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The Book of Job
Why do we put the book of Job in a study of religion and science?
Because there is more science in this little book than in all the
rest of the Bible put together. If we have examined how scientific
materialists view the Bible, it is only fair to examine how the
Bible views scientific materialism. "How can it", you ask, "if it
was written so many thousands of years ago?" I propose that the
questions science raises are ancient, and the religious answers
still relevant, no matter what trendy philosophy-du-jour is doing
the asking. The Book of Job is an enigma, a black monolith on the
plain of human literature, presenting in stark detail the problem
of evil, but encrypting the answer dictated by God's voice from
the whirlwind. The challenge of deciphering this message, and the
vulnerability of the man Job, keep drawing me back to this little
book, again and again. I may only be describing my reflection in
the polished black stone, but what I saw profoundly changed my
views of science.
Job as Science
The classic science text for Creationism is Genesis 1, which
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep,
and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.
God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night."
And there was evening, and there was morning-the first day.
Contrast now this same event as recorded in Job 38 which begins
Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said:
"Who is this that darkens my counsel
with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
"Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone-
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?
What are the differences of these two accounts of creation?
Genesis emphasizes the subject, God. We are not told "how", we are
told "who". It is a theological text, drawing attention to the
sole sovreignty, the unlimited power, the universal scope of
creation. The Job passage is very different, focussing on the
"how" of creation and asking "who?" over and over. It is the
mirror image of Genesis, using the first person, detailed
mechanisms, human technology, which is to say, all the attributes
of science. Note how these passages refer to each other, the
Genesis account revealing who but concealing how, whereas the Job
account reveals how and asks who. Thus if fundamentalists or
liberals want to talk about the Creation event, it would behoove
them to examine Job's account.
Science as Faith
So why is this passage here in the 38th chapter of Job? The story
of Job is the classic problem of evil, the original plot for "When
bad things happen to good people". Job lost all his possessions,
his children and his friends in one, calamitous afternoon. Then he
lost his health. Now covered in sores and ashes, he is visited by
three friends who advise him to repent of whatever it was. Job
carries out an eloquent dialogue, protesting his innocence. The
three friends fall silent, and a fourth friend castigates them all
for misunderstanding God. Finally God shows up. It's the climax
of the story. Surely now God will explain himself, justify Job,
condemn the friends, and wrap up the whole debate. God does none
of the above. Instead, we are given a primer in science.
"Science!" you say, "But science deals only with the phenomena,
the facts, and Job's whole problem is with the noumena, the
meaning. This is a category mistake. Surely you must be joking."
Nope. It's baldly and unambiguously science that God proclaims as
the answer to the problem of evil. No wonder this book has been
an enigma for centuries! But notice the form of the questions God
gives. He is asking who, how, and where. He is asking questions
that modern science purports to answer. For three millenia these
were unanswered questions, and now, in this century, even within
this last half century, science has claimed to answer them. We are
within reach of the Rosetta Stone if we but understand the
Why Science? Because it is the best analogy we have to revelation.
Our attitude toward science (epistemology) is the best indication
of our attitude toward revelation. Remember Aquinas' two books:
the book of nature and the book of God. The problem with
revelation, be it natural or divine, is that we do not all see the
same thing. This is not for lack of effort. We must at least
respect the different Biblical interpreters for their sincerity
and effort. But somehow, we have to establish the methods that
work. That is, sincerity alone is not enough. Necessary, but not
sufficient. We could say the same for spirituality or
intelligence, etc. Somehow, we must establish the ground rules
for revelation or it won't make sense. So my claim about Job 38-42
is that God is applying the Socratic method to explore our
epistemology so that we might be able to solve the problem of
evil. For in some peculiar sense, the problem of evil is
Views of Truth
The 3: If we read Eliphaz' first speech, it becomes clear
that the goal of the three friends is to make life reasonable and
rational. For Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, God is the essence of
rationality. Thus, for the problem of evil to go away, Job's
suffering must be rationalized. Thus rationality is the peak of
their epistemological pyramid.
