From my earliest days, I have always been fascinated about the relationship between science and religion. I was taught that both disciplines taught the “truth” about creation so I always assumed that they would provide complimentary information and should not be viewed as contradictory bodies of knowledge. It is only natural then that I would look at the discoveries and developments of each in relationship to the other.
It was with great anticipation then that I picked up David Bodanis’ book E=MC2:A Biography of the World's Greatest Equation. I was not disappointed.
Energy as a concept was developed by Michael Farady when he posited that there existed invisible forces that accompanied magnetism and electricity. This began a line of research that demonstrated that this energy interacted with other elements and thus could be seen as an independent entity of its own.
Antoine Lavoisier discovered that matter was a closed system, which is to say that matter can never be destroyed or created, but simply would be changed into different elements, that if weighed would be found to equal the mass of the initial substance. His example that it Paris were completely and utterly destroyed and burned with a glass dome over top of the city to capture all of the gases that would be produced, it would still contain the same mass as before its destruction was prescient given that he was writing at the time of the French Revolution – a revolution that took his very life. Yet his groundbreaking experiments at breaking water into its constituent parts and then recombining them using static electricity clearly demonstrated that energy (heat or electricity) was the instrument by which matter could be converted back and forth. Further, in his day it was determined that this energy traveled at approximately 670,000,000 miles per hour, which is the speed of light.
Emilie de Chatelais, a woman scientist (a virtual oxymoron in her time) determined that force (motion) could also be quantified, but not using the equations of Sir Isaac Newton (who posited that force was determined by simply multiplying an objects velocity by its mass), but rather it could be determined by multiplying its velocity by the square of the mass.
It was then Albert Einstein, while reflecting upon the relationship of these three concepts, discovered the principle of relativity, a breakthrough that led to viewing light as simply another form of energy that resulted from the splitting of matter into its composite parts. Eventually this led him to his famous equation, E=MC2
So what does all of this tell us about the tenets of our faith?
First off, given that all of creation is part of a closed system (meaning everything that exists cannot be destroyed but only changed) began me thinking as to whether or not the same can be said about our existence. I do not mean this in terms of simply our corporeal bodies, but that essence of life and personality that gives us life and existence. How could it be that that if everything else in creation continued that this alone was something that would end in death? This “energy” of life should not have an essential quality ascribed to it which would set it uniquely apart from the rest of creation. Put into religious terminology, the soul (that which gives us life) must continue and not be destroyed. To hold that it does would run counter to the reality of every thing else that exists if Einstein’s famous equation holds true.
Even the liturgy and prayers of the Church seems to hold to this same scientific truth. Take for example the funeral liturgy when we state in prayer that in death “life is changed, not ended.” The belief that the soul continues after death is a core belief of all Christian faiths.
One might argue that since this essence or soul has no mass therefore how could it be subject to the law of relativity. However, here we turn to Farady and his demonstration that force exists that does not seem to have any mass – yet it is none the less real and actual. In fact given that E=MC2 demonstrates that matter and energy can be viewed as two halves of the same item (matter can be converted into energy and vice versa) thus the fact that something does not have mass simply means that it exists as pure energy. Is this not the essence of our Christian belief as expressed in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? I would suggest that the answer would be a resounding “yes!”.
Einstein went on to speculate what existence would seem like if it was composed of pure energy. First off, since energy moves at the speed of light, it would exist outside of time. His thought experiment in which one imagines moving at the speed of light mathematically necessitates that time would no longer exist. Imagine he asks, that one is traveling at the speed of light while holding a mirror in front of you. Would you not seem invisible with the mirror moving at a rate which would not permit the light of your reflection from reaching the mirror. Any image that you would see would be a static one that was reflected back to oneself from the point just before attaining light speed. Thus time would seem relative to the speed in which one were traveling. Again he uses a thought experiment to prove his point.
Imagine that a woman is travelling in a boat on a calm water. As she looked upon the wave that was coming from the front of the boat, it would appear to be one single and unmoving wave. Yet viewed from the shore and thus not moving at the same speed as the woman in the boat, the wave would seem to have active qualities of motion and energy. Thus if one were to travel at the speed of light, time itself would become meaningless. One would exist in an eternal moment.
Is this not an adequate description of eternal life as understood by faith? I believe that the similarities are too great to dismiss.
Keep checking this blog for more thoughts on this topic over the next week or two
About Fr. Tim
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