Science in Christian Perspective



Science as Allegory
Westminster Theological Seminary
Chestnut Hill
Philadelphia, Pennsylva
nia 19118

An earlier version of this article and its sequels was presented at the 1981 Wheaton College Conference on Christianity and Mathematics. In making revisions I have profited from criticisms and suggestions of many.

From: JASA 35 (June 1983):

A new perspective on science can be gained by viewing the universe as God's choral poem. Within the poem are many analogies and metaphors. Science concentrates on using a certain kind of controlled metaphor, the model.

The universe is God's choral poem, and science is a system of allegories within it. That is the thesis that I propose to expound and defend. Yet it is not a "thesis" at all, if the word " thesis" commits me to a certain kind of strict logical defense. I am not putting forward my thesis that science is allegory as the endpoint of a deductive or inductive argument. Rather, it is a springboard for a program of exploration and reflection that turns upside-down some conventional ways of thinking about science.

Open-endedness of Metaphor

I don't exactly envision myself as repudiating the bulk of what has been said about philosophy of science. Nor do I repudiate what I myself have written about the classification of the sciences and their relations to one another in Philosophy, Science, and the Sovereignty of God (1976). But I have gone on an intellectual odyssey since the days when I taught mathematics. The odyssey has brought me to the place where I am less interested in explaining everything by assigning it to its pigeonhole. I am more interested in asking some questions and setting in motion a train of thinking that will "shake things up." I have developed a considerable sympathy, if you will, for an approach like that in Wittgenstein's Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics (1967), where things that we usually take for granted seem to become mysterious once more. I propose, then, to view science in a new light using the analogy of poetry. In this present article I intend to develop a global view of science. In two 'Subsequent articles I focus on Newton's laws and on mathematics as two particular illustrations. 

First of all, then, let us set science in a still larger context - the context of the universe. The universe, I say, is God's choral poem. That is, it is a dramatic poem authored by God, in which one bears not only the voice of God but the voices of a whole "chorus" of created things, including the voices of human beings. I intend in saying this not to provide the ultimate key to the texture of our world, but to invite the use of a perspective. I want to stimulate your thinking and mine by the exploration of a metaphor and what it suggests.

The World Personally Structured

I choose this metaphor for several reasons. First and foremost, I want to suggest thereby the exhaustively personal character of the world that we live in. The world is a personal home for human beings, individually and collectively, because it is the product of the creating activity of our personal God. God, who is an infinite person, created the world and sustains it as a home suitable for us as finite persons. Christianity (along with its heretical sisters Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, etc.) is alone among religions in its insistence on a personal absolute. Polytheism has personal gods who are not absolute in their sovereignty. At the other extreme, Vedantic Hinduism, pantheism, Platonism, and the like have an absolute, but the absolute is ultimately impersonal. Even among "Christian heresies," Mormonism is in danger of losing the absoluteness in a plurality of gods, while Islam and modern Judaism are in danger of losing personality in an abstract fate or legalism.

Science itself can be made into a kind of religion. Modern scientism pretends that science provides an ultimate and exhaustive world view. In this world view, all things reduce finally to a system of laws of nature. Thus, the values of scientific method and technology have become ethical absolutes; physical law is the metaphysical impersonal absolute. These are absolutes, but they are ultimately impersonal. Hence, to sinful man's relief, they do not threaten to call him to account for rebellion, ingratitude, selfishness, or oppression. Modern man has made impersonal whatever absolutes he has left, because he has a guilty conscience. He is in flight from God.

Underlying much of the day-to-day work of modern science, there is an atmosphere, often only implicit, often unconscious or only half-conscious, of presupposing absolutes that are impersonal. The effects are more widespread than one might first suppose. When an American gets sick, he runs to the drug store or the doctor. As a second thought, if at all, he prays or runs to his pastor or church elder. Why? Partly, I suspect, because he has been educated to think that sickness is a mere biological process subject to undeviating impersonal laws. With respect to these laws, prayer is irrelevant. In practice, therefore, James 5:14-15 has ceased to exercise a controlling role in his life. This is but a tiny example of a pervasive problem in our culture. People sense that God has vanished from modern life. In the "important" decisions God is irrelevant, because what happens happens under the control of the impersonal laws uncovered by natural sciences and social sciences.

