Posted by: gcarkner | January 31, 2023

Robert Mann, Physics & Faith

Dr. Robert Mann from University of Waterloo and the Perimeter Institute gave a brilliant talk at the 50th anniversary of the Canadian Science & Christian Affiliation on Saturday January 28, 2023. Some people today think science and faith are incompatible, and this can cause an existential crisis. But that is definitely not the stance of Robert Mann. His talk was entitled “To Infinity & Beyond.”

Professor Mann works on gravitation, quantum physics, and the overlap between these two subjects. He is interested in questions that provide us with information about the foundations of physics, particularly those that could be tested by experiment. Professor Mann has a lively and energetic research group of about 10 graduate and undergraduate students, where we address a number of interesting questions in physics, such as

  • How would relativity influence how a quantum computer worked?
  • Could we use a quantum probe to peek inside a black hole?
  • Is it possible that the Big Bang could be replaced with a black hole at the beginning of time?

CSCA Talk: Dr. Mann sees four areas where science & Christian faith are compatible and in fact need each other: Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience. This is also known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Science & Faith together give us a richer perspective on life and reality.

Reason: There are epistemological parallels between science and Christianity. It is amazing and fascinating that the world is rationally transparent. Famous physicist Sir John Polkinghorne once noted, “There is a transparent beauty to the physical properties of nature.” Reason is used in science to interpret the data, and to eliminate errors in our thinking. Mathematics undergirds the laws of nature. He believes that this points to a mind behind nature. In his long experience, he observes that physics ‘makes God look good’. Peer correction is important in science as well as in understanding the Bible and the faith. A healthy measure of skepticism is important both in science and in theology. We need to continually test ideas until they become robust.

One other point made by Robert was the question of authority: It is important for atheist scientists to refrain from waxing eloquent about how science disproves God and religion, rendering all religious activity and belief to ‘unscientific’ fantasy and myth. Christian Smith covers this problem well in his 2019 Oxford University Press book Atheist Overreach, Chapter 3 “Why Scientists Playing Amateur Atheology Fail”. It is important that we stay in our lane epistemologically. Guilty parties operating this intellectual sleight of hand are top people: Yuval Noah Harari, Edward O. Wilson, Richard Leaky, Victor Stengel, Marcelo Gleiser, Steven Weinberg. The temptation to speak on the nature of everything (meaning, purpose, destiny of humanity and the universe) is lively, but wrong headed. This does not add to one’s scholarly integrity but subtracts, while confusing the public about the nature of reality at a popular level. It often bleeds into the ideology of scientism. Assumptions of materialism, naturalism and empiricism are articles of faith.

Experience is equivalent spiritually to Experimentation in science. We have to reflect on and interpret both our encounters with God and our scientific discoveries (data). We test these against Tradition–what is established thus far. History, both in science and theology, is important. Thus, the importance of peer reviewed journals. We don’t start brand new in the lab each week; we are building on knowledge that others have established. It is also important to see that science does not give us the big picture of meaning or metaphysics. We need to go elsewhere for that insight. In religion and human meaning, we need other forms of language–constitutive language (Charles Taylor, The Language Animal).

Scripture is not a scientific text per se, but of course scholarship is working on getting the best documents and discerning the tradition from other scholars down the centuries. Continual comparison occurs between different statements about God throughout the biblical narrative until a sound picture emerges. The scientific spirit of making rational sense of the Bible resonates with wise Christian believers. Scientific theories and theology are similar. Good theories and good theology will endure the tests of time. In Solomon, one of the ancient, wise kings of Israel, we see someone who operated in the spirit of science before science emerged in his botanical categorization.

~Gordon Carkner, GFCF @ UBC [] View our scholarly lectures.

Here are the videos from Robert Mann’s visit to British Columbia:

Listen to Robert Mann’s UBC 2019 talk on The Multiverse, Science & Theology: A Critical Inquiry.

See also how one scientist, Dr. Sy Garte, came to a personal faith over 60 years

See also Robert Mann on The Edge (Physics & Theology).

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