June 4, 2012
Faith, Science, & the Resurrection (Part 2)
Does the Bible affirm a polymorphic universe? And what it means for the science vs. faith debate.
Part of Christian teaching is not just the hope that the world will be transformed in an age to come, but that the world experienced a similar transformation long ago in reverse. The universe we presently experience does not behave the same as the universe God originally created and declared "very good" (Genesis 1:31). Paul can speak of a day to come when the universe will be "set free from its slavery to corruption" because he believed there was a time long past when it was "subjected to futility." In theological language we call this event the Fall.
The story in Genesis is a familiar one and the subject of much debate between science and religion. It speaks of humanity rebelling against God to seek autonomous rule. By breaking their communion with the Living God they subjected themselves, and all of creation, to death. Genesis 3 speaks of the cursing of God's good creation; it's subjugation to sin, slavery, and decay. This corruption sets the scene for the redemption narrative of Judaism and Christianity; it creates the need for the liberation of God's creation which is accomplished by Christ, inaugurated by his resurrection, and will be fulfilled at his unveiling in glory.
But if Christ's resurrected body offers us a preview of creation set free from the curse, might it also provide a glimpse of the world before the curse?
Did the cosmos prior to the Fall also function entirely differently than the cosmos we now experience? Was the Fall, in keeping with our metaphor, the restructuring of the cosmos from a diamond into a lump of graphite? Do we inhabit the same universe created by God in the beginning, but now utterly transformed in quality and behavior?
If our universe is polymorphic, then the ability of science to see beyond its current form may be severely limited. Just as science cannot possibly explain the qualities and laws of the new heaven and new earth, neither may it peer back before the Fall to the universe that existed at the beginning of time. And while scientific discoveries have provided hints at the origins of the cosmos, and even the origins of our species, how are we to know how these clues reconcile with an earlier permutation of the cosmos that we have no ability to access? Our greatest scientific minds use complex mathematics to prove theories about time, space, and gravity. But if mathematics itself is subject to change, then what? In other words, we may have no way of knowing what we do not know.
I'm not proposing some highly developed theory of the universe. This post is just my external processing of questions I've carried for a long time about the intersection of faith and science. Unlike others who have ventured into this subject, rather than starting with indisputable science and finding a way to reconcile it with Scripture, I have chosen to start with the Resurrection and ask what it says about our ability to understand the cosmos. And I've landed (for now) on this idea: Our universe may well be polymorphic. It was utterly changed by the Fall and it will be utterly changed again at the Parousia. Therefore, while I continue to affirm the value and validity of all that science can teach us, it may not be able to speak to the nature of things beyond the world's present form. Ultimate questions of origin and destiny are mere projections from our present cosmic point of view, which leaves room for answers beyond the scope of natural science.
I realize I've raised more questions than I've answered. And don't ask me how this idea of a polymorphic universe reconciles with evolution, the Big Bang, or any other scientific theory. For that matter, don't ask me where in the Genesis account the cosmos 'morphed' (or where the dinosaurs fit into the story- a favorite question among some mutilators of the Hebrew scriptures). I'm not equipped to talk about such detailed matters. I'm still talking at a very high altitude about a broad idea that I'd welcome more intelligent minds to engage. But if there is any validity to a polymorphic universe, then perhaps we can affirm a great deal of what science has said about our universe without having to dismiss what faith says as well. While science can tell us what is, we can remain confidently committed to the God who is, and was, and is to come.