Dr. Millard Erickson – Can Theology Learn From Physics?

C. Edwin Gheens Lecture Series 2008: Theology Needs Help – Lecture Two

Through the generosity of the family of the late C. Edwin Gheens, a series of special lectures is given each year in the several fields of theological studies and related areas.

Taking place in Broadus Chapel, Dr. Erickson addressed the more obscure subject of quantum mechanics and how it can aide our theological understandings. He began by saying that this was indeed a more difficult subject than yesterday’s discussion on history. With that in mind, I will do my best to relate what Dr. Erickson shared with us from the pulpit in Broadus Chapel.

Before I begin, I want to remind everyone that the content of our theology is not derived from these disciplines we have been discussing. Any developments from these disciplines can, if used and understood properly, help us to better understand our theology. Also, keep in mind that these other disciplines are not of the same authority as the Scriptures. They are merely useful as an aide in our understanding of them.

I would like us to look at two areas in physics today to help us think about how theology can learn from physics. First, is the theory of hyperspace and how it helps us to understand the miraculous. The perennial discussion about miracles usually revolves around their being contrary to nature. There are three theories about the relation of miracles and nature that have been offered.

First, the thought that miracles break the laws of nature. Second, miracles are a function of deeper unknown laws. Third, miracles are from a supernatural force that intends to counteract the laws of nature. I would like to offer another possible explanation by looking at the development of the theory of hyperspace. This is the concept of there being more than 4 dimensions (if you count Einstein’s fourth dimension). There may be as many as 10 dimensions, give or take a few, that exist and we are just unaware of them.

Admittedly, this is difficult to conceive because we have never experienced them, but we can discuss them in terms of mathematical possibilities. Hugh Ross once said that if one assumes these multiple dimensions, it would be possible to turn a basketball inside out without breaking it. Again, this is difficult to conceive so allow me to show you in a more simple manner.

Think about a 2-D creature. If you draw a 2-D creature, and it were able to exist for real, you could imprison this creature by simply drawing a circle around it. A 3-D being, say you or myself, can merely reach into the circle and remove the 2-D creature from within its boundries. For us, that is an extremely simple act. For the 2-D creature, it would appear as though it was a miracle. Suppose then a 4-D being could perform a “miracle” on the 3-D being. It would be just as the 3-D being working the “miracle” on the 2-D creature.

I realize this is extremely speculative and controversial among physicists, but let us suppose for a moment that God is 4-dimensional. Suddenly, the Bible begins to make more sense and the struggle with miracles melt away. Remember, I am not claiming that this theory is true. I am only saying that it provides a useful way to explain miracles. Take for example John 20:19, we can better understand how Jesus’ walking through walls is possible. Kierkegaard developed this idea of transcendence as “dimension beyondness.”

The ascension of Jesus, a doctrine I believe needs to be more developed, in Acts 1:9-11 may give evidence that the transition from earth to heaven is a move from the third dimension to the fourth. Paul speaks of a spiritual body in 1 Cor. 15. Could the theory of Hyper Space be a possible insight into what Paul is discussing? First Corinthians 2:9 tells us we cannot conceive of what God has done. Although we may not be able to conceive, we should never stop attempting to explain.

Another example of theological truths we struggle to understand is the relationship between human freedom and divine sovereignty. If God is in a fourth dimension and we are in the third, then the paradox, albeit Biblical truth, begins to melt away. What about Christ and the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer? Again, a fourth dimension may explain how this is possible, but for now, it is extremely hard to understand how two physical objects can occupy the same space at the same time. We know this can’t be because we witness car accidents all the time.

Another area of phyics I would like to look at today is the nature of the future and of time. To place the problem in a theological context one need only look to the open theism controversy. Their basic question is whether or not statements about the future have a truth value. Open theists say that statements about the future are neither true or false. The future has no reality because it has yet to come into being. They also say that the future in inerrant because it is neither true nor false. By saying this, they allow for Scripture to maintain inerrancy because God can then make an inerrant statement about the future because that statement has no truth value because it the future has yet to come into being and therefore it has no truth value. Thus, not having a truth value demands inerrancy. Thus, God can still be omnipotent because the future cannot be logically known and God is not an illogical Being. God can keep His omniscience as well because it is not possible to know the future.

