God, science and religion today
Huxley (1825-95) discussed Darwin's Origin of Species with
Wilberforce at the British Association for the Advancement of Science
in Oxford on 30 June, 1860
Samuel Wilberforce (1805-73) bishop of Oxford and vice-president of the British Association was also known for his scientific grasp.
To this day there are things in Jungian psychology that are being contested as unscientific, while psychoanalysis is often judged as ineffective because it tells people to "find themselves and then decide what to do." As for philosophy, it has been said that it could be heading toward nihilism. That brings us to science, once Freud and Jung as well as philosophy are left aside as having "nothing to do with it.” Will science explain everything and, alone, lead to a position where "total insight" can be gained once and for all? It would be something like coming closer to knowing the mind of God, about which Stephen Hawking has had something to say. Such success is unlikely for, as William James pointed out, the world is richer in realities than conventional science is willing to recognise. James was talking within the context of psychical research, but Karl Jaspers went even further by saying that "Science is not an ultimate form of knowledge because it excludes the observer, because it is replete with unexamined and often erroneous assumptions and because one method of inquiry is insufficient for a complete world picture. Science gives us only surface knowledge, which is, at best, a workable mythology. Yet there can be no doubt that science has advanced a lot since Jaspers, answering many, if not all, How questions and providing solutions but unable to answer the Why questions. The Why questions, seemingly beyond science, with its strict empiricism, lead to the realm of religion. .
From the point of view of the Christian faith, belief is based on revelation, as given in the Bible, as well as the tradition coming from the Church Fathers. The problem, however, is that here again scholars meet obstacles that leave some scientists and even Biblical scholars delighted. Given the discoveries that are being made about the universe and about which scripture says nothing, will we have to shift from the "Biblical God to the cosmic God?" Did God dictate the Bible verbatim or is it a human document? How is the book of Genesis to be interpreted? Did the ancients think as we do today? The last question can of course be applied to the authors of any ancient religious literature. When it comes to interpreting the Bible as a whole both the fundamentalist and liberal camps view each other with hostility, making the solution appear to lie in determining to what extent the Bible is inspired and how this can, in turn, meet the challenges posed by the discoveries of science. It is like asking who and what is God after Darwin.
But once again it has to be taken into account that doubts have been raised about just how much of science can be believed. There are theologians who say that not everything scientists say should be taken as gospel truth, particularly those scientists who like to indulge in what has come to be known as "scientism". As respected a thinker -and no theologian - as Sir Karl Popper went as far as to reject the possibility that we can know when a theory is true. "We have to distinguish between the truth, which is objective and absolute, and certainty, which is subjective", he said. Popper, who authored Conjectures and Refutations as well as other works, did not believe in any "complete theory of nature" capable of answering all questions, in fact rejected the notion that science could answer queries about the significance or the aim of the universe. That is where theology comes in.
And that takes us to the topic where science and theology clash the most today and where dialogue becomes a must. Darwin’s evolution and cosmology. It is not that all Christian clerics hold anti-evolution views and that all evolutionists are atheists and are consequently against religion. The very fact that both sides cannot afford to be dogmatic at this stage has paved the way for the possibility of dialogue, making it clear that neither evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins nor the Austrian prelate Cardinal Christoph Schönbom can have their ways now. To a certain extent the right approach, where there is room for dialogue, has been shown by John Polkinghorne, who is both a physicist and an ordained priest of the Church of England, with even Pope Benedict XVI, like his predecessor, seeing the need for such a dialogue.
One of the problems that will have been to be tackled is the materialist paradigm of science, that is, the only reality worth studying is what can be tested, qualified and reproduced. If only it was as easy as that. Deep thoughts and questions arise in the psyche, as they always have, and do not show any signs of yielding to scientific investigation. They have always been the objects of explanations coming from the field of religion. “God is beyond anything we can really define or characterize", wrote the well-known American astrophysicist Father William Stoeger. He had yet another important thing to say, and that was, "We know that God acts in the world."
The possibility therefore remains that the Jesuit priest-theologian and geologist- palaeontologist P. Teilhard de Chardin may have been right when he speculated about the Omega Point, the cosmic apex. It is his cosmic Christ that remains a very vague notion waiting to be developed by systematic theologians, something that can be spurred by new discoveries in science. It concerns the "evolutive structure of the universe, a dynamic movement directed to the final uniting of all things in Christ" and originated in Teilhard's unique interpretation of the incarnation of Christ with three natures, human, divine and cosmic.
Bishop Samuel Wilberforce and T.H. Huxley may not have agreed about Darwin and his Origin of Species when debating in Oxford in 1860. They were two gladiators fighting in what was perhaps the first or at least the most famous of all the intellectual battles about the theory of evolution after it was introduced to the world. A lot more has been learnt and even questioned after that, and once in a while there are reports about scientists and clergymen clashing like Huxleys and Wilberforces. But it is obvious that there are intricacies and harmonies in creation, which both, science and religion can strive to explain in a constructive dialogue.