I should say from the outset that the article “A Theology Full of Paradox” was a refreshing read. It’s reassuring to know that there are people in the world who are capable of living with the ambiguities and paradoxes that so often define our being-in-the-world. The tension between disciplines in the sciences, humanities, and in religious studies is not an easy thing to discuss. Too often discourse between disciplines devolves into ridicule.
For example, I have sat in too many philosophy classes in which the very idea of God is mocked by professor and students alike. Inversely I have had too many conversations with religious people who feel it sufficient to end discussions prematurely, content to say ‘Jesus is the answer’ without fully understanding the question.
Caleb Gingrich begins his article with an often-quoted fact about light. The wave-particle duality, however paradoxical, is occasionally a subject of mockery by scientifically inclined individuals who find it unthinkable that someone could draw a conclusion from the paradox that would apply in the sphere of the humanities.
Though my friends and family are tired of it I must again drag out the distinction between truth and fact. Facts are provable, replicable, measurable, knowable statements about the material world. Truths are enduring, inconsistent, paradoxical, and often inapplicable statements about our being-in-the-world. To move from a fact like ‘there is a wave-particle duality’ to a truth like ‘the world is a paradoxical place’ involves a very careful operation.
This operation, when done well, requires a very careful eye for reduction and transgression. In the move from fact to truth, the analogy must respect the sanctity of both fact and truth by not reducing one to the other. Caleb does a good job with this difficult task by affirming the paradoxical fact while not tracing a strong causal chain from fact to truth (thereby ensuring that truth is not reduced to mere causality).
The paradox of the wave-particle duality is compared and not equivocated with the disciplinary contradictions of a life lived in the tension between faith and science. He writes,
At its core, faith requires accepting the unknown, the unknowable, and trusting in the unseen, the unobserved. Engineering depends on the scientific method: a process requiring controlled, repeatable experiments with measurable, quantifiable, falsifiable outcomes observed objectively. How can one person value both kinds of knowledge and trust them equally?”
Treated initially as a contradiction which contains irresolvable and opposed conclusions, the disciplinary tension is then revealed to be reconcilable in paradox without the comfort of simple explanations or what is referred to as ‘double-think’ in the article. Instead of antinomies, the contradictions discussed are revealed to be complementary and mutually strengthening.
This complementary reading of the paradox of faith and science for instance, is accomplished by a demarcation: the distinction between the questions of science (predictive, descriptive) and the questions of faith (right relationship).
The mystery of the universe is acknowledged in tandem with the explicability of the world. This, in my eyes, is a strength.
The article follows this with a further analogy: evolution and the relationship between chance and the fine tuning of biology. Chaos and entropy are opposed to divine order, which is always a dangerous attribution to make, given that while God may order to the universe, our understanding of that order is always already anthropomorphic. This shouldn’t prevent us from attributing order to God, but it should also cause us to consider that what we see as chaos may well be what God considers to be order (and the reverse).
Caleb anticipates something like this, writing,
“But wait! Now we have a God that is both randomness and order. Can God be both? These conceptions of God also push us beyond our usual anthropomorphic images of God. Can God be both familiar—human-like—and unimaginably foreign? I believe so.”
The trinity is then offered as an example, and the article closes with the claim that contradiction reveals the completeness of truth. Caleb writes that, “it is in embracing the contradiction that we learn to understand the whole” and I agree wholeheartedly.