Essay Review

The God Who Would Be Known

John E. McKenna

Fuller Theological Seminary
Pasadena, CA 91182

From: Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 43 (June 1991): 117-119.
Both members of the American Scientific Affiliation, the authors form a remarkable team as they survey the way our modern scientific culture has been compelled to acknowledge the necessity for considering in its development the transcendent dimensions inherent to the universe. Their expertise in widely divergent fields gives both scope and depth to this effort to shape for their readers the state of the art and the crucial problems in the various fields of knowledge that comprise our investigations into the nature of physical reality. John Templeton, financial manager and patron of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, is well versed in the principles of success within the created orders as well as an avid encourager in the redemptive orders of the creation. Robert Herrmann, Executive Director of ASA, is a Professor of Biochemistry and a molecular biologist well acquainted with the nuts and bolts of research and the struggle to gain conceptual power grounded in the empirical world of our experience. They have given their book a ready appreciation for the profundities and mysteries that is much needed in our struggle to create a positive dialogue between Theology and Science. From Big Bang theory to the challenges inherent with the Quantum World, they explore the boundaries of our universe and provide a voice that would call both scientist and theologian to meaningful relations.

Ten chapters are employed to make their argument. The first establishes the unique kind of necessity involved when we would plunge into the depths of created reality. Paul Davies is quoted: "Science offers a surer path to God than religion..." (p.11). The conflict between science and theology is a result of the split between metaphysical and physical dimensions of reality created by both bad science and bad theology. The history of the development of thought shows that the universe does not explain itself to us but rather possesses what the authors have called "signals of transcendence," to which we must now give serious heed. "Our thesis," they write, "is that God is revealing himself in all the immensity of an ever-accelerating pace through the rapid developments of the sciences" (p. 13).

Chapter two attempts to show us how the split between nature and supernature, reason and belief, knowledge and faith, has caused the church to abandon the world to the scientists and the paranormalists. The result was the mythical synthesis between cosmology and theology accomplished by the Middle Ages that led to the determinism and the deism developed out of our belief in a Newtonian Universe. But Einstein's work helped us to overcome this false dichotomy in the foundations of our knowledge, helped us see the necessity of holding together both belief and experience under the real depths of the nature of the universe, and has cleared a path for the advances we have made in recent years. James Houston is quoted as understanding in this development a need to rediscover nature, where both personal being and objective experience of the universe shall be significantly grasped as never before in the history of the race on the planet.

In chapter three, the necessity to move beyond the chance-necessity dialectic at the heart of so much of our thinking today is argued. Attempts to think together Relativity Theory and the Quantum World are compelled by more subtle and more real objectivities than what is merely visible. Modern progress through Prigogine, Bohm, and others, points to a unity that must take seriously both transcendent and phenomenal levels of reality. Stanley Jaki and John Polkinghorne are cited as theologians who have appreciated the commanding nature of this necessity. It is in the invisible realms that we must seek for an explanation of what is visible to us, so that the explicate orders of the creation are bound up with the implicate orders that will not allow us to cast nature and its freedom into the strait-jacket of determinism or to drown ourselves in the impersonal immensities of purely random processes.

Chapter four explores the nature of uniqueness in the complex orders of creation. John Archibald Wheeler and the anthropic principle come into focus here. The strong interpretation of the principle means that this world is to be conceived as the home of the race. Only in the universe that actually is could mankind arise as it has, when the "big questions" are understood as inherent to the nature of things. A unitary view of the universe and God is demanded in which the role of mankind is given a surprisingly meaningful center hidden in the depths of the reality of the creation. This all means that the unseen must be taken seriously as the source and the ground for all that we do experience. Creation and evolution cannot be held up over against each other as opposite conceptions of the actual world.

Then, in chapter five, Herrmann employs his expertise to analyze the great break-through in bio-logics with the discovery of DNA and argues that, far from pointing us back to deterministic views of the processes that comprise the world, the evolution of biological forms confronts us with a complexity demanding quite new concepts that will deepen our grasp of the rationality and intelligibility in this exciting field. In fact, one might see the 21st century focusing upon the development of conceptual power and attention in this field just as the 20th has become known for its development in physics. The Genome project is a good example, and Herrmann argues that we can say with St. Paul in this advance that "since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what he has made" (p. 102).

