Science in Christian Perspective
"Where does the spiritual world fit into our description of the physical world?"
by Robert L. Miller*
3060 Dryden Ave., Gilroy, CA 95020
From: PSCF 51 (September 1999): 143-144. Response: Murphy
I have a question that has been floating around in the back of my mind for a long time. I see the question hinted at frequently on the ASA listserv but no one comes right out and asks it. The question is: "Where does the spiritual world fit into our description of the physical world via relativity, quantum and evolutionary theory?" First let me define what I mean by spiritual world. I mean what the Apostle Paul describes in Eph. 6:12: "... our struggle is not against flesh and blood [the physical world], but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (the spirit world)." The Bible is replete with stories of demons and angels and encounters with God that have a physical effect in this world. The last two thousand years of church history contain hundreds of examples. (Cf. R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas, In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for Godís Action in History (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997) reviewed in PSCF 50:2 (1998): 149; and Don Richardson, Eternity in Their Hearts (Regal Books, 1981).
To take one example, consider Paulís encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus in Acts 9. A spiritual casual agent generated light and sound and caused blindness, all physical effects in this world. I assume we cannot explain this physical event with our present laws. We could explain the light and sound, and perhaps the blindness, but not their source. That tells me that our present physical laws are incomplete, precisely because they cannot offer an explanation of the physical effect of the spiritual agent.
Robert Pennock states: "Ö supernatural explanations should never enter into scientific theorizing," (PSCF 50:3 : 206); and in excoriating Phillip Johnson for this sin, he issues this challenge to him: "Are divine interventions occurring today in particular cases? If so, which ones, and how do we check? If not, how do we know?" (p. 207). I can appreciate the utility for methodological naturalism as a practical guide for doing day-to-day science, but how does that exclude spirit? Just because our lack of imagination limits our ability to test for spirit does not mean that spirit does not exist. John Barrow comments in his book, Theories of Everything, (UOP , 207):
What are the things that cannot be included in the physicistís conception of "everything"? There appear to be such things, but they are more often then not excluded from the discussion on the grounds that they are not "scientific"óa response not unlike that of the infamous Master of Balliol of whom it was said that "what he doesnít know isnít knowledge."
John has written a couple of books detailing the limits to knowing via science. His most recent book is, Impossibility: The Limits of Science and the Science of Limits (UOP, 1998), which he closes by saying:
Our knowledge about the Universe has an edge. Ultimately, we may even find that the fractal edge of our knowledge of the Universe defines its character more precisely than its contents: that what cannot be known is more revealing that what can.
I can remember George Murphy, on the ASA listserv, expressing discomfort with miracles. In one communication, he said that he could accept the miracle of the resurrection but not much else. More recently the exchange between Howard Van Til and Bill Dembski re-triggered the question in my mind. Howardís description of how God acts is titled a "fully-gifted creation" which includes a "robust formational economy." I take this to mean that God could have endowed his creation with the ability to create the complexity that we see without the need for periodic interventions, if he chose not to, i.e., using natural processes. Bill, on the other hand, taking a more empirical approach, says that the complexity we see requires a Designer, and, in particular, that "specified complexity" (Beheís irreducible complexity) excludes creation through strictly natural processes. Bill, however, opinions that "fully-gifted creation" may be compatible with "intelligent design," depending how you define natural processes.
My impression is that in an effort to avoid the God-of-the-gaps syndrome both authors have produced definitions of their view point, whether fully- gifted creation or intelligent design, that border on the strictly mechanical, so much so that Howard has been asked frequently how fully-gifted creation differs from deism.
Is it impossible to meld the effects of the spiritual world with the physical world to produce a Theory of Everything that would be a truly complete description of the universe, or would it be considered sacrilegious to try? Or, to put it another way, is it possible to completely describe the universe without including spirit in the description? Does this throw us back to the God-of-the-gaps? Perhaps. It seems to me that part of the ASA charter is to probe for understanding where science ends and other ways of knowing kick in. But if we exclude spirit a priori how will we learn?