Science in Christian Perspective
Spirit: God and Man
PAUL E. STANLEY
School of Aeronautics, Astronautics and Engineering Sciences,
Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana 47907
From: JASA 22 (Decemebr 1970): 148-152.
In his book, "The Gospel According to Peanuts," Robert Short1 speaks of that which is much discussed today: the language barrier between the Church and the world. He says,
The Church's missionaries to its 'cultured despisers' need to be as well acquainted with the languages of culture as the Church's missionaries to foreign lands are acquainted with the languages of the area into which they are sent.
Bishop John Robinson in "Honest to God"2 and others have
Christian concepts need to he restated for today's world3,4. They, in
to shed light on the difficulty, may have gone far afield from the
truth as held
by historical, evangelical Christian theologians. But anyone who
on the problem will have his difficulties.
What Is Spirit?
I have my beliefs inherited from my early years and crystallized after study of the Scriptures and writings on the Scriptures, and as I have trusted the Holy Spirit for guidance. However, I must confess doubts. "How", I wonder, "can I conceive of a God who can be described only as Spirit, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent? What is Spirit? Can I formulate an image which fits my faith, yet which is acceptable to my mind? One which helps, rather than hinders my spiritual growth? One which will help others to understand and which will lead them to be open to the ministerings of the Holy Spirit and to accept Jesus Christ as the Son of God and as Savior?"
A world enamored with intellectualism and material' ism, as is ours today, finds the postulation of a Spirit realm unacceptable. Instead it turns to science which tells it that the brain consists of billions of cells which are capable of storing information much as a computer memory stores information.5 Everything which happens to us from even before birth to right now puts an impression in a pattern of these cells. As life goes on there is built an ever-growing pattern which controls every future move and thought. In this concept "thought" is simply the "firing" of the cells in the brain memory units in some pattern which is controlled by previous patterns, all established by our encounters with the world around us or built-in instinct patterns. Truly, then, we are strictly the product of our environment. What we become is determined by our past. Even, we are told, our Christian experiences are established by our home life, Sunday School lessons and personal contacts. We just follow the easiest pattern in our memory.
Some of us become existentialists or follow some other philosophy which does not require a spirit or
Spirit realm. We can accept no God "up there or out there." All we will admit is that which is experienced in our life encounters. Pondering on the meaning of life from this viewpoint we see no future, no hope of truly lofty thoughts, literally nothing. We become gloomy Sartres or Kierkegaards. We even say "God is dead!"
But, somehow, deep inside us we know this is not right. We must be more than our electrochemical selves. So, we establish a concept of other than the nothingness this gives us and call it our "ground of being,"6 still trying to avoid what we "know" is true. We will not admit God and the Spirit realm.
A Scientific Approach
It is at this point that I feel that we abandon the science we seem to hold in high regard. Almost no (if any) scientific gain is made without postulating some entity or law. A theory is built upon that postulate or hypothesis and tried. If it works, good! If not we try again. The method is sound and we learn even the innermost secrets of the atom by its use. Why will we not apply the method to the spiritual phenomena which Christians accept?
As an example of the scientific method, consider the following example. In the early days of nuclear research, certain reactions never came out as calculated. A little bit of energy was lost in some unaccountable manner. Some researcher suggested that a small particle having negligible mass, and no charge, but capable of carrying energy must be the culprit. Thus was postulated the neutrino. Some years later, still having faith in the postulate, physicists proved the existence of the neutrino as a real energy-carrying particle.7 Can we not so postulate the spirit realm and God and put it to the test? True the test will not be in the laboratory of physics, but in the laboratory of life.
Instead of such an approach to the question of God or the problem of the Spirit or just what is the true concept of our "being", man always seems to go to one extreme or the other. He says, "since God has spoken to us, it is no longer necessary for us to think"; or "The divine law requires man to seek God by the rational methods of philosophy." (Tertullian vs. St. Augustine) 8,9 Neither is true. God does speak, but man must think, e.g., Prov. 25:210). On the other hand, man's thoughts cannot find God (Job 11.7)10 or the deep things of God (Job 11,7).10 His ways and thoughts are far above ours (Isa, 55:6-8 and Prov. 16:1),10 yet He is always available to us (Isa. 55:1-9).10 This is Barth's thesis in his work Credo, Chapter 2.12
Let us then try to be scientific and reasonable about God. Let us make a postulate and test it. Let us devise a scheme we can understand in words and patterns we can visualize and try to use it to help us explain what our reason doesn't seem to want to accept.
