God and the New Metaphysics

Herb Gruning, Ph.D.

Order now, with secure on-line order form
ISBN: 1-57733-161-3, 212 pp., 6 x 9, paperback, $16.95

Also by Herb Gruning:
God Only Knows
Who Do We Think We Are?

For those individuals who consider themselves to be en route, that is, to be on a philosophical or theological journey as opposed to already having arrived at a resolution to their cosmic-scale issues, this investigation may prove helpful. God and the New Metaphysics examines metaphysical and cosmological proposals for an alternate vision of reality.

The title of this work is a deliberate play on physicist Paul Davies' volume, God and the New Physics. The difference is that whereas his approach is a scientific one, this study comes to the subject of God and cosmology from a philosophical and theological angle, while at the same time remaining sensitive to scientific concerns.

The origin of the universe remains a scientific mystery, but once it was under way, additional mysteries surface. There is a gap in our understanding, presently at least, between the world of chemistry and the onset of biology. How life arose from non-life has not been resolved. Then there is also a gap between biology and psychology, namely how an entire host of metaphysical categories arose, or at least the alleged realities to which they point. These include mind, soul, spirit, consciousness, self-consciousness, awareness, and self-awareness. Mysterious too is not only how the world began but how it will end.

While the current analysis cannot hope to unravel these mysteries once and for all, it engages the thought of some of those who begin to disentangle us from the metaphysical knots in which we have tied ourselves. In sequential order it will consult the work of Alfred North Whitehead, James Lovelock, Rupert Sheldrake, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, David Bohm, and sample the thought of several others for the insights they can bestow.


"The perennial mystery of existence has inspired tomes of both scientific and metaphysical speculation over the millennia. In God and the New Metaphysics, Herb Gruning presents a fresh perspective, one that choreographs a dance between Whitehead's process theology and recent developments in physics, biology, medicine, cosmology, and several other fields. Whether discussing Heraclitus or David Bohm, morphogenetic fields or Gaia theory, Gruning is lucid, articulate, engaging, and provocative. His readers will never think of their universe in the same way again." Stanley Krippner, Ph.D., co-author, Extraordinary Dreams and How to Work with Them, co-editor, Varieties of Anomalous Experience: Examining the Scientific Evidence

"This book is a vigorous plea for a new metaphysics capable of revealing being and becoming as the texture of both the world and the nature of God." Maurice Boutin, Ph.D., J.W. McConnell Professor of Philosophy of Religion, McGill University, Montreal, Canada

"God and the New Metaphysics is a handy guide ('road map') for anyone venturing on philosophical excursions into the big questions surrounding the origins of the universe itself, and of life within it. It succinctly summarizes scientific advancements and their implications for the way we view the world, since (as Herb Gruning writes) 'All epistemological activity ... functions worldviewishly.' In addition to dealing with the development of the philosophy of science in the context of the clashes between science and religion, the author suggests interesting lines of inquiry to help resolve the questions which will remain in the reader's mind at the end of the book, as they do in philosophy and science to the present day." Francine McCarthy, Professor of Earth Science and Great Books/ Liberal Studies, Brock University

"What can abide and what must change in our understanding of God and nature? Walking the ever-shifting boundary lines between religion and contemporary science and drawing on rich resources to be found on both sides, Gruning has written a well-informed, insightful, and adventuresome book, addressing this question. And while refusing to oversimplify, he manages to write lucidly about deep and complex matters." John C. Robertson, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Department of Religious Studies, McMaster University

"In lucid and sparkling prose, Herb Gruning provides the inquisitive layperson with a solid summary of the history and present state of the natural sciences, together with a panoply of the most significant meta-scientific reflections on the meaning and import of those sciences for the higher purposes of human life. God and the Mew Metaphysics offers more than a road map through the highways and byways of science, philosophy, and theology. It is a traveler's guide through adjacent territories that have been explored by other travelers, with lively commentary on the usefulness of the older guidebooks. Above all, it identifies the limits of the previous explorations, and so reveals the openness of the horizons of knowledge, instilling in the reader a sense of further adventure at the edge of the known world." Dr. James Lawler, Philosophy Department, SUNY at Buffalo

