In the Stephen Hawking film, ‘The Theory of Everything’, the tension between him and his first wife Jane, between her Christian, Church of England faith and his resistance to any notion of a higher power, there is a moment when Hawking looks up out of his wheel-chair to her and, with his characteristic wry grin offers, ‘the universe knows no boundaries’.
I think this is a very profound comment.
Could this be a way of thinking about God? And of our own consciousness? Could it be that the cosmologists and the ‘new physics’ take us forward in theological understanding, rather than a cause of resistance as a threat to faith?
Most of us are well aware of conservative theology. One only has to reflect on the history of the churches’ general vilification of Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest and the subsequent theory of evolution, which continues among many Christian hardliners today.
There is also the way of passive resistance – leave it and hope it goes away!
Rather, could it be that we live in an expanding universe in every respect, including theological understanding?
But do I hear you say, ‘well of course there are boundaries!’
Most of us mere mortals live in a Newtonian world. This is the world of boundaries. I push against something and I get resisted to the same extent as I push. If an object is set going in a particular direction, it will keep going at the same speed, in the same direction, unless acted on by an opposing force – and hence the notion of friction. And if the apple falls from the tree it doesn’t fall upwards – it is attracted to the earth because any two objects (masses) attract each other, the size of the attraction depending on the size (masses) of each of the two objects – and the earth is pretty heavy! Newton did us all a favour by describing the physics of everyday life in ways we can understand and now take to be fairly obvious. Newtonian ‘boundary’ thinking is very useful; and most of us get by in life quite adequately by understanding and respecting these kind of principles.
But then Einstein came along, with a whole different way of describing things!
I get the relativity thing – when I look out the window of my train in a station at another train, how do I know if it is moving and I am still stationary, or whether I am moving and it is stationary – by just looking at the train? How do I know if what I thought was my fixed point is moving?
In this ‘new physics’, light behaves both like a particle (quantum) and a wave motion! Heisenberg comes up with his ‘Uncertainty Principle’ – if you know the mass of a sub-atomic particle, you cannot know its speed, and if you know its speed you cannot know its mass! These descriptions and understandings take us to new philosophical domains. For scientists they are vital to life at the extremes – the sub-atomic and the cosmological.
I wonder whether one of our dilemmas in coming to terms with diversity and difference is that we are so used to thinking only in Newtonian terms. He is a Muslim, she is a Buddhist. We see each other more in terms of particles – discrete entities with boundaries. But maybe we are living at a time in history when we might need to also entertain a more ‘wave’-like appreciation! As well as trying to define what lies within each quantum, to flow in the waves of faith.
If we now understand ourselves as living in a both-and world then the question becomes, how do we live with both Newton and Einstein, boundaries and universalities, theistic and non-theistic belief systems, in one growing while shrinking world?
We live in a paradoxical expanding universe!