God’s Energy Field

 Posted by on 3 April 2007 at 4:51 am  Religion
Apr 032007

Paul and I recently listened to Dave Harriman’s course The Philosophic Corruption of Physics. We found the course enormously interestingly. Although I’m pretty well familiar with Kant’s metaphysics and epistemology, I wasn’t aware of the myriad ways in which those ideas, in various modified forms, have played themselves out in fundamental physics. It was yet another important lesson in the power of philosophy. (I should note that Harriman posted an update to that course regarding his positive comments about Lewis Little’s “Theory of Elementary Waves” therein.)

After listening to that course, I found a good example of bad physics providing cover for mysticism. Here it is:

In my experience, most Christians haven’t the faintest clue what the Holy Spirit is. That’s hardly surprising: it really makes no sense. It’s not a semi-comprehensible divine “person” like the Father and the Son, yet it’s somehow on par with them in the Trinity. It’s an active force in the world in the Christian scriptures, so it can’t just be ignored. But what the heck is it?

In the Teaching Company course Jesus and the Gospels, the lecturer Luke Timothy Johnson routinely describes the Holy Spirit as “God’s Energy Field” to make that mysterious whatever-it-is comprehensible. That’s a great explanation. It might not make full sense of the Holy Spirit’s place in the Trinity, but it does fit well with the Holy Spirit doings in the scriptures. In fact, I’d say that it makes the Holy Spirit seem perfectly ordinary and reasonable!

There’s a catch though: that’s only true if you think of fields as modern physicists and most people now do, i.e. as abstract, non-physical, and mysterious sum of forces. If you think of them as having some definite physical basis, then it makes no sense to describe the Holy Spirit as “God’s Energy Field.” In other words, bad physics provides a veneer of rationality to particularly stupidly irrational theology.

Of course, Johnson’s description is still helpful to me: I now think of the Holy Spirit as “God’s Energy Field, as Fields Are Wrongly Understood Today, Also Somehow a Distinct Person” That works well enough.

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