Einstein, Polanyi and the Laws of Nature.
EINSTEIN, POLANYI AND THE LAWS OF NATURE by Lydia Jaeger. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2010. 336 pages, index. Paperback; $59.95. ISBN: 9781599472478.
Let me start this review of Lydia Jaeger's Einstein, Polanyi and the Laws of Nature by seconding her view that "Let us not merely try to understand the extraordinary actions of the Lord, but let us also, and perhaps first and foremost try to think about how he usually acts in his creation" (p. 216). So much of the science and religion literature focuses on miracles and extraordinary interventions without first getting its bearings on how God normally acts in creation. Fixing more attention on God's normal ways of working in creation is Jaeger's best idea.
Part 1 of the book focuses on the work of Michael Polanyi. While Jaeger gives a serviceable introduction to his epistemological views for those unfamiliar with them, readers already familiar with Polanyi's thinking will find nothing new here and can skip to one of the other parts without loss. In Part 2, Jaeger focuses on Albert Einstein. The introduction to Einstein's thinking on nature, philosophy, and religion is serviceable for anyone unfamiliar with these. Anyone already acquainted with these aspects of Einstein can skip to one of the other parts of the book without loss.
It is Part 3, where Jaeger focuses on the concept of laws of nature in the Bible and science that is potentially the most interesting to PSCF readers. In chapter 1 of Part 3, Jaeger writes that "the Old Testament reveals the duality of its thinking about nature. On the one hand, natural phenomena are tied to rules, to a stable order; on the other, the Lord causes them through immediate action" (p. 139, emphasis added). As many biblical and theological scholars have emphasized, God is never pictured in the Bible as doing anything in immediate or unmediated fashion-his acts in creation are always mediated. (1) So Jaeger starts out her analysis by adopting a false dichotomy that has been very dominant in both religious and secular thinking about God and creation since the eighteenth century: Every event in nature either occurs because of God's unmediated activity or occurs due to natural processes without any influence of God whatsoever. This dichotomy is foreign to the Bible, and places any analyses of divine action and laws of natural and the created order into a straightjacket. I found Jaeger's discussion of nature, laws, and God's activity in creation in this chapter to basically be reading this dichotomy into the biblical texts (this is what many of her sources do as well). The concept of mediation has been sorely neglected in theology and hermeneutics and offers a way out of the false dichotomy. (2) Unfortunately, mediated action only gets some glancing mentions in the book (e.g., p. 144). Readers will not find the clarity and insight they seek here.
After a summative discussion of historical sources for the origin and motivation for the modern conception of laws of nature (chapter 2, Part 3), Jaeger's conclusion is that biblical revelation provided necessary conditions for the development of the modern notion of laws. In agreement with sound scholarship on the question, she acknowledges that biblical revelation does not provide sufficient conditions for the modern notion of laws. Moreover, through exploring aspects of philosophy of science as well as developments in relativity theory, quantum mechanics, and chaos (chapter 3, Part 3), Jaeger concludes that biblical usage of "law" is in terms of "everyday language" and "prescientific" as in premodern science (pp. 206-7). Yet, only those who have not read much in the literature discussing the history of science and religion will find new information on laws of nature in Part 3.
The fundamental difficulty with this book is that despite its overwhelming number of footnotes (three chapters have over 78; two more chapters, over 100; and one chapter even has 238!), it reads as if Jaeger is only first coming to terms with the science-religion literature and only has a narrow feel for what has been explored therein. The best way to read this book is to obtain it from the library and only look at the parts that interest you as this is not a book that PSCF readers should purchase.
A final warning: This book was originally written in French which, as with many languages, makes clear the distinction between the use of the second person plural to refer to the self--the so-called royal we--and the third person plural to refer to a group of people. Unfortunately, the translation of Jaeger's book collapses these different senses together. The translation did her a disservice by not using "I" whenever she referred to herself, or at least substituting "humans," "people," or some other elocution for "we" whenever Jaeger refers to people in general. Readers will grow tired of constantly having to ask, "Who is the 'we'?" page after page.
(1) For example, C. E. Gunton, The Triune Creator: A Historical and Systematic Study (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998); T. F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology: Consonance between Theology and Science (1980; reprint, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2005); and F. Watson, Text and Truth: Redefining Biblical Theology (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1997).
(2) Gunton, The Triune Creator: A Historical and Systematic Study; and R. C. Bishop, "Recovering the Doctrine of Creation: A Theological View of Science," Scholarly Papers, The BioLogos Foundation (January 31,2011), http://biologos.org/projects/scholar-essays.
Reviewed by Robert C. Bishop, John and Madeleine McIntyre Endowed Professor of Philosophy and History of Science, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL 60187.