Science and Theology in a Trinitarian Perspective

John Polkinghorne FAITH Magazine November-December 2005

Every one has a worldview, whether they know it or not, just as everyone speaks prose, whether they know it or not. As someone who has spent half a lifetime working as a theoretical physicist, I want to take absolutely seriously what science has to say and to make it part of the input into my worldview. But there are many other forms of human experience that I also need to take into account, including my experience as a Christian believer and a priest. When I consider all these factors together, I find that I want to assert that the most comprehensive and persuasive worldview I can find is that given to me by Trinitarian theology. It is here that I discover my preferred candidate for a true Theory of Everything.

Many of my scientific colleagues would consider that a pretty audacious claim to make. It would be a pretty tall order to cover all that needs to be said in its defence in the course of a single lecture. In fact I shall not attempt to deal with those reasons for Trinitarian belief that are internal to theology, but I shall concentrate mainly on the relationship of science to that particular metaphysical standpoint. You will see, however, that I cannot get very far without being forced to broaden the argument somewhat to include some aspects of human experience. One could call the exercise a voyage from physics to metaphysics, using physics in its ancient sense of what concerns the nature of things, but concentrating largely on those aspects of things that are disclosed by the naturalsciences.

In making an appeal to the profound setting of Trinitarian belief, I am not supposing that we shall find the world full of items stamped Made by the Holy Trinity. The creative activity of God is more subtle than that. Nor am I supposing that what I am going to say is a logically necessary deduction from our experience, so that only a fool would disagree with me. No metaphysical view can have that degree of coerciveness. The relation between physics and metaphysics is a subtle one, for there is no logical entailment linking the two. Yet, physics constrains metaphysics, rather as the foundations of a building constrain, but do not determine, the edifice that can be built upon them. The connection between the scientific concepts of physics and the philosophical or theological concepts ofmetaphysics is that of an a logical association, based upon a perceived consonance. The exercise on which I am engaged has some resemblance to what in earlier ages would have been called the identification of vestiges of the Trinity — hints and suggestions which, if looked at in a certain interpretative light, can be discerned as providing support for belief in the triune God. It seems to me that it would be very perplexing for Christian belief if no such indications were to be found, just as it would also be very surprising if they were of so unambiguous a kind as to command belief in a way that simply overwhelmed the human mind in its exploration of reality. It is to be expected that God is neither totally hidden nor totally manifested in the works of the divine creation.

Fundamental to belief in God is the conviction that the divine mind lies behind the order of the universe, the divine purpose lies behind the fruitful unfolding of cosmic history, that there is One who is worthy of worship and who is the true ground of an everlasting hope. Trinitarian belief adds to these concepts drawn from general theism, the greater specificity that God is known as the Father who created the world, as the Son who redeemed the world through the incarnate life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and as the Holy Spirit, immanently and hiddenly at work in the unfolding of history of Israel, the Church and the universe. My method of proceeding will be to consider aspects of scientific and, to some extent cultural, experience, whose understanding in purely naturalisticterms seems to leave significant and meaningful questions unanswered. I shall then suggest that Trinitarian belief affords the most intellectually satisfying way of locating these issues within a comprehensive matrix of understanding, thereby proffering the answers that naturalism could not provide. In other words, we shall engage in just the exercise of alogical but illuminating association that I have argued is the proper way of finding a persuasive relationship between physics and metaphysics.

There are six issues relating to our human encounter with reality that I want to consider, because I believe that they only become fully understood within the framework of a Trinitarian metaphysics.

