Saulson Gives Lecture on God and Physics

On Tuesday, February 3, students and faculty gathered for Marin A. Pomerantz Professor of Physics at Syracuse University Peter Saulson’s lecture “Space and Time in Physics and Religion.” The lecture captured the spirit of a liberal arts education, drawing together the diverse and complex concepts of physics, philosophy and religion. Saulson jumped from Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, to the idea of whether or not God exists and then to the definition of the word “sublime.” Saulson explained that speaking at an Arts and Humanities colloquium was a new experience for him.

“I have a confession to make, which is that this is not the kind of talk I normally give. I’m happy to play a humanist at Colgate University, but my training is in physics.  I feel like I’m going out on limb a little bit to do this interdisciplinary work,” Saulson said.

The first half of Saulson’s lecture focused more on the physics concepts central to our understanding of time and space. He then moved on to explain how these ideas support the existence of God.

Saulson explained block universe, a concept in physics in which there is no “genuine now.” The present, past and future are indistinguishable. Saulson quoted mathematician and theoretical physicist Herman Weyl when describing this: “The objective world simply is, it does not happen.”

Central to Saulson’s point was what he called the “God of the gaps” theory. This theory states that the gaps in our scientific knowledge are what prove the existence of God. He related this back to block universe, explaining that physics can explain time in this way and yet it cannot capture the human condition. Our lack of understanding of time and space is a “gap” that Saulson believes supports the presence of God.

Saulson also explained the views of a Jewish theologian he admires, Abraham Heschel, and Heschel’s arguments on the presence of God in the universe. Simply put, Heschel argues that God is to conscious beings as the physical universe is to material objects.

Saulson raised a few questions during the lecture. He asked if there is still any role for God in nature. And, if so, doesn’t that role continue to shrink as science progresses? Saulson believes that there is still a way to reconcile scientific discovery and faith.

“Science has done amazing things. But there are equally amazing things in the world that we don’t even have the language to grapple with,” Saulson said.

Students who attended seemed to enjoy the interdisciplinary aspect of the lecture.

“I guess it’s just really interesting to see that the idea of God isn’t necessarily irrational. It can in some way try to fit into science… [Saulson] is a scientist and a physicist yet he has this belief in a higher being,” junior Amanda Toledo said.

Despite the complexity of the argument, students in the audience still had a lot to say about the lecture’s content.

“Saulson provides a compelling theory for why science does not disprove the existence of God … after reading Søren Kierkegaard and other philosophers, who have similar views, I find this point quite true. Living as a human makes the existence of a God clear, to me. I really enjoyed the presentation and while it was difficult at times, especially during the physics segment, it was very valuable,” first-year Alec Hufford said.