The Vast Arena of Faith


ROBERT L. HERRMANN       Gordon College, Wenham, Massachusetts 01984

JOHN M. TEMPLETON           Box N7776, Lyford Cay, Nassau, Bahamas

From: PSCF 40 (March 1988)

Faith is the great common denominator of all cultures-both primitive and civilized. It is seen as the ultimate mediator of justice in the way we live our lives and relate to other persons. It is also seen to be intimately associated with mankind's search for truth, whether in the realm of science or theology. The history of science reveals a high level of faith on the part of its progenitors, and after a long period of rationalist rejection of faith, there is in this century a renewal of appreciation for the personal commitment to an external objective reality in scientific knowing. A symbiosis of science and faith has been viewed, especially by a group of prominent scientists, as a promising future direction.

The Pervasive Belief in a Higher Law of Conduct

One of the most perceptive writers of our century was C.S. Lewis, Oxford don and Cambridge professor. In his book Mere Christianity, Lewis opens his arguments for the Christian faith with a discussion of right and wrong as a clue to the meaning of the universe.1 He observes that we all, in our human relationships, operate as though there were common standards of right and wrong. Furthermore, we see this to be a universal phenomenon common to the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans, and to our own present-day culture. Admittedly, there are differences in degree at certain points, but all agree that, for example, selfishness should never be admired. Secondly, he notes that we all have in common the recognition that our standards are higher than we can achieve. We all accept the fact, in the way we react to our standards, that we should do better even if we don't want to. Of course, we often have good excuses. In fact, they come so quickly and in such profusion that they are, Lewis says, a proof of how deeply we believe in right and wrong, or in what he calls the Law of Human Nature. Concerning these two points, Lewis concludes:

First, human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they don't in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.2

Now what is most interesting about right and wrong is that the small differences in moral code between cultures are distinguishable in a way which allows us to speak of moral progress. That is, in the course of history some civilizations have achieved a higher moral code than others, often through the influence of a great reformer, as did England in the sixteenth century through the influence of men like Thomas Cranmer. But the moment you admit that one set of moral ideas is superior to another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard better than the other. The logical conclusion, then, is that there must exist some universal, absolute standard to which all of our moral concepts relate.

Furthermore, this absolute standard, this Law of Human Nature, is quite distinct from natural laws dealing with things like gravity or heredity or chemistry that implies not only that human order in some way corresponds

try. For there is no sense in which we can disobey the laws of gravity, but there is overwhelming evidence that we can, and do, break the Law of Human Nature. Lewis concludes:

Men ought to be unselfish, ought to be fair. Not that men are unselfish, nor that they like being unselfish, but they ought to be. The Moral Law, or Law of Human Nature, is not simply a fact about human behaviour in the same way as the Law of Gravitation is, or may be, simply a fact about how heavy objects behave. On the other hand, it is not a mere fancy, for we cannot get rid of the idea, and most of the things we say and think about men would be reduced to nonsense if we did. And it is not simply a statement about how we should like men to behave for our own convenience; for the behaviour we call bad or unfair is not exactly the same as the behaviour we find inconvenient, and may even be the opposite. Consequently, this Rule of Right and Wrong, or Law of Human Nature, or whatever you call it, must somehow or other be a real thing-a thing that is really there, not made up by ourselves. And yet it is not a fact in the ordinary sense, in the same way as our actual behaviour is a fact. It begins to look as if we shall have to admit that there is more than one kind of reality; that, in this particular case, there is something above and beyond the ordinary facts of men's behaviour, and yet quite definitely real-a real law, which none of us made, but which we find pressing on us.3  