(1) The Intelligible Order of the Universe.
It is scarcely surprising that we can understand the world in the everyday way that is obviously necessary for our survival within it. Yet the development of modern science has shown that human ability far exceeds anything that could reasonably be considered as simply an evolutionary necessity, or a happy spin-off from it. It is one thing to figure out that it is dangerous to step off a high cliff, but quite another thing to be Sir Isaac Newton, able, in an astonishing act of creative insight, to see that what makes the cliff so dangerous is the same force that also holds the Moon in its orbit around the Earth and the Earth in its orbit around the Sun, and thus to discover universal gravity and to explain the motions of all the planets. Later Einstein, in his theory of general relativity,would refine and transform Newton's ideas, thereby enabling us to understand not just the solar system, but the structure and history of that whole vast universe of which we are so small a part. Today, we can penetrate the secrets of the subatomic realm of quarks and gluons, and we can make maps of cosmic curved space-time, both regimes of no direct practical impact upon us, and both exhibiting properties that are counterintuitive in relation to our ordinary habits of thought. Our understanding of the workings of the world greatly exceed anything that could be necessary simply for survival.

It has also turned out that it is mathematics that is the key to unlocking these scientific secrets. In fundamental physics it is an actual technique of discovery to look for equations that have about them the unmistakable character of mathematical beauty. Time and again we have found that it is only equations of this kind that will prove to be the basis for theories whose long-term fruitfulness convinces us that they are indeed verisimilitudinous descriptions of physical reality. The greatest physicist whom I have known personally, Paul Dirac, one of the founding figures of quantum theory, once said that it was more important to have mathematical beauty in one's equations than to have them fit experiment! Of course, Dirac did not mean that empirical success was an irrelevance in physics— no scientist could believe that. Yet, if at first sight one's equations did not appear to fit experiment there were some possible ways out of the difficulty — maybe you had not solved them correctly, or maybe the experiments themselves were wrong — but if the equations were ugly … well, there was really no hope for them. Dirac made his many great discoveries by a lifelong and highly successful quest for mathematical beauty.

When we use abstract mathematics in this way, as a guide to physical discovery, something very odd is happening. After all, mathematics is pure thought and what could it be that links that thought to the structure of the physical world around us? Dirac's brother-in-law, Eugene Wigner, who also won a Nobel Prize for Physics, once called this the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics. He also said it was a gift that we neither deserved nor understood.

Well, I would like to understand it. If I am to do so I shall have to look outside science itself, for the latter is just glad that things are this way and it then gets on with the task of exploiting the opportunities that are offered. A naturalistic metaphysics is also unable to cast light on this deep intelligibility, for it has to treat it as just a fortunate accident. However, theistic metaphysics can come to our aid, for it suggests that the reason within our minds, and the rational structure of the physical world around us, have a common origin in the rationality of the God who is the ground both of our mental and of our physical experience. In Christian theological terms, our scientific ability to explore of the rational beauty of the universe is part of the deposit of the imagodei.

Science is privileged to explore a universe that is both rationally transparent to us and rationally beautiful in its deep order. Scientists frequently speak of the experience of wonder as the reward for all the weary labour involved in their research. You could say that the universe is a world shot through with signs of mind and, as a Christian, I think that it is indeed the mind of God that is revealed to us in this way. I believe that science is possible because the universe is a creation and we are creatures made in the image of our Creator.

In Trinitarian terms I would say that, whether they know it or not, scientists through their discoveries are encountering the divine Logos, by whom all things were made and without whom was not anything made that was made (Jn 1:3).

(2) Fruitful Cosmic History.
The universe as we know it originated in the fiery singularity of the big bang, some fifteen billion years ago. It started extremely simple, just an almost uniform expanding ball of energy. Cosmologists speak with a certain justified boldness about the very early universe because it is so simple a physical system to think about. After fifteen billion years of evolving history, the universe has become richly diverse and structured, with us the most complex consequences of which we are aware. That ball of energy has become the home of saints and mathematicians.

This recognition in itself might encourage the thought that something has been going on in what has been happening in cosmic history. It is, of course, to that total history that Trinitarian theology has to look if it is to build its doctrine of creation on the foundation of contemporary physics. Contrary to what scientists such as Stephen Hawking seem to suppose, belief in the Creator is not concerned with identifying who lit the blue touch paper of the big bang and then retired to let the world get on with it, but it is concerned with who continuously holds that world in being. The subject of the doctrine of creation is ontological origin and not mere temporal beginning; it addresses Leibniz's great question Why is there something rather than nothing? and not simply How did it allstart? For the Abrahamic faiths, God is as much the Creator today as God was fifteen billion years ago.

