The real theory of everything?

Kirsty Lavelle 15 Feb 21

What if there was an answer to the biggest questions of the universe? An explanation for the deepest wonderings of our world? A way to tie up loose ends, to box up complex problems and label them ‘solved’?
A ‘theory of everything’ sounds good, doesn’t it? At least it does to my mind, which particularly loves neat solutions, well ordered explanations, tidiness.

The ‘theory of everything’, or TOE as it is referred to, is an ‘all-encompassing, coherent theoretical framework of physics that fully explains and links together all physical aspects of the universe’ [1]. For those who hold that the laws of nature are rather few, the existence of such a theory is quite conceivable, yet it remains a major unsolved dilemma.

A theory of everything concerned with explaining a rational basis of the universe isn’t a new idea, it’s one that goes right back to Greek philosophers. Philosophers such as Heraclitus used the Greek word ‘logos’ to describe an objective cosmic law or, later, a single animating rational principle of the world.

Common to the idea of a TOE is that it is an explanation of everything physical in our world. Is this because such a TOE assumes a priori that physical matter is all there is? Laws of nature describe matter, energy, space and time, but what if the notion of ‘everything’ went much further, deeper, higher, wider?

Potential candidates for a TOE include quantum gravity theory or string theory, which were developed during the last century in attempt to reconcile gravity with quantum field theories. Many researchers reject these however, including physicist Peter Woit who writes ‘it is not that progress has been slow over the past 30 years, but that it has been negative, with everything learned showing more clearly why the idea doesn’t work’ [2]. General relativity and quantum mechanics are certainly foundational theories, yet each applies to a distinctly separate domain and the two theories cannot be integrated into one whole TOE.

This has led to a general move away from the idea of a single all-encompassing theory. John Barrow of the University of Cambridge writes ‘the big change in thinking is that we don’t expect there to be a unique theory of everything’ [3]. Indeed, Laughlin and Pines question whether the ‘End of Reductionism’ has come, observing that ‘rather than a theory of everything we appear to face a hierarchy of Theories of Things, each emerging from its parent and evolving into its children as the energy scale is lowered’ [4]. It seems that the sciences are now less confident in the existence of an ultimate theory to underpin the physical world.

However, Barrow also notes that ‘a theory of everything would have to explain everything from the works of Shakespeare to the human brain and the forests and valleys of our natural world…’ [3]. Edgar Andrews, emeritus Professor of Materials at the University of London, goes even further to assert ‘most of us believe in the real existence of non-material entities such as friendship, love, beauty, poetry, truth, faith, justice – the things that actually make human life worth living. A true theory of everything must therefore embrace both the material and non-material aspects of the universe…’ [5]

What if there really was a theory of everything, something that could offer explanation not only to physical, observed phenomena but to morality, purpose, emotion and mental capacity? What if a real theory of everything was something so foundational that it held the very universe together?

Christianity claims that not a ‘something’ but a ‘someone’ offers this. Not a mindless law of nature, but a relational person. It probably won’t come as a surprise to you that this ‘someone’ is Jesus but, seeing as you’ve read this far already, why not read a bit further to see if this claim can be substantiated?

1.    A ‘theory of everything’ who holds everything together?

Despite an apparent ‘end to reductionism’ in scientific thinking, it is a natural human instinct to try to simplify things to fit within a single framework. We all do this to some extent, whether we consciously realise we are doing so or not. This framework, or worldview, is described by professor of theology David Dockery as ‘more than a private personal viewpoint; it is a comprehensive life system that seeks to answer the basic questions of life’ [6]. Yet Dockery also says that a worldview should frame our lives in a way that is consistent with reality and offer a ‘comprehensive understanding of all areas of life and every aspect of creation’ [6]. In this sense, such a worldview is starting to sound a bit like a theory of everything…

The problem is, often our worldviews are riddled with inconsistencies. Our thoughts and beliefs about the physical world don’t impact the way we interact with it day-to-day. Our intellectual reasoning seems to fall short of explaining the emotional mess inside our heads. Our explanations of the physical can’t account for the pain in the world or in our own lives.

In contrast, the Bible offers one in whom all things hold together:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. In him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or power or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things hold together.’[7]

Doesn’t that list look a little more comprehensive than just the physical phenomena of the universe? This Son is Jesus: the one in whom all things hold together.

Previously we saw how ‘logos’ was a Greek word used to refer to a basic, rational principle of the world. ‘Logos’ can also be translated ‘word’, referring to speech, account or reason, such that Aristotle included it alongside pathos and ethos as one of his three modes of persuasion. Where pathos appealed to emotion and ethos appealed to morality, logos appealed to reason. In the Bible, Jesus himself is described as ‘Logos’ or ‘word’:

‘In the beginning was the Word… and the Word was God… through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that as been made’ [8].

