Nature and Super-Nature: Part 1

There is both a natural world and a supernatural world. Is that a religious statement? Yes, but it has now become a scientific statement as well. Thanks to string theory, we now have a working definition of what the descriptive word supernatural may mean.

We Christians believe in a supernatural God. Unfortunately, the word supernatural has been so overused and abused that it cannot help but conjure up images of ghosts, goblins or scenes from Nightmare on Elm Street. However, the true meaning of the word supernatural merely refers to a super-nature: by definition, a nature that exists over, above or beyond ordinary nature. Few would question that our natural world exists. We think of it as reality. The issue is whether there is a larger reality beyond the natural world that we know so intimately. That is certainly what the Bible describes to us. God is to be found in the heavens, the unreachable heights above our world. He dwells there and we are separated from him not by distance, which could be overcome, but by our worldly nature.

The classic stance of atheism has always been that the totality of reality consists of that which we know through our senses. What we see, hear, smell, taste and touch is everything that exists. Reality is limited to the natural world we perceive, and conjecture about anything beyond is ascribed to mere superstition. Progress in scientific inquiry has extended the reach of our senses through instruments like telescopes and microscopes, but never to the point of challenging the basic premise that the natural world is all that exists. That is, until now. Now theoretical physics is pouring massive resources into the idea that there may indeed be something over, above and beyond the confines of this three-dimensional reality we experience. Our universe may be only a tiny subset of an unimaginable ten-dimensional multi-verse.  

Early in the twentieth century science developed two magnificent descriptions of how our world works: relativity and quantum mechanics. Relativity describes how things work on a large scale and QM describes how things work at the other end of the scale – at the tiniest of distances. Both are incredibly accurate in their measurements and predictions. However, there was a major problem in trying to unite them. They are describing the same reality, but every effort to forge a link between the two failed miserably. In the last few decades, however, string theory has developed a way of uniting them by proposing a super-reality that includes extra dimensions. A super-nature that consists of ten spatial dimensions plus time is currently the favored model. The majority of work in theoretical physics today is directed at discovering the implications of this model and determining how it may be tested. Testing is problematic. By definition, we cannot directly observe anything outside of our particular universe; but the theory will eventually make testable predictions of our-world phenomena that may be subjected to confirmation.

That’s the cutting edge of science at the moment, but are there practical implications for my particular mode of Christian apologetics? The primary effect I see is to leave the atheist in an awkward position. He used to be able to look around our 3-D world and ask, “Where is this invisible God?” Now, science gives at least a speculative answer. There may be more to reality than what we see. The bottom line is that super-natural may no longer be equated to un-natural.

In my experience conversing with atheists, they often exhibit a visceral reaction to any suggestion that the term supernatural might be descriptive of something real. Yet with string theory, science is describing what can only be termed super-nature in the truest sense. It is a nature that lies over, above and beyond the nature that we know. When I make this point, the typical response I get is that because science is discovering it, it becomes part of nature. But that is simply a crass form of equivocation. It evades the issue by changing the definition of nature to include that which we cannot see, hear, smell, taste or touch.

Naturally, I am not making an assertion that string theory proves that God exists. As I’ve written many times, it’s not my intent to prove God exists. I merely want to point out that the deeper science probes into the foundations of our reality, the more reality seems ideally shaped to accommodate the biblical description of God. Rather than squeezing out the possibility of God’s existence, advancing science makes belief in the biblical characteristics of God more practical. Correspondingly, I see string theory doing several things:

  • It describes a level on which God may exist that is both separate from our world and, at the same time, intimately connected with us. It allows for God to be both invisible and omnipresent.
  • It describes an order of being that makes our own existence seem trifling by comparison.
  • It gives insight into consciousness and a way in which God might inspire the writing of scripture and instill faith in some while hardening the hearts of others.
  • It suggests a manner in which the consciousness of God might exist that could be seen as eternal.

These ideas will be the basis of my next several blogs. Once again, I do not imagine I am exposing the true nature of God in my analysis. String theory could be wrong. I could be wrong. God’s nature may be something far beyond superstring’s multi-verse reality or operate in an entirely different fashion. Still, if I can illustrate one way in which the God of the Bible can operate in a way compatible with the framework of scientific discovery, then I confirm what I already know. Real scientific knowledge is not the enemy of faith, and faith is not the enemy of science.

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