Of course, the universe's history has been an evolving history, as much on the cosmic scale as it has been in relation to the development of biological life on Earth. Almost immediately following the publication of The Origin of Species, the Church of England clergyman, Charles Kingsley, coined a phrase that sums up the theistic way to think about that fact. He said that, though God could no doubt have created a ready-made world, the Creator had done something cleverer than that in making a world that could make itself. If we believe that God is love (1Jn 4,8), then we shall not suppose that the Creator brought into being a universe that is a kind of divine puppet theatre. The gift of love is always the granting of some due independence to be enjoyed by the object of that love. ThereforeTrinitarian theology believes that God endowed creation with a deep potentiality and then allowed that creation to explore and realise its divinely given fruitfulness in its own way.

As we think about these matters, we may indeed follow the distinguished French biochemist and atheist, Jacques Monod, in seeing evolutionary process as involving an interplay between chance and necessity, but we need not go on to agree with him in annexing the metaphysically tendentious adjective blind to the chance half of the process. By chance is not meant the operations of the capricious goddess Fortuna but, rather, historical contingency, that this happens rather than that. This particular genetic mutation turns the stream of life in this particular direction. Had a different mutation occurred instead, a different possibility would have been realised. Not everything that could happen has happened; history necessarily represents only a small selection from the range of possibility.Chance, therefore, is a shuffling mechanism for exploring potentiality. Theologically understood, it is the way in which creatures make themselves. This happens within the given necessity of natural law, a point little attended to by Monod, but whose regularities will be seen by the believer to be pale but true expressions of the Creator's faithfulness. The remarkable potentialities present within the physical fabric of the universe will be understood as expressions of the divine purpose for creation's fertility.

Exactly how profound that gift of inbuilt fruitfulness actually is has come to light in recent years in the collection of scientific insights called the Anthropic Principle. A universe capable of evolving the complexity of life, as we know it, is a very special world indeed. While the contingency of evolutionary process is certainly part of the cosmic story, it is only one aspect, and the proper understanding of that story requires the recognition of the fine-tuning of the lawful necessity of the world, that is also an indispensable element in what has been going on. While life only appeared when the universe was eleven billion years old, and self-conscious life when it was fifteen billion years old, there is a real sense in which the universe was pregnant with carbon-based life from thevery beginning, its physical fabric being of the precise kind that alone would allow this possibility to come about.

Let me give a couple of examples of what I mean. Life could only evolve on a planet whose sun was a steady source of energy lasting for more than the four billion years or so that life's development would take in order to reach the complexity of something like a human being. We know what makes stars in our world burn in this way and it depends upon a sensitive balance between two of the fundamental forces of nature, namely gravity and electromagnetism. If these two forces had strengths that were different from what they actually are, stars would either have burned too feebly to support life or burned so fiercely that they would have exhausted their energy supplies in a mere few millions of years, far too short a time to be of any use.

The stars have a second indispensable role to play, for it is only in their nuclear furnaces that the heavy elements necessary for life, such as carbon, oxygen and many more, can actually be made. We are all made of the ashes of dead stars, creatures of stardust. One of the scientists who unravelled the delicate and beautiful chain of reactions by which the chemical raw materials of life have been made, was Fred Hoyle. When he saw how this was just possible, in a most delicate and beautiful way, because the fundamental nuclear forces are exactly what they are and no different, he said The universe is a put-up job. In other words, it seemed to Hoyle that there must be some Intelligence behind it all. Such a remarkable process could not just be a happy accident.

