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The Tao of physics

Thirty storeys below crawled the lunch-time traffic of Shenton Way. Ahead lay Marina Bay in brilliant sunshine, its emerald-green waters sweeping a shore lined by casuarina trees.

"Magnificent view you have here," Mr Loh said, munching his tuna sandwich. He walked from the window to sit opposite Arthur at the coffee-table.

"My incentive for staying on in the company," remarked Arthur half-seriously as he poured a drink. "Mr Loh, I have more questions to ask since we last met in Raymond’s room."

"Fine, let’s hear them. Are you still agnostic as you said you were?"

"I guess I am. But that’s because I don’t want to believe anything without a good reason."

"That’s OK. Becoming a Christian does not mean throwing your brains away."

Arthur laughed. "There’s hope for me then - an old boy of a mission school. One day I may yet find faith."

"Faith is not believing without evidence," Uncle Loh replied, "but trusting reasonable evidence without holding back commitment."

"What is reasonable evidence?" Arthur countered.

"Arthur, you are in the insurance business. Before you sign up a client for life insurance you assess risks."

Arthur nodded. "There are standard procedures. We get personal data, medical history and we consult our tables."

"Right. Insurance deals with probabilities, not certainties. On what grounds then do you close a deal with a client?"

Arthur hesitated. Uncle Loh went on. "Surely on reasonable assumptions that your client is truthful and your probability tables are reliable. I am asking that your trust in reasonable evidence in your professional dealings be seen when you deal with matters such as the existence of God. You must be open to some arguments."

"I get your point." Arthur nodded. "Speaking of existence of God, a couple of weeks ago I saw a documentary called The Tao of Physics (1) where the author, a physicist called Fritzof Capra, was interviewed. Did you watch that?"

"Yes. I read his book as well."

"I must say I find his ideas attractive."

"What ideas?" asked Uncle Loh. He proffered the last chicken sandwich. Arthur declined, patting his waistline.

"He gives a good account of what physicists presently think of the basic structure of matter. Matter, it seems, is made up of particles even smaller than protons and neutrons. These little bits are nothing more than energy that has become solid."

"The principle of interconversion between energy and matter or mass was known since Einstein," commented Uncle Loh. "Sub-atomic physicists are only working on the details. That, however, is not what the film is about."

"Well," continued Arthur, "I am coming to that. Capra goes on to say that all matter, living and non-living, are ultimately part of a universal force or energy field filling all of space. Eastern philosophers and mystics knew this long ago and Capra tries to prove this by quoting from their writings. The interesting thing is that the mystics apparently reached the same conclusions as the modern physicists by meditation rather than scientific logic and experiment. Capra claims that you can actually experience oneness with the universal force.

One summer afternoon, as he sat by the ocean, he suddenly became aware of his whole environment being engaged in a gigantic cosmic dance of particles. That led to his writing the book."

"Capra had what people call a religious experience. It affected his whole view of life," Uncle Loh said as he replaced his cup, clasped his hands and looked serious. "You will have to read the latest edition of The Tao of Physics to get the full story. Capra thinks that this cosmic force is the ultimate reality. To him it is creative power - God. It’s just that people recognise it by different names."

"Any objections?" prodded Arthur.

"You have done a course in philosophy. You must have come across the word pantheist. It means one who believes all is God. The world is part of God and God is part of the world. Capra’s god is a pantheistic God."

"Doesn’t the Bible teach pantheism? It says somewhere that God is One in whom we live and move and have our being."

"Paul said that to an audience in Athens. (Acts 17:28) He began his talk however by saying: ‘God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands.’ (Acts 17:24) I don’t think that the passage teaches that God and man are made of the same substance - which is what pantheism proclaims. The Bible makes a clear distinction between the Creator and the created world. God is a Person and is so addressed. He is among His creatures sustaining life but He is not them and they are not Him. That is to say God is both immanent and transcendent."

Arthur was insistent. "But God is everywhere."

"Don’t confuse God being everywhere with everything being God," grinned Uncle Loh. "The very first verse of the Bible says: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ (Genesis 1:1) King David cried, ‘The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.’ (Psalm 145:18) It doesn’t sound like he is praying to himself as if he were part of God! In fact prayer is ridiculous if all of us are God or on our way to becoming God."

Arthur chuckled, "I don’t think Capra will be sympathetic to your view. I remember his saying on TV that his view of God is not to be linked with the patriarchal notion of a Father-God."

"If Capra is right, his moment of greatest joy is to be finally absorbed into this universal force or energy field. There he will lose his personality and individuality and become part of the Whole. That is supposed to be eternal bliss."

"I’m not so sure I like that," muttered Arthur. "I guess I am too strong-headed to want to lose my individuality."

"The Bible tells us that it is not evil to exist as separate individuals so long as we are dependent on God. God made us that way. Sin is the misuse of one’s finite freedom in wanting to be independent of God - in fact, in imagining that we are or can be God. (Genesis 3:5) To be a Christian is to reject our rebellious ‘wanting-to-be-God’ tendency. It is to depend on Christ to reconcile us to God from Whom we are separated by our sins, especially the sin of unbelief." (John 8:45-46)

"But Capra seems so confident of his experience at the beach. He felt the unity of all things. He did not feel the need to be reconciled to the cosmic or whatever," replied Arthur.

Uncle Loh leaned forward and said, "Remember what we said earlier about faith as trusting reasonable evidence? A mystical experience alone is not reasonable evidence. It must be judged by reason."

Arthur’s eyes widened. "What do you mean?"

"Capra may indeed be sincere. I don’t doubt that at all. But his experience is inconsistent with logic. He says that ultimate reality goes beyond rational thought. How does he know? He must have had rational thoughts about ultimate reality in order to make this claim. If he had rational thoughts about ultimate reality it is not true that ultimate reality cannot be grasped by rational thought. In other words you don’t have to have a mystical grasp of reality to know God. There are ordinary, common-sense, rational ways of knowing God.

In any case how does Capra know that his physicist concept of ultimate reality is the same as that of the mystic?"

Arthur was silent. Uncle Loh looked at his watch and said, "Time to get back to work. Thanks for the lunch, Arthur."

Arthur saw Uncle Loh to the lift.

"Remember, Arthur, when you have reasonable evidence you must, to borrow a phrase, close the deal."

Arthur smiled, "I will, Mr Loh. I will."


  1. The Tao of Physics, Fritzof Capra, Bantam Books 1993, 2nd edition. Revised and updated.


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