Here we present the excellent scientific paper “Invisible world and modern physics: Modern science and theology“, by Theodossiou, E., Manimanis, V.N., Danezis, E.
A distinct characteristic of contemporary Western theological thought is the attempt to counter the transcendental part of Christian theology through arguments based on the findings of the natural sciences (antirrhetic theology). Although the well-intentioned exposition of opposing views on any subject is the best way to search for truth, in this case it is our scientific duty to note a series of inconsistencies.
1. Modern scientific thought considers a fact the position that today’s scientific knowledge in its entirety will be expanded, corrected in many points and even abrogated under the weight of new dramatic discoveries in the future. For this reason, the scholars in humanities who ignore this truth should not base dogmatic views upon temporary scientific positions: their views will stand unsupported as soon as the scientific positions on which they were based get subverted.
2. Antirrhetic theology is based in many instances upon scientific views of 17th or 18th Century, which are not valid any more. Due to this fact, if the various schools of metaphysical thought want to continue with integrity and responsibility their work, they must study in depth the 20th-Century discoveries and theories of sciences, and especially physics, and adapt, if possible, their positions according to them. In other words, we suggest to them to follow the example of the Fathers of the Christian Church of the 4th Century in becoming competent connoisseurs, of the natural sciences of their age. In order to justify our position we shall explore here a case study, that of an issue which was for centuries the source of clashes among philosophers, theologists and scientists. This is the question of the existence of an imperceptible by our senses but real and objective world, which coexists with the equally real world we see around us. First, we will summarize some of the modern scientific facts.
Theology and modern physics
In order for a scholar of the humanities to understand modern physics, astrophysics and cosmology, he or she should realize that the following three basic tenets associated with and even defining the notion of science since 1700 A.D. and up to the 20th Century have been dramatically altered.
1. The traditional notion of human “common logic”, the one humans have developed based on their senses, was almost identical with the scientific logic. Not any more. Now modern scientific thought diverges significantly from the “common logic”, in such a way that anyone not educated in depth in it can not understand the truth of the natural phenomena described by the modern theories of physics and cosmology. Of course, an adverse fact is that the world’s educational systems do not assist towards the assimilation of these novel mental processes.
2. A second tenet that was overturned by modern physics was the notion of “matter” as it was perceived by the human senses and formed the favorite object of applications for the applied sciences. Along with the classical belief about the nature of matter, the Newtonian classical physics was also surpassed; this physics, which was the base for the study of the Universe, was replaced by relativistic and quantum physics. On this topic, Charles Muses in his book Consciousness and Reality writes:
“A tree, a table, a cloud, a stone, all are dissolved by 20th-Century science into something consisting of the same material. This ‘something’ is a mixture of whirling particles that obey the laws of quantum physics. This means that the objects we can observe are mere three-dimensional images formed by waves under the influence of electromagnetic or nuclear processes”.
Similarly, matter according to the relativity theory is not the sturdy combination of molecules or atoms Newton and classical chemists had in mind, but a condensation of probability of an energy stream. In Einsteinian space-time matter is more of field singularity than a separate entity. A particle is nothing more than a perpetually moving energy whirl in space.
What is seen around us as palpable material objects consists for a modern physicist a false image of our senses; in other words, we see our environment not as it is in reality, but as our senses allow us to perceive.
3. A third tenet, which was changed (and, in turn, it changed dramatically the scientific view about the Universe), is the nature of space within which the natural phenomena take place. The classical physics was viewing as self-evident the fact that the space of the Universe is described by Euclidean geometry. This was enough, as we knew that humans can objectively visualize only forms and shapes in three-dimensional Euclidean spaces. But this belief was also proved wrong, when Einstein, through the general theory of relativity demonstrated that the universal space is not Euclidean, but it can be described by another geometry, Riemann’s geometry, which was fundamentally different from Euclid’s geometry. This by itself would not be so important if we didn’t know that no form or shape in a Riemannian space (be it of three or more dimensions) can be perceived by our senses “as it is”
Therefore, what our senses perceive as far as the large-scale structures of the Universe are concerned, are not their true forms, but rather their projections upon the smaller parts of the Universe, which, due to their small size, “behave” as Euclidean spaces and therefore can be seen as they are.
