1.1.Science and Theology in Dynamic Interaction

The life-or-death struggle between theology and science is a matter of the past. A Galileo would no longer be threatened by the church hierarchy. The persecution of religious people living in atheist, totalitarian systems of recent history also seems to have ended. Only the anachronistic fight against the “infidel” by some hard-line Muslims remains; but these fights possibly are an expression of other problems within their societies. The earlier struggle for preeminence between Christian theology and science was transformed into the coexistence of two separate, and sometimes complementary, views of existence. 

Keppler and Galileo initiated the challenge of science for Christian theology. The following centuries gave rise to a mercantile society increasingly informed in matters of technology and science.This resulted in a creeping challenge for theology and the churches.The Dominicans and Jesuits attempted to bridge this growing gulf. Then, in 1859, Wallace and Darwin’s teaching of natural evolution initiated important new and serious challenges for theologians. 

The new understanding of biologic and geologic evolution brought important results.It was found that some 600 million years ago, the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere of our Earth reached a significant level.This allowed a new energy cycle for living beings.Instead of only “peaceful” photosynthesis, the oxidation of organic materials appeared as a new source of energy for life.Evolving Creation thus required that the new and respectively more developed living beings now would have to search for organic material as a source of energy.They would have to harvest or kill and devour the lower or weaker living beings or those with less fighting skill.In the course of evolution, this resulted in mobility and, ultimately, the development of brains of these new living beings for the search of food, avoidance of danger, and prevalence in mutual rivalry.

In a deeper sense, the discovery of natural evolution made God’s biological Creation – the realm of plants and animals – appear in a new light.Evolution became recognized as a grandiose expression of creativity, but the natural world became recognized as being without compassion, without justice, and without fairness (except for some proto-ethical stirrings in the care for offspring, in reciprocity between partners, and in self-sacrifice for the clan).This was never fully realized by Christian theology, especially not that this “Darwinian” world still naturally reaches into our human existence and our personal destiny. 

Other scientific insights have occurred more recently: geophysics regarding the dynamic and repeatedly catastrophic conditions on Earth; psychology regarding the human soul; relativity theory regarding the connection between matter, energy, time, and space; quantum mechanics regarding the absence of determinism [1] and a certain interconnectivity on the subatomic level [2]; molecular biology regarding the origin of life; and neurophysiology and cognitive psychology regarding human consciousness, thought, ingenuity, and emotions.Among the newest insights have been those of astrophysics and space exploration regarding the evolution of the universe in the depth of space and in the course of time.Numerous planets around other stars have already been discovered, and the SETI project [3] is looking for highly developed civilizations on other celestial bodies.

Scienceis focused on understanding the world we live in – based on the always and everywhere valid laws of nature and the causal connections in the universe (including probabilistic events).But questions remain about the ultimate origin of existence and, among some scientists, questions regarding the appearance of complex events in evolution that had extremely low probability of appearing, especially when considering their timing.More importantly, however, questions remain regarding the exceptional role of humans in the world, of man’s quest for meaning or purpose of existence, and the relation of man to God and God to man.Science has not paid attention to these last questions, and it may never be able to do so.For science, the only place for God is in the original instant of Creation and is doubted by most scientists in any ongoing participation in the evolution of the world, specifically in response to personal prayer or in a final judgment and transcendental afterlife.

Theology is focused on believed divine revelations regarding the character of God, moral laws for mankind, divine judgment, and a possible afterlife.Theology begins to accept the evolutionary theories of the sciences but, more importantly, does not only believe in God’s active participation and personal presence in the world; it actually sees a “scientific” opening for such understanding (see the Intelligent Design Theory).[4]This view is based on the fact that no significant development and turn of destiny had to occur in just that way.Everything resulted from a number of probabilities, some being of the most sublime kind (as discussed by Chaos Theory).In scientific terms, this results from Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and from the spontaneous appearance of patterns in complex, dynamic systems.This may also result from the appearance of certain ideas or “inspirations” in the minds of people, at least the “chosen” ones among them.In all those sublime correlations, one can seethe hand of God, who utilizes nature for His designs

