September 18, 2018

Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship by John Polkinghorne- Part 1

Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship
By John Polkinghorne (Part 1)

I’m going to review the book, “Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship” by John Polkinghorne.  Polkinghorne was professor of mathematical physics at the University of Cambridge from 1968 to 1979, when he resigned his chair to study for the priesthood, becoming an ordained Anglican priest in 1982. He served as the president of Queens’ College, Cambridge from 1988 until 1996.  I reviewed, “Testing Scripture: A Scientist Explores the Bible” by Polkinghorne for Imonk, which you can find here.  He worked on theories about elementary particles, played a role in the discovery of the quark, and researched the analytic and high-energy properties of Feynman integrals and the foundations of S-Matrix Theory.  I share Polkinghorne’s viewpoint on the congruence of science and Christianity, which he calls critical realism.  Polkinghorne and I believe that science and religion address aspects of the same reality.  I frequently quote the aphorism, “All Truth is God’s Truth”, which sums it up quite nicely for me.  As John says in the preface:

…to present this book, which is an essay with a single controlling theme, namely that, contrary to an all-too-common misjudgment, it is not the case that theology and science are chalk and cheese, a matter of airy opinion compared with solid fact.  Nor does the essential difference between them lie in a contrast between belief on the basis to submission to an unquestionable authority and belief based on grounds of rational motivation.  Quite the contrary, for there are significant degrees of cousinly relationship between the ways in which science and theology conduct their truth-seeking enquiries into the nature of reality…

Plus, I thought we could dip our toes into, and dabble in some quantum physics (of which I am stricly a layman, so feel free to correct any mistakes I make). The structure of the book is John illustrating some point made first by an example drawn from physics, and then by an analogous example drawn from theology.

Chapter 1 is entitled, “The Search for Truth”.  Polkinghorne asserts that the pursuit of truthful knowledge is a widely accepted goal in the scientific community.  Scientists believe that they gain an understanding of the physical world that will prove to be reliable and persuasively insightful.  He realizes that the idea that nuclear matter is composed of quarks and gluons is unlikely to be the very last word in fundamental physics—maybe the speculations of the string theorists will prove to be correct, and the quarks, currently treated as basic constituents, will themselves turn out eventually to be manifestations of the properties of very small loops vibrating in an extended multidimensional spacetime.  But for now, quark theory is a reliable picture of the behavior of matter encountered on a certain scale of detailed structure.  Polkinghorne calls this picture or account verisimultudinous, which he defines as “truth, never grasped totally and exhaustively, but that can be approximated to in an intellectually satisfying manner even if it does not qualify to be described in an absolute senses as ‘complete'”.

He asserts theologians entertain similar aspirations.  He says:

While the infinite reality of God will always elude being confined within the finite limits of human reason, theologians believe that the divine nature has been revealed to us in manners accessible to human understanding, so that these self-manifestations of deity provide a reliable guide to the Creator’s relationship with creatures and to God’s intentions for ultimate human fulfilment.

Nevertheless, Polkinghorne outlines four distinctive features of religious experience that express the contrast between science and theology.

  1. First the development of theological understanding is a more complex process than is the case for scientific understanding. Science achieves cumulative success, accessible in the present without a continual need to return to the past.  But theology has the role of tradition as the indispensable resource for access to a reservoir of attained understanding which has continuing significance.  Theologians need to be in continuing active dialogue with the generations that precede it, lest the specific insights that they attained should be lost.
  2. Second, the initiative for placing the physical world under scrutiny lies with the scientists. In the case of divine reality, God can take the initiative in conveying truth, and at least in some cases, if God doesn’t take the initiative then the truth is never gained.
  3. Third, science can succeed in eliciting virtually universal acceptance for its well-winnowed conclusions—the phenomena of “settled science” that, while being modified by new data, is not likely to be completely overturned. The theological scene, in contrast, is significantly fragmented.
  4. The fourth point of difference between theology and science relates to the consequences flowing from the embrace of belief. My belief in elementary particles does not affect my life in any significant way outside the laboratory.  In contrast, my belief that Jesus Christ is the incarnate Son of God has, or should have, consequences for all aspects of my life.