It is obvious that these projections of the true forms we can perceive are unable to give us an idea about the real world of the Universe, unless this world is approached through mathematical relations.
In the end, what scholars of the humanities must realize is that humans live in a Universe they can’t perceive through their senses and what they can perceive is just a Platonic “shadow” of what really exists.
All these facts, however, do not mean that the classical theories of physics are useless; they still give excellent results when phenomena inside relatively small regions of the Universe are being studied and not extremely powerful gravitational fields are present, e.g. when we study our Solar System. Classical physics fails also completely in describing
particles of the microworld, or bodies that move with almost the speed of light. Much of technology that makes our life easier is based on this classical knowledge about our world. In all other cases, when our senses or our “common logic” are incapable to help in the study of the natural world, science can continue its study and research to the extent the phenomena, forms and shapes that can’t be visualized can be described by mathematical relations and models.
In summary, the study of nature in both cosmological scales and the microworld is not anymore the job of empirical and validated by our senses science, but rather a mental task, which in this case replaces the senses as a new, more apt and capable sense.
All the above testify also to the fact that the philosophical background of the (natural) sciences has changed. Since the beginning of the 18th Century, the prevalence of Aristotelian mentality as opposed to Platonic ideo-centrism in Western Europe, helped to create a “regime” of deification of matter and its applications, thus creating what today is known as modern technological civilization. The Aristotelian pragmatism of the world of our senses dominated, accompanied by a logic based on empiricism. The non-perceivable by our senses world of Platonic ideas and the theory of its representation upon the material, perceivable forms, not having at the time any scientific support and validation, became easy prey to the Aristotelian practical thought.
Today, however, things have changed and Platonism can be said takes its revenge. Plato himself believed that the Universe can’t be described by our senses, and that the forms and shapes we perceive are just false images of other, real but obscure, facts, which are projected as shadows upon small parts of space our senses can grasp.
Not only Plato had predicted the new physical reality. It should not be forgotten that Heraclitus, Democritus and Parmenides were teaching that what our senses inform us about reality is not true, but are created in our minds, and that the knowledge coming from the senses is false, while only the mental concept of things leads to the universal truth.
Based on this evidence, it can be said that the pre-Socratic Greek philosophers had reached 25 centuries ago the basic principles governing the logic of modern natural science.
Science and the invisible world
One of the most complex theological issues, which always produced the scorn of classical physicists, is the question of the existence of an imperceptible by our senses but real and objective world, a “spiritual” world which coexists with the equally real world we see around us. On this topic, theologist Elias Economou writes in his book Theological Ecology (1994):
“The uncreated God wished and His will materialized into visible and
invisible Creation. This way, the following realities exist:
1. The reality of the Uncreated Triadic God.
2. The reality of the Creation as a result of the divine will, i.e. as the
realization of God’s will; this is subdivided into:
a) Non-perceivable Creation of invisible grandeur.
b) Perceivable Creation of huge dimensions, variety and power.
c) In mixed, made of perceivable and non-perceivable elements,
Creation, which is the human being…”
The above theological view of the existence of a non-perceivable creation had also been expressed in a scientific way by the ancient Greek natural philosophers (that is, scientists); they even had proceeded further: for some of them, like Plato, the world of our senses was an illusion, a highly distorted image of the real, non-perceptible world.
The non-perceivable world of the pre-Socratic philosophers
The first known allusion to the relative nature of the sensed world’s truth was made by Xenophanes, and also by Heraclitus, who wrote:
“The true structure of things is usually hidden”.