We have to consider carefully whether this was indeed the right response. Certainly, many scientists were upset when this remarkable specificity of our universe was recognised. They did not like the thought that there was anything special about our world, for they would have preferred to consider it as being just a typical specimen of what a universe might be like. The scientific instinct is unnecessarily wary of the unique. In order to defuse this uniqueness, some suggested that there are also a vast number of other universes, all with different sorts of natural laws and circumstances and all, of course, inaccessible to us. Ours is just the one where fortuitously carbon-based life is possible, a winning ticket in a multi-cosmic lottery. This suggestion is not a scientific proposal but ametaphysical speculation, a way to accommodate Anthropic fine-tuning within a prodigally enlarged naturalism. It seems to me that a much more economic understanding is offered by the belief that there is only one universe, which is the way it is because it is indeed not any old world but a creation that has been endowed by its Creator with just those finely-tuned laws that will enable it to have a fruitful history. Like all metaphysical discussion, the argument is not of a logically coercive, knockdown kind, but for me it is coherent and intellectually satisfying. Scientific insight into the anthropic fruitfulness of the universe does not prove that its history is the expression of the purpose of a divine Creator, but it is certainly suggestive and supportive of belief in creation.

It also turns out that evolutionary understanding represents a way in which scientific insight can offer faith some modest help with what is surely the latter's greatest perplexity. I refer, of course, to the presence of evil and suffering in the world. A creation allowed to make itself can be held to be a great good, but it has a necessary cost not only in the blind alleys and extinctions that are an inescapable dark side of the process, but also in the very character of the world in which it takes place. The engine driving biological evolution is genetic mutation and it is inevitable that the same biochemical processes that enable some cells to produce new forms of life will also allow other cells to mutate and become malignant. That there is cancer in creation is not something that amore competent or compassionate Creator could easily have eliminated, but it is the necessary cost of a creation allowed to make itself. The more we understand scientifically the process of the world, the more it seems closely integrated — a package deal from which it is not possible in a consistent way to retain the good and remove the bad. I do not for a moment believe that this insight eliminates all the anguish and perplexity that we feel at the evil and suffering in the world, but it does suggest that its presence is not gratuitous. The depth of the problem posed by the demands of theodicy is only met in Christian thinking by a Trinitarian understanding of the cross of Christ, seen as the event in which the incarnate God truly shares to the uttermost in the travail of creation. AsJurgen Moltmann has so helpfully led us to understand, the Christian God is not just a compassionate spectator of the suffering of creatures but the Christian God is the crucified God, who is creation's partner in that suffering.

(3) A Relational Universe.
Newtonian physics pictured the collisions of individual atoms as taking place within the container of absolute space and in the course of the unfolding of a universal absolute time. Einstein's discovery of special relativity showed that observers' judgements of spatial and temporal characters are relative to their states of motion, and his further great discovery of general relativity integrated space, time and matter into a single unified account. The geometry of the universe depends upon the disposition of matter within it, and the shape of that geometry will curve the paths along which the matter moves.

Later Einstein, this time in collaboration with two younger colleagues, showed that quantum theory implied that once two quantum entities have interacted with each other they remain mutually entangled however far they may eventually separate. This counterintuitive togetherness-in-separation seemed so spooky to Einstein that he supposed it showed that there was something incomplete in the quantum account. However, beautiful experiments have shown us that this non-locality, as we call it, is indeed a property of nature. It turns out that even the subatomic world cannot be treated atomistically!

Turning to the level of everyday physics, the exquisitely sensitive systems that chaos theory discusses are so vulnerable to the finest detail of their circumstances that, in general, they cannot properly be considered in isolation from their environment. They too must be treated holistically. In these diverse ways, twentieth-century science has revealed a deep-seated relationality present in the fabric of the physical world.

If relationality plays so significant a role in our understanding of the universe, we may anticipate that it is also of significance for reality as a whole, and at its deepest levels. While this by no means proves the Trinity, it is certainly profoundly compatible with Trinitarian thinking. One could paraphrase the title of John Zizioulas's fine book of Trinitarian theology, considered from an Eastern Orthodox perspective, Being as Communion, by using the terms Reality is Relational.

