O'MURCHU, Diarmuid, Quantum Theology. New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1997, 1999 ($23.22 Can).

A review by Robert Brow    (www.brow.on.ca) January 2001

A book can fail to answer a question, and yet succeed by putting you on the scent of something interesting. When I saw the title I wanted to see how the breathtaking developments in Quantum physics might help in doing theology. O'Murchu does not claim to be a qualified physicist, and I am not sure he has got his quanta right. He quotes Neils Bohr "Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it." But this book certainly shocked me (socked me). Does that prove I have understood?

A quantum is a minuscule bundle of energies. And everything we can touch and see is alive with billions of dancing quanta. They do not work by cause and effect. Rather "Everything is affected (rather than caused) by everything else. "Thou can'st not stir a flower without disturbing a star" (Francis Thompson), The paradoxical result is that "There is motion, but there are no moving objects" (36). And O'Murchu is eloquent about the pulsating restlessness of cosmic dancing. "There are no dancers, there is only the dance" and "We experience a sense of being danced rather than we ourselves performing the dance" (39-49).

The writer makes his category mistake when he assumes that the unpredictable chaos of the quanta can only result in the adoption of his theological model. He imagines it is new, but it is as old as the maya (what we see is not reality) of Hindu Monism. And he tries to make it modern with bits of Liberation Theology, Whitehead and Hartshorne, Matthew Fox's Henotheism. Sallie McFague made the same mistake when she moved from her Metaphorical Theology (1982) which is great philosophy to The Body of God: An Ecological Theology (1993).

What is interesting about quantum physics is that in the midst of such cosmic confusion the Creative Artist of our world has arranged for the continuity of the main species. Why don't whales disintegrate into plankton? Every species of spider can be recognized by its web. How do anthropologists recognize a hominid?

Theology is like gardening. You get to first base when you can name the flowers. But in Holland there are tulip growers who are addicted to producing a perfect black tulip, or any other sub-species that will sell next fall. I have a friend here in Kingston who has a passion for orchids. In theology that is like the person who spends a lifetime on the Ontological Argument. I admire such dedication, but I am a more generalist gardener. Model Theology is my way of recognizing and naming the theological species and weeds of the church.

But O'Murchu comes along and stuns a gardener by proving that there is no such thing as a tulip. It is just a bundle of dancing quanta. Having proved that there are no tulips he shifts to arguing we should all grow his kind of theological flower (there is no resurrection, and the Trinity is passe).

What is right about O'Murchu's Quantum Theology is that what goes on in the mind, and heart, and instincts of a believer, and all that impacts that person, is infinitely more complex than what appears. But the plain fact is that throughout history there are perennial theological models that humans have lived by.. These are as recognizable as roses, tulips, orchids, phlox, and brown-eyed susan. That forces us to ask what kind of flowers might be the joy of God, and which are noxious weeds. If we go by the Bible this book recommends a packet of what used to be called tares.

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