Besides this reference, Sextus Empiricus, mentioning the views of Heraclitus persuades us that this philosopher had fully realized the illusion of the “world” of the human senses:
“Heraclitus also believed that human beings possess two faculties to find the truth, sense and ‘logos’. From them, he considered sense as deceitful, more or less as the previous natural philosophers did, while he accepted logos as criterion for the truth”.
Here the term “logos” has its pre-Socratic meaning: it describes the opposite of the sense’s product, the non-perceivable by the senses. The word is used in the same context even today by Christian theology in order to describe God, considering Him, through this expression, “unconceivable” by the senses.
Parmenides, too, had a correct view about the illusion of the natural world. Sextus Empiricus and Simplicius write:
“Parmenides was saying that philosophy is dualistic: The one of its forms agrees with the truth, while the other conjectures it. And he set ‘logos’ as a criterion because the senses are not accurate.”
And also Empedocles had articulated a similar opinion:
“The criterion of the truth is not the senses, but the reason. There are two kinds of reason, the divine and the human. From these, the divine reason is inexpressible, while the human can be expressed.”
These views probably formed the necessary first material upon which Leucippus and Democritus were based to formulate some more integrated positions on this issue, in the context of supporting their atomic theory.
An interesting point that should be stressed is that most pre-Socratic philosophers, Democritus among them, refer to mind as a sixth sense, through which humans can perceive the invisible but existing and objective reality of the natural world. Therefore, it does not sound strange to repeat the view that, in the future, if we want to grasp as an objective reality the natural reality as it is expressed by modern physics and cosmology, we should train our mental faculties to the direction of making them a sixth super-sense.
In summary, the existence of the non-perceivable world was predicted by the Greek pre-Socratic philosophers. Let us see now what modern science has to say about this non-perceivable universal space.
The “strange” new Universe
One of the most discussed questions of modern cosmology is whether the Universe is infinite or not. The illusion of an infinite space could be formed, for example, by the phenomenon of the curvature of light. Such ideas led modern physics to consider the universal space as a “dynamic” medium, which, depending on the mass distribution inside it can be warped in three different ways, described by three different geometries: those of Euclid, Lobatschewski and Riemann. In these cases the Universe is referred to as “flat”, “hyperbolic” and “spherical”.
It is interesting that, since we are inside the space of the Universe, its curvature can’t be perceived through our senses. This effect can be traced through indirect indications, such as the gravity-generated distortion of images.While Euclidean geometry can be applied with very good results in small parts of a Lobatschewski or Riemann space, its deviation from truth becomes evident in larger astronomical scales.
The paradox for human “common logic” stems from the fact that human senses can visualize and describe shapes only in a three-dimensional Euclidean space. Since the geometry of the four-dimensional space of the general theory of relativity is non-Euclidean, the forms in the Universe can’t be perceived by humans as they are. Our realization of the shapes that surround us is a result of the fact that of a mental procedure. What we essentially perceive is just the projection of non-Euclidean forms and shapes in the three-dimensional Euclidean space, which is created through arbitrary dissections of the continuous and indivisible universal space-time, as our senses perceive it.
As the astrophysicist and cosmologist Sir Fred Hoyle puts it:
“Everything exists. Whatever existed in the past and whatever will exist in the future, already exists in our present. Only our mind makes the discrimination and creates the feeling of historical inconsistency and of the passing of time; feelings, however, are illusions, creations of our cognition, of the way we perceive the world.”
This view is stressed also by Michael Talbot in his book Mysticism and Modern Science (1993), where he writes characteristically:
“According to new physics, we can only dream of the real world. We dream of it as existing in a mysterious way, as visible everywhere in space and constant in time. However, we consciously gave our consent to the false creation of illogical, eternal dissections of its architecture in order to be able to view how false our initial frame is.”
In conclusion, modern physics theoretically accepts the existence of a real universal space beyond the senses, exactly as theological thought does. This fact can’t be realized by those who ignore modern physics and cosmology, considering the scientific views of the 19th Century as the correct ones.
Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Isidoros Aggelos