Torrance’s Scientific Theology
By: Jim Virkler
Brilliant theologian Thomas F. Torrance passed into eternity in 2007. We imagine that Torrance would have experienced exuberant enjoyment at the recent scientific detection of gravity waves. He related science and theology in unique ways, a gifted expositor within both disciplines. We quote a portion of the foreword from one of Thomas Torrance’s volumes: Reality and Scientific Theology: “There is being brought to light a hidden traffic between theological and scientific ideas of the most far-reaching significance for both theology and science…Theology and science are found to have deep mutual relations, and increasingly cry out for each other.”
Torrance was especially impacted by the work of brilliant scientists. In particular, he appreciated the work of Michael Faraday (1791-1867), James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), and Albert Einstein (1879-1955). With respect to light, the subject of inquiry of these scientists, Torrance stated, “I believe that God created the universe in such a way that the invariance of light in its creaturely way is a reflection of his eternal invariance, his changeableness, and his faithfulness. If light were to wobble, the universe would be thrown into complete lawlessness. If God were to wobble, if God were not utterly faithful, the same yesterday, today, and forever, there would be an utterly chaotic state of affairs in space and time.”
The quote above indicates how enthusiastically Thomas Torrance championed the connection between God and his physical creation. Many modern scientists and laypersons have been indoctrinated by Carl Sagan’s famous opening statement to inaugurate the famous “Cosmos” television series broadcast in 1980. Sagan began with a lofty philosophical utterance which has reinforced the naturalistic “gospel.” He said, “The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” Torrance, instead, saw the reality of God, the Creator, acting both inside and outside the Cosmos, but demonstrating a unity between the Cosmos and the eternal realm of God beyond the Cosmos.
Famous early physicist Isaac Newton (1643-1727) seldom commented on theology. One quote attributed to him may have been more philosophical than faith-based. “The most elegant system of the sun, planets, and comets could not have arisen without the design and domain of an intelligent and powerful being,” he wrote. Torrance was uncomfortable with the dualism of Isaac Newton. The physical laws Newton expressed, such as the Law of Gravitation, were explainable in terms of themselves, not with respect to a supernatural entity. Newton conceived of a universe which functioned independently of the Creator. His theology could be described as unorthodox. The truths of nature posed challenges to the truths of organized religion according to Newton. Torrance was troubled that Newton’s dualism operated under the premise of disconnectedness between God and creation.
Torrance, the science-minded theologian, was far more pleased with the unity of forces expressed by brilliant scientists Faraday, Maxwell, and Einstein. Electricity and magnetism were unified in theory of electromagnetism by Faraday and Maxwell. A few decades later Albert Einstein enthusiastically lauded the intuitive insights of Faraday and the brilliant mathematical equations of Maxwell. Faraday and Maxwell were devout in their Christian faith. Einstein’s theories unified the dimensions of space and time. He sought for ways to combine electromagnetism with gravity in a single theory. He characterized his search as a quest to discover a “theory of everything.” In 1923 Einstein stated, “The intellect seeking after an integrated theory cannot rest content with the assumption that there exist two distinct fields totally independent of each other by their nature.” It is obvious that waves of electromagnetism in the form of light and other energy, and the recently detected gravity waves traveling through vast distances inhabit the same cosmic space.
How did Thomas Torrance incorporate his deep visions of orthodox Christian theology and science in his fruitful lifetime ministry? As a scientist and as a theologian he searched for the union of natural science and theological science. In Torrance’s voluminous writings and in commentaries about him, his deepest vision of unity is abundantly clear: The Son, Jesus Christ, was and is one in being with the Father and Spirit in eternity and with us by virtue of the incarnation. The connection between science and faith is most profound when we compare the mystery of unity of the universal forces of the natural world with the mystery of the unity of the Christian Trinity.
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Jim Virkler, a retired New Jersey public school science educator, now devotes his time investigating the harmony of scientific discoveries and Christian faith. He and his wife, Eleanor, now reside in the mid-west near their children and grandchildren.