Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Some Assorted Thoughts on Freedom

I've been thinking about freedom recently--perhaps because our country is just about to celebrate our Declaration of Independence. I've been meditating particularly on the way our search for freedom in the United States connects with Jesus's words in chapter 8 of the Gospel of John:
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free
I'll keep my blog entry unsystematic, but two things have come to mind. First of all, although we can hear this as a generalizable promise about abstract truth, it's really about a  relational truth. It's the truth of relationship, not of mathematics. Put in a question: how do we relate to the living God? Jesus offers us freedom when we are in relationship with the Living God.

Secondly, freedom here is not what we so often think as liberty or independence. It is not freedom from; instead it is freedom for. It not solely to be independent from external constraints, but the capacity to do what is right. Two citations help me on this, first from the ever-witty, G. K. Chesterton, who reminds us that being only free from may, in the end, make us less human:
Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump; you may be freeing him from being a camel.
And the second from Peter Marshall, who, I think, sets the the right tone and direction. It's a fitting summary statement, fitting enough that I think I'll just close with it.
May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Jottings on C. S. Lewis, Science, and the Argument from Beauty

C. S. Lewis’s famous apologetic argument from desire is simple, yet powerful:
We have a desire for something that cannot be satisfied by this world. But our hunger demonstrates that we need something beyond this world. The object of that desire is God.
(This argument can be found throughout his writing, but he summarizes it in his profound sermon, “The Weight of Glory." Lewis himself finds the resolution of this desire most poignantly in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy.)
Another way to describe this apologetic approach is that it is an argument from beauty. We all desire beauty, and beauty, I contend, has been a motivating force for all human endeavors. It is, for example, a point of common interest for scientists and theologians. Here’s how my argument from beauty goes.
Beauty occurs when we perceive reality rightly. It arises for both theologians and scientists through rightly grasping and theorizing about their objects of study. Beauty thus leads to truth, and beauty provides a lure for study. In this sense, it is telic, leading human beings toward a preferred future. For theologians, it means grasping God’s true nature, God’s creation, and our ethical life. For scientists, it is rightly perceiving, and theorizing about, nature. When this perception is made there is discovery, which is accompanied by a sense of completeness. Therefore, the disciplines and vocations of theology and of science can be particularly beautiful. In these and other ways, beauty represents a common value for scientists and theologians.

In this post, I will highlight science. The great early 20th century physicist, Werner Heisenberg, reflected ont the connection between discovering the nature of quantum reality and its beauty. One should note the relationship between beauty and Heisenberg’s “coherence,” which is parallel to my formulation of rightly perceiving nature. Beauty for Heisenberg is surprising and objective. As he describes it, he did not impose beauty, but discovered—or perhaps better, un-covered—this beauty in the midst of looking at energy at the quantum level:
The energy principle had held for all the terms, and I could no longer doubt the mathematical consistency and coherence of the kind of quantum mechanics to which my calculations pointed. At first, I was deeply alarmed. I had the feeling that, through the surface of atomic phenomena, I was looking at a strangely beautiful interior, and felt almost giddy at the thought that I now had to probe this wealth of mathematical structure nature had so generously spread out before me.
This pursuit and discovery of beauty has certainly motivated key scientists. I could multiply quotes, but will simply note Einstein’s use of beauty in formulating both the special and general theories of relativity. Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffmann summarized Einstein’s work: “The essence of Einstein’s profundity lay in his simplicity; and the essence of his science lay in his artistry—his phenomenal sense of beauty.” It was that sense of beauty that led him to reformulate our understanding of the cosmos.

I close with a summary from Lewis on this quest for the beautiful. In his sermon, "The Weight of Glory," he reflected on glory, and the related value of beauty, as the goal of human life:
We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else that can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.
Because I'm working on these topics right now, there will be more on this, I hope, in future postings...