(4) A Universe of Open Process.
It seems that many people outside the scientific community still think of the universe that science describes as being a gigantic piece of cosmic clockwork. In fact, the twentieth century saw the death of such a merely mechanical view of the world. Its demise came about through the discovery of widespread intrinsic unpredictabilities present in physical process, first at the subatomic level of quantum theory, and then at the everyday level of those exquisitely sensitive systems which have been given the actually ill-chosen name of chaotic. Everyone has heard of the butterfly effect by which the weather, in a sensitive mode, might eventually be affected by the greatly augmented consequences of tiny wings flapping in a far-off jungle. The reason chaos was an unfortunate word to describethis new kind of dynamics is that, in fact, it involves a subtle interplay between order and disorder, future behaviour being unpredictable but not totally haphazard.

All scientists would agree that these are highly significant and surprising discoveries, but the matter becomes more contentious when we go on to discuss what they might actually imply for the process of the world. Unpredictability is an epistemological property, that is to say it is concerned with what we can and cannot know about future behaviour. There is no inevitable connection between epistemology and ontology, that is to say, between what we know and what is actually the case. What connection we should make is a matter of metaphysical choice and philosophical contention. Different people will adopt different strategies. As a scientist, my instinct is to adopt a realist stance that is to say to believe that what we know is a reliable guide to what is the case. I have encapsulatedthis metaphysical strategy in a slogan I coined and that I rather like: Epistemology models Ontology. After all, why take all the trouble involved in doing science if one did not believe that thereby we are learning what the physical world is actually like?

(5) The Universe as the Womb of Consciousness and the Carrier of Value.
The most surprising development in cosmic history following the big bang of which we are aware is surely the development of self-consciousness here on planet Earth. In us the universe has become aware of itself. Pascal said that human beings are mere reeds, insubstantial and tiny as we are in the face of the vast universe around us, but we are thinking reeds, and so greater than all the stars, for we know them and ourselves and they know nothing. Size and significance is certainly not the same thing.

Despite very interesting advances taking place in neuroscience, and mostly relating to the identification of the neural pathways in the brain that handle and process the information we receive from our environment, we do not at all understand the origin of our self-awareness. Clearly it is related to the functioning of our brains — a sharp tap on the head with a hammer will establish as much — but there is a yawning gap between talk of neural networks, however sophisticated such talk may be, and the simplest mental experience of perceiving green, and we have no idea how to bridge it. I do not rejoice in this current ignorance, but neither do I wish to capitulate to premature reductionist claims that we know that we are just computers made of meat. It seems clear that human beings aresomething much more interesting and more subtle than that.

One persuasive argument to this end is John Searle's celebrated parable of the Chinese Room. You are immured in a chamber whose only communication with the outside world is through two grilles. Through one of them you receive pieces of paper on which there are mysterious squiggles. These you match up with their counterparts in a big book you have been given. You then copy out the squiggle opposite the one you have identified and hand it out through the second grill. You have absolutely no idea what is going on. In fact, the incoming squiggles are questions in Chinese and the squiggles you copy out are the appropriate answers in Chinese. In this parable, you are the computer, the book is the programme and there is no understanding in either of you. That can only be found outside the room,in the programmer who compiled the book. In other words, computers are marvellous at syntax, making connections, but hopeless at semantics, understanding the significance of what is going on. Meaning does not reside in a computer, even one made of meat.

Appreciation of the profound complexity of human nature is reinforced when we consider that we are moral beings. The question of the nature of value is absolutely central to the metaphysical task. This is the point at which making further metaphysical progress demands that I add insights from human experience to the scientific insights that have been my main concern up to now. Highly contentious issues are at stake but I am happy to affirm my convictions and make it clear where I stand.

I believe that we possess moral knowledge of a certainty at least equal to that relating to our possession of well-sifted scientific knowledge. Despite the claims of the sociobiologists and the social constructivists, it seems clear to me that my conviction that torturing children is wrong is neither a disguised survival strategy of some curious kind, nor a convention of my society, but a fact about reality that I know as surely as I know anything. We face the remarkable fact that the physical world is also the arena of moral imperative and ethical choice. One of the attractions of theistic belief is that it makes this linkage intelligible, for our ethical intuitions can be understood as intimations of the good and perfect will of the God who holds the physical world in being.