I do not believe in such impersonal laws. There is no machinery, mathematical or otherwise, behind the visible phenomena of everyday life, holding everything in place. It is not machinery or Maxwell's equations that makes the universe tick. It is God. God rules the universe directly (cf. Ps. 104:14). God is so consistent and regular about it that we can plot his activity with mathematical equations. Let me put it another way. God rules the universe by his word (e.g., Ps. 33:6; Lam. 3:37-38). Because his word remains faithful and stable (Ps. 119:89-91), the doctor can act effectively and the drug we take has consistent effects. Elsewhere I have already defended this viewpoint of God's involvement in the world at some length (Poythress 1976). Because it is so alien to the thinking of modern man, I wish that I could take some time here to defend it again. But it seems to me more profitable at this time to develop my metaphor of poetry. As I develop the metaphor, you will perhaps be able to see how the predictive and integrative power of scientific laws is in fact a consequence of God's consistent involvement in ruling the world. "Law" is a personal regularity of action.

The World as Linguistically Structured

With the metaphor of poetry I achieve a second result. I invite us to consider the universe as language. Speaking, thinking, communicating, planning, proposing, commanding, understanding, and so on, are all deeply personal activities, and all are intertwined with language. The Bible invites us frequently to view God's activity from this point of view. God is the great king, ruling his realm by issuing verbal commands. Psalm 33, reflecting back on the account of creation in Genesis 1, summarizes it thus: "By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth" (33:6). "For he spoke and it came to pass. He commanded, and it stood forth" (33:9).

Using one metaphor or perspective on God's activity in the world, we may say that everything that God does, he does by speaking. "Who has commanded and it came to pass, unless the Lord has ordained it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and evil come?" (Lam. 3:37-38). God's speech, of course, is not simply identical with the result in the created world. The trees, animals, and humans are not a part of God, or a part of God's word, but rather a response to his word. Nevertheless, the response definitely corresponds to what God specifies. It matches. "God said, 'Let there be light,' " and there was light-not a unicorn! The created world, as a result of God's speech, bears within it from top to bottom a kind of quasilinguistic character. The created world is not a language in a narrow literal sense. But can we say that it is language-like in its structure and properties? Can a metaphorical or "poetic" extension of the idea of language illuminate the character of creation? Through God's act of creation, things in the world themselves become wordless voices to the praise of God. "The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork" (Ps. 19:1). The created universe may be thought of as a poem, embodying as a created thing the impress of God's kingly metaphorically speaking, a "language" answering back to choral participants in a many-authored poem, with God as choirmaster.

The World Shot Through with Metaphor and Analogy

Using the metaphor of the universe as poem has a third benefit. It draws attention to the pervasiveness of analogy and metaphor built into creation itself. Human beings are made "in the image of God. - A human being is a metaphor for God, if you will. A human being represents on a created level an analogue of the uncreated God. He lives, speaks, thinks, plans, makes moral judgments. God likewise lives, speaks, thinks, plans, makes moral judgments. But God is the source and standard for human beings in every respect, so that the two can never be equated. If the human being is a metaphor for God, the animals and lower creation are, perhaps, in certain limited ways a metaphor for the human being. Hence in the parables Jesus can take lessons from the growth of a seed or the lostness of a sheep and apply them to the human situation.

The universe is a poem shot through with metaphors. As in any good poem, the metaphors interlock and form multidimensional patterns that enrich the mind by their richness. And the human being is a poet. He or she is a poet in the image of the great Poet-Creator. In "listening" to the universe as God's poem, he hears a chorus of voices: the voice of each created thing, and, corresponding to them, the original voice of God to which they are a response. So his interpretations of the great Poet's poem are in turn metaphors for the Poet's thinking.

