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The Search for Beauty in Modern Physics

Physicists have discovered something of wonder: Nature, at the fundamental level, is beautifully designed. It is this sense of wonder that I wish to share with you.

Fearful Symmetry, pg. 3

Theoretical Physicist Anthony Zee's Fearful Symmetry provides the perfect introduction to the inextricable interdependence of Symmetry, Physics, Beauty and the Holy Bible. From cover to cover, A. Zee never ceases to reiterate his central theme of Symmetry as the sine qua non of God's general revelation in Creation. He refers to it as central idea and the "guiding light" that "physicists have come to rely on more and more." He credits Symmetry with many of the most important and fundamental discoveries of twentieth century physics. It is little surprise then to find this to be an essential characteristic of God's special revelation in the sevenfold symmetric perfection of Scripture. I whole-heartedly recommend this most excellent work.

This religious language I use to describe Zee's work is not my own - it reflects his own style. It would be easier to remove his references to symmetry and beauty than to delete all his talk of God and the Ultimate Designer from his book. His own explanation of this begins on page 4:

Musing along these lines [of symmetry and design] often awakens feelings in physicists best described as religious. In judging a physical theory purporting to describe the universe, Einstein would ask himself if he would have made the universe in that particular way, were he God. This faith in an underlying design has sustained fundamental physicists.

Throughout his book Zee talks of God, the Creator, and the Ultimate Designer. Indeed, he titled a subsection in Chapter One as Living in a Designer Universe. In his Afterword he defines his religious perspective as a deist who believes in an "all-encompassing 'Presence'" but clearly denies belief in a personal God who takes any interest in the creatures in His Creation, saying "Nothing in this book implies or necessitates the theistic view." Yet for all this his fundamental intuition is religious in character, and in spite of the avowed atheism of many of his colleagues, it is shared by essentially all who have thought about it. Here is how Zee describes the religious perspective of his community of American Theoretical Physicists (pg. 293):

[Their beliefs] range over the entire spectrum, from the militantly atheistic to the deeply devout, with the distribution dropping sharply towards the devout end. I think that many theoretical physicists are awed by the elegant structure that underlies fundamental physics. Those that have thought about it are struck dumb with astonishment, as was Einstein, that the world was in fact comprehensible.

It is my absolute conviction that exactly the same experience awaits each and every person who will take the time to seriously contemplate the sevenfold symmetric perfection of the Holy Bible. Thankfully, an advanced degree in Theoretical Physics - though certainly helpful - is not required to appreciate the supernatural elegance of Scripture. It's unvarnished simplicity is open for all to see. It appears, in fact, to be impossible to miss once it has been pointed out. A child can both see and understand it - which begs the question, of course, as to why the professional biblical scholars retain the ignoble distinction as the one group most reticent against even discussing the implications of the structure of Scripture! The brute fact of their willful ignorance leaves me perpetually dumbfounded and broken-hearted for the spiritual condition this implies.

Rotational Symmetry

Symmetry plays a central role in my article The Eternal Circle where I present many of the reasons God designed the Bible in the form of a perfect Circle. Zee explains how these same ideas apply to the fundamental laws of physics in the first chapter of his book, entitled Symmetry and Simplicity (pg. 8):

The beauty that Nature has revealed to physicists in Her laws is a beauty of design, a beauty that recalls, to some extent, the beauty of classical architecture, with its emphasis on geometry and symmetry. The system of aesthetics used by the physicists in judging Nature also draws its inspiration from the austere finality of geometry.

Picture a circle, a square, and a rectangle. Quick, which one is more pleasing to the eye? Following the ancient Greeks, most people will probably choose the circle. To be sure, the square, even the rectangle, in not without passionate admirers. But there is an objective criterion that ranks the three, circle, square, rectangle, in that order: The circle possesses more symmetry.

Here's a picture of the symmetry of each object Zee mentioned:

What a joy it is to see such a qualified individual as Anthony Zee state the glory of God's perfect Word with such clarity! I couldn't say it better myself. The miracle is that there is no distinction at all between the description of God's Work of Creation and the structure of His Word.

Zee then defines beauty as symmetry, and devotes the rest of the chapter to explaining why the laws of physics must of necessity exhibit rotational symmetry.

Bilateral Symmetry

Chapter Three of Zee's book explains the second to the two "classical" symmetries that were familiar to all physicists in the nineteenth century. His arguments naturally integrate with the structure of God's Word:

Given that the human body has such a pronounced bilateral symmetry, the notion of the world [The Word!] being divided into a left side and a right must come to us in early childhood. ... Indeed, left-right symmetry is so prevalent in the biological world [The Living Word!] that we find any deviations from it odd and fascinating.

The profound and endless ramifications of these two basic symmetries - rotational and reflective - continually guide Zee through his great book. On every page I see obvious and inevitable correlations with the structure of God's Word.

Physics and Art

It is my conviction that the poetic/aesthetic sense that guided Zee throughout his work and which he declares to be the guiding light of modern physics is also a key to opening the soul to the great Art of God revealed in the Holy Bible. It is well to recall that "Art" relates to the Latin "Ars" (Work). Klein's Etymological Dictionary notes its relation to the Greek Artios, meaning complete or perfect, which is how it is used in II Timothy 3.16f:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect [artios], thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

God's Work is the Highest Art, and this is what we see in the perfection of Holy Scripture. The relation of all this to William Blake's poem that inspired Zee's title is discussed in my review of Tyger! Tyger!.

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