Chapter 1: Ways of Relating Science and Religion
The first major challenge to religion in an age of science is the success of the methods of science. Science seems to provide the only reliable path to knowledge. Many people view science as objective, universal, rational, and based on solid observational evidence. Religion, by contrast, seems to be subjective, parochial, emotional, and based on traditions or authorities that disagree with each other. The methods of inquiry used in science, apart from any particular scientific discoveries or theories, are the topic of part 1. Chapter 1 gives a broad description of contemporary views of the relationship between the methods of science and those of religion. Chapters 2 and 3 explore similarities and differences between the two fields and develop my own conclusions concerning the status of religious beliefs in an age of science.
In order to give a systematic overview of the main options today, I have grouped them in this chapter under four headings: Conflict, Independence, Dialogue, and Integration. Particular authors may not fall neatly under any one heading; a person may agree with adherents of a given position on some issues but not on others. However, a broad sketch of alternatives will help us in making comparisons in later chapters. After surveying these four broad patterns, I will suggest reasons for supporting Dialogue and, with some qualifications, certain versions of Integration.
Any view of the relationship of science and religion reflects philosophical assumptions. Our discussion must therefore draw from three disciplines, not just two: science (the empirical study of the order of nature), theology (critical reflection on the life and thought of the religious community), and philosophy, especially epistemology (analysis of the characteristics of inquiry and knowledge) and metaphysics (analysis of the most general characteristics of reality). Theology deals primarily with religious beliefs, which must always be seen against the wider background of religious traditions that includes formative scriptures, communal rituals, individual experiences, and ethical norms. I will be particularly concerned with the epistemological assumptions of recent Western authors writing about the relationship between science and religious beliefs.
Scientific materialism is at the opposite end of the theological spectrum from biblical literalism. But they share several characteristics that lead me to discuss them together. Both believe that there are serious conflicts between contemporary science and classical religious beliefs. Both seek knowledge with a sure foundation -- that of logic and sense data, in the one case, that of infallible scripture, in the other. They both claim that science and theology make rival literal statements about the same domain, the history of nature, so that one must choose between them.
I will suggest that each represents a misuse of science. Both positions fail to observe the proper boundaries of science. The scientific materialist starts from science but ends by making broad philosophical claims. The biblical literalist moves from theology to make claims about scientific matters. In both schools of thought, the differences between the two disciplines are not adequately respected.
In a fight between a boa constrictor and a wart-hog, the victor, whichever it is, swallows the vanquished. In scientific materialism, science swallows religion. In biblical literalism, religion swallows science. The fight can be avoided if they occupy separate territories or if, as I will suggest, they each pursue more appropriate diets.1
1. Scientific Materialism
Scientific materialism makes two assertions: (1) the scientific method is the only reliable path to knowledge; (2) matter (or matter and energy) is the fundamental reality in the universe.
The first is an epistemological assertion about the characteristics of inquiry and knowledge. The second is a metaphysical or ontological assertion about the characteristics of reality. The two assertions are linked by the assumption that only the entities and causes with which science deals are real; only science can progressively disclose the nature of the real.
In addition, many forms of materialism express reductionism. Epistemological reductionism claims that the laws and theories of all the sciences are in principle reducible to the laws of physics and chemistry. Metaphysical reductionism claims that the component parts of any system constitute its most fundamental reality. The materialist believes that all phenomena will eventually be explained in terms of the actions of material components, which are the only effective causes in the world. Analysis of the parts of any system has, of course, been immensely useful in science, but I will suggest that the study of higher organizational levels in larger wholes is also valuable. Evolutionary naturalism sometimes avoids reductionism and holds that distinctive phenomena have emerged at higher levels of organization, but it shares the conviction that the scientific method is the only acceptable mode of inquiry.
Let us consider the assertion that the scientific method is the only reliable form of understanding. Science starts from reproducible public data. Theories are formulated and their implications are tested against experimental observations. Additional criteria of coherence, comprehensiveness, and fruitfulness influence choice among theories. Religious beliefs are not acceptable, in this view, because religion lacks such public data, such experimental testing, and such criteria of evaluation. Science alone is objective, open-minded, universal, cumulative, and progressive. Religious traditions, by contrast, are said to be subjective, closed-minded, parochial, uncritical, and resistant to change. We will see that historians and philosophers of science have questioned this idealized portrayal of science, but many scientists accept it and think it undermines the credibility of religious beliefs.
Among philosophers, logical positivism from the 1920s to the 1940s asserted that scientific discourse provides the norm for all meaningful language. It was said that the only meaningful statements (apart from abstract logical relations) are empirical propositions verifiable by sense data. Statements in ethics, metaphysics, and religion were said to be neither true nor false, but meaningless pseudo-statements, expressions of emotion or preference devoid of cognitive significance. Whole areas of human language and experience were thus eliminated from serious discussion because they were not subject to the verification that science was said to provide. But critics replied that sense data do not provide an indubitable starting point in science, for they are already conceptually organized and theory-laden. The interaction of observation and theory is more complex than the positivists had assumed. Moreover, the positivists had dismissed metaphysical questions but had often assumed a materialist metaphysics. Since Wittgenstein’s later writings, the linguistic analysts argued that science cannot be the norm for all meaningful discourse because language has many differing uses and functions.
Most of Carl Sagan’s TV series and book, Cosmos, is devoted to a fascinating presentation of the discoveries of modern astronomy, but at intervals he interjects his own philosophical commentary, for example, "The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be."2 He says that the universe is eternal or else its source is simply unknowable. Sagan attacks Christian ideas of God at a number of points, arguing that mystical and authoritarian claims threaten the ultimacy of the scientific method, which he says is "universally applicable." Nature (which he capitalizes) replaces God as the object of reverence. He expresses great awe at the beauty, vastness, and interrelatedness of the cosmos. Sitting at the instrument panel from which he shows us the wonders of the universe, he is a new kind of high priest, not only revealing the mysteries to us but telling us how we should live. We can indeed admire Sagan’s great ethical sensitivity and his deep concern for nuclear survival and environmental preservation. But perhaps we should question his unlimited confidence in the scientific method, on which he says we should rely to bring in the age of peace and justice.
The success of molecular biology in accounting for many of the basic mechanisms of genetics and biological activity has often been taken as a vindication of the reductionist approach. Thus Francis Crick, codiscoverer of the structure of DNA, wrote, "The ultimate aim of the modern movement in biology is in fact to explain all biology in terms of physics and chemistry."3 I will argue in chapter 6 that there is in the biological world a hierarchy of levels of organization. This would lead us to accept the importance of DNA and the role of molecular structures in all living phenomena, but it would also allow us to recognize the distinctiveness of higher-level activities and their influence on molecular components.
Jacques Monod’s Chance and Necessity gives a lucid account of molecular biology, interspersed with a defense of scientific materialism. He claims that biology has proved that there is no purpose in nature. "Man knows at last that he is alone in the universe’s unfeeling immensity, out of which he emerged only by chance."4 "Chance alone is the source of all novelty, all creation, in the biosphere." Chance is "blind" and "absolute" because random mutations are unrelated to the needs of the organism; the causes of individual variations are completely independent of the environmental forces of natural selection. Monod espouses a thoroughgoing reductionism: "Anything can be reduced to simple, obvious mechanical interactions. The cell is a machine. The animal is a machine. Man is a machine."5 Consciousness is an epiphenomenon that will eventually be explained biochemically.
Monod asserts that human behavior is genetically determined; he says little about the role of language, thought, or culture in human life. Value judgments are completely subjective and arbitrary. Humanity alone is the creator of values; the assumption of almost all previous philosophies that values are grounded in the nature of reality is undermined by science. But Monod urges us to make the free axiomatic choice that knowledge itself will be our supreme value. He advocates ‘an ethics of knowledge," but he does not show what this might entail apart from the support of science.
I submit that Monod’s reductionism is inadequate as an account of purposive behavior and consciousness in animals and human beings. There are alternative interpretations in which the interaction of chance and law is seen to be more complex than Monad’s portrayal and not incompatible with some forms of theism. The biochemist and theologian Arthur Peacocke gives chance a positive role in the exploration of potentialities inherent in the created order, which would be consistent with the idea of divine purpose (though not with the idea of a precise predetermined plan).6 At the moment, however, we are interested in Monod’s attempt to rely exclusively on the methods of science (plus an arbitrary choice of ethical axioms). He says that science proves that there is no purpose in the cosmos. Surely it would be more accurate to say that science does not deal with divine purpose; it is not a fruitful concept in the development of scientific theories.
