Part I, A Realist Approach to Science and Theology
Guest post by © Dr Myk Habets, firstname.lastname@example.org
In his work The Ground and Grammar of Theology, Torrance traces the development of Christian theology on the natural sciences and argues for a Christian science for today such as that developed by the early Church. Through the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo the early Church developed ‘three masterful ideas’ that powerfully effected all subsequent thought in natural science as well as theological science. The first idea was the rational unity of the universe, given the fact that God is the Creator of all. This provides the world with one pervading taxis or order. The second idea was the contingent rationality or intelligibility of the universe. In Greek thought the human mind was eternal, it was the spark of the divine, due to the influence of the Orphic ideal. This led to the Greek idea of the divinization of the creature. Christian theology rejected this dualism and instead operated with the distinction between created and uncreated light and rationality that exists between God and humanity. Creation ex nihilo meant that even the mind of the human person was created by the Creator in time. The consequence is that God gives human intelligence its own (contingent) rationality. The third idea is the corollary of the first and second points, the freedom of the universe – a contingent freedom.
This freedom is also found in the very Being of God. When medieval theology adopted Aristotelian philosophy the Greek notion of God as impassible and immutable was also adopted. In this way Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover became associated with the God of the Scriptures. However, in Patristic theology immutability and impassibility, as applied to God, were not associated with these philosophical ideas but were actually a challenge to it. It is true that God is not moved by, and is not changed by, anything outside himself, and that he is not affected by anything or does not suffer from anything beyond himself. But this simply affirms the biblical fact that God is transcendent and the one who created ex nihilo. What the Fathers did not mean is that God does not move himself and is incapable of imparting motion to what he has made. It does not mean that God is devoid of passion, of love, mercy and wrath, and that he is impassibly and immutably related to our world of space and time in such a way that it is thrown back upon itself as a closed continuum of cause and effect.
I grant that patristic theology was tempted constantly by the thrust of Greek thought to change the concepts of impassibility and immutability in this direction, but it remained entrenched within the orbit of the Judeo-Christian doctrine of the living God who moves himself, who through his free love created the universe, imparting to its dynamic order, and who through the outgoing of his love moves outside of himself in the incarnation.
This is the God who was not always Creator but became Creator. This implies the notion that even in the life of God there is change. Nor was God eternally incarnate, for in Jesus Christ he became what he was not without ceasing to be what he was. This teaching altered the whole concept of God, of his Being and Act, in the early centuries of our era. T.F. Torrance sees this doctrine being clearly articulated first by Athanasius and then in our own day by Karl Barth in his account of the Being of God in his Act, and of the Act of God in his Being, inseparably bound up with the transcendent freedom of God in his love. In fact, this principle that God is revealed in his Being and Act and Act and Being is one of the principle tenets of both Barth and Torrance’s theological work.
According to Torrance and the scientific tradition within which he stands, the order evident in the natural world is totally contingent and yet ordered and so conforms to the Christian truth of the creative action of God. Drawing on the work of James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), Torrance seeks to drive out all dualisms in our understanding and method in favour of what Maxwell presented in terms of unitary modes of thought about nature. Torrance has repeatedly argued that Maxwell’s strong Christian faith was the foundation of his scientific method, like John Philoponos before him. Torrance suggested that for Maxwell, the Christian doctrine of creation offers a lens through which the rationality and intelligibility of the created order can be understood and pursued. Here again Torrance is arguing that proper theological reflection (science) has affected and driven natural scientific investigation and not vice-versa.
With an understanding of a unitary and ordered universe and scientific reflection on it that refuses to operate with inherent a priori foundations, together with a kataphysic approach to Reality and truth, Torrance built up a form of critical realism. When applied to theology Torrance is clear that objective reality, which in this case is God in his self-givenness, has ontological priority over all of our human referencing. Theological thinking, as with all scientific thinking, must be properly realist. It is out of this ‘theological realism’ that Torrance sees the homoousion doctrine as a faithful expression and disclosure model of the oneness in being in the relation of the incarnate Son with the Father. Ultimately, Torrance’s theological realism is grounded in God and calls the Church back to a truly ‘rational worship of God’ (logike latreia).
Polanyi and a Philosophy of Science
Throughout our surview of Torrance’s theology and method we have seen that he draws on many philosophers of science repeatedly, especially Michael Polanyi. Given the fact that Torrance is referred to as a philosopher of science in his own right, it is necessary for us to examine further Torrance’s insights derived from Polanyi.
