The Laws of Physics As God

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Paul Davies won the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion for 1995. He is Professor of Mathematical Physics at the University of Adelaide in Australia. His acceptance address is a plea that we should find a Gospel in the ingenious laws of nature without supernatural intervention. It is a valiant attempt to find Good News without a God above nature. But in spite of all his awe, the cupboard is bare.

Davies doesn’t mind if we call the underlying laws of physics “God.” But God is not above the laws of nature. They themselves are the ultimate “bedrock reality.”

The origin of life and consciousness were … I believe, part of the natural outworking of the laws of nature, and as such, our existence as conscious enquiring beings springs ultimately from the bedrock of physical existence—those ingenious and felicitous laws. (First Things, No. 55, p. 34)

And where did the “bedrock of physical existence” come from? He agrees with James Hartle and Stephen Hawking:

This coming into being of the universe need not be a supernatural process, but could occur entirely naturally, in accordance with the laws of quantum physics, which permit the occurrence of genuinely spontaneous events. (p. 33)

Thus the Great Permitter of being is “the laws of quantum physics.” This is truly remarkable. Before there was the universe of being and matter as we know it, there was That Which Permits It To Spontaneously Be. But this Awesome Permitter of spontaneous events cannot be God in the Christian sense, for then we would have to talk of a “supernatural process.”

For some reason Davies has a strong aversion to God above nature. Whenever he mentions him he uses caricature, which always makes one suspicious. For example:

The idea of a God who is just another force or agency at work in nature, moving atoms here and there in competition with physical forces, is profoundly uninspiring. (p. 34, italics added)

The position that I have taken … is one that regards the universe, not as the plaything of a capricious Deity, but as a coherent, rational, elegant, and harmonious expression of a deep and purposeful meaning. (p. 35, italics added)

The Creator God, the Father of Jesus Christ our Lord, is, of course, not “just another force.” Nor is he “a capricious Deity” playing with the world. Instead he is the personal Reality of all the things that Paul Davies is trying to find replacements for in the laws of physics.

He is the bedrock reality—the Great Permitter and Cause of the universe. Davies cannot do without an inexplicable Origin, bordering on self-contradiction: permitting itself to spontaneously originate.

Nor can he do without Wisdom in the universe. This too must be found in the impersonal “laws of physics.” “[They] seem almost contrived … so that life and consciousness may emerge … I cannot prove to you that this is design, but whatever it is it is certainly very clever” (p. 34). Clever indeed. Wisdom of a very high order. And an odd attribute of impersonal laws.

Nor can he do without worship and evangelism.

It is impossible to be a scientist working at the frontier without being awed by the elegance, ingenuity, and harmony of the lawlike order in nature. In my attempts to popularize science, I am driven by the desire to share my own sense of excitement and awe with the wider community. I want to tell people the good news. (p. 33, italics added)

Nor can he do without a Purpose for the Universe. “That it is about something, I have absolutely no doubt” (p.34).

If life and mind are universal phenomena, if they are written into nature at its deepest level, then the case for an ultimate purpose to existence would be compelling. (p. 35)

Before we trade our God to the laws of Physics we need to think hard about which is the image of the other.

Staying with Him,

Pastor John