Science And The Study Of God

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Religion and science today are often seen as enemies battling for human hearts and minds. In this new book Alan Padgett takes a postmodern turn, arguing that they can and should work together collegially, developing a worldview that is at once spiritually meaningful and scientifically sound.
Pursuing a perspective that he calls the mutuality model, Padgett highlights the contributions that both religion and science make to a full understanding of the world and our place in it. He argues convincingly that the natural sciences and theology, even though they have their own domain as disciplines, can rationally influence each other without giving up their distinctive methods.

The book explores the nature of informal reason and worldviews, the character of theology as a spiritual and academic discipline, and the question of what counts as natural science. Along the way, Padgett discusses such topics as thermodynamics, time, resurrection, and the historical Jesus to illustrate his powerful mutuality model.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802839411
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
  • Publication date: 11/1/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 236
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.54 (d)

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Science and the Study of God

A Mutuality Model for Theology and Science
By Alan G. Padgett

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2003 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8028-3941-X

Chapter One

Developing a Collegial Metaphor: The Mutuality of Theology and Science

This chapter develops the major theme of our current study, that is, the ways in which theology and the sciences interact and yet remain distinct. I call my model for interaction the "mutuality model" and distinguish it from other models, most importantly the conflict or warfare model. In later chapters, I will develop the mutuality model through two focused examples, natural science (thermodynamics)and social science (history). The leitmotiv is that both theology and the sciences, like all academic disciplines, can influence each other through larger schemes of thought, that is, through metaphysics and worldviews.

In the late Middle Ages, the relationship between theology and natural philosophy (or science) was understood as that of a queen to her handmaidens. In the nineteenth century, a warfare model was popular in many circles. As I look at the ways in which, in my view, theology and science should work together, I can see the need for a new metaphor. My proposed metaphor is that of co-workers or colleagues: theology and the sciences work together, each respecting the other, but understanding their different tasks. I will call this a "collegial metaphor," since I hope that the sciences and theology may become colleagues, listening to each other and learning from one another. The image of colleague goes beyond the image of dialogue because of the notion of work or task; both theology and science are needed in the task of developing a worldview that will meet the needs of twenty-first-century women and men.

A major intellectual issue facing religious scholars in our time, and in the next century, is the relationship between faith and our academic commitments. The natural and social sciences, in particular, can be places where our theological commitments seem out of place. Can a Christian (for example) be a good sociologist or biologist without splitting her mind into two boxes? While we often hear of the integration of faith and learning, there is plenty of room for further careful discussion of the proper relationship between faith and rational knowledge. One purpose of this book is to answer these questions. I hope to persuade you that we can integrate both theology and the sciences in a broad religious worldview. To this end, we will explore avenues in theology, philosophy, and social and natural science to ground and illustrate the mutuality of theology and science. I will argue that a two-way dialogue can and should take place between theology and the sciences in which they legitimately influence each other. In pursuing this conclusion we will canvass the nature of explanation and levels of explanation in theology and the sciences. I shall conclude that large-scale explanations of reality are the place where theology and the sciences can best learn from each other and work together as colleagues.

On what basis can theology claim to have anything in common with the sciences? To start with, I must depart from the grand tradition of calling theology a kind of "science." I will use the word "science" to indicate academic disciplines that are fundamentally empirical in nature. While I agree with (among others) Nancey Murphy that theology shares some common elements with science, I cannot agree that this makes theology a science. While academic theology is a rigorous and scholarly activity yielding knowledge, it is not a merely empirical study since it is based upon special revelation. Theology arises out of religious faith and seeks to meet the needs of the human heart. It seeks wisdom about how we can live happily and well in the world, but such wisdom is also grounded in the truth about ultimate concerns. What then do theology and science have in common? As John Polkinghorne argues in many books, there is only one world. Both the theologian and the scientist are concerned about the truth concerning that one world. What is real? What is true? How do things work? How can we understand ourselves and the world? These are the kind of larger questions about reality around which theology and the sciences can build a dialogue.

Do Theology and Science Conflict?