Elihu: At the end of the dialogue, we get a monologue by
Elihu (32-37). He argues that God's primacy cannot be challenged,
that God can do whatever he wants. In medieval times this was
known as nominalism. Despite this utter sovreignty, God is not
required to explain anything to us, and in fact, Elihu does not
think God will ever directly explain his actions to us. We have
the data, but not the meaning. (Shades of Karl Barth!) Thus
incomprehensible experience is the peak of Elihu's
Job: In contrast to these friends, Job holds that the
evidence contradicts the 3 friends, that God does not abide by
human rationality. Job doesn't answer Elihu directly, since his
dialogue ended in chapter 31, but one can find a rebuttal in his
earlier speeches. Elihu argues that we cannot understand God or
talk with him directly, and Job replies that when we draw meaning,
solace, or spiritual comfort from our prayers, we are indeed
understanding and talking with God. The personal revelation of God
is at the top of Job's pyramid.
God: It is difficult to summarize the word pictures given
in chapters 38-42, but perhaps an analysis of the first few verses
quoted above will will give us a handle on the argument. What do
we understand from this fragment? First, we need to remember what
Elihu and the 3 friends had just told us about our inability to
converse with God, and how these verses refute them.
Now let us generalize these lessons to the scientific approach to
facts, to truth.
- Words are being used. Revelation (knowledge) consists
- Reality (the earth's foundation) exists independent of
- Science/Reality owes its origin to God.
- Human observations are limited in time and space.
Their knowledge is secondary.
- Human existence, our understanding, our sentience is
under examination. We could try to argue that it is an accident of
evolution, but it doesn't hold up very well to this line of
questioning. At the very least, the question implies a dependence,
a contingency upon God for our sentience. Humility, the fear of
God, is the beginning of wisdom.
These three steps are going to be central to our understanding of
how we do science, of how we know the truth. Likewise, if we wish
to attack the problem of evil, we need to understand the process
of communicating the truth, the justification, explanation of
evil. Let's look at the way meaning is conveyed in this class. I
have an idea or thought in my head. Let's call that intention. I
then type these notes or expostulate in class using words. We'll
call that the action. Then you read or listen to those words and
reform a thought in your own mind. I'll call that reception. It
takes at least these 3 steps for truth to be communicated. If any
step is lost, then the communication is lost. So if we ever want
to have a grasp of absolute Truth, we must have confidence that
all 3 steps are error-free. The only error-free process we are
free to hypothesize about is God himself (all others becoming
- God's intentions are the primary source of facts, of
truth. Reasonable, yet without full explanation.
- His actions, the facts he creates, are purposeful,
though our knowledge of them is fragmentary.
- Our understanding, our science, is limited by the
space and time constraints of being human.
Thus for God to communicate the Truth effectively with us, he must
be involved in every step of the process, just as 38:4-7 state.
We can identify those steps with the concept of a Trinity. God the
Father has the plan. God the Son is the "Word become flesh", the
embodiment of that plan. God the Spirit "guides us into all
Truth", the reception of that plan. Thus if God is engaged at
every step, one has some hope or expectation that Truth is not
corrupted in transmission.
The Chain of Meaning
So the problem of evil can be transformed into an epistemological
question. To answer "How can God allow evil?", we can posit three
responses: (1) God is arational; (2) God's actions are arbitrary;
or, (3) Our understanding is limited. We can break the chain of
Truth at any point to protect ourselves from the conclusion that
God creates evil.
The 3: Now we can examine the responses in the book of Job
with the above paradigm. The 3 friends who demand that God be
rational, ultimately force God into a box of human understanding.
When they are confronted by illogical facts (Job's innocent
suffering) they attempt to rewrite the history. If one can say
that history is the outworking of God's plan, then rewriting
history is reworking God. In the chain of Truth, their approach is
to reinvent God's intentions, which breaks the chain at the
source. This appears very similar to the direction of liberal
protestant faith in the past 2 centuries, and ultimately ends in a
diluted divinity as seen in Kuschner's theodicy, or Whitehead's
process theology. Job was completely justified in rejecting
Elihu: Elihu's views are more subtle, but equally
inadequate. It is the direction followed by the hyper-calvinists
and Puritans, which attempts to preserve the sovereignty of God,
but at the cost of making God inscrutable, harsh, and distant.
