“Mystery in Faith and Physics”: Reflections on Science and Religion

 

by Amanda Judah

 

In his lecture on October 5th, Dr. David Ciampa of the Maine Maritime Academy asserted that “at the foundational level, physics has a kind of mystery about it.” In his appraisal, he was able to draw on experience working at a national lab and at a university. His warm personality appealed to those from either background.

 

The impetus for Ciampa’s talk came from his own experience in the physics field, where he found that most of his contemporaries were curious at the “contradiction” between his Catholic faith and scientific work. Ciampa mentioned that most of these skeptics had grown up in the Church, but upon adolescence found the mysteries of faith too uncertain. Dissatisfied with Catholicism’s conclusions, his peers in the scientific field prefered to engage only in intellectual experiments.

 

While Ciampa acknowledged that a focus on science is appealing for those who desire a sense of certainty, he does not consider mystery is a bad thing. The professor defined a “mystery” as “something that is so overflowing with truth that we can never get to the bottom of it,” citing the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation as examples. Ciampa also believed that a focus on physics leads to the discovery of even greater mysteries about the world, arguing that while science may reveal information about the world around us, it cannot answer pressing philosophical questions. Therefore, these scientists may not know whether their lives have ultimate meaning, or how they may reach true happiness. Ciampa argued that faith envelops more of the human experience beyond intellectual endeavors, citing a “sense of profound beauty” that can be felt while looking at a beautiful sunset and acknowledging its Creator.

 

Additionally, Ciampa explained that turning to science alone does not lead to certainty. His lecture illustrated how physics, like faith, is never completely or fundamentally certain. He emphasized that “there are areas in physics where we don’t have the clarity we expect from science.” Although physics is public, repeatable, and yields remarkable predictive power, it is only able to investigate what is measureable. Through several illustrations on quantum physics, Ciampa illustrated how electrons seem to defy the laws of nature researchers have created for them, behaving somewhere in between a wave and a particle. This “inherent graininess of nature” shows that science cannot provide all of the answers.

 

Ciampa concluded his lecture with the assertion that humans were not meant to fully understand the mysteries of this life, whether they are mysteries of faith or of physics. He ended the lecture by encouraging audience members to “go forward with your search, rather than abandon it because you can’t understand [the uncertainties]”. He suggested that if the search leads to God, it will be a fruitful one.

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