Monday, May 10, 2010

Physics and Metaphysics: A Book Review of The Journey to Truth by George F. Garlick Ph.D.

In Dr. George F. Garlick’s book The Journey to Truth: How Scientific Discovery Provides Insights into Spiritual Truths, Dr. Garlick provides a nice summary statement for his book in the preface:

…I believe that we are created in the likeness of the Almighty God, and as such we are encouraged and invited to pursue the revelation of the spiritual and physical truth as we open our hearts and minds to Him. Further, I believe that as we progress in understanding some of the mysteries of our existence and the nature of God, our faith is deepened, and enriched – not compromised (p. xi-x) [sic].

Dr. Garlick’s journey began on a farm in Nebraska, where he experienced first-hand the mysteries of God’s Creation out on the Great Plains, yet his path led him away from the farm and away from God. He left the farm, setting his sights on college. But his college experience caused him to begin asking questions:

Over the next few years I tried to attack the problem of God’s existence with the only approach that was reasonable to me: the scientific process. I was determined to figure out whether or not God existed. I embarked on this journey, using my intellect to pursue faith, but this approach failed. My life did not change until I reversed the process and allowed my faith to lead my intellectual understanding (9).

He went on to earn a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and solid-state physics at Iowa State University. His research in the field of Holographic Ultrasound Technology and his ongoing childhood wonder about the mysteries of Creation have dovetailed with his belief that “by using our mind to explore the mysteries of our universe, we can achieve a better understanding of our relationship with God” (17).

Through the course of the book Dr. Garlick describes such things as the Big Bang, higher dimensions (those above the dimensions of length, width, height, and time), superstring theory, and the nature of light. He relates his belief in how these scientific theories demonstrate the nature of God, answering such questions as how miracles are possible, how we can communicate with God, and how God can be both immanent and transcendent. As an example, Dr. Garlick believes that God can enter into our four dimensions because His “presence in the fifth dimension permeates the entirety of our visible world and is present among us and even within our bodies” (87). He contends that God’s fifth dimension presence allows Him to enter our dimensions and yet remain separate from the sin that permeates them, the fifth dimension acting as a one-way barrier.

There are a number of good things going on in the book from a Biblical standpoint. For instance, he:

• Believes that there is a truth that is independent of our opinion (35).
• Declares that the fundamental questions of life are grounded in God (42).
• Proclaims Jesus as God incarnate, and that he became flesh and dwelled among us (110).
• Takes the orthodox position that Jesus is both 100% God and 100 % man (111).
• Affirms a just God who will hold us accountable for our sin on Judgment Day (128).
• Mentions our heavenly hope (137).

At the same time, there are theological problems contained in the book. Perhaps the most glaring problem is Dr. Garlick’s acceptance of the Big Bang Theory – the belief that the universe started from an infinitesimally small singularity (which he believes was created by God). The Big Bang Theory is an elegant theory put together to explain the origin of our universe. Yet it is only a theory, and, more importantly, it militates against the words of Scripture.

Acceptance of the Big Bang Theory would seem to argue against the literal and properly exegeted text of Genesis, which states that the universe was created in six days. This uncritical acceptance of the Big Bang Theory leads many Christians to some sort of Theistic Evolution – God guided the evolution of the earth, and humans, over billions of years.1 This belief is reliant on mankind’s development across multiple generations throughout the eons, which cannot be, since it assumes the death of organisms, which did not occur until sin entered the world after the fall of Adam and Eve. (There is much more in the Bible which disproves an “old earth” approach, but is beyond the scope of this review.)

Dr. Garlick attempts to resolve the problems associated with evolution in two ways. First, he states that “…I had not tried to take a position on those subjects that I have no special contribution, and especially subjects which I believe are not essential to eternal life (124).” Secondly, he comments “This explains how two different frames of reference may exist. Irrespective of the ‘earth time’ of our days or the years of the universe, it is less than a moment in the fifth dimension (129).” His first explanation is more of an excuse than an explanation, dodging a whole legion of questions that should be answered, and his second explanation illustrates a tendency of Dr. Garlick to base his ideas on a tenuous stack of unproven theories. Multiple dimensions have been postulated by many scientists, but they are as yet unproven and may not be provable or unprovable. (Scientists hope that the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland may give some evidence of extra-dimensional signatures, but it also may not.) It is one thing to speculate on multiple dimensions as a way to create a working theory for how the universe fits together, and perfectly acceptable, but quite another to then assign God a place in the speculative equation.

