The Science of God (McGrath)

McGrath, Alister. The Science of God: An Introduction to Scientific Theology.

Alister McGrath defends the idea that creation (or “nature”) is a real entity that discloses knowledge in such a way that shapes the knowledge it discloses. In other words, ontology structures epistemology without negating the latter. Echoing Thomas Torrance, we know “kata physin.”

He begins with his own life-journey from studying chemistry at Oxford to studying theology–and becoming a Christian along the way.

Contra Hellenism and Orientalism, since creation is contingent, the real can be found by acknowledging nature’s contingency (McGrath 51). For Greeks, to get to the real was to get beyond appearances and nature. For the creation-tradition, however, the opposite was the case. The natural order possesses its own goodness and rationality.

Creation (or “nature”) finds itself within an interlocking network of divine and human rationality (62). Following the Hebrew writers, particularly Job (38ff), creation is linked with the idea of God’s “ordering.” This ordering is not the result of God’s being under necessity, but is rather contingent.

McGrath defends natural theology but in a new way. Natural theology isn’t looking at a squirrel and then deducing God’s simplicity. Rather, it begins with revelation and sees the natural world as disclosing real truths.

The book then moves from “nature” to “theory.” McGrath criticizes communitarian approaches like Lindbeck and to an extent, Barth. He also interacts with John Milbank and Alasdair McIntyre.

This book is a summary and popularization of his larger Scientific Theology. It succeeds in channeling key aspects of Thomas Torrance (on epistemology and ontology) while leaving Karl Barth behind

The Ground and Grammar of Theology (Torrance)

Torrance, Thomas F. The Ground and Grammar of Theology. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1980.

Man, the Priest of Creation

Herman Weyl: “since all things, bodies in motion and space and time, are ultimately defined by reference to light, light occupies a metaphysical place in the universe” (Torrance 3-4).

Thesis: space and time are the bearers of all rational order in the universe (6). These set the boundary markers for us and represent the way “we know things in accordance with their natures” (8). These things impress themselves upon our minds. Theology works the same way, though we do not always know a thing in one field by the same rational mode in another.

The Being of God in His Acts

Science is moving beyond the old structures of determinism and mechanism towards an “open-structured order” (12).  Instead of either a flat mechanism (modernity) or Neo-Platonic emanations, we see the universe as a hierarchy of levels, “a stratified structure, so that our science takes the form of an ascending hierarchy of relations of thought that are open upward in a deeper and deeper dimension of depth” (13).  This is a huge point that Torrance expounds elsewhere in his works on the Trinity.  I wish he would have given examples.

Emerging from the Cultural Spirit

Thesis of chapter: examine the move from a dualist to a unitary outlook on the universe (15).  Torrance’s enemy in this chapter is the “old mechanistic system, or a closed continuum of cause and effect, characterized throughout by a hard determinism” (18). This is at odds with a kataphatic view of reality, where the very structures of reality impress themselves upon our minds.  The closed continuum view, by contrast, rules out possibilities before the very investigation.


The first dualism was from the Greeks, that of the sharp contrast of “rectilinear motion in terrestrial mechanics and circular motion in celestial mechanics” (21).  This points to a deeper dualism between “the empirical and the theoretical, the physical and the spiritual, the temporal and the eternal, the mortal and divine.”

Newton never fully broke with these dualisms.  He identified absolute time and space with the mind of God, thus positing an eternal, inertial frame. Kant took this absolute time and space from the mind of God to the mind of the human knower (26).

But if Einstein is correct that there is a unity of form and being, the theoretical and empirical factors in knowledge, then we can no longer follow Kant (30).  If there is indeed a unity of form and being, structure and substance, then we can be confident that “reality discloses of itself” (31). The same unity, we will see, also obtains in theology.  

Response: I like this. It echoes my thoughts. I do wonder, however, if Torrance overcooked the evidence.

Nicene Theological Geometry (my phrase)

Nicea rejects the Greek dualisms in knowledge.  As Torrance says, “If Jesus Christ is in his own being what he is as God’s revealing word and saving act towards us…then through Christ and in one Spirit we are given access to God…(40).  The enousion energia are the internal relations of God (cf. Athanasius, Discourse on the Arians, II.14.2).  The anchor of homoousion allows us to see “the meditation of knowledge of God in his intrinsic reality and intelligibility” (40).

Creation and Science

Thesis: We know the intrinsic structures of the universe “in such a way that its basic design becomes disclosed” (45). When we seek to know both God and the world in such a way that they force the structures on our minds, we have “what Cyril of Alexandria (or maybe Clement of Alexandria) called dogmatike epistime, ‘dogmatic science’” (50). We know God and the world in the way that “our minds fall under the power of what we hear and find there.”  Professor Torrance helpfully outlines what he means:

[1] There is a rational unity of the universe. If God created all things, then we cannot posit a hard and fast dichotomy in the universe.

