Science in Christian Perspective
The New Baalism: God and Physical Theories
Terry A. Ward
2207 Thunder Ridge Blvd. Apt. 2-A
Cedar Falls, Iowa 50613
From: JASA 34 March 1982): 34-35.
The gap between the theologian's thoughts on the Almighty and the physicist's measurements of the creation are nowhere better summarized than in the following two quotations:
"What the universe was like at day minus one, before the big bang, one has no idea. The equations refuse to tell us, I refuse to speculate."1
". . investigators who leave out God, the raison detre of the universe, find themselves lamentably handicapped in dealing with cosmological questions."2
Here we have two eminent physicists arguing that God is not or is essential to the cosmological question.
This paper is devoted to an analysis and criticism of two recent attempts at bridging the gap between physics and theology. The two books of interest, The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra (Berkeley, 1975) and God and the Astronomers by Robert Jastrow (New York, 1978), appear to be quite different on the surface.
However, both authors attempt to relate a current "state of the art" physical theory to the idea and conceptions of the Almighty. The position of this paper is that such attempts, while quite sophisticated, are nothing more than a new Baalism; a Baalism of physical theory: a view of God that does no justice, and in fact grave injustice, to a sound Christian understanding of the creation and the Creator.
To consider Capra first, he makes the bold claim that certain aspects of physical theory, specifically in nuclear particle physics "force us to see the world very much in the same way a Hindu, Buddhist or Taoist sees it."3 His argument rests upon one particular approach to particle physics: the S-matrix theory of hadrons and the concept of the bootstrap idea.
Jastrow, on the other hand operates on the macroscopic scale and the evidence
for the origin of the universe in some sort of "big bang" provides the
basis for his wonderment at the lack of interest his colleagues have shown in
speculating on the "creator".
Both however, have fatal flaws of argumentation. The first is the assumption that their respective physical bases are the ultimate, definitive ones. Capra, specifically, would be quite damaged in his argumentation if the more recent emphases on the quark nature of particle physics were to become the paradigm of modern physics. This later model, of even more fundamental particles, would be quite damaging to his connections of physical complementarity and Eastern mysticism. Likewise, Jastrow's position would be damaged were it shown that physical laws do not break down at t = 0, so to speak.
A more fundamental objection could be raised however from a theological standpoint. Just as the Baals of the Old Testament were felt to occupy a particular niche 4,5 the "gods" of Capra and Jastrow are seen to be resident in their respective physical theories: the Eastern deity residing in Chew's bootstrap physics and the Western deity residing in the time before the "big bang".
A recent review of Carl Sagan's Cosmos series addressed this question of the relationship of God and physical laws when it was argued,
"If God is really there-like the New World and neutrinos-His reality is not destroyed by the inadequecy of our maps and concepts. "6
Likewise, in considering the relationship of science and the first chapter of Genesis, Ridderbos argues,7" The Old Testament certainly nowhere conveys the idea that man would be able to learn from nature to know God properly without knowing him as the God of the covenant." Thus, we argue that these two books, in tying God to their physical theories present what might be called a "God of the data". No longer is God placed in the interstices of our knowledge of the physical universe (i.e. the "god of the gaps"). Rather, he is now determined by the current physical theory in vogue. Such a position we hold to be poor science and even poorer theology.
However, stressing that we cannot drive ontological significance from the creation, we must nevertheless agree with Gilkey, "If God is said to be Creator, then He is inescapably present in all nature. . ."8
The question becomes, how does one construct a viable theology of creation that avoids both the "God of the data" and the "God of the gaps"?
As a beginning, we might keep in mind the words of an Old Testament creation Psalm: "The heavens are telling the glory of God" (Psalm 19: 1). We must always keep in mind this idea that all the heavens are telling "the glory of God". Our theology of creation must proclaim God's lordship over all nature and above all nature.
Lest we think this removes God from physics, we might remember the warning of Pyotr Kapitsa (a Russian physicist writing after the death of Stalin), "Dialectics alone cannot solve any scientific problem, and attempts to apply it as the unique clue to scientific correctness have hampered the progress of Soviet science.9" We too must resist the temptation to apply our latest theologizing to physics, or vice versa.