This phenomenon of universal moral sense is also recognized by the mathematical physicist John Polkinghorne in his book, The Way the World Is.4 He notes that there is within us a remarkable sense of hope in the face of a world of mixed goodness and terror. It is a sense which derives ultimately from our faith in a Transcendent Power with whom we have to deal. In our age there are voices which have explained away these feelings as mere superstitions from a bygone era when the theistic view was almost universal. But, on the contrary, their validity as transcendent experience is argued for from a variety of sociological standpoints. Sociologist Peter Berger, in his book A Rumor of Angels, introduces five phenomena or "signals of transcendence" which serve as pointers toward a religious explanation of human behavior.5 One of these is the human faith in order, a faith closely related to man's fundamental trust of reality. The example he gives is of a young child awaking in the night, crying perhaps because of a bad dream. His mother goes to him to give comfort and reassurance, taking him in her arms, lighting the lamp, and saving, words like "Don't be afraid, it's all right. " But, of course we know, in a world full of cancer and famine and terrorism, all is not right. Is this, then, a monstrous deception? Of course not. It is the appropriate behavior which we all would encourage. But it is appropriate, fundamentally, because we believe in the religious dimension. We believe that there is an Order in the affairs of men, a Power which is ultimately concerned for our good. In Berger's words:

In the observable human propensity to order reality there is an intrinsic impulse to give cosmic scope to this order, an impulse to an order that transcends it, but that this transcendent order is of such a character that man can trust himself and his destiny to it. There is a variety of human roles that represent this conception of order, but the most fundamental is the parental role Every parent (or, at any rate, every parent who loves his child takes upon himself the representation of a universe that is ultimately in order and ultimately trusyworthy. This representation can be justified only within a religion (strickly spreaking a supernatural) frame of reference. In this frame of reference the natural world within which we are born, love, and die is not the only world, but only the foreground of another world in which love is not annihilated in death and in which, therefore,  the trust in the power of love to banish chaos is justified. Thus man's ordering propensity implies a transcendent order, and each ordering gesture is a signal of this transcendence. The parental role is not based on a loving lie. On the contrary, it is a witness to the ultimate truth of man's situation in reality. In that case, it is perfectly possible (even, if one is so inclined, in Freudian terms) to analyze religion as a cosmic projection of the child's experience of the protective order of parental love. What is projected is, however, itself a reflection, an imitation, of ultimate reality. Religion, then, is not only (from the point of view of empirical reason) a projection of human order, but (from the point of view of what might be called inductive faith) the ultimately true vindication of human order.6

Hardy looks to a new era of exploration, to a "truer biology"
which "will not sell its soul to physics and chemistry for quick results."

The Breadth of Religious Experience in Modern Culture

Among significant scientific contributors to our understanding of modern religious experience, the late Sir Alistair Hardy, Oxford marine biologist and ecologist, stands almost without peer. Social anthropologists had worked with a variety of primitive tribes for the past 20 years, and some had reported remarkable accounts of spiritual awareness among primitive communities.8 Psychologist William James, in his pioneering study of religious feeling, The Varieties of Religious Experience written in 1902, presented an earlier view of the religious impulse, especially in the context of Protestant Christianity of an evangelical emphasis.9 but only Hardy had researched the question of religious experience in the broad sweep of contemporary British society, and in a period when most of his Scientific peers were reductionists who regarded the feelings of religion as mere by- products of the chemical processes within the brain. Hardy's conviction of the importance and reality of spiritual experience was part of him throughout his career as a biologist. By the time he had achieved the position of President of the Zoology Section of the British Association in 1949, he felt constrained to express publicly his dissatisfaction with the tendency of his colleagues to reduce all of biology to materialistic, mechanistic explanation.

In 1965 he published The Living Stream, a reexamination of evolutionary theory which proposed a much stronger contribution by human consciousness and acquired knowledge in human evolution.10 Intrinsic to this process, and perhaps foundational to it, is the religious dimension. Like one of his contemporaries, Michael Polanyi, Alistair Hardy believed that science and religion had much to offer each other. He spoke of the goal of a "scientific theology"-a natural theology-which will enlighten us about the place of Divine Power in human affairs. And he pointed out to his contemporaries that the history of science demonstrated the importance of that goal. In his words:

The whole history of science has been a direct search for God, deliberate and conscious, until well into the eighteenth century.... Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Leibnitz and the rest did not merely believe in God in an orthodox sort of way: they believed that their work told humanity more about God than had been known before. Their incentive in working at all was a desire to know God; and they regarded their discoveries as not only proving his existence, but as revealing more and more of his nature.... 11