Professor Richard H. Bube15 of Stanford University has attempted to do this in his intriguing article "The Whole and the Sum of its Parts." He suggests that the spirit of man (and of animals) is the result of the manifold interactions between the many parts of the complex biochemical machine we know as the body. He thus moves a step beyond the purely mechanistic concept mentioned above. He maintains that the spirit is real and different from his body but that it does not exist apart from the body. It is at this point that a big question arises: What then is God? He is Spirit but He is not Body, at least of the human sort. Of what interactions does He consist?
In the following remarks, I have attempted to use some of the techniques of engineering analysis, the analog or analogy, and systems analysis and "black bodies" or block diagrams. I can only hope the results will be as helpful to others as they have been to me.
A scientific approach should be objective. It is to be hoped that objectivity is in what follows but that it is not so overriding as to be irreverant. My God is beyond understanding, else He is not God, thus spoke Augustine centuries ago ("Si comprehendis, non est Deus"). And so it is today. I stand in awe of God and worship Him in reverence. To Him is due all glory and honor. I seek to learn more of Him that I may wonder the more at His majesty, and that I may somehow know something more of His way. Yet I can never fully fathom Him.
This, then is my postulate. From all eternity, the Eternal Godhead was: the all pervading, infinitely, extending, omnipotent Spirit. In that Godhead was all knowledge, mercy, perfect judgment, and holiness. And in that Godhead, three Persons-Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each equally infinite, each omnipresent, yet each distinct in that which distinguishes persons. Here we again face a problem which we shall try to resolve later: "What is a person?" For the present I should like to use a mathematical term, viz., a singularity. A person is a singularity, or singular point in the spirit realm. So then I may say that the Trinity is a set of three singularities of the infinite Spirit of God. The influence of each is unlimited (or unbounded to use the appropriate mathematical term).
Possessing all Infinity, the Persons of the Trinity can be characterized neither by time, nor space, nor any other concept of man, yet they know both time and space. They created the time and space in which we live and seek to understand. In their common knowledge and wisdom They know the eternal verities of Themselves.
Our human mind is not capable of putting such thoughts into words, nor can we conceive, even abstractly, what we may feel. Is it any wonder that the Scripture says majestically and simply "In the beginning, God-"? (Gen. 1:1).10
An Analogy of the Spirit Realm
How can we describe this concept of the Spirit realm, of God, when it is beyond our understanding? Dare we use an analogy? Let me try to explain what I mean.
Once, to explain electromagnetic radiation and its propagation, late 19th century physicists postulated an ether which permeated all space, inter- and intra-molecular space, intergalactic space. Waves could be supported in this ether and propagated through it. Long waves were radio waves; short ones were light and still shorter ones were X-rays. Experiments were designed to test whether the earth moved relative to the ether.14
Slowly, prompted by Einstein's theory of relativity, the concept of the ether gave way to field theory.55 Electromagnetic radiation could be explained without postulating a medium. Yet there remained something comforting about a medium through which the waves moved, at least to the minds of some of us for whom abstractions are difficult. However, we bowed eventually to the theorist and abandoned our ether. Such is the progress of scientific thought.
Now I ask the question again: "Dare we use an analogy to the Spirit realm? Can we get a better grasp of an understanding of God by using a field concept as an analog?" To be sure, we can never understand God, and we shall eventually yield to the abstractionist, but maybe we can be helped by the analog to accept that which is beyond understanding.
So then, returning to our postulate of the eternal, all pervading infinitely extending Spirit, let us assume that it is like the electromagnetic and gravitational field. Our concept doesn't really explain anything, but helps us believe that such a Spirit is possible just as electromagnetic radiation exists and is propagated. Our next step is to examine the character of the Spirit "field," the "substance" of the Spirit of which some of the catechisms speak.
