Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Stephen Barr Biblio at First Things

Dr. Stephen Barr (link to video in a post below) has written a number of science/faith articles for First Things.

You can see a list here.

My thanks to the Sonitus Sanctus for doing the legwork (or finger work) on this one!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Augustine Beats Einstein to Relativity?

Does St. Augustine anticipate Einstein's notion of the relative nature of space-time?

From City of God, XI.5-6:

Chapter 5.— That We Ought Not to Seek to Comprehend the Infinite Ages of Time Before the World, Nor the Infinite Realms of Space.

Next, we must see what reply can be made to those who agree that God is the Creator of the world, but have difficulties about the time of its creation, and what reply, also, they can make to difficulties we might raise about the place of its creation.

For, as they demand why the world was created then and no sooner, we may ask why it was created just here where it is, and not elsewhere.

For if they imagine infinite spaces of time before the world, during which God could not have been idle, in like manner they may conceive outside the world infinite realms of space, in which, if any one says that the Omnipotent cannot hold His hand from working, will it not follow that they must adopt Epicurus' dream of innumerable worlds?

With this difference only, that he asserts that they are formed and destroyed by the fortuitous movements of atoms, while they will hold that they are made by God's hand, if they maintain that, throughout the boundless immensity of space, stretching interminably in every direction round the world, God cannot rest, and that the worlds which they suppose Him to make cannot be destroyed.

For here the question is with those who, with ourselves, believe that God is spiritual, and the Creator of all existences but Himself. As for others, it is a condescension to dispute with them on a religious question, for they have acquired a reputation only among men who pay divine honors to a number of gods, and have become conspicuous among the other philosophers for no other reason than that, though they are still far from the truth, they are near it in comparison with the rest.

While these, then, neither confine in any place, nor limit, nor distribute the divine substance, but, as is worthy of God, own it to be wholly though spiritually present everywhere, will they perchance say that this substance is absent from such immense spaces outside the world, and is occupied in one only, (and that a very little one compared with the infinity beyond), the one, namely, in which is the world?

I think they will not proceed to this absurdity. Since they maintain that there is but one world, of vast material bulk, indeed, yet finite, and in its own determinate position, and that this was made by the working of God, let them give the same account of God's resting in the infinite times before the world as they give of His resting in the infinite spaces outside of it.

And as it does not follow that God set the world in the very spot it occupies and no other by accident rather than by divine reason, although no human reason can comprehend why it was so set, and though there was no merit in the spot chosen to give it the precedence of infinite others, so neither does it follow that we should suppose that God was guided by chance when He created the world in that and no earlier time, although previous times had been running by during an infinite past, and though there was no difference by which one time could be chosen in preference to another.

But if they say that the thoughts of men are idle when they conceive infinite places, since there is no place beside the world, we reply that, by the same showing, it is vain to conceive of the past times of God's rest, since there is no time before the world.

Chapter 6.— That the World and Time Had Both One Beginning, and the One Did Not Anticipate the Other.

For if eternity and time are rightly distinguished by this, that time does not exist without some movement and transition, while in eternity there is no change, who does not see that there could have been no time had not some creature been made, which by some motion could give birth to change—the various parts of which motion and change, as they cannot be simultaneous, succeed one another—and thus, in these shorter or longer intervals of duration, time would begin?

Since then, God, in whose eternity is no change at all, is the Creator and Ordainer of time, I do not see how He can be said to have created the world after spaces of time had elapsed, unless it be said that prior to the world there was some creature by whose movement time could pass.

And if the sacred and infallible Scriptures say that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, in order that it may be understood that He had made nothing previously—for if He had made anything before the rest, this thing would rather be said to have been made in the beginning,— then assuredly the world was made, not in time, but simultaneously with time. For that which is made in time is made both after and before some time,— after that which is past, before that which is future.

But none could then be past, for there was no creature by whose movements its duration could be measured. But simultaneously with time the world was made, if in the world's creation change and motion were created , as seems evident from the order of the first six or seven days.