John’s first example drawn from physics is the dual nature of light.  Is the fundamental nature of radiation and matter described better by a wave or a particle?  Or do we need both? (Much of my discussion of quantum theory will be drawn from “Introducing Quantum Theory: A Graphic Guide”.

Isaac Newton and Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens argued about the nature of light back in the 1600’s.  Newton said light was best described by waves while Huygens said particles were a better description.  Think of a pulse transmitted along a string—this is the simplest type of wave.

The double slit experiment was first reported by Thomas Young in 1801.  His demonstration of interference by alternate bright and dark lines was taken to be clear evidence for the wave nature of light.  See for yourself in Young’s original sketch reproduced here:

By the time of Maxwell’s Electromagnetic Theory of 1865, the 19th Century physicists were satisfied that light consisted of waves.

But as the 20th Century dawned, a young Albert Einstein re-introduced the idea of corpuscles to explain the photoelectric effect (the observation that many metals emit electrons when light shines upon them).  In 1909 he demonstrated that two distinct terms appeared in Planck’s equations describing black-body radiation [a mathematical relationship formulated in 1900 by German physicist Max Planck to explain the spectral-energy distribution of radiation emitted by a blackbody (a hypothetical body that completely absorbs all radiant energy falling upon it, reaches some equilibrium temperature, and then reemits that energy as quickly as it absorbs it].  Those two distinct terms indicated a duality in the nature of light.  In 1924, Louis de Broglie demonstrated the astounding idea that particles could exhibit wave properties.

In just a few years, all of de Broglie’s ideas were confirmed by experiment.  During the twelve month period from June 1925 to June 1926, three distinct and independent developments of a complete quantum theory were published—and shown to be equivalent.

Modern Quantum Theory was born.

So Polkinghorne sets out five points of “cousinly relationship” or analogy between the two seminal developments: the exploration of quantum insight, and the exploration of Christological insight.  The first is (1) Moments of enforced radical revision.  The crisis in physics that led to quantum theory began with the great perplexity at the dual nature of light, as I tried to outline above.

Polkinghorne notes that in the New Testament, the writers knew that when they referred to Jesus they were speaking about someone who lived a human life in Palestine within living memory.  Yet they also found that when they spoke about their experiences of the risen Christ, they were driven to use divine-sounding language about him.  For example, Jesus is repeatedly given the title “Lord”, despite the fact that monotheistic Jews associated this title with the one true God of Israel, using it as a substitute for the unutterable divine name in the reading of scripture.  How could this possibly make sense?  After all Jesus was crucified and Jews saw this form of execution as a sign of divine rejection (Deut. 21:23).

(2) A period of unresolved confusion.  From 1900 to 1925, physicists had to live with the paradox of wave/particle duality unresolved.  Niels Bohr and others tried various techniques for making the best of a baffling situation, but these expedients were no more than patches clapped on to the broken edifice of Newtonian physics.  In the New Testament, the tension between human and divine language used about Jesus is simply there, without any systematic theological attempts being made to resolve the matter.  The authenticity and power of what God had done in Christ was, to early Christians, so overwhelming sufficient to sustain them they didn’t need an overarching theoretical account.  Yet, Polkinghorne says, the intellectual instability taken by the New Testament writers couldn’t be ignored indefinitely.

(3) New Synthesis and Understanding.  In the case of physics, new insight came with startling suddenness through the discoveries of Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrodinger in 1925-1926.  John says:

Paul Dirac emphasized that the formal basis of quantum theory lay in what he called the superposition principle.  This asserts that there are quantum states that are formed by adding together in a mathematically well-defined way, physical possibilities that Newtonian physics and commonsense would hold to be absolutely incapable of mixing with each other.  For example, an electron can be in a state that is a mixture of “here” and “there”, a combination that reflects the fuzzy unpicturability of the quantum world and which also leads to a probabilistic interpretation, since a 50-50 mixture of these possibilities is found to imply that, if a number of measurements of positions are actually on electrons in this state, half the time the electron will be found “here” and half the time “there”.  This counterintuitive principle just had to be accepted as an article of quantum faith.

