Outline of an Unknowable God, question one

Do scientific discoveries make known to us the properties of God?

I was asked recently to write about the moral implications of an unknowable God. I couldn’t fit the piece into my schedule, but I did do some thinking on the topic. It’s the week leading up to Easter, so I’m posting these thoughts in hope.

At first, I thought it was an odd question: for Christians, at least, and Jews, we spend our time trying to know what we can of God, rather than worrying about all the parts we can’t comprehend. There’s a poem called The Truth About God by Anne Carson, which includes these lines: My religion makes no sense/And does not help me/Therefore I pursue it.

I see these lines not as a condemnation of religion but an acknowledgement of its ability to pull us into emotional and spiritual places we don’t understand and may not think we should go. Useful is cunningly prosaic; ATMs are useful, and gas stations, but we would never pursue either. Religion we pursue because it feels like it leads us someplace meaningful, though it is beyond our ability to say why.

Scientists often pursue things that wouldn’t interest their own mothers; a great deal of basic research tells us almost nothing. Yet sometimes huge breakthroughs occur that seem to tell us a good deal about the world around us.

The brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking has talked about being able to know the mind of God. The idea would perplex most religious believers, who would wonder why such a smart guy was bothering with something everybody should know is not knowable. Nonbelievers might wonder why such a smart guy would bother at all.

Hawking probably doesn’t bother. He meant that line (in his book A Brief History of Time, first published in 1988)as metaphor. Scientists are prone to grandiose statements about some new uncovery they’ve made. The genome becomes “the secret of life.” Physicists think they’re smarter than biologists, so Hawking ups the ante, calling a unified theory of physics (one that works for both quantum and classical mechanics) “the mind of God.” The idea behind both is that as we uncover elemental parts of our selves and our world, we get closer to understanding how we came to be, and maybe why. Knowing what was, before, unknowable makes God seem smaller, if we think God needs to set things in motion. Of course, uncovering those basic laws of the universe tell us nothing about God’s mind, anymore than they say something about God’s existence.

Still, as we gain  such knowledge, does it make us gods of ourselves, individuals who can set our own rules, ‘authority’ be damned?

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