Two views on how to continue and deepen the religion-and-science dialogue
Joseph Bracken, S.J., Xavier University, Cincinnatti, OH
After a flurry of books and articles starting in the 1990s on the convergence of viewpoints between scientists and philosopher/ theologians on the creation of a new world view, something of a stalemate seems to exist today Both the scientists and the philosopher/ theologians are standing by the truth-claims of their own disciplines and are finding little in common with the other side by way of a new world view which would be so valuable for dealing with controversial issues (e.g., stem-cell research, genetic engineering, ecology vs. economic prosperity here and now). Here are two options to reignite the dialogue.
Option 1. Some current scientific terms might be useful by way of explanation of the received world view and cherished religious beliefs. But any systematic conversion of the language of philosophy and theology into the language of contemporary natural and social science would lead to pure relativism and eventual loss of conviction about what it means to be human and how to act consistently in an objective ethical manner. Therefore, philosophers and theologians should continue to use the language of substance and accident from Aristotle and try to persuade their colleagues in the sciences that classical metaphysics is the only suitable language for use in the contemporary religion-and-science dialogue with any chance of success.
Option 2. Scientists by and large no longer think in terms of the classical metaphysics of substance and accident while they are pursuing scientific research. They make more consistent use of terms like "system" and "process"; they formulate scientific hypotheses based on probability schemes rather than universal laws of nature (as with Galileo and Newton). Philosophers and theologians interested in contemporary science should use the language of systems and processes within a statistical or probabilistic framework for working out a philosophical cosmology and/or the received doctrines of the Church (Trinity, Incarnation, Church, the significance of Tradition for contemporary understanding of the faith, Sacraments, Eschatology, etc.) . When Aquinas used the philosophy of Aristotle to advantage in composing the Summa theologiae, he was using the best scientific language of his day. Should we, contemporary philosophers and theologians, not do the same?
God, Evolution, and the Power of Love
[E]volution is not a belief, as if one may or may not accept evolution. For most scientists evolution is simply the way biological, physical, and chemical systems work... Carter Phipps indicates that evolution is a process that affects everything from biology to politics, economics, psychology, and ecology. He points out that evolution is not a superficial idea but "a matter of evidence, painstaking work, and breathtaking science." The area where it is least influential is theology, and this is due, in part, to the misconception that God and evolution have little in common. Theologians continue to talk about God and explore theological questions as if evolution is irrelevant or marginal to our understanding of God. However, if evolution is the story of the cosmos, that is, the order of physical reality, then evolution is essential to our understanding of God and God's relationship to the world. Raimon Panikkar said that when theology is divorced from cosmology, we no longer have a living God but an idea of God. God becomes a thought that can be accepted or rejected rather than the experience of divine ultimacy. Because theology has not developed in tandem with science (or science in tandem with theology) since the Middle Ages, we have an enormous gap between the transcendent dimension of human existence (the religious dimension) and the meaning of physical reality as science understands it (the material dimension). pp xviii-xix
Love is the fundamental energy of evolution. Beginning with Big Bang cosmology through quantum reality and biological formation, love shows itself as explicit God‑consciousness in the person of Jesus and the continuation of Christ in evolution. This Love is God‑Omega, the love that generates new life and urges cosmic life toward greater unity in love. What Teilhard reminds us is that evolution is the openness of life to the future. We are an unfinished species, corporately and personally, grounded in an infinite depth of Love; thus openness of our lives to love and what this means in terms of creatively reinventing ourselves as persons in evolution is the challenge ahead of us. Divine Love is the heart of an evolutionary universe, and this love is a constant birthing; it is the emergence of Christ in whom all peoples, religions, cultures, trees, flowers, stars, sun, and moon are gathered in one body of being‑in‑love. p. xxix
The Unbearable Wholeness of Being by Ilia Delio (Orbis books, 2013)
1. An evolutionary perspective is very threatening to our dichotomous way of thinking.
- When and how did humans get an eternal soul on their way out of the animal kingdom?
- What's the soul of a fetus? Is abortion a black or white moral dichotomy? Is the notion of intrinsic evil to replace the traditional notion of mortal sin? To what avail are these dichotomies today?
2. Science is the Providence of secular societies. How do you explain divine Providence to people who believe in the providence of science and technology?
3. Science and technology are credited with Progress over the centuries. Has there been progress of a comparable scope in and through religion?
4. Many see social progress as institutional change and charity work as temporary band-aids. Prove it otherwise.
5. How popular in Catholic universities today are the views of Teilhard de Chardin and Lonergan (among others)?