Re-embedding Science in the Human

logo-zwart-poThis title was the one given to me by my hosts in Maastricht this week for the Brightlands Campus spring Science Lecture.  The experience was  rich and fascinating one.

I have been fascinated for many years by the effectiveness of deep collaborations between industrial and university scientists, and have tried several experiments along those lines myself.  For ten years I and a team of physicists, chemists, engineers, mathematicians and computer scientists from six UK universities worked with our industrial counterparts in six global companies in a giant project to elucidate and innovate with the molecular rules that govern the connection between molecular structure of polymers and the flow of their melts.  A number of us currently run an industry-university PhD training centre in ‘Soft Matter and Functional Interfaces’ between the universities of Durham, Leeds and Edinburgh, and 24 companies in polymers, coatings, food and personal care.Print

The point here is emphatically not the usual ‘application of research’, or ‘public benefit of science’ stories.  Told and retold by government departments to justify science spending, these Sheherezade-like tales that are needed every day to keep science funding from being cut-off I have criticized as part of the cultural lack of understanding around science today, in Faith and Wisdom in Science.  No, the truth is that more intellectual traffic flows from industrial screen-shot-2016-01-22-at-8-22-45-amscience into academic in a healthy collaboration – for the industrial research digs deeper than a disconnected academic lab would do, driven by business need into the rich loam of the world’s material complexity. And here new phenomena are discovered. This has been my experience for 30 years of doing science.  The most satisfying fundamental pieces of science that I have bee involved with have all arisen from long-term industrial collaborations.

But the Maastricht folk have taken this to a new level and invested in a shared site – labs, computers, pilot-plants, … academic and industrial groups from several businesses sharing the same campus.  I was impressed!  Even more so that 3 or 4 times a year everyone is encouraged to come to hear an afternoon of two lectures.  One is from an early-career scientist from university or industry, the other from a more experienced scientists.  Topics are of general interest but usually scientific, so I was surprised and delighted when Brightlands asked me to talk on what is really a secular version of my thesis in Faith and Wisdom.

lettherebescienceThe point is that if science is to become recognised as a public and human good in a way that goes beyond the instrumental or the monster, to take two of the poles that Dave Hutchings and I describe in the new Let There Be Science, then the science-religion question needs to be defined anyway.  For it is the theological tradition that leads to a rediscovery of the human purpose for science, and its human value in reconciling our precarious condition in the world.

Question time was fascinating – and one young scientist asked if I were able to stay for the Dutch March for Science – an international event, or series of events, taking place yesterday to appeal for the central importance of science in the face of its political marginalisation, especially in the USA. March for_sciencedcIt’s a good point – science will become truly valued when the science community create other ways in to enjoy and contemplate science, as well as urging its vital role in establishing truth, and good policy.

 

I also sold out of an entire suitcase supply of both books!

Rather looking forward to going back there again next year, which I think is the plan.

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Earth Scientists, Bishops and Fracking … a heady mix at Durham

frackingDavid Wilkinson has a succinct way to say it: ‘Learn to see Science not as a secular threat, but as God’s Gift’. From that notion follows everything we are excited about. David is Principal of St. John’s College, Durham University, where I have just emerged, dazed, from a discussion of fracking that brought together theology, oil and gas engineering, earth science theory, local community politics, national policy frameworks, global environmental science and more in a group of bishops and scientists. How on earth did we get to this?

David and I have been working together since I joined the university in 2008 to find ways of helping the church, and the world beyond, to see and work with science in new ways. For some time we have been thinking through this germ of an idea – science as God’s gift – talking with others about it, writing books, working with congregations, graduate students, leaders of churches – more or less anyone who will listen and argue about it.

It’s a central thesis and consequence of Faith and Wisdom in Science, that the church theologically can, and politically must engage deeply with science, technology and their social setting.