As a last example, consider the explicit defense of scientific materialism by the sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson. His writings trace the genetic and evolutionary origins of social behavior in insects, animals, and humans. He asks how self-sacrificial behavior could arise and persist among social insects, such as ants, if their reproductive ability is thereby sacrificed. Wilson shows that such "altruistic" behavior enhances the survival of close relatives with similar genes (in an ant colony, for example); selective pressures would encourage such self-sacrifice. He believes that all human behavior can be reduced to and explained by its biological origins and present genetic structure. "It may not be too much to say that sociology and the other social sciences, as well as the humanities, are the last branches of biology to be included in the Modern Synthesis." 7 The mind will be explained as "an epiphenomenon of the neural machinery of the brain."
Wilson holds that religious practices were a useful survival mechanism in humanity’s earlier history because they contributed to group cohesion. But he says that the power of religion will be gone forever when religion is explained as a product of evolution; it will be replaced by a philosophy of "scientific materialism."8 (If he were consistent, would not Wilson have to say that the power of science will also be undermined when it is explained as a product of evolution? Do evolutionary origins really have anything to do with the legitimacy of either field?) He maintains that morality is the result of deep impulses encoded in the genes and that "the only demonstrable function of morality is to keep the genes intact."
Wilson’s writing has received criticism from several quarters. For example, anthropologists have replied that most systems of human kinship are not organized in accord with coefficients of genetic similarity and that Wilson does not even consider cultural explanations for human behavior.9 In the present context, I would prefer to say that he has described an important area of biology suggesting some of the constraints within which human behavior occurs, but he has overgeneralized and extended it as an all-encompassing explanation, leaving no room for the causal efficacy of other facets of human life and experience. We will consider his views further in chapter 7.
Each of these authors seems to have assumed that there is only one acceptable type of explanation, so that explanation in terms of astronomical origins or biochemical mechanisms or evolutionary development excludes any other kind of explanation. Particular scientific concepts have been extended and extrapolated beyond their scientific use; they have been inflated into comprehensive naturalistic philosophies. Scientific concepts and theories have been taken to provide an exhaustive description of reality, and the abstractive and selective character of science has been ignored. The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead calls this "the fallacy of misplaced concreteness." It can also be described as "making a metaphysics out of a method." But because scientific materialism starts from scientific ideas, it carries considerable influence in an age that respects science.
2. Biblical Literalism
A variety of views of scripture and its relation to science have appeared throughout the history of Christian thought. Augustine held that when there appears to be a conflict between demonstrated scientific knowledge and a literal reading of the Bible, the latter should be interpreted metaphorically, as in the case of the first chapter of Genesis. Scripture is not concerned about "the form and shape of the heavens"; the Holy Spirit "did not wish to teach men things of no relevance to their salvation."10 Medieval writers acknowledged diverse literary forms and levels of truth in scripture, and they gave figurative and allegorical interpretations to many problematic passages. Luther and the Anglicans continued this tradition, though some later Lutherans and Calvinists were more literalistic.
Biblical interpretation did play a part in the condemnation of Galileo. He himself held that God is revealed in both "the book of nature" and "the book of scripture"; the two books could not conflict, he said, since they both came from God. He maintained that writers of the Bible were only interested in matters essential to our salvation, and in their writing they had to "accommodate themselves to the capacity of the common people" and the mode of speech of the times. But Galileo’s theories did conflict with a literal interpretation of some scriptural passages, and they called into question the Aristotelian system that the church had adopted in the Thomistic synthesis. At the 350th anniversary of the publication of the Dialogues, Pope John Paul II said that since then there has been "a more accurate appreciation of the methods proper to the different orders of knowledge." The church, he said, "is made up of individuals who are limited and who are closely bound up with the culture of the time they live in. . . . It is only through humble and assiduous study that she learns to dissociate the essentials of faith from the scientific systems of a given age, especially when a culturally influenced reading of the Bible seemed to be linked to an obligatory cosmology."11 In 1984, a Vatican commission acknowledged that "church officials had erred in condemning Galileo." 12
In Darwin’s day, evolution was taken mainly as a challenge to design in nature and as a challenge to human dignity (assuming that no sharp line separates human and animal forms), but it was also taken by some groups as a challenge to scripture. Some defended biblical inerrancy and totally rejected evolution. Yet most traditionalist theologians reluctantly accepted the idea of evolution -- though sometimes only after making an exception for humanity, arguing that the soul is inaccessible to scientific investigation. Liberal theologians had already accepted the historical analysis of biblical texts ("higher criticism"), which traced the influence of historical contexts and cultural assumptions on biblical writings. They saw evolution as consistent with their optimistic view of historical progress, and they spoke of evolution as God’s way of creating.
In the twentieth century, the Roman Catholic church and most of the mainline Protestant denominations have held that scripture is the human witness to the primary revelation, which occurred in the lives of the prophets and the life and person of Christ. Many traditionalists and evangelicals insist on the centrality of Christ without insisting on the infallibility of a literal interpretation of the Bible. But smaller fundamentalist groups and a large portion of some major denominations in the United States, such as the Southern Baptists, have maintained that scripture is inerrant throughout. The 1970s and 1980s have seen a growth of fundamentalist membership and political power. For many members of "the New Right" and "the Moral Majority," the Bible provides not only certainty in a time of rapid change, but a basis for the defense of traditional values in a time of moral disintegration (sexual permissiveness, drug use, increasing crime rates, and so forth).
In the Scopes trial in 1925, it was argued that the teaching of evolution in the schools should be forbidden because it is contrary to scripture. More recently, a new argument called "scientific creationism" or "creation science" has asserted that there is scientific evidence for the creation of the world within the last few thousand years. The law that was passed by the Arkansas legislature in 1981 required that "creationist theory" be given equal time with evolutional theory in high school biology texts and classes. The law specified that creationism should be presented purely as scientific theory, with no reference to God or the Bible.
In 1982, the U.S. District Court overturned the Arkansas law, primarily because it favored a particular religious view, violating the constitutional separation of church and state. Although the bill itself made no explicit reference to the Bible, it used many phrases and ideas taken from Genesis. The writings of the leaders of the creationist movement had made clear their religious purposes.13 Many of the witnesses against the bill were theologians or church leaders who objected to its theological assumptions.14
The court also ruled that "creation science" is not legitimate science. It concluded that the scientific community, not the legislature or the courts, should decide the status of scientific theories. It was shown that proponents of creation science had not even submitted papers to scientific journals, much less had them published. At the trial, scientific witnesses showed that a long evolutionary history is central in almost all fields of science, including astronomy, geology, paleontology, and biochemistry, as well as most branches of biology. They also replied to the purported scientific evidence cited by creationists. Claims of geological evidence for a universal flood and for the absence of fossils of transitional forms between species were shown to be dubious.15 In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana creationism law; it said the law would have restricted academic freedom and supported a particular religious viewpoint.16
"Creation science" is a threat to both religious and scientific freedom. It is understandable that the search for certainty in a time of moral confusion and rapid cultural change has encouraged the growth of biblical literalism. But when absolutist positions lead to intolerance and attempts to impose particular religious views on others in a pluralistic society, we must object in the name of religious freedom. Some of the same forces of rapid cultural change have contributed to the revival of Islamic fundamentalism and the enforcement of orthodoxy in Iran and elsewhere.
We can also see the danger to science when proponents of ideological positions try to use the power of the state to reshape science, whether it be in Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, Khomeini’s Iran, or creationists in the United States. To be sure, scientists are inescapably influenced by cultural assumptions and metaphysical presuppositions -- as well as by economic forces, which in large measure determine the direction of scientific development. The scientific community is never completely autonomous or isolated from its social context, yet it must be protected from political pressures that would dictate scientific conclusions. Science teachers must be free to draw from this larger scientific community in their teaching.
Creationists have raised valid objections when evolutionary naturalists have promoted atheistic philosophies as if they were part of science. Both sides err in assuming that evolutionary theory is inherently atheistic, and they thereby perpetuate the false dilemma of having to choose between science and religion. The whole controversy reflects the shortcomings of fragmented and specialized higher education. The training of scientists seldom includes any exposure to the history and philosophy of science or any reflection on the relation of science to society, to ethics, or to religious thought. On the other hand, the clergy has little familiarity with science and is hesitant to discuss controversial subjects in the pulpit. The remainder of this chapter explores alternatives to these two extremes of scientific materialism and biblical literalism
One way to avoid conflicts between science and religion is to view the two enterprises as totally independent and autonomous. Each has its own distinctive domain and its characteristic methods that can be justified on its own terms. Proponents of this view say there are two jurisdictions and each party must keep off the other’s turf. Each must tend to its own business and not meddle in the affairs of the other. Each mode of inquiry is selective and has its limitations. This separation into watertight compartments is motivated, not simply by the desire to avoid unnecessary conflicts, but also by the desire to be faithful to the distinctive character of each area of life and thought. We will look first at contrasting methods and domains in science and religion. Then we shall consider their differing languages and functions.