For in these days the morning and evening are counted, until, on the sixth day, all things which God then made were finished, and on the seventh the rest of God was mysteriously and sublimely signalized. What kind of days these were it is extremely difficult, or perhaps impossible for us to conceive, and how much more to say!

On-going act of divine creation

The act of [God’s] creation is a continuing process. We reject the deistic idea that God simply lit the fuse to set off the Big Bang and then left the world to its own devices. Such an idea attributes too great a degree of autonomy to the world and the laws that govern its process. The Christian understanding is that the cosmos is not self-sustaining but is kept in being by a continuous act of will by its Creator. Too great a concentration of on the first two chapters of Genesis, or on an inadequate interpretation of them, has sometimes misled Christians into placing undue emphasis on a doctrine of creation conceived of as a doctrine of temporal origin. Hence the erroneous thought that Big-Bang cosmology, with its dateable point of departure for the universe as we know it, has a superior value for theology over the steady-state theory, which essentially supposed the universe to have been everlasting [. . .] Yet theology could have live with either physical theory, for the assertion that God is creator is not a statement that at a particular time He did something, but rather that, at all times, He keeps the world in being. The doctrine of creation is a doctrine of ontological origin. (John Polkinghorne, Science and Creation, 66-67).

Polkinghorne writes here: "The Christian understanding is that the cosmos is not self-sustaining but is kept in being by a continuous act of will by its Creator." From the Catholic perspective, holding that the most fundamental will (i.e. "first commandment") is the will to love, and that Deus caritias est, then it follows that this "continuous act of will by the Creator" is Love Himself willing/loving His creation into continuous being and goodness.

Since Being, Goodness, Truth, Beauty are all convertible transcendentals, then it follows that whatever is true about beings (whether articulated by science, theology, or philosophy) is true as a matter of having been willed by God Himself. Truth is truth. So, there can be no fundamental conflict between science and faith.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Physics & Faith


Dr. Stephen Barr, professor of physics at the University of Delaware, delivers the 2008 St. Albert’s Day Lecture at the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer, New York City. His talk is entitled “Modern Physics and Ancient Faith.” (delivered November 13)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Aquinas on philosophy & theology

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, II.4:

That the Philosopher and the Theologian view Creatures from Different Standpoints

Human philosophy considers creatures as they are in themselves: hence we find different divisions of philosophy according to the different classes of things. But Christian faith considers them, not in themselves, but inasmuch as they represent the majesty of God, and in one way or another are directed to God, as it is said: Of the glory of the Lord his work is full: hath not the Lord made his saints to tell of his wonders? (Ecclus xlii, 16, 17.)

Therefore the philosopher and the faithful Christian (fidelis) consider different points about creatures: the philosopher considers what attaches to them in their proper nature: the faithful Christian considers about creatures only what attaches to them in their relation to God, as that they are created by God, subject to God, and the like. Hence it is not to be put down as an imperfection in the doctrine of faith, if it passes unnoticed many properties of things, as the configuration of the heavens, or the laws of motion.

And again such points as are considered by philosopher and faithful Christian alike, are treated on different principles: for the philosopher takes his stand on the proper and immediate causes of things; but the faithful Christian argues from the First Cause, showing that so the matter is divinely revealed, or that this makes for the glory of God, or that God's power is infinite. Hence this speculation of the faithful Christian ought to be called the highest wisdom, as always regarding the highest cause, according to the text: This is your wisdom and understanding before the nations (Deut. iv, 6). And therefore human philosophy is subordinate to this higher wisdom; and in sign of this subordination divine wisdom sometimes draws conslusions from premises of human philosophy.

Further, the two systems do not observe the same order of procedure. In the system of philosophy, which considers creatures in themselves and from them leads on to the knowledge of God, the first study is of creatures and the last of God; but in the system of faith, which studies creatures only in their relation to God, the study is first of God and afterwards of creatures; and this is a more perfect view, and more like to the knowledge of God, who, knowing Himself, thence discerns other beings. Following this latter order, after what has been said in the first book about God in Himself, it remains for us to treat of the beings that come from God.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Einstein and God

Einstein's biographer on the great man's religious belief

Friday, November 14, 2008


One of the major problems in the work of finding useful complementary interactions among science, philosophy, and theology is the question of divine action in creation: how does God interact with His creation?

