Science in Christian Perspective
A Structured Model of Reality
W. JIM NEIDHABDT
Newark College of Engineering
Newark, New Jersey
From: JASA 23 (June 1971): 57-61.
A brief description of a model of reality that is hierarchical in structure is presented. A simple pictorial representation of the model is given. For this model faith is seen as a guide in relating one's world-view to actual reality; inherent in such faith is feedback between the individual perspective and the motivating and focusing processes of which faith is composed. Inanimate matter, life and consciousness, and spiritual qualities are seen to be distinct and unique though interrelated, levels of existence, The model preserves the order and openness apparent in all of reality while avoiding both reductionism and compartmentalization.
In recent years men of competence in scientific, philosophical, and religious
affairs have testified to the open-ended and yet ordered structure of reality;1
they have also pointed out the limitations present in any individual
of reality.2 The artist, the scientist, the psychiatrist, and the
possess very different outlooks on the world and yet truth exists in each.3 A
model of reality which the author believes does full justice to these factors
is now presented. This model of reality is based upon the fundamental
of Blaise Pascal and Michael Polanyi, and it is hoped that it incorporates the
many helpful insights of W. Thorson,4 D. Dye,5 and C.
COMPONENTS OF THE MODEL
As the author has argued earlier, faith is an integral part of all human understanding of reality. A faith-faculty (Pascal termed this "the heart") is analogous to a telescope by which an individual views the world, thereby formulating a particular perspective or world-view. Inherent in this faith-faculty of men is a continual feedback between the individual perspective and the motivation and focusing processes present in the "faith-telescope." Without this feedback between a given perspective and that part of reality focused upon, one would wind up selecting the data of reality to be studied in a random way; any perspective formulated in this manner would lack both clarity and simplicity.
Figure 1 illustrates the telescope-like role that faith plays in formulating a particular worldview. The faith faculty
1. motivates the search;
2. decides from what vantage point we view reality;
3. selects, focuses on what an individual perspective
considers significant; and
4. relates different aspects of reality to one another.8
Implicit in the telescope analogy is the limited nature of any perspective. Focusing on a wide area of reality results in a broad overview but it is difficult to identify and relate fine details. If we focus on a narrow
Figure 1. The role of faith in the formulation of a world-view.
B. of I.P. = blowup of an individual perspective
F.F. = faith-faculty (Pascal's "Heart")
F. = feedback
T. = telescope
A. of T. = area of tension
Faith is a necessary component of the probing and viewing processes by which man encounters all of reality and formulates a consistent picture of it.
area of reality, great clarity is possible but our perspective may be one-sided
and fail to recognize or appreciate much valid experience. Narrow focusing does
possess the advantage that the precision inherent in it enables
to be made of the soundness of any perspective.
In summary, faith is a necessary component of the probing and viewing processes by which man encounters all of reality and formulates a consistent picture of it.
The basic propositions of the reality-model are now presented so that further discussion may make use of the model. The propositions are:
1. Reality is structured in a hierarchial fashion; a hierarchy of qualitatively different levels exist.
2. These levels complement each other; some levels may even be mutually exclusive to one another but taken together they exhaust all valid knowledge of a segment of reality.
3. To view or accept the validity of only one level leads to a very incomplete world-view. Such a worldview is not consistent with all the levels of reality.
4. The levels of the reality structure are coupled to one another in the sense that they cannot be humanly separated (spirit is not separate from matter God become man). The coupling is furthermore unidirectional.
It is first seen that this model preserves the uniqueness of different facets of reality while not denying the existence of relationships between them; a simple compartmentalization of reality into different isolated segments is thereby avoided. The history of the conflicts between theology and science in the past has shown that simple separation of reality into spiritual and material realms has always resulted in the spiritual portion shrinking as time goes on.9 Aside from the pragmatic disadvantage for Christian apologetics, such compartmentalization goes fundamentally against the great Biblical evidence for the uniqueness and yet interconnectedness of Spirit (God) and matter. Reality is structured but exists as a whole. One's perspective then determines what is significant in a given part of reality. When different perspectives focus on the same portion of reality as illustrated in Fig. 1, tension can develop. Such tension can be genuine, arising from the fact that differing perspectives use very different methods of inquiry and are looking for very different things. Part of the tension may be false, a result of one perspective failing to recognize the limited nature of its outlook or misunderstanding another point of view.
