Theology of Science: the Quest for a Robust Narrative of Science’s Purpose or telos
“Science is the participative, relational, co-creative work within the kingdom of God of healing the fallen relationship of humans with nature.” ~Tom McLeish
Below a summary of Tom McLeish’s insights last November in his Lower Mainland Tour.
Science (aka Natural Philosophy in medieval times) is the love of wisdom about natural things. Our relationship to nature is a key aspect of the way to wisdom that reconciles us to nature, and we should never deny or forget this. The biblical authors agree. See Book of Job or Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (Romans 8; 2 Corinthians 5:17) In this light, science has a very long human history, longer than we often think—it is a deep cultural narrative. Modern science is a new chapter in a very old book about human culture. Science makes us more human.
How do we develop and release this narrative into the culture in positive ways? The deepest imagery and iconography in his project is one of a healing narrative. We seek a healing relationship with God, fellow humans and his creation. Pain and suffering are not excluded from the purview of science. Wisdom and pain always conjoined, as we see in the wisdom literature, especially Job. Theological questions are always in the background when we are doing science. Why not make them more explicit. The power of Tom’s challenge is to build a theology of all science—a bit breathtaking. We ought to proceed with skill and optimism that we can do this, even within the current limits of our understanding.
Key Words: Relational-Creation-Wisdom
Pursuit of wisdom applies to both science and technology. We are privileged to rumble with Tom’s paradigm shift in thinking about these issues. Science is at the heart of, and part of, a Christian worldview. What would the Lordship of Christ mean for science? How do we get our philosophical categories corrected—confront Deism, grapple with Contingency, the Demi-urge, scientism, materialistic naturalism, dualism of the natural and supernatural, the dumbing down of speech. We seem to need new hermeneutical ways of seeing and interpreting reality.
As Tom points out, the roots of science are very old and part of the healing story of the biblical narrative. This insight is thoroughly profound.
Leadership is needed to promote a healthier, more positive narrative of science in church and on campus. God’s call to scientists is to come and heal the broken relationships in the world. Science can be a form of delight, of worship, not of nature, but of God and appreciation of his redemption of the whole world.
Wonder (awe) rather than doubt is the root of all knowledge. Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement … get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed. ~Abraham Joshua Heschel
This involves a deep level of curiosity and quest for understanding of how all knowledge holds together and is grounded. This outlook positions us within faith, not just Cartesian doubt.
This Proposal Rests on Some Key Assumptions
- There is a long history of human and non-human interactions—as old as mankind.
- It is a high view of the human ability to re-imagine nature.
- The dual structure of wisdom and knowledge. Both are vital to human flourishing.
- Our engagement with nature is often ambiguous and painful. Often we are in terror of nature and we fear its chaos (hurricanes, floods, volcanoes, earthquakes)
- We must recognize the balance and serendipity between order and chaos. Randomness explores its shape within limits. Creativity is order emerging out of chaos. Chaos with limits/boundaries provides the condition for order and creativity.
- The Creation Question is central, but must be rearticulated to meet the full textuality of Scripture: Job 30-40; Proverbs 8; Psalms 19, 33, 104; Isaiah 40, 45; Jeremiah 10; Hosea 2; John 1; Genesis 1-3.
- Questions are more important than the right answers—Job 38-40. Look again at your world with me, your God. God invites us to creatively explore his world with tough questions. This is the spirit of science from ancient times.
How does the big Christian narrative play in this discussion of a theology of science? Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation.
Consequences of this Vision
- There are no pre-determined histories or boundaries for science and technology—rather all are meant to be theo-centric, and within the aegis of the pursuit of wisdom.
- Our thought-relationship with nature is therapeutic.
- The church can celebrate the deep humanity of science.
- This discourse on wisdom can help heal the relationship between two cultures on campus (science & humanities).
- We gain new insights into the narratives (many wrongheaded) that inform public debates about science and technology.
- There is potential for a positive relationship between science and the media.
- We discover a mutual task for inter-faith dialogue as well.
Pagan Narratives of Despair about Nature/Science Narrative of Ignorance, Fear, and Harm. This leads to such problems as:
- Alienation/Being kept in the dark—conspiracy theories; scientists are secretive and super-specialized.
- Chaos—be careful of the consequences of scientific work (Fracking, nanotechnology, GMO foods, etc.)
- Punishment—nature will punish us if we are bad.
- Exploitation—rich get richer, poor get poorer
- Nature as sacred, therefore untouchable
- Evil—potential Pandora’s Box of troubles
Tom notes that the intellectual and practical framing of science through society and church is currently a problem—the church is largely alienated from science, and particularly weak on a theology of science, enmeshed in culture wars about evolution. Can we in our theology take the whole of known reality, the whole of truth, seriously? N.T Wright is a good example/model of a healthier framing of science. Liturgy for science is needed to break down dualism. Most common command ins Scripture is “Fear Not…” We must be much more proactive and positive and not give in to fear and negativity.
Key Title: Faith & Wisdom in Science. OUP 2014
Tom McLeish’s Medieval Big Bang talk at St. John’s College, UBC November 4, 2016: https://youtu.be/JFFt0kUIlWA
Tom McLeish TWU Talk on the CSCA YouTube channel. It is very similar to the UBC talk in early November: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vkth1bnx2E
See also new collection of essays edited by two outstanding Christian scholars (Jamie Smith and William Cavanaugh) promises to take the Christian tradition forward in its engagement with the biological sciences: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdlU_F6FH-o&feature=youtu.be