Handbook of the Fellowship of Scientists

Readings 71-80


The test of true Faith

I have...continually given the greatest pains and diligence to inquiring, from the greatest possible number of men outstanding in holiness and in doctrine, how I can secure a kind of fixed and, as it were, general and guiding principle for distinguishing the true catholic Faith from the degraded falsehoods of heresy. And the answer that I receive is always to this effect: that if I wish, or indeed if anyone wishes, to detect the deceits of heretics that arise, and to avoid the snares and to keep healthy and sound in a healthy faith, we ought, with the Lord's help, to fortify our faith in a twofold manner: firstly, that is, by the authority of God's Law; then by the tradition of the Catholic Church.

Here, it may be, someone will ask, since the canon of Scripture is complete, and is in itself abundantly sufficient, what need is there to join to it the interpretation of the Church? The answer is that because of the very depth of Scripture all men do not place one identical interpretation upon it. The statements of the same writer are explained by different men in different ways, so much so that it seems almost possible to extract from it as many opinions as there are men.... Therefore, because of the intricacies of error, which is so multiform, there is great need for the laying down of a rule for the exposition of Prophets and apostles in accordance with the standard of the interpretation of the Church Catholic.

Now in that Catholic Church itself was taken the greatest care to hold THAT WHICH HAS BEEN BELIEVED EVERYWHERE, ALWAYS AND BY ALL. That is truly and properly 'catholic', as is shown by the very force and meaning of the word, which comprehends everything almost universally. We shall hold to this rule if we follow universality [i.e. oecumenicity], antiquity, and consent. We shall follow universality if we acknowledge that one Faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is clear that our ancestors and fathers proclaimed; consent, if in antiquity itself we keep following the definitions and opinions of all.

The Anglican Tradition, #54, before 450


Truth, once reached, will be more beautiful...

Truth, once reached, will be more beautiful than one's cleverest idea. That is an eminently non-obvious proposition. To accept it takes a faith more stringent than either the conformist or the adventurous faiths discussed earlier. To practise this third kind of purifying faith involves something more interesting than free will as commonly imagined; it involves moral choice, the beginnings of the freedom the scientist thought was his all along. Do any of the three faiths meet religion? A Faraday would say no, it is 'ordinary belief'; religion concerns the future life.

The dichotomy fails. Taken literally, it would secularize even Abraham, whose faith centered not on life after death but on the promise of descendants upon Earth. We must tread carefully here. Repudiating Faraday's absolute distinction does not imply absolute identity between things scientific and religious. To analyse the structure of the atom, or even the vagaries of the human psyche, is not automatically to love one's neighbour as oneself. But then faith, as Paul knew, is not the only or the most important element in religion. Newton's heartless paranoia and Newton's high intellectual detachment, how are they to be reconciled? They are of a piece with his religion and his era. "Humble to God, haughty to man", R.H. Tawney's distraught epitaph on the seventeenth-century Puritan, perfectly fits this man with his prism and silent face "voyaging on strange seas of thought, alone".

Can Scientists Believe?, page 168


Development and the 'test' of catholicity

Is there to be no development of religion in the Church of Christ? Certainly, there is to be development and on the largest scale. Who can be so grudging to men, so full of hate for God, as to try to prevent it? But it must truly be development of the Faith, not a lteration of the Faith. Development means that each thing expands to be itself, while alteration means that a thing is changed from one thing into another. The understanding, knowledge and wisdom of one and all, of individuals as well as of the whole Church, ought then to make great and vigorous progress with the passing of the ages and the centuries, but only along its own line of development, that is, with the same doctrine, the same meaning and the same import.

The religion of souls should follow the law of development of bodies. Though bodies develop and unfold their component parts with the passing of the years, they always remain what they were. There is a great difference between the flower of childhood and the maturity of age, but those who become old are the very same people who were once young. Though the condition and appearance of one and the same individual may change, it is one and the same nature, one and the same person... If, however, the human form were to turn into some shape that did not belong to its own nature, or even if something were added to the sum of its members or subtracted from it, the whole body would necessarily perish or become grotesque or at least be enfeebled. In the same way, the doctrine of the Christian religion should properly follow these laws of development, that is, by becoming firmer over the years, more ample in the course of time, more exalted as it advances in age.