At times, Dr. Garlick seems to let his scientific presuppositions rule over the text of Scripture, rather than the other way around, which can lead to problems.2 He says “my goal is to present my understanding of scientific facts and new scientific theories as honestly as possible and then demonstrate how they can help us interpret the truths of challenging passages in Scripture” (11). The general rule of thumb for difficult Scriptural passages is to turn to other clear passages for help, or if there are no clear passages, to avoid drawing conclusions – only Scripture can interpret Scripture. On page 88, he mentions that “…Scripture will give us some insight into why God chose to create this break in dimensions.” Again, the method is flip-flopped. Scripture should not be used as a backup to our own scientific theory, but rather, our theory should be tested against the words of Scripture. He admits on page 79 that the fifth dimension “is not found explicitly in the Scriptures.”

Ultimately, while observations of God’s marvelous creation can lead to helpful discoveries, these discoveries can only bolster the natural knowledge of God. The natural knowledge of God reveals that there is a God, as well as some of His attributes, such as His omnipotence and his omnipresence, but it cannot reveal to us the saving nature of God. That can only be found in the person and work of Jesus Christ as revealed in Holy Scripture. “It has pleased God to bind all knowledge of truth, salvation, and Christ to his revealed Word, the Scriptures. Christ is not standing for you in nature, nor in the human mind, nor in history. All three testify-each upon its own wisdom-of the glory of God. But regarding him who is the way and the truth and the life they know nothing and speak nothing by themselves” (taken from a speech by August Pieper; online reference).

On page 138 Dr. Garlick remarks that “I believe to see the unseen is to look into the fifth dimension.” God has hidden His glory from us for our own protection (Exodus 33:20). His unveiled but still distant majesty on Mt. Sinai struck fear in the hearts of the Israelites. Instead, God hides behind a mask, in His opposite. He reveals Himself, not where you might expect Him to be seen, but on a cross. There His full glory is manifested. The rulers scoffed at Him, saying "He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!" The soldiers mocked Him: "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" (Luke 23:35-37) In seeming defeat, in a way and a place that no human would ever consider a fitting scene in the final act of the play, Christ defeats sin, death, and the power of the devil.3

When we attempt to divine the nature of God based on scientific theory and speculation, we may be going too far, trying to peer behind God’s mask – a very risky business. “Therefore if we want to walk in safety, let us accept what the Word submits for our reflection and what God Himself wants us to know. Let us pass by other things—things not revealed in the Word. What concern is it of mine, and how can I comprehend what God did before the earth was created? These are thoughts concerning the uncovered Godhead….”4

Dr. Garlick comments

There are some that accept all in the Bible by faith and say it is enough. Of course they are correct even when they add, “All of these scientific discoveries are not necessary for salvation.” I wholeheartedly agree. Accepting the message of the Bible is enough—and for those who can accept by faith without intellectual doubt there is no need for further inquiry. However, there are others who need more because they are wrestling with tough questions and searching for answers. This book is for such people (11).

He makes a good point. Reasoning with unbelievers with factual evidence may help break down barriers, making them more receptive to the hearing of the Gospel. And delving into God’s Creation to see how it “ticks” is a worthwhile enterprise. Yet we must be careful to measure all things against the truth of Holy Scripture, lest we turn our ideas about God into a theology of glory.

Assigning God a place in the fifth dimension, from whence He can interact with our visible dimensions, hardly paints a picture of an immanent and loving God. It does not seem to be a God who can easily be found, though it may fit our own scientific ideas of where He should be found. To find God we should look where He promises to be found – in Word and Sacrament. There He comes to us physically in the three dimensions that we can see and becomes a part of His own Creation. We hear His Word spoken, we see His Word poured out in the waters of Baptism, and we taste His very body and blood given for us in the Lord’s Supper. It is there that God is both hidden and revealed in lowly estate, in His opposite.