We have already spoken of the infinite knowledge of God and will refer again to the omniscience of the Godhead. In addition, He possesses the character of energy. That is, this is the best human explanation of the concept of Omnipotence. Especially is this true if we undertake to relate our analog to the theories of the creation of the physical universe. One of the more acceptable theories is that which Gamow calls the "Big Bang".16 A large amount of energy was converted to matter in some sort of explosion which sent the matter thus produced hurtling through space at tremendous speeds. At least one bit of the matter cooled over the eons and that bit is our Earth. Others remain hot and we see them as our sun and the stars. Some of them continue to move through space at speeds which made them appear to be receding from our earth at nearly 140,000 miles per second.
Once more let me say, the above concepts are no real explanation. They are theories, analogies, man's feeble attempts to put into words which he can understand the Infinite Creator and His acts. They simply say, "We don't know how it came about, but if God were Energy and if He can control Himself, then by our understanding of nuclear processes, we can calculate to some extent how it is true that "In the beginning Cod created the heavens and the earth," and "He is before all things and in Him all things hold together." (Col 1:17)10.
Person as Singularity
In a very real sense, one can say here with Bube and Paul that the Spirit is the binding force which holds all matter together, the Spirit of God and the spirit of man. However to limit it to this is pantheism of the first magnitude. God has become energy and the first or prime mover of the universe and the origin of all. Thus He is impersonal and, it would seem, ruled either by the "laws of nature" or chance.
Earlier we mentioned that it is possible to think of the idea of "Person" even in the context of the allpervading Spirit realm. We used the word "singularity". Once again, however we try, the analogy we use will, at best, he crude and unsatisfying. Yet, also once again, it may he that the analogy gives a picture for us to use until faith builds a stronger framework.
When a mathematical description is written for some systems, it is found that the description fits everywhere except at certain special cases,17 Take a simple example from trigonometry: the tangent of an angle. As the angle starts at zero and increases, the tangent also increases until its value goes to infinity at 90 deg.. Such a value is called a singular point for it has an unusual characteristic. Some mathematical relationships can be represented as a sheet. If we represent the relationship as an elastic sheet and imagine the picture we get if we push a sharp pointed stick up, lifting the sheet at one point to some height and stretching it from its normal level we have another sort of singular point.
Now if we can imagine that something like a singularity occurs in the Spirit realm for each member of the Trinity and that each singularity has the character of a person, then we have our analog a little bit further developed. We may extend the analogy still more if we imagine that for the Trinity the influence of each singularity is felt to infinity, and inversely that anything occurring anywhere within the Infinite Spirit is immediately sensed by each Person represented by a singularity. A still further extension is to give to the Spirit the property of containing in some fashion all knowledge of all events in all time. Perhaps we might assume that all knowledge of all time is stored in the Spirit in a manner like an infinite computer memory. Thus each of the singularities becomes not only Omnipotent but Omniscient and in a real sense Omnipresent, for the Spirit was postulated to be the all pervading "field."
By the postulates of "storing" of knowledge in the "Spirit field," there is no need for an anthropomorphic brain for the members of the trinity. Neither is it now difficult for us to think of postulates to "explain" other characteristics of God without resorting to the physical features of man. The concepts of love, holiness, righteousness, justice, judgment and others of this sort can be attributed to the special characteristics of the singularities. Thus we will have built an analog of the characteristics of God, the Triune Creator, Controller and judge of the whole of the Universe. Obviously, as we have said before, any analog usually leaves much to be desired and this one more than any. By a limited concept we have tried to represent the Infinite, but perImps the attempt will help to bring the reality of the revelation of the Presence of God given by the holy Spirit to us who name the Christ of God as Savior.
It seems reasonable to speak of the spirit of a man as of the same substance as that of God, but bounded
and centered around the finite singularity which is the person of the man. The influence of this singularity is limited and its contact with the Infinite is somehow restricted to certain areas defined by a finite time and space. We have already spoken of the fact that the Spirit of God is not limited but is infinite. Such a concept permits an indefinite number of "islands" or finite singularities making any number of men to exist from some beginning for each and extending eternally.