I do not know whether what I am saying seems to you closer to serious philosophizing or closer to a free and rather  fanciful flight of imagination. There was a time when I would  have been prone to write off the above exploitation of  metaphor as not only imprecise (which it is), but fanciful, fictional, and therefore ultimately useless. I don't think so  now. I agree with the theoreticians who advocate an "interaction theory" of metaphor (I. A. Richards 1936, Max Black 1962, Paul Ricoeur 1977, Marcus Hester 1967). According to this view, metaphor juxtaposes two domains of thought, and by doing so sets in motion a complex interaction of those  domains that opens up a new way of looking at the world. I am trying to do this by saying, "Look at the world as God's choral poem. " So bear with me.

I have said that the human being as the image of God is poetic interpreter of the poetry in creation. The scientific enterprise forms one aspect of this interpretative task. In fact, science can largely be understood in terms of work in creating, developing, exploring, testing, extending, modifying, enriching, and sometimes discarding a special species of  metaphors, namely models.

What do I mean by a model? If metaphor is defined as the  genus, model is a species within the genus. One way of  defining metaphor is to say that a metaphor is a piece of  discourse that brings together and juxtaposes two distinct spheres of life, inviting us to explore the connections and analogies between them. Following Max Black (1962:38-47),  we may label the topic or sphere of life about which the  speaker wants to comment the "principal subject." The  sphere of life juxtaposed with this in order to make the comment, we label the "subsidiary subject." Consider the metaphor "Herod is a fox." The principal subject is Herod; the subsidiary subject is foxes. The statement as a whole asks  us to view Herod, the principal subject, in the light of what  we already know about the subsidiary subject. Or, again, in Luke 6:43 Jesus says, "no good tree produces bad fruit." In  the context, this is a metaphorical statement in which the  principal subject is the relation between men's hearts and  their actions. The subsidiary subject is the biological production of fruit.

Now a model is a special kind of metaphor where a detailed, controlled correspondence is set up between two spheres. The "principal subject" of the model is the thing or process in the world that is being modeled. The "subsidiary subject" is the known, easily manipulable thing used to do the modeling. The word " model," in fact, is often used to denote primarily the subsidiary subject; the principal subject then  remains in the background. Models can be physical (a scale  model of a ship), mechanical (pipes with water in them to

Vern Sheridan Poythress is presently Associate Professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary. He has a particular interest in interpretive principles, based on his background in linguistics and apologetics. He holds six earned degrees, including a Ph.D. in mathematics from Harvard University, a Th.D. in New Testament from the University of Stellenbosch (South Africa), and ,masters degrees in biblical studies from the University of Cambridge and Westminster Theological Seminary. He has also taught linguistics at the University of Oklahoma. He has published a book on Christian philosophy of science, and articles in the areas of mathematics, philosophy of science, linguistics, hermeneutics and biblical studies. Dr. Poythress is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America. He is unmarried, and has side interests in fantasy, string figures, volleyball, and microcomputers.

represent electrical current; billiard balls to represent the molecules of a gas), or mathematical (Maxwell's equations).

Contemporary philosophers of science disagree about the role of models in science, and about whether models are theoretically dispensable. As you may guess, my sympathies are with those who see models as playing a vital and indispensable role (see Black, Kuhn, Hesse, Turbayne). I suspect, moreover, that it is impossible to have an effective mathematical model of something without having some " richer" context of interpretation to guide the creative use and application of the mathematics. Thus the Schri5dinger equation is thought of as describing a density wave, and the operators in quantum mechanics are labeled suggestively to correlate them with idealized measurements.

The universe is a dramatic poem authored by God, in which one hears not only the voice of God but the voices of a whole "chorus" of created things, including the voices of human beings.

I realize that scientific description and poetic description are often thought of as diametrically opposite to one another. But I am not the first to have suggested that they are both descriptions heavily exploiting the potentials of metaphor. The distinctiveness of scientific description is largely the distinctiveness of its special species of metaphor, the model. I have said that a model is a controlled metaphor, setting up a detailed correspondence. In fact, I believe that controlled, detailed correspondence is a matter of degree. There is a continuum, if you will, between science and poetry.

Moreover, in the early stages of the development of a scientific theory, the root metaphors being used are less controlled. Only over the course of time do the scientists learn how to specify in detail those aspects of the subsidiary subject that are relevant to the model, versus those aspects that are irrelevant. In this connection, Max Black (1962:226) quotes some illuminating passages from the reflections by James Maxwell on the development of electromagnetic theory.

