Science in Christian Perspective



'Theological and Scientific Inquiry

Conjoint Research between Theology and Science at Points of Their Deepest Convergence


Professor Emeritus
Christian Dogmatics
The University of Edinburgh

From: PSCF 38 (March 1986):

This paper is predicated upon the conviction that knowledge of God and knowledge of the universe have a common source and ground beyond themselves in God's own Being and Rationality. That is, theological and scientific inquiry are considered in light of the assumption that all truth is essentially one, for all truth comes from God. In order to provide an exposition of this unity, it is deemed necessary to uncover the basic points of interconnection between theological and scientific knowledge, where knowledge of God and knowledge of the universe affect each other. Primary attention must be given to the conception Of reality implicit in the scientific mind, the hidden premises which have guided and controlled scientific inquiry for nearly three hundred years. Research of this radical kind cuts deeply into longstanding presuppositions which are universally accepted, sifting and testing our ultimate beliefs, and bringing to light the undefined commitments undergirding all our rational thought and scientific investigation. Accordingly, this paper reflects upon the nature of scientific inquiry as it has been pursued hitherto in science and theology, and then proceeds to investigate other modes of inquiry prescribed by the comprehensive nature of underlying reality.

Experimental Science and "Creation out of Nothing"

Scientific inquiry as we have come to think of it in the modern world is bound up with the rise of experimental science in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when a radical change in the human approach to natural knowledge took place. This involved a rejection of the view that in seeking to understand the world the human mind operates with an antecedent set of ideas and concepts that owe nothing to experience, and an adoption of the view that the human mind can understand the world only through ideas and concepts that it derives from the world itself through empirical contact with it. It is thus the task of scientific inquiry to devise experiments in which appropriate questions may be put to nature in order to encourage the disclosure of its coherent patterns of behaviour which could not otherwise be known, and then in the light of what is discovered in this way to formulate explanatory theories.

This change in the concept of natural science and scientific inquiry was made possible by a powerful reemergence during the Reformation of the Christian doctrine of the creation of the universe out of nothing, a universe continuously depending or contingent upon God for its reality and its order.2 This view of the contingence of the universe and its intrinsic intelligibility carried with it a very different view of nature from that which had prevailed since classical times. Nature was no longer regarded as the embodiment of eternal rational forms and final causes through which it could be interpreted and explained in logico-deductive ways. The fact that the world had been created out of nothing, endowed with a creaturely reality and rational order of its own in utter differentiation from God, meant that it must be investigated out of itself alone, on its own contingent ground, and understood in the light of its own autonomous structures or natural laws. It also meant, correspondingly, that the sciences of nature, in fidelity to the contingent nature of the universe, had to develop their own autonomous methods of inquiry and explanation. This was a conception of natural science detached from the control of all external authorities, and disconnected from any systems of thought, philosophical or theological, gained on other grounds, that might prejudice the results of independent investigation. Rather, this science functioned under the control of the objective reality of the created universe, so that the nature of the universe was regarded as the ultimate judge of the truth or falsity of scientific concepts and explanations.

Turning-Points in the Advance of Science

It was inevitable that modern scientific inquiry, once it was launched into the stream of thought, should undergo modification and change, due not only to the immense successes of physics and mechanics, but to new ideas and ways of -thought in philosophy which also bad their measure of impact on the conception of science. As I understand it, there are four significant turning-points in the development of scientific inquiry.