Let us try to develop this analogy to the place where it includes the relationship between manthe body (the animal, if you please) and man-the spirit (the image of God) and the Spirit of God. The analog must provide for the perfect relation between man and God at creation, for the Fall and the re-establishing of that relationship in Christ through the atoning work at Calvary (and man's faith).
I am certain that no one really begins to know the Holy Spirit by a logical argument. Rather, at some time He comes, the Cnnvietor and at once also, the Wooer. And man yields in faith. For any of several reasons, man acknowledges Jesus as the Christ and the Savior. He accepts this Savior as his own and in the Spirit is born again, a sun of God. If he grows in his Christian life, man comes to know the presence of the Holy Spirit in a variety of experiences, sometimes cataclysmic, sometimes through long years of gentle persuasion.
For the purposes of this paper, it will be necessary at times to argue in a mechanical manner. But it will also he necessary to make our picture coincide with the Scriptures. Therefore the logical starting place is Genesis 1:26 where we read, "Then God said 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; ...' And again 'Let us make him with the breath of life in him' (Gen. 2:7). And in paraphrase "Let us make him to live forever. Let us make him for the glory and pleasure of his Creator, the Everlasting God. Let its make him to be loved of God, and to love." (I Cur. 15:35, Rev. 4:11, John 3:16, I Jn. 4:8)10.
We cannot deny that man is a biological system very much like the animals. He is bone and flesh and blond. He has a nervous system with sensory perception. Through this system he has contact with the world. He has a brain which has control over his body -both the housekeeping part and his motor action. He has a memory. In his memory are stored his encounters with the world and in it and his nervous system are his instinctive actions. The babe doesn't need to be taught to nurse; that is there when he is born, it is instinct. He learns to do some things by habit. All this is the physics and chemistry we've spoken of before, and all of this is animal.
But God breathes the Breath of Life into man. In this act He made man not a hit above the tadpole, but a bit less than God. He gave man a hit of Himself. This is the bounded part of the "spirit stuff" around the singular point which is the person of man.
Tournier has described the person as not what we see of each other but as the real living being18. The real you, the real I. The person is the immortal spirit, the concept we have expressed above. Wrapped around the person is the body, but also the impression you make on me, your personage (or personality). The real I (or you) is the sinner, thought we may be saved by grace through faith in Christ, sinner none-the-less. The personage is the Church Chairman, the Sunday School teacher, the good man in his community. This is the
holy masquerade, all too often. Yet the real person, whatever he is, is loved of God for He created it; He breathed the breath of life into it and made it not just a bundle of bones and nerves but a living person whom He loved enough to die for at Calvary. And that person is in His image.
In his paper, Bube suggested that the idea of the spirit of man resulting from interaction made easier the description of when the fetus becomes a living being in the human sense. When the fetus is complete it has its spirit. The idea is an excellent one and can he incorporated in the concepts presented here. However, an extension is needed. When the Spirit of God has brought together and binds together the fetus, the spirit "stuff" forms the singularity described above. Once formed, it can be postulated the singularity exists eternally. Thus there is an explanation of the spirit's existence after destruction of the earthly body.
This concept in no way precludes the possibility or desirability of the "celestial" body of which Paul speaks in I Corinthians 15:4010. In fact, it provides a center around which the new or resurrection body is formed, and a continuity of the person. It provides for the perfected, glorified man who lives in joy with God in eternal life. It also provides for the spirit of the unregenerate man to continue in the eternal death of hopeless isolation from God.
A Block Diagram
Now let us try to display this as a block diagram, drawing on the previous concepts and also the concepts of engineering systems. We sometimes call the "blocks" black boxes10. We don't always know just what goes into the boxes, but we know something about what they do. So then the following is an attempt to help us see the whole picture of our relationship to God.
Some of the ideas of the diagram are self explanatory. Some refer to the physical life of man. We shall not spend time on them, but turn directly to the spiritual concepts.
Our diagram does violence to the Infinite God in that it represents the Spirit as a bounded region. This immediately points up the fact that analogs are seldom, if ever, able to represent the actual system. But I believe the idea is understandable within this limitation.