It dawned upon us that there is a critical group of influential people that much of the ‘science and religion’ discussion either bypasses or forces onto the back foot: senior church leaders at the level of bishop or their equivalent in other denominations. How could we help these crucial opinion-formers, leaders and enablers to navigate what for many of them is unfamiliar territory (only a small minority have a science background) and yet one that is cited over and again as an area in which the church looks ill-equipped and on the defensive? After all, if ‘natural philosophy’ – ‘love of wisdom to do with natural things’, the more theologically-resonant name for ‘science’ – is really God’s gift, then our whole perspective on it changes. For a start, science would now need theological thinking alongside and in support of it, rather than in opposition or defence. It then follows that the repetitive conflict narrative that all too often glues itself to the ‘science and religion’ debate needs complete reframing. Science becomes a human mandate in continuity with the Biblical story of creation and re-creation, and the church a needed voice in the constructive guiding of the new technologies that offer both promise and risk. Scientists in congregations might even be able to feel wanted and valued, rather than hymn-singers on their day off, and scientists with no church connection at all ought to find natural conversation partners in bishops! That last conclusion is a radical prediction of our hypothesis that simply had to be tested.

But how to set about it? The John Templeton Foundation and Templeton World Charitable (TWC) trust came (afterjohns-32 considerable negotiation, discussion, and a pilot project – all long stories for another time) to our aid. TWC has just funded a four-year programme, supported by both Anglican archbishops and the Archbishops’ Council’s Mission and Public Affairs Division, and based at St. John’s College,Christian Leaders in an Age of Science’. It simultaneously supports five strands of work that explores the radical vision:

(i) a full-time researcher (Dr. Lydia Reid) working with Christian leaders nationally,

(ii) the development of material in the theology and ministry of science for ordinands (it’s handy that Durham now runs the Church of England’s Common Awards through St. John’s College),

(iii) a project manager (Revd. Dr. Kathryn Prichard) stationed in Church House, Westminster, who also co-ordinates a growing network of theological and scientific advice on science to the church’s Ministry and Public Affairs division.

(iv) a ‘Scientists in Congregations’ project sponsoring awards to churches of up to £10k that explore locally the consequences of a theology of science as gift-to-a-purpose.

And fifthly? A programme of 3-day workshops where the bishops and scientists work together – visiting labs, meeting young researchers, hearing about new research, exploring history and theology, thinking though new messages in the media … THAT’s where the fracking discussion happened. Just the first of six – this one on Earth Sciences but later we will be tackling complexity, the brain and mind, cosmology, the evolution of humans … most seem to be sold out already. I can’t wait.

(a modified version of this article was posted on the Church of England’s Website)

Faith and Wisdom in Science goes Down Under

I am at present enjoying a warm, stimulating and rich visit to several universities and colleges in Australia and New Zealand at the invitation of ISCAST (Christians in Science and Technology) and the University of Otago.  At each stop there is a chance to discuss the Faith and Wisdom in Science approach to a theology of science, and also present research on biological physics and on the Durham and collaborators project on medieval science, at relevant departments and centres. ISCAST have a page listing all the events in Australia here, so I wont list them again.  But  in Otago I will be talking about Interdisciplinary research as well as a Public lecture on the Faith and Wisdom in Science theme in their Centre for Theology and Public Issues.

KangasI had a remarkable first 3 hours in Australia.  The flight landing at 6am gave me a few hours for a breather with my affable host the ISCAST President Alan Gijsbers.  We took off to the glorious Westerfold Park in greater Melbourne – ‘would you like to go find some kangaroos?’.  And here they are looking alert and somewhat suspicious of my close and stealthy approach (stealthy for a clumsy pom that is) just before they took off.  The mother with pouched joey bounding as ably as the large males in the group earns every admiration.

Then we walked on to a bridge over the river Yarra, within the park.  Conversation continued as we gazed down towards the muddy waters.  Then there was an intriguing and oddly-shaped dark swimming animal right below us on the surface. ‘Oh look Alan – there’s a platypus’ I commented, not expecting much interest.  After all this WAS Australia and we HAD just seen a mob of kangaroos on land, so on water ….  Alan exploded with astonishment.  He has lived Platypushere for a number of years that it would be impolite to specify and this (photographed by him as it dived) was the first ever sighting by him of one in the wild.

