When St. Thomas used Aristotelean ideas to better understand the faith, the impact of his thought continues to this day. The early Fathers used Platonism to better express and categorize Christian mysteries, including the Trinity. The 20th century saw the development of new ways of looking at reality based firmly in experimental science. For example, Einstein discovered that space and time are interconnected and that the “stuff” of space-time can be warped by large objects, causing the effect we call gravity. As scientists probed into the building blocks of reality, they found atoms, electrons, protons, neutrons, and all sorts of “flavors” of quarks. Behavior of reality at the quantum level suggests a world that is more complex and weird than science expected. Some physicists, including Brian Greene, believe reality is composed of very tiny vibrating strings.
What does this mean for Catholicism? I have thought of all of this since grad school, when I explored the connection between Chaos Theory and Romanticism, but in the last year I have had some wonderful discussions with a friend and priest, Fr. Joshua Wagner, about these very things. He put some of his ideas down on the excellent, though now inactive, Quantum Contemplation. I recently bought the book the Physics of Christianity, by Frank Tipler, a physicist at Tulane, who, according to information on the web, is now an orthodox Cath0lic. The reviews at Amazon for the book are often negative, because Tipler assumes a Christian worldview, and tries to explain Christian beliefs using modern physics, which most materialist scientists cannot accept as a valid approach. However, as a Catholic, coming from a position of faith, I am excited to better understand how Quantum reality can help us understand our faith better.
Let me provide an example. At the Quantum level there are particles that are literally three (and other numbers) and one at the same time. You cannot weigh only one, observe only one, or “remove” one from the three, or else the whole particle disappears. In other words, the particle cannot be spoken of as simply one, or simply three. Thus, at a very micro level of reality we see a way of explaining the Trinity. For years, those religious groups (like the Jehovah’s Witnesses) that were founded when enlightenment-style science ruled the day have harped about how the Trinity is pure intellectual nonsense. Quantum physics, at the least, tells us that the world is more complex and mysterious than scientists had previously thought, so we now can speak of something being fundamentally three and one at the same time.
I am aware that most scientists, who are likely materialists, will not agree with Tipler or others such as myself that are trying to use physics to better understand our faith, which we admit, is based on a belief in revelation. However, we make no claim to base our beliefs entirely on that which can be empirically verified in a materialist fashion. Instead, in good Catholic fashion, I think physics offers us a framework to explore some of the mysteries of our faith (just as Aristotle and Plato offered frameworks).
Thanks for one of our regular readers, Keith, whose mention of the book pressed me to finally move it from my wish list to shopping cart!
Image by me