Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor


Einstein and Torrance

W. Jim Neidhardt
Physics Department
New Jersey Institute of Technology

From: PSCF 40 (September 1988): 191-192.

J. W. Haas' article, "Relativity and Christian Thought: The Early Response," [Perspectives 40(l):10-18, March 1988] should suggest some key themes to be found in Thomas F. Torrance's "Integration of Judeo-Christian Theology and Einstein's Relativity Theory."

1. Relativity theory emphasizes the unitary character of scientific knowledge at all stages of development: Empirical and theoretical factors are inseparably integrated together representing a unitary epistemological structure that should be characteristic of good physics and good theology! (Torrance refers to this unity in physics of theoretical and empirical as the homoousion of physics.)

2. Relativity theory primarily stresses the invariant nature of physical law which, secondarily, results in the relativism of observational details with respect to different laboratory systems. Torrance suggests that the invariant character of physical laws arises from the faithfulness, constancy and utter dependability of God's love manifest through his sustaining care of the Creation.

3. Relativity theory understands the space-time continuum (space-time) from a relational, as contrasted to a container, perspective. Torrance argues that Einstein's relational understanding of  space-time shares congruences with that of some Patristic Church Fathers (Hilary, Athanasius) who were responsible for the Christological truth contained in the early creeds. Such relational, as contrasted to container, understanding of space-time makes far more tractable the problem of how the Creator of the space-time Universe entered into his own Creation (the Incarnation Event in space-time; .e., Jesus Christ).

4. General relativity is a field theory. Torrance argues that field heories, constituting a relational understanding of physical reality, have a number of structural elements that are analogous to concepts in Judeo-Christian theology. Personhood understood in a relational context and an elementary particle as a relational (field) entity is one possible analogy.

5. Physical theory at its best develops "invisible" conceptual "objects"; i.e., the space-time metric of general relativity, that explains the behavior associated with observable, "visible" phenomena. In creative scientific theories the "invisible" explains the "visible" rather than the "visible" explaining the "invisible." The same is true in creative theology.

6. Strictly speaking, Torrance develops his multi-level view of reality primarily from the thought of M. Polanyi and I. Prigogine's irreversible thermodynamics, not from relativity theory by itself.

7. A general comment. The Enduring Themes section of Haas'  article might have as a subheading Einstein's remark: "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." (a) Einstein's notion of religion was impersonal with an element of  transcendence, but the remark is applicable to Judeo-Christianity/science interrelations. (b) Schematically Einstein's remark could be represented in terms of Religion-Science integration:

 (Religion) sharpens, clarifies, explicates  <> motivates, gives meaning to (Science).