The book in question (QUANTUM THEOLOGY: SPIRITUAL IMPLICATIONS OF THE NEW PHYSICS, by Diarmuid O'Murchu, New York, Crossroad Publishing, 1997) could probably never have been written by a strictly academic theologian -- or if it was, perhaps only at the cost of losing ones job. As it is, O'Murchu, a priest-psychologist practicing in London, has tapped into a wide range of the latest thought in science and theology and to have come up with a book that is bound to provoke strong reactions in both communities, not just because of his claims, but perhaps even more because of his provocative style. Not that he is not systematic in his approach: his main propositions, no less than twelve of them, ranging from a definition of God as "creative energy" to love as "an interdependent life-force... the origin and goal of our search for meaning" are spelled out very clearly both in the text as well as in a final summary (Appendix I). Within the range spanned by these propositions, lie assertions covering the nature of evolution, creativity, revelation, redemption, morality, and just about everything else in the universe. Not a small accomplishment in a little over two-hundred pages!
O'Murchu's targets are twofold: the kind of
mechanistic reductionistic thinking that has for so long
dominated the empirical sciences as well as the insular
with-reality anthropocentrism that continues to prevail in theology. In their place, O'Murchu "invites" us to open ourselves to a more holistic -- which is what O'Murchu seems to mean principally by his use of the word "quantum" -- view, one that begins to see reality in terms of systems or patterns or relationships, or things more than simply the sum of their parts.
But O'Murchu's real quarrel is not so much with the scientists, many of whom he sees as having already in the process of abandoning their reductionistic straight-jackets. It is (and I think quite rightly) with religions which, like his own church, after having taken nearly three-hundred years to admit Copernicus was right, and nearly another hundred years to apologize for what it did to Galileo, still practice a theology that acts as if none of this ever really happened and still imagines that humanity (and with it, a God conceived in humanity's image) remains, at least psychologically speaking, the center the whole universe.
In many ways O'Murchu is right on target, but in his conviction that theology thrives on exaggeration (apparently so does being Irish) he seems to me to overstate his case, often to his own detriment. This in turn leads to what seems to be glaring contradictions or puzzling paradoxes -- if we might give them a kinder name. For example, IF humanity is in some way is evolution become conscious of itself, and all this is not simply a result of mere chance (both propositions that O'Murchu admits), then why adopt such a seemingly anti-"speciest" rhetoric, chief among the trendy shibboleths he seems so anxious to espouse? Or why denounce the conceit of the so-called "Anthropic Principle" in all its forms only to resurrect most of its arguments in favor of the Gaia hypothesis -- certainly an overworked anthropomorphism if there every was one? Or again, granted that religions have tended to over-use apocalyptic eschatology along with a host of other "dualistic" thought patterns to instill fear and conformity, how explain O'Murchu's own propensity to assume the worst for the future of the human species, which he predicts will virtually destroy itself within the next hundred years -- unless, of course, it reconforms itself to the formulas proposed in this book!
Perhaps, as a theologian, I should not attempt to criticize him on anything but his theological views, especially on his rather ambiguous statements regarding the transcendence and immanence of God. But because here he is quick to take refuge an appeal to our inability to comprehend God, then it seems to me that I have no choice but to comment on at least one scientific matter that has major theological implications and which is, I suspect, the principle explanation for the positions he takes. It is regards what is perhaps the major issue in cosmology today -- the question as to whether the universe is "open" or "closed", with the latter position further interpreted to imply that the universe is eternal. It is here that I believe that O'Murchu has positioned himself way too far out in left-field. Scientifically speaking, all the current evidence indicates that while there must certainly has to be much so-called "dark matter" out there to account for the perceived motions of the universe, the idea that there has to be enough of it out there to cause the universe to repeat itself in multiple "Big-Bangs" ad infinitum, while ardently sought for (especially by those who seem to want to avoid the God-question, as cosmologist Fred Hoyle admitted motivating his efforts in this direction) is not generally held. Taken even less seriously is the idea that the universe might be continually recreating itself through Black cosmic "wormholes" leading to other universes, an idea regarded by most cosmologists as more akin to science fiction, even when it comes from such celebrities as Stephen Hawking.
To his credit, O'Murchu admits that his position on this matter is bound to be debatable, but when read backwards from this proposition (#10), one can quite readily see how so many of the rest of his positions, for example, his down-playing of the second law of thermodynamics ("entropy"), his universalization of the Gaia hypothesis, and his rather strident denunciation of the Anthropic Principle, and most of all, his too easy dismissal of a transcendent (vs. purely immanent) God and in consequence, of many more traditional transcendental spiritual disciplines, are all likely to be influenced by this belief. If nothing else, his repeated insistence that we must remain open to the idea of theology as a process of discovery rather than a repetition or elaboration of dogmas would seem to militate against such predetermined answers, even if the determination is more subconscious than realized.
But I do not want this criticism of mine to discourage anyone from reading this book. To the contrary, rather than downplaying its provocativeness, I have emphasized it in order, I hope, to whet the reader's appetite for more. Anyone who doubts the need to take this challenge seriously, need only read Appendix Two: "Doing Theology in a Space-Time Continuum". Taking that final word as a premise, whether one agrees with the rest of O'Murchu's own conclusions or not is largely beside the point.
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