That same physical world is also the carrier of beauty, another extremely significant form of value. For example, I am sure that our experience of music, which from a purely scientific point of view is just neural response to the impact of airwaves on the eardrum, is actual engagement with a dimension of reality. Once again, theism can make this intelligible, for it enables us to understand our aesthetic experiences as being a sharing in the Creator's joy in creation.

Human experience is many-layered. The same happening can be an event in the physical world, a time of moral challenge and decision, an experience of beauty, and also an occasion of encounter with the sacred. Worship can have all these dimensions for the believer. It seems to me that this richness of reality poses unsolved problems for naturalism, problems that a theistic metaphysics can address with confidence along the lines I have already suggested. Our belief that there is a God worthy of worship is based on our understanding that the Lord is the ultimate source of the good, the true and the beautiful.

Christian theology attaches great significance to the emergence of persons in the course of evolving cosmic history. This event is not to be treated as if it were an epiphenomenal curiosity or an incredibly happy accident. On the contrary, we are encouraged in our thinking to attach significance as much to the subjective as to the objective, as much to unique experience as to that which is repeatable. This implies that the impersonal God of deism — the Cosmic Architect or the great Mathematician — is an inadequate account of the divine nature. While finite human language is always being stretched beyond its limits when we try to speak of the infinite reality of God, it will be stretched in the most satisfactory direction when it is used in a personal mode. God is much more like Fatherthan like Force. Of course, this does not mean that God is the Old Man in the Sky of debased caricature, but it points our thinking in a direction that may properly be called transpersonal. The Trinitarian picture of the subtle perichoretic interaction of the divine Persons offers illuminating insight into the character of that necessary transpersonal stretching.

(6) A Universe of Eventual Futility.
On the largest possible scale, the history of the universe is a continuing contest between two opposing principles: the explosive force of the initial big bang, driving matter apart, and the contractive force of gravity, pulling matter together. They are very evenly matched and we cannot measure things with sufficient accuracy to be absolutely certain which will win in the end. In consequence, for the long-term cosmic future we have to consider two possibilities. If expansion prevails, the galaxies will continue to fly apart forever, slowly cooling and decaying until the world ends in a dying whimper. If, on the other hand, gravity prevails, the present expansion will one day be halted and reversed and the world will end in a bang, as the universe collapses back into the melting pot ofthe big crunch. Either way, the cosmos is condemned to eventual futility. It is as certain as can be that carbon-based life will everywhere prove to have been a transient episode in its history.

These reliable but bleak prognostications raise obvious questions about what might be the Creator's ultimate intentions for creation. Certainly they do not support any notion of evolutionary optimism, of a total fulfilment to be found within the unfolding of present process alone.

If you take this realist view, unpredictabilities will be signs of an actual openness to the future. By that, of course, I do not mean that the future becomes some random lottery, but that the causes that bring it about will be more than simply the exchanges of energy between constituents that a conventional science describes. What then might these additional new causal principles be? I would suggest that they will be concerned not with energy but with what one might call information, that is the generation of patterns of behaviour. The unpredictable future possibilities of a chaotic system differ from each other in precisely this way; they all correspond to the same energy but to different patterns in which the energy flows.

We are on the threshold of very interesting new developments in basic scientific understanding. Through computer simulation and some other techniques, we are just beginning to learn something about the behaviour of genuinely complex systems. It turns out that they display quite astonishing propensities to the spontaneous generation of patterns of large-scale order. At present these matters are not well understood, but I believe that the science of the twenty-first century will be characterised by making pattern, and the information that specifies that pattern, a fundamental category in scientific vocabulary, alongside the traditional concepts of matter and energy.

In this new emphasis on patterned behaviour we see a glimmer — I say no more than that — of how it might be that we enact our chosen patterns of behaviour as intentional agents. And if the future is sufficiently open for us to play a part in bringing it about (as, one way or another, it must surely be), it seems to me that it will also be open to divine providential causality active in the world as well.

