Divine Atomic Theory

There’s an apparent breakdown between the relations of faith and science. Everyone in Western culture is aware of this. You cannot escape the media’s opinion of the conflict, and it’s as though almost everyone interested in either of the two topics has something to say about it. But I can’t help but feel the entire feud is misdirected, and even ignorant of the over-arching theme of… well, life.

But to see this over-arching theme and get a better picture of it, we need to take a stroll to the micro level. I mean, like, really micro. Like atoms and stuff. The Magic School Bus is now leaving the station, so take your seats!

On the David Crowder Band‘s album A Collision (2005), there is a theme of how atomic theory can be applied to the act of worshiping God. Indeed, the 20th track on the album (called “A Conversation“) explains exactly this. The track is a seeming spoof of a phone interview between Crowder and an anonymous writer whom questions Crowder about the choice on the cover design for the record.

Interviewer:  “Oh… and the atom on the cover. That’s pretty cool. I was never all that great in science, ya know, and math wasn’t really my specialty. I guess that’s why I’m a writer now…. I dunno, like, with the cover, is that a metaphor, is that metaphorical for something, or, is it just pretty, or -”

Crowder:  “Nah, well, I mean, yeah. The atom, it’s not really, I mean, it’s a symbol. You see that and you think ‘atom’. It shows electrons moving in elliptical paths around a nucleus and all, but we know that’s not how an atom works, or looks even for that matter. So that’s why it’s appropriate for the cover.”

Interviewer:  “Yeah, I’m not really sure I see the connection.”

Crowder:  “What I mean to say is that the elements of worship are inadequate, very much like the atom depiction, but this is what we have. It helps us carry the idea.”

This is a great analogy to me because it illustrates the mystery in both realms of science and faith. If you stop and think about it, both subjects deal directly with mystery, don’t they? I mean, on the one hand, science is struggling to grapple with the unknown physical world, to induce and deduce and analyze and observe all sorts of things about our universe in some methodological way. After all, that’s what the scientific method is. On the other hand, faith is wrestling with a notion of the universe from a completely different angle; in essence, it’s saying that the confines of a human-derived method for worldly discovery isn’t adequate to fully comprehend and appreciate the world we’re trying to discover. The idea of God is at the heart of this, and through this core of divinity faith tries to answer incredibly tough questions about life, both “what” and “how”.

Following this line of thought, can’t the atom analogy go deeper? Can’t it bring us to another level where it’s applied to all of life? And can’t this reconcile the supposed feud between faith and science that has pervaded for 200 years or more?

I think it can. Both subjects are naturally primed to not only co-exist, but to mutually further each others’ goals and concerns. Where one (science) looks to the physical world, the other (faith) looks to the metaphysical or spiritual world. But there’s a definite crossover to the two aspects. The progression of fields like psychology has created a virtual Venn diagram between science and faith, gently and increasingly overlapping one another. And there’s no reason this trend can’t continue as humans discover more and more about our world.

The idea that we (as individuals) see things differently from one another is almost a given. Subjective value theory translates into each person assigning worth to things in a varying degree. Sally might not like ketchup because it’s too tangy; Bobby might not like ketchup because it’s too sweet; Gretta might like ketchup because it’s tangy and sweet. We see the world through varying degrees and angles and perspectives, all giving us a slightly (or sometimes drastically) different view on the subject at hand.

Albert M. Wolters, in his 1985 book Creation Regained, argues this very notion. Wolters presents his example in this way (and I’ll paraphrase):  imagine an incredibly large translucent sphere with hundreds of people standing evenly-spaced around it in a circle. The sphere contains erratic light sources inside and around it, which cause it to distort the image that each individual is seeing from his unique place around the sphere. If you were to take one person’s perspective and then have them stand in a completely different point occupied by someone else, he’d have a completely different concept of what the sphere is, how it looks, what it’s doing, etc.

The sphere is life, in general. As things pass through it, or are illuminated by it, or an object can be seen inside or through, each person standing around it views it differently. At times, perspectives are similar, maybe only a foot or several inches off. But at other times, perspectives are a complete 180 from one another. This is nature; this is the problem of life.

So when science tells us “this is what an atom looks like” despite the fact that scientists don’t really know that for sure because they’ve never actually seen an atom in its physical form, it’s their perspective on life. And, likewise, when a religious scholar from an unnamed creed tells us “this is what God looks like” despite the fact that they don’t really know that for sure because they’ve never actually seen God for themselves, it’s their perspective on life. It’s just that “this is what we have; it helps us carry the idea”.

Faith and science observe life through different lenses, and through those lenses they make their judgments and draw their conclusions.  But that does not mean they are mutually exclusive, nor that they are absolutely focused on wholly different things. As I said above, both concern themselves with discovering our world… just through varying means. Neither subject seems truly concerned with furthering the relation with the other. And this is a shame because we’re all living in the same world while trying tenaciously to figure it all out. The sooner we can reconcile one another, the faster we’ll continue that overlapping Venn diagram. Sure, there may just be things in the universe that don’t really fit into either circle. But in the event, we’ll just invite the third circle to join the diagram. Life is cool like that.

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