Throughout Torrance’s writings the name of the Hungarian medical doctor, chemist, and philosopher of science Michael Polanyi (1891-1976), appears repeatedly and has by Torrance’s own admission had a pervasive affect on his philosophy of science and on his philosophy of religion. Polanyi’s work has been utilised by numerous theologians and an examination of his philosophy of science is of importance to an understanding of Torrance’s own position. In Weightman’s study of the interaction between Torrance and Polanyi he argues that ‘the part Polanyi plays in Torrance’s attempt to relate his Barthian theology to the modern scientific world. . .is crucial to comprehending what Torrance is all about.’ While a detailed examination of Polanyi’s philosophy is not necessary to the aims of this thesis a brief study of Torrance’s relation to his philosophy is in order.
It is clear from the Torrance’s own comments and the evidence itself that Torrance has used the philosophy of Polanyi at key points in his theology to further clarify or illustrate basic axiom’s and commitments that Torrance has already formed. That Torrance has not read Polanyi into his theology like some a priori philosophy imposed upon the biblical evidence is obvious. Torrance distinguishes between what may be termed ‘foundational’ and ‘illuminative’ roles for philosophies such as Polanyi’s. Clearly, Torrance uses Polanyi’s philosophy in the sense of illumination, not foundation. According to Torrance, his first association with Polanyi was in reading a work of his around the year 1958, well after Torrance’s fundamental thoughts on the relation between science and theology, and his natural theology, had been formulated. The first use of Polanyi by Torrance can be dated to May 1963 as found in a paper on ‘The Problem of Theological Statement Today.’ This was followed in his first extensive interaction with Polanyi’s thought in Theological Science (1969). Torrance maintains that while these lectures were originally given in the United States in 1959, the material relating to Polanyi was written during the revision of the work for publication during the 1960’s. From the 1960’s on Torrance has consistently drawn on insights from Polanyi to illustrate his own theological points. In 1968-69 Torrance joined Polanyi as a member of the Académie Internationale de Philsophie des Sciences, and over the years 1970-74 Torrance and Polanyi became friends. An examination of Torrance’s use of Polanyi shows that he considers Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge (1958) to be amongst the most important of Polanyi’s works.
Torrance regards Polanyi as standing at the end and so representing the capstone of the Maxwellian-Einsteinian restructuring of the epistemological foundations of natural science and he does do with ‘unrivalled delicacy and refinement.’ The appeal of Polanyi’s philosophy of science on Torrance is in relation to the ability of his philosophy of science to make room for religious belief.
Of central importance to Torrance’s theological programme is the nature of the correspondence between knowing and being. For Torrance, as for Polanyi on whom he draws, knowing is correlated to being. We advance in knowledge as we ‘hook our thoughts onto the structures of reality. In doing so ‘we presume that a correlation is possible between our human conceiving and the inner structure of reality itself, and we carry out all our operations in that belief.’’
Knowing, for Einstein, Polanyi and Torrance, involves hierarchical structures. Einstein outlined a hierarchical structure that could be applied to each particular science: the physical, the theoretical, and the meta-theoretical. Polanyi advanced beyond this and proposed a hierarchy of sciences. The various scientific disciplines themselves could be stratified from lower to higher levels with the higher levels having an influence over the lower levels and not, as in Newtonian science with a mechanistic reading of the lower levels up into the higher. Torrance calls this the principle of coherent integration from above. When Torrance adopts this stratified structure of the sciences he, not surprisingly, places theology as the highest level of knowing as it is the science of theology that has to do with the knowledge of God and this is the highest form of knowing possible.
One of the more important themes that Polanyi develops and that Torrance uses is that of the fiduciary component of human knowledge. Over and against what had come to dominate modern scientific activity, the triumph of reason over belief, Polanyi argues convincingly for a ‘post-critical philosophy,’ as the sub-title of his magnum opus Personal Knowledge runs, similar to that of Augustine in the fourth-century. According to Polanyi Augustine taught that all knowledge was a gift of grace for which we must strive under the guidance of antecedent belief. He then cites Augustine ‘Unless ye believe, ye shall not understand.’ This fiduciary basis of knowledge ruled for a thousand years until Locke introduced an inherent dualism between knowledge and faith. ‘All belief,’ writes Polanyi, ‘was reduced to the status of subjectivity: to that of an imperfection by which knowledge fell short of universality.’ To remedy this Polanyi offers the following corrective:
We must now recognize belief once more as the source of all knowledge. Tacit assent and intellectual passions, the sharing of an idiom and of a cultural heritage, affiliation to a like-minded community: such are the impulses which shape our vision of the nature of things on which we rely for our mastery of things. No intelligence, however critical or original, can operate outside such a fiduciary framework. While our acceptance of this framework is the condition for having any knowledge, this matrix can claim no self-evidence.
