Saturday, March 6, 2021

Review: Space, Time and Incarnation

Space, Time and IncarnationSpace, Time and Incarnation by Thomas F. Torrance
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Still dancing around my exquisitely difficult read of William Gaddis' The Recognitions (my most recent detour was William Gass' who wrote the introduction, and wrote Middle C, a much more approachable book) I somehow had the intuition to pull this book off my shelves and (try to) read it again. What a surprise and a shock that it does provide much of the vocabulary that I had been lacking in my read of Gaddis!

I was given the book by the minister of the church I grew up in, and around the corner from which I now live. It's also possible that it was lent to me and I failed to give it back. It was a long time ago. Now I recognize some origin, perhaps, for much of my own thinking. I also recognize that there are several Michael Polanyi books now missing from my ever shifting and moving and growing and reducing personal lending library. Those would have been helpful as well.

I must say that just because Torrance is so much more erudite than I could ever be doesn't quite mean that I shall follow him into the Christian faith. I do believe that this may remain the best Christian apologia that I have ever and likely shall ever read. It is truly a beautiful book, packing unwieldy knowledge into the size of a pamphlet. If it doesn't quite make a believer out of me, it most certainly pulls the rug out from under disbelief. (I don't feel quite compelled to stipulate belief in what, though I won't take the cop-out of "spirituality.")

Together with atheist Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, perversely enough, this book nudges me away from atheism. In Dawkins' case, because he opens up a view of life which is as breathtaking in the realm of biology as Einstein's was in the realm of physics. Indeed Torrance was calling for just such a shift for Biology, crediting Polanyi with the insight. (I hadn't known, or remembered, that Polanyi and Turing were friends. Too bad we've (I've) mostly lost the one who should have been the more influential).

Our current state of philosophical (and theological, for that matter) understanding remains in the thrall of technology; which is to say that we are more amazed by the potential of our own creations (religion being one of those creations) than we are by God's.

Now Torrance uses the term 'creation' in relation to God as if there were nothing problematical about that usage. But he does so in a truly glorious way, not by rehearsing the miracle of ex nihilo but by focusing on the impingement of the divine, by way of Christ's incarnation, on the "rational" (knowable) world in which we exist. We exist in a world (not the world) created by God.

I think he should have moved beyond any need for the term creation, since God. as he writes about Him, exists outside of our rational cosmos, which means outside of time and space. No beginnings, no ends. By Christ, we become not creator of our own world, but rather "transformer" in the more worldly usage that we should stick to. Not owner. Not mere life-form. But rather transformative agent. In Torrance's own usage, to say that God created the world rather delimits God, just as does saying that God is the world.

But we need beginnings and endings. Our minds are narrative creators; they depend on narrative meaning to bind the conceptual with the perceptual in some meaningful fashion. Torrance is pretty convincing that there can be no meaning without actual apprehension of something beyond our rational cosmos. Christ, in history, provides that. He invokes Gödel's incompleteness in his argument.

There is far too much specious editorialising, not drawing on someone like Torrance, as it should, which surrounds - shall always surround - the Christian religion for me to become an adherent. But I must say that in this age where we waffle about the importance of seeking for 'other' intelligent life in the cosmos, Torrance does make it clear that we're missing the obvious. The obvious being God, of course.

The vast reaches of space that we catalog may, in fact, be restricted only to our particular cosmos. If God does exist, then there is no reason that all worlds must be the same kind of rational that this one is. The Einsteinian barrier of time and distance is still weaker than the likelihood that 'cosmos' incorporates more than our small version of rationality. Without God, we may indeed be consigned to emptiness.

Somehow I am comforted by that insight. Without question, I find Torrance to be a more compelling philosopher than many I've read, and I find his read of science to be quite reliable as well. What he sets out to do, and to my read succeeds with, is to diminish to the point of non-existence any incongruence between the truths of science and those of theology, as well as to establish that each requires the other. Theology (or whatever broader term might be fitted here) must be part of science, as well as vice versa, perhaps.

So, while I may quibble with terms like 'God' and 'creation,' I can't quibble with his main argument: that we can never know everything about our own rational cosmos, and that there is something beyond it which belongs in the category of everything that we humans must hold dear. Call it God, call it universal love, call it a life force, there is indeed no doubt that it impinges on the cosmos that we increasingly apprehend by human science.

Now, if I can only manage to read William Gaddis on fakery and authenticity. If only I can find it amusing. Well, I will certainly find it amusing - I already have. Perhaps I'll find it literary. I don't expect it to be a religious experience. Reading Dawkins and Torrance have each been religious experiences for me, in the vulgar usage of that term.

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