Indeed, what was sorely needed, Hardy said, was an extensive natural history of religion. And so, in 1969, he founded the Religious Experience Research Unit at Manchester College. In the ensuing years he systematically compiled and classified data on religious experiences in Britain and concluded, on analysis of some eighteen hundred first-hand accounts, that thirty percent of that population had a significant religious experience. Furthermore, the experience was not limited to the uneducated or unsophisticated. in fact, over fifty-six percent of the better educated gave similar reports. His conclusion, set forth in part in the 1979 book, The Spiritual Nature of Man, is that religion is something deeply rooted in human nature but stifled and repressed by the materialism of our day.12 Indeed, his best analysis would lead us to believe that religious experience is an essential component of human consciousness, an intrinsic part of the evolutionary origin of mankind. As Hardy puts it, "the living stream of evolution is as much Divine as physical in nature."13

In the final pages of The Living Stream, Hardy turns his focus to his colleagues in biology who still fail to see the deep significance of the spiritual in all of experience. He looks to a new era of exploration, to a "truer biology" which "will not sell its soul to physics and chemistry for quick results." The fields yet to conquer are challenging indeed. He mentions consciousness, memory, feelings of purpose and joy, the sense of the sacred, the sense of right and wrong, and the appreciation of beauty.14 We are left with the feeling that, on that basis, we have barely begun our science-so great is the breadth of spiritual experience.

Science Opens a Vast Framework of Belief

The Beginnings of Science

Faith has been a common element in the experience of divergent nationalities and cultures throughout history and is also the experience of a cross-section of economic and educational groups in contemporary society. But it also has had a profound impact upon the practice of science. Indeed, the beginnings of science were earmarked by an almost complete solidarity of religious conviction among its practitioners. Furthermore, their convictions were characterized by a heightened level of spiritual insight and an appreciation of God's creation so extraordinary that their fledgling discipline brought about what is rightly termed the "scientific revolution."

The reason for the profound success of the scientific enterprise was, in the view of philosopher-scientist Walter Thorson, directly traceable to these theological roots.15 Scientists were taking God's creation seriously, in a way foreign to the medieval church. The truth about the physical world was not only fascinating to explore but, in the view of these devout men, a valid description of a genuine reality. If theologians of the period regarded the physical world as only a kind of papier-mach6 stage-prop for playing out the drama of salvation, believing scientists saw it instead as a valid source of blessing with its own integrity and spiritual opportunity. Here was a place to be explored to seek appreciation of the Divine Artist's handiwork.

The historical roots of the scientific revolution lie in a philosophical tradition called nominalism, which stressed openness to divine revelation and took particular exception to the competing philosophy of rationalism. The major point of contention was that rationalists raised human reason to the level of absolute truth and spoke of the a priori necessity of rational order. The nominalists argued that there is no necessary rational order in the universe; it is as it happens to be. That is, the universe is contingent, subject to the will of the Creator. The forms reason gives to our study of the world are conveniences which at best agree with reality and at worst are only inventions of our minds. Hooykaas, in his Religion and the Rise of Modern Science, points out that, with the exception of Descartes and one or two others, all the early scientists embraced the nominalist view.16 Apparently, these Christian men saw in nominalism an encouragement for their science, but in rationalism they saw instead obstruction. Thorson explains the situation as follows:

First, these early scientists emphasized their appreciation of the intellectual humility and openness of the nominalist view-and contrasted it with the arrogance of rationalism as they had encountered it. They stressed the idea that rationalism fosters pride and an overconfident dogmatism, and they never tired of pointing out that this produces both error and a closed mind. Francis Bacon epitomized this attitude when he insisted that if a man wishes to know reality, he must abandon the dogmatic confidence of his pride in reason alone and sit down humbly before the revelation of God, whether that were the book o , f Scripture or the book of nature. This parallel between scientific and religious knowledge, both of which are to be acquired by "reading the revelation of God," and not by a priori reason, is a favorite and important emphasis of the early scientists. The parallel has been deliberately ignored by secular accounts of the scientific revolution, which identify empiricism i.e., sense experience as the important ingredient. Professor Hooykaas shows us that for the early scientists the relevant issue is not empiricism per se, but the nominalist tradition, which emphasized contact with reality itself as the only source of truth. These early thinkers thought of themselves as "empiricists" with respect to Scripture as well as with respect to creation. It is an attitude we need to examine deeply if we claim to believe in revelation.

