Essay Review The "Strange Loop" of Complementarity

The Knight's Move: The Relational Logic Of The Spirit In Theology And Science by James E. Loder and W. Jim Neidhardt. Colorado Springs, CO; Helmers & Howard, 1992. 308 pages, glossary, appendix, indices. Hardcover; $24.95.


Professor Emeritus of Materials Science and Electrical Engineering

Stanford University
 Stanford, CA 94305

From Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 45 (December 1973): 270.

This is an unusual book co-authored by a theologian and a physicist. Dr. James E. Loder is Professor of the Philosophy of Christian Education at Princeton Theological Seminary, and the late Dr. W. Jim Neidhardt, a well-known member and supporter of ASA, was Associate Professor of Physics at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Both a theologian from Germany and a physicist from England give their strong recommendations to the book, citing it, respectively, as "a thoroughly fascinating and challenging book, especially perhaps for theological teachers and students," and as "an indispensable contribution to the on-going dialogue between science and theology." In the Forward, Thomas Torrance describes the book in these words: "They develop a new, exciting form of complementarity embodying a relational logic of the spirit called 'the strange loop.' ...This is the most exciting and uplifting book of its kind that I have read in recent years"(xii).

The book is concerned basically with an expression of complementary thinking that facilitates positive interaction between science and Christian theology. The symbol of "the Knight's move" refers to the unique move of the chess piece that is the only one not moving in a straight line, as an indicator of a leap of insight or a leap of faith. The book also draws heavily on the symbolism of the Moebius strip, the two-dimensional "strange loop" twisted in the middle, which has a two-dimensional surface that can be totally traversed with continuous motion along the strip.

The purpose of the book is described as an effort to "engage the contemporary cultural fragmentation between theology and science in such a way as to counteract any assumption that each is a universe of discourse closed off from or radically incommensurate with the other." "The creative work of this book has attempted to disclose a bipolar-relational unity in which science and theology, while preserving their respective disciplinary identities, participate in dialogue according to the strange loop model" (p. 307). Or again, "The central concern behind this study is not a critique of culture. It is rather an interdisciplinary search for ways, models, and patterns by which we can approach the inherent order of creation and facilitate some reintegration of the fragmented fields of study in our culture" (p. 7).

In an Appendix, the authors summarize "some of the significant strange loop relationality structures in theology and science." In theology, examples given are: deity/humanity in the nature of Jesus Christ; Holy Spirit/human spirit in the concept of spirit; the presence of Christ/community of believers in the church; and prayer/reflective study in theological productivity. In science, examples given are: contingent intelligibility/physical structures of the universe in the ontology of natural science; mathematical pattern/empirical structures in the epistemology of natural science; wave-like/particle-like behavior in quantum science, and mind/body in human consciousness.

In actual execution the book depends heavily on an exposition and investigation of the significance of the thought of Soren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard's name appears in the titles of seven of the thirteen chapters in the book, and the index indicates over 100 references to Kierkegaard in the book. The authors indicate that the theological side of their treatment is represented by the Reformed perspective on the Judeo-Christian tradition, and name Kierkegaard, Barth and Torrance as three of the principal figures. The conventional student of theology might be a little curious about this nomenclature, since Kierkegaard is usually described as the father of Christian existentialism, and Barth as the father of neo-orthodoxy, neither of which could really be said strictly to lie "in the Reformed perspective." Many other well-known authors are cited and discussed in the main treatment of the book, with special attention to Bohr, Einstein, Piaget, Prigogine, and Torrance

The flavor of the book can be illustrated by citing the authors' own description of the "strange loop." This quote indicates the correlation between the approach taken in this book and the perspective of complementarity involving hierarchical interrelationships leading to emergent properties frequently advocated by other Christians considering the interaction between science and theology.@NOTES =

In general, the model presents the asymmetric bipolarity of relationality, suggesting its inherent unity. The apparent two sides or edges of the Moebius band represent the two poles in a dynamic interrelatedness which via a 180 twist brings the apparent duality in to a paradoxical unity. This aspect of the model stresses our claim that the relationship itself is the reality. In the models' bipolar-relational unity, a mutual reciprocity exists between the two levels; the upper level implies the lower level, and the lower level implies the upper level. However, because the two levels are regulated by a form of marginal control principle sustained by the asymmetry of the relationship, there is a hierarchical aspect to this mutual reciprocity. This hierarchical interplay results in the "lower" level having a value and significance in and of itself, while being given its full meaning only in relation to the "higher" level which exerts a controlling" or "molding function." Thus the twisted Moebius band, with its two different arrows integral to its one side, is aptly designated a strange loop model of bipolar-relational differentiated unity. (pp. 55-58).

This quote also illustrates that the book is written at a high level of erudition, which presents a formidable task in its reading and assimilation. I was reminded of the simple verse, "My soul is restless until it rests in Thee," when I read this passage in the book, "Here it must be said in Kierkegaard's terms that the human spirit, left to itself, is at best an advanced and complex form of despair, until it (the human spirit) is itself transformed in relation to an ultimate context of meaning especially designed to give its essentially relational nature an ontological ground" (p. 160). These samples are not isolated cases but are typical of the degree of scholarly abstraction present throughout the entire book.

Because of the emphasis of the book on complementary thinking, it is surprising to find that on several occasions, the authors refer to complementary concepts as "contradictory," instead of recognizing that they may indeed appear to be paradoxical, but are never logically contradictory.

If the complexity of style of this book may at times boggle the mind of the simpler-thinking scientist, it certainly offers a rich reservoir to be explored and applied by both the scientist and the theologian.