That is, God is allowed to do whatever he wants, he does not have
to listen to our logic, and if he acts in an arbitrary way, it is
his prerogative, he is not compelled to explain it to us. In
effect, his intentions might be rational, but his actions sure
aren't. He has broken the chain in the middle.
The consequences of this view are not pretty. In seminary we
analyzed Herman Melville's Moby Dick as the anguished cry
of a Puritan unable to find the meaning in something terribly
significant. In my estimation, the backlash against cold calvinism
is witnessed by the spread of the Unitarian Church, which occupied
many former Puritan church buildings. What is the use of a God who
won't tell you what you most need to know? Yet Barth's criticism
is entirely valid, how are we to understand an infinite God
and his revelation when we have such finite understanding? How are
we to resolve the problem of evil, if we cannot understand God at
all? The problem can be solved, it must be solved for revelation
to hold any meaning.
Other: I mention in passing that most, if not all,
conservative explanations of the problem of evil, assume that the
problem is in the end of the chain, in our limited understanding
of Truth. That is, all the facts are not in, and should we be
omniscient, the evil we see would be completely comprehensible.
This view, though widely disseminated, tends to fail those who
need it most. To the faithful, who would hold to their faith in
the face of lions, such platitudes are already incorporated. To
the unfaithful sufferer, they are percieved as "blaming the
victim", and make a rough situation worse. It is not too
surprising that Kuschner rails against all such talk. The story of
Job is unique in that the prologue rules out this option as a
possibility from the start.
Job: Now let us look at Job's response. He argues that the
evidence is against the 3 friends, for history just won't be
accomodated in our limited box. He also argues with Elihu that his
own experiences do not fit with an inscrutable, arbitrary God.
Job can accept that God is a reasonable fellow, he takes that as
given even in argument with the three friends. Job can accept that
God is sovreign, and is free to do what he wants. What Job cannot
accept is that his present circumstances are in any way justified
or normalized or acceptable. God can afflict me if he wants, Job
cries, if only he would do it in person. Rationality alone cannot
explain evil, nor can rationality and experience together explain
evil, but it takes rationality, experience and personal revelation
to achieve a satisfying solution to the problem of evil. It takes
the entire Trinity.
Further development of the problem of evil, and Job's contribution
to the debate, can be found in my web page on The Book of Job. The insight we focus
on here, is the personal epistemology that arises from that study,
which we discuss next.
The problem of evil can then be seen as a paradigm for the
transmittal of Truth. Working Job's story backwards, we see that
understanding nature must require all three aspects of the
epistemological triangle. In contrast, the positivist emphasis on
"analytic a priori" and "synthetic a postiori", only used 2 legs
of the triangle. Likewise, the literalist interpretation of
Genesis also wobbled on only 2 legs. As the Anglican church loves
to state, a three-legged stool never totters. What does Job teach
us about the missing support?
First, truth (whether be about God or watches) must be rational.
But rationality is not sufficient, or else we are tempted to
re-rationalize the evidence like the 3 friends. This is where Kant
stopped, and where many popular deconstructionists stop. The
problem, as I see in the debates today, is that neo-Kantian views
do not recognize the need for a "real, thing-in-itself" to have an
existence apart from us. Truth must be outside ourselves for there
to be absolute Truth. And that the only way that we can discover
something outside ourselves is to be confronted with it, stubbing
our toes on it, stumbling over it. This is the role of science.
This is the evidence with which Job refuted his friends.
But there is more to evidence than just measuring or weighing the
rock that caused our pain. Rather there is the experience of
Truth, the evidence of purpose, the revelation of God that is
needed to complete the picture. This is the aspect that Michael
Polyani addresses in Personal Knowledge. Purpose invariably
involves a person, and thus both our purposeful collection of
knowledge and God's creation of knowledge involve personal
commitment. The denial of teleology in scientific materialism
cuts off this third leg. It is a serious impediment both in the
problem of evil, and in the understanding of nature. For example,
there are many questions an evolutionist cannot ask, problems of
small statistics that cannot be addressed because of his prior
commitment to randomness, to the denial of purpose.
