Contingent order in theology and science

In this series we're looking at what Thomas F. Torrance (TFT) has to say in The Christian Frame of Mind concerning the integration of science and theology in light of the Incarnation of the Word of God. For other posts in the series, click a number: 1, 2, 45.

Quarks spinning in a particle accelerator
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
As noted last time, by thinking with and through the mind of Christ, we are enabled to grasp the reality that the order we perceive in the cosmos is contingent order---order with a "controlling ground" beyond itself---order that is dependent on something (someone?) outside itself. As noted by TFT, thinking in this disciplined way yields important insights in both science and theology:
Science and theology are each dedicated in their own way, not only to clarifying and understanding order, but to achieving order... through relating actual order to the ultimate controlling ground of order from which all order proceeds. (pp. 16-17)
Let's look further at TFT's insights as they concern theology, then science.


Christian theology teaches us that God, who is love, is the source (ground) of the order in the created universe that we observe through science, and are told about, by revelation, in Holy Scripture. God, for love and by love, brought all that is outside himself into existence out of nothing (ex nihilo). Thus we understand that all that exists in creation is reliant upon the Creator God, and so in theology we refer to created reality being "contingent reality." Moreover we see (through science) and are told (by revelation) that this order is "intelligible order"---an intelligibility that is fundamental both to science and to theology. TFT comments:
God freely and ungrudgingly brought the world into being, giving it a genuine reality of its own though utterly differentiated from himself. Moreover he continues freely and ungrudgingly to sustain it in being through relations to himself, thereby constituting himself in his Love as its true determining end. God is the only One who is what he does and does what he is, so that the very Love that God eternally is in himself and in his relation to the universe he has made bears in a commanding ontological way upon it. That is the ultimate ground for its created order as well as its created being. (p. 17)
Because the order of the cosmos is intelligible, we are able to discern within the created order the presence of dis-order. Doing so helps us understand that through the incarnate Word of God (who united the created order with its Creator in his own person), God works within his creation to restore its foundational contingent order. Thus we relate the emerging order we see in the universe to the redemptive work of God---a work that lies at the very heart of the gospel message. TFT comments:
In the Christian Faith we look for a new order in which the damaged order, or the disorder that inexplicably arises in the world, will be healed through a creative reordering of existence as it is reconciled to its ultimate ground in the creative Love of God. (p. 18) 
At the heart of truly Christian theology is the concept of a contingent, intelligible order within creation. That concept is grounded in the truth that the Word of God in his eternal existence with the Father and Spirit, in love and for love (for God is love), created the universe and then through the Incarnation joined himself with it in order to restore its fundamental order. All this is by grace, for love, and for no other reason. The foundation (ground) of all that is, and is emerging---all this ordering and re-ordering is the activity of the Triune God of love and grace.


No less than true theology, true science (science connected to reality) is dedicated to and reliant upon the fundamental order of an intelligible universe. It has taken science millennia to see this order at both its macro and micro scales. Whereas science once thought the universe was trending toward disorder, it found, in the midst of disorder, an underlying ground of order. This insight emerged as science begin to see that the expanding universe is trending to greater levels of order, not to dissipation.

Science not only relies on the universe being orderly in making its observations, it does so in its work to attain order through its various technologies. As TFT notes, "in our engagement in scientific activity we respond to an ontological imperative, which we share with the whole universe of created reality in its constant expansion toward maximum order" (p. 19).

Increasingly, science is discovering what TFT refers to as "the ontic truth of things," which is the intrinsic order of the universe. Because this order is intelligible (rational), it is discoverable, if we allow the universe to speak to us in its language, on its terms. When we do, we find this intelligible order to be contingent---an order grounded in something outside itself. In that regard, as science studies the topic of time as an essential factor in physical law, it comes "face-to-face" with this contingency, or we might say with the universe's "ontological basis" of order outside (beyond) itself---its "ultimate ground of order," as it were. On this journey of discovery, science is having to "rethink physical laws in terms of their contingent relations to a stable ground of intelligibility beyond themselves" (p. 21).

These are exciting, mind-expanding developments in the natural sciences---particularly in the case of sub-atomic particle research where science has found that quanta (the very smallest particles in the physical universe) behave in truly baffling ways. According to TFT, it may be that physics has "found its limits," but in doing so has "gained a profound insight into the contingent nature of rational order which it cannot adequately grasp from its own restricted perspective, and where it needs help from beyond its own frontiers" (p. 22). TFT continues:
The more deeply scientific inquiry penetrates down to the rock-bottom structures of nature, such as quarks, which are not self-explainable, it seems to be putting its finger upon the very edge between being and nothing, existence and creation, establishing contact with a state of affairs the intelligibility of which calls for a sufficient reason beyond itself. That is to say, quantum theory has the effect of forcing out into the open the contingent nature of physical reality in such a way as to make a genuine doctrine of creation pertinent in its own field. (pp. 22-23)
TFT also notes that the discoveries of quantum physics in particular point to a direct relationship between the Incarnation and the Logos of creation by indicating that we must look beyond the created order to a "ground of being" that is contingent.

Wow, that's a lot to take in! So let's stop here, reminded as we go of the words of David:
The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4 NRSV)


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