The Journey to Truth is an interesting read. Dr. Garlick presents thought-provoking concepts that are worthy of consideration, but at the same time, they must be examined and compared with the text of Scripture. While parts of his scientific explanations may prove to be correct, where they don’t agree with God’s Word, we must acknowledge that there is a different answer that we may never find or totally understand. To gaze into the Nebraska night sky and see the Milky Way, or to see the prairie grass sway in a gentle breeze, to hear the meadowlark sing and the coyote howl, one cannot help but wonder how all of this was made. It is a question as old as man himself. And it is a question that only God can truly answer. We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

The Journey to Truth: How Scientific Discovery Provides Insights into Spiritual Truths is published by VMI Publishers in Sisters, Oregon, © 2009, ISBN: 1-933204-89-3, $14.99.


1. How the earth and life on it evolve are never fully explained in the book. Page 25 tells us “…1.4 billion years ago there was an unbelievably massive explosion of energy that initiated a process of creation. It is a wonder that matter was created out of that energy and that matter coalesced to form stars, planets, and black holes. It is a wonder that life sprang forth and humanity came into existence.” The Bible indicates that God spoke the universe into existence by His Word, out of nothing. As Romans 4:17 reads, God “calls into existence the things that do not exist.” The literal days of creation in the Genesis account are often twisted into longer periods of time in order to make them match our own notions of how things must have been created. For a proper exegesis of the Genesis text, including the word “day,” listen to Dr. Joel Heck’s explanations in this mp3 file from the Christian apologetics radio show Issues, Etc.

2. One example of how scientific presuppositions can lead to problems is Dr. Garlick’s belief that God can only act in our four dimensions by invitation: “So who is in control, God or Satan? Again, this is a paradox that can be resolved—in part—by understanding multi-dimensional space. Satan is present in this world that we live in, but God’s sovereign presence in the fifth dimension, can enter, intervene and have power over sin in our four-dimensional world if we only call on Him. So answering the question ‘Who is in control?’ depends on the dimension and our personal invitation to God in this world. …Joseph realized that ultimately God is always in control when we invite Him into any situation (89).”

3. On page 16 the comment is made “…When we analyze and meditate on the enormity and complexity of His creation, I believe we will reach the conclusion that our conception of God needs to be expanded. And when we do this and find a bigger, more majestic God, I believe we will again gain insight into what our ultimate purpose is.” Jesus identified our ultimate purpose in John 6:29: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." Our highest worship of God is to believe that Jesus Christ was crucified on a tree to forgive all our sins. Once we understand this, we no longer need search for a majestic God somewhere in another dimension – we realize we need look no further than the cross. There the suffering servants hangs in all His glory, in His opposite, to fulfill His Father’s plan of salvation for all mankind. This gory reality of a crucified, and then risen, Son of God, is the theology of the cross, in contradistinction to a theology of glory.

4. Martin Luther, Luther's Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut Lehmann. vol. 1, Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 1-5, CD-ROM (Saint Louis: CPH, 1999).


Anonymous said...

Well, I haven't read the book, but it sounds as if Dr. Garlick's God is just a bit too small. The incomprehensible fact that God transcends all dimensionality, including time, yet chooses to interact with us and reveals Himself in time, puts Him far above and beyond any "fifth dimension" and hardly subject to any invitation of whim of humans.


Scott Diekmann said...

The following two comments were transferred over - the initial comment was posted in the wrong thread:

Anonymous said...
I have an 18 year old son who thinks about these types of questions. He is pretty solid in his Lutheran understanding of the Christian faith but is fascinated by these types of physica/metaphysics questions and how they "jive" with his faith.

Would you recommend this book to him?

May 10, 2010 7:40 AM

Scott Diekmann said...
Hi Barb. I think your comment refers to Dr. Garlick's book, The Journey to Truth. The book has some interesting tidbits on scientific findings in it, but too much speculation in it for my liking. If you go to the website Answers in Genesis, they have book reviews. You'll likely find one there that would interest him:
May 10, 2010 8:06 AM

Philip G said...

Hi Scott

Any one who goes to AIG to search for anything remorely factual should be removed from the gene pool.

You believers seem to jump on any book which tries to prove god through science. I suppose there aren't that many.

I find it staggering that you people belive you have a personal relationship with the creator of all things. That is just so arrogant.

You said in a previous comment to me that we are different from animals because we posess souls. Would you please show a link to some research on this? I understand that we evolved like all other living things did. Theer is shedloads of evidence to support this. Anyone would think we were just put here from some of the things you say.

Finally, how do you know that your god is the true god? If you had been born to Muslim parents, you would be a Muslim, believing Allah to be the true god.



Scott Diekmann said...

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart." Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."
1 Corinthians 1:17-31 ESV