Three are three basic schools of thought that address this question:

Classical theism (CT): God is Being per se; He created all contingent beings ex nihilo (from nothing) and holds all creation in existence; He exercises His will according to His nature as Love through instrumental causality (sacraments, people); He allows moral evil as a consequence of His choice to give His human creatures free will; natural evil is a consequence of the fall and the entrance of death into creation; He is Self-limiting, that is, limited only by His own choices and wholly unaffected by His creation. Total transcendence.

Pantheism (P): God is identical with creation, "All is God, God is All"; Spirit is the Soul/Mind of the physical universe, which is God's body; everything is divine because everything is God, there is nothing "outside" God; God acts in the universe in a way analogous to the human mind acting within the human body; as the universe grows and changes, so does God; God is directly affected by free human choices; moral and natural evil are consequences of physical law, God is unable to intervene; He is naturally limited by physical law. Total immanence.

Panentheism (EN): God contains creation but transcends creation, "All in God, but not all of God in All"; creation is ex nihilo but also on-going; creatures assist in on-going creation through free will and choice; God allows His will to be affected by free human choices; He operates in the world through persuasive human agency; moral evil is a consequences of this agency; natural evil is the consequence of physical law. Transcendent and immanent.

Each of these has various versions that fine-tune the basics presented here (deism, process theism, qualified panentheism). There is little agreement among proponents of each position concerning what counts as a conclusive definition of each position. Broadly speaking, each provides a basic way of talking about who and what God is, and given that particular view, how God interacts with the universe.

For orthodox Christians, that is, Christians adhering to the langauge and intent of the ancient creeds, pantheism is not a viable theological option. Pantheism explicitly denies God's transcendence, choosing instead to equate God with the body/soul of the universe. Theism and panentheism are certainly viable options.

Traditionally, the "problem of evil" plagues CT: how can an all-powerful, all-good, all knowing God allow moral and natural evil? Classical theists have given any number of answers to this question, sometimes limiting God's goodness, knowledge, or power in their answers. Others take a more traditional tact, the "free-will defense," and argue that evil of every kind is a natural consequence of man's free will and choice.

Panentheism offers orthodox Christians with a rather broad palatte to paint a theological picture of God who is both transcendent of His creation and immanent in it. EN offers the best of both CT and contemporary science. Also, EN offers science and philosophy a place at the theological table by allowing these disciplines to explore creation at its macro and micro levels. Given the insights of science and philosophy, the panentheistic theologian is then charged with incorporating these insights without sacrificing either divine transcendence or immanence.

The degree to which an EN theologian's work concedes either divine transcendence or immanance will determine that work's degree of usefulness to orthodox Christianity.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Realism vs. anti-realism

A first attempt to understand the difference between realist and anti-realist claims for knowing X.

From the Dictionary of the Philosophy of Mind:

"Briefly, a realist about x holds that x enjoys mind-independent existence, that is, x exists regardless of whether anyone thinks, hopes or fears that x exists.

It may sound odd to demand of minds and other things mental that they have mind independent existence, but the claim, for instance, that my mind is mind independent just means that I have a mind regardless of whether anyone thinks, hopes, or fears that I do.

As well, a realist insists on there being explanations of the empirical world (including minds) in terms of the real world. Thus, a complete theory of the mind should explain the existence and functioning of minds in terms of the reality lying behind their empirically testable properties."


[Anti-realism] "insists that we can only understand a statement if we understand under what circumstances someone who asserted it would say something true, and that we can only understand this if we could manifest our understanding, at least in principle, by asserting it in the relevant circumstances.

It follows that we could not understand any alleged truths that transcend all possibility, even in principle, of being verified. The view gains plausibility when we ask what sense it makes to talk of understanding something when we could never in any circumstances manifest a knowledge of it.