I believe the rebuttal to this manner of thinking is found in Einstein’s Paradox of Simultinaity (sp?) which questions the difference between the speed of light and sound and how it relates to when an event happens. For example, you see a guy chopping wood. He swings the ax, the ax hits the wood and five seconds later you hear the ax hit the wood. The question is when did the ax strike the wood. Did it strike it when you saw it, when you heard it, or when someone else heard it. In studying this, we began to realize that light and sound waves radiate out into space. This is why we measure distance in light years. If we are consistent with this principle, then we can look back into the past and watch the events of D-day unfold before our very eyes. This is hard to think about except when we look up at the stars, we are seeing light from five years ago (or however long it took the light to reach our eyes).

Stephen Hawking came along and tweaked this idea of waves radiating into space and said that if it can go backward in time, it must be able to go forward in time. This line of thinking can help us to understand how God can look back “through the corridors of time” if he is at the other end of time in the future. In other words, our thought of foreknowledge being that God looked ahead can be tweaked and seen as God looking back.

I think as we understand wormholes (black holes) better, we will be able to fine tune this theory as it applies to God. However, the problem with black holes is known as the problem of singularity; that is, the intense gravitational pull that will crush anything that comes near it. However, it if were possible to enter a black hole and not get crushed, it has been thought that space travel will become possible.

Two PhD students were working on some research for a novel for Carl Sagan and decided to look at the other end of the black hole. Because they were unable to know anything about the other end, they used mathematical formulas as models and came up with the possibility of space travel. As this was being shared in a lecture, another physicist told them they could apply their findings to time travel as well. Basically, they believe that a black hole is anchored at one point in one place in the present time while at the other end is another place and/or time.

Now, there are a few problems with this that I think can be dealt with. First, is the problem of singularity. This is dealt with by the idea that the opening of the black hole rotates enough to counteract the gravitational pull that would otherwise crush you. This could possibly help with the similar problems of too much electrical charge as well as the problem of exotic matter (negative gravity).

A second problem is that the waves generated in front of the object approaching the black hole would create an infinitely amplified ripple effect of waves that would be impassable. However, we may be able to use a white noise device that would send out waves that would counter this effect thus neutralizing the accumulation of the waves.

A third problem is the amount of power it would take to develop a traversable black hole. For a hole 1 meter in size, it would take the daily power of 50 trillion stars the size of our sun for something to travel through it. However, for a Being with an infinite resource of power, this poses no problem at all. But, if time travel became possible for us in this world, we would never be able to travel back in time beyond the the development of the traversable worm hole.

Still another area I would like to look at today is the unreality of time. We believe, or assume, that the past is not influenced by the future. However, it has been said that this is an anthropomorphic illusion. Many puzzles of physics would be solved by signals from the future. If waves from the future could be sent backward in time, we could begin to solve many more puzzles sooner than later. The best analogy I can come up with for this is to think of a dial-up modem or a fax machine. There is an entire conversation that takes place that we do not understand, but we know it culminates in a handshake symbolizing an agreement to proceed with a transaction.

Does this mean that the past can be affected? If yes, then the past has already taken into account what we will do in the future otherwise the past could never be static.

If we allow this to perhaps shape our thinking of the nature of time, then we can begin to better understand the foreknowledge of God. Our futures could easily be seen as God’s past. Like I said before, I do not know how true these statements are, but I do know how they have helped me to better understand Scriptures like in Revelation where Jesus says I am the Alpha and the Omege. Maybe through the discipline of physics, we can look at God as having done all things at the end rather than doing them all from the beginning.

I would caution everyone to not think we have the right explanation about the way God operates. Rather, think about some of these disciplines giving us different ways to think about how God operates. I believe we best love the Lord our God with our minds whenever we attempt to bridge the disciplines to better understand God. I also believe we will see so much more clearly in heaven, but only time will tell.

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2 Responses to Dr. Millard Erickson – Can Theology Learn From Physics?

  1. Pingback: The Boar’s Head Tavern »

  2. I love this. Never let it be said Dr. Erickson isn’t a Jedi. :-D

    I’d only take issue with the way he looks at foreknowledge, but even there it makes sense from the perspective he is using to define it.

    He’s overlooking the obvious implications of this theory — namely an extradimensional being wouldn’t need to be conditioned by a look back or forward in history; such a being could actually determine history.

    Stephen Newell’s last blog post..Prayer Request Update and Other Stuff

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