[2] There is a contingent rationality or intelligibility of the universe (53). Indeed, we might not be able to posit eternal forms in creation.  (For all his recent lapses in theology, William Lane Craig at least saw this clearly in his rejection of Platonism.) Space and time now have a relation to God, a created relation.  This means we must reject the Aristotelian notion of space as a container and the Newtonian view of time as absolute.

[3] The freedom of the universe is a contingent freedom.

Torrance suggests that Athanasian theology and non-Aristotelian, indeed anti-Aristotelian, science meet in the person of John Philoponus.  Philoponus was condemned as a monophysite because nature, according to Western readings, was interpreted in an Aristotelian way.  Philoponus, working with relational views of space and time, saw nature as more akin to “reality,” which led him to say there was only one reality of the Logos–no schizoid Christ (61).

Theological summary of the book: “Since the act and Word of God we meet in Jesus Christ are eternally inherent in the Being of God, and since none other than the very Being of God himself is mediated to us through the incarnation of his love in Act and Word in Jesus Christ, God’s Being is revealed to be his Being in his Act and Word” (67).

The Transformation of Natural Theology

We hold to a natural theology, but not one of simply identifying various causes.  Rather with Athanasius’s De Gentes we “let our minds tune in to the rational order that pervades the universe…a way of communing with the regulative and providential activity of God in the rational order of the universe” (76).  When this work is paired with Athanasius’s more popular De Incarnatione we see a field of “God/man/world or God/world/man interconnections.”  This allows the structure of reality to “throw light upon the whole manifold of connections with which we are concerned in the knowledge of God in his interaction with creation” (77).

Unity of Form and Being

This unity finds an analogue in the Word/Act and Being of God.  The unity of form and being is the “indivisibility of the intelligible and the ontological” (96).  The patristic analogue is the inherent of logos and act in being.  This means that objects “must be known and understood objectively in their distinctive modes of being and modes of self-disclosure.”  As a result, these “things” will impress upon us objective forms of thought “correlated with the ultimate openness of being and its semantic reference beyond itself” (97).

Conclusion and Grammar of Theology

[1] There is a Trinitarian character in our knowing that corresponds to the trinity of relations in God himself.  “We grasp things in our though, and hold them in our thought, only if we can grasp them in their internal relations” (149-150).  We take our cue from Athanasius’s concepts of enousios logos and enousios energeia.

[1.1] If the Logos is inherent into the being of God, then we have access to divine intelligibility.  We are able to access intrinsic structures.

[1.2] If God’s energeia or act inheres in his being, and that Act is Jesus in the Incarnation, then we know God “in his activity in disclosing himself to us” (152). A created analogue is our relation and knowing to the dynamic structure of the universe (as opposed to a medieval model of final causes).

[2] Our first and basic level of this experience is in worship, “in which we encounter the revealing God.” The next level is the theological level where we meet up with the so-called Economic Trinity.  This throws us upon a “higher theological and scientific level,” the internal relations of God.  While we know the economic reality first, it is the ontological reality that grounds our knowing.  This is true episteme dogmatike. 

Like all of Torrance’s books, this one is exciting, explosive, and probably underdeveloped in key areas.  I think the problem is that Torrance likely memorized many of Athanasius’s passages in the original Greek and instead of translating them from memory, I think he is summarizing the Greek into English from memory.  I went back and checked some of these in Contra Arianos.  The idea is close enough, but not word-for-word.

Revamping Natural Theology

Let’s explore a different angle. I went over some of my notes on Torrance, Einstein, Polanyi, and the like.

With the natural theology guys, we agree that there is a rationality in nature that points towards God and to which even the unbeliever has access.

Against the natural theology guys, this rationality is more along the lines of post-Newtonian models and not simply Aristotle’s causality.

With the Van Tillians I agree that without God this rationality would be impossible, as it would no longer be contingent.

Against the Van Tillians, it is better to pursue this as seeing a God-given rationality within nature rather than bizarre transcendental models.

Bottom line: the extreme Van Tillians are wrong to reject natural theology as proposed above. The classical theists, although correct on the doctrine of God, need to move beyond Plato and Aristotle.

Notes on Polanyi, part 2

You Know More than You Can Say

The scientist, or any knower, observes “a set of rules which are not known as such to the person following them” (49).  There are rules to an art, but they do not always determine how you practice that art.  Polanyi gives the example of practicing a piano.  On one hand, a certain sequence of keys have to be hit, but they also have to be hit in a certain way, or “touch.”  The element of “touch” remains surprisingly resistant to analysis.