The results [of this simplification and reduction of experimental results] may take the form of a purely mathematical formula or of a physical hypothesis. In the first case we entirely lose sight of the phenomena to be explained; and though we may trace out the consequences of given laws, we can never obtain more extended views of the connexions of the subject. If, on the other hand, we adopt a physical hypothesis, we see the phenomena only through a medium, and are liable to that blindness to facts and rashness in assumption which a partial explanation encourages.

The "blindness" and "rashness," I might point out, relate to the fact that the investigator is likely to overlook anything that his physical model leaves out, and to deduce consequences from aspects of the physical model that later prove to be disanalogous or irrelevant to the facts (the "principal subject") that it is intended to model. What will later be a strict "model" is at the beginning still an uncontrolled metaphor.

Maxwell continues:

We must therefore discover some method of investigation which allows the mind at every step to lay hold of a clear physical conception, without being committed to any theory founded on the physical science from which that conception is borrowed, so that it is neither drawn aside from the subject in pursuit of analytical subtleties, nor carried beyond the truth by a favourite hypothesis. (Black 1962:226 from Maxwell 1890:155-156.)

For electromagnetic theory, Maxwell adopts the model of a frictionless fluid.

By referring everything to the purely geometrical idea of the motion of an imaginary fluid, I hope to attain generality and precision, and to avoid the dangers arising from a premature theory professing to explain the cause of the phenomena. (Black 1962:226-227 from Maxwell 1890:159160.)

Maxwell's "generality and precision" arise from the power of the metaphor of a fluid to suggest a whole system of deductions. Using the metaphor of a fluid, a detailed correspondence is being set up between the mathematics on the one hand and electromagnetic phenomena on the other. Maxwell also speaks of the "dangers" of a "premature theory" to warn against extending the analogy beyond its proper sphere. He did not envision that we should ask about the heat, weight, color, boiling point, etc., of this fluid, as we might ask about an ordinary fluid. In the end, it is Maxwell's completed theory as a whole that specifies just what aspects of ordinary fluids are relevant. These aspects, and these alone, are to be used in reasoning about electromagnetism.

But a model always remains somewhat open-ended. Scientists are free later on to modify judgments about which aspects of ordinary fluids are relevant to electromagnetism, and in what way they are relevant. For example, it appears that Maxwell himself, and Lord Kelvin even more, believed that electromagnetic fluid (ether) defined motion and rest with respect to itself, just as ordinary fluid did. It remained for Einstein to challenge this aspect of the older model. And by proposing the interchangeability of mass and energy, Einstein also showed that the concept of weight, thought to be irrelevant by Maxwell, could be applied to the electromagnetic field.

A scientific model, then, is a kind of metaphor. It is an extended, controlled metaphor, selected out from the giant system of metaphors which is the universe, created by God as his poem. An extended, controlled, detailed metaphor is an allegory. A scientific model, therefore, is an allegory within the universe-poem. It is poetry choosing the allegorical mode of expression.

Science as allegory? Why should that sound odd? I'm not sure. It makes sense. A model is an extended, controlled, detailed metaphor, that is, an allegory. But what makes us think that science and allegory are not the same thing at all? I would suggest three possible reasons.


The usual type of allegory has very limited, if any, predictive value. The allegorist puts a story together on one plane (the subsidiary subject) in order to express truth on another plane (the principal subject). But stories in general could be put together in many other ways. The story is _ artificially constructed," Yet isn't it true that Maxwell's fluid is also artificially constructed? For instance, Maxwell had to specify that the fluid was "frictionless." Moreover, the best of allegories do give insight about their principal subject (not just entertainment and repetition of what is known).

Difference in Choice of Subsidiary Subject

Second, allegories typically use as their subsidiary subject stories about "ordinary life" focusing on persons and personal interaction. Contemporary scientific models, by contrast, typically use mechanical and mathematical models. This, perhaps, is getting closer to the points of most striking difference. The abstract simplicity of scientific models makes them a more fitting starting point for controlled prediction. Yet the differences here can be exaggerated. Is it possible that an allegory like Pilgrim's Progress might be quite useful in giving insight on the basis of which to make psychological predictions about responses to the Christian message?


