Recently I wrote a post for another of my blogs entitled Do We Need a New Math to Understand Physics? where I discussed yet another article I linked to, Does Time Really Flow? New Clues Come From a Century-Old Approach to Math. It’s probably too technical for most readers of this blog, although seeing Tolkien cited in a scientific/engineering publication is not to be missed.
In the common parlance we’re used to speaking of mathematically-stated laws that govern what happens physically in the universe. I think a model-prototype concept is better. Whether the physical phenomena “know” about these laws is debatable; whether they obey them is not unless the “law” is disproven or a special case added. What this signifies is that we have modelled the physical phenomena successfully and in the meanwhile enhanced our understanding of what is going on, which in turn is the promise of future progress.
In theology a model-prototype concept has been around a long time. The difference between theology and mathematics is in the priority. With mathematics we have physical phenomena which we model using mathematics. In theology we have a living model (God) who creates the prototype (the material world.) This sort of “type-antitype” is well rooted both in the Fathers and in the Scriptures themselves. Evangelical hyperliteralism is the order of the day now–so much so the atheists use it–but the church will regret adopting it before it’s over with.
In the past I have used the model-prototype construct to make an analogy between theology and mathematics, which I do at length in My Lord and My God. The purpose of this work is to show that the idea of that analogy can be used to show that the reason why the post-Nicene I church set subordinationism in the Trinity aside is due to weaknesses in Greek theology, weaknesses that mathematics can address. It can also be used to refute really poor, God-dishonouring theology such as the Sydney Anglicans set forth.
The divergence between the divine model and the material prototype has been understood in theology for a long time. It’s embodied in the difference between created and uncreated beings. The main implication of that is that, although the model and prototype are certainly related, the material world is definitely a “step down” from the spiritual/divine one. In the discussion of mathematics and quantum physics, the difference between continuum mathematics and discrete quantum mechanics is at the heart of the discussion. The question now is whether we change our mathematics to suit the physical world or build on what we have to describe it, understanding the differences.
That too has a theological analogy. TBH if there’s one thing that’s gone AWOL in the last half century or more, it’s the ability of the theological world to think abstractly. Much of what passes for theology today–from the modern and post-modern musings of the left to the “waist-down” religion of the right–shows a deeply carnal mentality. It’s one reason why, like my Anglican deacon and friend Bruce Hilbert (whose home was destroyed in the recent tornado here,) I’m glad I took the technical route rather than the seminary one. Unfortunately the technical fortress is likewise facing being breached, a conflict upon which the future of scientific advance hangs.
On the other hand, the discrete nature of quantum mechanics once again brings up the whole issue of how deterministic the universe really is, which certainly does have important theological implications.
But I digress…theology these days deserves better than what passes for it, but improvement is easier said than done.