Such good fortune has stayed with me so far during the trip in continued sightings of and conversations with rich and rare Australian human wildlife.  The questions and discussions at presentations of the wisdom approach to a Theology of Science have been as insightful as they are stimulating, from the Alan Day Memorial lecture in Melbourne, to a Tabor College Public Lecture in Adelaide, or an Emmanuel College lecture within the Centre for the Study of Science Religion and Society.

The discussion has been deepened by questions that will challenge a lot of further thinking:

  • What does a wisdom theology of science say to inform a responsible policy of forestry management? (think about it – this is a GREAT question to bring the strands together into a practical focus, and posed by Richard Gijsbers, former forester himself).
  • Does the ‘faith and wisdom’ critique of natural theology open up a new way to understand Karl Barth’s approach to the relation between theology and creation?  (I had previously absorbed a rather naïve view that Barth is not strongly relevant to a science faith dialogue, but this was hasty)
  • With Richard Gijsbers in the forest talking environmental theology in situ!

    With Richard Gijsbers in the forest talking environmental theology in situ!

  • Does the relational and invitational interpretation of the Lord’s Answer to Job add any insight to the way it might have been read in Hebrew context?  (Now this is a vital question, but a hard one as we don’t really know what the historical context was, though the exile is a good start…)
  • What is the role and meaning of ‘fear’ in the reconciliatory work between humans and nature?

This and more should keep this channel hot for a while.  And we still have Sydney and all of the New Zealand leg to go. More anon I should think.

What do Creation Stories do in the Bible?

Earthrise captured by the Apollo 8 mission in December 1968.
Earthrise captured by the Apollo 8 mission in December 1968.

One of the central themes of Faith and Wisdom in Science is the rich seam of creation-story material in every genre of Biblical literature, yet the strange paradox that, apart from some notable exceptions, this is largely ignored in the mainstream science/religion discussion.  As a further damaging consequence, when that debate ever resumes its close Mercurial orbit around the well-trodden turf of Genesis 1 and 2, interpretation of those texts become distorted without the foundation of creation story material in Psalms, Prophets and supremely the Wisdom books.  Since I claim that all this material is fundamental to answering a theological question about what science is for, as an essential prelude to how we govern and use science in our time, a close study of the whole Biblical picture of our relationship with nature assumes supreme importance in the church today.

A previous post, The 20+ Creation Stories in the Bible, did not much more than list some of the material that needs to be brought together in an healthy Bible-study program on creation.  That post pointed out that Genesis has by no means the monopoly on creation stories.  There are fundamental alternative images and language used in, for example, Proverbs 8 and Job.  Ah! The wonderful Book of Job! I drew attention to the reception of the creation story tradition in the New Testament genres of Gospel and Epistle too.  But there is more, of course, to say here.  We need to think about the role creation-stories play in the Biblical narrative, where they occur, in what moods and what the achieve.

Take Psalm 33. It follows hard on the heels of the penitential Psalm 32 (When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all the day long – 32v3).  The last verse of Ps32 and the first of Ps33 have turned this backward looking reflection on transgression and decay into an exhortation to praise, but it remains at this point a command.  There is no source of transformational energy to effect it. The narrative is moving towards the closing verse of Psalm 33: We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.  But in order to reach that closure, the psalmist needs to chose a path that goes by way of a creation story:

By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.

He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses

its important to note that all the fundamental components of a Biblical creation story are here: the formation of boundaries, the ordering of chaos, the action of Word.  All this is embellished and formalised in the Genesis narratives, but the essentials are bridgeall in these shorter accounts in Song and Wisdom. The point here, however, is that the story of Creation, rather than just standing at the beginning of time as a monument to the first moment, becomes a bridge from despair to hope.  This active transport of the contemplation of the creative act through the process of healing and redemption, the bridging from fall to new creation, is ubiquitous when you have once recognised it.  The delightful, playful Wisdom-generated creation story in Proverbs 8 serves the same purpose.  Like Psalm 33, it answers a ‘call’ (this time not a call to praise but a call to wisdom) but lacking in the source of power to realise it, by unleashing the energies of God’s creation itself to create hope, and a direction towards the enacted Wisdom of the rest of the book of Proverbs.