1. Contrasting Methods
Many writers in the history of Western thought have elaborated contrasts between religious and scientific knowledge. In the Middle Ages, the contrast was between revealed truth and human discovery. It was said that God can be fully known only as revealed through scripture and tradition. The structures of nature, on the other hand, can be known by unaided human reason and observation. There was, however, some middle ground in "natural theology"; it was held that the existence (though not all the attributes) of God can be demonstrated by rational arguments, including the argument from the evidence of design in nature.
This epistemological dichotomy was supported by the metaphysical dualism of spirit and matter, or soul and body. But this dualism was mitigated insofar as the spiritual realm permeated the material realm. While theologians emphasized God’s transcendence, most of them also referred to divine immanence, and the Holy Spirit was said to work in nature as well as in human life and history. St. Thomas held that God intervenes miraculously at particular times and also continually sustains the natural order. God as primary cause works through the secondary causes that science studies, but these two kinds of cause are on completely different levels.
In the twentieth century, Protestant neo-orthodoxy sought to recover the Reformation emphasis on the centrality of Christ and the primacy of revelation, while fully accepting the results of modern biblical scholarship and scientific research. (I will refer to him as Christ rather than Jesus, since we are dealing with a historical figure as understood within a tradition of theological interpretation.) According to Karl Barth and his followers, God can be known only as revealed in Christ and acknowledged in faith. God is the transcendent, the wholly other, unknowable except as self-disclosed. Natural theology is suspect because it relies on human reason. Religious faith depends entirely on divine initiative, not on human discovery of the kind occurring in science. The sphere of God’s action is history, not nature. Scientists are free to carry out their work without interference from theology, and vice versa, since their methods and their subject matter are totally dissimilar. Here, then, is a clear contrast. Science is based on human observation and reason, while theology is based on divine revelation.17
In this view, the Bible must be taken seriously but not literally. Scripture is not itself revelation; it is a fallible human record witnessing to revelatory events. The locus of divine activity was not the dictation of a text, but the lives of persons and communities: Israel, the prophets, the person of Christ, and those in the early church who responded to him. The biblical writings reflect diverse interpretations of these events; we must acknowledge the human limitations of their authors and the cultural influences on their thought. Their opinions concerning scientific questions reflect the prescientific speculations of ancient times. We should read the opening chapters of Genesis as a symbolic portrayal of the basic relation of humanity and the world to God, a message about human creatureliness and the goodness of the natural order. These religious meanings can be separated from the ancient cosmology in which they were expressed.
Another movement advocating a sharp separation of the spheres of science and religion is existentialism. Here the contrast is between the realm of personal selfhood and the realm of impersonal objects. The former is known only through subjective involvement; the latter is known in the objective detachment typical of the scientist. Common to all existentialists -- whether atheistic or theistic -- is the conviction that we can know authentic human existence only by being personally involved as unique individuals making free decisions. The meaning of life is found only in commitment and action, never in the spectatorial, rationalistic attitude of the scientist searching for abstract general concepts and universal laws.
Religious existentialists say that God is encountered in the immediacy and personal participation of an I-Thou relationship, not in the detached analysis and manipulative control characterizing the I-It relationships of science. The theologian Rudolf Bultmann acknowledges that the Bible often uses objective language in speaking of God’s acts, but he proposes that we can retain the original experiential meaning of such passages by translating them into the language of human self-understanding, the language of hopes and fears, choices and decisions, and new possibilities for our lives. Theological formulations must be statements about the transformation of human life by a new understanding of personal existence. Such affirmations have no connection with scientific theories about external events in the impersonal order of a law-abiding world.18
Langdon Gilkey, in his earlier writing and in his testimony at the Arkansas trial, expresses many of these themes. He makes the following distinctions: (1) Science seeks to explain objective, public, repeatable data. Religion asks about the existence of order and beauty in the world and the experiences of our inner life (such as guilt, anxiety, and meaninglessness, on the one hand, and forgiveness, trust, and wholeness, on the other). (2) Science asks objective how questions. Religion asks personal why questions about meaning and purpose and about our ultimate origin and destiny. (3) The basis of authority in science is logical coherence and experimental adequacy. The final authority in religion is God and revelation, understood through persons to whom enlightenment and insight were given, and validated in our own experience. (4) Science makes quantitative predictions that can be tested experimentally. Religion must use symbolic and analogical language because God is transcendent.19
In the context of the trial, it was an effective strategy to insist that science and religion ask quite different questions and use quite different methods. It provided methodological grounds for criticizing the attempts of biblical literalists to derive scientific conclusions from scripture. More specifically, Gilkey argued that the doctrine of creation is not a literal statement about the history of nature but a symbolic assertion that the world is good and orderly and dependent on God in every moment of time -- a religious assertion essentially independent of both prescientific biblical cosmology and modern scientific cosmology.
In some of his other writings, Gilkey has developed themes that we will consider under the heading of Dialogue. He says there is a "dimension of ultimacy" in the scientist’s passion to know, commitment to the search for truth, and faith in the rationality and uniformity of nature. For the scientist, these constitute what Tillich called an "ultimate concern." But Gilkey states there are dangers when science is extended to a total naturalistic philosophy or when science and technology are ascribed a redemptive and saving power, as occurs in the liberal myth of progress through science. Both science and religion can be demonic when they are used in the service of particular ideologies and when the ambiguity of human nature is ignored.20
Thomas Torrance has developed further some of the distinctions in neo-orthodoxy. Theology is unique, he says, because its subject matter is God. Theology is "a dogmatic or positive and independent science operating in accordance with the inner law of its own being, developing its distinctive modes of inquiry and its essential forms of thought under the determination of its given subject-matter."21 God infinitely transcends all creaturely reality and "can be known only as he has revealed himself," especially in the person of Christ. We can only respond in fidelity to what has been given to us, allowing our thinking to be determined by the given. In science, reason and experiment can disclose the structure of the real but contingent world. Torrance particularly appreciates Einstein’s realist interpretation of quantum physics, and he defends realist epistemology in both science and theology.
2. Differing Languages
An even more effective way of separating science and religion is to interpret them as languages that are unrelated because their functions are totally different. The logical positivists had taken scientific statements as the norm for all discourse and had dismissed as meaningless any statement not subject to empirical verification. The later linguistic analysts, in response, insisted that differing types of language serve differing functions not reducible to each other. Each "language game" (as Wittgenstein and his successors called it) is distinguished by the way it is used in a social context. Science and religion do totally different jobs, and neither should be judged by the standards of the other. Scientific language is used primarily for prediction and control. A theory is a useful tool for summarizing data, correlating regularities in observable phenomena, and producing technological applications. Science asks carefully delimited questions about natural phenomena. We must not expect it to do jobs for which it was not intended, such as providing an overall world view, a philosophy of life, or a set of ethical norms. Scientists are no wiser than anyone else when they step out of their laboratories and speculate beyond strictly scientific work.22
The distinctive function of religious language, according to the linguistic analysts, is to recommend a way of life, to elicit a set of attitudes, and to encourage allegiance to particular moral principles. Much of religious language is connected with ritual and practice in the worshiping community. It may also express and lead to personal religious experience. One of the great strengths of the linguistic movement is that it does not concentrate on religious beliefs as abstract systems of thought but looks at the way religious language is actually used in the lives of individuals and communities. Linguistic analysts draw on empirical studies of religion by sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists, as well as the literature produced within religious traditions.
Some scholars have studied diverse cultures and concluded that religious traditions are ways of life that are primarily practical and normative. Stories, rituals, and religious practices bind individuals in communities of shared memories, assumptions, and strategies for living. Other scholars claim that religion’s primary aim is the transformation of the person. Religious literature speaks extensively of experiences of liberation from guilt through forgiveness, trust overcoming anxiety, or the transition from brokenness to wholeness. Eastern traditions talk about liberation from bondage to suffering and self-centeredness in the experiences of peace, unity, and enlightenment.23 These are obviously activities and experiences having little to do with science.
George Lindbeck compares the linguistic view with two other views of religious doctrines:
1. In the propositional view, doctrines are truth claims about objective realities. "Christianity, as traditionally interpreted, claims to be true, universally valid, and supernaturally revealed."24 If doctrines are true or false, and rival doctrines are mutually exclusive, there can be only one true faith. (Neo-orthodoxy holds that doctrines are derived from the human interpretation of revelatory events, but it, too, understands doctrines as true or false propositions.) The propositional view is a form of realism, for it believes that we can make statements about reality as it exists in itself.