The second attitude which appears to have been fostered by this nominalism of early scientists entails, not a complete rejection of the validity of reason, but its acceptance as a useful tool of the human mind.... earlier thrusts of nominalism had sometimes denied all validity to abstract reasoning; this new nominalism retains reason, but gives it a human place, not a divine one. It is a useful skill, like our perceptive skills, but it must not be made into an absolute, and it must be educated by constant encounter with reality. The importance and fruitfulness of this attitude cannot possibly be over-estimated.

Third, and partly as a result of the first two attitudes, this nominalism creates or heightens the distinction between truth as an objective reality, existing independently and outside myself, and my knowledge of the truth, which involves the interpretation, by my reason, of my experience of that reality. This was important for the early scientists, who were keenly aware that they had much to learn before they could competently think the Creator's thoughts after Him. They clearly saw that the main mistake of rationalist thought is to confuse the rational representation of truth with truth itself, and they understood that this mistake fosters dogmatism and pride.17

Faith Lost-The Rise of Modem Philosophy

If the faith of the pioneers of science was such a motivating force for the scientific revolution, what was the reason for its demise as the prime mover of science only a few centuries later? Most philosophers would identify the mathematician Descartes as the originator of the modern scientific philosophical tradition, a tradition which claimed as its central tenet the autonomy of the human mind. In this Descartes did not deny the existence of Divine revelation, but what he did deny was the idea that philosophy could rest upon commitments to presuppositions and ideas derived from revelation. As Thorson describes Descartes 'role:

He defined the task of philosophy as the establishment of an intelligible knowledge of the world without presupposing any religious or personal beliefs. The ground for doing so he took to be the knower himself, and from this ground he proposed not only to derive all knowledge but also to establish it with certainty. It is an odd fact that, in spite of wild variations as to methodology and conclusions, the tradition of modern philosophy has tacitly accepted the task defined by Descartes as a legitimate one.18

According to Thorson, the path from Descartes' program to modern philosophy had as its key landmark the philosophical critique of Immanuel Kant, whose concern was to establish that our knowledge can be true objective knowledge of a real external world.19 He proposed that although our minds do impose a rational form on knowledge, the content of that knowledge derives from our experience of an external objective reality and is therefore not just the invention of our minds. Kant therefore accepted the Cartesian requirement for rational certainty, and then tried to achieve objectivity by restricting the contribution of our personal involvement in knowledge to a logical, rational form. The end result was that objectivity became identified with impersonality; the surest way to arrive at objective truth was to avoid personal involvement. The price that was paid for this kind of objectivity was very heavy. Scientific knowledge was stripped of its human personal component. As Thorson expresses it:

There is a price for this sort of "objectivity": if what is objective is necessarily impersonal, then by its very nature what is personal cannot truly be objective. That other half of the Cartesian polarity, the existential ego, to whose "reality" we are all committed de facto-that other half cannot be ignored; so we have the emergence of existentialist philosophy as a fundamentally schizophrenic reaction to the positivist ideals. What began as a polarization in Descartes between the self as knower and the object of his knowledge, eventually became a radical dualism in thought. Tragically, "objectivity" went with one pole, but "meaning" with the other, and modern man has Dot found it possible to reunite them. Within the Cartesian program, it is impossible.20

Faith Revived-All Truth Involves Personal Commitment

A great breakthrough in our modern understanding of the nature of truth occurred with the 1966 publication of what Michael Polanyi called his "philosophy of personal knowledge."21 Polanyi was a physical cbemist who in his later years turned his mind to the question of how, in fact, we arrive at truth. He, too, noted that modern thought had created a dualism between fact and meaning, between truth and value, which he felt held dire consequences for the future of our civilization. There had been the beginnings of change in the attitude toward modern philosophy with the insistence of Albert Einstein that all our knowledge at whatever level involves an inseparable intertwining of theoretical and empirical elements. Einstein argued that though knowledge starts and ends with experience, there is no logical path to that knowledge through deduction from observations, since there is no logical bridge between our ideas and our experience. As Thomas Torrance explains in his Belief in Science and in Christian Faith, what Einstein proposed was that we employ an "intuitive" mode of apprehension, resting on a sympathetic understanding of nature, to penetrate the intelligible features inherent in nature.22 Einstein restored a way of thinking which is not tied exclusively to visible connections, but which penetrates beneath or behind appearances to an unseen relatedness inherent in nature that determines appearances. In Einstein's own words, "God does not wear his heart on his sleeve. "23 Einstein held a powerful conviction of the intelligibility of nature, and this controlling belief was at the very core of his religious experience.24

Apparently, these Christian men saw in nominalism
an encouragement for their science, but in
rationalism they saw instead obstruction.

