BOSTON — Astronomers and the public were stirred by pictures of Martian dust storms that the 1997 Pathfinder probe transmitted. It was a step outward in understanding the universe.
Another kind of stir is blowing through the scientific community. Last year, a feature in The New York Times spotlighted a debate between two veteran science writers (Nov. 10, 1998). John Horgan, author of "The End of Science," argued that virtually all of the important theories mapping out fundamental knowledge of the universe and human existence were worked out prior to 1930 - like Einstein's theory of gravity (general relativity), quantum mechanics, evolutionary biology, and the Big Bang theory. Because these theories are demonstrably true, Mr. Horgan claims, they can't be superseded.
Not everyone agrees. John Maddox, Horgan's debate opponent, contended in that feature: "Progress in science is not measured by counting discoveries, however startling, but by the progressive deepening of our understanding of the world, ourselves included.... As in the past, deepened understanding will provoke questions we do not yet have the wit to ask."
Has science reached the limits of discovery, or are there no limits to scientific progress? And is there a spiritual element in all this? Whether the field is physics, medicine, or theology, progress often appears to entail a triumph of brainpower. But authentic progress leaves everything material in the dust. It moves from a finite to an infinite concept of existence.
The Christian Science textbook says that "progress is the law of God" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," by Mary Baker Eddy, pg. 233). Further on: "Progress takes off human shackles. The finite must yield to the infinite. Advancing to a higher plane of action, thought rises from the material sense to the spiritual, from the scholastic to the inspirational, and from the mortal to the immortal" (pg. 256).
The thumpable world of the physical senses just might not be all there is to existence. Maybe neither God nor pure chance made it that way, as life's unsolvable mystery.
Christian metaphysics explains what 20th century physics hints at - that the material world, which seems so solid, is ultimately insubstantial. As St. Paul said to an audience that may have included prominent Greek scientists of the day, "we live, and move, and have our being" in Spirit, as God's spiritual creation (Acts 17:28). Science and Health furthers the argument: "All things are created spiritually. Mind, not matter, is the creator. Love, the divine Principle, is the Father and Mother of the universe, including man" (pg. 256).
God knows no limits. The divine Spirit forever develops and magnifies its creation. Humanity's search to know Spirit - to discover its laws and how we fit in - is the new science. The Science of being. The spiritual reality this Science discloses is provable in human life, case by case, not through physical action but through that mental activity of understanding God. This brings transformative power into our lives. Understanding God restores dysfunctional systems - in the human body, in business, in relationships. Each time this happens, a window on the infinite is nudged further open. Truth frees its seeker.
Prayer is an act of Science. It's through prayer that we achieve spiritual understanding. Discern something of God's immediacy. Free ourselves from limitation. Consent to the divine law of progress. Otherwise, we wobble along, governed by the laws of chance.
The sciences are freed by our understanding that ultimate reality is spiritual, is of God. The tendency of human thought is either outward - toward the limitless, or inward - toward a material self. Those who by inspiration or pure humility push the boundaries of thought beyond the limitations of illness, poverty, hatred, will be the next century's scientific pioneers.
Each of us has a role in the evolution of ideas, in new discovery. The most basic aim of the scientific process - seeking and proving truth - is something innate in everyone. Asking where science is headed is, in some measure, asking: Am I thinking beyond the familiar and tactile? Getting friendly with the infinite? Sensing universal law operating in my life, helping and healing me? Am I seeing what God has made?
The frontier is as big as your desire to see it.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society