Likewise, a warning can be addressed to the scientist, "a 'how' explanation, if made the final type of explanation, ultimately drains finitude of its meaning and promise." 10 What Gilkey wrote in the 20th century concerning the "spheres" of science and religion was presaged by Calvin in his commentary on Genesis, ". . Astronomy is not only pleasant, but also very useful to be known; it cannot be denied that this art unfolds the admirable wisdom of God."11
Thus, one could argue that in theologizing, one deals with the "why" questions; and in physics with the "how". A brief look at the history of their stormy relationships over the years reveals that their greatest conflict arises when they cross these respective borders (e.g. the fundamentalist insistence on the "how" of creation as revealed in Gen. 1-3).
A second point is that too much emphasis has been placed upon the doctrine of the "instant" of creation. If our God is lord of all nature, the evidences of His sovereignity should be as evident today as they were 20 billion years ago. The latest Jewish translation of the Torah (Jewish Publication Society of America) seems to indicate this with its translation of Gen 1: 1 as "When God began to create. . . " The lordship of God is over all creation, not just the initial 10-11 seconds.
Barbour, writing before the current dominance of "big bang" models of the universe, told his readers, ". . the Christian need not favor either theory, for the doctrine of creation is not really about temporal beginnings but about the basic relationship between the world and God."12 I Fur-their, the work of O'Connor and Oakley argues that,"13 Tile principal theme of Genesis in all three of its main documentary sources is not that of beginnings but that of covenant."
Our understanding of the Creator therefore must possess certain qualities. Firstly, unlike Capra and Jastrow, the lordship of God is sovereign irrespective of the current "state of the art" in physical theorizing. As Murphy" argues, "the Christian doctrine of creation and its significance for modern physics are not dependent on this class (and I might add, any) of cosmological models."
Our doctrine of creation and Creator must not relegate His activity to a particular point in space or time. As Westermann reminds us,15 "God is God precisely because he is Creator and that means that he is lord over all that has been created." This latter theme of sovereign lordship is present in a nascent, polemical form in Genesis; specifically in the account of the creation of the stars (Gen. 1:19). Vawter16 reminds us that simply saying, ". . and he made the stars", the scriptural writer is being anti-astrological and anti-Babylonian. The writer reduces the stars from deities or demigods to, as Vawter phrases it, pieces of created matter adhering to the dome of the sky."
Perhaps as Murphy suggests, we need to return to a doctrine of the Creator as sustainer, or as Luther put it,17
"I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and a my limbs, my reason and all my senses, and still preserves them."
This emphasis is faithful to the biblical witness of the importance of God's continuing covenant with His creation and is faithful to the Church's witness of "God being with us". Returning to the Psalms, we can once again proclaim,"0 Lord, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth! (Ps. 8: 1)
1James Peebles, in God and the Astronomers (Norton, New York, 1978) by Robert Jastrow; p. 124.
2Milne, E. A. Modem Cosmology and the Christian Idea of God. (Oxford, 1952); p. 62.3Capra, F. The Tao ofPhysics. (Shambhala: Berkeley, 1975) p. 18.
4Gray, J. "Baal (Deity)" in Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible. (Abingdon: New York, 1962); vol. 1, pp. 328-329. This provides a brief, technical account of Baals and Baalism.
5Michener, J. A. The Source. (Random House: New York, 1965). In this fictional account of biblical eras, Michener provides a very readable and vivid account of the appeal the Baals' must have exerted upon the ancient tribes; cf. pp. 173-331.
6Matley, W. J. "Carl Sagan's Gospel of Scientism" in America 144 (5): 95-98 (Feb. 7, 1981).
7Ridderbos, N. H. Is There a Conflict Between Genesis I and Natural Science? (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1957); p. 62-69.
8Gilkey, L. Maker of Heaven and Earth (Doubleday: New York, 1959); p. 108, fn. 27.
9Kapitsa, P.; quoted in "Popular Science", Jeremy Bernstein, New Yorker (Oct. 8, 1979); pp. 169-175.10Gilkey., op. cit.; p. 72.
13O'Connor, D. and F. Oakley. Creation: The Impact of an Idea. (Scribner: New York, 1969); pp. 2-3.
14Murphy, G. L. "A Positive Approach to Creation". Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 32(4): 230-236 (December, 1980).15Westermann, C. Creation. (Fortress, Philadelphia, 1974); p. 44.
17Luther, M. The Small Catechism in Concordia Triglotta (Concordia: St. Louis, 1921); pp. 542-543.