Few theologians have influenced the spiritual life of the West as profoundly as the lay physicist Galileo Galilei when he successfully challenged the Church’s geocentric world view. Though the Copernican doctrine he championed was originally discovered by a devout Christian, Galileo redefined it within a mechanistic world view which exiled God to the periphery. Shaped in succeeding centuries by thinkers from Descartes to Laplace to Bertrand Russell, this new ideology not only made the place of Deity dubious, it also reduced the human mind and all it apprehends—morality, beauty, truth—to subjective illusion. How, after all, could reason or the soul fit in a universe where all reality was material, kinetic, or mathematical?
But now another lay physicist, Wolfgang Smith, is vigorously challenging the new orthodoxies ushered in by Galileo. Smith regards the scientific revolution initiated by the Tuscan astronomer not as a period of enlightenment and progress, but as a 350 year detour. By repudiating not only the Ptolemaic cosmography but all of the metaphysical traditions informing “the notion of cosmic theophany,” modern scientism created insuperable dilemmas. The radical bifurcation of the mental and the material universes has not only made knowledge and meaningful choice seem impossible in everyday life, it has also failed the test of scientific application in recent years. Clearly, the arguments for returning to the central premises of Christian thought are compelling, though it is ironic that now only laymen like Smith seem to care. While professional philosophers are busy playing with semiotics and theologians are distributing political manifestos and automatic weapons, it is left to an amateur—a mathematician—to defend the foundations of Western thought.
Inevitably the amateurism shows. In outlining and defending his position. Smith is too eager to confound all foes: Newtonianism, Darwinism, Freudianism, Jungianism, and humanism all receive their lashes in turn. But Smith has taken on too many opponents to understand them all well. Especially weak are the links he posits between key figures. Newton, after all, despised Descartes and all other mechanists, and most Victorians viewed Darwinism not as an outgrowth but as a repudiation of the Newtonian outlook. Good metaphysics should help us make more careful distinctions. But overzealousness draws Smith away from his invincible first principles into fruitless quibbles over minor points—Darwinian interpretations of fetal whale teeth, Freud’s views on female urination, or Jung’s dreams about dwarfs. Anyone who wants to restore man to a place “a little lower than the angels” might spend less time wrestling in the mud with fossil-hunters and psychoanalysts.
[Cosmos and Transcendence: Breaking Through the Barrier of Scientistic Belief, by Wolfgang Smith; La Salle, IL: Sherwood Sugden]