In ancient times our ancestors sowed the good seed in the harvest field of the Church. It would be very wrong and unfitting if we, their descendants, were to reap, not the genuine wheat of truth but the intrusive growth of error. On the contrary, what is right and fitting is this: there should be no inconsistency between first and last, but we should reap true doctrine from the growth of true teaching, so that when, in the course of time, those first sowings yield an increase it may flourish and be tended in our day also.

The Anglican Tradition, #55, before 450


Mystery, first principles and complementarity

If we ignore theological technica ("mystery religions" for certain first-century cults; "mystical" for experiences alleging direct union with God) then, I think, "mystery" in a religious context ordinarily means either (1) some doctrine that passes human understanding, like the mystery of the Holy Trinity, or (2) some experience that arouses awe. Often the two overlap; each has parallels in science.

In physics, beliefs that pass understanding are usually called "principles"- Maupertuis' principle, the principle of least action, the equivalence principle, Mach's principle, the uncertainty principle, and so on. Mysteries all. The so-called "weak" equivalence principle, for example, asserts that two physically different things, mass mi as a receptacle of inertia and mass mg as known in gravitation, are identical. Experiment confirms this; it remains a mystery. Einstein did not explain it. His general theory of relativity brilliantly reinterprets gravitation as space-time curvature rather than force, but only by assuming equivalence. The issue is this: neglect gravity and all physics reduces to laws involving equations of motion and mi; take gravity alone and equations of motion are superfluous, it reduces to field equations and mg. The two realms are disconnected.

Numerically-minded people, including physicists, sometimes deride Christian belief in the Trinity as illogical. You can't have it both ways: either there are three gods or one God. But those mysterious fourth century creeds were formulated by clear thinkers pondering the implications of a threefold experience of God, (1) as Parent, (2) as Spirit at work in us and in Nature, and (3) as seen in the tremendous event of Jesus of Nazareth. Challenge the experience if you will; recognize that Athanasius' philosophic categories were not ours; but do not cry illogic when physics holds similar mysteries. Electrons are both a unity and a duality, with analogies to both waves and particles. Absurd? No, given a proper philosophy of analogy, to have it both ways is exactly what one can do.

Can Scientists Believe?, pp. 168-169


The mine of wisdom

Surely there is a mine for silver, and a place for gold to be refined. Iron is taken out of the earth, and copper is smelted from ore. Miners put an end to darkness, and search out to the farthest bound the ore in gloom and deep darkness. They open shafts in a valley away from human habitation; they are forgotten by travelers, they sway suspended, remote from people.

As for the earth, out of it comes bread; but underneath it is turned up as by fire. Its stones are the place of sapphires, and its dust contains gold. That path no bird of prey knows, and the falcon's eye has not seen it. The proud wild animals have not trodden it; the lion has not passed over it. They put their hand to the flinty rock, and overturn mountains by the roots. They cut out channels in the rocks, and their eyes see every precious thing. The sources of the rivers they probe; hidden things they bring to light.

But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Mortals do not know the way to it, and it is not found in the land of the living. The deep says, 'It is not in me,' and the sea says, 'It is not with me.' It cannot be gotten for gold, and silver cannot be weighed out as its price. It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, in precious onyx or sapphire. Gold and glass cannot equal it, nor can it be exchanged for jewels of fine gold. No mention shall be made of coral or of crystal; the price of wisdom is above pearls. The chrysolite of Ethiopia cannot compare with it, nor can it be valued in pure gold.

Where then does wisdom come from? And where is the place of understanding? It is hidden from the eyes of all living, and concealed from the birds of the air. Abaddon and Death say, 'We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.' God understands the way to it, and he knows its place. For he looks to the ends of the earth, and sees everything under the heavens.

When he gave to the wind its weight, and apportioned out the waters by measure; when he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the thunderbolt; then he saw it and declared it; he established it, and searched it out. And he said to humankind, "Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding."

Job 28:1-28


Accounting for hope

...But in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1Pet. 3:15- 2Pet. 1:8


The Anthropic principle

Yet despite the articulate denials of cosmic teleology by the leading evolutionists of our age, there still remain enough astonishing details of the natural order to evoke a feeling of awe-so much so that cosmologists have even given it a name: the anthropic principle. The discussion arose originally when some physicists noticed that even small variations in some of the constants of nature would have led to a universe in which life could not exist. For example, had the original energy of the Big Bang explosion been less, the universe would have fallen back onto itself long before there had been time to build the elements required for life and to produce from them intelligent, sentient beings. Had the energy been more, it is quite possible that the density would have dropped too swiftly for stars and galaxies to form. These and many other details were so extraordinarily right that it seemed the universe had been expressly designed for humankind. Such was the original context that led to the anthropic principle.