It is this fiduciary element or post-critical philosophy of Polanyi’s that has had an enormous effect on theologians including Torrance as they can see that theological statements are developed in manners which are analogous to those associated with the natural sciences. In both theology and the natural sciences discovery begins with faith (belief) which leads to the truth, truth being a fundamental insight into the real, as it is independent of the knower. This does not mean that whatever one thinks is true or real. Rather, one works from one’s own personal beliefs to explore them and test them and refine them. Again using Augustine as his example, this time his Confessions Polanyi writes:
His maxim nisi credideritis non intelligitis expresses this logical requirement. It says, as I understand it, that the process of examining any topic is both an exploration of the topic, and an exegesis of our fundamental beliefs in the light of which we approach it; a dialectical combination of exploration and exegesis. Our fundamental beliefs are continuously reconsidered in the course of such a process, but only within the scope of their own basic premises.
Carl Henry, the pre-eminent theological foundationalist of contemporary theology has criticised aspects of Torrance’s scientific theology over several publications, the most sustained being in volume three of his magnum opus God, Revelation and Authority. Henry is particularly critical of what he sees as the illogical presuppositions of Torrance’s intuitive theology. Torrance rejects the form of propositional revelation espoused by Henry in favour of a ‘personal knowing.’ Reality is to be known in faith through an existential encounter with the ultimate Reality – Jesus Christ the incarnate Word (Logos).
Henry sees the critical mistake of Torrance’s epistemology, derived in part from Kierkegaard but more from Polanyi, to lie in his seeming rejection of any objective revelational knowledge. From Kierkegaard Torrance is committed to the idea that the Truth of God is communicated through personal relations, not, as Henry would have it, objectively. However, Torrance holds that theology which accepts the absolute primacy of its proper object of inquiry can be considered both rational and scientific – hence objective. Torrance understands Kierkegaard’s ‘truth as Subjectivity’ as in fact theological objectivity and realism, the subject’s proper relation to the Object.
Henry appears to misread Torrance (and Polanyi) at this point and interprets the notion of personal knowledge, which acknowledges the necessity for ‘responsible commitment,’ Polanyi’s term for personal knowledge, in terms of subjectivism. This is especially so when ‘personal knowledge’ applied to religious knowing and is virtually equated with biblical ‘faith.’ Utilizing as he does Polanyi’s epistemology, Torrance would no doubt react to this criticism that Henry, and other critics, are perhaps looking to an impersonal procedure which operates along detached and mechanical lines and ultimately appeals to the concept of autonomous reason. This autonomous reason is then directed at an external authority, in this religious case the Holy Scriptures, and a system of propositional truth is worked out in a purely impersonal but logical way. It is this programme that Torrance is particularly concerned to eradicate.
This use of Polanyi further explains Torrance’s form of realism that we have already examined. It is this commitment to realism that constitutes one of Torrance’s main reasons for drawing on the work of Polanyi. In Polanyi Torrance finds a philosophical ally and one who has illustrated Torrance’s own point in the natural sciences as Torrance is seeking to do in Christian theology.
 Similar themes and treatments can be found throughout his Christian Theology and Scientific Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), and Reality and Scientific Theology (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1985).
 T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 48.
 For a good recent history of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo within the same general context as we are here investigating see A.E. McGrath, A Scientific Theology: Volume 1: Nature (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 159-166.
 This theme was also forcefully made by E.L. Mascall, Christian Theology and Natural Science: Some Questions in Their Relations (London: Longmans, Green and co, 1956), 94, when he asked and answered the question of what kind of world the Christian God might be expected to have created, on the basis of what could be known of that God. His answer: a contingent and orderly one, the investigation of which would proceed by means of a posteriori examination. See T.F. Torrance’s approving remarks in Theological Science (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), 61. In more recent times W. Pannenberg has also dealt with the idea of contingency but uses it to establish the priority of the future. See his Systematic Theology, vol 2, trans. by G.W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 69-72. For critique of Pannenberg’s model of contingency see R.J. Russell, ‘Contingency in Physics and Cosmology: A Critique of the Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg,’ Zygon 23/1 (March 1988), 23-43 and C. Mostert, God and the Future: Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Eschatological Doctrine of God (London: T & T Clark, 2002), 97-104, 167-169.
 T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 55.
 See T.F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1995), 235-256.
 T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 65. See a modern Thomistic support for this reading of the fathers in T.G. Weinandy, Does God Change? The Word’s Becoming in the Incarnation (Petersham. MA: St. Bede’s Publications, 1985); and Does God Suffer? (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2000).
 T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 65-66.
