Take the 2-minute tour ×
Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

In physics, the quantity of energy is the most fundamental aspect of existence. All "entities" have a some sort of energy (either kinetic or potential) as an intrinsic aspect of their being. Though people often use language that suggests that concepts or phenomena exist (e.g. "a signal propagates..."), such language is actually just short-hand for descriptions of a collection of entities.

The quantity, energy, is a measure of the ability of an entity to perform work on (i.e. to cause something to happen to) another entity. Christians clearly believe that God causes things to happen. Do Christians believe that the concept of energy (as understood by physics) can be applied to God?

share|improve this question
1  
Comments do not exist for discussion -- they are meant for transient asides and for improving the question/answer to which they are attached. Please visit Christianity Chat if you would like to discuss something with your fellow users. –  HedgeMage Sep 8 '11 at 17:52
1  
You may want to refer to the writings of St. Gregory Palamas on the distinction between the essence and energies of God. –  Robert Haraway Sep 8 '11 at 19:01
add comment

8 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

First, I concur with most of the answers here: fundamentally, God is not a part of the universe, nor is He subject to its laws. His interaction is at-will and in any way that he chooses. Such interaction will involve energy of some kind, but it is not necessarily energy that is transformed from one form to another. By its nature, divine interaction with the universe involves external modification, so energy is being either added or removed from the system.

The bigger question is whether or not Christianity and science stand apart, linked, or in opposition. Your statement in a comment to another answer was:

I have only within the last year or so come to realize the truth of your statement. I was raised to believe that Christians were very interested in the truth and that they thought science supported their beliefs. I now see that it is much more a matter of their beliefs standing in contrast to science and taking from science only when forced to do so.

I can understand the source of this belief, but its premise is flawed. "Truth" is an abstract concept, and one that science does not deal with directly. Science gives us the means to measure and, using those measurements, extrapolate conclusions, but these measurements (and certainly the conclusions) are always subject to refinement. "Truth", if your philosophy permits such a thing, is immutable. It represents the state of things as they are, not as we can observe them to be. This goes back to your other question regarding omnicience vs. the HUP; God has truth, we have observation.

Our beliefs do not stand in opposition or in contrast to science. Yes, you'll certainly find Christians (or groups of them) that believe some things that are scientifically improbable, implausible, or even downright provably false. Some of these Christians hold these items to be doctrinally essential and will go to the grave fighting against you. Others will recognize the context in which they were written and reconcile their beliefs with our best intellectual efforts. God has given us intellect, and it behooves us to use it. That being said, things like miracles stand, by definition, outside of the realm of science. It's not that they're in opposition, but rather that they deal with two different things. Miracles are God interacting with the universe directly, and all bets are off when it comes to explaining them from a scientific basis because they aren't. Asking a Christian to explain the nature of miracles in a scientific context is a strawman.

share|improve this answer
2  
I disagree that asking for a scientific analysis of miracles is a strawman. If one claims that the results of a miracle are subject to scientific analysis (e.g. the wine could be examined under a microscope), but that the miracle itself is not, then it becomes necessary to draw the line somewhere. I believe this line is not only not well defined, but typically never even recognized as essential. Nonetheless, I accept your answer based on it's generally applicable nature and broad scope. –  AdamRedwine Sep 8 '11 at 16:14
    
@AdamRedwine: what scripture states this: "God is not a part of the universe,". If God is in us, than surely He is in the universe. –  Greg McNulty Jan 24 '13 at 1:16
    
@GregMcNulty: Okay, you claim God is "in the universe" and furthermore that he is "in us." How do you make this assertion other than "the Bible tells me so?" You did not at all address the question at hand. –  AdamRedwine Jan 24 '13 at 13:23
    
@AdamRedwine: Saying "the Bible tells me so" should be sufficient in this context; you asked how Christians understand these things in the context of both their beliefs and given the scientific knowledge that we have. –  Adam Robinson Jan 24 '13 at 13:49
    
Furthermore, addressing your (admittedly year-and-a-half-old) comment to my answer, yes, the line must be drawn somewhere and it's drawn at the mechanism. Science (rightly) says that all matter arrives at a particular momentary state that represents the aggregate of all reactions it's encountered prior to that moment. –  Adam Robinson Jan 24 '13 at 13:50
show 2 more comments

Energy is merely matter in another form (see Wikipedia). Matter and energy are both part of the created universe, made by God (see Book of Genesis). Energy, like matter, was created by God. It is not an attribute of God, any more than height, weight or hair colour.

