Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Calculus of God

The human mind doesn't do well with the infinite.  After all of human history, it wasn't until the 1600s that the calculus was invented.  The Greeks had ways of approximating areas, but it wasn't until Newton and Leibniz that the trick of the infinite began to be played.  If you want to know the precise area under a funky curve, add up the areas of smaller and smaller boxes under the curve.  The sum of the areas of smaller and smaller boxes approaching an infinite number of boxes is the precise area under the curve.

Statistical mechanics in the late 1800s did the same thing for predicting the behavior of an incredibly large number of molecules in a gas. Our minds aren't big enough to keep track of such a massive number of individual molecules.  We have to use statistics.  What's the probability of an electron being at a particular point at a particular time?  There aren't precise equations on this level but probability functions.  Precise equations aren't possible given our finite minds.

A lot of our talk about God, a lot of our attempts to come up with biblical truths or theological presuppositions, are surely at least as embarrassing as the geometry of the Greeks set next to Newton or the physics of Democritus put next to Schroedinger.  We console ourselves in our stupidity by pretending that our "biblical worldview" or "presuppositional truths" come anywhere close to what God literally thinks.  God smiles to listen to countless Sunday sermons with, finally, the real way to look at something or another.  And he gets the dunce caps ready for the first twenty minutes of heaven.

The deep theologian has a glimpse of how approximate the deepest understandings of God must surely be--and at how silly so much of so called Christian thinking can be in its pretenses.  Meanwhile, one of the reasons the best practitioners often find theology irrelevant is because they already know intuitively that the math is much more complex than the algebra so many theoreticians are selling.  The practitioner is sometimes intuitively using statistical mechanics while the shallow theoretician might not even know how to factor friction or entropy into the equation.

In such cases it's not that theory is irrelevant to practice.  It's that the people promoting theories in many cases don't know higher math. People especially use the Bible as a canvas on which to paint their own finitude and, again, God gets the dunce caps ready.  As Socrates suggested so long ago, the first step is to realize that we don't know nearly as much as we think we know...

4 comments:

John Mark said...

I realized about 15 years ago I don't know much. And reading your blog on a regular basis only confirms this :) Still, as a preacher, wouldn't you say that there are a few certainties we must preach, in spite of our ignorance on so many things? I have been accused of being a simplistic thinker at least once, even though I wrestle with questions about many things. Still, as I look to Abraham and the sheer naked faith he had in the face of so little evidence....it makes me want to preach with assurance. [My son, who claims to adhere to agnostic theism, points out that Abraham did have a few unique experiences most of us are denied. But still...I think the best preaching will have within it some element of certainty]

John Mark said...

btw 15 years ago was when I, a church musician, began to preach on a regular basis.

Ken Schenck said...

One key for me is that we think of our talk of God as pictures rather than philosophy...

John C. Gardner said...

Eastern Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware in The Orthodox Way writes that"like Socrates we begin to realize how little we understand. We see that it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery.God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder... So, in the Christian context...A mystery,is, on the contrary, something that is revealed to our understanding, but which we never understand exhaustively be cause it leads into the depth or the darkness of God."(pp 14-15 edition 2) God ideas are expressed in your post and I thought this was a complementary quote.

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