But realists (of the relevant kind) insist on the contrary that truth must be prior to, and independent of, our means of ascertaining it."

Glossing over the substantial differences within each camp, we can say that the primary difference between realists and anti-realists abides in the answer that each gives to the question: what do we know when we claim to know?

Realists answer: "We know something true about a reality that exists prior to our knowing it."

Anti-realists answer: "We know only our true descriptions of what we believe to be real."

In other words, the difference is the difference between so-called "mind independent reality" and "mind dependent reality." To be clear, anti-realists generally do not argue that what we call reality is non-existent in common sense terms; that is, they do not claim that the real world is a product of individual perception and consciousness. Rather, the anti-realist is making a claim about the ontological status of exactly what it is we know. We know our true descriptions of reality. The realist will counter that we must know something more than our descriptions because those descriptions must be describing something other than themselves.

For realists, descriptions are true if they are empirically verifiable; that is, if our descriptions accurately match a prior reality then we can say that we have truthfully described reality. For anti-realists, descriptions can only be shown to be true within the limits of our descriptive language; in other words, there is no appeal to a reality prior to our description of that reality. What we "know" about reality is our description of it.

As I understand it, critical realism takes the best of both views and claims that we know both descriptions and what these descriptions describe. However, our descriptions are limited by our physical perceptual capabilities (and extensions of them), our language, and our means of verification; so, when we claim to know X, we are really saying, "To the extent that our perceptual capabilities, our language, and our means of verification allow, we describe X in this way and we do so accurately though not absolutely." So, my description of an apple will be accurate in comparison to an apple, but I cannot describe everything about any particular apple, only what is knowable given my limits. As my limits are expanded (though instruments, experimentation, more precise language), I am more and more capable of accurately describing the apple as it is, but my limits are infinite in that there will always be some question unanswerable by perception or experimentation; e.g. which apple produced the seed that produced the tree that produced this apple, ad inf?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

On Dominican Study: LCO 76-83

I offer these portions of the Dominican Book of Constitutions and Ordinations (LCO) on the ministry of study as a way to come to some understanding of how a faithful Christian might approach the study of the complementary interactions of philosophy, science, and theology. The following paragraphs show that it is possible for a faithful Christian, without subordinating one field to another, to be both scientifically astute and philosophically coherent. This uniquely Dominican element presents study (along with prayer, ministry, and community) as a means to the end of preaching and teaching the gospel. In other words, for OP's, study, our intellectual life today as a ministry, can never be separated from the fundamental charge and goal of our founder to preach Christ Jesus and him alone.

Chapter III


Art. I. -- On the Importance of Study and its Sources

76. St. Dominic included study, ordained to the ministry of salvation, as an essential part of his plan for the Order: in this was no small innovation. He, who himself always carried with him the Gospel of St. Matthew and the Epistles of Saint Paul, directed the brethren to schools, and sent them to the major cities "so that they might study, preach, and establish a convent." [Thus OP's do not understand study to be an end in itself but as a means to understand creation and its Creator more fully in order to better preach the gospel.]

77. I. Hence "before all else, our study should aim principally and ardently at this that we might be able to be useful to the souls of our neighbors." [So, no Ivory Tower-ism for OP's!]

II. By study the brethren consider in their heart the manifold wisdom of God and prepare themselves for the doctrinal service of the Church and of all mankind. It is all the more fitting that they should devote themselves to study, because from the tradition of the Order they are more specially called to cultivate mankind's inclination toward truth. [Since God's grace builds on our nature as rational animals we are inclined as a matter of both nature and grace to seek out, find, and make use of God's "manifold wisdom.]

III. Study of this kind must be pursued according to the different requirements of each subject; it requires strict discipline and the application of all one's abilities.

78. The light and source of our study is God, who spoke in former times and in different ways, and last of all speaks in Christ, through whom the mystery of the Father's will, after the sending of the Spirit, is fully revealed in the Church and enlightens the minds of all people. [If God is the "light and source of our study," then it follows that everything we study will be illuminated by God's light and found originating from God; therefore, biology, physics, math, music, literature, etc. are all limited manifestations of God's Self-revelation to His creation.]