The quest for a deeper understanding of the fundamental phenomena recorded in the New Testament, eventually led the Church to a trinitarian understanding of the nature of God through the Church Councils from Nicaea, 325, to Chalcedon, 451.  John quotes Richard Feynman:

Because atomic behavior is so unlike ordinary experience, it is very difficult to get used to, and it appears peculiar and mysterious to everyone… we shall tackle immediately the basic element of the mysterious behavior in its most strange form.  We choose to examine a phenomenon which is impossible, absolutely impossible, to explain in any classical way, and which has in it the heart of quantum mechanics.  In reality, it contains the only mystery.  We cannot make the mystery go away by “explaining” how it works.  We will just tell you how it works.

The Fathers of the Church, who at the Councils had formulated fundamental Christian insights, would, I believe, have been quite content to echo Feynman’s words, “We will just tell you how it works”.

(4) Continued wrestling with unsolved problems.  Even in science, total success is often elusive.  Quantum theory has proved to be extremely impressive in agreement with experimental results.  However, how does it come about that a particular result is obtained on a particular occasion of measurement, so that the electron is found to be “here” this time rather than “there”?  It is embarrassing for a physicist to admit that currently there is no wholly satisfactory or universally accepted answer to that entirely reasonable question.

Theology also has to be content with a partial degree of understanding.  Trinitarian terminology, for example in its attempt to discriminate the divine Persons in terms of a distinction between begetting and procession, can sometime seem to be involved in trying to speak what is ineffable.  The definitions of Chalcedon; in Christ there are two natures—“without confusion, without change, without division, without separation” are more of a statement of boundaries of the enclosure within which orthodox Christian thinking is contained, but it does not formulate the precise form that thinking has to take.  In fact, further Christological arguments, both within and without the Chalcedon bounds has continued down the centuries since 451.

(5) Deeper implication.  A persuasive argument for a theory lies in offering further successful explanations concerning phenomena not explicitly originally considered.   An example would be the EPR effect or quantum entanglement; entangled particles remain connected so that actions performed on one affect the other, even when separated by great distances, which is supposedly contradicted by Einstein’s limit of anything moving faster than the speed of light, but has been experimentally verified.

Incarnational theology has offered some analogous degree of new insight.  Polkinghorne cites Jurgen Moltmann and the concept of divine participation in creaturely suffering through the cross of Christ.  Moltmann emphasizes that the Christian God is the crucified God, the One who is not just a compassionate spectator of the suffering of His creatures, but a fellow-sharer in the travail of creation.  The concept of a suffering God affords theology some help as it wrestles with its most difficult problem, the evil and suffering present in this world.

Polkinghorne hopes this book will encourage those of a scientific cast of mind to take theological discussion more seriously, and it will offer theologians the worked example common to science of the “bottom-up thinking” in moving from experience to understanding.  It’s a daring, bold move, even if some might find it trite; I find it exiting and I like it.

Comments

  1. Susan Dumbrell says:

    How privileged we are to have such diverse topics from our contributors, CM, and us IMonkers.
    They say we learn a new thing every day. We sure do as we read this blog each day.
    We need to keep an open mind to all new and old thoughts presented on this blog.
    Such a source of information. We are blessed with such richness.

    However: we have our critics. My Vanessa contributes today.

    silent, quiet, views
    hears, sees, those who like chatter
    cat watches and yawns.

    We are blessed to have such beautiful creatures share with us their space.