This type of learning is tradition, or that of a master/apprentice relationship. The apprentice watches the master and imitates him.  In doing so, he not only learns the technical process of the craft, but he also picks up the rule of the art which aren’t always known to the master himself (53).

Focal Awareness vs. Subsidiary Awareness

I hit a hammer with a nail. In doing so, I attend to both the hammer and the nail, but not in the same way. My focal awareness is on driving the nail.  My subsidiary awareness is on the feeling the hammer has on my hand.  I am “watch[ing] something else while keeping intensely aware of [it]” (55).

Polanyi concludes this chapter noting that “personal knowledge in science is not made but discovered, and as such it claims contact with reality beyond the clues on which it relies. It commits us, passionately and far beyond our comprehension, to a vision of reality” (64).  This is what Thomas Torrance calls “kataphysic knowledge.” It is where we submit as knower to the object known, which then impresses itself into our mode of knowing.

One Being, Three Persons (Torrance)

Torrance, Thomas.

The homoousion is a decisive step in the life of the church.  It guarantees how we understand the internal relations in the Trinity.  Not only are the persons homoousion, but so are the relations.

“Only in Christ is God’s self-revelation identical with himself” (Torrance 1).  In Christ God has communicated his Word to us and imparted his Spirit.  

God’s three-fold revelation and self-communication to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (7).

The mutual relationship between knowing and being between God and the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:9-12) has been embodied in Jesus.

Since the proof of an unknown reality is its own evidence, and the conceptual mode of relating to it there must be a breaking through to a new realm of truth, and this calls for faith (19).

Knowledge of new realities calls for new ways of thinking–new concepts and new thought patterns (Contra Arianos, 1:23; 4:27; De Synodis 42).

The difficulty the early church overcame was in acquiring knowledge of something yet unknown (20).

Being and Act

God reveals himself out of himself.

God gives himself as a whole. In knowing God we do not know God as a part, but we apprehend the Whole.  But in apprehending the whole, we know that full comprehension eludes us (26). We know God as Totum, but not en toto.

In the Communion of the Spirit our own way of knowing is lifted up into the transcendent life (33).  By our indwelling the Scriptures our minds form a structural kinship.

Personal Knowledge

We interiorize what we seek to know and rely not just on external evidence (38).  The object naturally integrates into us and we let it disclose its depths of meaning to us.

Knowledge of the father, Son, and HS are locked into each other.

The Trinitarian Mind

The mystery of Godliness means thinking about God in a  Trinitarian way.

“The Son is the knowledge of the Father, but the knowledge of the Son is in the father and has been revealed through the Son” (Irenaeus 4.14.5).  

Homoousion: God’s revelation of himself as Father, Son, and HS in the economy of salvation is grounded in and derived from the eternal being of God” (80).

P1: Our conceptual statements must be open-ended and point beyond themselves.

Top Level: More refined scientific theory/Trinitarian relations in God


Middle Level: Theory/ Economy of Christ

Ground level: day to day experience/ Evangelical apprehension and experience

Each level is open to the others.  When we move from one level to another, we seek to order the basic concepts from the lower level to the higher.

The intuitive mind takes its first principle at once and as a whole, naturally and tacitly (84).

Since the Act and Word of God are internal to his being, we may know God through the Act and Word in the inner reality of his being (Contra Ar. 1:9ff).

Since the Spirit is not embodied in space and time, we cannot know him in the concrete modalities.  Our knowledge of him rests directly on the objectivity of God, unmediated.  

One Being/Three Persons

Ousia–not a static being but the living and speaking being (116). Athanasius preferred to use verbs when speaking of God (De Synodis 34).  Ousia is to be understood in terms of the divine “I am.” Being-in-Act and Act-in-Being.

God’s being is a being-for-others. 

Monarchy and Taxis

The monarchy means there is a specific order to the divine Persons.  It is the order manifested in the history and revealing of God’s saving acts (176). The Son is begotten of the Father, not the other way around.

Cappadocian Developments

If one presses the cappadocian distinctions too far, then we are left with the claim that the person of the Father causes, deifies, and personalizes the Being of the Son, Spirit, and even Godhead!

We can say, however, that the monarchia of the Father is cause not of their being, but of their mode of enhypostatic differentiation (179).

Torrance wants to see the monarchia referring to the Being of the Father, rather than strictly the Person.  For him this points back to the intrinsic relations of the Being: The Being of the Father as Father means the Being of the Son of the Father.

Perichoresis reinforces that the Holy Trinity may be known only as a whole.

Divine Meaning (Thomas Torrance)

Complex Background

Athanasian thought would ultimately part with the Hellenistic separation (chorismos) between “kosmos aisthetos” and “kosmos noetos.” 


Dialectic between pleroma and kenoma.  We can only know what God is not (Basilides). Thus, without a positive epistemological control, the Gnostics were thrown back upon mythology to make sense of God. 