I have summarised here very briefly a discussion that obviously requires much more careful and extensive laying out, something I have attempted to do elsewhere in my writing. I want simply for our present purpose to point out that this picture has two implications for theology. One is that science's description of physical process is not drawn so tight as to condemn God to the non-interactive role of a deistic spectator. (I sometimes express this by saying that a scientist can pray with integrity, asking God to do something in the world.) The other is that, if the locus of agential action is always within the cloudiness of unpredictability, though that action is real it will always to a necessary degree be hidden. What is going on cannot be analysed exhaustively and itemised intocomponents, so that one might assert that nature did this, human will did that and divine providence did the third thing. Providence may be discernible by the eye of faith, but it will not be exhibitable by experiment.

This last insight seems to me to be fully compatible to the account that Christian theology has often sought to give of the working of the Spirit, discreetly and hiddenly operating on the inside of creation, guiding and influencing its history but not manifested in some overwhelming and unambiguous way. God interacts within the open grain of nature and not against it. God interacts with creatures but does not over-rule them, for they are allowed to be themselves and to make themselves. It follows from this that not everything that happens will be in accordance with God's direct will. The divine sharing of the causality of the world with creatures will permit the act of a murderer or the incidence of a cancer, though these events run counter to God's desires. Involved in creation is adivine kenotic act of self-limitation that truly allows creatures to be and to make themselves.

Personally, I do not think that the knowledge of the universe's death on a time scale of tens of billions of years raises any greater theological difficulties than does the even more certain knowledge of our own deaths on timescales of tens of years. If there is hope, either for the universe or for us, it can only lie in the eternal faithfulness of God — a point that Jesus made clearly in his discussion of these matters with the Sadducees (Mark 12:18–27). Of great importance here are the various New Testament passages that speak in an astonishing way of the cosmic significance of Christ (John 1, Romans 8, Colossians 1). Also important, I believe, is the witness of the empty tomb, for the fact that the Lord's glorified body is the transmuted form of his dead body speaks to me that inChrist there is a destiny not only for humanity but also for matter, and so for creation as a whole.

A fundamental metaphysical question posed to us is whether we live in a world that is a cosmos or chaos. Does the universe make total sense, both now and always, or is its history ultimately a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying Nothing? The distinguished theoretical physicist and staunch atheist, Steven Weinberg, surveying the scene from his naturalistic point of view concluded, in the light of eventual cosmic futility, that the more he understood the universe, the more it seemed pointless to him. He could only face it with a kind of heroic defiance. There is a certain nobility in that bleak point of view, but I do not believe that we are driven to embrace it. Yet if we are to be able with intellectual integrity to hold to a more hopeful view, I think this willrequire the acceptance of the kind of exciting, challenging, theologically thick, account that Trinitarian belief provides, as it articulates the nature of the God who is everlastingly faithful, the God who raised Jesus from the dead. Only in that faith and in that hope shall we be able to recognise that our world is indeed a cosmos after all.


I have sought to show that a Trinitarian metaphysics can rest comfortably and consonantly upon foundations drawn from science and culture. I have proposed that: the rationally beautiful order of the universe is consistent with its origin in the creative activity of the divine Logos; the Anthropic fruitfulness of the universe is suggestive that it is the expression of the will and purpose of its Creator; the profoundly interconnected character of physical process encourages the acknowledgement of the foundational significance of relationality in a way that is congenial to Trinitarian thinking; the way in which physical process transcends the merely mechanical is hospitable to the idea that the divine Spirit is hiddenly at work within the world's intrinsic unpredictabilities; the profoundsignificance of the emergence of persons, and the value-laden character of our experience, are suggestive that it is in these personal categories that we shall find the truest way to think about the nature of reality; the ultimate futility of this present universe points us to look beyond the physical world itself to the eternal faithfulness of the God who raised Jesus from the dead, for only there can be found a true ground of the hope of everlasting fulfilment.

In these different ways I find a satisfying degree of consonance between my scientific knowledge and the insights of my Christian belief, a harmony between my experiences as a physicist and my experiences as a believer and a priest. In my view, Christianity and scientific culture can live in friendly and complementary relationship with each other and I entertain the hope that the twenty-first century will see the continuation and consolidation of that amity.

Faith Magazine

November - December 2005