Obvious exception for the incarnated Jesus, who would have had energy, height and hair colour.

share|improve this answer
    
In what sense then does God exist if not energetically? –  AdamRedwine Sep 7 '11 at 21:29
4  
In a sense that is not defined by quantities that he himself created. And ultimately in a sense that we created humans cannot fully understand. –  DJClayworth Sep 7 '11 at 21:34
    
Maybe I should make it another question, but doesn't the same logic allow for anything at all to exist? If God can exist but not have any energy (in any form), what about unicorns? Why can't you say that unicorns actually exist in all of the old-growth forests but that they just don't have any energy associated with them so you can't detect them? –  AdamRedwine Sep 7 '11 at 21:41
    
@AdamRedwine: An artist is not made of pigment, but manipulates pigment. Likewise God is not made of energy, but He can manipulate it. These manipulations can sometimes be detected. The most obvious example of such a manipulation that we can detect would be the fact that we exist at all. Of course there is much debate about whether that is an act of God, but that's best for another question. –  Flimzy Sep 7 '11 at 21:49
3  
This isn't really a good forum for a debate. –  DJClayworth Sep 8 '11 at 0:01
show 5 more comments

No. God existed "before" the universe, time, and space and is entirely beyond the laws of physics. If you accept multiple universes, he is beyond all of them as well. He created the laws of physics. This is professed in most major Christian Creeds in some form, e.g., "I believe in God the Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth, of all that is seen and unseen." (emphasis mine), and is generally accepted by Christians. There are some exceptions, but all Catholics, Orthodox, and to the best of my knowledge all Protestants accept this as truth.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Energy can be defined in physics as the ability to perform work, as you say, and measured in joules or equivalent units. You ask whether we can ascribe energy to God in this sense. The ability of God to act in the world is a different question - I think you are asking about being able to measure God's own energy in some sense, whether this is kinetic energy or potential energy or anything else.

To calculate such a quantity, we would need to take measurements of some kind and somehow end up with a value in units of kg.m2.s-2 = J. This effort is stymied since there is no way to measure God's mass, length, etc., as these kind of measurements cannot apply to God. That is, we cannot measure God's energy for the same reason that we cannot measure his size - there is nothing special about energy in this regard. Can we measure his kinetic energy (= energy that depends on mass and velocity)? No, because God has neither. Potential energy (= energy that depends on position within a gravitational field)? No, because God is not located in a gravitational field, and indeed is not located at any point in space. Moreover, there is no particular reason to believe that even if he had energy, he would be subject to conservation of energy (we're not going to get very far trying to apply Noether's theorem).

This goes beyond a mere practical difficulty (I mean, it is not true to say that God has mass but we just can't calculate it). Theologically, attributes like "mass" cannot be applied to God, because God is an altogether different kind of thing than ordinary people or objects. The argument goes something like this. God's existence is pure (in scholastic terminology, he is actus purus, pure action) because his existence is (1) not dependent on anything else, (2) unchanging, and (3) he has no potential to be different from what he is. Hence it is a category error to apply any contingent attribute to God - any quality or quantity that we could imagine varying over time or in different circumstances. Mass is this kind of quantity. See Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part 1 Q3 for the classic exposition. He talks about height, depth, colour and temperature being inapplicable concepts but it's the same idea.

