This article describes emerging patterns in Anglo-American philosophy that represent radical breaks from the thought patterns of Enlightened modernity, and spells out consequences of these changes for the theology–science dialogue. The rationale is based on the relation that philosophy bears to the rest of culture. The discussion describes new moves in three traditional branches of philosophy: metaphysics, philosophy of language, and epistemology. It contends that, beginning half a century ago, whole clusters of terms in each of these domains have taken on new uses, and that these changes have radical consequences for all areas of academia. The discussion notes their actual and potential contributions to the dialogue between theology and science.
Once people accept the historical emergence and spread of science as a unique discursive formation, it becomes nonsense to talk about the relationship between religion and science, or religion as a kind of science in societies that have not yet encountered or internalized this development. Religion and science cannot be judged or compared along a single axis of measurement, and therefore they will continue to irritate or complement each other. The de facto identification of science with abstract reason and religion with engaged performance, the incommensurability of science and religion in the modern world, the destabilization of the transcendent or foundational claims of each, and the ultimate uncertainty that their conjunction or opposition imposes, all beg for triangulation with a third construct: namely, ethics.
The findings of the cognitive sciences enrich our understanding of atheism by providing a more nuanced and empirically grounded concept of ‘belief’ and by problematizing psychological assumptions often employed in theorizing about atheism. Beliefs are diverse not only in content but also level of cognitive processing, and implicit beliefs can and do diverge from explicit beliefs. This is just as true for beliefs about supernatural agents as it is for beliefs about physical objects. Further, findings from the cognitive sciences call into question the notion that human beings are ‘rational’ and the notion that beliefs can be explained by their ability to provide comfort. The cognitive sciences are replacing such assumptions with an empirically grounded vision of mind and belief.
David P. Barash
Although evolution by natural selection does not necessarily disprove the existence of God (thus, it does not ‘prove’ the validity of atheism), it negates two of the more potent pro-religion arguments, here dubbed the ‘Argument from Complexity’ and the ‘Reassurance of Specialness’. In addition, it provides support for one of the strongest challenges to traditional religious belief, by contributing to the ‘Reiteration of Theodicy’.
Science is the only path to understanding. It would be contaminated rather than enriched by any alliance with religion. Such should be the attitude of a scientifically alert atheist. This article elaborates and justifies this core attitude. There are those who consider that the domain of science is restricted to some kind of ‘physical world’, whereas religion deals with the ‘spiritual’. A scientific atheist holds that the domain of science is the physical world, but considers there is no other variety of world, and that the ‘spiritual’ is an illusion generated by a physical brain. The discussion considers the nature of this belief and distinguishes it from religious belief.
Victor J. Stenger
While belief in gods was almost universal in the ancient world, Thales of Miletus introduced the notion that observed phenomena could be explained in natural terms without invoking imagined spirits. Leucippus and Democritus, and later Epicurus and Lucretius, proposed that everything was composed of particulate atoms in an otherwise empty void. Any gods that existed played no role in the human world. The universe was infinite, eternal, uncreated, and included many worlds besides our own. These ideas conflicted with the other philosophical schools of the time and were suppressed by the Church during the Dark Ages. Atomism reappeared during the Renaissance and became a crucial ingredient in the scientific revolution that followed. The atomic picture of matter has now been solidly confirmed. Furthermore, the notion of an infinite, eternal, and uncreated ‘multiverse’ is strongly suggested by modern cosmology.
Atheists, conservative theists, and religious liberals often read the history of science in ways that support their own position. Atheists expect continual mutual support between science and nonbelief, conservatives emphasize theistic metaphysical foundations for science; and liberals find a historical development toward separate spheres for science and religion. The rise of science was more complicated than anticipated by any of these stories. Atheism and science have usually developed almost independently, with weak connections. Today, the naturalism of modern scientific descriptions of the world is consonant with an atheistic position. But even now, significant tensions between science and atheism remain.