Relatively speaking, the kenoma is a realm of non-existence. How, then, can we offer any account of the way things really are, if we can only think them in a vast vacuum or blank? (Torrance 31).  “If we seek to know God by pushing abstraction of him to the limit of an infinite discrepancy between what he is and what we can think of him, then our thoughts and statements can only be about nothing, and we are simply engaged in empty movements of speech and thought within the kenoma.”

If our knowledge of the descending realms of kenoma are merely shadows, and these realms are shadows, then the Gnostics face a problem: how can shadows cast shadows?  But if the shadows can’t cast shadows, then the idea and paradeigmata in the intelligible world are substantial bodies or essences—then have we not just lapsed back into heathen pluralism” (32).

Irenaeus and Kerygma

It is embodied truth or embodied doctrine (61).  

Hellenism had to have allegory because Hellenism posited a chorismos between the sensible world and the intelligible world, and since they could never touch, allegory allowed one to “jump” from one world to the other.  To this Irenaeus opposed typology.  There is an inseparable relation between word and event (101).  Therefore, “the distinction between aletheia and tupos is not that between intelligible and sensible…but between the preparatory action of God in history pointing forward to…his final action in the Incarnation and Atonement through which all things are changed and brought to their fulfillment” (102). 

“Recapitulation means that redemptive activity of God in Jesus Christ was not just a transcendent act that touched our existence in space and time at one point, but passed into our existence and is at work within it, penetrating back to the beginning in the original creation retracing it and reaffirming it in the divine Will, and reaching forward to the consummation in the new creation in which all things are gathered up, thus connecting the end with the beginning” (121).

Hermeneutics of Clement

“Faith itself is the basic form of understanding and its source” (130).

“Epistemology” is derived from stasis, for it is a standing of the mind upon objective realities.

Athanasius:  Foundation of Classical Theology

Torrance makes the claim that Athanasius came from the episcopal school in Alexandria, and not the catechetaical school. This means he would have absorbed the Hebraic outlook of St Mark

Two kinds of demonstration:

Athanasius came to reject the dualism of “kosmos aisthetos” and “kosmos noetos.” 

His main argument:  while God is beyond created being and all human devising (epinoia), he nevertheless remains being in his own transcendent way.  His ousia is being and activitiy. 

The Doctrine of God

Key premise: he cut the identity between the generation of the Son and the creation of the universe.  In generation there is an identity of nature, in creation there is a disparity of natures (Florovsky).

God in his internal relations: “Since the Logos is internal to the being of God, essentially and eternally enousios in God, truly to know God in and through the Logos is to know him in the inner reality of his own Being” (186).  

The doctrine of the Son

Redemption takes place within the mediatorial life of the Incarnate Son.  Salvation “takes place in the inner relations of the mediator (mesites) and not simply in Christ’s external relations with sinners” (193). 

Theological Language and Method

There is a rigorous knowledge of the inner structure of things investigated (204).  

The Logic and Analogic of Biblical and Theological Statements in the Greek Fathers

  1. The Spirit and Knowledge of God
    1. Athanasius and Paul: Only the Spirit knows the things of God.
    2. Our minds are directed away towards the proper object in God to be governed by his Word.
  2. Homoousion: basic logical economy which governs theological grammar in accordance with the pattern of God’s own self-communication in the Incarnation.
    1. it breaks up the radical disjunction between kosmos aesthetos and kosmos noetos.
    2. It keeps our thoughts from being imprisoned within themseles, but directs them dianoia in God, kata physin kai alethos.
  3. Ana-Logical Reference
    1. What God is to us in Jesus Christ he is eternally in himself.
    2. If we know via the Logos, then all true theological statements will be consistent with one another in so far as they have the Logos as their center of reference.
    3. Oikonomia
      1. Later on this was changed to mean “in reserve.” Only economical, where God is to us not quite what he appears to be.
      2. Rather, because of the Incarnation of the Logos God really imparts knowledge and himself to us.
  4. Logos as Person
    1. He is God’s self-communication
    2. If he were Word only, we “would be thrown back upon our own resources to authenticate him; if he were Person only, we would be thrown back upon our own resources to interpret him…
    3. “But because he is both Word and Person, he interprets and authenticates himself”.
    4. As self-communicating, he is self-authenticating

Responding to Orthodox Bridge on Torrance, Part Two

Some years ago, the Orthodox apologetics site, Orthodox Bridge, did a piece evaluating Thomas Torrance. Orthodox Bridge banned me from commenting (or at least no longer approves any comments from me) some years ago, so I haven’t paid them much attention. I browsed their site the other day and it was more of the same: “Reformed believed this but if they realized Orthodoxy was correct they would believe otherwise.” There aren’t many commenters, either. I was the oil that kept the motor running.