79. The brethren should contemplate and study divine revelation of which Sacred Scripture and
Tradition constitute a single sacred deposit, and from the perennial instructional value of its overall plan, they should learn to discover the many paths of gospel truth, even in created things, in human works and institutions, as well as in different religions. [All truth is God's truth, so any truth we discover--regardless of the source--must be a revelation of God and capable of leading us to a fuller understanding of God and our relationship with Him. This does not mean that all sciences, all religions, all philosophies are true as a whole. It means that what is true in each is true insofar as the truth is found first and perfectly in Truth Himself.]

80. In all things the brethren should think with the Church and exhibit allegiance to the varied exercise of the Magisterium to which is entrusted the authentic interpretation of the word of God. Furthermore, faithful to the Order's mission, they should always be prepared to provide with special dedication cooperative service to the Magisterium in fulfilling their doctrinal obligations. [OP's are especially charged with assisting the magisterial office of the Church in researching, defining, defending, and promulgating the truth found in scripture and the tradition of the Church, making use of any and all sciences and philosophies that bring us more fully to God's final truth revealed in Christ Jesus. Though this path is wide, it is well-traveled and clearly defined, thus OP's are obligated as a matter of faith and obedience to adhere to the teachings of the Church, all the while finding better and better means of understanding and preaching and teaching these truths.]

81. The brethren should study attentively the writings of the Fathers of the Church and distinguished witnesses of Christian thought who, with the help of different cultures and the wisdom of the philosophers, labored to understand the word of God more fully. Following their thinking, the brethren should respectfully listen to the living tradition of the Church, seek dialogue with the learned, and open their mind to contemporary discoveries and problems. [Since the path to God's truth is both well-traveled and clearly defined, OP's are obligated to consider how our ancestors in the faith understood God's revelation in different ages and cultures. While obedient to these traditions (respectfully listening), OP's assist in the on-going task of creating a contemporary tradition that accounts for novel discoveries without inventing "new truths" in the wilds far from the well-traveled and clearly defined way.]

82. The best teacher and model in fulfilling this duty is St. Thomas, whose teaching the Church
commends in a unique way and the Order receives as a patrimony which exercises an enriching influence on the intellectual life of the brethren and confers on the Order a special character. [Thomas provides OP's with a nearly comprehensive synthesis of ancient and medieval wisdom that accounts for both the best of sacred tradition and reasoned discourse. Though Thomas is the master of Dominican synthesis, providing for us a formidable starting point, his work is subject to impovement and revision in light of the on-going work of creating a contemporary tradition.]

Consequently, the brethren should develop a genuine familiarity with his writings and thought, and, according to the needs of the time and with legitimate freedom, they should renew and enrich his teaching with the continually fresh riches of sacred and human wisdom.

83. Continuous study nourishes contemplation, encourages fulfillment of the counsels with shining fidelity, constitutes a form of asceticism by its own perseverance and difficulty, and, as an essential element of our whole life, it is an excellent religious observance. [Understanding study as a form of asceticism--"virtue in daily practice"--OP's pray when they study; that is, contemplative study in the service of preaching and teaching the gospel with the Church is prayer.]

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Dominican Intellectual Life

Misericordia Veritatis
: The Call to the Intellectual life of the Order Today

2001 General Chapter at Providence College
Document on the Intellectual Life of the Order

(106) It is into a studious and concerned wisdom of this sort that Thomas Aquinas inscribes the Dominican vocation – contemplari et contemplata aliis tradere. Wisdom of this kind tells us not only of what is eternal, but also of the “...regulae contingentium, quae humanis actibus subsunt." “It belongs to the gift of wisdom not only to meditate on God but also to direct human actions. Such direction is concerned first and foremost with the elimination of evils, which contradict wisdom. That is why fear is called the beginning of wisdom, because fear moves us to move away from evils. Ultimately, it has to do with the aim of how everything might be led back to the order justly due it: something which belongs to the idea of peace." Sapiential study thus unfolds itself necessarily as intellectual compassion: a form of compassion which presupposes insight (intellectus) gained or developed by study; and a form of insight which leads to compassion. “For even as it is better to enlighten than merely to shine, so is it better to give to others the fruits of one's contemplation than merely to contemplate." Thus, even though God's mercy and compassion are made available to the world in a multitude of ways, through the Dominican charism it is available through study and the consolation of truth.