The great creation story in the Lord’s Answer to Job (Ch 38) BlakeonJob

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me if you understand.

Who marked off its dimension? Surely you know!

Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set,

or who laid its cornerstone while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

serves the bridging need once more.  It resolves the tangled and angry impasse of the cycles of dialogues between Job and his comforters (who are of course rather accusers), expands the creation motif into a panoramic tour of the entire created order, but eventually takes Job to a place where both his body and his mind can be healed.

The New Testament visits Creation and our painful present relation to it in just the same way.  Romans chapter 8 cannot reach its goal of nothing separating God’s servants from their maker except by way of All Creation groaning until the sons and daughters of God are revealed.

The Johannine ‘signs’ may, at least partially, be understood in this light. After the feeding of the 5000 in John chapter 6, redolent with the symbols of the Exodus, the people want to make Jesus king, but by force. Nature itself illustrates this out-of-joint-ness with a terrifying storm that threatens to overcome the disciples in the Galilean fishing boat.  But, bringing three mighty Biblical strands together in one action: (1) a recollection of the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 14); (3) a recreation and re-bounding of water in a new physicality (Psalm 93); (3) a fulfilment of the cosmology of Job (Job 9v8), Jesus walks to them across the waves. And the boat immediately reaches its destination (Jn 6v21).

Our relationship with created nature today features science at its heart.  But the role of this relationship, and its Great Story, has not changed.  Mending our ways with creation is still the bridge between the ignorance, fear and waste of our past, and to a future of knowledge and wisdom.  This is what makes a theology of science to urgent to work through and work out.

The Faith and Wisdom in Science Story in Three Steps

Lincoln CathedralIt’s proving a very interesting summer thanks to two invitations to give lectures

Faith and Wisdom in Science (OUP 2014)

Faith and Wisdom in Science (OUP 2014)

and discussions on the material in Faith and Wisdom in Science over three consecutive sessions, rather than squeezing it all into one evening.  The first, in June, was from the West Yorkshire School of Christian Studies (WYSOCS) to deliver the input for their annual study weekend.  The second is from York Minster, to give their annual series of three summer lectures.  The first happened last month, the York Minster series has one more to go (so you can still come!).

I’ve found the opportunity to let the story of the thinking behind the book ‘breathe’ rather more spaciously very stimulating, and satisfying.  The narrative is less rushed, preparatory material can be enriched, and – best of all – we can devote almost the entire second lecture to a good wallow in the Book of Job and its wonderful nature poems, painful questions and search for Wisdom.

The WYSOCS audio files can be found here, for those with the patience to hear them, and I will be posting the slides on the Minster web site in due course. The three-section structure for FaWiS goes something like this:

  1. A historical summary of relation between science and religion
  2. The search for Wisdom: Creation stories in Psalms and Proverbs, and the Book of Job
  3. Through the New Testament and towards a Theology of Science

The first hour and discussion can set the scene – how did we get into this mess?  We look at Tertullian’s infamous ‘What has Athens got to do with Jerusalem?’ outburst in Against Heretics but in the context of a thinking perfectly able and willing to recruit Stoic logic to his Christian purposes.  Another contrast is the wonderful Gregory of Nyssa whose On the Soul and the Resurrection contains a beautiful forth century therapeutic application of scientific thinking at his sister Macrina’s deathbed.  A little more ‘myth-busting” taking in the scientific advances of the medieval Islamic and Christian worlds, for example, take us to the early modern acceleration of science – and its explicit (Baconian) Christian teleology.  So we find the ‘conflict’ narrative to be a social construction of the 19th and 20th centuries that creates havoc with the social context of science, and in the church.