2. In the expressive view, doctrines are symbols of inner experiences. Liberal theology has held that the experience of the holy is found in all religions. Since there can be diverse symbolizations of the same core experience, adherents of different traditions can learn from each other. This view tends to stress the private and individual side of religion, with less emphasis on communal aspects. If doctrines are interpretations of religious experience, they are not likely to conflict with scientific theories about nature.
3. In the linguistic view, which Lindbeck himself advocates, doctrines are rules of discourse correlated with individual and communal forms of life. Religions are guides to living; they are "ways of life which are learned by practicing them." Lindbeck argues that individual experience cannot be our starting point because it is already shaped by prevailing conceptual and linguistic frameworks. Religious stories and rituals are formative of our self-understanding. This approach allows us to accept the particularity of each religious tradition without making exclusive or universal claims for it. This is a nonrealist position. It does not assume a universal truth or an underlying universal experience; it sees each cultural system as self-contained. By minimizing the role of beliefs and truth claims, the linguistic view avoids conflicts between science and theology that can occur in the propositional view, yet it escapes the individualism and subjectivity of the expressive view.
The three movements we have been considering -- neo-orthodoxy, existentialism, and linguistic analysis -- all understand religion and science to be independent and autonomous forms of life and thought. Each discipline is selective and has its limitations. Every discipline abstracts from the totality of experience those features in which it is interested. The astronomer Arthur Eddington once told a delightful parable about a man studying deep-sea life using a net on a three-inch mesh. After bringing up repeated samples, the man concluded that there are no deep-sea fish less than three inches in length. Our methods of fishing, Eddington suggests, determine what we can catch. If science is selective, it cannot claim that its picture of reality is complete.25
The independence of science and religion represents a good starting point or first approximation. It preserves the distinctive character of each enterprise, and it is a useful strategy for responding to both types of conflict mentioned earlier. Religion does indeed have its characteristic methods, questions, attitudes, functions, and experiences, which are distinct from those of science. But there are serious difficulties in each of these proposals.
As I see it, neo-orthodoxy rightly stresses the centrality of Christ and the prominence of scripture in the Christian tradition. It is more modest in its claims than biblical literalism, since it acknowledges the role of human interpretation in scripture and doctrine. But in most versions it, too, holds that revelation and salvation occur only through Christ, which seems to me problematic in a pluralistic world. Most neo-orthodox authors emphasize divine transcendence and give short shrift to immanence. The gulf between God and the world is decisively bridged only in the incarnation. While Barth and his followers do indeed elaborate a doctrine of creation, their main concern is with the doctrine of redemption. Nature tends to be treated as the unredeemed setting for human redemption, though it may participate in the eschatological fulfillment at the end of time.
Existentialism rightly puts personal commitment at the center of religious faith, but it ends by privatizing and interiorizing religion to the neglect of its communal aspects. If God acts exclusively in the realm of selfhood, not in the realm of nature, the natural order is devoid of religious significance, except as the impersonal stage for the drama of personal existence. This anthropocentric framework, concentrating on humanity alone, offers little protection against the modern exploitation of nature as a collection of impersonal objects. If religion deals with God and the self, and science deals with nature, who can say anything about the relationship between God and nature or between the self and nature? To be sure, religion is concerned with the meaning of personal life, but this cannot be divorced from belief in a meaningful cosmos. I will also suggest that existentialism exaggerates the contrast between an impersonal, objective stance in science and the personal involvement essential to religion. Personal judgment does enter the work of the scientist, and rational reflection is an important part of religious inquiry.
Finally, linguistic analysis has helped us to see the diversity of functions of religious language. Religion is indeed a way of life and not simply a set of ideas and beliefs. But the religious practice of a community, including worship and ethics, presupposes distinctive beliefs. Against instrumentalism, which sees both scientific theories and religious beliefs as human constructs useful for specific human purposes, I advocate a critical realism holding that both communities make cognitive claims about realities beyond the human world. We cannot remain content with a plurality of unrelated languages if they are languages about the same world. If we seek a coherent interpretation of all experience, we cannot avoid the search for a unified world view.
If science and religion were totally independent, the possibility of conflict would be avoided, but the possibility of constructive dialogue and mutual enrichment would also be ruled out. We do not experience life as neatly divided into separate compartments; we experience it in wholeness and interconnectedness before we develop particular disciplines to study different aspects of it. There are also biblical grounds for the conviction that God is Lord of our total lives and of nature, rather than of a separate "religious" sphere. The articulation of a theology of nature that will encourage a strong environmental concern is also a critical task today. I will argue that none of the options considered above is adequate to that task.
In moving beyond the Independence thesis, this section outlines some indirect interactions between science and religion involving boundary questions and methods of the two fields. The fourth section, called Integration, will be devoted to more direct relationships when scientific theories influence religious beliefs, or when they both contribute to the formulation of a coherent world view or a systematic metaphysics.
1. Boundary Questions
One type of boundary question refers to the general presuppositions of the whole scientific enterprise. Historians have wondered why modern science arose in the Judeo-Christian West among all world cultures. A good case can be made that the doctrine of creation helped to set the stage for scientific activity. Both Greek and biblical thought asserted that the world is orderly and intelligible. But the Greeks held that this order is necessary and therefore one can deduce its structure from first principles. It is not surprising that they were stronger in mathematics and logic than in experimental science. Only biblical thought held that the world’s order is contingent rather than necessary. If God created both form and matter, the world did not have to be as it is, and one has to observe it to discover the details of its order. Moreover, while nature is real and good, it is not itself divine, as many ancient cultures held. Humans are therefore permitted to experiment on nature.26 The "desacralization" of nature encouraged scientific study, though it also -- along with other economic and cultural forces -- contributed to subsequent environmental destruction and the exploitation of nature.
We must be careful not to overstate-the case for the role of Christian thought in the rise of science. Arab science made significant advances in the Middle Ages, while science in the West was often hampered by an otherworldly emphasis (although important practical technologies were developed, especially in some of the monastic orders). When modern science did develop in Europe, it was aided by the humanistic interests of the Renaissance; the growth of crafts, trade, and commerce; and new patterns of leisure and education. Yet it does appear that the idea of creation gave a religious legitimacy to scientific inquiry. Newton and many of his contemporaries believed that in their work they were "thinking God’s thoughts after him." Moreover, the Calvinist "Protestant ethic" seems to have particularly supported science. In the Royal Society, the earliest institution for the advancement of science, seven out of ten members were Puritans, and many were clergy.
I believe the case for the historical contribution of Christianity to the rise of science is convincing. But once science was well established, its own success was sufficient justification for many scientists, without the need for religious legitimation. Theistic beliefs are clearly not explicit presuppositions of science, since many atheistic or agnostic scientists do first-rate work without them. One can simply accept the contingency and intelligibility of nature as givens and devote one’s efforts to investigating the detailed structure of its order. Yet if one does raise wider questions, one is perhaps more open to religious answers. For many scientists, exposure to the order of the universe, as well as its beauty and complexity, is an occasion of wonder and reverence.