(107) Our constitutions point out the contemplative dimension of study by calling it a meditation on the multiform wisdom of God. To dedicate oneself to study is to answer a call to “cultivate the human pursuit of truth." One could say that our Order is born of this love for truth and of this conviction that men and women are capable of knowing the truth. From the start, the brethren were inspired by the innovative audacity of St Dominic who encouraged them to be useful to souls through intellectual compassion, by sharing with them the misericordia veritatis, the mercy of truth. Jordan of Saxony states that Dominic had the ability to pierce through to the hidden core of the many difficult questions of their day “thanks to a humble intelligence of the heart."

(115) Our confidence to take part in the quaestiones disputatae of our day must derive from our confidence that we are the heirs to an intellectual tradition which is not to be preserved in some intellectual deep-freeze. It is alive and has an important contribution to make today. It rests upon fundamental philosophical and theological intuitions: an understanding of morality in terms of the virtues and growth in the virtues; the goodness of all creation; a confidence in reason and the role of debate; happiness in the vision of God as our destiny; and a humility in the face of the mystery of God which draws us beyond ideology.

I have edited the citations to make the passages easier to read. The entire document can be found here.

(NB. Click "Providence General Chapter 2001 (Multilingual)." It's a pdf file. Then on the left, click "De Vita Intellectuali;" it starts on page 54.

definition: critical realism

from the Encyclopedia of Religion and Science:

The term critical realism was introduced into the dialogue between science and theology in 1966 by Ian Barbour. Barbour used the term to cover both scientific realism and a theological realism that takes seriously the cognitive claims of religion, that is, religion's claims to convey knowledge of a mind-independent divine reality. Subsequently Barbour pointed to the cognitive role of metaphors, models, and paradigms in scientific as well as religious language. His ideas were later assimilated and elaborated by Arthur Peacocke, John Polkinghorne, J. Wentzel van Huyssteen, and others. Actually, critical realism has been the dominant epistemology in the dialogue between science and theology for several decades. However, since the 1990s the transfer of critical realism from science to theology has increasingly been disputed, mainly on the ground that it does not, or does not sufficiently, do justice to the specific nature of theology.


On closer inspection, critical realism as a view of scientific and theological knowledge comprises three theses:

  1. Metaphysical realism, which holds that there exists a mind-independent reality. In scientific realism this reality is the material world; in theological realism this reality is the material world and also, primarily, God.
  2. Semantic realism, which holds that science and theology contain propositions, that is statements capable of being true or false in the sense of correspondence to the reality to which they refer. In scientific realism the focus is on propositions about unobservable entities; in theological realism the focus is on propositions about God.
  3. Epistemic realism, which holds that it is possible to put forward propositions that are approximately true, that some propositions actually are approximately true, and that belief in their approximate truth can be justified. In scientific realism this applies primarily to theories and theoretical propositions about unobservable entities; in theology it applies to propositions and theories about God.

Seminar: John Polkinghorne

Class notes for my presentation today in Science, Philosophy, Theology seminar:

The Rev’d John Polkinghorne: Truth in Science and Christian Theology
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
November 6, 2008

I. Biography

Rev Dr. John Polkinghorne KBE FRS, Cambridge University, England, is a Fellow of the Royal Society, a Fellow (and former President) of Queens' College,Cambridge. He was born 16th Oct 1930 in Weston-super-Mare, England, and was married to Ruth until she died in 2006. They have three children (Peter, Isobel and Michael). His distinguished career as a Physicist began at Trinity College Cambridge where he studied under Dirac and Abdus Salaam and others. He received his MA in 1956, was elected a Fellow of Trinity in 1954, and gained his PhD in 1955.

