Science and Religion: Integration

Thanks to Barry Turner for this brief summary of Ian Barbour’s fourth type of dialogue, Integration.

(1) Natural Theology

There are many examples of natural theology from previous centuries.

Thomas Aquinas (13th century) argued that some qualities of God can be known only by revelation from scripture, but the existence of God can be known by reason alone.

Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle, William Paley (17th-18th centuries) and other pioneers of modern science argued that there must be a First Cause and Designer of the universe.

Darwin (19th century) dealt the most serious blow to the argument from design by showing that random variation and natural selection can explain the adaptation of species.

The Anthropic Principle (from the Greek anthropos, meaning ‘human’). Some contemporary scientists argue that the universe appears to have been extremely “fine tuned” for the possibility of life. (Or perhaps our universe, remarkably compatible with the conscious life that observes it, is but one of many universes.)

Taken at best, these arguments lead to the God of deism, the intelligent Designer remote from the world. Yet they can be combined with theistic beliefs based on personal religious experience and a historical tradition.

(2)  A Theology of Nature

A Theology of Nature starts with religious tradition, or religious experience and historical revelation.

• Science and religion are recognized as relatively independent source of ideas but with some overlap in their concerns.

• Theological doctrines must be consistent with the scientific evidence, even if they are not directly implied by current scientific theories.

Nature today is understood as a dynamic evolutionary process with a long history of emergent novelty.

    • This dynamic process is characterized throughout by chance and law. These characteristics modify our understanding of the relation between God, humanity, and non-human nature. They also affect our attitude toward nature, and have practical implications for environmental ethics.

• For instance, Arthur Peacocke says God creates in and through the processes of the natural world that science unveils. In those processes chance is God’s radar, sweeping through the range of possibilities and evoking the diverse potentialities of natural systems.

Indeterminacy:  Another theological proposal starts from an analysis of indeterminacy in quantum theory, as a genuine indeterminacy in nature – and not merely a limitation in human knowledge. Some see God as the ultimate determiner of indeterminacies. These do not offer an argument from scientific evidence to the existence of God, but exemplify a theology of nature.

Sacramental views of nature affirming the sacred is present in and under it – such as Eastern Orthodoxy, Celtic Christianity, and some Anglican authors – hold that all of nature can be a sacrament of God’s grace, just as we encounter Christ in the life of the church.

(3) Systematic Synthesis

A more systematic integration can occur if both science and religion contribute to a coherent worldview elaborated in a comprehensive metaphysics.

Metaphysics is the search for a set of general concepts to interpret diverse aspects of reality. As such, this 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.

Thomas Aquinas articulated an impressive metaphysics, derived from the works of Aristotle, that has remained influential in Catholic thought.

Process philosophy was formulated under the influence of both scientific and religious ideas by Alfred North Whitehead. Reality is seen as a series of momentary events and interpenetrating fields, rather than separate particles (a shift from a space to a time-based metaphysics). Processes of change, and relationships between events, are more fundamental than enduring self-contained objects.

For more on Process Theology, see the next post,

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One thought on “Science and Religion: Integration

  1. Hadn’t read this before the meeting yesterday – and when Barry brought up the idea of the stone having an interiority – it sounded like Celtic spirituality (I’ve always loved the passage in Isaiah where the trees clap for joy). With only reading to Chapter 3 – it would seem that Johnson cares about the interconnectedness (if not the interior life) of the planet (plants and stones too), beasts and humans – I am eager to continue the reading and hear about her theology.

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