My husband and I had the privilege of visiting Budapest last weekend, where our daughter is spending a year. We attended an active church meeting in an old movie theater in the city and thoroughly enjoyed the sights, sounds, and company. The picture to the right is taken from Gellért Hill looking along the Danube. The Buda side of the river is located near the edge of the ancient Roman Empire, and the ruins of the Roman city of Aquincum are fascinating. Although the Roman military town lies under Buda and has been built over throughout history, the accompanying civil town is one of the best preserved Roman cities in Europe, lying on the outskirts of modern Budapest. The tile floor below of two wrestlers graces the floor of the bath in a large private residence in the town. From Aquincum to Árpád to St. Steven (Szent István) through the Ottoman Turks, the Habsburgs, the communist era, to the present, Budapest is truly a city with a long and involved history. (Clicking on the pictures will bring up larger versions.)
Coincidentally, I recently received a short book (106 pages) written by a Hungarian scientist, István Kolossváry. His book, The Fabric of Eternity. A Scientist’s View of the Works of Providence, reflects the way that he has dealt with the (apparent) chasm between science and theology. His book “seeks to eradicate the wall that divides the two disciplines and bring a fresh perspective to believers in both.” In particular, Kolossváry is focused on the theological and philosophical questions that address the way that God can and does act in the world. Does science and scientific explanation eliminate the possibility that God exists? Some people claim that modern scientific understanding of the nature of the universe does just that. Kolossváry doesn’t find this satisfactory.
My own deep conviction vouches for a more humble Universe that humans can call home, a Universe that is alive by the love of God. To ‘go it alone’ means that we equate the Universe with god—the god of the philosophers, that is. The god of the philosophers is an absolute pure entity that is entirely self-contained, bearing its own cause, reason, and purpose. The god of the philosophers has no need for anything; it lives (if we can call it life) in perfect satisfaction and harmony with itself. God who loves the Universe, however, is beyond pure perfection and loves us human beings. It is love that lies beyond pure perfection; it is love that distinguishes God from the god of the philosophers. You know love only when you live it, it is beyond words. (p. 3)
As a biophysicist whose work involves computer simulations of chemical and biological systems, Kolossváry structures his argument first around free will and the nature of time and then around the quantum mechanical nature of the universe. He brings concepts from his scientific world into his approach to theology. (This may seem intimidating, but Kolossváry’s book is short and very readable.)
Eternity Imprinted on a Tablet. To begin Kolossváry considers how free will and providence interact in our world and in our lives. Free will doesn’t mean complete unconstrained freedom, but it does mean the basic freedom to make decisions – to drink a cup of coffee, drive too fast, start an exercise routine, or treat our spouse, friends and children well. And it means the freedom to respond to God. Providence, on the other hand, “refers to God’s loving care and guidance throughout life.” But therein lies a problem according to Kolossváry. There is a conflict – it appears that our free will can change God’s divine will and that any choice we make that deviates from God’s providential path forces him to respond and create new options.
Remember the cavalcade of history unfolding on the world stage. Countless decisions at every level throughout history bombard God to respond. God surely seems to be overwhelmed by the world. Nevertheless, of course, this argument does not stand to reason. God shall not be overwhelmed by the world and we cannot change God’s will. There is nothing wrong with the awesome theology of divine providence; it is our concept of the flow of time that plays tricks on our thinking. A major revision of what we think about time is necessary to reconcile free will and providence. (p. 13)
Kolossváry turns to the concept of phase space, with points mapped in space and momentum coordinates (and offers a good lay description of what this means) and the concepts of quantum mechanics to reconcile free will and providence. First phase space and the view that God stands outside of time and can have providential control of the world.
It is highly simplistic, but it catches the essence to say that God never actually re-acts to our decisions; He already has the answer to any situation that can possibly happen. In eternity, He sees all things together as one whole system and in his infinite wisdom can gently assert His providential plan to the world throughout history in a single flash of eternal creation. We, on the other hand, are trapped in time, localized to our life paths and see the works of providence as an interactive play. We think that we ask all the questions and God must answer. What really happens according to Christian thought, instead, is that God has all the questions and all the answers. (p. 42)
What providence means is that not all ends are equal and that God guides you through your life journey toward an end that meets His providential plan. In other words, God fills your life with a purpose. Your life has a purpose. My life has a purpose as does everybody else’s. Humankind has a purpose and so does the entire Universe. (p. 44)
Another place where the conflict between providence and freedom clash is in the common view of evolutionary processes in biology. The apparent randomness of evolution raises questions for many Christians. Some scientists emphasize the contingency and lack of purpose in evolution. But Kolossváry points out that in his view of God and time “randomness has its full potential unleashed in exploring the realm of possibilities, but randomness is only a servant and not the master, of evolution.” (p. 45)
Pondering the Quantum. From this overview of God and time, Kolossváry moves into a discussion of the possible role that the quantum nature of reality may play in the way that the providence of God can be realized. It isn’t that quantum uncertainty leaves room for God’s action to be hidden, but that God from his perspective can collapse the wavefunction into the desired outcome. The chapter contains a nice short description of quantum theory and what this means.
… quantum objects are like Janus the Roman god with two faces looking, simultaneously, into the future and the past. In fact quantum objects are usually even more enigmatic and have more than two faces, and sometimes infinitely many. When quantum objects let us look at their faces, though, they only show one face at a time: never both. (p. 590
The quantum measurement problem the collapse of this multifaceted object into one observable face. Kolossváry suggests that God is the ultimate observer, collapsing the possibilities into the one of his choice – not considering each individual quantum object separately, but for the universe as a whole.
For in Him We Live. This is where we get to the evidence for God. It isn’t in the details, but in the grand picture. “The ultimate observer is the creator God who is both immanent and transcendent to the Universe.” (p. 71) This isn’t a proof for God, but a realization that God cannot be eliminated from the picture on scientific grounds. We must accept or deny the existence of God on nonscientific grounds. Kolossváry works through a number of alternatives, including the many worlds view of quantum mechanics, and argues that only if we accept the immanent and transcendent God is free will retained.
Ultimately, the question is whether we go it alone or with God. Whether the Universe is in God and infused by God’s love, grace, and providence; or the Universe (or multiverse) is entirely self-contained and has no purpose.
“For in Him we live, and move, and have our being”
St. Paul’s quote from Scripture has solid scientific footing while the many worlds view trying to escape God is merely a mesmerizing and intricate sand castle. (p. 89)
Kolossváry concludes his book with an epilogue building off of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s book The Phenomenon of Man. Kolossváry’s thesis is that we cannot exclude a God who interacts with the world on scientific grounds, and quantum theory might offer some ideas about how God could interact with the world. But this interaction is fundamentally relational. Interaction is required for relationship, and relationship between God and his creation is at the heart of Chardin’s argument. But Chardin deals with evil only in a 3-page appendix to a 300 page book. This isn’t enough. Divine purpose and providence require us to deal with the reality of evil and suffering. Kolossváry is well aware of the reality of evil and suffering in this world. The shoes on the Danube are a memorial to this reality. His reflections on evil and suffering would be worth discussing more completely, but this post is already long enough.
If you are interested in these questions, the relationship between providence, free will, science, and theology, The Fabric of Eternity is a short, very readable, foray into the topic.
If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net