Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor

Reflections on Professor Enrico Cantore's Book Review- Circles of God. from the Greeks to Copernicus

W. Jim Neidhardt
Associate Professor of Physics
New Jersey Institute of Technology
Newark, NJ 07102

From: JPSCF 39 (December 1987): 149.

Prof. Nebelsick's book is an admirable defense of a thesis (stated in the preface) that is at the "heart" of what ASA is all about:

... our thinking about God and his relationship to the world, our theology," is therefore decisive not only for our own religious beliefs; equally important, our theology is quite determinative of the way we understand the world as well. Our thoughts about God and the world in relationship to him will have a quite crucial effect on how we are enabled to know nature and interact with it....

My [Prof. Nebelsick's) attempt to clarify both the positive and negative aspects of the interrelationships of theological science and natural science has two purposes. On the one hand, it is hoped that the evidence brought forth will put us on guard against the danger of permitting the presuppositions of either of the two sciences to dominate each other. On the other hand, one may trust that such a discussion will expose the torpitude which results from thinking that natural science and theology are so disparate that the one has nothing to do with the other. What we believe will eventually have to do with what we think about the world and the way we interact with it. If we believe in God, the way we know and treat nature will eventually expose our relationship to God and define the kind of God we believe in. As the question regarding God more often than not is, not whether we believe in God, but what kind of a God do we believe in, so with regard to the world, it is not, do we have an understanding of it, but how do we understand it. (Circles of  God, preface.)

As the book is extremely readable, even for non-specialists in the history of science-theology interaction, I would hate to see the negative note in Cantore's review discourage Journal subscribers from reading this very pertinent book. The first sentence of Professor Cantore's review ("This is an exceptionally important, if somewhat disappointing, book.") is unnecessarily negative and may discourage some from reading the book. Professor Cantore evidently feels that Professor Nebelsick has slighted Thomas' important contributions to the creation of a theological atmosphere conducive to healthy scientific exploration of created reality. In my opinion, Professor Cantore has ignored the excellent chapter on late Medieval cosmology (pp. 149-199) that discusses Thomas' positive contributions to a theological understanding that motivates proper scientific exploration, in particular Thomas' insistence on the centrality of the doctrine of creatis ex nihilo. On the other hand, Professor Cantore has a right to be annoyed with the book's concluding pages which z . mply that Thomas' theology was devoid of biblical content as contrasted to Kepler's nondefective biblical conceptions of God and his relation to the world. I am sure that Professor Nebelsick did not intend the ungraciousness latent in these remarks at the end of Circles of God. St. Thomas' profoundly biblical attitude toward all scholarly activity is well captured in his prayer:

CREATOR, beyond any words of ours to describe. Most gloriously, you have disposed all parts of the universe. You are the true source of light and wisdom. You are their first and final cause.

Pour out now, I beg you, a ray of your clear light upon my murky understanding, and take from me my doubly dark inheritance of sin and ignorance. You who inspire the speech of little children, guide and teach my tongue now, and let the grace of your blessing flow upon my lips. Grant me a sharp discernment, a strong memory, a methodical approach to study, a willing and able docility; let me be precise in interpretation and felicitous in choice of words.

Instruct my beginning, direct my progress, and bring my work to its proper finish: You who are true God and true Man, living and reigning forever!

In conclusion, I strongly recommend Professor Nebelsick's Circles of Go& Theology and Sciencefrom the Greeks to Copernicus to the JASA readership. It makes a very readable and important contribution to the ongoing dialogue between natural science and JudaeoChristian theology.