1. Dualistic Science-A Closed Conception of the Universe and the Autonomous Reason

While scientific inquiry was held to start from experience and end with it, under the aegis of Newton it was believed that the basic concepts and theories of science could be logically derived from experience, without having recourse to invented "hypotheses." It was the business of scientific inquiry to gather experimental data and then to offer a theoretical construction for them. Since it was the assumption of the new science that only what is measurable, or can be made measurable, qualifies for scientific investigation and explanation, it was understandable that mathematics should become the rational instrument employed in the analysis of natural phenomena, in the deduction of concepts and in the organization of them into explanatory theories. The effect of this was in fact to give human reason a legislative role in reducing the understanding of the world of nature to a coherent mechanical system, as we see in Newton's System of the World. The rational explanation of natural phenomena was achieved by clamping down upon them a frame of " absolute mathematical time and space," that is, a set of rigid concepts that were in fact not derived from or even affected by experience! It is not surprising, then, that at the same time there should have developed the notion of the autonomous reason as a parallel to the notion of autonomous structures in nature. This was not just a notion of the reason as it correlated to the autonomous behaviour of nature, but a notion of the reason turned in on itself and regarded as constituting the stance from which rational judgments and scientific explanations are offered and appreciated. Thus a thoroughly empiricist conception of the natural science and scientific method was put forward during the so-called "Age of Reason" with the claim that rational man would now be able to shed light upon the real nature of things in the universe by subjecting them everywhere to reductive analysis and mechanistic explanation.

The effect of this marriage between modern science and rationalism in the eighteenth century, and of the strictly deterministic conception of the world which it promoted, was not only to import a grave split into human culture, but to build a deep tension into the development of science itself which has taken nearly two centuries to discern and overcome. Empirical science started with the dependence of the human reason on objective structures in nature as they became progressively revealed to scientific inquiry. Then the autonomous reason was given a unique active status within nature in virtue of which it imposed its own rational structures upon the world, thereby reducing all its multivariable phenomena to matbematico-mechanical order. In the combination of these two approaches the emphasis in scientific inquiry was shifted away

Thomas F. Torrance, the son of missionaries to China, received his M.A. (1934) in Classical Languages and Philosophy and B.D. in Divinity from the University Of Edinburgh, He received his Doctorate in Theology from the University of Basel, and is the recipient Of five other honorary doctorates. Dr. Torrance served as Professor and Head of the Department of Christian Dogmatics at the University of Edinburgh until his retirement in 1979. Winner of the 1978 Templeton Prize, he has authored a number of works on theology and edited the Scottish Journal of Theology. His most recent book, published in 1985, is entitled Reality and Scientific Theology.

from the objectivity of empirical reality to the autonomous self -legislative reason. Thus there arose the view that the laws of nature are not read out of nature but are in fact read into nature, along with the claim that we human beings understand and accept as real only what we have fashioned by our reason for ourselves. When we consider this "constructivist rationalism" together with the position adopted by natural science at its very outset with Galileo, that is, a dogmatic exclusion of all that transcends the limits of the mathematical reason, we are in a position to appreciate the serious damage which such a narrow view of scientific inquiry would do, not only to human culture, but eventually to the nature of science and scientific inquiry as such.

Sooner or later the demand had to be made that we transcend the self-set limits of modern classical science in its closed mechanistic conception of nature. This is what happened in the latter half of the nineteenth century when it was found that Newtonian mechanics could not offer any adequate scientific explanation of the behaviour of electromagnetism and light, and consequently the axiomatic structure and self-evident assumptions of scientific orthodoxy came under fire. A radical questioning of hitherto accepted ideas began and a change in the foundations of knowledge was initiated.

2. The Demise of Dualism-An Open Universe Characterised by Unity of the Empirical and the Theoretical

With the twentieth century, under the aegis of Einstein, a considerable shift in the foundations of science occurred along the line pioneered by James Clerk Maxwell in his conception of the dynamical field as an independent reality within which matter, force and field were indivisibly integrated. To understand this integration an "embodied mathematics" was needed. It was only with the general relativity theory, however, that the nature and extent of the change involved really became apparent, in the closing of the gap between experience and mathematics in the logical structure of classical physics. With the realisation that time and space are inherent features of the empirical universe, the old Newtonian idea of infinite time and space independent of the empirical universe, with a

the rigid absolutes it had built into the foundation of science, fell away, and a more open and dynamic yet more objective understanding of the universe prevailed. The ontological and epistemological implications of this new relativistic physics were immense for the definition of the fundamental conception of the world and not least for the operation and limitation of scientific inquiry.