The last few years have seen a great deal of research on the association between religion, spirituality, and medical outcomes. This research has not been without controversy however, in terms of methodological and analytical issues. One particular under-researched area concerns the increasingly visible sub-population of individuals who identify themselves as ‘nonreligious’, a group that includes atheists, agnostics and individuals who believe in god(s) but do not identify with one particular religion. As a result, relatively little is known about the health and quality of life within this particular group, not only in comparison to religious individuals, but also within nonreligious populations as well. This essay covers three major issues: (1) a brief summary of the controversies concerning religion-health research; (2) what the current research does indicate about the nonreligious, particularly about affirmative atheists (as opposed to simply ‘nonreligious’); and (3) reasons for the neglect of nonreligious individuals to date and reasons for increasing attention to them.
While giving attention to the embryo question and indeed to the meaning of ‘playing God’, this article surveys more generally some religiously significant aspects of recent genetics and biotechnology. The first section considers what genetics suggests about human nature. The next section, on biotechnology, looks first at work on plants and animals, but moves quickly to human applications, from gene therapy to cloning and stem cells, asking about the moral implications. The final section offers a theological interpretation of genetics and biotechnology, reflective of Christianity but intended for a wider readership. The article also looks at the question of the human embryo and its role in research, the theological implications of the technological transformation of the human self, and how we are to understand in religious terms our new role in creation.
B. Alan Wallace
While Buddhism is often referred to as a ‘non-theistic religion’, it has the potential to play a unique mediating role between theistic religions, with their emphasis on faith and divine revelation, and the natural sciences, with their ideals of empiricism, rationality, and scepticism. The main body of this article focuses on Buddhist approaches to cultivating eudaimonic well-being, probing the nature of consciousness, and understanding reality at large. In each case, religious, scientific, and philosophical elements are blended in ways that may not only lend themselves to dialogue with Western science, but push forward the frontiers of scientific research as well as interdisciplinary and cross-cultural inquiry. The article also argues that Buddhism has developed a science of consciousness, with a few exceptions regarding sciences with no controlled experiments.
Christian theology has always resisted a Manichaean opposition between God and the world, believing that the universe is God's creation. All forms of rational inquiry into aspects of reality have their own particular motivating experiences and indispensable concepts. Therefore, neither science nor theology should make the mistake of supposing that it can answer the other's proper questions. The year 1859 certainly did not bring the dialogue between Christianity and science to an end, though it did direct that conversation in new directions. The interaction with science has continued to be a matter of particular concern to Christian thinkers. After a brief historical introduction, this article surveys the contemporary scene. It describes five specific topics that characterize the present-day discussion: creation, natural theology, structures of reality, divine action, and eschatology.
Armin W. Geertz
The cognitive revolution reinstated the mind as a central unit of empirical and theoretical analysis and inspired the cognitive science of religion (CSR), which attempted to explain symbolic-cultural systems in terms of innate cognitive constraints. There is an ongoing debate on whether cognition is simply individual mental representations or broader interactions of minds in bodies negotiating natural and social environments. CSR produced significant foundational hypotheses during the 1990s, but it is an open question whether these hypotheses constitute ‘explanations.’ There are at present five significant new directions in CSR, namely neuropsychology, experimental science of religion, field experiments, history, and big data. CSR is an ever-expanding field of inquiry drawing on the methodologies of the natural and social sciences and using new methods and technologies to answer age-old questions about consciousness, culture, social behavior, and religion. In this sense it is crucial to the comparative study of religion.
Using a passage from Matthew Arnold's poetry which writes sadly of the receding Sea of Faith, this article holds that the loss of Christian metaphysics drained away all the normal meaning from life, leaving people desperately trying to make sense of a dead, empty world. The nihilistic message draws its power from exploiting the unreal split that Descartes introduced between human minds and the rest of nature. We ourselves are unearthly, supernatural entities, God's colonists sent to supervise the Earth. The Newtonian age could use this crude dualism because the Christian God still kept the two elements together. The inert particle model itself no longer makes any sense because it is contrary to modern physics. The behaviourists, misguidedly obsessed with parsimony, had tried to explain human life entirely from the outside, ignoring the inner experience that lies at the heart of all human action.