Admittedly, some people have tried to apply concepts like "energy" to God. Teilhard de Chardin continually used the language of physics, in a dubious way, and in particular talked about humans having "spiritual energy" which would increase and merge with God's spiritual energy. But:

...he uses in metaphor words like energy, tension, force, impetus and dimension as if they retained the weight and thrust of their specific scientific usages. Consciousness, for example, is a matter upon which Teilhard has been said to have illuminating views. For the most part consciousness is treated as a manifestation of energy, though this does not help us very much because the word 'energy' is itself debauched; but elsewhere we learn that consciousness is a dimension, or is something with mass, or is something corpuscular and particulate which can exist in various degrees of concentration, being sometimes infinitely diffuse.

That's from the famous critical review by Peter Medawar of The Phenomenon of Man. It is a great reminder to be very careful about overinterpreting or misapplying concepts from physics.

share|improve this answer
1  
You have put a lot of thought into the answer and I appreciate it very much but I feel that you are making exactly the same mistake that Teilhard did, you say (or at least imply) that God exists, but "to exist" has a very real, practical, physical meaning to which you are unwilling to subject Him. If He does not fit the scientific definition of existence (to have energy) then in what way does He exist? –  AdamRedwine Sep 8 '11 at 0:26
    
I do not think that is "the scientific definition of existence". Energy is a physically measurable quantity like any other and it has no special connection to the nature of existence. –  James T Sep 8 '11 at 0:31
    
Indeed it is. For example, the creation and annihilation operators (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creation_and_annihilation_operators) describe the creation or destruction of an object. It's existence is recognized by the addition or subtraction of a unit of energy (in some form, e.g. mass). –  AdamRedwine Sep 8 '11 at 0:40
3  
We seem to have some big ontological differences. For myself, I would say that energy, those operators, etc., are part of our model of the universe, and are applicable only in the context of that endeavour. It makes sense to draw conclusions about reality, based on the model, within the correct domain (eg: dynamics, fine; but the nature of existence, no). Things exist or not independently of our models, and we adapt our definitions to fit observed reality within the limits of what is measurable. –  James T Sep 8 '11 at 1:36
    
We do indeed have big, and potentially unresolvable, ontological differences. That I would like people to explain to me how they justify their views that differ from mine is why I'm here. –  AdamRedwine Sep 8 '11 at 13:09
add comment

Exodus 3:2-14 (NASB) says this:

The angel of the LORD appeared to [Moses] in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed... God called to him from the midst of the bush and said... the place on which you are standing is holy ground... God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

Fire is normally the result of a release of energy in the form of light and heat caused by a chemical change in something that is burning. In normal burning, there is a change in state but the total amount of energy / matter in the universe remains constant.

In this passage, however, Moses witnesses something strange. He sees flames that exists without any visible means of support, ie. a release of energy without a corresponding change in the chemistry of the material universe. This violates his expectations, so naturally he wants a closer look. In doing so he perceives that God is present. According to Moses understanding, the bush is not the source of the energy being released, but rather God is.

This is consistent with the description in Genesis (a book often associated with Moses) which describes God as the source of all energy and matter in the universe. God needs nothing outside Himself to sustain Him, but rather is the source of everything else.

In the Bible, then, we see that God has the capacity to do work (ie. influence the universe) not because the concept of energy applies to Him, but because He is able to apply the concept of energy to the universe.

share|improve this answer
add comment

There are too many different ideas about the relationship between God and the Universe to cover them all. Here's an attempt to explain one fairly common view (which seems to have been offered in other answers):

If you have any background in programming: Suppose the entire universe that we are aware of is actually a simulation running as a program on a computer. Now suppose the programmer opens up a debugger and starts fiddling with variables. He or she might mess up invariants or relations that the program would originally obey, but you wouldn't call the programmer and the debugger part of the program. The debugger wouldn't have simulated energy, nor would the programmer (unless they specifically programmed it to work that way)--they're outside of the program (presumably with real energy).

