The death of Stephen Hawking has resurrected the debate about science and religion, and about physics and philosophy. Having famously declared that “philosophy is dead,” on the assumption or presumption that science was better equipped to ask and answer the ultimate questions about the meaning of life, Hawking also declared that “God is dead,” in the sense that he claimed that science offered an explanation of the cosmos which made religion and a belief in God redundant. In light of Pascal’s wager, Hawking now knows whether God exists, if God does exist, and knows nothing at all, if God doesn’t exist. If God exists, Hawking will face the consequences of the choices he made in his life; if God doesn’t exist, Hawking is as inanimate as the dust to which he has returned. For the rest of us, who are still alive, his death should prompt us to ask and reconsider the basic questions of life.
What has faith to do with physics? Isn’t there an unbridgeable abyss separating them; an abysmal distance between the one and the other? Certainly an atheist would say so. Take, for example, Charles Ryder, the thoroughly secularized protagonist in Evelyn Waugh’s novel, Brideshead Revisted. Upon leaving Brideshead for what he believes will be the last time, he declares that he has left behind illusion, represented by the Catholicism of the household from which he is departing. Henceforth, he will believe only in three dimensions as experienced by his five senses. All else he feels is but superstitious nonsense. The older and wiser Charles Ryder, narrating the story of his youthful self, states that he now knows that the materialism that he had once embraced was itself an illusion and nothing but superstitious nonsense.
The problem is that the atheist believes that physics precludes faith, and that religious faith is only possible if the truths of physics are ignored or denied. What, therefore, is the atheist to make of the fact that the very foundations of modern physics were laid by Fr. Georges LeMaître, a Catholic priest, in his formulating of the Big Bang theory? Why was it that a man of faith could see things about the physical cosmos that nobody else had seen before? Perhaps it has something to do with the connection between physics and mathematics, the latter of which informs the former. Take, for example, mathematical concepts, such as infinity or imaginary numbers, which transcend anything purely physical. In this interweaving of physics with mathematics we see the interweaving of the physical with the metaphysical. Is it any wonder, therefore, that a man of faith, such as Fr. LeMaître, a mathematician and a scientist who was equally at home with physics and metaphysics, should have been at the cutting edge of the physical sciences?
Ironically it is the atheist and not the man of faith who is blind to the truths of physics. It is he who can only hold to his atheistic creed if he ignores physical reality. Take, for instance, the mysterious trinities that form the very fabric of the physical cosmos. The unity of space is three dimensional, as is the unity of time (past, present and future), neither of which can be comprehended or experienced physically except through the reality of their triune nature. And this basic and yet mysterious truth, which would have been known to the ancients, has been reinforced by the newest discoveries in physics. All atoms are tripartite, if not strictly triune, being made of protons, neutrons and electrons. Protons and neutrons are composed of three quarks. Furthermore, there are three fundamental forces of nature: gravity, electro-weak force, and strong (nuclear) force. At present, the world’s leading physicists are on a quest for the trinitarian “holy grail” of physics, the so-called Unified Field Theory, which will unite the three fundamental forces into one.
What is the atheist to make of this recurrence of the “magic number” three, sometimes in mysterious triune form? It’s doubtful that he is even aware of it, or has even thought about it. He is blinded by the ignorance caused by his arrogance, the prejudice of his pride. He doesn’t know that it takes humility to open the eyes of wonder so that we can contemplate such things. And without the contemplation of such things we cannot expect our minds to dilate into the open-mindedness needed to see things as they really are. If, however, our minds are truly open, we will see the inextricable bond, the indissoluble marriage, between physics and metaphysics. We will connect the triune nature of time and space with the triune nature of transcendental things, such as the good, the true and the beautiful. We will see in such physical and metaphysical realities the fingerprints of a Triune God smudged across His Creation. We will see that all these things are made in His image. We will see all of this as further proof of the marriage of faith and reason, of which the harmony between faith and physics is a true reflection. And when we see all this, we will not be in the least surprised that some of the greatest breakthroughs in the physical sciences have been made by Catholic priests, such as Fr. LeMaître.
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