Session 10 Random Reflections
Now that you have got a feeling for some of the ideas of Physics it is important to say that the subject went through severe convulsions around the years 1900 to 1920. Before 1900, the very neat subject areas of Mechanics, Thermodynamics and Electromagnetism were accounting for the behaviour of the natural world in a very precise way. Indeed, many physicists thought that their subject was coming to an end but how wrong they were.
Einstein introduced Special and General Relativity and the birth of Quantum Physics was to arrive a little later. Special Relativity showed how important the speed of light was and that nothing could travel faster than this speed. General Relativity addresses the Law of Gravity established by Newton many years before. By suggesting that space coordinates are distorted ( think of a trampoline), Einstein could explain gravitational attraction.
A mass at the centre of the picture will attract any other mass (even light) that travels past it; the moving mass falls down the slope, as it were. Such an elegant explanation of gravity has endured until this day and confirms that a gravitational force is always attractive as distinct from forces with magnets and electric charges where both attractive and repulsive forces occur. It is a long range force as the distortion of space essentially extends to infinity. Also, one doesn't have to worry whether this attraction is "transmitted" faster then the speed of light as it is a permanent feature in space.
Quantum Physics has yielded an even richer harvest but surprisingly enough, Einstein had difficulty with the ideas of probability in the Quantum World - he is said to have uttered the phrase "God does not play dice".
Now, does this elaborate scientific framework tell us more about really important questions -- ---was the universe created and, if so ,why was it created?
Ever since humans have looked up to the stars or gazed at the world around them the central question of "why it is all here?" has been uppermost on their minds. The sciences have brought us to a very full understanding of "how" nature works but the "why's" of a created world are still a mystery.
In the early days of my life I felt sure that Astromony would hold the key to unravelling this mystery and perhaps point the way to a creator God. In later year I have accepted that no proof is available and, indeed, a God that was amenable to mathematical/ physical proof would not be the majestic creator God that most people envisage. A different thought process is needed to attempt any kind of answer to the most perplexing question of all time:-
It is in subjects such as philosophy and religion that one starts to grapple with the mystery of creation. Logic, reason, myth, superstitions, spiritualism, humanism, traditions, cults etc all come together to enlighten (or confuse) the diverse peoples of the world. John Polkinghorne, in his book "Science and Theology" does tease out some interesting ideas on the subject but perhaps the meaning of life and creation has to be a personal quest . As the good Lord says to Peter "But who do you think that I am?"
One may take a brief look at some world religions, presented below as a time line:-
Ninian Smart, in his book THE LONG SEARCH, shows that God-like Figures are present in most religions and that the monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam believe firmly in a creator God so the question posed at the start of this session has changed slightly to become "Why did God create the Universe?"
More often then not a person will be immersed in religion long before any ideas of science has entered their minds so that opinions regarding creation are built on stories from, for instance, the Koran, the Bible or the Torah. The Garden of Eden sounds to be a splendid place and perhaps God was getting bored with time and space devoid of any physical matter. Science can readily dismiss these stories as fairy-tales but one has to tread carefully since the poetic style of writing in scriptural texts may well disguise a hidden meaning. With the Koran we are assured that prophet Mohammed wrote down direct messages from God so, in those terms, there must be an air of authenticity in this Holy Book. Since Christ did not write down any part of the Bible there is always reason to doubt that the passages in this Holy Book will have to be subject to interpretation with similar feelings about the Torah.
Moving from religion we have to admit that science has little or nothing to say about the arts - can science quantify the beauty of a piece of prose, a painting or music from a piano recital? I think the answer must be a resounding NO.
One thing to say about the scientific frame of mind is that the frame is boundless. A scientist must always keep an open mind and it would be unscientific to rule out truths which lie beyond the bounds of present day science. It would be absurd not to recognise possibilities of truth accruing from all kinds of insights, religious or otherwise.