Figure 2 illustrates the particular characteristics of a model of reality based upon a hierarchical level structure.
A Pasealian triad of levels is used for illustrative purposes; the level structure may be much more complex. It is immediately noted that the vantage point one views reality from is a great influence on the insights the particular perspective develops. In what follows, horizontal and vertical positions are taken to he analogous to the background and many temperamental, creative, and aesthetic traits that a man or group of men bring with them as he or they formulate a particular perspective.
A horizontal vantage point requires a wide focusing to encompass all the levels of reality with a loss of some detail. A narrow focusing from a horizontal vantage only examines one or a minimum range of levels. The perspective of the physical scientist given in the diagram10 sees only matter as valid experience; he would view life not as unique in character but reducible to a complicated physical-chemical phenomenon. The perspective of life and social scientist of the diagram sees life and personality as unique, capable of regulating matter but lacking the higher dimension of divine love.
Figure 2. A hierarchial model of reality, the Pascalian triad.
R.= reality which is composed of
L. & P.= life and personality
The structure is coupled as shown. Individual perspectives viewing reality are:
A. & C.= artist and Christian
C. & S.= Christian and scientist
L. & 5.5. = life and/or social scientist
P.S = physical scientist
T. = theologian
A Christian, well-versed in all the sciences, viewing reality from a horizontal vantage point, would see the further realm of supernature transcending and giving ultimate purpose to both life and matter, but wide focusing necessarily obscures some of the details.
A vertical vantage point allows even a narrow focusing to encompass all levels of reality and in this outlook great detail is present in the narrow-segment of all levels viewed. The Christian and the scientist, or the theologian of Fig. 2, illustrates this point.
In summary, the diagram represents a visual attempt to make clear the assertion that what you see depends on your background and outlook, what you consider significant. It should be stressed that to see reality as hierarchically structured, as existing and functioning at different levels, is not to deny God's sovereignty over each and every level. Each level has its own unique law-structure not reducible to those of levels below but utilizing the lower level's properties and regularities to accomplish those goals that are consistent with the richness and uniqueness of the higher level's law structure. God's trustworthiness and sovereignty guarantee the existence of laws in all levels of His creation which are both dependable and discoverable by humans made in His Image. To see certain levels as complementary to one another, as being mutually exclusive when observed from a human vantage point, is not to deny God's sovereignty as manifested both in the law structure of each level and in the hierarchy itself forming a unified whole, a cosmos (of all levels, complementary and non-complementary). Finally if reality is a whole, created and sustained by God, changes that occur at one level will affect the other levels. As one example, a man's physical condition will effect both his mental and spiritual states, or a fit of mental depression can result in both spiritual and physical downgrading. Similar examples can he cited for complementary levels. If we use the wave and particle descriptions for an elementary particle, each have characteristic properties related by their own law structures. One cannot observe phenomena in terms of the law-structure of one model without limiting the extent to which one can observe characteristics associated with the other model. Yet both descriptions are related to another by simple laws (Energy = Planck's constant X frequency, and momentum = Planck's constant/wavelength) and both descriptions while being mutually exclusive in terms of simultaneous observation, nevertheless taken together form an exhaustive, unified explanation of the diverse experimental behavior of elementary particles.
The Bible clearly teaches that qualitatively different levels of reality exist and these levels are arranged in a transcendent order. In II Corinthians 4:18 and Colossians 3:1,2, Paul asserts that the eternal realm of God is very distinct from physical existence:
Because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, (Au.: I trust the reader accepts the use of the word "above" (is pointing to a reaho transcending the physical and not as literally above the earth.)
