And now for something completely different…
I came across a draft of an e-mail that I wrote a long time ago in response to an acquaintance of mine (henceforth referred to as Dee) who is enamored with the possibility of intersections between string theory and numinous Christian experience, particularly of the divine. Dee suggested that string theory might provide an explanation for some of the more mystical elements of Christian faith, including communion with the Almighty and the communion of the saints. I was troubled by some of the theological implications of such thinking, and did a bit of reading on the subject so I could respond.
I have to admit that I chickened out. I think my points were valid insofar as Christianity itself goes, but I’m on far more tenuous footing when it comes to pontificating on string theory. I also wanted to avoid causing hard feelings. So, after composing the message, I decided against sending it. But as I ran across it today, I liked the general thrust of my thoughts — finer points of string theory aside, I think my argument holds water. And so, for your reading enjoyment, here is a short little diatribe against using string theory to explain spiritual phenomena:
Hey, Dee! I received your essay on the theological implications of string theory — what a thought-provoking treatment of the subject! I can tell that you put a lot of careful thinking and effort into it. That said, some of the questions you pose gave me pause, and I wanted to see what you thought of my response.
I know that string theory posits the existence of dimensions beyond length, height, width, and time. It’s very possible that I’m mistaken here, but I seem to recall that scientists speak of a total of 10 space-time dimensions: 4 that we commonly deal with, plus 6 that are unbelievably small and somehow “attached” to the main 4. If I understand string theory correctly, it’s within these 6 additional dimensions that strings oscillate.
I would tend to disagree with the notion that strings somehow enable us to tune in or out of God’s “wavelength,” as you suggest. That’s actually a naturalistic way of explaining a spiritual phenomenon. If string theory is true, then it is part of the natural order that God made. I think a good case can be made that God is extradimensional, i.e., He transcends the space-time continuum to which the natural order is bound. If that’s accurate (and I think Scripture bears this out), then spiritual phenomena such as communion with God, the unity of the saints, or anything that (as you put it) “gets us on God’s wavelength,” should be seen as the inbreaking of the transcendent God within the natural order.
We belong simultaneously to two worlds — both the now and the not yet. As such, we are a curious intersection of flesh and spirit, earth and heaven, natural and supernatural. Your thinking on string theory is undeniably innovative, and I fully appreciate your expression of awe at the ingenuity and complexity of God’s handiwork. In my opinion, however, it’s a grave mistake to attempt to explain the human soul or our experience of God’s presence by invoking what is essentially a physical process. Atheistic materialists do the very same thing in an effort to deny the supernatural (and thereby Christian theism) altogether. Rather than providing a convincing apologetic for Christianity, you have unintentionally given those antagonistic to Christian theism logical and philosophical ammo.
And that’s my two cents on the matter.
aka The MonT-SteR