A point that Polkinghorne mentions is that the "finely tuned" physical constants of nature are not at odds with a designer God. Could a haphazard ordering of particles from the BIG BANG have created the Universe as we know it today or is it the hand of God? The elaborate biochemical mechanisms that exist in plants, animals and human life are spectacular in every way with genetic transfers from generation to generation. But can we be sure that science explains all the discontinuities in our evolutionary pathways?
So, a personal reflection --- what do I .. think?
Physics has been a large part of my life and, at school, that was the favourate subject.
The moto on astained glass window in the Assembly Hall was embedded on every puple
TO STRIVE-- TO SEEK -- TO FIND -- and NOT TO YEALD
I never cease to be amazed that the natural world has so many secrets. One appears to get to a plateau of knowledge as with the pre-1900 scientists only to find whole new world to be explored. Excitement and wonder are around every corner and the discovery of the Higgs Boson and Gravitational Waves are just recent examples.
Now what can one say about religion? Surely, if the natural world is a created world I should be in awe and wonder of its Creator.
As a practicing Roman Catholic I found, in the past, little more than sadness and anguish when trying to rationalise this specific branch of religion. If it had anything to say about a God then my feelings were stark; the Roman Catholic church had portrayed God as vindictive, and merciless. As a family of 11 ( 13 in actual fact but the death of one child occured in child-birth and another brother died from contracting diphtheria at the age of 7) I can only say that I saw a God with no qualities of love or kindness. Rigid rules on contraception made my parents lives a continuum of toil. Grateful though I was for all their efforts I was embarrassed when telling my friends that there was so many children in our family. Attending a state school lead to further embarrassment in that the church had very petty rules about refraining from eating meat on Fridays. While all pupils on my table were tucking into beef and Yorkshire puddings on Fridays I had to eat a cheese sandwich. We were not allowed to attend assembly lest the service contaminated our precious faith. But almost every day there were notices to be read and so a loud shout echoed down the corridor "Bring in the Catholics" and we had to stumble into a crowded hall and find a space to sit. Special Catechism lessons had to be arranged and how fierce the parish priest became if we had forgotten to learn, by wrote, the sentences in that little catechism book.
Is this really how God intended creation to work? A Jesus in the Bible doesn't quite fit into such a harsh world so perhaps I was reading things wrong. Thankfully, things changed dramatically in the early 1960's; Pope John 23rd was elected and he is said to have exclaimed "I will open the windows in the Vatican to let in the fresh air". In the past 60 years the Catholic church has been playing catch-up with the other Christian religions and making very significant changes ---BUT !!!! The information age has been embraced by the young people of today and it could well be that more fresh air is needs to be blasted into the Vatican. Pope Francis could well be inspired to lead the church into a new era so that congregations of the church, with particular reference to our youger members, will be able to lead creative lives under the guidance of a supportive church. We saw that in Physics a monumental change was necessary in the early 1900's so renewal and change may well be necessary in the Catholic church.
In all honesty I have to admit the "WHY's" of the Universe and creation still elude me. I find the multiplicity of religions confuseing and this multipility often leads to unwarranted wars and strife in the world, supposedly in the names of the religious Holy Books. Surely, no Holy Book should motive humankind in such a manner.
Outside the confines of religion more general feelings about life and the way we lead it can be expressed:-
Everyone should have equal opportunities in today's world no matter what situation one finds oneself in . In the Roman Catholic church, in particular, there should not be the huge imbalance of a male-dominated hierarchy.
Do unto others as you expect others to do unto you. An eye for and eye will only cause many people to become blind!
If we think of Ethical issues we must strive to make them
(a) JUST (no one group being superior (and getting the cream!!!!)to another group)
And (b) SUSTAINABLE (our greed must be curtailed so the next generation can live in a planet that is at least as good as the one into which we were born).
Perhaps, finally, we can mention happiness and the eight steps to gain this ephemeral state:- 1 Count your blessings 2 Savour the special joys of your life 3 Take care of you body 4 Invest time and energy in your friends and family 5 Practice acts of kindness 6 Be willing to take advice 7 Learn to forgive 8 Control your stress levels.
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