The Bible further maintains that the transcendent
realm of Spirit permeates all the other realms of reality
and cannot be humanly separated from them. Psalm 139 testifies to the continual presence of God's Spirit; Colossians 1:16 emphasizes that in Christ all things hold together; God's transcendent presence permeates and maintains all of His physical creation, both living and nonliving. It is by recognizing that this higher "dimension" of God's activity upholds all physical existence that one can seek what is significant, thereby making proper value-judgments as to what should be done to hetter and to preserve God's physical creation. It is by faith, viewing God's objective acts in history, that we see the transcendent realm of God (supernature if you like) is responsible for the great ordering principles we have found present in both the physical
Christian theology clearly opposes the reductionism that application of ordering principles found in physico-chemical laws can lead to the development of moral, spiritual laws.
and moral realms. Note that Christian theology clearly opposes
that application of ordering principles found in physico-chemical laws can lead
to the development of moral, spiritual laws. Romans 1:19-20 states
of man and the external physical world points to a God who has created and who
sustains all nature. Indeed, there is ample evidence that man has
needs love, fears non-being, has longings for beauty and for meaning
be explained by purely animalistic or machine-like concepts. The nature of man
reflects his being made in the image of a God whose character possesses supreme
love and rationality. In a similar manner the great order found in the external
physical word cannot be explained in physical terms alone, but points
to a rational
Creator who sustains all his creation rationally." But mere
of God's existence, of His structuring man like Himself, of His providing and
sustaining an orderly creation, is not by itself sufficient to enable
one to understand
and obey the moral imperatives permeating the eternal realm of the Creator-God.
Only an encounter with the living God can lead to such understanding.
Eternity or Supernature, that realm where God's presence is not
hidden but clearly
seen, is qualitatively distinct from the created space-time continuum we live
in, yet it permeates and upholds it. Knowledge of God's realm and its relation
to the natural world comes to us by God's revealing acts of word and deed; such
knowledge does not come by human reasoning. In Figure 2 the arrow
the uni-directional nature of this coupling.
It is my conviction that other levels of reality are unique in character, though correlated, in analogy to the relationship of the spiritual realm to other realms. Life itself, while composed of matter obeying physicalchemical laws, is not merely a form that can be shown reducible to these laws. A variety of arguments can be given to justify this position. Niels Bohr12 has pointed out that attempts to measure to arbitrary precision• the physical-chemical processes existing in a living unit of molecular dimension will result in disturbance of the system, and such disturbance in the limit of ultimate precision results in the destruction of life present in the system. In other words, if we experimentally attempt to reduce life to just physics and chemistry, we wind up destroying life itself. Life's uniqueness is further seen in that a crystal or polymer displays a stability of form, while living matter displays a stability of process or function.13 In physical systems the amount of matter remains constant whereas in a living unit matter is constantly being replaced by metabolic processes.14 Also, life's perpetuation is not obviously explainable in purely physical terms. As Jaki15 points out:
This perpetuation consists in the production by one another of strictly identical and highly complex molecular structures. Such a phenomenon, when analyzed from the angle of quantum mechanical probability, becomes
as E. P. Wigner noted, 'a miracle from the point of view of the physicist. Startling as this conclusion may be, it is unavoidable in view of the following two considerations. The first comes from quantum theory, which states that the probability of self-producing states is zero. The second derives from the very process of reproduction, which is the succession of self-producing states.
Indeed, as Michael Polanyi16 has recently suggested, life's uniqueness can
be viewed as a hierarchy of boundary conditions acting on
in such a way as to maintain the health and growth of the organism.
A significant aspect of all living matter is consciousness, the awareness of one's own state and that of the surroundings. E. Wigner17 has given a number of interesting arguments to show that life and consciousness are a level of existence that is not reducible to the laws of inanimate nature. He first points out that alternate conceptual frameworks have been found to be valid in describing a given physical phenomena. Either conceptual level gives insight. Secondly, if one phenomenon is influenced by another phenomenon, in all known cases the latter one is also influenced by the former. As we clearly know that matter influences the state of our consciousness, so we would expect consciousness to alter the state of matter. Since the physical-chemical laws of today provide no such possibility, we would expect the reduction of life to these laws to be invalid. Lastly, Wigner points out that all extensions of physics were accompanied by drastic changes in the theory. The primitive entities of a given theory were replaced in a drastic manner by others. In the most successful physical theory today, quantum mechanics, observation and observables play the key primitive role. If the concept of observation, an essential aspect of consciousness, "is to be further analyzed, it cannot play the primitive role it now plays in the theory and this will have to establish regularities between entities different from the outcomes of observations." Life and consciousness can be understood adequately only in a much more open framework than the law-structure of inanimate nature. I believe that such an open framework may be far more congenial to spiritual truth.
