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[personal profile] scottahill
Lately I've been finding religious inspiration in science. It started with some thoughts about Intelligent Design™, which I outlined in an article over a year ago. In a nutshell, I argued that the problem with ID is that it misrepresents science as the pursuit of TRUTH. Science is not about what is true, science is about what is verifiable and reproducible. If we're all in a holodeck, or brains in a jar, or if the world was created last Tuesday with all of our memories intact, science can't distinguish between simulation and reality so long as the simulation is good enough. If we're all living in a game, however, science is still relevant because it is the study of the rules of the game.

Anyway, a big part of physics is the use of models to describe certain phenomena: for instance, light can be studied using a particle model or a wave model. Is light a particle? Is light a wave? Light is *light*, a more fundamental part of the universe than our models. What matters to physicists is not so much whether a model is true, but whether a model is useful, useful in making predictions and helping us understand the behavior of light.

So too, one must use models to understand the nature of the Universe, including the nature of God (if God is included in your model at all; God is in mine). God is unknowable, so the best we can do is construct a model which gives us part of the truth. Different models, different religions and faiths: no one having the whole truth, but each finding usefulness in their model. (Thus I have no difficulty with people *believing* in Creationism, or unicorns for that matter; these are simply the postulates by which they face the world, and I can't disprove them. What I do oppose is attempts to impose one's postulates on another, or to use one's postulates in a logical argument with someone who does not share them. You can believe that a 1-day embryo is a human being, but if you want to convince me that abortion should be banned you have to find an argument that doesn't depend on that belief, because I do not share it.)

In physics, one has no difficulty in switching back and forth between models depending on circumstances, and I've been thinking that the same may be true in my approach to religion as well. For instance, my primary model of God is a pretty standard one: God is a person, much more intelligent and wise and good than human beings but basically a separate entity who can communicate with us subtly, etc etc. There are times when this model is useful, times when one needs the thought of a parental figure, needs the ability to talk to God the way one might talk to one's parents or a mentor. However, there are times when this model is not useful, and is in fact detrimental to me. One such time is during prayers of praise, like the Gloria in the Mass. If we think of a God as a distinct person, then Praise prayers can sound like a lot of butt-kissing, and if God is demanding them of us, then He starts to sound pretty insecure.

However, there is an alternative model, which is the notion that God is omnipresent and infused in everything and everyone, an intimate part of Creation. In that case, praise of God becomes praise of Creation of which one is a part. It's less "Yay Boss!" and more "Yay Team!" In fact, the ideal praise comes, I suspect, out of a process whereby one becomes so in tune and awestruck with the miracle of existence that one cannot help but shout "Yeah!" or "Wow!" I can't say I've made *that* kind of prayer before, not often anyway, but it is certainly a much more inspired picture than a recitation of superlatives to a Deity.

One other useful feature of this alternative model is that it involves the Divine in everyday life. In my bouts with agnosticism, I have often wondered if the benefits of prayer are no different than the benefits of meditation, if invocation of God is really required. But if God is everywhere, why should invocation of Her be required? If meditation and prayer are equally beneficial, perhaps that is because both are equally holy. Similarly, if an activity brings you true joy, perhaps it brings you closer to the Divine than a dry prayer. Under the Deist model, God may be jealous for not having been involved in your activities; under the Omnipresent model, God is already there.

So which is true? Is God omnipresent, or is God distinct? Answer: God is God, more fundamental than any theory I may come up with. If switching between models helps me to become a more fulfilled, holy person, then both models are useful and therefore, from a physicist's point of view, Good.
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scottahill

September 2010

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