The universe was now held to be finite yet unbounded, limited and not completely self-explanatory, contrary to what had been claimed by Laplace. This had the effect of making room again for an understanding of the contingent nature of the universe and its rational order, which the regular method of formalizing natural laws through mathematical generalisation had inevitably driven underground. With the recognition of the finite range and the contingent nature of its order, science began to accept limits to its explanations, and to withdraw the claim of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that natural scientific explanations could be extended effectively to the whole range of

The effect of this marriage between modern science and rationalism in the eighteenth century, . . . was not only to import a grave split into human culture, but to build a deep tension into the development Of science itself which has taken nearly two centuries to discern and overcome.

human experience. We recall that Newton had already insisted that the kind of order discovered within the universe cannot be extrapolated to account for the origin of that order; even David Hume had pointed out that there can be no explanation of reason by reason; and Clerk Maxwell had warned of the serious errors that arise from partial explanation. Today the recognition that the inherence of theoretical and empirical factors in each other limits scientific explanation has been greatly reinforced by the stubborn problems of measurement encountered in quantum mechanics. It is thus to a humbler and more objective view of scientific method that science has been returning, not least as it becomes increasingly apparent that reductivist, analytical explanations do not succeed in making the world more meaningful for mankind.

The Sciences and the Humanities- Unified But Distinctive Fields of Inquiry

The fusion of physics and geometry that lies at the heart of general relativity theory has an importance far beyond physics itself. It has destroyed the radical dualism built into the Newtonian system of the world, which had affected the whole range of human culture-the humanities, the arts and theology, as well as the natural sciences; and has replaced it with a profound integration of ontology and epistemology in the framework of time and space within which all human knowledge arises and takes shape. This constituted an event of the greatest significance for rational inquiry in every field, for it clarified the foundations of knowledge, and altered their rational structure. In physics itself the change had already been initiated by Clerk Maxwell in his criticism of the idealized connections beloved by professional mathematicians. However, his demand for an "embodied mathematics, " which would be true to what he called "real connections in nature," an approach of scientific realism, had to wait for Einstein in order to be appreciated.3 It is only now, that the far-reaching implications of the Clerk-Maxwellian revolution are becoming understood.

Here, then, we have a decided shift away from an abstractive conception of science to that in which science is regarded rather as an extension and refinement of our natural ways of knowing. Thus there developed a form of scientific inquiry which is more rigorous in that it is governed throughout by the demands of its object and yet for that reason more flexible in that it is equally applicable in every field of human experience. A scientistic imposition upon one field of experience of forms and connections of thought, which has been abstracted from another, is ruled out; for every field of experience is to be understood strictly out of its own natural organization, and explained only through empirico-theoretic structures developed in the course of scientific inquiry under the constraint of the particular reality under investigation and in accordance with its distinctive nature. Rigorous scientific inquiry of this kind applies to theological and biblical studies no less than it does to the operations of any natural science.

Intuitive Recognition of the Intelligibility of Objective Reality

Thus the conception of scientific inquiry prevailing throughout the Newtonian era, that experimental science first establishes the facts and then theoretical science explains them, was replaced by another governed by the realization that empirical and theoretical elements are fused together inseparably in nature itself, at all levels, and must be handled as such in all processes of discovery and verification. All so-called facts are aboriginally charged with intelligible components, which means that they can be seen properly only with the mind, and all true theories are rooted in and conditioned by the inherent structure of empirical facts, which means that they are derived through processes, not of logical deduction, but of intuitive recognition arising out of a sympathetic understanding of experience. Hence in scientific inquiry understanding and explanation proceed in such a way as to encourage or allow objective reality to reveal and interpret itself out of its own intrinsic intelligibility, and scientists operate, not by forcing nature to conform to independent, preconceived conceptual systems, such as Euclidean geometry, but by allowing their minds to tune into and yield to the compelling claims of reality independent of themselves, so that theories, coherent conceptual systems, and natural laws are formulated only according to the dictates of the rational order found immanent in the universe.