On the contemporary scene, we have seen that Torrance maintains the characteristic neo-orthodox distinction between human discovery and divine revelation. But in recent writings he says that at its boundaries science raises religious questions that it cannot answer. In pressing back to the earliest history of the cosmos, astronomy forces us to ask why those particular initial conditions were present. Science shows us an order that is both rational and contingent (that is, its laws and initial conditions were not necessary). It is the combination of contingency and intelligibility that prompts us to search for new and unexpected forms of rational order. The theologian can reply that God is the creative ground and reason for the contingent but rational unitary order of the universe. "Correlation with that rationality in God goes far to account for the mysterious and baffling nature of the intelligibility inherent in the universe, and explains the profound sense of religious awe it calls forth from us and which, as Einstein insisted, is the mainspring of science."27
The theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg has explored methodological issues in some detail. He accepts Karl Popper’s contention that the scientist proposes testable hypotheses and then attempts to refute them experimentally. Pannenberg claims that the theologian can also use universal rational criteria in critically examining religious beliefs. However, the parallels eventually break down, he says, because theology is the study of reality as a whole; reality is an unfinished process whose future we can only anticipate, since it does not yet exist. Moreover, theology is interested in unique and unpredictable historical events. Here the theologian tries to answer another kind of limit question with which the scientific method cannot deal, a limit not of initial conditions or ontological foundations but of openness toward the future.28
Three Roman Catholic authors, Ernan McMullin, Karl Rahner, and David Tracy, seem to me to be advocates of Dialogue, though with varying emphases. McMullin starts with a sharp distinction between religious and scientific statements that resembles the Independence position. God as primary cause acts through the secondary causes studied by science, but these are on radically different levels within different orders of explanation. On its own level, the scientific account is complete and without gaps. McMullin is critical of all attempts to derive arguments for God from phenomena unexplained by science; he is dubious about arguments from design or from the directionality of evolution. Gaps in the scientific account are usually closed by the advance of science, and in any case they would only point to a cosmic force and not to the transcendent biblical God. God sustains the whole natural sequence and "is responsible equally and uniformly for all events." The theologian has no stake in particular scientific theories, including astrophysical theories about the early cosmos.29
Some theologians have taken the accumulating evidence for the Big Bang theory as corroboration of the biblical view that the universe had a beginning in time -- which would be a welcome change after the conflicts of the past. McMullin, however, maintains that the doctrine of creation is not an explanation of cosmological beginnings at all, but an assertion of the world’s absolute dependence on God in every moment. The intent of Genesis was not to specify that there was a first moment in time. Moreover, the Big Bang theory does not prove that there was a beginning in time, since the current expansion could be one phase of an oscillating or cyclic universe. He concludes, "What one cannot say is, first, that the Christian doctrine of creation ‘supports’ the Big Bang model, or, second, that the Big Bang model ‘supports’ the Christian doctrine of creation."30 But he says that for God to choose the initial conditions and laws of the universe would not involve any gaps or violations of the sequence of natural causes. McMullin denies that there is any strong logical connection between scientific and religious assertions, but he does endorse the search for a looser kind of compatibility. The aim should be "consonance but not direct implication," which implies that in the end the two sets of assertions are not, after all, totally independent:
The Christian cannot separate his science from his theology as though they were in principle incapable of interrelation. On the other hand, he has learned to distrust the simpler pathways from one to the other. He has to aim at some sort of coherence of world-view, a coherence to which science and theology, and indeed many other sorts of human construction like history, politics, and literature, must contribute. He may, indeed must, strive to make his theology and his cosmology consonant in the contributions they make to this world-view. But this consonance (as history shows) is a tentative relation, constantly under scrutiny, in constant slight shift.31
For Karl Rahner, the methods and the content of science and theology are independent, but there are important points of contact and correlations to be explored. God is known primarily through scripture and tradition, but he is dimly and implicitly known by all persons as the infinite horizon within which every finite object is apprehended. Rahner extends Kant’s transcendental method by analyzing the conditions that make knowledge possible in a neo-Thomist framework. We know by abstracting form from matter; in the mind’s pure desire to know there is a drive beyond every limited object toward the Absolute. Authentic human experience of love and honesty are experiences of grace; Rahner affirms the implicit faith of the "anonymous Christian" who does not explicitly acknowledge God or Christ but is committed to the true and the good.32
Rahner holds that the classical doctrines of human nature and of Christology fit well with an evolutionary viewpoint. The human being is a unity of matter and spirit, which are distinct but can only be understood in relation to each other. Science studies matter and provides only part of the whole picture, for we know ourselves to be free, self-conscious agents. Evolution -- from matter to life, mind, and spirit -- is God’s creative action through natural causes, which reach their goal in humanity and the incarnation. Matter develops out of its inner being in the direction of spirit, empowered to achieve an active self-transcendence in higher levels of being.
The incarnation is at the same time the climax of the world’s development and the climax of God’s self-expression. Rahner insists that creation and incarnation are parts of a single process of God’s self-communication. Christ as true humanity is a moment in biological evolution that has been oriented toward its fulfillment in him.33
David Tracy also sees a religious dimension in science. He holds that religious questions arise at the horizons or limit-situations of human experience. In everyday life, these limits are encountered in experiences of anxiety and confrontation with death, as well as in joy and basic trust. He describes two kinds of limit-situations in science: ethical issues in the uses of science, and presuppositions or conditions for the possibility of scientific inquiry. Tracy maintains that the intelligibility of the world requires an ultimate rational ground. For the Christian, the sources for understanding that ground are the classic religious texts and the structures of human experience. All our theological formulations, however, are limited and historically conditioned. Tracy is open to the reformulation of traditional doctrines in contemporary philosophical categories; he is sympathetic to many aspects of process philosophy and recent work in language and hermeneutics.34
How much room is there for the reformulation of classical theological doctrines in the light of the findings of science? If the points of contact between science and theology refer only to basic presuppositions and boundary questions, no reformulation will be called for. But if there are some points of contact between particular doctrines and particular scientific theories (such as the doctrine of creation in relation to evolution or astronomy), and if it is acknowledged that all doctrines are historically conditioned, there is in principle the possibility of some doctrinal development and reformulation, not just correlation or consonance. What is the nature and extent of the authority of tradition in theology? The Thomistic synthesis of biblical and Aristotelian thought has held a dominant position in the Catholic tradition in the past, but with the help of recent biblical, patristic, and liturgical scholarship, Catholic theologians have made significant efforts to delineate the central biblical message with less dependence on scholastic interpretive categories (see section IV below, on Integration).
2. Methodological Parallels
The positivists, along with most neo-orthodox and existentialist authors, had portrayed science as objective, meaning that its theories are validated by clearcut criteria and are tested by agreement with indisputable, theory-free data. Both the criteria and the data of science were held to be independent of the individual subject and unaffected by cultural influences. By contrast, religion seemed subjective. We have seen that existentialists made much of the contrast between objective detachment in science and personal involvement in religion.
Since the 1950s, these sharp contrasts have been increasingly called into question. Science, it appeared, is not as objective, nor religion as subjective, as had been claimed. There may be differences of emphasis between the fields, but the distinctions are not as absolute as had been asserted. Scientific data are theory-laden, not theory-free. Theoretical assumptions enter the selection, reporting, and interpretation of what are taken to be data. Moreover, theories do not arise from logical analysis of data but from acts of creative imagination in which analogies and models often play a role. Conceptual models help us to imagine what is not directly observable.
Many of these same characteristics are present in religion. If the data of religion include religious experience, rituals, and scriptural texts, such data are even more heavily laden with conceptual interpretations. In religious language, too, metaphors and models are prominent, as discussed in my writing and in that of Sallie McFague, Janet Soskice, and Mary Gerhart and Allan Russell.35 Clearly, religious beliefs are not amenable to strict empirical testing, but they can be approached with some of the same spirit of inquiry found in science. The scientific criteria of coherence, comprehensiveness, and fruitfulness have their parallels in religious thought.
Thomas Kuhn’s influential book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, maintained that both theories and data in science are dependent on the prevailing paradigms of the scientific community. He defined a paradigm as a cluster of conceptual, metaphysical, and methodological presuppositions embodied in a tradition of scientific work. With a new paradigm, the old data are reinterpreted and seen in new ways, and new kinds of data are sought. In the choice between paradigms, there are no rules for applying scientific criteria. Their evaluation is an act of judgment by the scientific community. An established paradigm is resistant to falsification, since discrepancies between theory and data can be set aside as anomalies or reconciled by introducing ad hoc hypotheses.36
Religious traditions can also be looked on as communities that share a common paradigm. The interpretation of the data (such as religious experience and historical events) is even more paradigm-dependent than in the case of science. There is a greater use of ad hoc assumptions to reconcile apparent anomalies, so religious paradigms are even more resistant to falsification. We will compare the role of paradigms in science and religion in the next chapter.
The status of the observer in science has also been reconsidered. The earlier accounts had identified objectivity with the separability of the observer from the object of observation. But in quantum physics the influence of the process of observation on the system observed is crucial. In relativity, the most basic measurements, such as the mass, velocity, and length of an object depend on the frame of reference of the observer. Stephen Toulmin traces the change from the assumption of a detached spectator to the recognition of the participation of the observer; he cites examples from quantum physics, ecology, and the social sciences. Every experiment is an action in which we are agents, not just observers. The observer as subject is a participant inseparable from the object of observation.37 Fritjof Capra and other adherents of Eastern religions have seen parallels here with the mystical traditions that affirm the union of the knower and the known, deriving ultimately from the participation of the individual in the Absolute.38
Michael Polanyi envisions a harmony of method over the whole range of knowledge and says that this approach overcomes the bifurcation of reason and faith. Polanyi’s unifying theme is the personal participation of the knower in all knowledge. In science, the heart of discovery is creative imagination, which is a very personal act. Science requires skills that, like riding a bicycle, cannot be formally specified but only learned by example and practice. In all knowledge we have to see patterns in wholes. In recognizing a friend’s face or in making a medical diagnosis, we use many clues but cannot identify all the particulars on which our judgment of a total pattern relies.
Polanyi holds that the assessment of evidence is always an act of discretionary personal judgment. No rules specify whether an unexplained discrepancy between theory and experiment should be set aside as an anomaly or taken to invalidate the theory. Commitment to rationality and universality, not impersonal detachment, protects such decisions from arbitrariness. Scientific activity is thus personal but not subjective. Participation in a community of inquiry is another safeguard against subjectivity, though it never removes the burden of individual responsibility.
