Friday, September 01, 2006


Not surprisingly, most of my favourite physicists in history were Christians - Pascal, Boyle, Faraday, Kelvin, Maxwell, ... I guess that's largely because I'd count them as my brothers - the similarity between me and them is far greater than between me and most other people. That's true even though I think in very different ways from some of them (Faraday couldn't do maths, for example).

But that doesn't mean that I only respect Christian physicists or only identify with them. For example (just like most other physicists), I have a vast amount of respect for Richard Feynman. He wasn't a Christian - as I recall, he was nominally Jewish (meaning he said he was but it didn't seem to make any difference to his life). But God had given him some really great gifts in terms of intellectual understanding and intelligence as well as his upbringing. Though he didn't explicitly use them for God's glory, I think that God was glorified through his use of them, because we got to understand the universe better and so see more of how amazing God is.

Does that mean I think Feynman went to heaven? Sadly, no. But that doesn't mean everything he said or did was wrong. I think it's easy for people to miss that sometimes. Just because we disagree with people on one thing, doesn't mean they're wrong on other stuff.

Or take Orson Scott Card. I've really enjoyed reading his Ender Series of science fiction books. There's been a lot in there that hinted at belief in God, and some really interesting ideas. I finished the series the other day, and read a note at the end where he explains that it's actually Mormon fiction, and writes some otherwise good stuff about how it's important to create art as people with religious beliefs (which links with what McGrath writes in The Twilight of Atheism). Reflecting on some of the storyline, I can see that there are explicitly Mormon elements to it (though I really don't see how it's compatible with Mormon beliefs on the nature of God or underwear - if you want to discuss that, we can do it in comments or another post - let me know). Does that mean that I think worse of it? No. I think it is a wonderfully imagined and very thought-provoking series with a lot to say about issues of how we treat strangers and so on. Had there been a lengthy explanation of why we should all be Mormons (as Philip Pullman does with atheism), that might have been different. As it is, I am happy rejoicing in God's gifts to others, which they can still use to his glory, even if they don't intend to do so.


Anonymous said...

I have read the first four in the Ender series (not including the prequel) and to be honest found the last two to be a bit of a slog. The first was good, though clearly not to a very high standard of writing, whlst the second was up there with the greats of science fiction. Dan Simmons's Hyperion series is a more extreme example of this - awesome to start with, but woeful by the end, when the author immersed himself in his own cod-philosophy at the expense of the story. Whilst reading the introduction to the second of the Ender series 'Speaker for the Dead' I thought Card may well be a Mormon, owing to his reference to once living in Utah with his wife.

As to Feynman - a real character of science (ok Physics). I have happy memories of reading many of his books whilst doing my A-levels. Who could forget the safe-breaking or drum playing?!

As to Feynman not being in Heaven! Well, if he isn't there I am sure I won't be either.


John said...

I agree that Speaker for the Dead was the best of the four, probably followed by Xenocide. Ender's Game was weaker on the writing front, and Children of the Mind was slightly short on plot. But a good series...