Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Heaven (3)

Sort of in reply to Irene's last comment....

Whilst God can do what he likes, what is certain is that we are to believe in the resurrection of the body, and towards this we are prone to be as incredulous as Thomas the Apostle. The resurrection of the body is like aniseed to the hound for a physicist! The miraculous nature on the resurrection of the body is not the problem: as a scientist one wishes to dispel superstition, one can cope with the unexplainable, things that are not easily expressed in words, one is happy/delighted that miracles exist. No, what will fascinate the physicist is that matter is fundamental to our relationship with God. The flesh is solid and tangible, matter has volume and density, light interacts with matter, solid objects bounce off each other....

In his book States of Matter, States of Mind, Allan Barton argues that the number of possible states of matter is limited only by our ability to perceive them. There are a myriad of ways of describing matter, some are more suited to a particular purpose than others. The key thing is we really don't know what matter is. This stuff of my fingers and the keyboard that feels so solid as I type is actually mainly empty space; the gap between the nucleus of an atom and its orbiting electrons is equivalent to the gap between the sun and the earth. Solid stuff melts away as you try to explain it. The physicist is not looking for a definitive description of "reality", just a model that might work in a few particular cases. A heaven made of matter is just begging to be imagined and modeled by our inadequate brains in such a way that it is consistent with descriptions in Revelation and elsewhere.

Is this a worthy pursuit? I think so. God has allowed science to develop as far as it has. I for one am glad I live when I do (even though DH often says I'd have been much happier in the 15th century). Superstition has been eroded, this is a good thing, the medieval world may have had beautiful and holy devotions and a stronger sense of the sacred but this coincided with a strong belief in fortune telling, portents, astrology and alchemy. Unfortunately, science has set itself up an explainer of all and a destroyer of the sacred as well as the destroyer of superstition. Ironically, science itself in isolation, as a pursuit on its own is unreasonable. Its claims for total objectivity are simply wrong as we can never be totally objective, it can not be removed from the human condition.

I am increasingly worried by those who move away from their faith and embrace the romanticism of the early 19th century, finding all that is good and true in the natural world. They claim to experience God in His creation, but the God that is intimate to their lives and their person is missing. They say there is nothing more spiritual than being at one with nature. They tangibly grasp at a heaven on earth as revealed in the wondours of God's creation.

from Mark Meyer Photography

Such people are sincere and plentiful and their ideas have permeated our ways of thinking. We are so unwilling to grasp the intimacy with which God calls each and everyone of us. We are so unwilling to grasp our interconnectedness with our fellow human beings. We fail to acknowledge that our salvation is intrinsically linked to that of our fellows. We see ourselves as tarnishers of the created world rather than its stewards. Ultimately, we don't like ourselves very much. Nature is much better, we've screwed things up.

Surely the best remedy for such stinking thinking is to fully meditate on what God has in store for us, the creatures of flesh and blood the Son died to save? Surely, in our humility and in full knowledge of our total reliance on Him, God has given us the mind and senses to tangibly sense a little something of its glories?


Irene said...

Great, Rita! Even making a supreme effort to pick nits, I have to agree with almost everything that you said.

Resurrection of the body -- yes, but that does not mean as we currently experience it. Again, there is no time in eternity, God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Our conception of atoms is unable to escape time, with its electrons circling around nuclei. Eternity/heaven/the Kingdom of God is a different experience, one that we cannot imagine. Call it a mystery if you wish.

Your third paragraph? Before I retired, I made my living as a scientist. How can I disagree that it is a worthy pursuit? Fortunately, many scientists (but not all) are perfectly happy to concede that it is not a sole explanation, or that it is objective, or that is anything more than temporary.

As for the last three paragraphs, I concede that your characterization is probably accurate for some nature-lovers. But unity and interconnectedness with our fellow human beings also implies unity and interconnectedness with nature as well. Neither science nor nature can stand alone -- any more than can the spiritual (remember gnosticism?). Our lives are to be spent seeking after unity = the Kingdom of God (again).

Joe said...

Thank you, Rita (and subsequent commenters), for a thought provoking series of posts.

A slightly "late" and completely "lateral" contribution. Two or three years ago I had reason to reflect on the meaning of "healing" and of the purpose of medical care. One of the things I noted was the idea that, according to Catholic teaching, we endeavour to care for the human body of the sick person even when there is no prospect of recovery. This seems to make absolute sense in the context of the doctrine of the resurrection of the body - we care for the body even when there is no hope of recovery because of the dignity it has as a body that will be taken into heaven - but to make no sense without that doctrine (in which case we disregard the body in an apparent preference for the spirit - euthanasia). (Though, of course, our care for the body mediates too our care for the spirit)

Does this suggest a profoundly real, physical aspect of heaven? In which case physicists will still be able to practice their craft in the next life?

Rita said...


Thank you!

The God believing "nature lovers" worry me because they seem to think they are on a higher plane, they say they no longer have any need for organised religion. They always seem so genuinely nice, but I can't help fearing for their souls.


To marvel in God's creation is surely an act of worship, and in that respect there may be a lot of physics going on in heaven!