One of the first scientists to consider how the environment itself made life possible was the Harvard chemist L. J. Henderson. Early in this century, after Darwin's emphasis on the fitness of organisms for their various environments, Henderson wrote a fascinating book entitled The Fitness of the Environment, which pointed out that the organisms themselves would not exist except for certain properties of matter. He argued for the uniqueness of carbon as the chemical basis of life, and everything we have learned since then, from the nature of the hydrogen bond to the structure of DNA, reinforces his argument. But today it is possible to go still further and to probe the origin of carbon itself through its synthesis deep inside evolving stars.

Carbon is the fourth most common atom in our galaxy, after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen. A carbon nucleus can be made by merging three helium nuclei, but a triple collision is tolerably rare. It would be easier if two helium nuclei would stick together to form beryllium, but beryllium is not very stable. Nevertheless, sometimes before the two helium nuclei can come unstuck, a third helium nucleus strikes home, and a carbon nucleus results. And here the details of the internal energy levels of the carbon nucleus become interesting: it turns out that there is precisely the right resonance within the carbon that helps this process along.

Let me digress a bit to remind you about resonance. You've no doubt heard that opera singers such as Enrico Caruso could shatter a wine glass by singing just the right note with enough volume. I don't doubt the story, because in the lectures at our Science Center at Harvard, about half a dozen wine glasses are shattered each year using sound waves. It's necessary to tune the audio generator through the frequency spectrum to just the right note where the glass begins to vibrate-the specific resonance for that particular goblet-and then to turn up the volume so that the glass vibrates more and more violently until it flies apart.

The specific resonances within atomic nuclei are something like that, except in this case the particular energy enables the parts to stick together rather than to fly apart. In the carbon atom, the resonance just happens to match the combined energy of the beryllium atom and a colliding helium nucleus. Without it, there would be relatively few carbon atoms. Similarly, the internal details of the oxygen nucleus play a critical role. Oxygen can be formed by combining helium and carbon nuclei, but the corresponding resonance level in the oxygen nucleus is half a percent too low for the combination to stay together easily. Had the resonance level in the carbon been 4 percent lower, there would be essentially no carbon. Had that level in the oxygen been only half a percent higher, virtually all of the carbon would have been converted to oxygen. Without that carbon abundance, neither you nor I would be here now.

-- + --

I am told that Fred Hoyle, who together with I. Fowler found this remarkable nuclear arrangement, has said that nothing has shaken his atheism as much as this discovery. Occasionally Fred Hoyle and I have sat down to discuss one or another astronomical or historical point, but I never had enough nerve to ask him if his atheism had really been shaken by finding the nuclear resonance structure of carbon and oxygen. However, the answer came rather clearly in the November 1981 issue of the Cal Tech alumni magazine, where he wrote:

"Would you not say to yourself, 'Some supercalculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly miniscule.' Of course you would...A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed around with physics as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question."

Not so long ago I used the carbon and oxygen resonance in a lecture at a university in the Midwest, and in the question period I was interrogated by a philosopher who wanted to know if I could quantify the argument by Bayesian probabilities. Now I'll confess that, at the time, I hadn't a clue that Bayesian statistics meant evaluating a proposition on the basis of an original probability and new relevant evidence. But even knowing how to handle that would hardly have enabled me to perform a convincing calculation, that is, a probability so overwhelming as to be tantamount to a proof that superintelligent design was involved in the placement of the resonance levels.

Clearly my petitioner was daring me to convince him, despite the fact that I had already proclaimed that arguments from design are in the eyes of the beholder, and simply cannot be construed as proofs to convince skeptics. Furthermore, in posing his question he had already pointed out the quicksands of using numerology to prove the existence of divine order in the cosmos. So now I hasten to dampen any notion that I intended the resonance levels in carbon and oxygen nuclei to demonstrate the efficacy of design or to prove the existence of God.