Third, what about the question of reality? Does the modern West perhaps tend to think of scientific models not as models, metaphors, analogies of "reality," but as reality itself? The oddity of calling science allegory may be partly emotional. Allegory is today out of fashion. It is "mere" fiction, "mere" idle imaginative fancy. Science, on the other hand, gets us to the rock-bottom truth about the nature of the universe. Haven't you been told that the sun "really" doesn't rise? That tables are "really" not solid, but bundles of protons, neutrons, and electrons surrounded mostly by empty space?

Well, I disagree with this modern viewpoint. I think that the sciences furnish us with a set of useful analogies or allegories, not with "reality itself." Scientific models provide one perspective on the world, a highly useful perspective for certain limited and well-defined purposes. The "metaphors" of science do "hold true" to a large extent. As such, they truthfully describe aspects of the universal choral poem. They provide true statements about the world. But science does not provide the only kinds of metaphors or the only "true" perspective. I maintain, moreover, that the sun does rise and that tables are solid. People who think otherwise, under the influence of a so-called scientific world view, are mesmerized by the power and impressive achievements of an allegory.

All this I say to provoke some reflection and reconsideration. But before you try to refute me or write me off as a medieval throwback, pause to consider. I think I can refute scientism, whereas scientism cannot refute me. First, scientism cannot refute me. I quietly accept all the triumphs of scientific explanation and technological invention as so many evidences of the coherence of God's choral poem. " has been careful and consistent in the construction that underlies these allegories of ours, and so we can use them to predict and invent.

On the other hand, I think that it is possible to refute scientism. That is, it is possible to refute the sort of view of the world naively thought to be implied by the discoveries of modern science. Ludwig Wittgenstein has already pointed the way. His argument goes as follows. Tables and such are paradigm cases of what it means to be "solid." One destroys the rules of the "language game" for the word "solid" if one forbids its use in the context of tables. Likewise, though the rising of the sun is perhaps not exactly a paradigm case of " rising," it is close enough to a paradigm to make problematic the meaning of "rising" when we start tampering with the " naive" language about the sun. Now, atomic physics and solar astronomy are specialized "language games" parasitic on everyday language. To use them to abolish everyday language-or the potential for infinite varieties of metaphor-is to destroy the foundations of intelligibility. As Wittengenstein aphoristically puts it, "I must not saw off the branch on which I am sitting" (1958:27, #55).

Am I quibbling here? Does it really matter whether I treat a scientific model as ultimate truth or as fruitful allegory? Well, it matters to me that we become aware of the fact that there are many other metaphors, alongside of the standard ones used in current scientific models. These metaphors can be a source of insight and creative thinking. True statements can also derive from the stimulus provided by such alternative metaphors.

But it matters to me for another reason as well. To view the world ultimately and exclusively in terms of the models of modern science is to view it ultimately mechanistically, impersonally. We too easily slip into a virtual denial of God's presence. The Bible's own presentation is different. God is the chief "reality" with which to reckon; he is the center of things.

There is yet another factor to consider, related to the hierarchical structure of creation. The cosmos, according to Genesis 1, is created with a certain hierarchical structure. The first three days of creation present us with the unfolding of three realms of activity, each including polar contrasts: (1) light and darkness, (2) heavenly and earthly waters, (3) sea and dry land, with vegetation on the land. The last three days present us with "rulers" over these realms (though the correspondence is not perfect). (1) The heavenly bodies have charge over light and darkness (Gen. 1:18). (2) Birds and fish have charge respectively over heaven (1:20, 28; but cf. 1:22) and waters (1:20). (3) Land animals have charge over dry land and vegetation (1:30). Crowning all is man, male and female, created to have charge over everything under heaven (1:28-30). One can plot out a hierarchical structure: the lower orders find their explanation and purpose in their service to the higher.