Analogously, one can envision God as the programmer who can intervene as desired or not; He isn't really part of the simulation, so to speak, so even though everything that is being simulated has simulated energy, He does not intrinsically, and His interventions may or may not depending on the details of what happens.

share|improve this answer
    
+1 for reading my mind. –  2tim424 Sep 8 '11 at 7:13
    
While I believe this answer also allows for unicorns and leprechauns and should be eliminated by Aachem's razor, it is the best so far. –  AdamRedwine Sep 8 '11 at 10:29
    
@Adam: Reality allows for unicorns and leprechauns; we haven't observed them and our observations thus far lead us to the conclusion that they do not exist, but I'm sure you'd agree that you cannot positively prove that they do not exist, as silly of a notion as that seems. –  Adam Robinson Sep 8 '11 at 13:18
    
I concede that I would not assert that I could prove the absense of unicorns, but I don't base major life decisions on their existence whereas Christians do base major life decisions (and often impose those decisions on others) based on their belief of the existence of a being with comparable credentials. –  AdamRedwine Sep 8 '11 at 13:31
    
@Adam: The "credentials" are comparable only in the amount of scientific evidence that points directly at the existence of the entity in question. If you are looking for Christians to justify their belief in God based upon direct scientific evidence, then I think you know that you'll find few (if any). –  Adam Robinson Sep 8 '11 at 15:37
show 2 more comments

The theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) differs substantially from the other answers.

The differences start at the very beginning. The LDS faith teaches that creation ex nihilo is a false concept, and that God instead organized the world out of matter that was "without form" (Gen 1:2, more info and discussion here). This is understood to be matter that was unorganized, chaotic, etc of which there is an infinite amount.

Along the same lines, the Doctrine and Covenants, which is regarded as canon in the LDS Church, teaches that "the elements are eternal" (D&C 93:33), and that matter "was not created or made, neither indeed can be" (D&C 93:29) (in accordance with the first law of thermodynamics).

As for how this applies to God, the Doctrine and Covenants teach that "The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's." (D&C 130:22). Bodies are made of matter, and matter is energy, thus God is made of energy, just like you and I are.

share|improve this answer
1  
Very interesting though the implications of an infinite amount of matter in the universe are thoroughly unsustainable. –  AdamRedwine Sep 8 '11 at 15:14
1  
@AdamRedwine - The universe can have infinite matter as long as it's infinitely large (with some restrictions on how that matter is distributed). Granted, our universe doesn't look infinitely large, but an infinitely large universe with infinite matter has much less broken physics than a finite universe with infinite matter. –  Rex Kerr Sep 8 '11 at 15:29
2  
@AdamRedwine or perhaps an infinite number of finitely large universes, each containing a finite amount of matter. There's no official doctrine on whether all of God's creations exist in our universe. –  Dave DeLong Sep 8 '11 at 15:48
add comment

God is pure Spirit if you had a spiritual scale, He would fill it.

St. Thomas Aquinas addresses this idea quite a bit.

This error seems to have originated from two statements of the ancients. For those who first began to observe the nature of things, being unable to rise above their imagination, supposed that nothing but bodies existed. Therefore they said that God was a body, which they considered to be the principle of other bodies. And since they held that the soul was of the same nature as that body which they regarded as the first principle, as is stated De Anima i, 2, it followed that the soul was of the nature of God Himself. According to this supposition, also, the Manichaeans, thinking that God was corporeal light, held that the soul was part of that light bound up with the body.

http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1090.htm

Like other answers state, your premise is that nothing else can exist. But consider those people whom you admire and look up to:

  • Is there something about them that makes you go towards them?
  • Does their reasoning impress you?
  • Do they have a knack for rationality?

Consider what you feel to be excellent qualities in other human beings and then consider where their source is. What is the source of our rationality and moreover our desire to reason? It's not merely self-preservation.

I believe it's our soul and if we have a soul which animates our rationality, we must have a Creator who animates our soul.

share|improve this answer
    
The source is most certainly derived from self preservation; evolution does amazing things. The complexity of emergent properties of physical matter, however impressive, does not indicate the existence of the metaphysical. –  AdamRedwine Sep 9 '11 at 11:56
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.