I posted part one some years ago and I guess I Forgot part two. As is always the case in my interactions with Orthodoxy today: an Orthodox person will approve of everything I say. I am as fair as possible. I just want to highlight how bad the argumentation is.

This post covers some details I didn’t have time for yesterday.  I came at yesterday’s post with the wrong assumption: I thought Orthodox Bridge would analyze Torrance’s writings and then do a critical review.  No, what happened was they reviewed a journal issue dealing with Torrance.    So, let’s continue:

OB writes,

One fascinating aspect of Tanev’s essay is his discussion of how Torrance’s understanding of space shaped his theology.  Tanev criticized Torrance’s for his narrow understanding of science, e.g., he embracing Einstein while rejecting quantum theory (pp. 204-205).

But if you read Tanev’s essay, all you can really conclude is Torrance wasn’t satisfied with the yet-to-fully-mature work of the Copenhagen school.  He didn’t think it had fully distanced itself from Kantian presuppositions (I have no idea whether that is true or not, and I am fairly confident that neither does OB).  In any case, the relation of quantum mechanics to relativity has zero relevance for either Orthodoxy or Protestantism.

If you listen to his lectures Torrance fully embraced some understanding of quantum mechanics.  

Arakaki continues:

One notable contribution in quantum physics is the discovery that there is no simple objective study of physical phenomenon; “observed reality can be transformed by the fact of observing it.” (p. 207)  This gives physical reality a dynamic and probabilistic character much like “the freedom of interpersonal human relations” (p. 209).

This is Karl Barth 101.  God’s being is never separate from his act.  In fact, it is being-in-act.  

This leads Arakaki/Tanev to write,

Tanev saw Torrance’s failing to draw on the epistemological implications of quantum theory as contributing to his lacking a proper understanding of hypostasis (p. 208; 210-211).

This isn’t really a problem for Torrance.  As any student of dogmatics knows, it is almost impossible to give a definition of “person.”  Person is a who, and so resists any reduction to a what.  Therefore, the question, in some Eastern models, “What is a person?” is a conceptually contradictory question.   Further,

 If it is true that Bohr didn’t use clear models and terms, then it might not be so much Torrance’s fault.  

Taven goes on to quote liberal modernist Orthodox theologian Christos Yannaras on hypostasis.  Yannaras’s has an intriguing model, something about being-a-person as tied to a relational field.  A person is an ex-stasis, a standing out. Again, quite fascinating but this has ZERO dogmatic authority for Orthodoxy (and once you skim away the Heideggerian substructure, I am not sure how coherent it really is). And on some Orthodox readings, Yannaras is a modernist heretic.

 As a corrective to Torrance’s realism, Tanev presents Christos Yannaras who appropriated Einstein and Bohr to explicate John of Damascus who saw physical space as a locus of the disclosure of God’s personal energy (p. 210).

I’m still scratching my head with this one.  What do they mean by “Torrance’s realism?”  Do they mean scientific realism?  Philosophical realism?  Both?  Are they rejecting realism in favor of nominalism?

I’m not sure that Torrance would disagree with the last sentence.  Torrance primarily used Einstein to rebut Newton’s notion of “Absolute Space” and the container notion of space.  That would mean that God is identical with space, which is a no-no for Christians.  

Tanev shows how quantum physics can lend support for the Orthodox approach to describing the Trinity.

Sounds a lot like natural theology and analogia entis.  I didn’t think Orthodox liked that.

Theological Science (Torrance)

The Nature of Knowledge

Knowledge of God is a rational event (Torrance 11). It is knowledge in the proper sense of the word, understanding knowledge to be a “conscious relation to an object which we recognize to be distinct from ourselves but toward which we direct our thought as something intelligible and ascertainable” (13).

Open and closed concepts:

A closed concept is something we “can reduce to clipped propositional ideas.  An open concept is a reality that keeps on disclosing itself to us in such a way that it continually overflows all our statements about it” (15).

Classical mechanics is similar to closed concepts.  Their field is delimited by what is perceptible. Objectivity is thus bound to a certain causal determinism (295).

Theological concepts are open-ended toward God.

We must keep knowing and being together

Three Moments in the nature of knowledge

(1) God reveals himself to us in Jesus Christ in the media of our own creaturely existence and contingency (46).

(2) Christ’s work reconciles man and delivers him from his epistemological self-enclosure and restores him to true objectivity in God.

(3) Jesus provides us full and adequate reception of the truth (50).

The Interaction of Theology with Scientific Development

Theological science has God as its object, but not God in the abstract.  It deals with the heavenly father who enters into loving communion with his children (56).