Even William Paley, with his famous watch and his conclusion that it pointed to the existence of a watchmaker, said that "My opinion of Astronomy has always been, that it is not the best medium through which to prove the agency of an intelligent creator; but that, this being proved, it shows, beyond all other sciences, the magnificence of his operations."

Evidence of Purpose, pp. 23-25


The part played by joy in our studies...

Will power, the kind that, if need be, makes us set our teeth and endure suffering, is the principal weapon of the apprentice engaged in manual work. But, contrary to the usual belief, it has practically no place in study. The intelligence can only be led by desire. For there to be desire, there must be pleasure and joy in the work. The intelligence only grows and bears fruit in joy. The joy of learning is as indispensable in study as breathing is in running. Where it is lacking there are no real students, but only poor caricatures of apprentices who, at the end of their apprenticeship, will not even have a trade.

It is the part played by joy in our studies that makes of them a preparation for spiritual life, for desire directed toward God is the only power capable of raising the soul. Or rather, it is God alone who comes down and possesses the soul, but desire alone draws God down. He only comes to those who ask him to come; and he cannot refuse to come to those who implore him long, often, and ardently.

Weil, Waiting for God, pp. 110-111.


Understanding was given me...

Therefore I prayed, and understanding was given me;
I called on God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.
I preferred her to scepters and thrones,
and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with her.
Neither did I liken to her any priceless gem,
because all gold is but a little sand in her sight,
and silver will be accounted as clay before her.
I loved her more than health and beauty,
and I chose to have her rather than light,
because her radiance never ceases.
All good things came to me along with her,
and in her hands uncounted wealth.
I rejoiced in them all, because wisdom leads them;
but I did not know that she was their mother.
I learned without guile and I impart without grudging;
I do not hide her wealth,
for it is an unfailing treasure for mortals;
those who get it obtain friendship with God,
commended for the gifts that come from instruction.
May God grant me to speak with judgment,
and to have thoughts worthy of what I have received;
for he is the guide even of wisdom
and the corrector of the wise.
For both we and our words are in his hand,
as are all understanding and skill in crafts.

- - * - -

For it is he who gave me unerring knowledge of what exists,
to know the structure of the world and the activity of the elements;
the beginning and end and middle of times,
the alternations of the solstices and the changes of the seasons,
the cycles of the year and the constellations of the stars,
the natures of animals and the tempers of wild animals,
the powers of spirits and the thoughts of human beings,
the varieties of plants and the virtues of roots;
I learned both what is secret and what is manifest,
for wisdom, the fashioner of all things, taught me.
There is in her a spirit that is intelligent, holy,
unique, manifold, subtle,
mobile, clear, unpolluted,
distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen,
beneficent, humane,
steadfast, sure, free from anxiety,
all-powerful, overseeing all,
and penetrating through all spirits
that are intelligent, pure, and altogether subtle.

- - * - -

For wisdom is more mobile than any motion;
because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things.
For she is a breath of the power of God,
and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty;
therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her.
For she is a reflection of eternal light,
a spotless mirror of the working of God,
and an image of his goodness.
Although she is but one, she can do all things,
and while remaining in herself, she renews all things;
in every generation she passes into holy souls
and makes them friends of God, and prophets;
for God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom.
She is more beautiful than the sun,
and excels every constellation of the stars.
Compared with the light she is found to be superior,
for it is succeeded by the night,
but against wisdom evil does not prevail.
She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other,
and she orders all things well.



...Or for love

Under the whole heaven he lets it loose,
and his lightning to the corners of the earth.

After it his voice roars; he thunders with his majestic voice
and he does not restrain the lightnings when his voice is heard.

God thunders wondrously with his voice;
he does great things that we cannot comprehend.

For to the snow he says, 'Fall on the earth';
and the shower of rain, his heavy shower of rain,

serves as a sign on everyone's hand,
so that all whom he has made may know it.

Then the animals go into their lairs and remain in their dens.
From its chamber comes the whirlwind, and cold from the scattering winds.

By the breath of God ice is given,
and the broad waters are frozen fast.

He loads the thick cloud with moisture;
the clouds scatter his lightning.

They turn round and round by his guidance,
to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world.

Whether for correction, or for his land,
or for love, he causes it to happen.

Hear this, O Job; stop and consider
the wondrous works of God.

Do you know how God lays his command upon them,
and causes the lightning of his cloud to shine?

Job 37:3-15

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