For too long in the modern period, theology and the special sciences (that is, the natural and social sciences) were seen as being at war with one another. This perspective, called the conflict model by Ian Barbour, dominated the thinking of Enlightenment rationalists. These overconfident believers in the triumph of science accepted the general cult of progress found in Western culture from the early modern period until the world wars. A good example of one such true believer in scientific progress was Andrew D. White (1832-1918), the first president of Cornell University. Cornell was the first private university founded in this country on purely secular principles, the implicit judgment being that religious bias warps the quest for scientific truth. White helped make the conflict model popular through his A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology (1896). In the minds of "enlightened " and truly "scientific" thinkers (as they thought of themselves), religion too often resulted in an unnecessary bias that presented an obstacle to scientific progress.

Alas, this warfare model (with science ever victorious!) is not a relic of the past. Numerous contemporary publications still advocate such a position, working from either a secular humanist or a scientific materialist perspective. A striking example is the article by Norman and Lucia Hall entitled "Is the War between Science and Religion Over?" which appeared in The Humanist. The Halls insist that

While it may appear open-minded, modest, and comforting to many, this conciliatory view [that seeks harmony between religion and science] is nonsense. Science and religion are diametrically opposed at their deepest philosophical levels. And, because the two worldviews make claims to the same intellectual territory - that of the origin of the universe and humankind's relationship to it - conflict is inevitable.

Science and religion are not, however, diametrically opposed, as the Halls state. Their article unfortunately perpetuates the usual errors made in popular works by scientific materialists. In particular, they continue to confuse science with their own philosophy or worldview. They need to reflect on the fact that science is not a worldview. The relationship between science and worldview is one we will develop more fully in a later chapter. For now, it is enough to realize that natural science yields facts and theories about creation; but facts and theories alone do not constitute a worldview. The worldview of the Halls is scientific materialism or naturalism. It is this materialistic worldview - not the teachings of science, but a secular philosophy - that is deeply in conflict with religion. The ideals and teachings of modern science are in fact compatible with many religious worldviews, including a Christian one.

The warfare model misunderstands the character of both theology and science. Science simply cannot answer the questions that are addressed in religion, nor can religion hope to answer merely scientific questions from its basis of faith. Religion answers questions about ultimate concerns and spiritual or moral conundrums. The special sciences are concerned with factual issues concerning the natural and human world and with the interpretation of human actions and institutions. There is some overlap, of course, but there should be no ultimate conflict between the sciences and religion.

While it is certainly true that prejudice, in the guise of religious faith, has opposed scientific advance, the warfare model overlooks the important contributions that theology has made to science, especially at the level of presuppositions and worldview. The warfare model ignores the historical fact that there might not be any such thing as modern Western science if it were not for the intellectual influence of the Christian faith. In his Lowell Lectures, Alfred North Whitehead notes the contributions of theology to the development of science in our cultural history. His view has been corrected by more recent historical investigation, but the main point remains: Christian theology provided the intellectual environment out of which natural science was able to develop. By founding a worldview in which reason and order were understood to be built into the world by a rational God, theology helped to create the intellectual nursery in which early modern science was born and raised. The history of science contains many examples that support this conclusion. Just in physics alone, Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, and James Clerk Maxwell were all influenced in their understanding of the rationality of creation by the Christian worldview. Of course, to suggest that Christianity alone is responsible for the rise of early modern science, or that science could not have arisen without Christian faith, is too simplistic a hypothesis. Many factors were involved, but belief in a rational and mathematical Creator was certainly central. To explore the soundness of this historical conclusion concerning the helpfulness of theology to science, let us consider more fully the example of Galileo, the man adherents of the warfare model quite often refer to.

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was a brilliant scientist whose work has influenced human culture and fundamentally shaped our understanding of the world. He made significant advances in many areas of natural science and is justly famous for his work in physics and astronomy. His major methodological contributions to the founding of modern science were his careful experimental method and his insistence on the mathematical form of natural philosophy. While others engaged in mathematical work and in various kinds of experimentation, "before Galileo, the systematic appeal to experience in support of mathematical laws seems to have been lacking." Traces of the methods Galileo embraced can in fact be found in medieval science, but Galileo was certainly decisive in the development of early modern science and the "new method" of mathematical models supported and tested by experimental data.