Polanyi holds that all these characteristics are even more important in religion. Here personal involvement is greater, but not to the exclusion of rationality and universal intent. Participation in the historical tradition and present experience of a religious community is essential. If theology is the elucidation of the implications of worship, then surrender and commitment are preconditions of understanding. Responding to reductionism, Polanyi describes ascending levels of reality in evolutionary history and in the world today:
Admittedly, religious conversion commits our whole person and changes our whole being in a way that an expansion of natural knowledge does not do. But once the dynamics of knowing are recognized as the dominant principle of knowledge, the difference appears only as one of degree. . . It establishes a continuous ascent from our less personal knowing of inanimate matter to our convivial knowing of living beings and beyond this to knowing our responsible fellow men. Such I believe is the true transition from the sciences to the humanities and also from our knowing the laws of nature to our knowing the person of God.39
Several authors have recently invoked similar methodological parallels. The physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne gives examples of personal judgment and theory-laden data in both fields, and he defends critical realism in both cases. The data for a religious community are its scriptural records and its history of religious experience. Similarities exist between the fields in that "each is corrigible, having to relate theory to experience, and each is essentially concerned with entities whose unpicturable reality is more subtle than that of naive objectivity."40 The philosopher Holmes Rolston holds that religious beliefs interpret and correlate experience, much as scientific theories interpret and correlate experimental data. Beliefs can be tested by criteria of consistency and congruence with experience. But Rolston acknowledges that personal involvement is more total in the case of religion, since the primary goal is the reformation of the person. Moreover, there are other significant differences: science is interested in causes, while religion is interested in personal meanings.41
Such methodological comparisons seem to me illuminating for both fields, and I discuss them further in the next two chapters. Here I will only note several problems in the use of this approach:
1. In the attempt to legitimate religion in an age of science, it is tempting to dwell on similarities and pass over differences. Although science is indeed a more theory-laden enterprise than the positivists had recognized, it is clearly more objective than religion in each of the senses that have been mentioned. The kinds of data from which religion draws are radically different from those in science, and the possibility of testing religious beliefs is more limited.
2. In reacting to the absolute distinctions presented by adherents of the Independence thesis, it would be easy to minimize the distinctive features of religion. In particular, by treating religion as an intellectual system and talking only about religious beliefs, one may distort the diverse characteristics of religion as a way of life, which the linguistic analysts have so well described. Religious belief must always be seen in the context of the life of the religious community and in relation to the goal of personal transformation.
3. Consideration of methodology is an important but preliminary task in the dialogue of science and religion. The issues tend to be somewhat abstract and therefore of more interest to philosophers of science and philosophers of religion than to scientists or theologians and religious believers. Yet methodological issues have rightly come under new scrutiny in both communities. Furthermore, if we acknowledge methodological similarities we are more likely to encourage attention to substantive issues. If theology at its best is a reflective enterprise that can develop and grow, it can be open to new insights, including those derived from the theories of science.
The final group of authors holds that some sort of integration is possible between the content of theology and the content of science. There are three distinct versions of Integration. In natural theology, it is claimed that the existence of God can be inferred from the evidences of design in nature, of which science has made us more aware. In a theology of nature, the main sources of theology lie outside science, but scientific theories may affect the reformulation of certain doctrines, particularly the doctrine of creation. In a systematic synthesis, both science and religion contribute to the development of an inclusive metaphysics, such as that of process philosophy.
1. Natural Theology
Here arguments for the existence of God are based entirely on human reason rather than on historical revelation or religious experience. The "five ways" of Thomas Aquinas included several versions of the cosmological argument. One version asserted that every event must have a cause, so we must acknowledge a First Cause if we are to avoid infinite regress. Another version said that the whole chain of natural causes (finite or infinite) is contingent and might not have been; it is dependent on a being which exists necessarily. These are what we have called boundary questions, since they refer only to the existence and very general features of the world. The teleological argument may similarly start from orderliness and intelligibility as general characteristics of nature. But specific evidences of design in nature may also be cited. In this form the argument has often drawn from the findings of science.
The founders of modern science frequently expressed admiration for the harmonious correlations of nature, which they saw as God’s handiwork. Newton said that the eye could not have been contrived without skill in optics, and Boyle extolled the evidences of benevolent design throughout the natural order. If the Newtonian world was the perfect clock, the deistic God was its designer. In the early nineteenth century, Paley said that if one finds a watch on a heath, one is justified in concluding that it was designed by an intelligent being. In the human eye, many complex parts are coordinated to the one purpose of vision; here, too, one can only conclude that there was an intelligent designer. Paley cited many other examples of the coordination of structures fulfilling functions useful to living organisms.
Hume had already made several criticisms of the teleological argument. He observed that the organizing principle responsible for patterns in nature might be within organisms, not external to them. At most the argument would point to the existence of a finite god or many gods, not the omnipotent Creator of monotheism. If there are evil and dysfunctional phenomena in the world, does one ascribe them to a being with less benevolent intentions? It was Darwin, of course, who dealt the most serious blow to the argument, for he showed that adaptation can be explained by random variation and natural selection. An automatic and impersonal process could account for the apparent design in nature.
Many Protestants ignored the debate, asserting that their religious beliefs were based on revelation rather than natural theology. Others advocated a reformulation of the argument. Design is evident, they said, not in the particular structures of individual organisms, but in the properties of matter and the laws of nature through which the evolutionary process could produce such organisms. It is in the design of the total process that God’s wisdom is evident. In the 1930s, F. R. Tennant argued that nature is a unified system of mutually supporting structures that have led to living organisms and have provided the conditions for human moral, aesthetic, and intellectual life.42 Reformulations of the teleological argument are common in Roman Catholic thought, where natural theology has traditionally held a respected place as a preparation for the truths of revealed theology.43
The British philosopher Richard Swinburne has given an extended defense of natural theology. He starts by discussing confirmation theory in the philosophy of science. In the development of science, new evidence does not make a theory certain. Instead, a theory has an initial plausibility, and the probability that it is true increases or decreases with the additional evidence (Bayes’s Theorem). Swinburne suggests that the existence of God has an initial plausibility because of its simplicity and because it gives a personal explanation of the world in terms of the intentions of an agent. He then argues that the evidence of order in the world increases the probability of the theistic hypothesis. He also maintains that science cannot account for the presence of conscious beings in the world. "Something outside the web of physical laws" is needed to explain the rise of consciousness. Finally, religious experience provides "additional crucial evidence." Swinburne concludes, "On our total evidence, theism is more probable than not."44
The most recent rendition of the design argument is the Anthropic Principle in cosmology. Astrophysicists have found that life in the universe would have been impossible if some of the physical constants and other conditions in the early universe had differed even slightly from the values they had. The universe seems to be "fine-tuned" for the possibility of life. For example, Stephen Hawking writes, "If the rate of expansion one second after the big bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, the universe would have recollapsed before it even reached its present size."45 Freeman Dyson draws the following conclusion from such findings:
I conclude from the existence of these accidents of physics and astronomy that the universe is an unexpectedly hospitable place for living creatures to make their home in. Being a scientist, trained in the habits of thought and language of the twentieth century rather than the eighteenth, I do not claim that the architecture of the universe proves the existence of God. I claim only that the architecture of the universe is consistent with the hypothesis that mind plays an essential role in its functioning.46
John Barrow and Frank Tipler present many other cases in which there were extremely critical values of various forces in the early universe.47 The philosopher John Leslie defends the Anthropic Principle as a design argument. But he points out that an alternative explanation would be the assumption of many worlds (either in successive cycles of an oscillating universe or in separate domains existing simultaneously); These worlds might differ from each other, and we just happen to be in one that has the right variables for the emergence of life.48 Moreover, some of these apparently arbitrary conditions may be necessitated by a more basic unified theory, on which physicists are currently working. We will examine these alternatives in chapter 5.
The bishop of Birmingham, Hugh Montefiore, claims that there are many instances of design in the universe, including the Anthropic Principle and the directionality of evolution. Some of his other examples, such as James Lovelock’s "Gaia Hypothesis" and Rupert Sheldrake’s "morphogenetic fields," are much more controversial and have little support in the scientific community. Montefiore does not claim that these arguments prove the existence of God, but only that the latter is more probable than other explanations.49
Debates continue about the validity of each of these arguments, to which we will return in later chapters. But even if the arguments are accepted, they would not lead to the personal, active God of the Bible, as Hume pointed out, but only to an intelligent designer remote from the world. Moreover, few if any persons have actually acquired their religious beliefs by such arguments. Natural theology can show that the existence of God is a plausible hypothesis, but this kind of reasoning is far removed from the actual life of a religious community.