S. Jaki has recently discussed18 the many efforts to provide a purely physical, cybernetic explanation of human consciousness. He considers in great detail the relationship of computers to physics, to the physiological structure of the brain, to psychological understanding of consciousness, and to thought itself. He does not find the uniqueness of consciousness threatened. lie pinpoints clearly how in analyzing consciousness one is immediately faced with experiences having no parallel in the physical world:
While in nature one finds a juxtaposition of extended objects, in the conscious perception spatially distinct elements fuse into a single field. While in the external world everything is separated in space and time, conscious memory brings into immediate relation objects and events occupying widely differing positions in the spatio-temporal coordinate system. Again, while in the four-dimensional space-time manifold of modern physics the dimension of time is on the same footing with the three directions of extension, time, as experienced in human consciousness, forms a unique class of its own. As a matter of fact, physics, to secure its own progress, had to divest the concept of time of almost all the richness implied in its conscious experience. Consciousness is accompanied by an awareness of esthetic and ethical values, at times held to be absolute, in marked contrast to the four-dimensional relativity of objects and events. Consciousness is the perceiving field of qualitative differences as opposed to the quantitative structure of external things. Consciousness is also the matrix of experiences about the self, about the purpose in action, and about the meaningfulness of judgments.19
A model of reality composed of qualitatively different levels is fully compatible with Biblical revelation and the physical universe.
Closely allied to consciousness is human thought. If words, or strings of words, were thought itself, bow could one be conscious of ideas without uttering words? Jaki's applications of Godel's theorem to the reduction of the human mind to a purely mechanistic model explainable in physical-chemical terms and to the relationship of human rationality to intuitive reflecting is suggestive. Godel's theorem says essentially that it is impossible to show that an arithematic logic is consistent by methods which could be represented in the logic itself. From analysis of this theorem, Jaki concludes that the crucial question of the mind-machine problem is:
whether it is possible in principle to construct one single mechanical model embodying every facet of the working mind. It is immaterial whether this model should be as compact as the brain, or whether it should consist of a long chain of units each of which serving as a proof of consistency to the immediately preceding one. In order for such a construction to qualify as a machine, it must be in some sense finite and definite, and as such, it would not have its proof of consistency within itself. It follows, therefore, that the mechanist cannot even in principle derive an individual machine that might serve as an adequate model for the mind. And since machines are of necessity built of physical or chemical components, it also follows that the human mind cannot be fully explained in terms of physics and chemistry20
Furthermore, concerning rational thought:
What Godel's proof brings out so forcefully is that rationality, consistency, and anything that forms the bedrock of human reasoning is not merely a set of formal steps but implies the instinctive ability of man to reflect on the correctness of those steps. The fact that the mind cannot derive a formal proof of the consistency of a formal system from the system itself is actually the very proof that human reasoning, if it is to exist at all, must resort in the last analysis to informal, self-reflecting, intuitive steps as well. This is precisely what a machine, being necessarily a purely formal system cannot do, and this is why Godel's theorem distinguishes in effect between self-conscious beings and inanimate objects.21
If rational thought requires intuitive steps, faith can play a valid
role in all
human understanding, not merely religious understanding. Jesus
Christ, who created
and upholds all of reality, stressed the ultimate uniqueness and significance
of personality, of personal relationships based on trust or faith of
men towards God and themselves. Is it not reasonable to therefore assume that God
all of reality in such a way that faith is required by man in order to gain an
understanding of it?
What has been attempted here is to show that a model of reality composed of qualitatively different levels is fully compatible with Biblical revelation and the physical universe. The exact number and nature of the levels required for this model to be completely comprehensive is left open. Also, the uniqueness of life and consciousness, and the rational and emotional capabilities inherent to the human mind have been discussed and related to the material and spiritual realms. It is seen that the Pascalian insight which views mind and matter in the context of a level structure related uni-directionally is still a fruitful path to progress:
Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapour, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this.22
In summary, it is seen that a hierarchical model of reality, as represented in
Figures 1 and 2 avoids compartmentalized and reductionist world-views. It is my
hope that this approach can serve as a framework from which one can comprehend
the richness of existing reality and easily and systematically incorporate new
knowledge into it. Such further development must fully meet the criteria 23 for
any theory to have validity. That is, it is noncontradietory in
nature and capable
of yielding a systematic and consistent perspective.