I found chapter six the most satisfying part of the argument. Here, the concept of the contingent nature and rationality of created realities is given some serious attention. Science has been driven to recognize in our time the cogency of this ancient concept. Contingency belongs to the givenness of the creation of God out of nothing and demands that belief and personal knowledge be appreciated together in the foundations of our knowledge of reality. The priority of belief in the way that we face objective truth is bound up with the way things have freely been made to be.  The divine freedom to create out of nothing means that transcendent relations are freely bound up with whatever is or ought to be in this world, and this means that nature is really the work of the Creator and cannot be grasped with static, antecedent conceptual systems inappropriate to the actual case. The authors point us to Torrance's work. The Scottish theologian has championed an appreciation of the concept of contingency in our time and won the Templeton Prize for his contributions, which helped to establish the Center for Theological Inquiry at Princeton. To follow Torrance in this matter is to be called to penetrate more deeply than ever into the lability of the nature of the universe and to discover truly new categories of rationality that take us quite beyond the random-deterministic dialectic employed still today by so many. We must learn to grasp a hidden center of the order of things where real transcendent air can be breathed and this will require, argues Torrance, a fresh appreciation of the divine and contingent orders and freedoms with the power of a conceptual wholeness free from the static reductionism commonly found in the old sciences. "Torrance's recommendation to the scientific community is to be done with the chance-necessity dialectic, and instead see what appears to be accidental as coordinated with a higher order" (p. 114).

Perhaps we are seeing an illustration of this kind of direction when we try to relate the work of people like Prigogine, Bohm, and David Ruelle, where time is sought to be understood as fundamental to both the Quantum and the Relativistic Fields in Physics. Time must be given a much more vital and serious role in our grasp of the nature of the universe and its function as an external operator brought into the heart of what physics is. The nature of time and space will point us then to something quite beyond our present ability to relate our thought to the actual case that the universe uniquely is.

For me, the force of the argument culminates with this chapter. The authors continue by attempting to expand its implications into areas that involve moral law as well as physical law, where what is and what ought to be may be considered as intrinsic and inherent to the nature of the universe. Here, our theory of evolution and our struggle to understand the development of human consciousness and self-awareness in the immensities and complexities of the world compel us into the future, where "the light of the light-giver" may become all the more bright for us (p. 199). That is to say, with the worship of the race shall be found the center of meaning and rationality whose wholeness will allow us to see both the transcendent and the visible dimensions to the unique process that the universe is under God's mighty hand. This is the final assertion of the argument, and we have been brought as readers full circle to the initial contention of the authors that the "signal of transcendence" now being sent us from almost every field of knowledge in our endeavors is real and most worthy of our committed attention.

I had many questions arise throughout my reading of the argument and a deep reservation about the authors' appreciations of the freedom of God in relation with the world; perhaps a theologian's right with scientists who, in the history of thought, tend to think away the significance of the contingency of the world. What is the actuality that is the free relation between a free Creator and a free creature? If the relation cannot be conceived as a necessary one, how may divine and created causes be understood together to give nature its meaning and form and content? How shall we then distinguish what ought to be from what merely can be achieved in our future in the world? If revelation and reason cannot be held apart the way we have divorced them in the past, given the kind of evil that we face in the world, how shall we learn to take seriously this category in the depths of our grasp of the intelligibility of the world orders and freedom? Indeed, what is the relation of evil to the argument and to our scientific endeavors? What is the real function of the one triune God revealed in the Scriptures of the Church to the actuality the universe is? With this argument, have we really moved beyond in any serious sense to the compelling nature of the Blessed Trinity of God as the real source of all the rationality and intelligibility in the universe?

I realize that all these questions are bound up with the role and cogency of "natural theology" in the light of God Himself as He has revealed Himself to us in Christ. We are still here talking about understanding natural theology not as an antecedent conceptual system but one which assumes its shape and content from within the divine light of the Word of God. This Word is what we need to hear if my questions are going to be answered, and it is this Word for which our authors have certainly argued, and for this we owe them a debt. Scientists and theologians who want to enter the ever widening scope of our concerns for the relationship between the two fields will find this book true to its purposes - to introduce both to the kind of openness and integrity that will be required for progress to be made, a progress upon which the entire human race depends perhaps more desperately in our time than ever before in its history. I commend it to all really concerned.