2. Theology of Nature
A theology of nature does not start from science, as some versions of natural theology do. Instead, it starts from a religious tradition based on religious experience and historical revelation. But it holds that some traditional doctrines need to be reformulated in the light of current science. Here science and religion are considered to be relatively independent sources of ideas, but with some areas of overlap in their concerns. In particular, the doctrines of creation, providence, and human nature are affected by the findings of science. If religious beliefs are to be in harmony with scientific knowledge, some adjustments or modifications are called for. The theologian will want to draw mainly from broad features of science that are widely accepted, rather than risk adapting to limited or speculative theories that are more likely to be abandoned in the future.
Our understanding of the general characteristics of nature will affect our models of God’s relation to nature. Nature is today understood to be a dynamic evolutionary process with a long history of emergent novelty, characterized throughout by chance and law. The natural order is ecological, interdependent, and multileveled. These characteristics will modify our representation of the relation of both God and humanity to nonhuman nature. This will, in turn, affect our attitudes toward nature and will have practical implications for environmental ethics. The problem of evil will also be viewed differently in an evolutionary rather than a static world.
For Arthur Peacocke, the starting point of theological reflection is past and present religious experience, together with a continuous interpretive tradition. Religious beliefs are tested by community consensus and by criteria of coherence, comprehensiveness, and fruitfulness. But Peacocke is willing to reformulate traditional beliefs in response to current science. He discusses at length how chance and law work together in cosmology, quantum physics, nonequilibrium thermodynamics, and biological evolution. He describes the emergence of distinctive forms of activity at higher levels of complexity in the multilayered hierarchy of organic life and mind. Peacocke gives chance a positive role in the exploration and expression of potentialities at all levels. God creates through the whole process of law and chance, not by intervening in gaps in the process. "The natural causal creative nexus of events is itself God’s creative action."50 God creates "in and through" the processes of the natural world that science unveils.
As we will see in chapter 6, Peacocke provides some rich images for talking about God’s action in a world of chance and law. He speaks of chance as God’s radar sweeping through the range of possibilities and evoking the diverse potentialities of natural systems. In other images, artistic creativity is used as an analogy in which purposefulness and open-endedness are continuously present. Peacocke identifies his position as panentheism (not pantheism). God is in the world, but the world is also in God, in the sense that God is more than the world. In some passages, Peacocke suggests the analogy of the world as God’s body, and God as the world’s, mind or soul. I am sympathetic with Peacocke’s position at most points. He gives us vivid images for talking about God’s relation to a natural order whose characteristics science has disclosed. But I believe that in addition to images that provide a suggestive link between scientific and religious reflection, we need philosophical categories to help us unify scientific and theological assertions in a more systematic way.
The writings of the Jesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin are another example of a theology of nature. Some interpreters take The Phenomenon of Man to be a form of natural theology, an argument from evolution to the existence of God. I have suggested that it can more appropriately be viewed as a synthesis of scientific ideas with religious ideas derived from Christian tradition and experience. Teilhard’s other writings make clear how deeply he was molded by his religious heritage and his own spirituality. But his concept of God was modified by evolutionary ideas, even if it was not derived from an analysis of evolution. Teilhard speaks of continuing creation and a God immanent in an incomplete world. His vision of the final convergence to an "Omega Point" is both a speculative extrapolation of evolutionary directionality and a distinctive interpretation of Christian eschatology.51
In any theology of nature there are theological issues that require clarification. Is some reformulation of the classical idea of God’s omnipotence called for? Theologians have wrestled for centuries with the problem of reconciling omnipotence and omniscience with human freedom and the existence of evil and suffering. But a new problem is raised by the role of chance in diverse fields of science. Do we defend the traditional idea of divine sovereignty and hold that within what appears to the scientist to be chance all events are really providentially controlled by God? Or do both human freedom and chance in nature represent a self-limitation on God’s foreknowledge and power, required by the creation of this sort of world?
How do we represent God’s action in the world? The traditional distinction of primary and secondary causes preserves the integrity of the secondary causal chains that science studies. God does not interfere but acts through secondary causes, which at their own level provide a complete explanation of all events. This tends toward deism if God has planned all things from the beginning so they would unfold by their own structures (deterministic and probabilistic) to achieve the goals intended. Is the biblical picture of the particularity of divine action then replaced by the uniformity of divine concurrence with natural causes? Should we then speak only of God’s one action, the whole of cosmic history? These are some of the questions that a theology of nature must answer. We will return to them in part 3.
3. Systematic Synthesis
A more systematic integration can occur if both science and religion contribute to a coherent world view elaborated in a comprehensive metaphysics. Metaphysics is the search for a set of general categories in terms of which diverse types of experience can be interpreted. An inclusive conceptual scheme is sought that can represent the fundamental characteristics of all events. Metaphysics as such is the province of the philosopher rather than of either the scientist or the theologian, but it can serve as an arena of common reflection. The Thomistic framework provided such a metaphysics, but one in which, I would argue, the dualisms of spirit/matter, mind/body, humanity/nature, and eternity/time were only partially overcome.
Process philosophy is a promising candidate for a mediating role today because it was itself formulated under the influence of both scientific and religious thought, even as it responded to persistent problems in the history of Western philosophy (for example, the mind/body problem). Alfred North Whitehead has been the most influential exponent of process categories, though theological implications have been more fully investigated by Charles Hartshorne, John Cobb, and others. The influence of biology and physics is evident in the process view of reality as a dynamic web of interconnected events. Nature is characterized by change, chance, and novelty as well as order. It is incomplete and still coming into being. Process thinkers are critical of reductionism; they defend organismic categories applicable to activities at higher levels of organization. They see continuity as well as distinctiveness among levels of reality; the characteristics of each level have rudimentary forerunners at earlier and lower levels. Against a dualism of matter and mind, or a materialism that has no place for mind, process though envisages two aspects of all events as seen from within and from without. Because humanity is continuous with the rest of nature (despite the uniqueness of reflective self-consciousness), human experience can be taken as a clue to interpreting the experience of other beings. Genuinely new phenomena emerge in evolutionary history, but the basic metaphysical categories apply to all events.
Process thinkers understand God to be the source of novelty and order. Creation is a long and incomplete process. God elicits the self-creation of individual entities, thereby allowing for freedom and novelty as well as order and structure. God is not the unrelated Absolute, the Unmoved Mover, but instead interacts reciprocally with the world, an influence on all events though never the sole cause of any event. Process metaphysics understands every new event to be jointly the product of the entity’s past, its own action, and the action of God. Here God transcends the world but is immanent in the world in a specific way in the structure of each event. We do not have a succession of purely natural events, interrupted by gaps in which God alone operates. Process thinkers reject the idea of divine omnipotence; they believe in a God of persuasion rather than compulsion, and they have provided distinctive analyses of the place of chance, human freedom, evil, and suffering in the world. Christian process theologians point out that the power of love, as exemplified in the cross, is precisely its ability to evoke a response while respecting the integrity of other beings. They also hold that divine immutability is not a characteristic of the biblical God who is intimately involved with history. Hartshorne elaborates a "dipolar" concept of God: unchanging in purpose and character, but changing in experience and relationship.52
In The Liberation of Life, Charles Birch and John Cobb have brought together ideas from biology, process philosophy, and Christian thought. Early chapters develop an ecological or organismic model in which (1) every being is constituted by its interaction with a wider environment, and (2) all beings are subjects of experience, which runs the gamut from rudimentary responsiveness to reflective consciousness. Evolutionary history shows continuity but also the emergence of novelty. Humanity is continuous with and part of the natural order. Birch and Cobb develop an ethics that avoids anthropocentrism. The goal of enhancing the richness of experience in any form encourages concern for nonhuman life, without treating all forms of life as equally valuable. These authors present a powerful vision of a just and sustainable society in an interdependent community of life.53
Birch and Cobb give less attention to religious ideas. They identify God with the principle of Life, a cosmic power immanent in nature. At one point it is stated that God loves and redeems us, but the basis of the statement is not clarified. But earlier writings by both these authors indicate their commitment to the Christian tradition and their attempt to reformulate it in the categories of process thought. Writing with David Griffin, for example, Cobb seeks "a truly contemporary vision that is at he same time truly Christian."54 God is understood both as "a source of novelty and order" and as "creative-responsive love." Christ’s vision of the love of God opens us to creative transformation. These authors also show that Christian process theology can provide a sound basis for in environmental ethics.
