Theoretical science has always made its leaps forward through unifications: previously disparate and complicated ideas are replaced by something much simpler and clearer that unites them. The new idea makes new predictions which can be tested. Time and again this has been so successful.
Sometimes a simple law seems to work superficially pretty well, but is found to break down under some conditions or require complicated modifications. Sometimes there are paradoxes and contradictions. Then another law is found which generalises it to work in a wider range of conditions.
Humans look for simple ideals and often we make over-simplifications. We end up tying ourselves in knots trying to make them work, with the result that our idea eventually becomes horrifically complicated! It’s only when we are prepared to let go of it that something genuinely simpler can take its place.
An example is the simple (but wrong) historical idea that the planets travel in circular orbits around the sun; to make it work there needed to be circles within those circles to explain why the planets sometimes appear to backtrack a bit through the sky, and so it was really horrendously complicated. The recognition that the orbits were actually elliptical was a great simplification.
In terms of metaphysics, the religious concept of God is a great example of our idealism – an abstraction and idealisation of all the good human qualities, a simple way of explaining the mystery of existence. For me, there are lots of problems, lots of areas where the theory just doesn’t work. Mercy and justice conflict when they are idealised (as do many other good qualities). Holy books written through the lens of an ancient culture cannot be a divine communication for all humanity. Morality cannot be divine if God saw fit to put us in a harmful world. Critical realism addresses some of these issues, but like the putting of circles within circles, it seems to me to be more complicated and convoluted than experience has led us to expect the truth to be.
Some of us more than others have a desperate craving for clarity and for the satisfying insight which forever eludes us. We are the awkward ones asking one more “why” than anyone else in the room. Experience (in life as much as in physics) has taught us to expect not laws that need to be altered for special cases, or patched up in places; but rather, laws that just work. That is quite an amazing observation in itself, one that inspires what can only be described as a religious fervour in us! Incisive, elegant theories that just work, in their perfect self-contained simplicity, are where our particularly existentially-troubled souls will be finally comfortable and that is where we are most likely to see God.
If the religious concepts are over-simplifications giving rise to complications, then letting them go in favour of something genuinely simpler is more satisfying for us. Any benefits we could glean from them would always be thwarted anyway by the pain of seeing problems others don’t see, constantly doubting and struggling to reconcile it all. Arguably by rejecting the comfort of over-simplified ideas and diving deeper into the unknown, we are having to overcome our egos in search of the truth. It is perhaps something to celebrate because in this sense we are transcending ourselves, transcending our very humanity, to strive to conform our minds to the Mind of the universe. (I’ll let you decide if that is a metaphor or not. :P)
And maybe it is far from over for us. Maybe there is a metaphysical general theory of relativity waiting to be discovered. 😉