It is interesting that Einstein's conclusions were born out of his appreciation of the basic change in the whole structure of physical science ushered in especially by the work of another deeply religious scientist, James Clerk Maxwell. Torrance, in A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field, says of Maxwell's contribution that it was so revolutionary in concept and so completely counter to the obsession of other scientists for mechanical models that it took some time for his unitary theory of electricity, light, and magnetism to be accepted.25 Even his close friend, Sir William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), stated that in departing from mechanical models, Maxwell had lapsed into mysticism. Torrance gives us a character sketch of Maxwell that demonstrates bow essential the faith component was to the freedom with which Maxwell hypothesized and formulated theories:

From his earliest days at Edinburgh Academy and Edinburgh University Clerk Maxwell had been fascinated with the relation of geometrical forms to motion, and developed new modes of thought, which he put very successfully into effect in several areas of scientific research and theory, in his explanation of the stability of Saturn's rings, in his dynamical theory of gases, in his work in colour vision and colour photography, and above all in his theoretical clarification of our understanding of electricity and magnetism and light through combining them in one electromagnetic theory. From his earliest studies, however, Clerk Maxwell also came to reatise the limited applicability of merely analytical mathematics to account for the dynamic modes of connection found in nature, so that even though he himself went further than any other between Newton and Einstein in the rigorous application of mathematical equations to natural phenomena and their behaviour, he was persistently aware of 'the vastness of nature and narrowness of our symbolical sciences'. No human science, be felt, could ever really match up in its theoretical connections to the real modes of connection existing in nature, for valid as they may be in mathematical and symbolic systems, they were true only up to a point and could only be accepted by men of science, as well as by men of faith, in so far as they were allowed to point human scientific inquiry beyond its own limits to that hidden region where thought weds fact, and where the mental operation of the mathematician and the physical action of nature are seen in their true relation. That is to say, as Clerk Maxwell himself understood it, physical science cannot be rightly pursued without taking into account an all-important metaphysical reference to the ultimate ground of nature's origin in the Creator. Thus while Clerk Maxwell never intruded his theological, and deeply evangelical convictions, into his physical and theoretical science, he clearly allowed his Christian belief in God the Creator and Sustainer of the universe to exercise some regulative control in his judgment as to the appropriateness and tenability of his scientific theories, that is, as to whether they measured up as far as possible to 'the riches of creation'. It was in that spirit that he put forward his own theories, always with reserve and always with the demand that they must be put to the test of fact, for his Christian faith would not allow him to fence off any area from critical clarification or to make any other claim for his theories than that they were of a provisional and revisable nature.26

These two great scientists, then, were part of the foundation upon which Michael Polanyi built his philosophy of personal knowledge. What Polanyi noted as a common feature of all scientific theorizing is that belief in, and commitment to, scientific theories as potentially true has always been a critical aspect of scientific discovery. What often appeals to us most forcefully is the sense of rational holism which a good theory conveys. But the essential feature is not the power of the rational mind to deal with the abstract, but rather the fact that there are persons who take seriously that theory's capacity to describe the world. It is in the actions of these scientists, within the framework of personal commitment, that the fruit of science is born. The powerful conclusion we are driven to by Polanyi's extensive analysis is that even in science there is no such thing as abstract knowledge. It is knowledge only when it is held by someone and acted upon as part of a larger whole.