 For his indebtedness to Barth on this matter see T.F. Torrance, ‘Introduction to Karl Barth,’ in Theology and Church, Shorter Writings 1920-1928 (London: SCM, 1962), 7-54. It should be noted that Torrance first received insight into this key doctrine from his Edinburgh mentor Hugh Ross Mackintosh. See T.F. Torrance, ‘Hugh Ross Mackintosh: Theologian of the Cross,’ Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 5 (1987), 162-163.
 ‘Dogmatic thinking arises from the fact that God has acted in human history in a final and saving way, and that what he has given us in His revelation is Himself, His own divine being: His Being in His Act; His Act in His Being,’ T.F. Torrance, Theological Science (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), 343, and ibid., The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1980), 67.
 On November 4, 1979 Torrance preached the sermon at the James Clerk Maxwell memorial service, held at Corsock Parish Church in Kirkcudbrightshire, marking the centenary of Maxwell’s death, and in 1982 Torrance would edit and write the Preface and Introduction to James Clerk Maxwell, A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1982).
 T.F. Torrance, ‘John Philoponos of Alexandria, Sixth Century Christian Physicist,’ Texts and Studies, vol 2. (London: Thyateira House, 1983), 261-265. Torrance’s collected essays on John Philoponos are published as T.F. Torrance, Theological and Natural Science (Eugene, OR.: Wipf & Stock, 2002). Also see R.K. Sorabji, (ed.). Philoponos and the Rejection of Aristotelian Science (Ithaca, NY.: Cornell University Press, 1987), 1-40 and E.M. Macierowski and R.F. Hassing, ‘John Philoponus on Aristotle’s Definition of Nature: A Translation from the Greek with Introduction and Notes,’ Ancient Philosophy 8 (1988), 73-100.
 T.F. Torrance, Transformation and Convergence in the Frame of Knowledge: Explorations in the Interrelations of Scientific and Theological Enterprise (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 216-220.
 This point is made clear in T.F. Torrance, ‘Theological Realism,’ in The Philosophical Frontiers of Christian Theology: Essays Presented to D.M. MacKinnon, edited by B. Hebblethwaite and S. Sutherland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 193:
It is as our communion with God the Father through Christ and in the Spirit is founded in and shares in the inner Trinitarian consubstantial or homoousial communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that the subjectively-given pole of conceptuality is constantly purified and refined under the searching light and quickening power of the objectively-given pole in divine revelation. Within that polarity Christian theology becomes what it essentially is and ought always to be, logike latreia, rational worship of God.
 R.J. Palma, ‘Thomas F. Torrance’s Reformed Theology,’ Reformed Review 38/1 (Autumn 1984), 26-29.
 Polanyi’s use by numerous theologians has been well documented. See for instance A. Dulles, ‘Faith, Church and God: Insights From Michael Polanyi,’ Theological Studies 45 (1984), 537-550 (especially 537). One commentator sees Polanyi as a modern Martin Luther (!) R. Gelwick, ‘Michael Polanyi – Modern Reformer,’ Religion in Life 34 (Spring 1965), 224-234.
 C. Weightman’s thesis Theology in a Polanyian Universe: The Theology of Thomas Torrance (New York: Peter Lang, 1994), 1.
 C. Weightman’s thesis Theology in a Polanyian Universe: The Theology of Thomas Torrance (New York: Peter Lang, 1994), has as its basic premise that Torrance has adopted Polanyi’s philosophy in toto and built his own theology upon it. This is not supported by the evidence and is a distortion or over emphasis of the facts. Torrance’s Auburn lectures from 1939 on science and theology illustrate this point well. Also see T.F. Torrance, ‘Michael Polanyi and the Christian Faith-A Personal Report,’ Tradition and Discovery: The Polanyi Society Periodical 27/2 (2000-2001), 26-32.
 Originally a lecture delivered in the University of Tübingen, May 1963 and found in T.F. Torrance, Theology in Reconstruction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 46-61.
 A.E. McGrath, T.F. Torrance: An Intellectual Biography (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1999), 230.
 C. Weightman’s suggestion that Torrance first heard of Polanyi through Sir Bernard Lovell as early as 1946 is, while plausible, not probable and Torrance himself dismisses such an early link. See C. Weightman’s thesis Theology in a Polanyian Universe: The Theology of Thomas Torrance (New York: Peter Lang, 1994), 203, and A.E. McGrath, T.F. Torrance: An Intellectual Biography (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1999), 230-231.