Now, in the scientific inquiry of this kind, the fact that empirical and theoretical elements interpenetrate one another means that "fundamental ideas," to use Clerk Maxwell's expression, actually play a considerable and indeed an essential part in scientific investigation and verification. Hence the more rigorous the scientific inquiry, the more care is required to examine and test these fundamental ideas, if only because they determine the kind of questions we ask and the kind of answers we receive. Many people, admittedly, find this very disturbing, for fundamental ideas when taken seriously, as Einstein was constantly aware, cannot but force us to bring into the open our deepest convictions concerning the nature of reality.

It is thus to a humbler and more objective view of scientific method that science has been returning, not least as it becomes increasingly apparent that reductivist, analytical explanations do not succeed in making the world more meaningful for mankind.

3. Science: "Faith in Search of Understanding"

Here we reach another decisive turning-point in the development of scientific inquiry, in the directing of attention specifically to our ultimate beliefs about the nature of things. This became forcefully evident in Einstein's many intriguing references to "God" at decisive points in his argumentation, when be made it clear that what was at stake was his intuitive grasp of the structure of reality from which he refused to be moved. It was Michael Polanyi, however, more than any other who showed that ultimate beliefs play an essential and major part in all explicit rational and scientific activity, whether we are aware of them or not. While these beliefs cannot be made fully explicit, they belong to the premises without which no scientific inquiry can take place. Proper beliefs of this kind are rational and not irrational, although they are not subject to direct testing for their truth or falsity, since they have to be assumed in any attempt at rational proof or disproof. Nevertheless, they should not be held blindly, but require to be examined to see whether they really are ultimate beliefs generated in our minds by the unalterable nature of things, and for which, therefore, there can be no alternatives.'4 What is now demanded of us, however, is not just a critical but a positive reconsideration of the place and importance of ultimate beliefs and of the nature and function of explanation in relation to their normative role in scientific inquiry.

Two Kinds of Demonstration

Let me focus the issue by referring to an ancient Greek distinction between two kinds of demonstration reflected in St. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians, and taken up and developed by the Greek Fathers in the second, third and fourth centuries. They frequently adduced this distinction in the elucidation of Isaiah's words in Isaiah 7:9(LXX): "Unless you believe, you will not understand," a distinction which was later to influence St. Augustine so much. The distinction is that between the discursive mode of demonstration found in geometry and kindred sciences, when we argue necessarily from fixed premises or axioms to certain conclusions, and the ontological mode of demonstration that arises when something utterly new becomes disclosed and our minds cannot but yield conceptual assent to its self-evident reality. Such an act of assent was also spoken of as the response of faith, made in recognition and acknowledgement of a truth that seizes the mind and will not let it go. Genuine faith in God, for example, was held to involve a conceptual assent of this kind, as the human mind is allowed to respond in faith to God's self-evidencing revelation. Both forms of demonstration were considered in Greek theology to be necessary for genuine inquiry into the truth, for while access to reality independent of ourselves is given only to the latter (ontological), it is with the aid of the former (discursive) that conceptual assent may respond more accurately and consistently to the nature of the reality apprehended. In classical geometry, however, long considered the model for scientific demonstration, form and being were held apart, so that the force of the demonstration lay in its purely formal connections and logical compulsion. On the other hand, where form and being are found not to be separate but rather indivisibly united, the real force of the demonstration lies in its ontological compulsion. It is only through such an ontological grasp of things in their intrinsic intelligibility and truth that genuine advances in knowledge are made.