The most telling feature of the idea of personal knowledge is revealed by Polanyi's analysis of what he calls tacit knowledge. He notes that underneath the judgemental and perceptual skills which are applied by the scientist are a whole set of inarticulate skills and arts which are an essential part of our theorizing. Criteria like symmetry, simplicity, elegance, fruitfulness, and satisfaction are not susceptible to logical scrutiny, but they form a significant component of our theorizing. These tacit components may be viewed in the aggregate as different aspects of what the scientist often terms beauty; the sense of which we are often unaware as we seek to build a theoretical framework for our observations. In Thorson's words:

Our sense, and the collective tradition, of beauty-and hence the character of our tacit criteria-is capable of change and development; but unmistakably it is a sense of beauty which moves us to prefer some theories to others, and even to heuristically commit ourselves to them, even though as yet we have no clear conception of their consequences. Now it is a surprising thing that this general expectation regarding reality is not disappointed far more often than it is rewarded, but on the contrary it seems to have a real power to evoke creative vision within the human mind. 27

Polanyi was also very concerned to point out that the concept of personal knowledge does not represent a leap into existentialism, but instead involves a radical reappraisal of the concept of objectivity. To appreciate his argument, we must go back to the fundamental Judeo-Christian understanding of faith in its relationship to sight and reason. In its purest form, the thrust of this understanding is that it is the object of faith which substantiates and extends our faith. If in medieval times that understanding was perverted to signify some special forms of insight, some wisdom divinely infused apart from evidential grounds of knowledge, we must recognize it for the error that it was. In the words of T.F. Torrance:

Faith 'sees' not with any special faculty of vision on the part of the observer, but with the powers of the reality seen. That is another way of saying that faith is correlated with the intrinsic rationality of the object and its self-evidencing reality and revealing power, which applies in different measure to the functioning of perception and the functioning of faith.28

Belief, then, is objectively grounded. The believer has as his object either another person or some other reality independent of himself. A person behaves rationally when he interacts with the other and does not confuse it with himself. This is, Polanyi says, the way all meaning arises, when we look away from ourselves to something else. His illustration is the use of a stick to explore a cave, or the use of a cane by a blind man. The holder is only vaguely aware of the stick in his hand, because all his concentration is focused on the objects contacted through the stick. This from/to relation is also illustrated by the reading of a book. In Torrance's words:

In reading a book we do not focus our attention on the letters and sentences themselves merely as marks on paper, nor do we treat them as some way of giving expression to ourselves, but we attend to that to which they refer beyond, for it is in that objective reference that their significance lies.29

Polanyi's astounding conclusion is:

Truth is something that can be thought of only by believing it.30

But what of the object of our belief? According to Polanyi, belief consists of a cognitive assent to some aspect of reality, a response to a pattern imprinted in the world around us. This is not just any jumble of observations; it must be a coherent pattern or an orderly structure to which we react by way of acknowledgement and assent.31 This kind of objectivity also brings to the process of scientific truth-gathering a liberating open-mindedness, since belief arises in our minds through the force of reality and its intrinsic intelligibility. That is, ours is a journey of discovery, a looking forward to new truth which now is only partially grasped. That is why we can refer to it as faith, for it is directed to a larger reality yet unseen. As Torrance says:

Belief, as Polanyi understands it ... is tied up with the fact that we know more than we can tell, that our basic affirmations indicate more than we can specify.32

Scientific belief, in this view, also has an element of exclusiveness. For if we believe one thing, that immediately excludes a range of other things. When some theoretical structure receives sufficient support to be defined in terms of a natural law, it achieves a high degree of exclusiveness which approaches universal acknowledgement. Yet it is still less than absolute as an aspect of truth, for it refers to a reality, as Polanyi says, beyond that which we can completely specify. Indeed, the implication of much of what we have said is that the reality beyond is staggeringly large.

Finally, we should note that scientific belief as so described is not unlike theological knowing in the Christian sense. The grace of God comes to us in Jesus Christ unconditionally, but carries with it unconditional obligations, so that faith that is founded on grace involves elements of both freedom and compulsion. What Polanyi says of scientific belief is equally true theologically:

Every belief is both a free gift and a payment of tribute exacted from us.33

The salient features of both kinds of knowing are the essential participation of persons and the commitment to an external reality which is required of them.