A science that emphasizes rationality over experience is like the
3 friends, or Kant's textbook on Astronomy--quickly forgotten. A
science that emphasizes observations alone becomes a tedious
recipe book, not unlike the history exams we so much dreaded. This
was the downfall of positivism. The clever and admired scientist
is the one who is able to synthesize all of those recipes into a
rational model of hidden workings, an image, if you will, of the
"thing-in-itself". We have admired Newton's mechanical universe,
Einstein's space-time reinterpretation, or the "eightfold way" of
the Standard Model of particle physics. These are all expressions
of a reality we have only a dim view of, and all blend smoothly
into metaphysics. Yet we are reminded by Kuhn and modern
deconstructionists that our metaphysics is highly social and
personal, and influenced by our culture and our upbringing. How
then can we assign them the category of absolute Truth? We cannot,
unless we acknowledge that metaphysical absolute Truth is also
something that impinges on our life, that it has an existence
outside ourselves. And that is the definition of revelation.
Revelation then, is the fullest expression of personal
Looking back at Job 38:3-7, we can draw some modern conclusions.
When God talks about measuring lines and footings, he's indicating
a careful attention to detail, a purposeful creation. Later in
this course we will talk about the "anthropic principle", the
principle that the universe is so carefully tuned in all its
arbitrary parameters that even 1 part in 10^60 (one with 60 zeroes
after it) would make the universe uninhabitable. We are only now
beginning to find the dimensions of the world, stretching out the
steel tape, marvelling at its precision. We still don't admit who
did it. It takes great humility to say that we are only the second
intelligence to understand the universe. The theological
implications of these scientific discoveries are mind-boggling,
for if we are designed, then for what purpose? and what is our
response to be?
So for us to understand Revelation (God's words) we must apply the
same principles as we apply to Science: always receptive, always
trusting the evidence (Polyani's "personal knowledge"), always
humble about our abilities, always persevering to overcome our
limitations. (see 1Cor13). It is not enough to rationalize the
experiences, the observations, which is the positivist approach.
This leads nowhere. It is not enough to rationalize the
metaphysics of the thing-in-itself, constructing models or
purported causes of our experience. This leads only to "laws of
nature" and a short-sighted naturalism. Rather, we must also
rationalize the purpose, the personal character of those causes,
those laws of nature. Without that personalization, we have no
explanation for revelation, none for purpose, and surely none for
Thus Science, just as much as Religion requires the full Trinity
of rationality, evidence and personal revelation in order to steer
clear of Kant's ghetto. We have coasted far too long in the last
century on the implicit metaphysics, the investment capital, the
personal knowledge of 18th and 19th century scientists. Albert
Einstein is a classic example of a conflicted man who had a theist
metaphysics, yet professed atheism. Even Richard Dawkins, for all
his raving about Christianity, is still a man who wants to find a
purpose in life, even if it is just signing books trumpeting the
end of purpose. This is the criticism Stanley Jaki makes of most
modern philosophers, who do not acknowledge their debt to
teleology. Purpose is the great elephant in the living room whose
presence is never acknowledged, but whose absence marks the end of
20th Century Physics
God and the Astronomers
The 19th century was the century of Materialism. In biology, the
triumph of Darwinism marked the coup de grace to the slow
malingering death of purpose; banished first from Newtonian
physics, then chemistry, and finally, life itself. Ludwig
Boltzmann in a series of brilliant papers demonstrated that all of
the material universe could be shown to be composed of small,
discrete but invisible atoms, a glorious triumph for Epicurus who
had proposed the atomic theory of matter in the fifth century BC!
