A theory of everything
Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life
For centuries, scientists have searched for a single grand model that explains all of human experience. Today, that hope is projected on string theory, which sounds simple enough until we hear that the "strings" in this case vibrate in 10 or 11 dimensions.
Of course, no one knows if string theory, brought to a wider audience by PBS's Nova program "The Elegant Universe," based on physicist Brian Greene's bestselling book of the same name, will turn out to be the hoped for "theory of everything."
But my own experience in graduate school indicates that even this delightful name, a theory of everything, promises something it cannot deliver.
At one point, my fellow students and I were struggling to learn a highly abstract physics theory from a book we found difficult, with minimal help from our instructor. At the same time, I was spending a fair amount of time studying the Bible with the help of books by theologian Mary Baker Eddy.
Late one afternoon, I reached a low point with my physics course. I was working out some exercises near the beginning of the text, and I got very stuck on one of them. It wasn't that I couldn't see an answer; it was that I could see too many approaches with each leading to a different solution.
My thought wandered from the physics problem to something I had learned in my Bible study: "God already knows the right answer."
I'd used this kind of affirmative prayer in my physics studies before, but this time it led to an unusual result. The next thing I knew, I was looking up a technical term in the book's index, where I found two page references. One pointed to the page I already had open, and the other pointed to a page much later in the book. This second page discussed the very exercise I was working out, and included the right answer. This showed me the right approach, and I quickly completed that and the remaining exercises, marveling at what had just happened.
The following day, I volunteered to explain to the class the exercise that had so baffled me. When I finished, the instructor asked how I could be sure I had the right approach. Imagine his surprise when I pointed to the right answer near the end of our text; he'd never gotten that far in the book.
Scientific theories are often described as models. This is because scientists don't claim to peek behind human experience. They build models that reproduce the phenomena of human experience and trust that these models have a useful relationship to what is unseen, behind the phenomena.
But none of these models even comes close to explaining my experience when I prayed about a physics exercise. For that we have to look away from models of a physical universe toward the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - the Creator that Mary Baker Eddy and other theologians have called the divine Mind and to which the New Testament gives the awesome name "Love."
It wasn't vibrating strings or vibrating brain cells that led me to the back of that physics text. It was an intelligent God who knew the answer, and a loving God who would help me with my homework.
I was recently reminded of all this when a friend who had been reading a popular account of string theory connected it to a statement by Mrs. Eddy. "Vibration is not intelligence; hence it is not a creator" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," page 259).
Of course, Mrs. Eddy knew nothing of 21st-century physics when she wrote those words. But she may have read popular accounts of a vibrational theory of brain operation formulated by 18th-century English writer, David Hartley. In any case, she was not just rejecting a popular theory. She was making room for an extremely important religious truth. To quote her more fully: "God, Spirit, works spiritually, not materially. Brain or matter never formed a human concept. Vibration is not intelligence; hence it is not a creator" (page 259).
As an attempt to model the world behind our experiences, string theory may be useful. I deeply admire the genius behind such theories. But it will never really be a theory of everything as long as it leaves the Creator out of His-Her creation.
A thought from the Bible
He is in one mind, and who can turn him?
and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth.
For he performeth the thing that is appointed for me:
and many such things are with him.
Job 23:13, 14