Steven Weinberg, perhaps the world’s pre-eminent theoretical physicist, has died (July 23). Weinberg believed that the universe is cold, impersonal, and indifferent to the fate of humanity. He maintained that religion undermines the scientific search for truth, once declaring, “Anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization.” (N.Y. Times)
Isaac Pennington, the great 17th century mystic, had a contrary view. He saw the universe as God’s creation. Pennington’s God is “the fountain of beings and natures, the inward substance of all that appears….” In Pennington’s cosmos, the “love and kindness of God…overspreadeth all his works….”
I don’t mean to vilify Weinberg by comparison. After all, in a PBS interview Weinberg said,
…if there is no point in the universe that we discover by the methods
of science, there is a point that we can give the universe by the way
we live, by loving each other, by discovering things about nature,
by creating works of art. And that—in a way, although we are not
the stars in a cosmic drama, if the only drama we’re starring in is
one that we are making up as we go along, it is not entirely ignoble
that faced with this unloving, impersonal universe we make a little
island of warmth and love and science and art for ourselves. That’s
not an entirely despicable role for us to play.
Still, in Weinberg’s philosophy, there is no life after death; and the cosmos itself is destined to become a lifeless, burned out cinder. I prefer Pennington’s more hopeful view. What evidence do I have? Admittedly, none—just as Weinberg has no proof for his opinion, logical and rational though it may be.
I do have an authority on my side, however. In 1 Corinthians 13:12-13, the
apostle Paul writes, “For now we see only puzzling reflections in a mirror; then we
shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then shall I know even as also I am
known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these
No doubt Steven, Isaac, and Paul would agree about the incompleteness of
human knowledge and the greatness of love.
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