The Church Times, London, November 28,1997
   The search for the divine has been pursued, often unwittingly, by the
   scientific community, says Keith Ward
   MODERN PHYSICS has taken over the role that natural theology used to
   play in British intellectual life. In the early years of this century,
   philosophers and theologians wrote and lectured on the ultimate nature
   of reality, on human nature and destiny. Tennant, Bradley, McTaggart
   and MacMurray considered the great themes and grand panoramas of
   speculative thought, and wove vast sub-Hegelian tapestries of elegance
   and erudition.
   Since those years, philosophy and theology have for the most part lost
   confidence, and now they sometimes wander disconsolately in a
   post-modern landscape, muttering scraps of disconnected narrative.
   Now the grand narrative of the nature and destiny of the universe has
   been taken over by physicists. They do not all agree on their
   theological recommendations, but Stephen Hawking, Paul Davies, John
   Barrow, John Polkinghorne and many others all have grand tales to tell
   of the beginning and end of all things.
   Moreover, they all take seriously the question of God, as a possible
   terminus to the human quest for explanation of why the universe has
   the elegant organised complexity that they see it to have.
   THE DOGMA of fundamental science is that there is an explanation for
   everything, that nothing is just inexplicable brute fact, that there
   is an inherent intelligibility to the way things are. The dream of
   fundamental science is that some reality will be found which explains
   absolutely everything, including itself, in a finally satisfying way.
   Some of the candidates for this role are extraordinary. Some maintain
   that every possible universe somehow exists (the "many worlds"
   theory). Since every possible world exists, this universe is bound to
   exist, and that is its ultimate explanation - it cannot fail to exist.
   Others suppose that the universe is a result of quantum fluctuations
   in a vacuum (the "free lunch" theory), which sooner or later
   inevitably give rise to this universe. Again, the ultimate explanation
   is that the universe is bound to exist.
   There are other theories, too. But it is beginning to strike an
   increasing number of physicists that the simplest, most probable
   theory is one that has been there a very long time. It is the "one
   God" theory, that there is an actual being which is the basis of all
   possible worlds, and which has the power to bring about this universe
   because this universe realises a set of great and distinctive values.
   Such a God has the necessity which a "final theory" requires. God
   cannot fail to exist, because God is the basis of all possibilities.
   And God is a better explanation than quantum fluctuation, since one
   needs to explain why basic quantum states and laws are as they are,
   how fluctuations can happen when time does not exist, and how one can
   be sure that every possible fluctuation will occur.
   God explains these things by a combination of necessity (God's reality
   exhaustively covers every possibility) and rational purpose (states
   are made actual because they cause distinctive values to exist).
   Moreover, the theory of God has a high probability, in that a universe
   which gives rise to personal agents by highly elegant natural
   processes is much more likely to exist if it is selected by
   intelligent choice than if it comes into being by chance. Since, on
   the theory, God exists by necessity (and thus with a maximal
   probability), the theory of God makes the existence of this universe
   much more intelligible.
   In addition, the theory of God has the virtue of extreme simplicity.
   It accounts for all things as effects of just one being. It unifies
   all possible states by placing them in one omniscient mind. It defines
   God by one simple formula - God is that than which nothing greater can
   be conceived. It assigns just one type of reason for the existence of
   all things - they are created for the sake of goodness. And it unites
   necessity and freedom, scientific and historical explanations, in one
   reality which is necessary in its basic nature and personal and free
   in its creation of the universe.
   In all these ways, the idea of God matches very closely the
   physicists' dream of a final theory of everything.
   The catch is that, since we will never wholly understand God, we will
   never actually be able to understand everything. That, however, is
   scarcely surprising; and it is perhaps enough to believe that
   everything can, at least from God's viewpoint, be finally understood.
   By the crucial scientific standards of probability and simplicity, the
   idea of God scores very highly on the physicists' demand for
   explanation, and much better than any known alternative.
   IS THIS a revitalisation of the arguments for the existence of God,
   allegedly buried for ever by Immanuel Kant, and shrugged off with
   embarrassment by many theologians ever since? Indeed it is. The
   physicists are encouraging us to be bold in informed speculation, to
   look for the most probable explanation of why things are as they are,
   to explore what is implied in our commitment to the rationality of
   science itself. We are not, of course, going to come up with proofs
   which will convince everyone. But we are, I think, going to discover
   that the idea of God is not some blind leap into absurdity: a belief
   held in face of all the evidence.
   On the contrary, we will find that it is a highly plausible candidate
   for the best explanation of this amazing universe, and a wholly
   rational belief to hold.
   Sometimes physicists who can see the point of positing a vastly
   intelligent God whose existence is necessary and whose purposes are
   rational cannot quite see the link with religion as it is practised.
   The link is simple: the God whose love is declared to Christians in
   the person of Jesus, who calls us into fellowship with the divine
   life, is the creator of all things, who makes this whole universe to
   be what it is, and who will ensure that the purposes of creation are
   ultimately realised.
   To see that the universe is, both in its general structure and in its
   precise detail, a work of supreme wisdom, that it depends at every
   instant for its existence on a being of supreme goodness, and that the
   universe is destined to realise a goal of overwhelming goodness, is
   already to see the temporal world in a religious way. It can lead one
   to see the eternal in the temporal, to place the things of time in an
   eternal perspective. It can lead one to revere and contemplate with
   awe and admiration the one creator whose glory and power are seen in
   the works of creation, but whose being infinitely transcends that
   whole creation.
   The search for wisdom, said Aristotle, begins in wonder. That search,
   for the religious thinker, ends in worship. It is strange but true
   that it may be the physicists who lead us in that search, though it
   will still be the saints who tell us of its end.
   Professor Ward is Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of
   Oxford and a Canon of Christ Church, Oxford. This article is derived
   from his Gore Lecture, delivered at Westminster Abbey on Wednesday
   Professor Keith Ward The Church Times London 

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