The spirit of man is not definable in terms of the physical or chemical activities of the body. Although it is separate from them it is able to affect these physiochemical activities. This means cannot be defined, but the effects are clearly observable. Tournier in The Healing of Persons20 cites case histories showing the interplay between man's spiritual and physical welfare. This we have shown in the diagram by lines of communication between the brain and the spirit. Disturbances of the spirit reflected in the nervous system affect the "housekeeping" part of our body. Hence it becomes impossible for us really to separate the parts. We are body, mind and spirit; and for the Christian, merged or joined with the Spirit of God.
This concept is important to us for when we accept the spirit of man as a real part of him, not a part of his physieo-chemical system but just as real, we reduce the problems of understanding in a vague way the existence and nature of God. It is the unwillingness of the materialist to admit the spirit which also makes him unwilling to accept God. It is reasonable to say that if one must choose between God and science, science which is observable to our physical senses must take first place. However, the Christian has, through the ministerings of the Holy Spirit, unshakable proof of the Spirit realm and the reality of the spirit of man.
To return to the model of man, we have noted that the spirit of man is able to affect the brain. It is able to establish patterns in the memory and to control the interchange of "nerve" impulses between the active or control portion of the brain and the memory. This is thought on the abstract level, i.e., without resultant body action and without reference to world encounters alone. This is, of course, the mind of man, these nerve impulses called thought.
From the complexity of the loops, it is obvious that any analysis of the system is not simple. The nature of the contents and responses of the "boxes" are not known and the interactions are far from understood. Even more beyond understanding is the nature of the Holy Spirit and His relation to the spirit of man.
For example, prayer is usually thought of as thoughts of words, even spoken words, which God "hears". But is this not conveyed through the spirit of Man? And then, is it not possible to commune with God in the spirit only, without using the mind? Is not this part of Paul's thinking in I Cor. 14,10 for example? Is it not possible that speaking in tongues is communication between the Spirit of God and the spirit of man, transmitted to the motor part of the brain and on to the speech mechanism without reference to the memory and the stored or learned method of speech, or learned language?
Dahlstrom21 discusses conscience as something unique to man. He implies it is not necessarily connected with religion nor is it a learned characteristic. Does this not imply that conscience and spirit are related? The nature of spirit includes righteousness since it is of the nature of God. In man the "amount" is limited, but it nonetheless gives man a base from which he works even though he has had no standards established by his encounters with the world.
A model such as ours gives some sort of feel for the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is He who provides the link between man's spirit and the Spirit of God. And it is He who makes it possible for that link to be strengthened as we turn over the control of our lives to the Spiritual part of us. Perhaps a better analog of this is found in the automatic computer. Mao's mind, in the picture we've drawn, is not the electrochemical action in the brain. It is the program in the logic of the computer as built there by the Creator and as modified by the programmer, the spirit of Man, and also as modified by outside disturbances, world encounters. For the Christian there is the Master Programmer, the Spirit of God, to whom the spirit of the Christian man is yielded, who can offset the effects of the world, the enticements to sin, and the nature of man's own sinful way.
Corollaries of the Model
Many ideas can be expanded by the use of these concepts and models. For example, if I have been reared in a "humanistic" society, I am moved to the desire to assist the needy. To the training I've had I may also add from my memory my own experiences in needing and receiving attention, food, clothing, etc. So I react as a humanist in society and give to the needy one. I offer my human love. However, if I am a Christian and am sensitive to the ministering of the Holy Spirit, I can now act in agape love. I will be moved with the compassion of God. The presence of the Holy Spirit and the communication links between Him and man's spirit makes man what he was created to be. It gives him what Luther called the "alien dignity of Man" for now his life is related to the glory of God.
Further the unity of the believer with Christ is now established in this pattern. When we have this relationship to Him, then truly we are aware that He has "The Whole World in His Hands," as the spiritual goes. When we are yielded to Him, the link between us and Him is so strong that we can say with Paul, "I have become absolutely convinced that neither death nor life, neither messenger of heaven nor monarch of earth, neither what happens today nor what may happen tomorrow, neither a power from on high nor a power from below, nor anything else in God's whole world has power to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom. 8:38-39)22.
