Patristic Theology and Modern Science Pt 11

Home / Trinity in You Blog / T F Torrance / Patristic Theology and Modern Science Pt 11

Reality is not subject to our rules, our theories, our hypotheses and cares little for our premise.  The laws of nature are intrinsic to nature and operate regardless of whether or not our thinking is or is not in line with it.  Before the work of Faraday, Maxwell and Einstein, light was thought to be vibrations of ether.  The mainstream scientific community held this premise and all future facts had to be based on this premise.  What Maxwell showed was this premise did not line up with reality as he observed it.  Either what he was observing was wrong or the idea that light was vibrations of ether was wrong.  His intuition trusted what he observed rather than the widely held theory.  As it turned out, the idea of light as vibrations of ether was proved to be a subjective fantasy.

In theology, our task is to match thought with the Reality.  The Reality we are confronted with is Jesus Christ who is God become Human.  Our thought must line up with the reality of God disclosed as the Man Jesus Christ as testified in Scripture and in the context of Israel’s salvation history.  We can undertake a journey through the history of the church and find that when there were controversies it was the thought of the heretics who refused to line up with the Reality disclosed in Jesus Christ.  So strong was their premise, especially with the regard to the Incarnation as an impossibility, the heretics wanted their subjective fantasies to change the Object.  Their thought process did not line up with the Reality of God disclosed.

What we endeavour to do in our theological investigations is to conform our thinking to what is disclosed in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.  This is precisely what Paul asks of us in Romans 12:1-2

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

The world has its own idea of who God is and what He can do.  They have their own idea of what is required of us in our service to God.  It has its own idea of how close or how far we are away from God.  The way of the world is the way of religion on our own terms deciding who is in and who is out, who is making it and who is not.  We do not conform to the world’s ideas regarding the ways and works of God.  Instead, we must be transformed from the world’s ideas about God and have our mind renewed and come to Him with empty hands, our minds empty of theories, hypotheses and any other premise.  We must be willing to allow God to love us on His terms revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ.  The Reality of God has so much more to offer than any of us can say.  All we can say is, “I don’t know God but I know somebody who does.”  We take seriously Irenaeus’ discussion on Matt 11:25-30;

“For the Lord taught us that no man is capable of knowing God, unless he be taught of God; that is, that God cannot be known without God: but that this is the express will of the Father, that God should be known. For they shall know Him to whomsoever the Son has revealed Him” (Irenaues Against Heresies Book 4/6/4).

If we come to God with our own sets of rules as to how He should be understood, then He will be misunderstood.  Jesus Christ says otherwise to our own subjective rules.  Jesus Christ speaks and acts according to who He is as God in His own being.  In the same way, if those in mainstream 19th century science came to observe light with the rule it was a vibration of the ether, then light itself will be misunderstood and it was.  Light has its own rules regarding its own characteristics.  What Clerk Maxwell was able to do was to shape the laws of electricity, the magnetic field and light by what was inherent in nature to their own properties.

The scientist is in the same position as the theologian in regard to the Universe.  In the endeavour to understand the universe, they must approach it with the view that all they previously held to be true might be sorely tested by the particular object of study.  Their own observations may confirm prior so called facts while others so called facts might raise more questions.  They must allow their minds to be transformed by the reality they observe and not to be strictly tied to any premises.  It is the same statement that holds true in theology, “I do not know the universe but I know somebody who does.”  Note quote from Albert Einstein;

The human mind, no matter how highly trained, cannot grasp the universe. We are in the position of a little child, entering a huge library whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written those books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books, a mysterious order, which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of the human mind, even the greatest and most cultured, toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged, obeying certain laws, but we understand the laws only dimly. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that sways the constellations.” 

This here is a good analogy regarding all the fields of science including theology.  Not all things in theology are absolutely clear leaving us with questions without answers.  We see through a glass darkly is what Paul says In 1Cor 13:12.  Science is also in the same situation as it sees the objects dimly suspecting there is more going on than meets the eye.  The laws they follow and observe is but a mere dim reflection of what is actually going on.  According to my friend who is a physicist, this is the general feel throughout his discipline.  The cosmology of science is moving closer to the cosmology of Jesus Christ than it ever has before.

The idea of something behind the universe, the created order, upon which it is contingent is not only fundamental to theology but is rapidly gaining strength in many other fields.  In our respective disciplines, we seek to remain faithful to our objects of study in such a way that what we learn from it is as close a reflection of the inherent truth it discloses.  The laws that govern a way of studying the object is in accordance with what the object demands so that its integrity is preserved and the information is useful not only in the field in question but may also be applied in other fields.  If a discipline outside of theology believes they have something to offer, then it is up to those within the field to follow the rules and laws to maintain its own integrity and see for themselves if what is on offer either upholds the integrity of the theological field or undermines it.

We take into consideration in the various disciplines, the information gleaned from their object of study is based on what one dimly suspects and the laws we believe it holds we may only dimly understand.  What we find generally in the scientific disciplines is the greater our understanding of what we study, the greater we realise there is even more mystery with many more questions that are yet to be answered.  This is also true in theology.  We are confronted with the ineffable mysteries of the Trinity which can only be worshipped and adored rather than grasped with the intelligibility of our feeble minds.  Though we can learn so much from the revelation of Jesus Christ, there are limits to what we know where some things are veiled from our eyes.  What we know has a long history that goes back to the apostles themselves through the Nicene era giving us a precise way of seeing and knowing God as the Man Jesus Christ.  If other fields are inexact with many of its mysteries yet to be unfolded, we should take extreme care if we are expected to change the rules and laws regarding our Object of study.  No one knows God like God Himself who chose the nation of Israel to be the Womb of His Incarnation.  This makes the way of salvation distinctly and uniquely Jewish.  It is in the context of their way of understanding through their long salvation history that we are given the true understanding of the glorious gift to all humanity which is no less than the gift of God Himself.

To be continued . . .