But modern science, or at least modern "scientism," dreams of completely reversing their hierarchical order by explaining not only animal life but man himself in terms of paradigms taken from the inorganic realm. Starting with mathematical or mechanical elements characterizing rocks just as much as men, it proposes to articulate the laws governing men. Man the personal is subjected to the impersonal in inanimate "laws," rather than subduing the impersonal and inanimate under himself.

But why not say that, instead of impersonal laws, what we have is the personal faithfulness of God (e.g., Jer. 31:35-36, 33:20)? Why not indeed imagine that when the winds blow, it is because God sends the hosts of angels to make them blow (more or less after the pattern of Ps. 104:3-4, cf. Heb. 1: 71 Ps. 18:10, Ezek. 1:4ff)?[I am indebted to my colleague John M. Frame for this illustration.] I am desirous, then, that we not be confined to mechanistic models, nor be seduced by them into forgetting that a mechanism implies a personal designer.

Before coming down to earth and talking about particularities of specific scientific models, I have still to mention three more insights to be gleaned from viewing the universe as God's poem.

The World Utterly Dependent on God

First, by speaking of God's poem, I mean to stress that the universe is utterly dependent on God, as a poem is dependent on its author. The poem exists, of course, there in print. It is not a part of the author or merely a dream in his mind (as if the universe were God's dream, destined to vanish when he wakes up). It is an object of his making. But what it is in every detail derives from its author. This is so even with an ordinary poem. But the universe-poem, I have said, is a choral poem. There are other speakers besides God. They each have a meaningful part of their own. At the same time, their meaning is found in their response to the all-comprehensive speech of God himself.

Colossians 1:16 and other passages tell us clearly that everything originated from God. There is no eternally existent prime matter or energy. God always was, but everything else had its origin and its being from him. But that is not all. The universe is no clockwork, wound up and left to run. It is continuously superintended by God's personal activity.

They [animals] all wait for you, to give them their food in due season. When you give to them, they gather it up. When you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed. When you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground. (Ps. 104:27-30)

But to say that the world is so directly dependent on God appears to involve God in the evil in the world. What do we say about that? There are no easy answers, as the Book of job reminds us. At any rate, neither the Book of job nor other passages (e.g., Lam 3:37-38, Exod 4:11, Gen 50:20, Deut 32:39, Acts 2:23, Eph 1: 11, Heb 1:3, etc.) permit us the "easy" way out of excluding evil from God's control. Hence I will continue to use a picture stressing God's control even over evil.

The World in Development

A second, related concern expressed by the analogy of poetry is the concern to represent God's creation as a complex interplay of static and dynamic elements. God rested from creating on the seventh day. From then on, there is a stability and continuity in the hierarchical structure of created things. But, on the other hand, the mandate given to Adam to subdue the earth involves vigorous dynamic processes. And God himself is involved in a continuous process of superintending and governing his creation, according to Psalm 104. One can say, then, that the poem is still in the process of being written. Only the first stanza was completed on the seventh day. The first stanza of a well-constructed poem does, of course, set the tone and the general direction for what will come. One can make certain predictions about the rest of the poem, provided one knows something of its author. But within the parameters set by the first stanza, the poem still remains partly unwritten. Its writing, day by day of history, involves the continuous participation of the author. I believe that God as an all-wise author has planned the whole poem from the beginning (Eph 1:11, Isa 46:10-11). But the unfolding of history, that is, the writing of the stanzas, still has significance.

This way of viewing things puts a heavy stress on the dynamic developments. one could choose to stress the stability more by viewing the poem as already written, but in the process of being read and interpreted by man. The meaning of the poem, and above all the understanding of its meaning, is still a matter of an unfolding process.

The World Surprisingly Victorious Over Chaos

Whatever way one chooses to develop this analogy, it includes within it a reminder of a third truth about our world. There are mysteries and surprises. On the basis of the first stanza, or on the basis of the over-all structure of a poem, one may venture to predict an omitted word, or to predict the over-all direction of a stanza not yet read. one does so on the basis of analogy with what one already knows. But the analogies break down at points, and one may be surprised by new twists. Does the same hold true for our scientific models? I claim that it does. Take Maxwell's electromagnetic theory as an example. Maxwell provides us a model. It is a detailed analogy between equations for an ideal frictionless fluid and the phenomena of electromagnetism. But just what aspects of fluids are relevent? And to just what range of phenomena are they relevant? Both of these are open-ended questions; both can bring us surprises. Maxwell would have been surprised to find that global motion of ordinary fluids with respect to fixed space is a concept best abandoned in the case of electromagnetism. And he would have been surprised to see that his equations cannot be applied at the quantum scale without reinterpretation. Remember also that Faraday and Maxwell first started developing their theory in order to explain the interaction of electric charges and electric currents with magnetic fields. It was a pleasant surprise to find that the theory eventually also accounted for the propagation of light.

