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CERN, Dimensions and NT Wright

September 10, 2008

I’ve just been watching the switch on of the CERN particle accelerator live on the BBC news channel and the eventual completion of the first full Tour de Cern. The ‘former particle physicist’ in the studio was shaking with excitement as he explained the possibilities of the experiments that will follow. When he spoke about the possibility of discovering alternative dimensions, explaining how they would know and what it would mean he struggled for language and I fought for understanding.

I immediately thought of NT Wright’s latest book published earlier this year, ‘Surprised by Hope’. I quoted  from the book when I posted a reflection back in May on Ascension Thursday. Wright talks about how the doctrine of the Ascension stressed the importance of re-thinking or re-imagining the cosmos to take account of different ways of thinking about space, and matter and time. Given today’s events I turned to this quotation,

Why has the ascension been such a difficult and unpopular doctrine in the modern Western church? The answer is not just that rationalist skepticism mocks it (a possibility that the church has sometimes invited with those stained glass windows that show Jesus’s feet sticking downward out of a cloud). It is that the ascension demands that we think differently about how the whole cosmos is, so to speak, put together and that we also think differently about the church and salvation. Both literalism and skepticism regularly operate with what is called a receptacle view of space; theologians who take the ascension seriously insist that it demands what some have called a relational view. Basically, heaven and earth in biblical cosmology are not two different locations within the same continuum of space or matter. They are two different dimensions of God’s good creation. And the point about heaven is twofold. First, heaven relates to earth tangentially so that the one who is in heaven can be present simultaneously anywhere and everywhere on earth: the ascension therefore means that Jesus is available, accessible, without people having to travel to a particular spot on the earth to find him. Second, heaven is, as it were, the control room for earth: it is the CEO’s office, the place from which instructions are given. “All authority is given to me,” said Jesus at the end of Matthew’s gospel, “in heaven and on earth”.
‘Surprised by Hope’ pg 110-111

Could we be on the cusp of new ways of thinking that, far from shifting God further to the periphery, will enable us to think anew about heaven and earth? Will we be moving at last from flat earth thinking to a new cosmology? Are human scientists about to get a glimpse of the heavens? Are scientists and theologians going to find themselves allies in the new cosmology?

Despite Wright’s rather clunky metaphor of the ‘control room’, today is a clear picture of the truth of the cliche that science is thinking God’s thoughts after him. We really are tip-toeing after him, tracing his footsteps in the sand.

[To keep things in perspective, while the BBC were showing live the switch on of the machine, ITV’s breakfast programme had a feature about Posh Spice’s new hairdo.]

[For more stuff on CERN check out the BBC’s Big Bang Day]

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From → Reflection, Theology

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