Change in the doctrine of God

Medieval theology held to Aristotle’s unmoved mover.  This view of impassibility led to creation being seen as only objects of the eternal knowing and willing of God.  This fit in with a hierarchy of being which made it hard to deny the eternality of the world.

Nature, as a result, “was impregnated with ultimate causes” (60). You could read an eternal pattern of it.  That sounds good, but it left little room for the “contingency of nature,” making modern scientific experiments difficult.  As Francis Bacon pointed out, this overemphasis on final causes diminished the importance of physical causes.

Nature and Grace

The medieval world saw the nature sacramentally: we look through it to eternal realities.  This means, sadly, that nature has no scientific value in itself.

Knowing the Phantasms

Medieval Roman theology saw an active and passive intellect.  When I look at an object (species), I form an intelligible impression or phantasm (77). This might be inevitable to an extent, but what happens is that the phantasm forms a wall between my mind and the object.

The nature of scientific activity

Methods of Knowledge

Aristotle: science is characterized by unity and plurality (108). Problem of one and many.

Descartes: scientia universalis.  Apply geometry to all other special sciences. This led to a sharp distinction between observation and thought

Husserl: epoche, disconnecting phenomena from the objet, in order to acquire clear grasp of it.  It is a suspending of judgment.  Does not imply Cartesian doubt.

Dialogical Theology

The object of scientific theology is God in His Revelation (131).  “We know only as we are known….knowledge of God entails an epistemological inversion in the order of our knowing, corresponding to the order of the divine action in revealing Himself to us.”

God as object is still “the indissoluble Subject.”  “He is the Lord of our knowing even when it is we who know, so that our knowing is taken under command of the lordship of the Object, the Creator Himself.  We can only follow through the determination of our knowing by the Object known who yet remains pure Subject” (131-132).

God as Subject does not dissolve into subjectivity (as we understand the term).  Torrance: “The order is in the Object before it is in our minds, and therefore it is as we allow the Object to impose itself upon our minds that our knowledge of it gains coherence” (138).

The Nature of Truth

The Truth of God

Truth: the reality of things as they necessarily are, and as they ought to be known and expressed by us (142).  Yet it is not purely intellectualist.  We must avoid reducing truth to ideas and the reduction of truth to statements (142ff).

Truth as Personal Being.  Jesus as Truth is incarnate. This Truth is in identity with the Being and Act of God (144).

Calvin: Christ is clothed in his gospel (Inst. 2.9.3).  Christ does not come to us apart from his own self-revelation in word and deed (Torrance 146). Since Truth is both Being and Act, he communicates and interprets Himself.

Knowledge of God: it is given to us in this Man, Jesus, but we do not leave this Man behind when we know him in his divine nature (149).

Jesus as concrete universal: he is the eternal Son but in concrete terms (182).  When we know a concrete universal, we are not beginning with abstractions, but rather “with a focal awareness of it in its own power and wholeness, aided by analogical reasoning that directs us away from symbolic formality to what is concretely real and self-evidencing” (243).

Thesis: “theological statements have a reference beyond and above themselves, and are not true in themselves but have their truth beyond them” (183).  This is basically correct.  A true statement about the Trinity is not the Trinity.  To miss this point is to affirm nominalism.  This is like Wittgenstein’s observation that we cannot produce a picture of the relation of a picture to that which is pictured” (Tractatus 4.01ff). 

N.B.: “Knowledge is real only as it is in accordance with the nature of the object, but the nature of the object prescribes the mode of rationality we have to adopt towards it in our knowing” (198).

Problems of Logic

Problem: What is the relation of knowledge or speech to being (204)?

The Logic of God

The Logic of God is the eternal Logos in the flesh.  Torrance: “Knowing the truth involves on our part a corresponding movement in space and time, a dynamic, living, active relationship…with the Truth increasingly, so that there can be no genuine knowing the Truth or speaking the Truth without doing the Truth” (209).

This chapter is probably the most difficult in the book.  Torrance explores numerous themes in philosophy of mind, mathematics, and logic.  Many of these discussions are quite fascinating, and Torrance’s grasp of the literature of mid-20th century philosophy of mind discussions is nigh encyclopedic.  Unfortunately, I think he attempts too much.  One point of interest, however, is his use of Godel’s incompleteness theorem.

Every system is necessarily incomplete since it contains within it propositions or sequences that are not definable from within the system.  This is why mathematics must always resort to another form of rationality:  that of language.  We are always moving between different logical levels.  For example, Aristotelian logic is workable to an extent, but it has to be transcended.  Something similar is at play with the dynamic between Euclidian and non-Euclidian geometry.

There is the natural logic of everyday speech.  Then there is the meta-language of symbolic logic, which then gives rise to a meta-meta-language.  This top-tier language is useless for communication, but quite powerful in pursuing deductions (259).