True, Galileo's work was opposed by Christian thinkers in his own day, and especially by conservative factions in the Roman Catholic Church. Often overlooked, however, is the fact that Galileo, like Kepler and Newton, was a Christian thinker who understood himself to be a "Catholic astronomer." As Stanley Jaki notes, "Little if any effort is made, for instance, to recall the role played in Galileo's scientific methodology by his repeated endorsements of the naturalness of perceiving the existence of God from the study of the book of nature."

The influence of the Christian worldview on Galileo is clear from his tract on the relationship between biblical hermeneutics and natural science, published under the title Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615). For Galileo, the great "book" of nature and the book of Scripture equally reveal the greatness of God. Mathematical models and laws govern the physical universe because it is created by God. In turn, we can discover these laws through empirical research:

I think that in the discussion of physical problems we ought to begin not from the authority of scriptural passages, but from sense-experience and necessary demonstrations; for the Holy Bible and the phenomena of nature proceed alike from the divine Word, the former as the dictate of the Holy Ghost and the latter as the observational executrix of God's commands.

In our Western history, many factors worked together to aid in the development of natural science and technology. The Christian faith was one of these factors. From Galileo we learn that theology and science are not enemies but different ways to the truth of God.

What, then, do we understand the proper model of the relationship between theology and science to be? Our brief glance at Galileo would lead us in the direction of an open dialogue between theology and the sciences, in which Christian scholars seek to build a worldview consistent with both. I am calling this the "collegial metaphor." Theology must take its factual and empirical basis from the best of contemporary science, but it may offer a basis for correcting interpretations of science or preferring one view over another within a scientific discipline. In a similar manner, science can be guided or brought into question by theological conclusions. Our quest thus becomes the search for the truth in both disciplines, in order to develop a coherent worldview that meets our religious needs and satisfies our scientific thirst for knowledge.

The Nature of Explanation

In order to develop this mutuality model and collegial metaphor for the relationship between science and theology, we must look more closely at the nature of explanation. Explanation is an important, even central, idea in the quest for knowledge and understanding, a fact which raises the issue of the nature of explanation in science and theology. Such an approach to the theology-science dialogue will afford us the opportunity to explore theological explanation in contrast to other kinds. In this way we can develop a model of mutual learning and edification between theology and science in the development of a coherent worldview. This intellectual exploration will lead us to three conclusions: (1) Theological explanation is similar to explanation in the natural and social sciences in that it develops models for a causal explanation, positing certain entities with certain natures, powers, and relationships. (2) Theology assumes the findings of other disciplines in its explanatory scheme, and as such the natural and social sciences influence theology. In the same way the findings of theology may send us back to the other disciplines to rethink the basis of our scientific conclusions and change our minds. (3) A consideration of the nature of levels of explanations, or explanatory schemes (also called "paradigms"), leaves an open place for a two-way dialogue that can and should take place between theology and the other disciplines of the university.

First we need to reflect on just what an "explanation" is. Broadly conceived, an explanation is some answer to a "why?" question. More narrowly understood, explanations tell us why the world is the way it is: why rivers run downhill, why clocks run slower in the presence of greater gravity, why the tides rise and fall, why all the members of the orchestra arrived at roughly the same time and place for the performance, and so forth. It is this sort of "explanation" of why things are the way they are, and why things happen as they do, that we are now interested in.


Excerpted from Science and the Study of God by Alan G. Padgett Copyright © 2003 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

1 Developing a Collegial Metaphor: The Mutuality of Theology and Science 1
2 Dialectical Realism in Theology and Science 22
3 The Myth of a Purely Historical Jesus 46
4 Science and Worldview 67
5 Putting Reason in Its Place: A Dialogue with Process Theology 87
6 Theology As Worship: The Place of Theology in a Postmodern University 104
7 Theology, Time, and Thermodynamics 122
8 Incarnation and Historical Science 137
9 Seeking Truth in Theology and Science: Concluding Reflections 162
App Induction after Foundationalism: Four Theses on Informal Inference 167
Bibliography 195
Index 210
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