That was precisely the nub of the position adopted by Einstein when he accorded primacy in all scientific inquiry to his intuitive beliefs in the fundamental nature of things, although he recognised the necessity for logical or geometrical reasoning in reaching a consistent formalization of new knowledge. And that was the reason why Polanyi set out to reinstate the place and function of ultimate belief in the regulative framework of scientific knowledge, thereby restoring the balance of our cognitive powers disrupted through critical rationalism and scientism, and healing the breach between faith and reason brought about by the Enlightenment. Faith is thus recognized again as the very mode of rationality adopted by the reason in its fidelity to what it seeks to understand, and as such it constitutes the most basic form of knowledge frorn which all subsequent inquiry proceeds. Ultimate beliefs above all are to be appreciated as the indemonstrable but ontologically derived insights of the human mind in its commitment to the compelling claims of reality, which all rational knowledge presupposes, and on which scientific inquiry relies in every authentic drive toward the truth and without which it is finally blind and impotent.

4. Meaning at the Frontiers of Knowledge

It is not my purpose now to discuss further the rational status of these ultimate beliefs but to draw attention to the nature of their inherent force and the mode in which they are apprehended. It is in these respects, I believe, that theological inquiry has a significant contribution to make at a fourth turning-point, of particular significance for us today, in the function of scientific inquiry.

The inherent force of ultimate beliefs is due not simply to the fact that reality is what it is and not something else, but to the fact that it thrusts a compelling requirement or obligation upon us emanating from the ultimate ground of all order which we cannot rationally or in good conscience resist. Such a conviction seems to lie behind the dissatisfaction Einstein felt about the traditional view of physics when he insisted that it is no longer suf f icient for physics to be concerned merely with determining the way things are and uncovering the laws of nature that govern that state of affairs. Rather it must go on to ask why things are what they are and why they cannot be anything else. That is to say, we must open scientific inquiry to the deeper dimensions of the intelligibility of the universe that press for understanding in our minds, and probe into the ultimate reasons for the kind of order found in the universe, if we are actually to "grasp reality in its depth," as Einstein demanded. In this event, are we not feeling out after a transcendent system of order in the light of which we may not only offer a more unified view of the universe, but also come to understand something of how things in the universe ought to relate to that transcendent realm of order?

John A. Wheeler's Demand for "Meaning Physics"

A similar point seems to be that raised by John Wheeler in his search for "meaning" at the frontiers of knowledge where we have to reckon with the initial conditions of nature. Thus, when, in quantum theory, physics penetrates to the very boundary of being with non-being or with its creation-out-of-nothing, where physical laws become critical, it cannot cross that boundary through an extension of normal scientific conceptualization or analytical explanation, for there it meets with an elusive dynamic state of nature which appears quite disorderly or lawless. Nevertheless, in recognition of an unconditional indebtedness to the ultimate intelligibility of reality, scientific inquiry refuses to abdicate in face of the apparent arbitrariness of nature, but presses on in the conviction that there must be some "law apart from law," some "regulating principle," that gives order and law to what would otherwise be disorderly and lawless. In this event, does not physics require a comprehensive semantic framework within which its laws, while fully objective, are recognized to be finally incomplete, referring indefinitely beyond themselves to a self-sufficient transcendent ground of rationality which gives them their consistency and authority?

Why is it that although physical laws are formalized in terms of probability equations, nevertheless all major physical laws are found to be utterly improbable? There must be a reason for this which cannot be excogitated through natural scientific operations!

Again and again today, the scientist is baffled and tempted to speculate when the intelligible connections in the universe, which he seeks to grasp and describe, just break off owing to their contingent nature and point mutely beyond themselves. He raises fundamental questions which he knows he is not in a position to answer directly, or even properly to ask within the conceptual frame of his science, and yet upon which the meaningfulness and intelligibility of the whole scientific enterprise depend. As I understand it, this seems to be the issue behind Wheeler's demand for meaning physics," and his interest in the so-called antbropic principle" regarding the unique place of man on earth within the expanding universe. Why is it that although physical laws are formalized in terms of probability equations, nevertheless all major physical laws are found to be utterly improbable? There must be a reason for this which cannot be excogitated through natural scientific operations! At an impasse like this on the frontiers of knowledge the scientist can only suspend judgment and listen for a word of meaning from beyond, from a higher level. Thus it would seem admissable for him to consider another approach to the impasse by coming at it from another angle, that of the ultimate ground of order in which his controlling beliefs are anchored. Theologically speaking, this would be an approach from within the perspective of divine revelation, starting from the Word of God on which the whole universe is contingent for its existence and order. Thus the scientist may learn to believe with Henry Robinson Luce that "meaning was built into life, in the beginning, by the Creator."

