Patristic Theology and Modern Science Pt 2

We believe in God as disclosed in Jesus Christ a presupposed idea of order.  This presupposed idea of order is very much the belief in science.  Even though there appears to be evidence to the contrary, there is the widespread belief in order and rationality by both the theologian and the scientist.  As much as the world around them might logically lead them to think otherwise, there is often the assumption in this order and rationale even though it cannot be explained.  Yet it is the role of both theology and science in some way not only to try and understand order and disclosing it in as clear way as possible but also to make this explanation of this order a reality as we endeavour to interact with nature and with each other.  By understanding the way order ought to be in its relationship upon the ground from which all order stems from we find both science and theology are on the same page in their quest for truth.

Theology

The ground for all we know regarding truth in Theology rises from the love of God revealed in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.  It is the power of His love which is interwoven throughout creation.  Through His love revealed to us we have God establishing His order as primacy over everything else that may tell us otherwise.  Scientific enquiry is the belief in the Teleos of Christ revealing to us the way things ought to be actualised in the universe showing us that the loving God is very much involved in it and thereby He is for the universe.

Our knowledge of the world is grounded in the philanthropy of God who created it.  God’s love is He who He is in Himself and it is out of pure kindness that He creates a world with a reality all of its own.  Nevertheless, it is in Him the whole world is held together and consists and is eternally in relationship to Himself.  God is One who is true to Himself and is like no other so that what He says and does is Who He is in Himself so that some of Himself remains with what He has created.  Being that the world was created out of God Himself then the whole created order comes under His judgement.  In effect He says, ‘No!’ to disorder and, ‘Yes!’ to order.   He says, ‘No!’ to disorderly way of behaviour and ‘Yes!’ to orderly behaviour.  The Law is summed up in this way, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’  Therefore the law of the universe is the law of love.

The ground of all order is in Jesus Christ where in theology we seek to think out creation from the One who created it out of nothing through the creative power of His Word.  Creation and Incarnation are linked together.  What this did over time was to replace pre-Christian thought with the idea of contingent intelligibility.  Such is the reputation of the contribution of Greece to human civilisation, this took time to take hold.  It has been the constant battle to keep the contrast in place and not to allow forms of thought foreign to the gospel to enter into and influence it.  Even to this day, the battle continues.

The structure and order of the whole universe is grounded and embodied in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.  Therefore His loving command and redemptive power infiltrates the whole old order liberating it from the forces of darkness and disorder.  We look for this new order in the midst of the old order.  The way of redeeming and commanding love is God’s chosen way of bringing His own rationale and mind to bear upon the disordered structures of our existence in space and time.  What God did in the Person and work of Jesus Christ has a real ontological impact on all creation and everything that existed within it.  Thereby the drive of the universe is governed by His all-powerful love.

Science

To embark on scientific investigative study is to strive to make what is not apparently understandable into the realm of common human understanding.  It is striving to make sense of the mysteries.  There appears to be an ever increasing drive by nature to trend towards disorder.  Our human tendency is to try and turn disorder into something more orderly and useful.  Gardening is a clear example of this.  We tend to the soil, remove what is useless and nurture what will benefit the garden and meet our goals of a productive garden producing flowers and fruit etc for our benefit.  If we let the garden go, it falls back into its chaotic disorder.  In some ways, this is how science tries to achieve its ends.  It looks for structure and order in the midst of nature with the view of attempting to understand the way it ought to work.

There is the impulsion to want to know and understand how the universe works.  It is incumbent on the scientist to undertake his research with integrity and articulate as best as possible what the universe is showing them.  There is inherent order, structure and truth to the way the universe functions that is the truth no matter what we think of it or whether or not we fully understand it.  The truth it reveals will judge those who try to say something other than what it is.

In undertaking Chemistry at university, I was deeply fascinated by the Periodic Table which lists the elements in the universe in order of atomic weight and how it came to be today.  In the early 19th century the Periodic was organised in a different way than it is today and had a number of elements missing. Dmitri Mendeleev (1834-1907) proposed a different order and predicted there were a number of missing elements that were yet to be discovered.  Little did he know that he made the first step in organising the elements using a scheme that encompassed all the elements.  He was mocked for his proposals but was later proven to be correct.  He intuitively understood the anomalies without any clear evidence of the truth.  His discoveries were consistent with the truth inherent in the object of what he was studying that could later be widely confirmed and used to this day.  The field of chemistry submitted to the truth in nature and continued to develop and make huge inroads into further expanding the table.  What we also see here is a combination of not only the ‘how’ questions but also the ‘why’ questions creeping into science.

