Mystery and Uncertainty

 This is the 8th post in this series which began with: Essentialism or Evolution: Do Both or Either Have a Place in an Orthodox Understanding of What It Is To Be Human?  The previous post is “Evolution Rather Than Essentialism?” in which we began to consider the advantages that the theory of evolution has in refuting the theology of deism.   


If we think the discoveries of biological evolution and genetics are just a threat to religion, theoretical physicist Lee Smolin says the notion that things happen for non-mathematical reasons is a real challenge to science.  Randomness, probability (statistics), uncertainty and chance which are all known in science threaten to unravel the search for a mathematical formula to tie all things together.  He writes:  

“Perhaps the greatest nightmare of the Platonist is that, in the end, all of our laws will be like this, so that the root of all the beautiful regularities we have discovered will turn out to be more statistics, beyond which is only randomness and irrationality. 

This is perhaps one reason why biology seems puzzling to some physicists.  The possibility that the tremendous beauty of the living world might be, in the end, just a matter of randomness, statistics, and frozen accident stands as a genuine threat to the mystical conceit that reality can be captured in a single, beautiful equation.  This is why it took me years to become comfortable with the possibility that the explanation for at least part of the laws of physics might be found in the same logic of randomness and frozen accident.”  (TOBOMSW,  p 366) 


Physicists like all scientists have to struggle with the implications of evolution just as theists do.  Free will, variation, change, mutation, uncertainty, ambiguity and mystery are all part of what God created. Physicist Alan Lightman notes that the recent discoveries in quantum physics have caused consternation in scientists themselves.  Writing about the notion of the multiverse which scientists believe might help give account for why our universe is the way it is, Lightman points out science finds itself in the exact position for which it has criticized theology and rejected a notion of God : 

“Because there is no way they can prove this conjecture. That uncertainty also disturbs many physicists who are adjusting to the idea of the multiverse. Not only must we accept that basic properties of our universe are accidental and uncalculable. In addition, we must believe in the existence of many other universes. But we have no conceivable way of observing these other universes and cannot prove their existence. Thus, to explain what we see in the world and in our mental deductions, we must believe in what we cannot prove. Sound familiar? Theologians are accustomed to taking some beliefs on faith. Scientists are not. Such arguments, in fact, run hard against the long grain of science. All we can do is hope that the same theories that predict the multiverse also make other predictions that we can test here in our local universe. But the other universes themselves will almost certainly remain a conjecture. “We had a lot more confidence in our intuition before the discovery of dark energy and the multiverse idea,” says [physicist and cosmologist Alan] Guth.”   (The Accidental Universe, Kindle Loc 246-255) 

4263499757_857d48413a_wOf course theists might suggest to Lightman that what scientists think of as “accidental and uncalculable” might only mean they are beyond the human’s ability to grasp or to see the pattern.  Perhaps they are part of God’s logic which is beyond human understanding and measure.  The issue is that there are things in the cosmos we cannot measure or understand – not because we don’t yet have the right equipment but because they are in fact beyond our understanding.  Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle comes to mind.  There are things we cannot know, not because we lack the will or instrumentation but because they are in fact beyond measurement and calculation.

Science and theology may have a lot more in common than science used to be willing to admit.  Concerning the mulitverse idea which has gained popularity among some scientists, one can contemplate what Origen wrote in the 3rd Century: “‘For no eye has seen . . . what God has prepared for those who love him’ (1 Cor 2:9).  But the eye sees the heaven and the earth; therefore it should not be believed that this which is seen has been prepared by God for those who love  him.  Indeed there must be a heaven, indeed there must rather be heavens which are much more sublime and elevated than this firmament that can be seen by the eyes” (ORIGEN: SPIRIT AND FIRE, p 357).  The notion of a multiverse should not be a threat to theists because in fact even Scripture refers to the heavens above the heavens.  And if atheists demand that theists be honest and admit that in any case no one has ever seen God, well, that is well established in Scripture itself (see John 1:18; also Exodus 33:20).  It is a point that Fr Alexander Schmemann made frequently in his Radio Liberty talks that were broadcast into the then atheistic Soviet Union (see A VOICE FOR OUR TIMES).
NASA Hubble Space Telescope Photo

To be continued on Monday: Essentialism, Natural Law and Scripture