August 14, 2019•588 words
There is a question I have entertained over the years regarding the formulation of physical theories in the light of the Christian doctrine of creation, namely, God made everything there is (that is not God) and upholds it all continuously 'by the word of his power'. The physical world is an expression of the mind of God, which is inexhaustible and can never be fully comprehended by other beings. Yet, we can observe, formulate and regularize behaviors and characteristics of the physical world in scientific experiments and theories. We have done so over the years in atomic models, in which the pieces of the physical world are tiny indivisible objects, and then later also in terms of waves and fields. The general theory of relativity states that physical objects bend space by their presence and in so doing bend the lines of gravitational force. And in the quantum world, it seems that all bets are off, as many assumptions break down. I have read with interest Wolfgang Smith's 'The Quantum Enigma', where he attempts to deal with some of these by appeal to Aristotelianism, but have not understood much of it; he is a Catholic scholar with doctorates in both physics and philosophy.
But the question I raise is, how close in principle can any physical theory come to the actual creation from God's hands? (By in principle, I mean that if we had infinite time and resources, we'd be able to fully understand and grasp God's creation.) The question is motivated by the observation that, as each physical theory has been formulated throughout history, it has worked well enough to a point, and then people encounter situations where it breaks down. New theories, whether extensions of previous ones or completely new ones, are then formulated to cover all known cases. But then the cycle repeats, as the new theory reaches its limits and breaks down or fails to explain new phenomena, and it appears we go deeper and deeper into the guts of creation.
So I wonder, can we ever "reach bottom", i.e., find a final, comprehensive explanation of all physical phenomena? I mean, is this possible even in principle, or is it somehow ruled out by the fact that since the physical world is a product of God's mind, it is thereby inherently inexhaustible to us? That is, as our theories become finer and finer and we go deeper and deeper, we will necessarily find more structure and complexity, and the cycle repeats. For example, there is a Standard Model of particle physics which is pretty well established, I'm told; the recently inaugurated Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland has proved some parts of the model that were previously speculated upon, but has also found behaviors that are not predicted by the Standard Model.
If we were to find some set of objects that could not be further subdivided, then these objects would necessarily possess the requisite properties attributed to them. Although created by God, they would be in a sense mystical or ultimate. In a pantheistic setting, they would be divine, I'd say.
Is there a philosophical or theological problem if God's physical world was completely exhaustible by man? It suggests that God could create a structure which is finite in that sense. I guess he could. Yet, he could also do the opposite, namely, create a physical world whose structure is not exhaustible by man, not even in principle. Are there considerations which would push us one way or another, and does it even matter?