Physicists like W. Heider and W. G. Pollard have argued convincingly that there are significant points in our scientific comprehension of the universe where the transcendent "shines through," or where there are 11 rumors of transcendence," without the mediation of any positive truth. They agree, however, that it is the human mind or spirit which constitutes the significant "boundary condition" within the natural order of things where that order becomes intelligibly open to the Creator, and where intra-mundane experience and understanding may be coordinated with a higher level of experience and understanding, giving them meaning which they could not have otherwise. It is surely at such a point where the rationality of man and the rationality of the world together come under the impact of the Word of God, making them articulate beyond what they are capable of in themselves, that we may be given some insight into the inner justification of nature's laws, and into the regulating principle required at the boundaries of contingent being and the frontiers of scientific knowledge. In this event the mode in which knowledge of the universe is gained in scientific inquiry, not least the mode in which its controlling beliefs arise, would need to be coordinated with the mode in which knowledge of God arises in theological inquiry, through listening to his Word. A fruitful correlation between scientific and theological inquiries could then take place, in which relevant material from one, considered from the perspective of the other, might well throw light upon problems inherent in the latter, in addition to raising some quite new questions, and even pointing toward quite unexpected answers or solutions.

Open Contingent Order and the Word of God

Now from the theological perspective the laws of nature are held to be permanent features of the world stamped upon it by the Creator through his Word. As such they are open contingent forms of order which derive their constancy from the Word of God and may ultimately be understood only through coordination with their source and ground in that Word. The ordered universe is to be regarded, then, as unceasingly contingent on God in such a way that he not only upholds and sustains it in its created reality but makes its coherent arrangement serve his supreme purpose of love in the communion of the creation with the Creator. Hence the natural order is to be recognized not simply as the actual order in which things happen to be arranged, but rather as the kind of order in which things ought to be arranged under the Wisdom and Righteousness of God. From the theological perspective this means that the idea of chance or accident yields to the Christian concept of contingent providential event, and that the natural order and the moral order are ontologically linked together as different forms of the one rational order impressed upon the created universe by the commanding Voice of God.6

The Primacy of Auditive Apprehension in All Knowing

This brings us back to the consideration of the distinctive mode in which our convictions about the essential nature of theUniverse are acquired. They are certainly imprinted in our minds by the pressure of objective reality, but they are yet predicated upon something more than that. Like the fundamental religious beliefs to which they are akin, ultimate scientific beliefs arise in us as we listen to what is said from a source beyond ourselves. In the process of the emergence of these ultimate beliefs there is a subliminal "hearing" of a form of "speech" embedded in reality, which precedes, accompanies and shapes specific acts of scientific understanding. Clerk Maxwell, Einstein and Polanyi often referred to their intuitive contact with objective reality or their scientific intuition of the hidden intelligibility of the universe. I would want to add that intuitive apprehension of this kind is auditive rather than perceptive in nature, akin to the mode of hearing rather than to that of seeing or observing; and that the result of such apprehension is an intuitive correlate of the creative address of God.