A further test of any theory or model is its ability to point out areas of significant research. The model under consideration holds the view that a transcendent realm maintains all creation and holds man responsible for what he does to the created world; the model also sees living creatures as possessing unique organizational features and relationships as compared to inanimate matter. Both pictures thus see the study of the relationships and interdependence of living creatures upon one another and the environment as important a study as the physical and chemical structures of such creatures. Such an approach is not meant to detract from the potential of molecular biology of which Dr. Warren Weaver, former director of research at the Rockefeller Foundation has said:
I am convinced that molecular biology has now reached a point where it can make, over the next five to twenty-five years, some extraordinary advances in the general field of molecular analysis and interpretation of nenrophysiological problems 24
It is meant rather to point out clearly the importance of organismic biology25
in which the whole is indeed more than the parts;26 the structure and
of individual parts leads to qualitatively new features in living
as atomic structure is qualitatively very different from a simple sum
particle properties. The insights to this model of reality
therefore leads to a renewed interest in organicism
and the allied study of ecology which the extreme reductionism of certain scientific viewpoints has tended to downgrade.27 Certainly the rapidly deteriorating conditions of spaceship earth testify to the folly of worldviews that ignore the significance of ecological relationships; the model under consideration thus leads to a very fruitful area of inquiry.
1Michael Polyani, Personal Knowledge, Harper Torchbooks, New York (1964) Stanley L. Jaki, The Relevance of Physics. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1966. Stanley L. Jaki is a Roman Catholic priest with doctorates in both physics and theology. He has been a visiting member of Princeton's Institute of Advanced Study. His book is a scholarly exposition of both the limits of physics and the great contributions it has given to culture.
2Jaki, op. cit.
3Charles Hummel. Journal ASA Vol. 20, No. 2, pp. 62-64 (1968)
4Walter Thorson, "The Concept of Troth in the Natural Sciences," Theoselios, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 27-39 (1968)
5David L. Dye, Faith and the Physical World: A Comprehensive View, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids (1966)
6Humnel, op. cit. and "The Scientific Revelation in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries," Journal ASA Vol. 20, No. 4, pp. 98-104 (1968)
7W. Jim Neidhardt, "Faith and Human Understanding, Journal ASA, Vol. 21, No. 1, pp. 9-15 (1969)
9Hummel, op. cit. (2nd ref.)
11Fraocis A. Schaeffer Death in the City, Inter-Varsity Press, Chicago (1969), pp. 91-107.
12Niels Bohr, Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge, Science Editions, Inc., New York (1961), pp. 8-9.
13Jaki, op. cit., p. 328.
14Ibid., p. 328.
15Stanley L. Jaki, Brain, Mind and Computers, Herder and Herder, New York (1969), p. 66.
16Polanyi, "Life's Irreducible Structure", Science, Vol. 160 (1968), pp. 1308-1312. See also Journal ASA, 22, 123-131 (1970).
17Eugene P. Wigoer, Address at AAAS meeting, Boston, Dec. 27, 1969.
18Jaki, Brain, Mind and Computers.
19Ibid, pp. 118-119.
20Ibid, pp. 216-217.
2llbid, pp. 220-221.
22Blaise Pascal, Pensees, The Modern Library, Random House, New York (1941), p. 116,
23Fraocis A. Schacffer, The God Who Is There, Inter-Varsity Press, Chicago (1968), pp. 108115.
Edward John Carnell, An Introduction to Christian Apologetics, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids (1952), pp. 45-62.
Both Carnehl's and Schaeffer's hooks have excellent discussions of the criteria a theory must possess if it is true.
24Victor Coillemin, The Story of Quantum Mechanics, Charles Schribnes's Sons, New York (1968), p. 119.
251an C. Barbour, Issues in Science and Religion, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N. J., (1966), pp. 326-27.
26Richard H. Bube, "The Whole and the Sum of Its Parts," Journal ASA, Vol. 18, No. 1, pp. 811 (1966).
27Jaki, op. cit., p. 327.