Tom Scott: You wrote: "God
created the world, but always respects the laws of nature". Would
you be prepared to accept that the laws of science humankind is gradually
uncovering give us some insight into the laws of nature and "the
mind of God"? The argument I am putting forward here is that the
"laws of science" are indeed, laws of God's own creation.
And would you therefore be prepared to accept that God might also respect
the laws of his own creation? I was surprised when I saw that statement
written down at the lecture the other night.
Prof Gerald O'Collins SJ
Gerald O'Collins: That was an
objection, that was an objection a background theory of some
people the Deists that God created the world and rigidly
sticks to these laws. There are no exceptions. I was just raising the
objection of other people. It's not what I hold
TS: I'm interested in what you
hold, and particularly what the Church is getting at. It seems to me
as we look at the Western world today and 85% of the people it
ranges between about 75% and 90% percent depending on where you're measuring
it 85% of the people to take some sort of mean have walked away
from the Church. There are a whole lot of reasons for that. I would
submit to you that one of the reasons seems to be this science versus
religion view where a lot of people no longer believe in "miracles"
and want credible evidence. You are involved in this controversy today
in having to constantly "prove" as it were, that the Resurrection
did happen. The title of your lecture was "Faith in the Resurrection
Is It Credible?"
GO: About the laws God put into
the Universe: there's no reason for them to be exactly the way they
are. There's no reason. I mean Gravity could be a bit different and
so on. there's no reason these laws should be this way rather
than that way inherently. I mean philosophically, they are there, but
God didn't have to create the world, he didn't have to create the world
with these laws precisely the way they are. What I am saying is: the
creation of the world and the ways these laws work they're all
free acts of God. They're wise acts of God but there's no rigidity.
You can't say "they could have only been this way". There's
no philosophical reason to say that.
I went to Cambridge University with a guy by the name of Brandon
Carter, he's half-Australian and half-Scot. He invented what we call
the Anthropic Principle about the Universe. He did the mathematics about
the Universe being "finely tuned" for our emergence. If the
laws had been slightly different, we would not be here. He worked on
that in the 1970s and there are stronger and weaker forms of the Anthropic
Principle. I always found listening to him fascinating that the God
who guides the Universe wisely through these laws with the particular
shape God gave them. Philosophically you cannot say that it had to be
that way. It could have been a bit different. It's not impossible to
imagine gravity being a bit different to what it is.
TS: I think scientists would
accept that the laws could have been different. But once we have discovered
a law and I not talking about laws that are in the realm of thesis
or hypothesis I'm talking about the fundamental laws of science
that have been proved in areas like thermodynamics, the laws of motion,
laws in the realm of electro-magnetism, gravity, or in Quantum Physics.
Once we can see those laws my question comes down to this: would God
break those laws of his own creation?
GO: Suspend them, suspend them
not violate or break but suspend them. In this instance
for good purposes. For example, I can suspend the law of gravity by
holding my arm up in the air
TS: But the law of gravity is
still operating even when you are holding your arm up there, surely?
GO: It's still operating. But
I can suspend it in this individual instance. The law is still operating.
God doesn't play games with these laws. It would be a ridiculous view
of God if he were forever making exceptions and suspending the laws.
But, for good reasons, he might occasionally suspend the laws. I find
that, for loving, good reasons
otherwise you've got a picture
of God who's created these laws and now is totally bound by them. So
totally, rigidly bound that he cannot
That's an image of God
that I find
you know, God is all powerful, all loving and all
wise and for good reason I think he can occasionally suspend the operation
of his laws.
TS: How often might he do this?
GO: I'm not saying often at
all. I'm saving myself from saying he'd doing this all the time
just playing games like parents that is capricious who have made laws
for the home and are forever making exemptions. The kids can get very
upset by that, and rightly so. But occasionally the parent might suspend
the laws for some understandable or loving reason. I can understand
I don't know if it's once in a million times. I couldn't
give a statistic, but God occasionally fitting in with this analogy
of parents in a household occasionally and for good reason, he
might suspend the operation of the laws.
TS: [Explanation of personal
experience of so-called "miracles" at the Bullsbrook Shrine
in Western Australia deleted from transcript. See full story HERE.]
If God creates these laws surely he has to be bound by them? What's
the relationship between God and the laws of his creation?
GO: Always bound, no
generally speaking, yes. You know you've got to generally distinguish
if you say "always bound", you know, I find that funny.
I use the analogy again of parents they have these laws of the
household for the good running of the household, based on things that
the kids understand like them being home at ten o'clock at night, and
there is flexibility for different ages and so on. But parents occasionally
make an exception and that figures. That's what I mean by "good
reason". These exceptions are not applied arbitrarily or stupidly
or everyday but occasionally. I can't define what occasionally is. I
couldn't accept a model of God that always makes exceptions and frequently
but generally respecting.