Epicurean philosophy was also dedicated to eradicating
non-materialistic causes such as gods and spirits, so that
throughout the intervening 24 centuries, it was inevitabley
associated with atheism and the denial of purpose. Epicurus
himself was an ascetic, and saw in materialism a tremendous
freedom from onerous religious obligations, but his followers, at
least by Roman times, made "Epicurean" synonymous with
debauchery and license "eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we
die". It is not insignificant that Boltzman, at the height of his
career, committed suicide, for the denial of purpose does more
than promote atheism, it leads to despair.
It was no doubt in response to such popular world views that
Augustine of Hippo, a 4th century professor of philosophy who
converted to Christianity, developed his neo-Platonic theology
that so profoundly transformed the Christian Church. Despite
continuous accretions and additions over the next 15 centuries,
Augustine's formulation of Christianity and his response to
materialism has continued nearly unchanged. For example, when the
Crusades rediscovered Aristotle, and the medieval scholastics were
debating the merits of incorporating Aristotle's
semi-materialistic metaphysics, the bishop of Paris constructed a
long list of "heretical" Aristotelian propositions that could not
be advocated since they ran counter to Augustinian theology. Thus
it should come as no surprise that in the 19th century, "atomism",
"materialism", and "determinism" were all viewed as atheistic
philosophies in direct conflict with orthodox Christianity.
If the 19th century can be seen as the victory of materialism over
purpose, then the 20th century can be seen as the ignoble defeat
of materialism by the hand of science. Although materialism is not
unconscious by any measure, neither is it the reigning champion
parading around the ring as one might conclude from reading
Richard Dawkins or Carl Sagan. Rather, to the great embarassment
of the National Academy of Science, Augustine has won nearly every
round of the 20th century. By way of analogy, physicists in 1890
spoke with great hubris that nearly everything physical had been
explained, leaving a few loose ends to tie up such as the black
body spectrum and the nature of the luminiferous ether. When these
loose ends were explained in the early 20th century, they became
Quantum Mechanics and Relativity, unravelling all the physics so
neatly packaged by 19th century materialists. In the same way the
mysteries remaining at the end of the 20th century threaten to
undo our uneasy armistice with purpose; the stubborn
incompleteness of quantum mechanics, big bang cosmology, and the
That is, physicists today do not argue with Bohr or Einstein about
the meaning of Quantum Mechanics. Indeed, much like hydrodynamics
is no longer viewed a proper subject topic for physics students,
so the foundations of quantum mechanics are viewed as a proper
subject for philosophers only. We are told by countless professors
and "serious" textbooks that one no longer need understand what
quantum mechanics "means", only that it works. Such agnostic
arguments are quite ancient, used by medieval scholastics "to save
the appearances", as for example, by Osiander in his introduction
to Copernicus' posthumous astronomy text proposing that the
planets orbited the sun. Osiander attempted to blunt the
inevitable criticism of this radical view by suggesting that it
was just a "dumb math trick" that achieved the same answer as
Ptolemy's more orthodox geocentric universe. No one bought the
argument even then, and certainly none of the proponents of
quantum agnosticism want to return to Ptolemy, they actually
believe that Copernicus' elegant theory is closer to reality.
Despite this naive realism in all other fields, there remains
among physicists more openness to discuss sexual preference than
the meaning of quantum mechanics. Why all this reluctance? Because
there is a reason for this family secret, this skeleton in the
closet, this elephant in the living room, that is tied to the rise
of modern physics. Modern physics is all about the revival of
purpose, and purpose leads inexorably to God.
My own awareness of this skeleton came from reading two books in
the early 80's, both by well-respected heavyweights in physics,
Robert Jastrow's "God and the Astronomers (1978)" and Paul
Davies "God and the New Physics" (1984). Jastrow wrote as a
sympathetic agnostic, Davies as a searching materialist, but both
of them honest about the impact of 20th century physics on the
scientific materialism establishment. Very disturbing. Here is a
highly excerpted passage from Jastrow's book:
Recent developments in astronomy have implications that may go
beyond their contribution to science itself. In a nutshell,
astronomers, studying the Universe through their telescopes, have
been forced to the conclusion that the world began suddenly, in a
moment of creation, as the product of unknown forces...