    Susan

  2. Jung posited that God Himself could not be known. He claimed that what we know is the image or archetype of God that is within us. There is something to that argument theologically speaking. At the judgement some say, “when did I feed you…when did I clothe you?” These are people that God is rewarding for their devotion to Him. Similarly, anyone who is said to have a physical encounter with even an angel, let alone God, typically falls as if dead from the sheer terror. This Indicates that despite things like personal prayer and theological training there remains something altogether other and substantially unknown about the ‘object’ of our devotion. It seems that the more scientists learn, the more they are confronted with intriguing uncertainties in the very strange world of quantum mechanics. We come to similar states; virtual certainty about the presence of our respective topics (based of course on different criteria – one is founded on faith complimented with an element of rational induction based on observation vs. the other built on observation and induction complimented with an element of faith) and substantial conundrums about forms that are shrouded in layer upon layer of mystery and seeming contradiction. We know there is something there but can’t get around it with a comprehensive, easily absorbable definition. My guess is that a “theory of everything” is a noble and useful endeavor but an unreachable frontier. The physical universe, far from being concrete, predictable and quantifiable is as rich and weird as the world of spirit. Probably just a couple of facets on the same diamond.

  3. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    Hrmmmm. Interesting post. I am not sure I could get on the train to where he is going, but I would be happy to have a beer in the lounge with him while he waits. 🙂

    This I am down with, all the way: “””The concept of a suffering God affords theology some help as it wrestles with its most difficult problem, the evil and suffering present in this world.””” Weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice. It is about Communion after all. And I have found it to be excellent life advice; if life can be viewed as “experimentation”. I have logged many a failed experiment.

    My core quibble would be if Theology works the way he describes, and the great difficulty separating Theology from Politics; principally because I am not sold of “Trinitarian terminology”, or the necessity|value|fruit of all the Trinitarian hand-wringing. I suspect the quantity of Truth in Theology is dramatically less than many believers believe.

    • –> “I suspect the quantity of Truth in Theology is dramatically less than many believers believe.”

      Yep. “Strongly Held Opinion” is more often the case.

  4. Having been exposed to quantum theory (though my PhD committee were “shocked” at my ignorance of the subject), maybe some of what Polkinghorne is talking about here would help explain why I’ve never really understood that there’s a tension between science and theology. Both subjects have an aspect of “both, and” rather than “either or” ways of looking at truth.

    I’ve heard Polkinghorne speak, and his work with the Templeton Foundation is important. Many of my scientific colleagues want absolutely nothing to do with either.

    • –> “I’ve never really understood that there’s a tension between science and theology.”

      That’s because you’re a reasonable person. It’s the fundamentalists on both sides who cause the tension, with their fear of “if I go just a little bit to the other side it’ll look like what I believe in is false.”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        And because every jot and tittle is Salvation-Level Dogma, ANY “going just a little bit” means Losing My Salvation. At which point it becomes literally a matter of Cosmic-Level Life & Death Unto Eternity. And they will FIGHT to the Death and Beyond.

        • On the religious side, yep. On the militant atheist/scientist side there’s a similar “everything will implode/explode if God enters the picture, so I must FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT…”

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            “militant atheist” Ugh, those guys are exhausting. At least the Fundamentalist has some kind of motivation; to the other guys I just want to ask “So, why do you care so much if I, or anyone, is an dumb sucker? You have nothing better to do?”

            Or they really are exactly the same: They are both over invested in proving they are Right(TM).

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

              Fundamentalism is a state of mind that can attach itself to any belief system, whether religious, philosophical, political, or scientific.

              In the words of the prophet Charles Schulz:

              CHARLIE BROWN: What do you want to be when you grow up, Linus?
              LINUS: A fanatic.
              CHARLIE BROWN: Uh… Have you decided what you’re going to be fanatical about?
              LINUS: No… I think I’ll just be a wishy-washy fanatic.

  5. “We know there is something there but can’t get around it with a comprehensive, easily absorbable definition”.
    This about sums up “the theological scene is significantly fragmented”.
    The country/pop ballad “I Fall to Pieces” is about how a woman’s lover doesn’t want them to be together, yet the woman can’t understand why, explaining that every time he walks by, she “falls to pieces”.
    If we are the lover and God the woman then the fragmented is on God’s side.
    Hank Cochran, who co-wrote that song, was a friend.

