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Paradigm shifts in Science, Art and Easter

It has been argued that science progresses in two ways: normal incremental additions to our knowledge and radical transformational shifts in our understanding of the universe. The first is the sort of contribution I have achieved in my scientific career; the second is what Albert Einstein did in physics. The second type of scientific progress has been called a paradigm shift, a term first used by the philosopher Thomas Kuhn in 1962.

Einstein’s work – combining time, light, mass and energy into an integrated framework in the theories of special and general relativity – changed physics in a way that made Newtonian physics a limited special case of a much larger view of the creation. The paradigm shifted radically and required a new generation of scientists to see the world in a different way. Alfred Wegener’s theory of plate tectonics (that the Earth’s crust is formed of large moving plates) has had a transformational effect on geography. While Christians are divided on his theory, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution has had a similarly radical effect on the biological sciences.

Art speaks to Science about Easter

Late last fall I was at Redeemer for a meeting and, as I often do, wandered up to see the art in the second-floor gallery. An exhibition of George Langbroek’s work was on display. I was enjoying the art when I came upon the last image in the series, titled “Paradigm Shift.” I stopped and looked more closely at the colourful etching and the wonderful insight it provided, involving art, science and theology. In the etching’s background were copies of two Easter images of Rembrandt: one the removal of the body of Jesus from the cross, the second at the empty grave. In the foreground were images of various aspects of our daily lives and relationships.

The work moved me and opened a window connecting my science and the story of Easter. It made me realise that the scientific notion of a paradigm shift could also be applied to the death and resurrection of Christ. These events about 2,000 years ago changed everything. The relationship between God and humans was completely revolutionized by the intervention of God into his creation in the person of Jesus Christ. Our theology and understanding is radically different after these events than it was before. We are still struggling to fully understand the implications of these events.

Easter and Science

Thinking about Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and eventful return as radical is not new. I was well aware that we have always viewed Easter as a seminal event in human history, but I had never connected this understanding with the way I thought about science and its development. It leads me to ask: how does the view of God’s relation with his creation centred on Jesus impact on how we think about science?

One consequence of a paradigm shift in science is that whole fields are revisited and need to be re-understood. This can be true both for the fields at the centre of the paradigm shift but also for other related disciplines. The larger the paradigm shift, the larger its resonant impact across related fields. In this case, what is the significance of the largest paradigm shift, God’s intervention in creation through Jesus, for our understanding of the world? There should be ripples that transverse every single domain of science and in fact all of life as a consequence of the death and resurrection of God’s Son.

This way of exploring the impact of our theology on science may be most evident in the life sciences. One simple example may be in thinking about evolution. One of the theoretical engines that is said to drive evolution is competition for resources between individuals who are slightly different. Could it be that Love, as seen in God’s gift of Jesus, is a broader principle than competition? Is it possible that competition might be, like Newtonian physics, a limited special case of a more expansive view of a creation founded on Love? I don’t know where such insights will take us but appreciate that art can sometime point us in a new direction.  

Author

  • Rudy Eikelboom

    Rudy Eikelboom is a Professor of Psychology, at Wilfrid Laurier University, who has emerged from the dark side of the University after being department chair for 9 years and now teaches behavioural statistics to graduate and undergraduate psychology students. His retirement looms and he is looking forward to doing more writing on the implications of modern science for our Christian faith. Currently, he serves as a pastoral elder at the Waterloo Christian Reformed Church.

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