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Science and the Mystery of It All

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The new sciences – like quantum physics – describe a universe so strange and unknowable it’s tempting to find god in the equations. A theologian and historian of science tells why we need to watch out.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 1999 issue of Spirituality & Health. “I believe that we will gradually come to appreciate that the things cannot be known, that cannot be done, and cannot be seen define our universe more clearly, more completely, and more sharply than those which can.” “Things that cannot be known… and cannot be seen.” These sound like the words of a mystic, don’t they? Actually they are from the preface of scientist John D. Barrow’s book, Impossibility: The limits of Science and the science of the limits (Oxford, 1998). Barrow is professor of Astronomy at Sussex University and a highly respected popularizer of contemporary physical sciences. Like many scientist, he has begun to write and talk about the “unknowable,” the inscrutable,” the “impossible.” Strange, isn’t it? We have come to expect scientists to boast about the capacity of science to discover all there is to know about the universe. Now, however, they are becoming much more circumspect. Instead of writing books about “Theories of Everything,” they are penning treatises about “The Limits of Scient …

The Rev. Dr. Frederic B. Burnham holds a Ph.D. in the history of science from Johns Hopkins University and a D.D. from Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He has lectured widely and published numerous articles on the connections between science and religion.

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