We can say as a German sailor in World War I wrote his family, "If you should hear that I have fallen, do not weep! Remember that even the deepest ocean in which my body sinks in death is only a pool in the hand of my Savior. "23 Even in the remotest space, He is there and if I am in Him, nothing can take me from His love.
The Coming of Sin
At this point we would do well to review the course of the separation of Man from God, the breakdown of the communication channel between the spirit of Man and the Spirit of Cod. We review the coming of sin to man through his willful disobedience of God's law.
We begin by recalling the absoluteness of God's creation of the Universe, including Man. Man was created a body into which God "breathed the breath of life." He gave him a spirit; He made him a singular spirit with a bounded influence field in the Infinite Spirit of God. This was his person, and it was capable of a perfect relationship with God. Its communication link was fully active. In a very real sense, Mao was created body and spirit and in the Spirit of God. This was the creation upon which God looked and saw "it was very good," very beautiful. Man's blessedness was complete. He was in the image of God and in God.
However, God had created man with a will, patterned after His own, centered in his spirit perhaps, but also arising out of the mind. So Man chose to go His own way without regard to God, and this is sin. In His Infinite Righteousness God could do no less than cut off communications with Man in the perfect sense in which it had existed. No more was the link so strong that Man could he said to be in God. And this is death in the most horrible, real meaning of the word. God, in His Love and Mercy provided a means of repairing the break in communications, the death on the Cross of the Eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ. To Man, the sinner, was offered the repair as a gift to be chosen by Man of his own will even as he has chosen to go his own way, to sin. Thus the barrier separating the person of Man, his spirit, from its right relation with the Spirit of God, was lowered and the unity with Christ of which Paul speaks is made possible for him who will. This is the new birth.
Many other relationships could be described by our model, but space requires that we end our discussion here.
1Short, Robert L., The Gospel According to Peanuts, P. 13,
John Knox Press, Richmond, Va. (1965).
2Rohinson, John A. T., Honest to God, the Westminister Press, Philadelphia (1963).
3Cox, Harvey, The Secular City, The Macmillan Company, New York (1965).
4White, Hugh C. Jr., Editor, Christians in a Technological Era, The Seahury Press, New York (1964).
5Senders, John \V., Human Performance, International Science and Technology, No. 55, July 1966.
6Rohinsnn, op cit. p. 22
7Riehtmeyer, F. K., E. H. Kennard, and T. Lauritsen, Introduc tion to Modern Physics, p. 454, McGraw-Hill, N.Y. (1955),
8Tertullian, as interpreted by Fremantle, Anne, The Age of Belief, p. xii, also pp. 18-19, Mentor Books, New York 1962).
9Augustine, as interpreted by Fremantle, op cit., p. xii, also pp. 23-53.
10The Bible, Revised Standard Version.
11The Bible, King James Version.
l2Credo, Barth, Karl, Charles Seriboer & Sons, New York (1962).
13Bube, Richard H., "The Whole and the Sum of its Parts," J. Amer. Scientific Affil., V.18, p. 8, March 1966.
l4Perkins, H. A., College Physics, pp. 461-462, Prentice-Hall, New York (1938).
15Einstein, Albert and Leopold Infeld, The Evaluation of Physics, Chapter III, Simon & Schuster, New York (1938).
16Gamow, George, The Creation of the Universe, Mentor Books, New York (1957).
17Spiegcl, M. R., Theory and Problems of Complex Variables, p. 144, Sehaum Pub]. Co., New York (1964).
19Tournier, Paul, The Meaning of Persons, Harper and Row, New York (1957).
l9Murphy, G. J., Basic Automatic Control Theory, P. 132, Van Nostrand Co., Princeton (1957).
20Touroier, Paul, The Healing of Persons, Harper and Row, New York (1965).
2lDahlstrom, Earl C., Helping Human Beings, Public Affairs Press, Washington (1964).
22Phillips, J. B., The New Testament in Modern English, The Macmillan Co. New York (1967).
23Thielicke, Helmnt, How the World Began, p. 85, Muhlenberg Press, Philadelphia (1961).