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Laws of physics fill gaps attributed to God


Throughout history things that people could not understand were attributed to God. One by one this "God of the Gaps" eroded as science explained phenomena in the context of natural laws.

The laws of nature are, at the most fundamental level, subsets of the laws of physics.

Sir Isaac Newton published the first laws of physics in the late 17th century. His mathematical description of the motion of planets destroyed part of the church doctrine that included the dual universes of Aristotle and the geocentric paradigm of Ptolemy that had existed for nearly two millennia.

Over the next 300 years we learned that there are only a few basic laws of classical physics that govern the macro-universe.

On the atomic level quantum physics rules, but outside of the pretzel logic of this nano-world, only four basic laws of classical physics govern the macro-world that we interact with directly.

The laws of motion define force and inertia, the predisposition of matter to resist changes in motion.

The law of gravitation defines the way in which masses attract one another, depending on the amount of each mass and their distance of separation.

The laws of electromagnetism incorporate all known aspects of electricity, magnetism and the interactions between them. Electromagnetism embodies not only electricity and magnetism, but also explained and demystified light, a universal symbol of spirituality.

The laws of thermodynamics cover all aspects of heat, its transfer and its relationship to all forms of energy.

Along with the laws of chemistry, these laws demystified fire and the changes in matter that had been attributed to spirits within by centuries of alchemists.

Much of the development of physics is due to mathematical innovations of calculus, enabling us to make connections that are deeply hidden. Why the world is mathematical or why these laws exist in the form that they do is in the realm of philosophy or theology.

Most physicists are also dilettante metaphysicists at least, but some are quite adept at the philosophy and the theology of physics.

Einstein, perhaps the best-known physicist and also one who saw a deep spiritualism in physics, often invoked a "creator" that he referred to as God.

Einstein was not deeply religious and subscribed to the ideas of rationalist philosopher Baruch Spinoza. Einstein’s God, like Spinoza’s, was defined by the laws of physics, and vice versa.

Einstein’s famous comment, "God does not play dice with the universe," referred to his belief that the probabilistic laws of quantum physics were due to some underlying rules that were yet undiscovered.

Scientists are not intrinsically atheistic. For many science is an intensely spiritual experience.

Today a group of scientists are undertaking a controversial search for God in the twisted logic of quantum mechanics.

Most scientists believe that there will always be mysteries that we cannot understand. Each new discovery unveils new mysteries. If that holds true then we can hope that there will always be a "God of the Gaps."

Richard Brill is a professor of science at Honolulu Community College. E-mail questions and comments to


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