Prospects for a New Syncretism Between Theology and Science

Beyond this, one could reasonably speculate that science approached in this attitude of open expectane y may not only enhance the rate and quality of scientific discovery, but will also be catalytic in its effect on other approaches to knowledge. Ralph Wendell Burhoe, in his edited volume, Science and Human Values in the 21st Century, sees a tremendous future for such an informed theology:

Let us look at some of the potentials for a theology informed positively by the sciences.... There is beginning to arise in the twentieth century a group of scientists who are seers of the unseen hand that rules human destiny. These men have not been very much heard, seen, or understood by the general public or by the religious communities.... Gradually, the growing wisdom of the scientific seers or prophets will probably get through to leaders of the Christian community as significant confirmations and extensions of their historic faith. For in reality these scientists are declarers of what the transcendent reality will permit and what it will reject, and hence what is good or bad for each and every living being or system, and what man must do to be saved for fulfilment in higher levels of order or organization or life. I prophesy that from this source man is most likely to find an enlarged vision of purpose and hope, for the credible myth of human meaning in the scheme of things.

What I am trying to suggest here is that the art of religion, like the technology or art of medicine, will be best informed and most able to function adequately in an age of radically new science and technology when that religion is itself informed by currently credible knowledge provided by the sciences.34

This syncretism has been the heart's desire of a growing group of scientists, some of whom have reached the pinnacle of success in their chosen field.

When some theoretical structure receives sufficient support to be defined in terms of a natural law, it achieves a high degree of exclusiveness which approaches universal acknowledgment.

Rustum Roy, in his book Experimenting with Truth, mentions a number of those who, in his words, have arrived "at a position affirming the Beyond in the midst of equations, galaxies, or conducting electrons, or new organic synthesis of DNA helices."' 35Among these are A.N. Whitehead, mathematician and philosopher; Sir James jeans, the British astronomer; Michael Polanyi, Hungarian physical chemist turned philosopher; James Conant, chemist and President of Harvard University; Charles Coulson, mathematician and chemist at Oxford; Charles Townes, physics Nobelist; Sir Alistair Hardy, marine biologist and Templeton Prize recipient; and Carl Friedrich von Weizacker, physicist and younger associate of Werner Heisenberg. Heisenberg himself provides a probing autobiography of his search of the Beyond in a book with that very theme, Physics and Beyond.36 But Heisenberg brings yet another important dimension of faith into his science; faith as the essential basis of ethics and values.

Heisenberg had been the discoverer of the uncertainty principle, a momentous discovery which excluded the possibility that both position and momentum of elementary particles could simultaneously be known. His discovery, for which he received the Nobel Prize in 1932, had meant the end of classical physics and rigid determinism, and had propelled the physical sciences into the quantum world. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that Heisenberg should have some interest in those aspects of reality which go beyond science, just as the quantum world presented vast philosophical changes for the practitioners of classical physics. In fact, Heisenberg's writings prove him to be a profound thinker and a deeply sensitive human being. The story of his growth, his choice of physics, his education in pre-war Germany at Munich and G6ttingen, his close relationship to Niels Bohr, the inventor of quantum theory, to Wolfgang Pauli, Carl Friedrich von Weizdaker and Hans Euler, and the description of the very difficult war years inside Germany, are all fascinating. But his religious views are still more arresting.

Once, in a conversation with Pauli and Paul Dirac, the question of Einstein's talk about God came up, with the expression of considerable surprise that he would have such strong ties to a religious tradition. Someone commented that the equally famous Max Planck was even more religious. Heisenberg then elaborated on Planck's views with some obvious sympathy but also with a very important reservation:

Planck considers science and religion compatible because, in his view, they refer to quite distinct facets of reality. Science deals with the objective, material world. It invites us to make accurate statements about objective reality and to grasp its interconnections. Religion, on the other hand, deals with the world of values. It considers what ought to be or what we ought to do, not what is.... In short, the conflict between the two, which has been raging since the eighteenth century, seems founded on a misunderstanding, or more precisely, on a confusion of the images and parables of religion with scientific statements. This view, which I know so well from my parents, associates the two realms with the objective and subjective aspects of the world respectively. But I must confess that I myself do not feel altogether happy about this separation. I doubt whether human societies can live with so sharp a distinction between knowledge and faith.37

At a later point in his book, Heisenberg states it as his belief that the problem of values implies a "compass by which man must steer his ship through life.38 This compass, he says, is "the central order," the "one" with which we communicate in the language of religion. This religion, he feels, must win out, for the very idea of truth is involved with the reality of religious experiences.