In 1979 he resigned his Professorship to train for the Anglican Priesthood, studying at Westcott House.

He was awarded the Templeton Prize for Science and Religion in 2002 and also in that year became the Founding President of the International Society for Science and Religion.

Dr.Polkinghorne believes that the universe is an "open" and "flexible" system, where patterns can be seen to exist, but where "the providential aspect cannot be ruled out." But, in fact, his own faith has little to do with physics. It stems, instead, from a more personal "encounter with Christ." When asked if his exacting scientific background makes him scornful of the vagaries of theology, he responds: "Far from it. Theology is much more difficult. Physics, at least at the undergraduate level, is a subject on which the dust has settled. In theology the dust never settles."

II. Initial Observation

“Recent years have seen a resurgence among scientists of the thought that those who seek the deepest attainable understanding of the world will have reckon with the possibility that it will be found in theism. The beautiful structure of the laws of physics—simple, yet subtle—together with the delicate balance of their operation, by which the world’s process is made fruitful, have seemed to many to speak of an Intelligence behind the unfolding evolution of the universe” (Science and Providence, pg. 7).

III. The Question(s)

“Do we have to choose between [scientific and religious worldviews] or are they, instead, complementary understandings that, seen together, give us a fuller picture than either on their own would provide?” (Quarks, Chaos & Christianity, pg. 9)

a. “complementary understandings”:

How can radically different (even opposing) worldviews complement one another?

How does each worldview define “understanding,” in other words, what does a scientist/theologian mean when he/she says, “I understand X”?

How does each come “to know the truth about X”?

b. “fuller picture”:

In what sense can we say that each worldview provides a complete picture without the other? A less than complete picture?

Does the search for creating a “fuller picture” imply that there limits on the breadth and depth of our understanding regardless of which worldview we take? In other words, is this “picture” framed? If so, by what and how?

III. Truth per se

a. "Veritas logica est adaequatio intellectus et rei" (Truth consists in the equation of mind and thing)[…]”(ST.I.21.2)

b. Critical realism: CR "is a philosophical view of knowledge. On the one hand it holds that it is possible to acquire knowledge about the external world as it really is, independently of the human mind or subjectivity. That is why it is called realism. On the other hand it rejects the view of naïve realism that the external world is as it is perceived. Recognizing that perception is a function of, and thus fundamentally marked by, the human mind, it holds that one can only acquire knowledge of the external world by critical reflection on perception and its world. That is why it is called critical" (Encyclopedia of Science and Religion).

c. St. Thomas Aquinas, “Is God Truth? [. . .] I answer that, As said above (art. 1), truth is found in the intellect according as it apprehends a thing as it is; and in things according as they have being conformable to an intellect. This is to the greatest degree found in God. For His being is not only conformed to His intellect, but it is the very act of His intellect; and His act of understanding is the measure and cause of every other being and of every other intellect, and He Himself is His own existence and act of understanding. Whence it follows not only that truth is in Him, but that He is truth itself, and the sovereign and first truth” (ST I.16.5).

d. “Comprehension is neither an arbitrary act nor a passive experience, but a responsible act claiming universal validity. Such knowing is indeed objective in the sense of establishing contact with a hidden reality. . .” (Michael Polyani, Personal Knowledge, pg. vii-viii).

IV. Truth from science

“Science […] enlightens our minds and enlarges our imaginations […] Science tells us what makes the stars shine, why water is water, how genetic information is conveyed from one generation to the next […] Not only does science answer questions, it does so to universal satisfaction”(QCC, 12).

“One of the most significant [difference between science and faith] is that science deals with the physical world that is at our disposal to kick around or pull apart as we please. In short, science can put things to the experimental test. God, however, is not at our disposal in this way […] In the realm of personal experience, whether between [sic] or with God, we all know that testing has to give way to trusting”(QCC, 22).

