by MARYTHOMAS NOBLE
by Thomas Dubay, SM Ignatius Press, 1999 365 pages, $14.95
Far from opposing one another, science and theology converge on their way to arriving at the same conclusions about truth and beauty. Father Thomas Dubay — Marist theologian, retreat master, spiritual director and bestselling author (Fire Within, Authenticity, Faith and Certitude) — shows us how the disciplines get there, focusing particular attention on how beauty points us to truth.
To show how scientific minds have increasingly ventured into these theological waters, Father Dubay has lined up an impressive collection of recent statements by leading scientists. James Watson, biologist and Nobel Prize winner (with Crick and Wilkins) for his monumental work on DNA, describes how the three of them were guided in their discoveries by beauty, exclaiming to each other one day during a lunch break that “a structure this pretty just had to exist.” Another Nobel Prize winner, Richard Feynman, one of the 20th century's most noted physicists, famed for his work on quantum electro-dynamics, remarked that “you can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity.” And Werner Heisenberg, founder of quantum mechanics, wrote that the truth of his theory “was immediately found convincing by virtue of its completeness and abstract beauty. … In exact science, no less than in the arts, [beauty] is the most important source of illumination and clarity.”
In fact, “[a]ll of the most eminent physicists of the 20th century agree that beauty is the primary standard for scientific truth,” conclude Robert Augros and George Stanciu in The New Story of Science.
On the theology side, Father Dubay translates the convergence of science and theology on the theoretical plane into descriptions of everyday human experiences. His delight in finding all the evidence he needs right there is apparent.
“Every human person is drawn to beauty … but few of us seem to be aware that the beautiful packs a power not only to fascinate but also to convince a mature and honest mind of solidly grounded truth.” With this opening, the theme of the book is sounded, to be taken up in movements ranging from the centrality of a vibrant appreciation of beauty to any person's human development all the way to the pinnacle of that development as experienced in the heroically holy man or woman.
“Just what is the beautiful? … Is it mainly in the eye of the beholder, as is often said? … Is there something subjective about it, or is it only objective, that is, ‘out there?’… What are the characteristics of an elegant object? … What does science say about the nature of beauty? Why do we men enjoy and even thrill in the beautiful, whereas mere animals give not the least hint of appreciating a rose bloom or a Straussian waltz? Why is the theme of our book so immensely important for you and me, while it seems to have no significance for squirrels and ducks?”
Why don't ducks waltz to Strauss?
The second part, which Dr. Dubay has titled “Savoring the Symphony,” offers intriguing chapters on things like macromarvels, midimarvels and micromarvels. This means we are treated to a tour of galaxies, solar systems, pulsars and supernovas, then through numberless varieties and incomparable performances of animals, trees and flowers perceivable to the senses, and on into the incredible, invisible complexities of the atomic world. Contemplating life at the cellular level, he writes: “Imagine a city so tiny that it cannot be seen by our naked eye and yet having millions of opening and closing gateways. It possesses a transportation system, libraries of information, manufacturing plants, computers and much else. Imagine each of these micro cities making others like them in an afternoon.” Our guide goes on to remark that wonder “is an awesome awareness. It is a compliment to God and an enrichment of the person.”
Beyond wonder lies the normal conviction that such marvels cannot have come about by chance, but point infallibly to a designer. Father Dubay shows on purely scientific grounds the absurdity of a theory of materialistic evolution. “Recent developments in biochemistry and microbiology,” he notes, “conclusively demonstrate that gradual changes by natural selection and random chance are impossible. … This is not a theological statement; it is the conclusion of scientific experts in the two fields. In addition, there is the negative conclusion of paleontology: the geological strata are embarrassingly empty of transitional forms. Darwin himself honestly admitted that if his theory were correct, there would have to be innumerable transitional developments.”
Introducing the next section, “Divine Glory,” Father Dubay presents the anthropic principle of science and the theological principle of providence, again a startling convergence of the two fields. “In current cosmology, the science of origins, anthropic principle refers to the conclusion that physicists and astronomers in growing numbers have reached in recent decades, namely, that from the very first microsecond of the Big Bang the universe has developed according to astonishingly precise requirements that point to the final appearance of man.” Man, the human person, is seen as the pinnacle and crown of the cosmos. Jumping to a loftier level, that of revelation, we get the same message in the Genesis story of creation. Neither discipline is used to prove the conclusions of the other, yet the independent accounts are “mutually confirming celebrations of the evidential power of beauty.”
The fact that the concept of divine glory is at best a vague and unfamiliar one in today's world makes the third part of this volume a stunning gift to the average reader. Father Dubay unfolds the beauty of God's life as it floods the human person and shows the meaning of holiness as the person's being filled with the very fullness of God. The marvels we have pondered throughout the book are merely foretastes of the splendor to come. “Within the beautiful the whole person quivers,” he writes.
This is vintage Dubay — and a powerful thing of beauty in its own right.
Dominican Sister Mary Thomas Noble