This auditive mode of knowing is important for at least two reasons. In the first place, in the act of seeing or observing the natural emphasis is on the observer himself, or the subjective pole of the knowing relation-, but in the act of hearing or listening, conversely, the emphasis is on what is heard, or the objective pole of the knowing relation. In the second place, in the act of seeing the observer is thrown back upon himself in order to authenticate and give meaning to what he sees, especially if the object of his observation is a thing or an inanimate body. This gives rise to the problem that observer-conditioned knowing provokes in quantum theory, when an objective description of nature tends to be impaired or even to be replaced by an account of the experimental interaction between the observer and nature. On the other hand, in the act of listening to nature or giving ear to what it has to say, the hearer is summoned to respond to a word or communication from what Walter Thorson has called "the objective other. -7 The distinctive feature of this auditive mode of knowing is more marked in the communication between persons when the objective other is not just an object but a subject. In these speaking/ hearing relations, the speaker and the hearer are on the same ontological and rational level, although one may be a person to whom the other looks up in respect.

Auditive Intuition and Belief

However, in the kind of speaking/hearing relation that obtains between human beings and God, the unqualified weight of the emphasis is upon God. When he addresses us we are not left at the mercy of our own questions and answers, but find ourselves questioned by an authoritative Word which penetrates into our selfcenteredness and tells us what we are utterly incapable of learning by ourselves or telling ourselves. When our ultimate beliefs are considered in this way, we find that their epistemological modality and their inherent force are due to the commanding Voice or Word of God.

It is in such a way that the ultimate beliefs generated in us are informed with an implicit conceptual content imparted to them by the Word of God. This is not information that we can derive for ourselves by tracing back rational connections in the universe to their end in the created order, for in themselves they are empty and inarticulate. They may be filled and become articulate only through correlation with the commanding Word of God, when they are made to echo with meaning and are characterized by an authority beyond that which they would be capable of in themselves. If this is the case then we must be ready on all the frontiers of knowledge, where our inquiries have now brought us, to listen again to the Word of God-in the hope of learning why nature is ordered in the way it is, and of penetrating into the inner justification of nature's laws.

The Goodness of the Created Order: Integration of Moral and Scientific Understanding

If theological inquiry and scientific inquiry are allowed to overlap and interrelate at this deep level, the scientist will be encouraged to give more attention to the obligatory force of his ultimate convictions in his search for a more satisfying and meaningful order. The mysterious imperative which is brought to bear upon him from the necessarily fundamental nature of things in the universe, of which he is implicitly aware in his desire to understand why things are what they actually are and in what way they ought to be what they are or will become, will resonate with the creative purpose of God disclosed through His Word. This will occur in such a way that an ultimate belief in the goodness of the created order will take its place in the controlling framework of his inquiries beside other ultimate beliefs in the reality, contingency, rationality, stability, constancy and simplicity of the universe.

This would mean that the moral imperative, the ought" that was banished from the realm of science during the Age of Reason, would have to be restored to the conceptual structure of science, not as some external parameter, like Newtonian geometrical time, but as an internal parameter in the framework of scientific inquiry and formalization. just as it is now necessary for the ingredient time to be built into the fundamental structure of physical law as an essential ingredientwhich also raises the question "why"-so it becomes necessary to include the moral "ought" within the structure of physical law as an essential ingredient. This recovery of the ethical imperative as an internal factor of control imports a further significant step in the advance of scientific inquiry, for such inquiry is then understood to function in an obligatory relation to the good as well as the orderly, thus making for a more profound, more meaningful science within a reunified human culture.

The Love and Word of God as the Ground of Order

Insofar as the contribution of theological inquiry is concerned, such a change calls for a far-reaching theology of nature which would transform the concept of nature by reintegrating it with the basic Christian ideas which gave rise to empirical science in the first place. This is best done today through conjoint inquiry between theological science and natural science, as the astonishing patterns of order with which God has endowed the world are steadily brought to light. However, I believe that such a theology of nature may be sustained only with a recovery of the full Christian framework of knowledge, for it is through the incarnation of the Word of God among us in Jesus Christ that the ultimate secret of the whole created order is disclosed in the comprehensive purpose of God's love for the universe. This implies that all the laws of nature, and all patterns of order in the universe, are finally and satisfyingly intelligible only insofar as they are ontologically linked to the Love of God, the supreme power of order. Is that not what ultimately lies behind the fact that the order immanent in the universe, which presses through all our inquiries for understanding, lays upon us an inescapable obligation to think rightly and behave rightly? This is not to argue that explicit theological concepts should be introduced into the rational structure of scientific knowledge, but rather that through an intersection of the symmetries of theological and scientific understanding of the universe the inherent moral force of the ultimate beliefs regulating scientific inquiry may be openly acknowledged. An articulate belief in the goodness and purpose of the created order, as it assumes its place among the ultimate convictions which implicitly control all our human inquiry, will go far toward bringing about the healing and integration of human culture.