And so, we have come back to the theme of right and wrong, of human values as an essential but also integral element in our knowing, whether in a scientific or in a theological frame of reference. And what seems increasingly evident is the interconnection of faith and truth as a universal principle, embracing the whole realm of human experience in all times and places, pointing us to the One who constitutes the physical universe and also pervades our very being. As St. Paul said to the Athenians long ago, of "The Unknown God":

He is not far from each of us, for in him we live and move and have our being.39


1Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1960).

2Ibid., p. 21.

3Ibid., p. 3o.

4Polkingborne, John. The Way the World Is (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1983), pp. 27, 28.

5Berger, Peter L. A Rumor of Angels (New York: Doubleday, 1970).

6 Ibid pp 56 ' 57


8Evans-Prichard, Edward E. Nuer Religion (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956).

9James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Longmans, 1902).

10Hardy, Alistair. The Living Stream (London: Collins, 1965).

11 Ibid., P. 269.

12 Hardy, Alistair. The Spiritual Nature of Man (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979).

13 Hardy, Alistair. The Living Stream, p. 283.

14ibid., p. 284.

15Thorson, W.R. "Spiritual Dimensions of Science" in Horizons of Science, C. F. H. Henry, ed. (New York: Harper and Row, 1978).

16Hooykaas, R. Religion and the Rise of Modem Science (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1973).

17Thorson, W.R. op. cit., pp. 241, 242.

18Thorson, W. R. "Science as the Natural Philosophy of the Christian," Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 33, 67 (1981).

19Ibid, p. 70.


21Polanyi, Michael. Personal Knowledge: An Introduction to Post-Critical Philosophy (New York: Harper and Row, 1966).

22Torrance, T.F. "The Framework of Belief" in Belief in Science and in Christian Life, T.F. Torrance, ed. (Edinburgh: Handsel Press, 1980), p. 9.

23Northrop, F.S.C. Man, Nature and God, 1962, p. 209f.

24Einstein, A. Out of My Later Years (Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1950), pp. 30,60.

25Torrance, T.F. A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1982), pp. ix-x.


27Tborson, W.R. "The Biblical Insights of Michael Polanyi," Journal of the American Scientific Affilation 33, 135 (1981).

28Torrance, T. F. Belief in Science and in Christian Life, p. 10.

29Ibid., p. 11.

30 Polanyi, Michael. Personal Knowledge, p. 305.

31Ibid., pp. 33-48.

32Torrance, T. F. Belief in Science and in Christian Life, p. 15.

33Polanyi, Michael. Personal Knowledge, p. 16.

34Burhoe, Ralph W. (ed.). Science and Human Values in the 21st Century (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1971).

35Roy, Rustum. Experimenting with Truth (New York: Pergamon, 1981), pp. 154-155.

36W. Heisenberg, W. Physics and Beyond (New York: Harper and Row, 1971).

37 Ibid., pp. 82-83.

38 Ibid., pp.214-217.

39Holy Bible Revised Standard Version, Acts 17:27, 28.

Robert L. Herrmann is Executive Director of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) and Adjunct Professor of Chemistry at Gordon College. He served on the faculty of Boston University School of Medicine for 17 years, and later as Chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Associate Dean at Oral Roberts University School of Medicine. His research has focused upon the nucleic acids. Dr. Herrmann is a member of the American Society of Biological Chemists and a Fellow of the AAAS, the Gerontological Society, and ASA. He currently serves on the Christian Medical Society's Medical Ethics Commission. Dr. Herrmann is the author of over 83 articles and chapters.

John M. Templeton, an investment counsellor living in the Bahamas, is former President of the Board of Princeton Theological Seminary. He is a trustee of the Center for Theological Inquiry at Princeton and of Buena Vista College, and a member of the International Academy of Religious Sciences and the Board of Managers of the American Bible Society. He holds degrees in economics from Yale and in law from Oxford University, as a Rhodes Scholar, as well as various honorary degrees. He is the founder of the Templeton Foundation Program of Prizes for Progress in Religion.