If God was bound rigidly, totally, absolutely, always bound by the
laws then that's a problem with a picture of God like that. Has God
lost his omnipotence? It's implying that God is no longer free to do
TS: As a scientist I think you
could have a proposition where God could be bound by the laws of his
own creation, as is creation itself. That's really at the heart of what
I'm trying to get to
GO: What kind of model of God
is that though
TS: Let me explain why I've
put the argument. I think a lot of people, particularly in the scientifically
educated sectors of society, have become sceptical of religion
the Lourdes, "trinkets and miracles", sort of stuff
the "magic" Jesus coming down with the fairy wand to solve
our problems. There have been television programs and books showing
how ancient "miracles" like, for example the parting of the
Red Sea in the story of the Exodus, can be explained by climactic events
GO: ...tides and weather and
all that. I'm not going to be gullible. A lot of people are very gullible
and I don't want to buy into that at all. I don't buy into that at all.
I don't want to call the Resurrection a "miracle" let's
bracket that off for the time being but "miracles"
I remember seeing on English television a program called "A
Working Miracle". This is an Anglican woman not a gullible
Catholic where a kid pulled a chair out from under her at the
school where she was working and she fell and broke her back. She was
in a wheelchair. She was angry at God, angry at everything, the only
thing going for her was her husband who just happened to be a male nurse.
This was in Sheffield and she was explaining this on television. And
a man came to see her one day, he was dressed in a brown habit and spoke
to her in a foreign language and gestured to her to "get up".
She got up and she was cured. She went to a service a Eucharist
and she said "he was with you when he came". And this
was Padre Pio. And he said "I came by myself to pray with you".
And she spoke about the miracle and how she was cured. She spoke of
how her heart had been changed and "that's what matters" and
so on. She couldn't have said it better about how her HEART had been
changed. So, what are the odds here? That she wasn't a paraplegic? That
is was all a fake? I think it just becomes preposterous to factor in
all those things about the minister, herself, the television crew
that the whole thing is a fraud. It's much easier to say "she was
Why would God grant that favour? She spoke wonderfully about how
the physical cure was one thing but changing a person's heart is something
I remain sceptical about that, but could I say, that the doctors
got it wrong or that she imagined her back was broken
there were so many people involved in that. It's much easier to say
that God had made an exception. Why? It was called "a Working Class
Miracle", incidentally, it was in Sheffield. She spoke about what
mattered her heart she had been bitter, angry, rejecting
God, rejecting human beings. So, if I say, it looks to me as though
it was a miracle there, I don't think I'm being gullible. I read Hulme
a great deal once and even if a million people witnessed to something
you know it becomes stubborn resistance there could never
be enough evidence. You don't say there couldn't be miracles
let's bracket that off he said there could never be enough evidence
never be. But why? How do you know? This has become so stubborn
you know that these things
I mean once he said in the presence
of Boswell, he made a most unfortunate statement about some highland
poetry, he said, "I still wouldn't believe this if I was told this
by thirty bare-arsed Highlanders!" This sophisticated city man,
sitting there with these bare-arsed Highlanders, it was to do with poetry
TS: It reminds me of the line
of Pascal: "I wish I had the faith of a Breton peasant!"
GO: So, a God who having done
something is unconditionally bound by it. I don't know. That's a bit
too much for me to swallow. But unconditionally bound with even though
he could suspend these laws in a given case could do good things. I
just find that a rigid Deist universe of the 18th Century. That's pure,
straight Deism the Clockwork Universe that having wound
it up God just goes away on Sabbatical Leave. It just ticks away by
itself. God cannot
it's even more than that he couldn't
even come back and change the clock.
I've got serious difficulties with all of that kind of image of
God. It is so rigid you know, having done this, even for the
very best reasons and for wonderful results God could not, could not
he's no longer in a position to
not a question of good or evil. God could not do something that is morally
evil. But that God could not suspend, over ride, these things for very
good reasons. I can't factor that into my image of God.
TS: I want to turn to the Christology
question now. With 85% of the population of the Western world abandoning
the Church but interest in spirituality on the rise, do you think one
of our (the Church's) problems is that people are confused over the
picture we paint of who Jesus Christ is and what he offers us? In short,
is the Western world today hungering for a new Christology a
new picture, or mind-view, of who Jesus Christ is and what he models?
GO: Oh, I think it's a hungering
for clergy and ministers who serve their spiritual needs better. That's
what I think. There's nothing wrong with Jesus.
TS: But what about the picture
GO: So many people say "Jesus
Yes, Church No, or Church Question Mark". I don't know, just read
the Gospels. I mean, I don't think you need to turn into a Buddhist
guru or something. I mean, just read the Gospels. Why do so many millions
of people go out to see "The Passion of the Christ"? Critics
pan it but the people seem attracted to it.
TS: But as you said at your
lecture the other night, millions also are attracted to Dan Brown's
book, The Da Vinci Code.
GO: Well, it's a good read.
I don't deny that. It's a "page turner" but it operates as
a "who done it?". It's not just a book about the history of
Christianity. It's primarily a book about murders and who's the villain
and he throws in all this historical information as his setting. It's
not quite the same thing. I mean, it's a "page turner" with
these incredibly small chapters
TS: But there seems to be an
appetite for this sort of thing at the moment
GO: There's a lot of gullibility
out there. The gullibility's gigantic the Gnostic Gospels and
people lose their hard, critical, scientific sense. They do. Just take
the stuff about Jesus growing up in Kashmir. Jesus in India was something
created at the beginning of the 19th Century by two characters.