Bridging the Gap between Natural and Moral Science

We cannot forget that scientific and theological inquiries are pursued only within the medium of society, and only with the continuous support of society's community structures and institutions. On the other hand, we have to reckon with the fact that all our human structures and institutions are now in a critical state, having serious problems that may be traced back to the application to society of mechanistic analyses and explanations deriving from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and to the damaging splits in human life and culture resulting from the imposition upon them of alien and inappropriate patterns of behavior. That is to say, scientific inquiry today, whether in natural or theological science, must struggle with a strange anachronistic perpetuation in contemporary society and its general framework of knowledge derived from the very mistakes which it had to leave behind in the course of its development. But if scientific and theological inquiries are to consolidate the kind of advance we have been discussing, they must be ready to help other sciences overcome the radical dualisms built into their structure, and recover regulative convictions ontologically anchored in objective reality. I think here particularly of the backward state of the moral, legal and social sciences today owing to their lack of proper ontological foundations. What they require is a fundamental reconstruction of their scientific base, through a fusion of ontology and epistemology within the space-time field in which we live, similar to that which obtains in general relativity. It is just here that the advance in scientific inquiry which we have been discussing has a great deal to contribute to them, and not least through the restoration of an ontologically grounded moral imperative as an internal factor of control in the process of rigorous inquiry and formulation. That is surely an issue of supreme importance in which all sciences-natural, theological, or social-must cooperate, and thereby contribute together to the development of a deeper, more coherent, and meaningful order of human faith, life and thought.


1. This dedication address and that of Henry Luce 111, "The Faith of Henry R. Luce," are available in Reports from the Center, Number 2. A copy of this report, which also describes the Center's purpose and mission, may be obtained by writing The Center of Theological Inquiry, 50 Stockton Street, Princeton, New Jersey 08540.

2. For the elusive concept of contingence and its implications for empirical science see Divine and Contingent Order, Oxford University Press, 1981.

3. See especially Einstein's Lecture before the Prussian Academy of Sciences in 1921, on "Geometry and Experience," in which he echoed Clerk Maxwell's contrast between "true" and "certain" mathematical propositions.

4. See my Maxwell Cummings Lecture of 1978, "Ultimate Beliefs and the Scientific Revolution," reprinted in Transformation and Convergence in the Frame of Knowledge, Grand Rapids, 1984, pp. 191-214.

5. See Einstein's contribution to the Stodola Festschrift, Ziirich, 1929: "Ueber den gegenwaertigen Stand der Feld-Theorie," p. 126f.

6. See The Christian Frame of Mind, Edinburgh, 1985, Ch. 1: "The Greek Christian Mind;- Ch. 2, "The Concept of Order;- and Divine and Contingent Order, Oxford, 1981, Ch. 4: "Contingence and Disorder."

7. Walter R. Thorson, "Scientific Objectivity and the Word of God," journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, Vol. 36, No. 2, June 1984, p. 95.


P. M. Clark, "Einstein: Philosophical Belief and Physical Theory," Modem Physics and Problems of Knowledge, The Open University Press, Milton Keynes, 1981, pp. 6-59.

Albert Einstein, "Geometrie und Erfahrung," Springer Verlag, Berlin, 1921; Eng. tr. in Ideas and opinions, Crown Publishers, New York, 1954.

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