There is an order of the universe. How refreshing are these words! They cause a certain joy, especially in our days of chaos. If an order exists, then God exists Who is its Creator and source. We might then exclaim with the Psalmist how all creation gives glory to God and elevates our souls towards Him.
These were my reflections while reading a new book that broaches this theme. In our troubled postmodern world, we thirst for order, and so I drank deeply from this book as if from a crystalline spring. I was intrigued that the author was not some past saint or theologian. He is not even a religious or cleric. He is a modern author—and a professor of behavioral genetics at a small Midwestern university.
A Work of Surprising Depth and Insight
The book, Vestige of Eden, Image of Eternity: Common Experience, the Hierarchy of Being, and Modern Science by Dr. Daniel Toma was just published by Steubenville’s Franciscan University Press. The work surprises you by its depth and insights. It is scientific yet theological, academic yet accessible, full of Faith yet reasonable. You follow the author on his childhood journey in rural Indiana to his studies in modern secular academia to his eventual ponderings on the order of God’s universe. When reading, we can find ourselves making a similar journey.
This is not an anti-science screed written by a disgruntled academic mugged by some spiritual reawakening. The author seeks a perspective that is “fully capable of incorporating the data of modern science and scholarship untouched and unaltered.” However, the author adopts a worldview that is broader in scope and more powerful. He traces its deep roots in ancient Greek and medieval thinkers. He claims that this view “has never been successfully challenged, only dismissed as irrelevant.”
Indeed, it is a scientific work written by a scientist who demonstrates how modern science does not contradict but supports an ordered universe with a hierarchy of beings. Dr. Toma believes that the age-old fight between science and religion is much more an ideological prejudice than an empirical conclusion. Such a refreshing affirmation contrasts with postmodern uncertainty.
A Consistent Creation That Makes Sense
Not only is this Catholic framework demonstrable, but it can also be traced with wonderful consistency throughout the whole history of the Church, as recorded by the Church Fathers, Doctors, and thinkers. Such thought has long been suppressed by anti-religious Enlightenment obscurity. It is ironic that as classic liberalism breaks down, better-enlightened scholars like Dr. Toma bring back the Church’s light.
This perspective is marvelously accessible to readers in search of light. it is not found in scientific laboratories but in our common contact with reality, which is “the key to unlocking a much vaster universe than simply that indicated by our senses.”
The universe only makes sense if seen through this premise of a higher order created by God. That is why the author can later venture into the realm of speculative theology by describing the world as a liturgical framework which he calls the “blueprint of all creation.”
Two main points stand out in this work.
The first is his refutation of scientism, which is derived from materialism. The stifling idea that only material things exist is rationally refuted. We are reassured by the true understanding of our nature that was made to comprehend the material world through the prisms of first principles, the transcendentals and causality. We feel explained by the existence of an immaterial soul without which we might observe Creation but fail to understand it.
As a result, this book is written for those in the postmodern wasteland. Everywhere we look, we find chaos in minds. Modernity gave us lost generations of young and old that wander about aimlessly. They have been told there is no law save that of their gratification. The materialistic worldview makes it impossible to “say why human beings exist. It is impossible to say why there is a universe at all, or why there is something other than nothing.”
It is no wonder that people feel crushed by our materialistic and secular culture that suppresses any opposition. We naturally tend to look for “something more.”
Something More–Meaning and Purpose
The second point is that “something more” that Dr. Toma calls a worldview “replete with meaning and saturated with purpose.” If there is one thing our society and the present generation need, it is a sense of purpose. Indeed, the book is filled with natural beauty, often taken from memories of his rural Indiana childhood that echo this purpose. He cites medieval authors, saints and especially Saint Thomas Aquinas who saw the visible world as a means to unite with God, the Creator.
“I am a convinced Thomist. The aspect of philosophy that most attracts me is the philosophy of history.” — Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Within the modern scientific framework of his training, the author can talk of cosmology with angels, intellects, and God. He describes the human intellect as capable of seeing “a cosmos with meaning, purpose, ends, and ascending structure.” He does not fabricate a vision of man but merely extends our natural vision beyond the narrow Enlightenment confines that have so restricted us from seeing the full picture.
Our Final End and Purpose
There are other highlights of the book that merit mention. The author carefully prepares a rational foundation that explains this Catholic worldview before entering into other fields. The internal logic of the order of the universe cannot fail to reflect God’s inner workings. He explores our final end and purpose found in union with God.
Thus, the reader is invited to enter the sacred mysteries. Creation can also reflect Trinitarian, sacramental and liturgical elements found in Church teaching. It would be only consistent that the Church would worship God in a manner reflected in nature. Supernatural reality hovers above our natural world yet not in contradiction to it.
The author’s exuberance for these topics transmits a desire to find definitive answers and analogies to matters that need more deliberation. Thus, one shortcoming is that one senses that such considerations require much more development and theological speculation.
A Denunciation of a Travesty
Vestige of Eden is a denunciation of a grand omission. It is a much-needed challenge to a cynical world that has turned its back on God. Dr. Toma states that “If the greatest gift of nature is to prepare us to accept revelation, then the greatest travesty of modern thought is the misuse of nature to sunder us from assenting to the revelation of our Creator.”
He criticizes this great “intellectual hoax of the modern age” above all by displaying the beauty and order of the universe that we have missed. He stands in awe before a God that so loves us that He united Himself to our humanity so that we might participate in His nature and be happy with Him for all eternity. You will stand with him.