TS: Just back on this Christology
question: I'd argue that people are searching for a new image of Jesus.
They are confused today between the infant Jesus in a manger image of
Jesus and the image of the mature Jesus the sort of hard image
we see in The Passion of the Christ. That's reflective of the change
GO: The New Testament had something
like 130 images of Jesus you know, Suffering Servant, the Good
Shepherd, Teacher. The New Testament had a plurality of images, as though
no one image does justice to him.
TS: Do you think our Irish-Catholic
heritage influenced this
the sort of image of Jesus I was brought
up with as a little kid was a very plastic Jesus He was "nice",
it was a form of kitsch
TS: ...yes, it was kitsch sort
of thing. Now I look at Jesus in a far different light. My image of
Jesus has changed and matured over my lifetime
GO: When I grew up we had images
of him as the Good Shepherd, Holman Hunts image was still around of
him being presented as "The Light of the World", there was
the Sacred Heart. There was a plurality of images even in our homes
as well as in the Church. So we're not faced with one image. There was
the Sacred Heart, the image of Jesus on the Cross, the baby Jesus in
the manger. There was a plurality of images and that reflects the New
Testament. Christian tradition has never presented just one image to
the exclusion of others.
I had a student once involved in a big survey in the Philippines
and they're supposed to love the El Nino, the baby Jesus. It
was amazing the plurality of images there, including the Good Shepherd.
There are no sheep up there amazing. So, long live the plurality
of images. Mel Gibson's one is the Suffering Servant that's what's
lurking behind that film. But I think they want to see Jesus in others
in people who serve the poor, the sick, the Mother Teresas and
Jean Vaniers' of this world. That moves people a great deal. Why is
it in France that for something like the seventeenth time last year
the favourite Frenchman in a public poll was Abbe Pierre of the Ragpickers?
He wasn't this year because he said to them "please do not put
my name down!" And who was the favourite Frenchwoman for the third
time: Mother Emmanuel who worked with the poor in Cairo. This is a survey
of the general population. I don't know how many millions of people
go in for it but for the seventeenth time the favourite person was Abbe
Pierre and now, for the third time, the favourite Frenchwoman is Mother
Emmanuel. That says something they see Jesus in the Jean Vanier's
TS: What was your reaction to
Mel Gibson's film, the Suffering Christ image I'm referring to here.
Do you think it was overdone?
GO: I think two things. In the
United States a lot of Protestants never look at the image of the body
of Christ on the Cross. It has an astonishing effect on them. Catholics
are used to seeing the image of Christ on the Cross. The Protestants
have had plain crosses without a body. Catholics have been forced to
think Sacramentally his body going through this terrible suffering.
And in Russia it has had great success there supported by big Orthodox
leaders. They said maybe it's not the last word but it shocks people
and wakes them up from their stupor. That's in Russia. It was a big
So, images of Jesus ... Jean Vanier recently had an excellent series
on Canadian television on the Fourth Gospel breaking open the
Scriptures for people, beautifully done. Helping people appreciate what
is there. William Barclay did that back in his own generation. And Martini
does that the way he breaks open the four Gospels and helps people
feed on the Word of Life. We've got to help people get to know him in
ways like this through Scripture, through better liturgies, much
better preaching, opening up of Scriptures. That's the challenge.
TS: Why are we failing in getting
vocations? What's turning people away? When you first answered this
question you said the problem was a failing in the Church rather than
with the image of Jesus
GO: We've never had it as good
TS: You're not going to turn
that back are you?
GO: No, that's another question.
Why is Catholic identity not that important to people today? I mean
79% of the people in Spain say they're Catholics but it doesn't mean
that much to them obviously. In England a similar thing. A lot of people
have never had it as good economically the United States is a
bit different but why is it there is this incredible practice
in Africa? It's just amazing that despites AIDS, famines, wars, etc.
etc., etc., incredible things happen down there but despite
all that there is this incredible devotion to the faith. I'm going up
to Singapore after I leave here and that's fairly wealthy but here's
a minority Catholic population that is very organised. And women playing
a big role in it. I love the Catholic Church up in Singapore. Or the
Catholic Church among the tribals Cardinal Troppo. It's a Western
problem not one in Asia, Latin America or Africa. We've never
had it as good economically.
TS: But we can be fairly confident
the direction the world is taking that in another hundred or two hundred
years time the people of the third world will be experiencing the prosperity
we take for granted in the West.
GO: I won't be around them.
I'm just talking about the problem now. I see my role as trying
to tell people about Jesus. He offers a very satisfying, worthwhile
life. You know there's a beautiful phrase in the Preface to
the Mass, "it is our duty and salvation". We are
created by God. We'd just drop out of existence if God didn't
keep us in existence. It's our duty as a community to honour
God and worship God. But it is also our salvation right here
and now. It's something very satisfying. I don't see the other
way of living providing the same satisfaction I mean
people get neurotic. The Brave New World hasn't come to them.