I am in basic-agreement with the "Theology of Nature" position, coupled with a cautious use of process philosophy. Too much reliance on science (in natural theology) or on science and process philosophy (as in Birch and Cobb) can lead to the neglect of the areas of experience that I consider most important religiously. As I see it, the center of the Christian Life is an experience of reorientation, the healing of our brokenness in new wholeness, and the expression of a new relationship to God and to the neighbor. Existentialists and linguistic analysts rightly point to the primacy of personal and social life in religion, and neo-orthodoxy rightly says that for the Christian community it is in response to the person of Christ that our lives can be changed. But the centrality of redemption need not lead us to belittle creation, for our personal and social lives are intimately bound to the rest of the created order. We are redeemed in and with the world, not from the world. Part of our task, then, is to articulate a theology of nature, for which we will have to draw from both religious and scientific sources.
In volume 2, I will advocate a view of Christian ethics as response to what God has done and is doing. Traditionally this has been developed primarily as response to God as Redeemer, but I will suggest that today our response to God as Creator and Sustainer is equally important in elaborating an ethic for technology and the environment. The reformulation of the doctrine of creation in the light of science in the current volume will thus play a major role in the subsequent volume.
In articulating a theology of nature, a systematic metaphysics can help us toward a coherent vision. But Christianity should never be equated with any metaphysical system. There are dangers if either scientific or religious ideas are distorted to fit a preconceived synthesis that claims to encompass all reality. We must always keep in mind the rich diversity of our experience. We distort it if we cut it up into separate realms or watertight compartments, but we also distort it if we force it into a neat intellectual system. A coherent vision of reality can still allow for the distinctiveness of differing types of experience. In the chapters that follow I will try to do justice to what is valid in the Independence position, though I will be mainly developing the Dialogue position concerning methodology and the Integration thesis with respect to the doctrines of creation and human nature.
1. For this parable I am indebted to Ted Peters, speaking at a symposium at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Nov. 17, 1988.
2. Carl Sagan, Cosmos (New York: Random House, 1980), p. 4. See also Thomas W. Ross, The Implicit Theology of Carl Sagan," Pacific Theological Review 18 (Spring 1985):24-32.
3. Francis Crick, Of Molecules and Men (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1966), p. 10.
4. Jacques Mound, Chance and Necessity (New York: Vintage Books, 1972), p. 180.
5. Monod, BBC lecture, quoted in beyond Chance and Necessity, ed. John Lewis (London: Garnstone Press, 1974), p. ix. This book includes a number of interesting critiques of Monod,
6. Arthur Peacocke, Creation and the World of Science (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), chap. 3.
7. Edward O. Wilson, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975), p. 4.
8. Edward O. Wilson, On Human Nature (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), chaps. 8, 9.
9. See the essays by Marshall Sahlins, Ruth Mattern, Richard Burian, and others in The Sociobiology Debate, ed. Arthur Caplan (New York: Harper & Row, 1978).
10. Cited by Ernan McMullin, ‘How Should Cosmology Relate to Theology?" in The Science and Theology in the Twentieth Century, ed. Arthur Peacocke (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), p.21.
11. Origins: NC Documentary Service 13 (1983): 50-51.
12. Origins: NC Documentary Service 16 (1986): 122. See Cardinal Paul Poupard, ed. Galileo Galilei: Toward a Resolution of 350 Years of Debate, 1633-1983 (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1987).
13. Henry Morris, ed., Scientific Creationism, 2d ed. (El Cajun, CA: Master Books,. 1985). The text of the ruling, McLean v. Arkansas, together with articles by several of the participants in the trial, is printed in Science, Technology & Human Values 7 (Summer 1982).
14. See Langdon Gilkey, Creationism on Trial (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1985); Roland Frye, ed., Is God a Creationist: The Religions Case Against Creation-Science (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1983).
15. In addition to the reports on the trial mentioned above, see Philip Kitcher, Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1982); Michael Ruse, Darwinism Defended: A Guide to the Evolution Controversies (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1982).
16. Washington Post, June 20, 1987, p. A1.
17. A good introduction is Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline (New York: Harper & Row, 1949). See also W. A. Whitehouse, Christian Faith and the Scientific Attitude (New York: Philosophical Library, 1952).
18. Rudolf Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1958).
19. Gilkey, Creationism on Trial, pp. 108-16. See also his Maker of Heaven and Earth (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1959).
20. Gilkey, Religion and the Scientific Future (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), chap. 2. Also his Creationism on Trial, chap. 7.
21. Thomas Torrance, Theological Science (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), p. 281.
22. Useful summaries are given in Frederick Ferré, Language, Logic, and God (New York:Harper and Brothers, 1961) and William H. Austin, The Relevance of Natural Science to Theology (London: Macmillan, 1976). See also Stephen Toulmin, The Return to Cosmology (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1982), part 1.
23. Frederick Streng, Understanding Religious Life, 3d ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1985).
24. George Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984), p. 22.
25. Arthur Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1928), p. 16.
26. Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New York: Macmillan, 1925), chap. 1; Stanley L. Jaki, The Road of Science and the Ways to God (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978).
27. Thomas Torrance, ‘God and the Contingent World,’ Zygon 14 (1979): 347. See also his Divine and Contingent Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981). Torrance also defends contingency within the created order (that is, the unpredictability of particular events), as evident in the uncertainties of quantum physics. Here the invocation of Einstein seems more dubious, since Einstein adhered to a determinist as well as a realist view of physics. He was confident that quantum uncertainties will be removed when we find the underlying deterministic laws, which he believed a rational universe must have.
28. Wolfhart Pannenberg, Theology and the Philosophy of Science (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976).
29. Ernan McMullin, "Natural Science and Christian Theology," in Religion, Science, and the Search for Wisdom, ed. David Byers (Washington, DC: National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1987). See also his "Introduction: Evolution and Creation" in Evolution and Creation, ed. Ernan McMullin (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985).
30. Ernan McMullin, ‘How Should Cosmology Relate to Theology?" in The Sciences and Theology in the Twentieth Century, ed. Arthur Peacocke, p. 39.
31. Ibid., p. 52.
32. Karl Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith (New York: Seabury, 1978); Gerald McCool, ed., A Rahner Reader (New York: Seabury, 1975); Leo O’Donovan, ed., A World of Grace: An Introduction to the Themes and Foundations of Karl Rahner’s Theology (New York:Seabury, 1980).
33. Karl Rahner, "Christology within an Evolutionary View of the World," Theological Investigations, vol. 5 (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1966); also Hominization: The Evolutionary Origin of Man as a Theological Problem (New York: Herder and Herder, 1965).
34. David Tracy, Blessed Rage for Order (New York: Seabury, 1975); also Plurality and Ambiguity (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987).
35. Ian G. Barbour, Myths, Models, and Paradigms (New York: Harper & Row, 1974); Sallie McFague, Metaphorical Theology: Models of God in Religious Language (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982); Janet Soskice, Metaphor and Religious Language (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985); Mary Gerhart and Allan Russell, Metaphorical Process (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1984).
36. Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970).
37. Toulmin, Return to Cosmology, part III.
38. Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics (New York: Bantam Books, 1977).
39. Michael Polanyi, "Faith and Reason," Journal of Religion 41 (1961): 244. See also his Personal Knowledge (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958).
40. John Polkinghorne, One World. The Interaction of Science and Theology (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), p. 64. See also his Science and Creation (London: SPCK, 1988).
41. Holmes Rolston, Science and Religion: A Critical Survey (New York: Random House, 1987).
42. F. R. Tennant, Philosophical Theology, vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1930).
43. See, for example, W. N. Clarke, S.J., "Is Natural Theology Still Possible Today?" in Physics, Philosophy, and Theology: A Common Quest for Understanding, eds. Robert J. Russell, William R. Stoeger, S.J., and George V. Coyne, S.J. (The Vatican: Vatican Observatory, and Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988).
44. Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), p. 291.
45. Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), p. 291.
46. Freeman Dyson, Disturbing the Universe (New York: Harper & Row, 1979).
47. John Barrow and Frank Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).
48. John Leslie, "How to Draw Conclusions from a Fine-Tuned Universe," in Physics, Philosophy, and Theology, ed. Russell et al.
49. Hugh Montefiore, The Probability of God (London: SCM Press, 1985).
50. Arthur Peacocke, Intimations of Reality (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), p. 63; see also Creation and the World of Science.
51. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man (New York: Harper & Row, 1959). I have discussed Teilhard in "Five Ways of Reading Teilhard," Soundings 51 (1968): 115-45, and in "Teilhard’s Process Metaphysics," Journal of Religion 49 (1969):136-59.
52. Charles Hartshorne, The Divine Relativity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1948).
53. Charles Birch and John B. Cobb, Jr., The Liberation of Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).
54. John B. Cobb, Jr. and David Ray Griffin, Process Theology: An Introduction (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), p. 94. See also L. Charles Birch, Nature and God (London: SCM Press, 1965).