Here we have the conscience of the scientist bearing up to the truth inherent in the universe.  When we serve the truth instead of trying to master it, then it is the fallacies in our thinking and understanding that come under the judgement of the inherent truth in the universe.  This is the same in theology where the conscience of the theologian bears up to the truth of God revealed in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.  Our task as theologians is to come under the judgment of the inherent truth revealed in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.  We do not master this truth but serve the truth of ‘Him.’

Theology and Science Come Together

Based on the discussion so far Torrance makes three points on how there is common ground between the two fields, natural science and theology.

  1. In days gone by, it was felt the field of science concerned itself with the ‘How?’ questions and the field of theology was concerned with the ‘Why?’ questions.  In theology it is about the beginning and the end and not with all that happens in between.  In science, it is what the mechanical processes in between the beginning and end which is not the job nor the concern of theology but ultimately belongs in the field of science.  This left a deep split between theology and science that has had a severe impact in human culture as well in natural science and humanities.  With the help of people like Einstein, we are now forced to look at the factor of time as being an important integral part of the universe.  This means we take into account there being a beginning of the universe and its finiteness in space and time.  So here we see there are certain aspects of the why questions that must also be linked to the how questions which invariably means they are now addressed in a different way in relationship to each other.  We are not saying theology and science are one and the same.  Rather, there is an integral relationship with each other in how they endeavour to uncover the inherent truths embedded in the universe.
  2. There is in fact one rational order that pervades the universe through which both science and theology are constrained.  Seeing as there is no one who has the power to manipulate the ontic truth of which both fields engage in, there is the need to be obedient to what it discloses.  What we must not do is try to align the truth contained in the universe with some preconceived imperative within our own minds.  The imperative always follows the truth disclosed.  The intelligibility that is contained within the universe is not to be bargained with to boost our fanciful ideas within our minds.  Instead, we are to rethink everything in the light of the reality disclosed to us.  All the disciplines of science as well as theology must re-orientate with the reality revealed in their object.
  3. What we find is an inter-relationship between the disciplines of science and theology.  They all seek the truth within space and time.  In theology we believe the One who created the universe and everything in it, entered into space and time.  Thus the rationale and intelligibility is interpenetrated throughout the universe.  James Clerk Maxwell and Albert Einstein noted the strong relationship between physics and mathematics.  This I have also noticed in chemistry where mathematics is an important component.  Reality plays an important part in how we process our ideas and theories.  We do not necessarily work our way through logic and deduction towards this reality.  Therefore there is a connection between the “laws of our mind” and the “laws of nature.”  What this means is we are not free to make any conclusion we like to suit an idea in our mind.  Instead, we are compelled by the reality we are confronted with to conform our mind to what it discloses.  Hence, we reach harmony between reality and the way we think and what we think about.

Let us focus on the motive behind natural science and theological science.  “Natural Science, of course, is concerned to explore and account for the ongoing processes in nature in their autonomous structures: that is, in their contingent reality as utterly different from the transcendent reality of God.  Theological science is concerned to understand and interpret states of affairs and events in the created universe, in so far as they are dependant upon God the Creator and Redeemer, and are specifically correlated to his revealing and saving purpose in history” (Christian Frame of Mind p. 27).  They both however work  within space and time from which rationality which operates.  As investigation intensifies with more questioning on the respective objects of study, there are limits  to our understanding from which judgment must be suspended.

In both theology and natural science there requires on the part of the researcher not to enter further than what the object reveals.  We know theology there are questions of which the Object is silent.  In recent times, questions regarding the efficacy of the blood of Jesus Christ are raised where in most cases, no clear answers are given.  These questions are often pressed by those whose imperative might be limited atonement such as Calvinism or Arminianism and Universalism.  We have mentioned above that healthy scientific process does not practice in logic and deduction to reach one’s conclusions.  If we place that aside as not a valid process in reaching a so called conclusion, we are left with possibilities.  Unless the object discloses further information regarding the fate of the unbeliever, the existence of hell etc, then we are only left with possibilities.  It is through this mind that we show reverence to the mystery of our Object, Father, Son and Spirit.

Now in natural science, in some quarters, are endeavouring to achieve results also based on what the object of their study discloses.  There is an effort to not fall into logic and deduction to reach one’s conclusions but to only report on what they see.  There is also the discipline require to suspend judgement on those questions on which for the time there may be not clear answers.  You take the discipline of physics which has ideas that cannot be definitively explained.  Rather than change the data to make sense of realities that are right at the border between being and non-being, existence and creation, the answers may be found beyond these borders, beyond space and time, beyond created reality. Then further questions regarding an understanding of what it is behind our reality, need to be raised that bring together some sort of doctrine of creation within the relevant field.  In this way, since science is breaking away from the “observer conditioned universe,”  there is the growing realisation of a contingency beyond the universe.

To be continued . . . .