"The author gives an excellent account of the controversy surrounding science and religion as alternative avenues to truth and argues persuasively how science in general has failed to unravel some of the deep mysteries of the universe such as the origin of the universe and of life, among others.The book makes interesting reading with the author's critical look at traditional theology with respect to its stand on the nature of god and purpose of creation, and his suggestion for a new direction in this regard along the lines developed by Alfred North Whitehead and others who consider the universe in all its diversity as a Divine Process - a view cosistent with that of modern physics where the cosmic reality is looked upon as a play of cosmic energy. While it is a valuable addition to one's collection, the book provides useful material for a course in science and religion." Gowdar Veeranna, economist, Winnipeg, Canada

Table of Contents

Speculations on the Way Things Might Be
Can We Get There from Here?

Chapter 1. Religion and Science
The Nature of Religion in Scientific Terms
The Nature of Science in Religious Terms
Enter the Philosophy of Science
The Recent Situation
A Diagnosis of the Enduring Problem
The World According to Gilkey
The Nature of Nature

Chapter 2. The New Physics Applied to the Old Nature
The Quantum World
The Relativistic World
Einstein Versus Bohr
The Anthropic Principle
How It All Began: The Early Years
The Story Thus Far

Chapter 3. The Reenchantment of Nature
Process as Reality
A Sporting Chance

Chapter 4. How It All Unfolded: The Later Years
Does God Wear a Designer Hat?
What's the Purpose?

Chapter 5. Have We Made Any Progress?
Stephen Jay Gould
James Lovelock
Rupert Sheldrake
Living in Resonance
Robert O. Becker
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Chapter 6. New Vistas
The Past as Causal
Whitehead and My Discomfort Zone
David Bohm
The Combination Approach: Syncretic or Synergetic?
The Forces of Nature

Chapter 7. Which Way to Turn?
When in Doubt, Venture Out
On a Personal Note
An Initial Final Word

Appendix 1. God by Any Other Name

Appendix 2. Time for a Change





Galileo found an adversary in the Church but not for reasons normally stated. Popular accounts of religion and science controversies depict religious authorities at Galileo's time as fearful of theories in opposition to what they interpreted as scriptural teaching-the battle lines being drawn between what the Bible says and what science discloses. In actuality, the Church was not alarmist when it came to the Copernican views that Galileo was advocating so long as they were taught as hypotheses only. What was at issue was the allegiance to authority or rule; which of the two-science or the Church-commanded governing power? Both could not enjoy final authority. As Virginia Stem Owens declares, "[w]hat the Church denied was that a hypothesis, any hypothesis (which is, after all, only an intellectually conceived model), could be identical with ultimate truth" (Owens 1983, 27). The tension arising between Galileo and the Church resulted from mistaking models for reality, or what Whitehead refers to as "the fallacy of misplaced concreteness." This amounts to "mistaking the abstract for the concrete" which is what happens if, say, the cosmic map mentioned above were mistaken for the very terrain it signifies (Whitehead 1967b, 51).

Theorizing then has its potential hazards: "Because our representation of reality is so much easier to grasp than reality itself, we tend to confuse the two and to take our concepts and symbols for reality" (Capra 1983, 35). Difficulties ensue whenever "[a] technique of investigation [is] on its way to becoming a total account of the world," that is, as a method becomes translated into a metaphysic (Barbour 1966, 36-7). As Owens continues, "what was at stake was not a new theory of nature but a new nature of theory. When scientists began to take their models for the real thing, the Church brought the weight of her authority against their intellectual presumption" (Owens 1983, 27).

The history of religion and science controversies has been sufficiently recounted elsewhere. Yet there is more than one way to write history. Every account of the development of and movements within civilizations bears a certain flavor. The one who attempts to convey "what happened" in a specific period under consideration will do so by framing it according to a certain motif. The very act of framing is a creative one which enables the reader to be guided by a thread or threads running through the account. These threads assist in making sense of the history being presented.