What we need, then, is a dose of Wisdom – and we turn to the strand of creation stories in the Bible for a taste of writing about human relationship with the nature in the ancient world.  The 20 creation stories in the Bible get a brief overview, as well as bridgetheir purpose.  They are used ubiquitously as bridge texts between present trouble and future hope.  Psalm 33 is a prime example.  We also review them from a structural perspective – their common features of ordering, of setting boundaries between land and sea, heavens and the earth, laying foundations, and finally  the role of Word in the creative act.  The short creation story from Ps33 runs:

6 By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. 7 He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses. 8 Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere him. 9 For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.

This takes us into Job, with the structure of circling dialogues, each invoking nature imagery to illustrate Job’s great double accusation – that God is as out of control of the moral law as he is of the natural law.  Injustice flows like the wadis – dry one day and in uncontrolled and destructive spate the next. The Hymn to Wisdom of Job 28 points us towards the wisdom of perceptive searching and seeing into the natural world by weight and measure (this is the Wisdom of God) and towards YHWH’s answer in chapters 38-40.  This is not the ‘petulant put-down’ of some critical readings, but a teacher’s questions of a pupil or debating adversary – and they lead Job into the position of how one creates a world of fruitfulness, life, and humanity, “Were you there when I laid the foundations of the Earth …”.

So by the start of the third session we are building up a picture of a theology of science that is old, deeply embedded into the human, takes a responsible stance as God’s co-workers, is reconciliatory of our relationship with nature.  We are called to replace a relationship characterised by ignorance, fear and harm with one filled out with knowledge, wisdom and mutual flourishing.  That is what God’s gift of science is all about – not a threat to faith, but a gift of talents to exercise it in obedience and humility.  We can spend some time on consequences for public shared science, education, the media, the political debate of science based issues such as climate change, fracking, genetic medicine, that as things are get stuck in immobile oppositional negative narratives of despair.

The longer breath of presentation seems to elicit a deeper vein of question as well.  At WYSOCS I was pressed, for example, on the ‘no prior boundaries’ conclusion – that the Biblical material asks us to take responsibility for what we do and do not do with our knowledge of the world.  So it is not a priori evident that we should not, for example, deliberately manipulate the human genome.  But nor is it obvious that we should just because we can.  In every case we need to take wise, theologically informed, participative, reconciliatory discussion into the public square.  Was there an occasion when there was an experimental piece of research I wanted to do, but which I felt was a theological no-go area?  As a theoretician myself, I am blessed with not finding myself in this position!  However, I am aware of, and was involved in, a discussion with an academic ethical advisor to the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in the UK about a project aimed at scoping a geo-engineering technology.  It was stopped, and I agreed, because there had been very inadequate public consultation and involvement of the ethical issues, unintended consequences and plan for further public debate, as well as a possible conflict of interest.  It had been framed in an ‘engineers and scientists know best’ narrative.  This is a good example of the application of theological thinking, but in a secular context, to the benefit of our relationship with nature.

More questions and initial directions of answers from WYSOCS and the Minster lectures over the summer!

Laudato Si – Reflections from Faith and Wisdom in Science

rainbowLast week Pope Francis published his widely anticipated encyclical Laudato Si.   It is a considered yet impassioned plea for new attitude and action towards our planet and environment – ‘Care for our Common Home’.  It is adressed not just to Catholics or the wider Christian communion, but to everyone. Immediate comment was almost universally warmly receptive, though tended to focus on particular statements or to extract highlighted ‘soundbites’ from within the lengthy sweep of its 186 pages. But its great strength is to be found in the very breadth and depth that the Encyclical allows itself. Before suggesting changes of political and personal attitude and behaviour, Laudato Si surveys a Biblically-informed theological discussion of science, technology and our responsibility to nature. Since this is also the essential foundation of Faith and Wisdom in Science, I rather think it the task of this column to look hard at the theology of science that the encyclical builds on, before reacting to its recommendations.

