ignorance of ignorance that is the death of knowledge” (quoted in Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, Game of Knowns, Macmillan, Australia, 2013, p. 68).
And so, as we continue to grow in our pursuit of knowledge, may we learn to embrace the mystery and sometimes paradoxical nature of God’s reality and his creation, acknowledging our inability to join all the dots, even in our scientific and technological age.