Thursday, 11 December 2014

Why do we so often use Physics metaphors in theology? Why not use biology, or psychology?

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I do it myself! - examples are all over this blog: when I am trying to understand or explain God, I feel drawn into using physics-type or mathematical models and metaphors.

Of course it goes back to (what is known of) the earliest Greek philosophers - who regarded ultimate reality in physicsy ways - as elements such as fire and water, in terms of processes such as movement or stasis...

There isn't so much of this in the Bible - but it is there, for example in the use of Light and Dark as primary metaphors.

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Yet, is this really helpful?

Does it not usually amount to explaining one difficult-to-understand thing, by employing some even-more-difficult-to-understand-thing?

I have myself, on this blog, have tried to explain the peculiarities of mortal life compared with Heavenly Life, and of the nature of dreams, in terms of the theory of General Relativity...

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Yes, I know that physics and mathematics are capable of great precision of expression; but it is an immovable fact is that not many people really understand these matters - even/ especially the people who deploy physics professionally seldom have a true grasp.

It would surely be better to use biology or psychology as our main metaphors - since these are more comprehensible - but then there is 'physics envy' (analogous to Freud's - nonsensical- concept of 'penis envy'), to which thoughtful biological scientists allegedly tend to be prone...

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And perhaps, especially among intellectuals, there is a yearning towards impersonal abstraction as being the bottom-line of life - as the final and secure escape from mortal, worldly suffering: this seems like the motivation behind the main 'Eastern religions' such as Hinduism and Buddhism, and behind the deisitic/ Platonic religion of physicists such as Einstein and Roger Penrose.

But Christianity is about a personal God, and His personal incarnate mortal life, and has at its centre the personal 'emotion' of Love.

So what is Christianity doing, dabbling in physics as its bottom line explanatory model?

Good question!

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8 comments:

Titus Didius Tacitus said...

"Why do we so often use Physics metaphors in theology? Why not use biology, or psychology?"

We can't discuss divinity in terms of political relationships, because under political correctness all political orders before our own are denigrated, and our own politics are phony, corrupt, and anything but holy.

(At least there's little need now to explain why heaven can't be a democracy. "Democracy" without bribes and lies, and without mass media manipulation and corruption of the people from which authority is supposed to flow, is unknown to us.)

We can't discuss divinity in terms of biology, because received opinion on biology as it relates to human beings is a pack of lies. They're not even plausible lies; they're like Communist lies. It's humiliating and demoralizing to be forced to sit silently while people say things that have been factually demolished long ago.

We can't discuss divinity in terms of psychology: received opinion is a pack of lies, and hegemonic "popular opinion" as defined by the lords of the mass media is another pack of ridiculous old lies, full of Freud, "repressed memories" and so on.

Bruce Charlton said...

Comment from TDT:

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[Bruce Charlton's Miscellany] New comment on Why do we so often use Physics metaphors in theolo....
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Titus Didius Tacitus has left a new comment on your post "Why do we so often use Physics metaphors in theolo...":

- So what is Christianity doing, dabbling in physics as its bottom line explanatory model?

(...)

"A Hare Krishna once explained this to me, and I have believed it ever since: the supreme being cannot be impersonal. We all agree that personality is better than its practical opposite. We give assent to that proposition with every act we take that's conducive to our bodies remaining controlled by our own personalities and not reduced to corpses. Those who concern themselves with the fate of their selves after physical death affirm the same truth twice. We do not consider the lifeless thing, the corpse, superior to the person. (Or we shouldn't. The occasional crazy person does.)

"If an allegedly supreme being is not a person, it is not supreme at all just because it lacks personality. That is such a grave flaw that it cannot be the best of entities, regardless of all other merits.

"Any form of impersonalism is at best worshiping the throne and ignoring the king. In a worse form it leads to thinking surreptitiously: "that which is above me is impersonal, so really I am supreme." (But you are not a god, and thinking as if you were leads to no good.) And at worst impersonalism leads to despair and materialism. (Warning: gulags ahead.)

"Whoever agrees that their own god is or their gods are best described in terms appropriate to inanimate things acts out the attitude of someone who believes that their god is at best an important part of the furniture of someone else's universe. "

Leo said...

Physics has immense prestige, as Latin once had, and to some extent still does. Using the language of physics conveys to the listener that the speaker is an educated person. This is not a bad thing, but does it really prove or even properly illustrate what is being taught?

I very much appreciate your point about explaining something difficult to understand by appealing to something perhaps even more difficult to understand.

Adam G. said...

Physics is about ultimate things, and seems more transcendent/otherwordly, so its only natural. No harm in using other kinds of metaphors, but that's the reason why physics is the go-to metaphor.

It's metaphysics, not metabiology.

A. M. said...

Intellect, will, memory.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Adam - Physics used to mean natural things so metaphysics could instead be meta-nature- which sounds more like biology!

Guillaume LaFontaine said...

Interesting point. Perhaps this is why I've so enjoyed Adam Miller's form of "earthy", "biological" theological musings. Though I have to say, it can often-times be no less complex that the common physics-metaphorical theology.

Kristor said...

We resort to physics because it is easier to understand than biology or psychology. Energy, life, and consciousness are all extremely difficult to understand, but of the three, energy is the easiest.

Not that we can honestly say that we understand physics. Indeed, when we are trying to explain physical concepts, it is not uncommon for us to resort to metaphors from biology and psychology! In the end, our understanding of any x is by way of such understandings as we have already achieved in other departments of thought, which are themselves likewise mediated. It's like a dictionary, wherein every word is defined in terms of other words, and the whole shebang ends up being self-referential.