 T.F. Torrance, ‘Michael Polanyi and the Christian Faith-A Personal Report,’ Tradition and Discovery: The Polanyi Society Periodical 27/2 (2000-2001), 26-32. On Polanyi’s death in 1976 Torrance became his Literary Executor, and upon the death of Magda, Michael Polanyi’s wife, Torrance handed the role over to their son John Polanyi, a Nobel Laureate Professor of Chemistry in Toronto. In 1978 Torrance delivered a lecture on Polanyi’s thought at the opening of the ‘Michael Polanyi Seminar Room’ in the Philosophy Department of the University of Manchester. T.F. Torrance, ‘The Framework of Belief,’ in Belief in Science and in Christian Life: The Relevance of Michael Polanyi’s Thought for Christian Faith and Life, edited by T.F. Torrance (Edinburgh: Handsel, 1980), 148.
 M. Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 19622). Other works of Polanyi of importance for our study include his The Tacit Dimension (New York: Doubleday, 1966), and Meaning with Harry Prosch (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975).
 This is the main work Torrance interacts with specifically in his article T.F. Torrance, ‘The Framework of Belief,’ in Belief in Science and in Christian Life: The Relevance of Michael Polanyi’s Thought for Christian Faith and Life, edited by T.F. Torrance (Edinburgh: Handsel, 1980), 1-27.
 T.F. Torrance, Christian Theology and Scientific Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), 61.
 T.F. Torrance (ed.), Belief in Science and in Christian Life: The Relevance of Michael Polanyi’s Thought for Christian Faith and Life (Edinburgh: Handsel, 1980), 15. This point is also made by W.R. Thorson, ‘Scientific Objectivity and the Listening Attitude,’ in Objective Knowledge: A Christian Perspective, edited by P. Helm (Leicester: IVP, 1987), 62.
 C. Weightman’s thesis Theology in a Polanyian Universe: The Theology of Thomas Torrance (New York: Peter Lang, 1994), 235, quoting T.F. Torrance, Reality and Scientific Theology (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1985), 27.
 T.F. Torrance, Space, Time and Resurrection (Edinburgh: Handsel, 1976), 188-192.
 T.F. Torrance, Christian Theology and Scientific Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), 36. In another work appearing in the same year, Divine and Contingent Order (1981. Reprint, Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1998), 20, Torrance explains:
[there is] an ontological stratification in the universe comprising a sequence of rising levels, each higher one controlling the boundaries of the one below it and embodying thereby the joint meaning of the particulars on the lower level.
For further insights into this methodology, with special reference to the methodological insights of Duns Scotus and Kurt Gödel see T.F. Torrance, ‘Intuitive and Abstractive Knowledge: From Duns Scotus to Calvin,’ In De Doctrina Ioannis Duns Scoti. Congressus Scotisticus Internationalis. Studia Scholastico-Scotistica 5, edited by C. Balic (Rome: Societas Internationalis Scotistica, 1968), 291-305; and T.F. Torrance, Space, Time and Incarnation (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), 86-90.
 T.F. Torrance, Space, Time and Resurrection (Edinburgh: Handsel, 1976), 190.
 Polanyi was a Jew who’s religious life is ambiguous at best. He was influenced early on by Dostoevsky and Tolstoy’s visions of God and religion, later to become baptised into the Roman Catholic Church (1919). Through the 1940’s he regularly attended an Anglican church and through the 1950’s and 60’s had regular contact with a number of protestant theologians, amongst whom we could include Paul Tillich and later (early 70’s) T.F. Torrance. Finally Polanyi was influenced later in his life by the ‘cosmic theologian’ Mircea Eliade. See the account of Polanyi’s religious life in C. Weightman’s thesis Theology in a Polanyian Universe: The Theology of Thomas Torrance (New York: Peter Lang, 1994), 7-26.
 M. Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 19622), 266.
 M. Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 19622), 266.
 M. Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 19622), 266-267.
 Leslie Newbigin in particular has developed many Polanyian themes in his works, especially The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (London: SPCK, 1989). See also the extensive use made of Polanyi in C. Gunton, Enlightenment and Alienation: An Essay Towards a Trinitarian Theology (Basingstoke: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1985).
 M. Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 19622), 267.
 C.F.H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority. Vol 3 (Waco, TX.: Word, 1980), especially 214-224.
 For his definition of this term see T.F. Torrance (ed.), Belief in Science and in Christian Life: The Relevance of Michael Polanyi’s Thought for Christian Faith and Life (Edinburgh: Handsel, 1980), 141.
 C.F.H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority. Vol 3 (Waco, TX.: Word, 1980), 221.
 For the convergence between Polanyi’s ‘personal knowledge’ and biblical faith see W.R. Thorson, ‘The Biblical Insights of Michael Polanyi,’ Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 33/3 (1981), 129-138.