The very title of the document, and of course the author’s assumed pontifical name, are both taken from the founder of the movement to which he belongs – St. Francis of Assisi. The endearing honesty of the message is stamped on the introductory pages, which remind us of Francis’ especial love of nature, of all creatures, and the human care to which God entrusts the world. The very language of ‘Brother Sun’ and ‘Sister Earth’ prepares us for the deeply relational thinking that pervades the document, which later (§65 and §66) identifies the vital ‘relationship of human beings to the world’ as a broken one, as damaged as those with our neighbour and with God. The language used of this relationship with the natural world is

The Lord Answering job out of the Whirlwind by William Blake

The Lord Answering job out of the Whirlwind by William Blake

covenantal and reciprocal throughout. In Faith and Wisdom I found just this astonishingly profound category of relationship to emerge from the Wisdom tradition of the Old Testament – Job, for example, is assured that his anger and suffering, and also his questioning of nature itself, can become a pathway to a time when he is ‘in covenant with the stones’. Biblical affirmation of the goodness of physical reality, and our vital relation to it, really is that strong.

Francis likewise takes a Biblical reading informed by the Wisdom tradition to move away from a naive opposition of science and faith. On the contrary, he draws on science explicitly to inform theology: ‘the best scientific research available today touch[es] us deeply and provide[s] a concrete foundation for the ethical and spiritual itinerary that follows.’ (§15). That itinerary passes, as it did symbolically for Job, and as it does for St. Paul’s reflection on our relation with creation in Romans chapter 8, though a necessary pain: ‘Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.’ (§19) If Francis feels pain, and also anger, at the current misshapen framing of that relationship as one of exploitative domination (‘Clearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures §68), he expresses continual hope that a new and very different approach might follow (‘Instead, our “dominion” over the universe should be understood more properly in the sense of responsible stewardship’ – §116). This is authentic Biblical encounter with the natural world – there is only one place in Old or New Testaments where human relationship with nature is not within the context of pain, and that is within the hope of the new creation (Revelation 22).

The Faith and Wisdom story reaches yet more radical conclusions of our responsibility to use scientific knowledge with wisdom, identifying humans ‘in the image of God’ as participative co-creators in a universe which has not finished the work of creation. This is a vital point – we have the care of something growing and developing, not simply of a finished product. We

Self-assembly of molecular structures (Barrett group, McGill University)

Self-assembly of molecular structures (Barrett group, McGill University)

are able to harm a future, not just deform a present. Laudato Si draws on a remarkable passage from the celebrated medieval thinker St. Thomas Aquinas to explore and apply this idea. It might even be called a ‘theology of self-assembly! In his Summa Theologica Thomas illustrates the phenomenon of natural emergence: “Nature is nothing other than a certain kind of art, namely God’s art, impressed upon things, whereby those things are moved to a determinate end. It is as if a shipbuilder were able to give timbers the wherewithal to move themselves to take the form of a ship” (§80). The world is pregnant with possibility. I wonder what Thomas would make of today’s theories of self-assembling cell-membranes, an example I used in Faith and Wisdom to illustrate how the apparent chaos of the molecular world is necessary for order and a structure to emerge.

The science and the theology of Laudato Si work powerfully together. Under the surface of its language lie not only the analytic toolkit of science, which informs us of the dominant human causes of global warming, but also the integrative, holistic methods of complexity and the science of systems. The rain-forests are the ‘lungs of the planet’ (§40); A fully interdisciplinary approach is needed to address the ‘deepest problems of the global system’ (§111). Both science and faith create global communities – and an attentive reader will not miss the explicit acknowledgement of reflective contributions from church leaders in Japan, Brazil, New Zealand, Bolivia, USA, Paraguay, Germany, Canada and more. Sufi and Jewish thought is welcomed as well as Christian. This is connectivity embodied as well as urged.

There are of course places where I hesitate to affirm everything Francis says. I rather wish he had said explicitly that science is a gift of God, rather than the one-stage removed ’emerged from the gift of creativity’. But disagreement in some p art will be true of most readers. But living with those differences is also part of living and serving together in a connected and responsible way.