In such a creative undertaking, though, the materials scrutinized by the historian do not themselves come ready-made with these motifs or threads. One author sees the unfolding of history in one way, another author views it differently. Each one approaches similar sources, and similar historical questions might even be posed, but the issues raised do not immediately point to a definitive explanation. Different historians will couch the same event in a variety of ways depending on what they regard as the most important aspects and themes.

Themes are not so much unearthed as they are invented. Histories are not so much reported as they are drawn or crafted. Threads or patterns do not emerge as much as they are imaginatively utilized as tools for descriptive purposes. And what this describes is a creative process. More on this momentarily.

A history of the interaction (assuming there is any) between organized, institutional religion and the rise of modern science permits different yet related canvasses upon which accounts may be painted. John William Draper (1811-82) and Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918) are two authors who offer a stormy rendition of the relation between religion and science, though along differing lines. From their dates it can be appreciated that the idea that religion and science manifestly conflict is a relatively new one-it has a short history (thus far) since it was popularized from about the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

Draper, a U.S. scientist and historian, wrote A History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science, which was first published in 1874. According to the late Stephen Jay Gould, himself quoting a recent work by the historian J.B. Russell,

it was the first instance that an influential figure had explicitly declared that science and religion were at war, and it succeeded as few books ever do. It fixed in the educated mind the idea that "science" stood for freedom and progress against the superstition and repression of religion. Its viewpoint became conventional wisdom. (Gould 1999, 121)

As an interesting historical aside, it was also Draper who gave the address about the publication of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution that T. H. Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce responded to, their debate having become the stuff of legend (Gould 1995, 48).

White, a U.S. educator and the first president of Cornell University, authored The Warfare of Science, first published in 1876 and enlarged in 1896. Then by 1905 it appeared in two volumes under the title A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom-the terms becoming increasingly inflammatory as time goes on. Both historians describe religion and science as antagonistic toward each other, but give an alternate impetus for it as well as a different vision for the future. White was a devout theist who hoped to save religion from its dogmatic turn and salvage the true faith. He was trying to build bridges between religion and science, although his writings were seen as antagonistic toward religion (Gould 1999, 101-2). Draper, on the other hand, was a physician who dabbled in history and definitely had an axe to grind with religion. He did, however, trust that science could be buttressed by religion but only with that pecking order firmly in place (Gould 1999, 103).

The problem, though, is not with religion but "particular embodiments" of it, more precisely "characterized as dogmatic theology," where religion becomes an impediment to progress in science. In the Galileo case, he and the Church were most assuredly at odds, but the point to be made here is that the notion that it is the nature of science and the character of the Church to inevitably conflict or be inherently inimical toward each other, whether accurate or not, is a recent view-traceable back to Draper and White as popularizers of this idea.

The intent of the present analysis is not to diagnose how religion and science or God and the world interact, if at all, but to highlight potential steps toward their unity. Whitehead is one author who claims that the two can be considered as having been woven from the same fabric. In his terms, "[s]cience suggest[s] a cosmology; and whatever suggests a cosmology, suggests a religion" (Whitehead 1974, 136). (At the time of his writing, a cosmology was taken as equivalent to a worldview.) Ways to a knowledge and understanding of God for Whitehead includes science.

The focus of the next section will begin with a statement of the extent to which theology can be regarded as a scientific discipline followed by an examination of any religious elements in scientific methodology. The issue to be resolved is whether both religion and science are on similar or analogous philosophical footing, precisely because subjects engage in both. Then we will determine how current scientific approaches display openness to transcendence or at least find themselves at home with metaphysical descriptions of nature. Previewing the remainder of this study, we will investigate the contributions that Whitehead and others make to the discussion and then consider tentative proposals for fruitful directions which the field of religion and science might take.

Blue Dolphin Publishing, 2005

Order Information / Blue Dolphin Publishing Home