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God after Einstein: What’s really going on in the universe? by John F. Haught

09 June 2023

Adam Ford on an idea that Einstein rejected

WHAT are we to think? How is a Christian to accommodate the knowledge that the creation of the universe (“heaven and earth” in the Nicene Creed) began 13.8 billion years ago, and that life has been evolving on this planet for almost one third of that time? Einstein, Darwin, and many others have transformed the context in which the faith and hope of the gospel are experienced.

The great Albert Einstein, discoverer of the General and Special Theories of Relativity, is often quoted for his religious and mystical thoughts; for him, it was a magnificent mystery that the universe is comprehensible to the human mind. And yet, because he believed that all things may be described by mathematics and geometry, he did not believe in a personal God, he rejected human free will as an illusion, and nor did he take seriously the unfolding nature of time. The future, in his view, was already fixed, determined by the immutable laws of physics.

Haught develops a different and much more exciting view. On the basis of his belief in the Nicene Creed, he argues that God’s creation is an ongoing thing, a wonderful awakening. with its emphasis on the future and the not yet, a dawn unconstrained by the past, offering hope for both the individual and the universe.

A glance at the bibliography reveals some mentors: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Paul Tillich, and Alfred North Whitehead. The book is sometimes a hard read, philosophical and meticulous, but immensely fruitful and well worth working one’s way through to the end.

As we contemplate the part played by faith, in this newly described vast and ancient universe, Haught considers three possible approaches to creation, which he traces back to three figures: Democritus, Plato, and Abraham.

First, we may take Einstein as guide and view the universe in mechanistic terms, as a piece of exquisite machinery in which human beings are ultimately of little significance, other than as wondering observers of its extraordinary and beautiful order.

Second, we may adopt a more Classical attitude, often espoused by Christian theologians and believers, that this world, for all its age and complexity, is a poor shadowy copy of an eternal heavenly realm. to which we will be liberated at death; ultimately, this physical realm is not our true home.

But the third, Abrahamic, view, which he calls Anticipatory, looks forward in faith and hope to an uncertain but promised future. The incarnation of the Creator, in time, as Jesus Christ, guarantees that physical matter will always matter. The emergence of compassion within the human species suggests that creation is a work in progress. There is more to come.

It was the nature of time which Einstein got wrong, Haught believes. It is not just an added dimension to space, but an unfolding creative activity, a great drama. As children of time, products of evolution in an awakening universe, we may place our faith and hope in the future, for our own tomorrows and for the cosmos itself.

The Revd Adam Ford is a former Chaplain of St Paul’s School for Girls.


God after Einstein: What’s really going on in the universe?
John F. Haught
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