Dr. Lewis Ryder, Honorary Senior Lecturer in Physics, University of Kent

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“The religious quest is ongoing. One where we never reach a final answer.”

Dr. Lewis Ryder graduated in physics from Oxford University and obtained his Ph.D. in mathematical physics from Edinburgh University. After a SERC Fellowship at Durham and Oxford Universities, he went to the University of Kent at Canterbury in 1967 where he is an Honorary Senior Lecturer. He is the author of three books: Elementary Particles and Symmetries, Quantum Field Theory, and Introduction to General Relativity. His research interests are in geometrical aspects of particle theory and its parallels with general relativity. More recently, he is interested in the application of general relativity in the atomic—quantum— domain. 

Q. Who are your mentors? What have you learned from them?

A: We are approaching something I see as characterizing the difference between the English and American outlooks on life. Americans think explicitly and directly in terms of personal experience—what the greatest influences on their lives have been. The English see things in slightly less personal terms. They don’t ask themselves so much, “What am I doing? How am I living my life? How do other people see me? Am I achieving my goals?” They don’t live in that way. What they do more of than Americans is sit back and watch the world go by and hope that they can find a place in it. I’m sure that English society is changing and it’s changing in the American direction, but I don’t belong to that generation. I see things in a more European context. I don’t see things so readily in terms of personal encounters. Perhaps you might think I’m passing the buck, but I don’t think I am doing that. I’m trying to answer your question as best I can but I’m not sure that’s a satisfactory answer.

Q. What are your practices for connecting to your higher purpose?

A: I do not do any on a regular, systematic basis. I think that one of the problems is the word “God.” What do we mean by God? That is a real problem. In the Christian tradition, God is not only the creator of the world, but also takes an individual interest in every human being. Now as far as the creation of the world is concerned, physics gives quite a convincing account of that and the hypothesis of God is nowhere needed. So to understand the creation of the world, we don’t need the idea of God.

In a religious context, God is most powerful as a concept in talking about individual destiny, in talking about ourselves as individuals and how we are to live our lives and understand our situation. But the notion that there is a being outside the universe is one that scientists find extremely difficult to cope with—if, indeed, it’s not a contradiction in terms. I certainly find it difficult to cope with. If you look at the world and the things that happen in the world, it is very implausible to say that there is a God that is looking after us when there are earthquakes, tsunamis, and natural disasters that kill people in the thousands. What’s God doing at times like this? This notion of God is a very faulty one and it has to be supplanted by some other idea of God, which German theologians started talking about in the nineteenth century—the notion of God as being the ground of our being. When we talk about God, we are really talking about an essential part of our existence as individual people. That is a much more satisfactory way of talking about God. But then, of course, when you use that language, you are shedding the whole metaphysical and supernatural connotations that Christianity traditionally has employed.

For the rest of the interview, please check out the book, Seek The Lover Within: Lessons from 50 Spiritual Leaders.

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