Here we see that Jesus is not the antithesis of reason or logic, rather He fulfils this ancient idea of reason, a principle which sustains all things. It turns out the rational basis of the universe, the theory of everything, isn’t just a law or principle, but a person: Jesus.

A Christian worldview with Jesus at the centre offers a coherent framework with which to understand the world. Of course we can learn more about the physical world than just that it was created – isn’t that the biggest wonder of science? [9] – but the Christian worldview doesn’t deny this. Instead, it shows us a bigger picture and points to the reality that the world, as it is now, is not how the Creator made it to be nor, for that matter, how He intends to let it remain. The Christian worldview gives us a way to understand how the world holds together, by knowing the one who holds it together. It shows us the beautiful picture of God at work in our world to ultimately restore it, and to ultimately restore us if we believe and trust in Jesus.

Even discoveries such as DNA, a word-code as the basis for all living things, find compatibility with the Christian view of creation. If we are a word-based existence, it figures that behind our existence is one who is called ‘Logos’, the ‘Word’. It seems the more you dig into Jesus, the more things make sense and come together.

2.    A ‘theory of everything’ who really shows us ‘the mind of God’?

Stephen Hawking, in A Brief History of Time, writes that if such a complete theory as a theory of everything was discovered it would be ‘the ultimate triumph of human reason for then we would know the mind of God.’ [10] Jesus said: ‘If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.’ [11] It’s not that human reason has finally triumphed in discovering a theory of everything, but that God, the maker and sustainer of the universe himself, has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus so that we may know Him. Another writer says ‘Knowing the mind of God is what Christians have the audacity to claim every time they open the Bible’ [12].

Given Hawking’s stance that there is ‘no possibility’ of God in our universe, it is safe to say he did not believe a TOE would give us access to God. We could even go as far to say that he likened the TOE itself to a ‘god’ as such, that is, something that sufficiently sustains the universe as we observe it. Yet, in Jesus we have someone who sufficiently sustains the universe by holding all things together, and someone who reveals the mind of God.

3.    A ‘theory of everything’ who is true?

For a worldview to offer such a comprehensive understanding as Dockery describes, surely it must be objectively true. If a theory of everything offers truth for one but not another, can we really claim that it is consistent with reality? But in a post-truth world, how can we ever know if we have really found fundamental truth, especially if we can’t litmus test it in a test tube? Again, in answer to this, Christianity offers not a ‘what’ but a ‘who’. The Christian worldview is based on the person of Jesus, who said of Himself ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.’ [13] It’s a bold, objective claim that’s especially stark to our world of individual, relative truth. In our world, we fear any attack ‘your truth’ could make against ‘my truth’. We build up our walls and stay within the confines of our own thoughts and experiences; safe from having ‘my truth’ questioned, safe from inadvertently questioning ‘your truth’.

Yet, if ‘truth’ is a person it can’t be brandished aggressively in the face of another or harnessed to beat down another’s lived experience. If ‘truth’ is a person, we aren’t left wondering whether to trust an abstract idea or principle; instead we are invited to trust the person of Jesus who comes to us personally, relationally, gently.

As a final thought to leave you with, scientist Jennifer Siggers says: ‘Science makes much more sense if there is, at some deep level, a truth that we’re pursuing.’ [14] Is that truth we’re pursuing a ‘theory of everything’? Or is it something, or someone, much deeper?

If you’re reading this and you’ve never investigated the person of Jesus for yourself, why not take up the challenge? Visit www.uncover.org.uk to find resources to help you explore further.


[1] Steven Weinberg (2011-04-20). Dreams of a Final Theory: The Scientist's Search for the Ultimate Laws of Nature. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

[2] Woit as quoted in Space.com article ‘What is the Theory Of Everything’ 2019 https://www.space.com/theory-of-everything-definition.html.

[3] John Barrow, University of Cambridge, as quoted in http://www.bbc.co.uk/earth/story/20150409-can-science-ever-explain-everything.

[4] R. B. Laughlin and David Pines, PNAS January 4, 2000 97 (1) 28-31.

[5] Prof Edgar Andrews, University of London, as quoted in https://www.theolatte.com/2017/03/the-christian-theory-of-everything/.

[6] David Dockery, 2013, The Importance of a Christian Worldview https://www.gospelproject.com/the-importance-of-a-christian-worldview/.

[7] Colossians 1v15-17.

[8] John 1v1-4.

[9] Einstein famously said: ‘the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible’. 1936 article in the Journal of the Franklin Institute.

[10] Stephen Hawking, a Brief History of time, p166-167.

[11] John 14v7.

[12] Dan DeWitt, The Christian Theory of Everything, https://www.theolatte.com/2017/03/the-christian-theory-of-everything/.

[13] John 14v6.

[14] Jennifer Siggers, as quoted in ‘God in the Lab, Ruth Bancewicz, p105.

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