This might be a way to save Kierkegaard’s poorly-phrased “leap of faith.”  In these logical systems one must always take a “trans-logical step” (261).

Bonhoeffer’s Apollinarianism: he desired to maintain the independence of the Lordship of God as subject.  Insists that knowledge of God is possible “only if God is also the subject of the knowing of revelation since, if man knew, then it was not God that he knew” (Act and Being, 92).  This is Apollinarian when applied to the humanity of Christ (Torrance 292 n1).

Subject, Object, and Person

Torrance gives an illuminating account of how the concept of person has shifted over the centuries:

Patristics:  he actually doesn’t define it here, but you can piece it together from his other writings.

Augustine: the person is realized in the interior of the soul.

Boethius: the person is a logically derived concept from a specific philosophy. The idea of substance is now a logical subject.

Descartes: the subject is now split off from the object and person is now self-consciousness.

More Biblical Notions of Person

Richard of St Victor: Person is ontologically derived from the Trinity.  (Ironically, for all of Richard’s rejection of the Greek term hypostasis, he comes to about the same position with person being a unique entity).

Duns Scotus: Active agent, voluntary object of thought.


Space, Time, and Resurrection

Torrance, Thomas F. Space, Time and Resurrection.

When we study the New Testament, “we try to understand that reality in its own light” and letting our mind “fall under the power of its intrinsic significance” (Torrance 5). This means the texts point beyond themselves (cf. Athanasius, CA 2.3).

Crucial topic: is the resurrection a biological fact or a special fact? This is the question that gutted liberal Protestantism. However, the “conservative” answers sometimes missed a key truth. The answer is both, but both as in a “staggered hierarchy.” Yes, Jesus was bodily raised from the dead, yet so was Lazarus, which means the resurrection of Christ cannot simply be reduced to a biological “yes.” As Torrance points out in a footnote, quoting John Wilkinson, biological answers cannot yield theological answers, yet neither can they be placed against them (Torrance 60 n16). This is analogous to the relationship between classical mechanics and post-Einsteinianism. You can’t get to the latter by means of the former, yet you need both.

We cannot interpret the resurrecting processes within the old frame of death and entropy. It requires an irruption into a newer order. Liberal Protestants, being Deists and Gnostics, simply “spiritualized” this away. In accordance with Torrance’s kataphysical theology, the resurrection “impresses” itself on our minds and forces our minds to interpret it accordingly to its own reality.

One of the ways the resurrection safeguards man against the false teachings of Eastern religion, Gnosticism, and Neoplatonism is that it anchors the reality of man. Resurrection, among other things, heals creation. It keeps man from sliding into an ephemeral fog.

Moreover, the resurrection places the theologian into the concrete realities of space and time.

Torrance has a very explosive chapter in “The Nature of the Resurrection Event.” He deals with eschatology proper and the reality of heaven. It is at times poetic and moving. He has some very interesting discussions on the nature of time. On one hand, the resurrection takes place within the coordinates of space and time. On the other hand, it begins to redeem time. Our current time is “refracted.” It has “broken loose from God,” yet neither does it descend into pure chaos and nothingness (97). Instead of liberal Protestantism’s “two histories” (geschicte and historie), Torrance calls us back to Paul’s “Two Ages.”

His meditation on the Ascension is also quite good. Torrance brings to bear the full power of his doctrine of vicarious humanity. Christ “presents us before the Father as those who are incorporated into him…He makes an offering to God through his eternal Spirit” (115). “Christ prayed with us in the flesh and puts the ‘Our Father’” in our mouths. He eternally is before the face of the Father. We have to think in terms of representation as well as substitution (116). Christ has “so identified himself with us” that he makes “his prayer and worship ours.”

Ascension, Space, and Time

The Lutherans accused the Reformed of an “extra Calvinisticum” because they operated with a receptacle view of space (124). The problem that all want to avoid is saying that the Eternal Logos became man in such a way that part of the Logos was excluded. If you have a receptacle/container notion of space, this seems to be an inevitable conclusion.

Against this, Torrance posits “a relational view of space and time differentially or variationally related to God and man” (126). Torrance alludes to his earlier work, but he never really unpacks this claim. He gives us some hints, though. In the incarnation God and man met in man’s space. In the ascension God and humanity (of Jesus) meet in God’s space. He suggests, following modern understandings of space-time, that space and time are always space and time for something. They cannot be abstracted.

Perhaps we can look at it this way. Torrance writes, “In the nature of the case, statements regarding [the] ascension are closed at man’s end (because bounded within the space-time limits of man’s existence on earth) but are infinitely open at God’s end” (131). Perhaps this is similar to his claim that God (and maybe his decree) aren’t contained within Aristotelian notions of logico-causality.