  6. Great article, you did a superb job of highlighting a lot of the bizarreness of quantum mechanics as well as its connection to theology. As someone with an advanced degree in physics, I find these correlations fascinating.

    The evidence does seem to suggest that, contrary to Einstein’s well-known statement, that God does play dice, and nature is fundamentally driven by probabilities (although hidden variables is still plausible I suppose?). It’s like rolling a die. If I give you the die and ask what number it is, well, it doesn’t even *have* a value until it is rolled and measured. I can make predictions by saying there’s a 1/6 probability of rolling a 3, or a 1/6 probability of rolling a 6, but until it is rolled, it doesn’t even have a defined state. And so it appears fundamentally with particles — they don’t have exact positions like “here” or “there” but are rather spread out like a wave, so it is nonsensical to even ask “where is it?”, since by nature a wave doesn’t even *have* a position, it is spread out and not localized.

    It’s crazy to think that even with perfect equipment/technology, there’s still a theoretical limit imposed upon us by nature that prevents us from knowing everything. In other words, it is not a matter of our ignorance; rather, that’s just the way nature is set up. And when you compare this to our capability of understanding an infinite God, seems rather fitting…

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > God does play dice, … . It’s like rolling a die.

      This! I have thought this soooo many times. Thank you.

      Like, so “God does not play dice”, but this is all probability|uncertainty? Huh. Feels to me like God is the very best kind of Dungeon Master – the kind which does not railroad the players down a predetermined path. The best kind of Dungeon Master does a lot of dice rolling.

      • And keeps the die rolls hidden from the players. Thank God for electronic/browser die rollers. 😉

      • Mike the Geologist says:

        This is a fascinating topic to me. Polkinghorne is an open theist. I won’t go that far, but I have trouble finding an appropriate analogy. Dungeon Master just might be it– too bad I never played that game. We are probably offending Eeyore’s Calvinism, but whatya gonna do 🙂

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Back in the days of really Old School D&D (three little books plus Greyhawk), “God” was a common nickname for Dungeonmasters.

        • And if they were GOOD DMs (good worlds, good adventures, willing to go with the flow of the party), we would bow down to them.

          Seriously. (Nothing quite like a good DM!)

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            [appropriating compliment] Thanks!

            I always ended up as DM as the players trusted me to be ruthlessly impartial.

            Which made me a good DM, apparently, but in other categories of life notably less popular! 🙂

            Aside: I enjoy being DM because watching how different people process and react to things, what they notice and what they overlook, is fascinating. I am playing now with an all middle-aged group, one of the ancient campaigns I still happen to have, and the difference of approach between them and adolescents is intriguing. Notably more tactical and risk averse [well, except for one guy], but they overlook more.

    • Also, we as a species are not even designed to fully comprehend how nature works. Our intuition and notion of how things classically behave break down once we get to a small (quantum) level. Same thing happens when we get to a very fast level (i.e. relativistic mechanics). Nothing we ordinarily experience operates on scales close to the speed of light, so we never notice this behavior. But near these speeds, fundamental things like the passage of time itself is noticeably affected, which our evolved senses are simply not tuned to fully grasp.

      • Mike the Geologist says:

        David: Thanks for weighing in. This is just the type of discussion I was hoping to provoke. With your advance degree in physics, I hope you’ll correct any of my misunderstandings. As a geologist, I know Newtonian physics OK, but my last college course just touched on quantum mechanics and that was back in 1975. Looking forward to your contributions.

        • I’m currently working through one of the Teaching Company courses on quantum physics.

          • Mike the Geologist says:

            Then you had better pony up to these discussions, mister 🙂 I almost scrapped this project, I was fretting I’d never be able to summarize QP in blog posts.

