The Big Picture

My grandson Scott recently gave me a book by Sean Carroll entitled The Big Picture.  Dr. Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology, and he is a highly respected scientist and writer in his field.

This book devotes much of its content to a description of quantum field theory, the cutting-edge theory that is said to give us the most accurate physical descriptions and predictions in all of science. Quantum Field theory describes the physical world in terms of fields, forces, and particles. When fields vibrate, we observe those vibrations in the form of particles. There are basically three kinds of matter particles and three forces that make up everything in our physical universe. Protons and neutrons, which make up the nucleus of atoms, and orbiting electrons, are the three matter particles. Then there are the three forces: the strong and the weak nuclear force and electromagnetism. Finally, there is the force of gravity.

Sean Carroll says these particles and these forces makes up everything you experience in your everyday lives, without exception. There is nothing else.

When we combine all this knowledge into a single theory, we get what some scientists refer to as the Core Theory.

Sean Carroll describes himself as a poetic naturalist.  He believes in only one world, the natural word, which exhibits unbroken patterns (the laws of nature), and which we can learn about by observation and through the testing of hypotheses. There is no supernatural world — “no gods, no spirits, no transcendent meanings”.  As for “poetic”, Carroll explains that while denying that notions like “right and wrong,” “purpose and duty,” or “beauty and ugliness” are part of the fundamental architecture of the world. these moral and ethical and aesthetic vocabularies can be perfectly useful ways of thinking and talking about the world.  There is more to the world than what happens on the purely material level, and there are ways we make sense of it by telling its story in other ways. The vocabulary we use is not handed to us from outside; it’s ultimately a matter of our choice.

Carroll further explains, “the criteria for choosing the best such ways of talking about our world will necessarily be different from the criteria we use for purely descriptive, scientific vocabularies. There won’t be a single rational way to delineate good from bad, sublime from repulsive. But we can still speak in such terms, and put in the hard work to make our actions live up to our own internal aspirations. We just have to admit that judgments come from within ourselves.”

From within?  I remind Dr. Carroll of Proverbs 14:12

“There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”

Sean Carroll is undoubtedly a brilliant scientist, and, unlike Richard Dawkins, he has a certain empathy for people of faith.  Carroll was evidently reared in a home of professing Christians, and he respects their world view even while rejecting it.  I believe he is a good man. Nevertheless, I believe he is wrong in his conclusion that there are “no gods, no spirits, no transcendent meanings”.

Carroll himself admits the limits of our knowledge.  He talks a bit about fine tuning, string theory, and the multiverse.  He denies the possibility of heaven or some spiritual dimension, but, referring to string theory, especially those string theorists who posit the possibility of countless other worlds (other universes) operating under entirely different laws of physics, he describes it as a “reasonable and promising idea.”

That reminds me of a Bible verse, “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”   

“Ex nihilo nihil fil!” or “Nothing Comes from Nothing!”   From whence come the field vibrations of which Carroll speaks? Is it possible that they are emanations from God?

 For myself, I cannot accept the idea that this world can exist without some transcendent purpose and meaning. And as for Carroll’s assertion that judgements come from within, I believe that God spoke to us though His prophets and through His Son.  He gave us the ability to discern the truth when we hear or read it.  If we seek Him, we will find Him.

“Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 1 Cor 1:20.

“For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God.” 1 Cor 3:19.

This is what I believe.

One thought on “The Big Picture

  1. Uncle Sandy:

    I have just finished the book Homo Sapiens, which you may want to read. There are some similar issues addressed by that author. After reading your blog about The Big Picture, I’m wondering if this type of book, meaning of life books, is a new wave of books.


    Sent from my iPad



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