Wm. B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Mich., 2012, 250 pages
Reviewed by Jay Wilkins
What do scientists and theologians have to say to each other about light? For those willing to move beyond assuming conflict between Christian faith and modern science, this book is a great conversation to overhear and to learn from. Biblical images, methodological issues, scientific theories and historical theology are all conversation partners and we are invited to listen and join. The book is a result of a symposium hosted by the Templeton Foundation’s “Humble Approach Initiative” which sponsors interdisciplinary research seeking new insights by building connections across science and theology.
The editors’ introduction maps the territory to be explored. The tone of this conversation is set in the opening essay by John Polkinghorne, respected physicist and theologian. The history and philosophy of the science of light and quantum theory and cosmology are introduced effectively for those of us frightened by equations and graphs. Light as a biblical and theological topic is explicated from a variety of faith traditions. Also included is the important role of darkness as a sign of God’s presence. Pick up and read, and light will be discovered as a many-faceted gem for the scientific and faithful person.
Polkinghorne’s opening essay and the closing essay by George Hunsinger are good brackets for the book, and effective conversation partners that took me back to Theology 101 in seminary and all the required readings about analogy and God. Can our scientific understanding of light be not simply an image, but a metaphor, a symbol, an analogy for God’s Trinitarian self? How might the scientific understanding of light and quantum entanglement give new depth and meaning to the creed’s affirmation of Christ as “Light from Light,” of Jesus’ claim in the Gospel of John that “I am the light of the world”? These become powerful metaphors for theology, if not analogies for God’s self. Then, welcome Kathryn Tanner’s essay as she recognizes “dis-analogies” of light as understood theologically and scientifically.
A great joy of these essays is to see historical theology in dialogue with contemporary cosmology. Marco Bersanelli’s “Light in the Beginning” engages the medieval theology of light in Robert Grosseteste and in Dante’s “Inferno” with what has been learned from the Hubble Space Telescope and Planck satellite. We are invited to learn from “their open-minded thinking, their enthusiasm in searching for beautiful, symmetric, and coherent explanations of the universe.” Light is a beautiful sign of the Creator across the ages!
If you enjoy interdisciplinary thinking and are looking for ways to use this symposium in an adult class or sermon, I recommend David Brown’s “The Darkness and the Light Are Both Alike to Thee.” Images of light and darkness in Scripture are explored in relationship to theological, scientific, artistic and architectural traditions. Brown reminds us that metaphors have many different meanings, depending on the contexts in which used and read. He concludes with a line from a popular song that invites us all into the meaningfulness of light in all its dimensions: “Science broke the news: the only absolute is light … Wasn’t that the message of the star on Christmas night?”
JAY WILKINS is the transitional presbyter for the Presbytery of Sacramento.