Patristic Theology and Modern Science Pt 8

Now since we can level the playing field between science and theology, there is a way forward where we can mutually, properly and with fairness engage with other disciplines and not have to feel we are inferior to them in any way.  We can maintain our understand of creation out of nothing, the Reality of Jesus Christ as the Source behind all things, and His redemptive purpose for humanity.  If we take seriously the epistemological relevance of the homoousion (epistemology is the study of knowledge where we connect the study of knowledge to the oneness of being between the Father, Son and Spirit and their union with all things), then our investigation of the world we live in can never be detached from Jesus Christ.  We live in creation of which Jesus Christ is its Source.  We live in Christ and Christ lives in us and we participate in His humanity with the  knowledge that even our minds are engaged with His mind.  As creation is held together and consists in Jesus Christ, the inner truths of Christ and His rationality regarding not only the ways and works of God but also the inner truths of the universe will be in harmony with our observations of the universe.  Our understanding of God will be in harmony with who Jesus Christ declares Himself to be.  Thus the perichoretic pattern of the Trinity will have this signature on the entire created order.

If a scientist does not believe in the Trinity or anything that we as believers hold to does not mean that the perichoretic order is not there.  We just say they are blind to it.  Nevertheless, the language and perceptions in science can be in sync with this phenomena without the realisation they are engaging with the Triune God’s creative signature in the Universe.  We take the Incarnation seriously with the knowledge that all those who endeavour to uncover the secrets of the universe are engaging with Jesus Christ.  This creates meaningful opportunities to engage with a wider scientific community and find common ground.

Why are there such different and often conflicting ideas in many of the disciplines of science?  This is not unusual.  The problems we face in theology where we can read into Jesus Christ with our theories, presuppositions, hypotheses and premises as masters of His truth can corrupt what is graciously revealed.  This also exist in the scientific field.  The traditions of the enlightenment still have an impact on what method we utilise as we investigate our object of study.  There is a tendency to place a wedge between fact and how the facts are interpreted.  Sometimes the interpretation of the facts take priority over the facts themselves. It is also the confusion in our minds as to who is the servant and who is the master between object and observer.  Are we masters of the truth or are we servants of the inner truth of the object we study?

The answers the scientific field offers to the wider community must be credible and consistent with what is actually going on in the world around us.  This will ensure the answers we are seeking will have practical solutions to the enormous problems we are all facing.

We understand the Incarnation as significant in the history of our universe.  The atoning life of Jesus Christ will not violate the rational order of the universe.  However, the source of the universe lies in Him where His work heals and restores it wherever it has been disturbed or corrupted.  The reconciling work of Jesus Christ has the soul and body of the human being seated in the heart of God in eternity as well as living in creation.  Torrance says that we actually exist on the border between what is visible and what is invisible where the two coinhere with one another.  The engagement between the scientist and the theologian opens up endless possibilities of a new and fresh insight into understanding the world around us in all the various disciplines.

Up until the 20th century it was thought that by excluding the human mind, free from passions and discernment an ‘exact scientific knowledge could be achieved.’  This is what Michael Polanyi referred to as the ‘absurd mechanisation of knowledge.’  What has proven to be case by the likes of Michael Faraday, James Clerk Maxwell, Albert Einstein and Michael Polanyi, is scientific endeavour, unlike the Newtonian approach, cannot be achieved apart from our participation. Our human understanding and knowing as an active rational ‘centre of consciousness’ and awareness of what is going on, is deeply involved in our investigation.  Therefore discernment helps us to sort out what is real and what is myth.  Only through discernment can we see if a myth is trying to present itself as reality.  It is imperative that we critically assess empirical claims with a rigorous critical review.  Myth stalls progress while a proper representation of truth helps the overall progress towards a greater understanding of the truth.  The theory of Electromagnetism followed by Relativity and Quantum theory have defeated the rigid logical, causal and mechanistic method of the Newtonians.  In similar ways to the gospel, we are given the freedom to see and discover for ourselves the inherent truths of the objects of our study. With those mentioned above, they made observations of what they perceived of reality in its interconnectedness and relationship to each other and allowed others to see, know and discover for themselves and intuitively draw the same conclusions.  This meant human endeavour is now open and free.

We can do the very same with theology.  Karl Barth and T F Torrance point back to the church fathers.  They tried to the best of their ability to accurately reflect how the fathers read the Scriptures and what the gospel meant to them.  They compared the ancient method with the reformation and scholasticism as well as the diverse modern theologies we have today.  The method of going as close to the sources of the scriptures is a valid means of being able to reach the minds of the writers.  Irenaeus (2nd century) was a student of Polycarp (late 1st & 2nd century) and Polycarp was a disciple of the apostle John (1st century), the one Jesus  dearly loved,  for around 20 years.  Athanasius is found to be in the same camp as Irenaeus.  They had a method and discipline which we can draw on to get a clearer idea on how to work within the bounds of the truth.  They paved a way of making theological endeavour open and free.

Some say Barth and Torrance are difficult to read.  I accept this criticism.  One of the reasons people find them so difficult to read is because our Western view of the gospel is often in direct conflict with the ancient church.  There is a tendency to try and measure their work through a Western paradigm and modern perception of the gospel.  If one persists with these giants and seeks the help of others, we find a transformation of the mind starts to take place.  In turn, we find it is Jesus Christ who gets bigger and bigger and the gospel becomes more and more glorious.  When we critique Barth and Torrance through the writings of the church fathers, we find that in most cases there is a glorious harmony.  Not only do we recommend that you read Barth and Torrance but, in the true spirit of scientific endeavour, explore the writings and commentaries of the church fathers and see for yourselves what they are on about.  We only appeal to the Spirit of Christ within you to discern intuitively what they are saying.

Many in Trinitarian theology appeal to the creeds and in particular the Nicene/Constantinopolitan  Creed.  The original creed was written in 325AD and it is believe Athanasius was responsible for most, if not all, of its content.  Many will say they stand by the creed but do not agree with the implications Barth and Torrance largely write about in their work.  To be fair, if Athanasius is responsible for putting the creed to paper, we should turn to him and ask him how he believed this creed should be interpreted and what the implications are.  This is what T F Torrance is renown for in particular.  He has brought the mind of Athanasius and his explanation of the creed into the modern theological discussion.  Athanasius’ writings are widely available and we have a number of them on this website.  If we can gain a clearer understanding of Athanasius we begin to gain a clearer understanding of the ancient church at large tracing back to another one of its giants, Irenaeus, who was on the same page.  We are also start to see the enormity of the Nicene event and a Spirit of Truth residing in the delegates who ratified it.

Theological and scientific endeavour have much in common.  They both desire to seek the truth of their particular object.  By serving and remaining faithful to the object one can discover for themselves the inherent truths they contain. Not only will they discover this truth for themselves, the inherent truth of the object will critically review how the facts are interpreted to the degree where the truth is interwoven between the two.  Take courage that the theology, which at the same time is the good news gospel, is as credible as any of the other scientific disciplines.  This includes science, humanities and anthropology.  No discipline has the upper hand over the gospel but in most cases an honest desire to allow the truth to speak for itself.

to be continued . . .