What do I imply by this illustration? I would like us to obtain an appreciation for the limitations of our theories.

Theories are always rooted in analogies. And we never know just how far the analogies will hold true. But, equally, I would like us to recover a sense of wonder at the degree to which the analogies do hold up, and do prove fruitful. Eugene Wigner, apparently not writing from a theistic point of view at all, speaks impressively of "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences" (1960):

The first point is that the enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious and that there is no rational explanation for it. (p. 2).

Certainly it is hard to believe that our reasoning power was brought, by Darwin's process of natural selection, to the perfection which it seems to possess. (P. 3)

It is not at all natural that "laws of nature" exist, much less that man is able to discover them. (p. 5).

A scientific model is a kind of extended, controlled metaphor, selected out from the giant system of metaphors which is the universe created by God as his poem.

As a particular case of "unreasonable effectiveness," consider the special theory of relativity. This theory is mathematically the simplest possible theory in which the speed of light is constant under linear transformations of space-time coordinates. How could we dare to hope that the phenomena would match this simplicity? Or how could it be the case that P. A. M. Dirac could derive an equation virtually predicting the existence of the positron, simply in the course of trying to formulate mathematically a modification of the Schr6dinger equation consistent with special relativity?

My answer is that it is indeed surprising, but not unreasonable. God simply decided to create a universe shot through with analogies and allegories for the delight and use of human beings. Order is not unreasonable in God's creation. But it is a personal order. It is order, if you will, triumphing over a host of other alternatives that God might have selected for his " poem." It is a triumph over chaos. (I am here reflecting a bit on the language of Gen. 1:2. God created an original chaotic situation without using pre-existing material. Subsequently, he subdued this chaos, "triumphing" over it for the sake of creating an ordered world suitable for human habitation.)

In another context G. K. Chesterton expresses eloquently his appreciation for this triumph over chaos. The scene he presents is a dialogue between an anarchist poet and a poet of order. The anarchist had just complained about the sad, tired fact that when the train has passed Sloane Square, the next station must be Victoria. The hero Syme, the poet of order, replies:

"... The rare, strange thing is to hit the mark; the gross, obvious thing is to miss it. We feel it is epical when man with one wild arrow strikes a distant bird. Is it not also epical when man with one wild engine strikes a distant station? Chaos is dull; because in chaos the train might indeed go anywhere, to Baker Street or to Bagdad. But man is a magician, and his whole magic is in this, that he does say Victoria, and lo! it is Victoria."

"I tell you," went on Syme with passion, "that every time a train comes in I feel that it has broken past batteries of besiegers, and that man has won a battle against chaos. You say contemptuously that when one has left Sloane Square one must come to Victoria. I say that one might do a thousand things instead, and that whenever I really come there I have the sense of hairbreadth escape. And when I hear the guard shout out the word 'Victoria,' it is not an unmeaning word. It is to me the cry of a herald announcing conquest. It is to me indeed 'Victoria'; it is the victory of Adam." (Chesterton 1960:9-10).

The train system is a human triumph, as Syme says. But behind this stands the original triumph of God, who brought order out of chaos and who maintains order. In the course of human exploration, science uncovers aspects of this triumph over chaos.

Now this view of science must be fleshed out by reference to some concrete example. Those examples will be the subject of my next two articles.


Beardsley, Monroe C. 1958. Aesthetics. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World.

Black, Max. 1962. Models and Metaphors: Studies in Language and Philosophy. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University.

Chesterton, G.K. 1960. The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.

Hesse, Mary. 1966. Models and Analogies in Science. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame.

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