This chapter surveys biological research on selected topics in human sexuality and reproduction. It begins with a brief introduction to the approaches of evolutionary biology and behavioural genetics. Subsequent sections survey insights offered by these disciplines into the evolutionary origins of sex, sexual selection theory and human mating strategies, sexual diversity (particularly same-sex attraction and sexual behaviour), and sexual dimorphism and intersex. Critical perspectives on these topics from biologists and others are discussed, and a concluding section outlines some issues of concern to theologians engaging with this material.
Joseph A. Bracken, SJ
While Pierre Teilhard de Chardin may have been overly optimistic in his estimate of how soon the synthesis of religion and science might take place, his deep faith in the achievability of the project remains an important motivational factor in the contemporary religion and science discussion. This article first reviews briefly how the conflict of interests between proponents of religion and science in the modern era arose historically. Second, it indicates how various contemporary writers in the field of religion and science have tried to ease this tension. Third, the article presents a vision for the reconciliation of religion and science, based largely upon the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, but suitably revised so as to affirm key Christian beliefs.
This article identifies some areas of the new dialogue between science and theology that could definitely enhance the effectiveness of preaching and teaching, which includes counselling and pastoral care. First, it discusses pastoral hermeneutics, which includes the prophetic and constructive tasks of biblical preaching. Second, the article reviews eight different models of understanding the relationship between science and faith, half that draw upon the image of warfare and half which advocate peaceful co-operation. It pays special attention to the controversy surrounding Darwinian evolution. Third, the article turns to the frontier of genetic research and the ethical issues surrounding the phrase ‘playing God’, recommending that the pastor demythologize science while appropriating it to a theological understanding of the world in which people live.
Pauline M. Rudd
This article aims to demonstrate to non-specialists that science itself can provide a profound basis for meditation, using a series of short vignettes that address questions relevant to people's lives. Meditation often begins by focusing on something beautiful such as a flower or a shell. With a little information, it is possible to use a mathematical concept or a molecular interaction to lead people into deep reflection and even contemplation. The article also aims to show that the results of spiritual insight can be directly relevant to the practice of science. Insights from religious experience and praxis, such as enlightenment or the dark night of the soul, have their parallels in the scientific enterprise. Scientific insights do not threaten religious practice, but instead provide a means by which people can re-examine beliefs and mature in comprehension of the Almighty.
This article discusses important issues for a Christian doctrine of creation that is concerned with its relationship to natural science. The issues deal with the core presuppositions that are required for theological use of concepts derived from the natural sciences – just as the biblical account of the creative act of God in Genesis made comparable use of the knowledge about the world of nature that was available at that time. One can consider the production of such creatures to be the intrinsic aim that was implicit in the act of creation. The Christian doctrine of creation strongly affirms the relative independence of creatures – not only with regard to one another, but also with regard to God himself – as essential in the act of creation itself. The personal difference and self-distinction of the Son in relation to the Father is the model for such independent existence of creatures.
John Hedley Brooke
It is sometimes assumed that a simple story can be told about the historical relationship between science and religion. On one overview, ‘science’ and ‘religion’ existed in harmony for centuries, conflicting only in the modern period. By contrast, the converse is often assumed: ‘science’ and ‘religion’ have existed in more or less perpetual warfare, until recently, when the potential for peace has supervened. This second view is attractive to those who believe that twentieth-century physics, in particular, has given unprecedented access to the mind of God. For Aubrey Moore, a creative process of evolution was consonant with a theology of Incarnation in which divine immanence was restored. In this respect, historical scholarship both informs and supports the claim that more sophisticated taxonomies are required for capturing the multifaceted relations between science and religion.
This article provides an alternative to reductionism, and briefly indicates its potential for providing a powerful ontological, epistemological, and methodological framework for the science and religion dialogue. This alternative grows out of considering quantum mechanics – the extraordinarily paradoxical theory that is widely either misunderstood or ignored. This alternative is called the non-reductive intelligibility view. Although the discussion critiques emergent complexity, it holds that all alternatives to reductionism should continue to be rigorously developed. The article begins by explicating a common form of reductionism, ‘compositional reductionism’, and examines why quantum mechanics presents serious difficulties for it.