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The Theological Science of Thomas Torrance

So I just finished Alister McGrath’s T. F. Torrance An Intellectual Biography, and it was very good (just as the other focused books on Torrance have been, by Molnar and Coyler, respectively). It would be unlike me to not write a post about something from a book (especially one on Thomas Torrance) like this, a book that brought out some good things about a theologian who has single handedly changed my life. So the rest of this post will be my attempt to remedy that.

There are many things I could focus on that were good about McGrath’s telling of Torrance’s life and theology, but let me focus on one area that takes a sizable portion of the last third of the book; this section has to do with Torrance’s view of the relation that inheres between Science and Theology, and also how that affects Torrance’s ‘theological science’. Torrance, unlike Barth, made room for a properly ordered (and I mean by way of methodology and prolegomena) natural theology—but he did so in a very qualified way. Torrance, following Barth, did not believe that knowledge of God could be ascertained by reading the book of nature, instead Torrance saw room for, and necessity of a natural theology only after a Christian conception of creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing) was appreciated. This conception, then, presupposed that creation has a contingency (upon its creator), and thus could not be reduced down to its own explanation (i.e. metaphysical materialism, leading to philosophical naturalism). Nevertheless, because God is a rational, orderly being these kinds of characteristics will be displayed as the inner integrity of the created realm. And so, there is something to be learned from nature, about nature; and nature then can dictate and give up the categories and structure inherent to it out of its own contingent order. Here is how Torrance says it:

[S]cience proceeds always on the assumption that it deals with objects. It approaches things from the outside, from a distant, detached point of view, with a view to manipulating them. It is disinterested and dispassionate … It works by a manipulation of forces, blind forces — where the personal coefficient is quite eliminated — at least for all purposes of science. We do not approach God in this way — in a detached, cool manner, characterised by disinterestedness and dispassionate observation. We do not approach Him at all; He approaches us and is the Reality that confronts us and calls us to a halt; calls us to a decision, to personal relations with Himself. Thus we cannot objectify God; we cannot deduce Him from nature, or derive Him by means of argument … Any attempt to approach him any other way, as in natural theology for example, is an attempt to evade God, to evade the reality that confronts us … All that we can do in religion is reply to God who confronts us and addresses us. [Thomas Torrance, Science and Theology, 57-8 cited by Alister McGrath.]

This illustrates the space that Torrance sees for science in his approach, as well as the differences that He sees in doing ‘hard’ science and theological science. One has an ‘It’ approach to it, and the other has a ‘Thou’; and Torrance borrows this distinction (It and Thou) from Martin Buber’s method and distinction. Nevertheless, for Torrance there is a shared yet mult-leveled approach to doing scientific work; whether that be natural theology (which will have its own expectations), or theological science.

I need to cut this post short. Anyway, you get the gist of Torrance’s approach.