Laudato Si is not only a thoughtful document, it is a beautiful one. It is stern – it needs to be. It is painful. But it is not depressing or despairing. The prayers with which if finishes are full of praise and resurrection hope. It is surely right to suggest a song as we take on the urgent task of mending our ways, rediscovering simplicity, caring for the poor, receiving and using science as God’s gift, and stewarding our world for those who come after us.

More Questions from Sheffield: Science of Theology, Fall and Cure for the Earth

A second set of questions from the discussion of Faith and Wisdom in Science at All Saints Ecclesall

All Saints parish church, Ecclesall, Sheffield

All Saints parish church, Ecclesall, Sheffield

resonated with each other somehow:

  • If you are advocating a Theology of Science, what about a Science of Theology – what does that look like?
  • In a Christian theology, might the tension between Order and Chaos arise from the Fall?
  • If a pastor’s lot is the ‘cure of souls’ might not the scientist’s be ‘cure of the Earth’?

As I say in the book, I thnk that the right (if rather radical) way to express the relationship between science and theology is that they are ‘of each other’.  This is an uttlery different way of framing the relationship from the classical alternatives of Conflict, Independence, Dialogue, Integration due orignally to Ian Barbour (who is, of course, largely responsible for getting the whole field of ‘science and religion’ going, so is to be hugely thanked and admired).  It comes closest to ‘integration’ but is not really that – there really are large potential tensions – but the point is that this is not beause they claim competitively common ground.  This is a mistake that the young earth creationists make when they claim that the Bible works as a scientific document.  It is much more powerful than that – it is a mandate for doing science in the first place. No, the tensions come because each of science and theology wants to hold a meta-discourse over the other one.  So Theology wants to say something (a lot) about why we do science.

FMRI scans of the brains of people at prayer.  The same areas are used as those when talking to a loved one.  No surprises of threats there for a Christian! See neubaur_2013_prayer_neuroimaging.png

FMRI scans of the brains of people at prayer. The same areas are used as those when talking to a loved one. No surprises of threats there for a Christian!
See neubaur_2013_prayer_neuroimaging.png

In the same way, science wants to investigate theology and religion in all sorts of ways.  Neurologically – what happens in religious activity and experience? Anthropologically – what social consequences are there for early religious structures and are they advantageous? Archaeologically – what is the historical status of the Old Testament texts? Psychologically – and so on. Daniel Dennett has written at most depth about a call for a scientific investigation of the benefits (or otherwise) of religion in his book Breaking the Spell, so I didnt think I needed to write so much about ‘that way around’ in Faith and Wisdom.  But I think that believers have nothing to fear and everything to gain from such an illumination of science (see the neurological functional magnitic resonance images to the left, where the brains of patients at prayer evince heightened blood flow in the same areas as when talking with a loved one, reported here).

The Fall has traditionally thrown a long philosophical shadow on Christian philosophy of the mind.  I have elsewhere talked about the medieval motivation for progressing science beyond Aristotle,  The idea that before the Fall of Genesis chapter 3, humans had perfect knowledge of nature is not strictly biblical, but a later Patristic interpretation or perhaps embelishment of the consequences of ‘eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’.  It appears in Grosseteste in the early 13th century, and in the early modern period in the Organum of Francis Bacon.  If both our minds are darkened, and the world rendered more chaotic, as a result of human sin and a failure to look after it, then there are indeed deep consequences for what science must do.  In particulat for Bacon, early modern science was experimental because our senses were all that remains of a hierarchy of faculties, of which they are the lowest, which enable us to perceive nature’s inner workings.  Out task, part of the great commission, is to rebuild the lost knowledge we once had.

But to what purpose? That is where I like the idea of the ‘Cure of the Earth’. In a few words it points to the theological foundation of science, and of the technology with which science partners.  Later this week I will be examining a PhD thesis on a theology of technology.  I am looking forward very much to this.