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Faith and science take look at the universe: Intelligibility and surprise



Matthew Becklo - published on 02/27/23

Video draws us into the greatest mystery of all: the whole of reality. Why is there a universe at all? What is it all about?  

An editor of the Wonder series at Word on Fire tells about this new series of short videos.

The first episode of Word on Fire’s new short film series Wonder, which examines the mystery of light, sets the scene for an invigorating journey into the harmony of faith and science.

But in the second episode, “God and Nature: Traces of the Trinity,” we are drawn out into an even greater mystery—in fact, the greatest mystery of all: the whole of reality. Why is there a universe at all? What is it all about?  

The episode opens with a poetic spin on the classical theistic answer to these questions. The medieval poet Dante, from the heights of paradise, describes a kind of book of the universe: loose, scattered pages of beings, “all connected together in one volume.” This earthly communion of all things in one world reflects the heavenly communion of three persons in one God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The great book leads us to an even greater Author. But here the narrator Jonathan Roumie pivots, nodding to what the tough-minded viewer might well be thinking: “Mystical. Beautiful. But is it true?” 

We are then led into a brief odyssey into the very warp and woof of the cosmos as seen by science. On the one hand, we see great order—an assumption that drives scientific successes, including the Augustinian monk Gregor Mendel’s discovery of the laws of genetics. The comprehensibility of the world, as Einstein observed—its patterns, laws, and intelligibility—is its “eternal mystery.”

But on the other hand, we also see great openness—a quality that leads to “systems that transcend the sum of their parts.” On both the macro and the micro scales—from the “lumpy” regions of the universe to the fleshy placenta of the uterus—this quality of newness and surprise continually reshapes the orderly universe. 

And these two qualities are a hand-to-glove fit with faith in the Trinity. The order we observe reflects the Logos, the Mind, Reason, or Word in whom all things were made—and made intelligible. The openness we observe reflects the Spirit, the agent of unexpected, unpredictable gifts by whom orderly things are remade—and made new.

The Son and Spirit, as St. Irenaeus observed, are like the hands of the Father shaping all things—and in the universe’s order and openness, as believing scientists observe, we see the work of those hands.  

The dazzling animations are the work of visual effects artist Carl Graham, who the director Manny Marquez explains, brought “crucial components of the cinematic quilt we were making.” Meditative shots of both the greatest and smallest moments of history, again reminiscent of Terrence Malick, turn us to the awe of existence itself—an awe Marquez captures with the birth of his fifth child, who has a cameo in the episode. “I shot this footage just after his birth because I knew the script talked of the placenta,” he explains, “and I had the camera nearby when it was appropriate to film.” 

From the fragile beauty of new life to the staggering majesty of a very old cosmos, these images are not meant to solve the riddle of reality, but simply to take a few minutes to revel in it—as both faith and science, each in their own complementary way, continue to do. 

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