At the end of the book Torrance goes off on a wonderful tangent and trashes dualist thought. It doesn’t really have anything to do with his thesis. It’s just fun to read. The older Newtonian/Aristotelian views saw atoms and particles being connected by means of causes. Anything that doesn’t conform to this system isn’t “real.” Torrance says that the rise of James Maxwell Clerk and electromagnetism put an end to this (185). Electromagnetism cannot be reduced to Newtonian/Aristotelianism. For example, the relationship between fields of force are just as real as the atoms.

Levels of knowledge: According to Polanyi, the sciences can be arranged in a hierarchical structure of levels. “They open upwards into wider and more comprehensive systems of knowledge but are not reducible downwards” (Torrance 188). Sometimes we have to add an “additional factor” into the field of knowledge, but this factor can only be found at a higher level. These are boundary conditions, per Einstein, “where each one is coordinated with a higher system, in terms of which it becomes explicable and intelligible” (189).

In light of all this, Torrance doesn’t completely reject the old notion of “chain of being.” To be sure, in its older forms it is crude and outdated (and probably pantheistic). Instead of being, it might be better to see a structured hierarchy of knowledge.


One should read his earlier work on the Incarnation before reading this volume. The material in here is grand, but Torrance at times doesn’t give enough argumentation or merely alludes to other sources.

Theology in Reconciliation (Torrance)

(image from

Torrance, Thomas F. Theology in Reconciliation. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975.

Liturgical Apollinarianism: The Mind of Christ in Worship

Torrance’s thesis is that the shift in public liturgy from Christ as our high priest, having a human mind and a vicarious humanity, who brings our worship to God the Father, to seeing Christ as the formal object of worship, represents a subtle shift to Apollinarianism. Notice that Torrance isn’t saying we can’t pray to Christ.  Of course we can.  What he means is that in the later medieval prayers, Christ is no longer the vicarious high priest but himself an object of adoration.  There is no longer any need for the human mind of Christ.

Torrance follows John Macleod Campbell in defining Christian worship as “the presentation of the mind of Christ to the Father” (139). As Christ presents himself to the Father, and as we are in Christ by the eternal Spirit, we participate in this worship.

In our prayer we rely on Christ’s praying to the Father (also) on our behalf, “for in Christ we are turned away in our praying from resting on ourselves to rest on his vicarious prayer” (141).  According to Cyril of Alexandria, from whom Torrance takes his cue, Christ “Carried up the mind of believers into the one nature of the Godhead” (175, quoting Cyril, Adv. Nestorium, PG 76, 364B, 368B-D). Even more for Cyril, we pray “with Christ” because of his self-identification with us in the economy.  

On the other hand, per late medieval piety, if Christ is the dread object of adoration, as he is in some masses, then it isn’t clear how he could in his vicarious humanity present our minds to God.  It isn’t clear how this can’t but be a functional Apollinarianism.

On the other hand, we argue with Cyril that Christ becomes the pattern of our worship. In doing so Christ heals the noetic range of our mind.  This participation in the human mind of Christ guarantees the objectivity of our worship.

This is why the prepositional phrase “with whom” is so important.  It safeguards Christ’s mediation.

Athanasius: The Foundation of Classical Theology

This might be the most important essay Torrance ever wrote.  He argues that Athanasius broke with the Gnostic and Platonic view of the world, which divided the cosmos into “sensible” and “intelligible” realms.  This lead to a “kataphysical” view of reality: we allow our minds to fall under the compelling evidence of things” (216).  More on that later.

For Greek philosophy, the rational is the limited; anything beyond rational grasp is irrational.

God and Being

God is beyond all created being, to be sure, but pace Platonism (Republic 509b), he is not beyond the concept of being.  God’s being is being and presence and activity-in-being (Athanasius, CA 2:2; 38; enousious energia).

When Athanasius says we can know God in his internal relations, he isn’t saying we can know God “in himself” (whatever that phrase might mean; not much I suppose). His argument is simple: the Logos is internal to the eternal Being of God, and if we know the Logos then we know him in the inner reality of his being” (Torrance 222).  The passages from Athanasius  don’t explicitly say what Torrance asserts they do.  However, Torrance is correct that Athanasius says that God’s energy inheres in his ousia, and so the previous claim might be true by implication.

This directly affects our epistemology. Our knowledge of the Son is correlated “with the Father in a relation of mutual knowing and being” and “grounded within the eternal Being of God himself” (223). If we separate God’s activity (energia) from his ousia, then we are left with complete agnosticism.


The other essays in the volume deal with the exciting opportunity to do theology in an area where older dualisms have broken down.  The two most important essays, though, are the ones dealing with Cyril and Athanasius.  They are hard reading, even for those who are used to Torrance.