In general, scientists and theologians have assumed complementary perspectives or have at least found some mutual accommodation.Neither attacks the other any longer.After all, they both live together on this space vehicle Earth in one and the same universe and look together at the same world.Most people actually live under both perspectives.In daily life and at work, scientific-technical perspectives prevail, as well as some Darwinian situations.On weekends, in family life, and among friends, religious and idealistic concepts prevail.[5]

Where shall we go from here?Scientists will be concerned with scientific facts, laws, principles, theories, and questions of origin.Theologians will be concerned with divine creativity and agency, morality, faith, and the doctrine of redemption for a sinful world through Jesus Christ and the mercy of a loving God-Father.For thousands of years, religious teachers have based moral doctrine on the belief that the moral laws were given by the gods or by God, that there is a personal responsibility of the individual, and that a divine judgment after death will bring corresponding reward or punishment in an eternal afterlife (at least for the souls). 

Pope John Paul II discussed this retreat of theology in the encyclical “Fides et Ratio” and arrived at this conclusion:“Deprived of reason, faith has stressed feeling and experience, and so runs the risk of no longer being a universal proposition” (Ch. 48).But science also lacks universality.In the modern world of science and technology, the modern human being experiences a vacuum of feeling.Human life loses all purpose.Pure rationality, easily leading to simple utility, endangers family, nation, humanity, and “values” that give meaning, significance, and direction to life.[6]Can the two worlds of science and faith be reunited again to form a whole vision of the world? [7]

[1] Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.
[2] Pauli’s Exclusion Principle.
[3] SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is a large project supported by various organizations, including NASA, utilizing special antenna arrays to analyze interstellar electromagnetic radiation for possible “intelligent” content. 
[4]The Intelligent Design Theory postulates divine intervention in the evolutionary appearance of complicated phenomena of existence that otherwise are thought not to have occurred.This theory is based on the observation that some forms of life are amazingly complex and intelligently designed, and that their appearance in evolution cannot otherwise be sufficiently explained.This observation reaches from molecular biology to the poison-injecting teeth of snakes, the human brain, and the functioning of the human mind.Therefore, an intelligently designing force, God, is postulated as the cause.
[5] For interesting and more detailed comments by leading scientists and some discussions by philosophers – theist and atheist – see “Cosmos, Bios, Theos”, edited by Morgenau and Varghese, Open Court Publishing Co, ISBN 0-8126-9186-5 
[6] Pope John Paul II remarks in his encyclical, “Fides et Ratio”:“Deprived of what revelation offers, reason has taken sidetracks, which expose it to the danger of losing sight of its final goal” (Ch. 48).
[7] Complementary Comments:The human search for insight actually follows four different approaches – those of the natural sciences, religions, spirituality, and philosophy.Science and religion are discussed in this essay.Spirituality is the search for a mental reality different from the material one, without the help of religious faith, as by meditation or by the assumption that spiritual forces other than functions of the brain are active in this world.In this sense, spirituality is a less developed form of religiosity (see also Chapter 3, “The Phenomenon of Religion”).

Philosophy, in its best expression, is professionally trained and disciplined thought, analyzing concepts and progressing from analyzed and accepted premises to more advanced knowledge and truth.Between believed religiosity and the reality of the natural sciences, philosophy increasingly became marginalized and turned toward unusual niches of thought.There, philosophy kept those agitated who find their foundation neither in religion nor in the sciences.Lately, the Post-Modernism school of philosophy has propagated “deconstructionism”, which questions everything – except itself.

Philosophy was the old protagonist of religion, but then became integrated in Catholic teaching through the Scholastic thinkers, until modern approaches to philosophical thought were developed.With the encyclical, “Fides et Ratio“, the Catholic Church attempts to reacquire the support of philosophy.That encyclical also postulates that the natural sciences are nothing but an accumulation of detailed knowledge and the attempt to transform the world technologically.This overlooks the fact that from time to time science derives basic new principles and perspectives of our existence in this world from that quantity of detailed observations.These newly found principles or perspectives should provide the starting point for new philosophical speculation and could give cause for correction to traditionally accepted religious thought.

The new perspectives of science mainly included the understanding of natural evolution.But by now, they also include the knowledge of numerous large-scale biological extinctions in geological time, the expectation ofmore intelligent life somewhere else in the universe, and the recognition of the temporal finiteness of all cosmic structures, including our own solar system.The significance of these and other insights for religious thought will be discussed in this essay.