        • No misunderstandings here! This was a well-articulated essay that covers the gist of QP from a conceptual standpoint better than many physicists themselves are even able to communicate. Most study of QP at the grad school level is simply getting lost in the details of how to do the calculations themselves anyways, so this isn’t really missing anything 😉

          I recall the first time I truly made the connection between the wave-particle duality you mention, and the human-divine nature of Jesus…it was mind-blowing.

          • One of Fr Stephen’s regular commenters is a retired Chemistry professor who wanted nothing to do with Christianity…. until she began “seeing” Death and Resurrection in the physical aspects of what she was researching at the time. She has still not explained exactly what that was about, but I am very intrigued, esp regarding how her observations led her to the Orthodox Church.

            Dana

          • “…the connection between the wave-particle duality you mention, and the human-divine nature of Jesus…”

            What connection is that? I’m afraid I’ll be a bit of a party poop here and say I think the Polkinghorne project thing is seriously misguided. HIs four features that contrast science and theology seem to me to be valid reasons for not doing this kind of thing at all. But he left out one very important contrast. Science incorporates its limitations into its methodology. It thrives on falsifiability. Science doesn’t prove anything. It systematically eliminates all the bad explanations and builds a model based on what’s left. What in theology even comes close to this approach?

            In my opinion theology would be better off attaching itself to the creative arts rather than science. The Bible is literature, not science. There’s a lesson there if we can hear it.

            • Mike the Geologist says:

              “What connection is that?”– The connection between two basically incompatible paradoxes that both are true: Wave-Particle, God and Man. “valid reasons for not doing this kind of thing at all” Yet he recognizes his limitations but feels both endeavors can incorporate his critical realism. “It systematically eliminates all the bad explanations and builds a model based on what’s left. What in theology even comes close to this approach?” Yet there are propositions in theology that have been eliminated as bad explanations by orthodox Christians i.e. Arianism.

              Your last point has merit, I acknowledge. Still, as you yourself have made the point, Christianity touches on the real world, it is not mere speculation.

      • David,
        With that in mind would you agree with my comment above that coming to a conclusive “theory of everything” will always remain elusive to a degree as absolute certainty is essentially impossible based on the very nature of things?
        Chris

        • I would agree Chris. And for all we know, as one article has put it: “Indeed, the more closely we examine the universe, the more levels of complexity we find. Will observing the world more deeply finally lead us to a theory of everything? Or will we be perpetually pulling layers from an infinite onion?” I suppose it’s hard to say either way though, since we don’t know what all we don’t know. Personally I’m not entirely sure, I think there’s people on all parts of the spectrum on what a T.O.E. even means.

          As Brian Greene proposed in his book (although I don’t believe this should assumed to be true): “Finding the T.O.E. would in no way mean that psychology, biology, geology, chemistry, or even physics had been solved or in some sense subsumed. The universe is such a wonderfully rich and complex place that the discovery of the final theory…would not spell the end of science. Quite the contrary: The discovery of the T.O.E. — the ultimate explanation of the universe at its most microscopic level, a theory that does not rely on any deeper explanation — would provide the firmest foundation on which to build our understanding of the world. Its discovery would mark the beginning, not the end. The ultimate theory would provide an unshakable pillar of coherence forever assuring us that the universe is a comprehensible place.”

      • –> “Also, we as a species are not even designed to fully comprehend how nature works.”

        Wasn’t that even in Genesis, don’t eat from the Tree of Knowledge…?

  7. Mike the Geo, you said, “I find it exiting and I like it.”

    Me, too! I was in a science group for several years where we would watch Great Courses on various scientific topics (or Brian Greene’s “Elegant Universe”), and even though I was the lone practicing Christian we were unafraid of discussing God’s potential hand/role in science. Even the agnostic and atheist had no problem with the idea of “both/and” regarding science and religion.

    I’ll send them the link to this article. I think they’d find it fascinating.

  8. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Is it just me, or does Herr Doktor Schrodinger’s head look like Frankenstein with dreadlocks?

