Why gravity

This post was published on Wednesday 30 January 2008.

I saw the end of a programme last night called Horizon, which was looking at the theory of gravity.   The bit I saw was the tail-end of the explanation of Einstein’s theory, which moved into the theory of quantum gravity (or the quantum theory of gravity..?).

It was all very interesting - I used to read New Scientist so I’d read a lot of it before - but the closing moments of the programme really made me sit up.   The presenter was summing up his conclusions, saying that a full understanding of gravity won’t come from looking at the stars and galaxies, but from the smallest particles.   He said that this would help us to explain what happened at the Big Bang, and - here it comes - why we exist.

Now, I have no doubt he has great credentials as a scientist, but it was my understanding that science looks into the question ‘how it is’ that we exist, not ‘why’.   I suppose that may be a technical distinction, but it is an important one, because it goes some way to showing how science and faith can go together: science looks empirically at the world to find out how it works; faith listens with gratitude to the Creator of the world to find out why it exists.

I’m sure that discovering how gravity works will be a huge step forward for modern science.   But it will not help us one bit in discovering why gravity works, or who made it work.   That is why we need both science and faith, why scientists can have faith, why scientists should be careful not to make grander claims for science than are warranted (for example, Professor Dawkins), and why theologians should be careful not to make sweeping scientific statements based on theological reasoning (for example, young-earth creationists).