Jastrow, even more than Davies, is willing to admit that Epicurean
materialism is facing perhaps its greatest challenge since
Augustine, and even worse, the Augustinians are winning "at least
in the foreseeable future". (What do you want to bet that his
editors made him put that silly caveat next to his emphatic
"never"? This is a perfect illustration of the uneasy armistice
between science and purpose.) This is why both Davies and Jastrow
use the word "God" in their book titles, because for the last two
centuries, the debate has been cast as "science versus religion"
or "naturalism versus supernaturalism" or "materialism versus
spiritism" etc. Now that materialism is losing, it seems very
normal to assume that God must be winning. Davies, in a clever
sleight-of-hand, tries to redefine the battlefield itself, much as
the cold-war joke of a Soviet news release reporting on a race
between the USSR and the USA: "the Russian came in second and the
American next-to-last". Jastrow, to his credit, ends his book with
the comment that astronomers have scaled the highest peak and
climbed the last pinnacle only to find the philosophers and the
theologians waiting there for them.
From a philosophical point of view, this finding has traumatic
implications for science. Scientists have always felt more
comfortable with the idea of a Universe that has existed
This is a distressing result for scientists because, in the
scientist's view, given enough time and money, he must be able to
find an explanation for the beginning of the Universe on his own
terms-an explanation that fits into the framework of natural
rather than supernatural forces...
This is why it seems to me and to others that the curtain drawn
over the mystery of creation will never be raised by human
efforts, at least in the foreseeable future. Although I am an
agnostic, and not a believer, I still find much to ponder in the
view expressed by the British astronomer E. A. Milne, who wrote,
"We can make no propositions about the state of affairs [in the
beginning]; in the Divine act of creation God is unobserved and
In this last section of the course, we want to look at how the
"New Physics" changes the 19th century paradigm in highly
disturbing ways. Whether you come to this topic as an avowed
atheist, confused agnostic or ardent Christian, the 20th century
discoveries should be greatly disconcerting to your world view. My
goal in this part of the course, is more than creating an apology
for some particular view, but to provide a critique for any view,
a tool that will enable the reader to evaluate not just the musty
theories of forgotten physicists, but the latest, snazzy
theorie-du-jour coming down from the ivory pinnacles of Harvard,
Oxford or Paris. And like any good detective, the first step is
understanding the motives of all involved. Discounting greed,
power and sex (which, though important, cannot explain the
reigning priesthood of science), we turn to every detectives
fourth most important motivation: metaphysics. (Okay, I admit
it, I've been reading too many Father Brown mysteries.)
In psychology, a popular phrase to describe this problem was "cognitive dissonance".
That's the feeling you get when two facts you thought were true contradict each other.
The human brain is marvellously adept at navigating these treacherous waters, even engaging
in outright deception to mitigate these dissonances.
thought your mom wanted you healthy all those years that she made you eat your liver, and now you
find out liver has enormous amounts of cholesterol and your arteries are clogged."
"She didn't know about cholesterol back then."
"Then why did she stop serving Dad fried eggs and bacon?"
"Well, perhaps she knew it was bad for adults but thought it was good for children."
"If she had a double standard for food, how do you know she didn't have
a double standard for health?"
"How ridiculous, she would never do that."
"How do you know? Are you sure you aren't just in denial?"
"Well look here, if she really wanted me unhealthy, why did she send me to school
with milk money all those years?"
"Was it whole milk?"
"Four percent milkfat has a lot of cholesterol."
"I don't believe you! You must be paranoid schizophrenic."
Such cognitive dissonances can be very useful, because they probe
the deepest held beliefs, and bring to light all the hidden
assumptions. But we must be aware of all the sophisticated forms
of denial that try to make the problem go away. So when Jastrow
says that the big bang theory had traumatic implications, he's
saying that scientists had a cognitive dissonance and it couldn't
be easily brushed under the rug. The same thing is true of Quantum
Mechanics or the Anthropic Principle. Let us examine these 20th
century discoveries then, with an eye to discovering the cognitive
dissonance, the metaphysical problem being addressed. Only then
can we evaluate whether a theory has any likelihood of success.
Last modified, Feb 18, 2003, RbS