“The trouble with the simple view of scientific method is that it does not take into account the sophisticated web of interpretation and judgement involved in any experimental result of interest […] Experiments are always theory-laden. The dialogue between observation and comprehension is more subtle and mutually interactive than is represented by the simple confrontation of prediction and result […] Our scientific seeing is always ‘seeing as’”(One World, pg. 9).

“As in a political revolution, so in a paradigm choice—there is no standard higher than the consent of the relevant community. To discover how scientific revolutions are effected, we shall therefore have to examine not only the impact of nature and of logic, but also the techniques of persuasive argumentation effective within the quite special groups that constitute the community of scientists”(quoted in OW, pg. 13 from Kuhn, T. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions).

V. Truth from theology

“If there is a God he is a hidden God. He does not make himself known unambiguously in acts of transparent significance, invariably preserving those who trust him from every misfortune and regularly restraining and punishing the acts of transgressors. Neither prayer nor blasphemy is a magical lever which can be used to act upon God to make demonstrate his existence. He is not to be put to the test, either by the demand for particular outcome or by challenge to his authority”(OW, pg. 26).

“The view of theological enterprise which I would wish to defend is summed up in a splendid phrase of St. Anselm: fides quaerens intellectum, faith seeking understanding. Thus conceived, theology is reflection upon religious experience, the attempt to bring our rational and ordering faculties to bear upon a particular part of our interaction with the way things are”(OW, pg 28).

St Thomas Aquinas, “Whether, besides philosophy, any further doctrine is required […] I answer that, It was necessary for man's salvation that there should be a knowledge revealed by God besides philosophical science built up by human reason. Firstly, indeed, because man is directed to God, as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason […] But the end must first be known by men who are to direct their thoughts and actions to the end. Hence it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation. Even as regards those truths about God which human reason could have discovered, it was necessary that man should be taught by a divine revelation; because the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors. Whereas man's whole salvation, which is in God, depends upon the knowledge of this truth. Therefore, in order that the salvation of men might be brought about more fitly and more surely, it was necessary that they should be taught divine truths by divine revelation. It was therefore necessary that besides philosophical science built up by reason, there should be a sacred science learned through revelation” (ST. I. 1.1).

VI. Complementary?

“Religion is our encounter with divine reality, just as science is our encounter with physical reality”(QCC, pg 118).

“Theology shares the lack of power to manipulate and interrogate its material with all other forms of intrinsically personal knowledge. This contrasts with the power of testing inquiry possessed by the impersonal mode of scientific investigation […] Scientific knowledge is concerned with generalities—what all can find if they choose to look. In consequence, it has a repeatable, and so shareable, character to it. Personal encounter is always idiosyncratic, because each individual is unique. We may find analogies in the experience of others but never identity”(Science and Creation, pg. 104).

“The true God, the Creator [i.e., not the “god of the gaps”], is related to the whole of creation, not just the bits that are hard to understand. Theology’s job is not to rival science on its own ground (the How questions) but to complement science by offering its own more profound kind of understanding (the answers to the Why questions)”(Traffic in Truth, pg. 30).

CCC.159 "Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth”( Dei Filius 4: DS 3017). "Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are”( GS 36.1).

VII. Questions for discussion

1. Does Polkinghorne’s complementary model of the interaction between science and theology suggest a single source of truth? Or, are we directed to look for a “double source”?

2. Can we grab onto some notion of unifying theory as a way of linking science and theology; that is, could we argue, for example, that the so-called transcendentals (true, good, beautiful) best describe the results of both scientific experiment and religious experience?

3. How does Polkinghorne’s use of critical realism square with Aquinas’ notion of truth as a “received given”?

4. How can we faithfully account for the content of divine revelation given the distinctions Polkinghorne makes between the How questions of science and the Why questions of theology?

5. Given that distinction, how do we account for the event of revelation itself; that is, how do we come to some complementary understanding of the Christ-event if theological inquiry is limited to asking Why questions?

6. The CCC (159) declares that “faith is above reason.” How are we to understand this assertion in light of Polkinghorne’s arguments for a complementary investigation of the whole of reality using the best lights of science (reason) and theology (faith)?