  9. “…eventually led the Church to a trinitarian understanding of the nature of God through the Church Councils from Nicaea, 325, to Chalcedon, 451.”

    “The Fathers of the Church, who at the Councils had formulated fundamental Christian insights, would, I believe, have been quite content to echo Feynman’s words, ‘We will just tell you how it works’.”

    Well, not quite/kinda sorta. In EO, we believe that Jesus explained things to his followers in those 40 days between the Resurrection and Ascension. They understood the trinitarian nature of the Godhead, but Hebrew/Aramaic lacked the vocabulary for calling these ideas forth with better precision. There are lots of Trinitarian formulations in the NT, so people “got it”. It took people fluent in Greek and educated in the Classical manner to be able to meet the questions that came to Christians from other educated people in the ensuing years, and to explain “how it works” to the extent that we can use language to do. The Fathers “formulated” the language, but “the fundamental Christian insights” were already there.

    That’s why we say that Christianity “baptized” Greek philosophical thought – Christianity didn’t accept it all wholesale, but used some of the ideas and re-defined them according to Christian understanding in order to articulate ***what had already been believed from the beginning.*** If you read the Apostolic Fathers – those writings of the time from roughly the end of the NT period until Nicea and Chalcedon – there really isn’t any question about a trinitarian understanding. It’s there, and at times with even some of the precision of the 4th century Fathers.

    Dana

    • Mike the Geologist says:

      Dana, are you saying there was no development of thought through the councils? I didn’t think that was the EO position. Why was the Arian controversy so widespread? It didn’t seem the Nicea council was a slam-dunk. Also, what about the apophatic tradition in EO? I think that was what Polkinghorne was getting at with the Feynman quote.

      • The apophatic tradition isn’t something separate that “developed” later in EO; it’s there all the way through. EO never voiced anything like a theory of transubstantiation, for example; we pray to God to change the bread and wine, and simply believe the Holy Spirit does it. It has not been revealed to us how that happens, and we don’t have the human language to make any kind of theory about something so ineffable.

        There was development of **expression** in the Councils, as in “How do we find words, based on what Christians have believed from the beginning that has always been reflected in our worship, to explain that what Arius believes is not so?” Nicea was not a slam-dunk, no, but the non-Arians convinced the Arians; or else those who wanted to persist in Arianism went their own way and were not in communion with the orthodox Christians (remember, there was only one Church then) – i.e. many of the Gothic tribes that invaded Old Rome in the 400s.

        Read the Apostolic Fathers (some from the 1st century!) and Justin Martyr (c. AD 150). Read some prayers from the early Church, including the anaphora of Hippolytus from around AD 200. Trinitarian thought, and what would later be more closely defined at Nicea, is recongizable, as is the outline of the pattern of worship that was passed on to the Christians of the second century and beyond. Just because Scripture doesn’t record the details of Christian worship doesn’t mean that the pattern wasn’t passed on. The first Christians, who were Jews, did not willy-nilly give up their pattern of worship – which Jews believed was given to them by God. They kept the pattern and populated the spaces for prayer within that pattern with prayers of adoration to Jesus, and chose Psalm readings, for example, that reflected their understanding of what the God of Israel had done in Christ. The first part of the EO Liturgy and the old RC Mass have the structure of a Jewish prayer service; the Eucharistic celebration was appended to it, also with the structure of a Jewish prayer service, modified a bit.

        In EO we don’t have a multiple-volume Systematic Theology; we have about 3 dozen books of how to worship, and THAT’S where the theology is expressed. If you read the extra- and post-biblical sources that exist from the early orthodox (little-o) Christians (not Gnostics or other Christian wannabees – there were not “multiple Christianities” – see Fr John Behr’s YouTube talk on “The Shocking Truth About Christian Orthodoxy”), you can see it – especially if you compare what’s there with what you hear when you have attend an Orthodox Liturgy a few times 🙂

        Do bookmark https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith and consult the site for very good outlines of what Orthodox believe. And remember that all of it is expressed in our Worship.

        Dana