Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What I believe about Christmas

"I believe in science."

- Esqueleto  (Nacho Libre)

I have a father who taught various sciences at the local state university.   I grew up peering through telescopes & microscopes, catching bugs, playing with chemicals, etc.   I associated with other science professors and their children and was commonly found hanging out at the natural history museum.    All this activity and curiosity with science led me eventually to MIT, where I studied materials engineering and solid state physics. Today I program computers for a living, but I still keep tabs on the world of science.  The quest for scientific knowledge is in my blood.  

I think science is terribly interesting and productive, telling us a great deal about the world we live in.    The fact that I am typing out this essay on a tiny computer in my hand is a miracle wrought through the deep understanding of many disciplines.   Of all the sciences, most interesting to me is the science of cosmology, or the science of the universe, which informs us on the vast scales of time and space and the origins of pretty much everything.   One cool thing about cosmology is that one must study the very tiny and the very large and understand them together in order to understand the universe.  Cosmologists’ tools are the most amazing things man has ever built- from the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, to the Hubble space telescope in orbit around the earth.  Even more amazing than these is the extraordinary mathematics that underlies cosmology and virtually all science.   The bright mathematical star around which cosmologists orbit is the general theory of relativity, a purely intellectual construct that has described the universe so powerfully and predictably that no experiment in 100 years has contradicted it.  (The jury is still out on those recently discovered speedy neutrinos, but I think we’ll find they obey speed limits like everything else).  Think about it: Einstein didn't do any experiments, he just did the math.  The experiments came later, and they showed he was right.

Today is an interesting time in science, because landmark developments of the last several decades.   String theory, in particular, is being explored like a vast new continent and holds a glimmer of hope that we might find a single unified theory that describes everything in the universe.   It is breathtaking and endlessly fascinating.   I truly love it. 

"If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we should know the mind of God.”

- Stephen Hawking, 1988, A Brief History of Time

“It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.”

- Stephen Hawking, 2010, Grand Design

A constant tension exists between science and religion because science keeps pushing back the boundaries of where God might exist.    Thousands of years ago, God was on a mountaintop, but then we climbed the mountain and found nothing there.   Then he was in the clouds, but when we flew above the clouds, there was nothing there either.   In our time, we’ve pushed all the way back to the beginning of time and to the edges of the universe and from the tiniest atoms to superclusters of galaxies, and still no evidence of God.   Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest minds of our time, has looked closely at the math and believes there is no need to invoke God to understand why the universe might  exist, and he has made the leap (or suggested it) that if we don’t need to invoke the concept of god, then the simplest conclusion is that there is no God. 

The problem, of course, with a modern scientist’s view of the universe is that most of us have to take their word for it.   This goes back to the math-  with each successive step in our understanding of nature, the math required to understand it has grown commensurately.   The ancient physicists used math that many kids today learn in junior high.   Later advances have required math that is now in the domain of a college education.  String theory invokes math of a most obscure and arcane nature, so complicated that most people would not be able to understand it even they spent the required years to study it.   So, when a modern cosmologist talks about the nature of the universe and God, the vast majority of us do not remotely have the resources to grasp the reasoning of his argument.   If the nature of God is discovered through such means, what hope have we of knowing something about it?

“What if God was one of us?”

-          Alanis Morissette

“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”

-          Jesus Christ (John 17:3)

A popular song from the 90’s asks the question, perhaps disingenuously, “What if God was one of us?”  This is somewhat of an ironic message in light of the truth about Christmas.   2000 years ago a baby was born to a virgin mother in Bethlehem of Judea.  The point that she was a virgin is important because of the implication- that the child had a divine father.   The god of the old testament, Jehovah, was born, lived a human life, and died.  He went through the same life experience, physically and spiritually, that all of us have.    The message of Christmas is that God ­_is_ one of us.   And if he is one of us, we are one of him!    We are literal children of God and not only is it possible to know God, it is our essential nature to desire it, strive for it, and achieve it.  

The skeptic, the scientist, will demand some sort of proof for this.   Fortunately, it is available, and one need not have any special training to see it.   Built into each one of us is the ability to comprehend and know spiritual reality.   This power to know, however, operates on by specific laws, and one must abide by them to come to knowledge.   Jesus taught in very simple terms what these laws are, but unfortunately they are widely disregarded by the world, which is why so many people still look for knowledge of God without finding it.    The practical message of Christmas is that we can put away hatred, envy, lust, deceitfulness,  and selfishness, and we can speak with our God and come to know, in a real and lasting way, that there is a God and that we are his children and that we are intimately connected to him. 

This is my Christmas message to all of you, my friends, and I know of myself it is true.  If you do not know for yourself, I invite you to find out. 




-A said...

What a beautiful post. It clearly drew a line to connect and illustrate the expanse of the power and authority of our God, His Universe and our importance to Him and His plan for us. Clearly, "His life, which is central to all human history, neither began in Bethlehem nor concluded on Calvary," but indeed the Savior is one of us and we ones like Him and His Father. This is truly the miracle of not only Christmas, but of our very existence and purpose.

Thanks for sharing. I'll be passing this one along.


Deborahp said...

Eric, I love your writings. Thank you for this particular post; it's inspiring and exciting, and comforting. Merry Christmas!