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Jne journal of 
Jaifn ano 
*0 Science 



} y 

Edited by 
Barbara Smith- Moran, S. 0. Sc. 

The Boston Theological Institute 
Newton Centre, Massachusetts, U.S.A. 

Journal of Faith and Science Exchange 


edited by 
Barbara Smith-Moran> S.O.Sc. 

with a foreword by 
Rodney L. Petersen, Ph.D. 

MAY 1 1398 


The Boston Theological Institute 

Newton Centre, Massachusetts 

Editor's Note: As a matter of editorial policy, gender-inclusive language has been used 
throughout. Scripture quotations have been modified accordingly, but not quotations from other 
source material. 

Cover design by Forrest Clingerman. 

Printed in the United States of America on 100% post-consumer waste, non-chlorine bleached 
recycled paper. The ink is soy based. 

Copyright © 1997 by The Boston Theological Institute. All rights reserved. No part of this 
book may be reproduced by any means without the written permission of the publisher. 

The Boston Theological Institute 

210 Herrick Road 
Newton Centre, MA 02159 USA 

fax, 617-527-1073 
email, <> 


Foreword, by Rodney L. Petersen, Ph.D. v 

Introduction, by Barbara Smith-Moran, S.O.Sc. ••■' • ix 

Creation's Persistent Voice: Critiquing the Secondary Status 

of Creation as Revelation 7 

Rolf Bouma 

All Things Reconciled: A Dialogue with Science from a 

Reformed Perspective ; 7 

Gregory Carmer 

Is the Search for God Fact(oid) or Fiction? ., 17 

Forrest Clingerman 
Complexity, Consonance, and the Concept of God 23 

Peter Heltzel 
Cosmic Evolution and the Theology of Social Solidarity 31 

John Newton Hewitt 
Psychoanalysis and God 45 

Ted Kepes, Jr. 
The Kingdom of God as Relation 57 

Amelia Nan Langs ton 
Thomas and Damasio in Dialogue 57 

William C. Mattison, III 
Advancement of New Theology Using New Science 65 

Susan Murtha-Smith 

God, Neo-Symbiosis and the Unlearning of the 

Social Darwinist Narrative 73 

Josh Pawelek 

Studying the Effects of Intercessory Prayer on Healing: 

ATheological Examination 81 

Betsy Perabo 

Swarm Theology 87 

Deborah J. Pope-Lance 
Theories of Grammar, Thoughts of God 93 

Brian Mark Sietsema 

On Learned Ignorance: Science and Unknowability in the 

Religious Enterprise ; t 99 

Jennifer Snow 

Science and the Knowledge of God: 

From Machine to Metaphor 103 

Peter S. Sprigg 

Creation and Revelation 109 

Bob Wickizer 

The Boston Theological Institute « 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 


Rodney L. Petersen, Executive Director 
The Boston Theological Institute 

The Boston Theological Institute was 
founded in 1967-1968 to provide a forum 
for ecumenical and ethical reflection, and to 
contribute to the formation of church leaders 
with a strong ecumenical commitment. It is 
not separate from its member institutions, 
but as an independent body seeks to 
strengthen the schools for their respective 
missions and tasks. It is to be something of 
a university of theology, bringing fundamen- 
tal reflection to the problems besetting 
persons and culture in the contemporary 
period. It operates out of the assumption 
that, in our contemporary cultural period, 
groups identifying themselves as related to 
the churches have much in common. 

Many of the ethical problems facing the 
churches and their schools in the founding 
period of the Institute were primarily 
sociological in nature. Many of those same 
issues perdure. Additional questions 
confront theological education today as our 
knowledge of the world around us and of 
ourselves has become more complex. 
Whether it is to understand better our place 
in the cosmos, the method for sustaining life 
on earth in the midst of ecological degrada- 
tion, or the nature of personhood from early 
life through to its termination, religion and 
the sciences are called to carry on a better 
conversation than has characterized their 
recent past. 

This conversation is not new. Apart 
from reaching back to the foundations of 
religious and Christian reflection, schools 
foundational to the BTI like Harvard 
University were stamped in their earliest • 
years by a theological quest that was 
undivided. Leonard Hoar, Harvard 
College's third president, carried on an 
epistolary exchange with the eminent 
chemist Sir Robert Boyle. Hoar illustrates 

the way in which science was conceived as 
theological at core by Puritan Divines. The 
first endowed professorships in the English 
colonies were the [Thomas] Hollis Profes- 
sorships of Divinity and then of Mathemat- 
ics, illustrating how, in the opinion of their 
Baptist benefactor, God worked through 
Word and through Nature. 

What does science offer religion? 

Religion without science lacks sub- 
stance and the contextual resources with 
which to understand the world. The word 
science simply means knowledge. Etienne 
Bonnot de Condillac, a French Enlighten- 
ment philosopher reminds us that science is 
advanced language. The second task given 
to Edenic humanity was to name creation. 
Science is the act of naming the world 
around us. Scientists are trained to insist on 
rational explanation and consistent observa- 
tion so that what is named can be known. It 
is not the job of science to construct that 
identity. The world that the scientific 
endeavor seeks to understand is stubborn, 
hard, and self-existing world. Scientific 
understanding grows through careful 
measurement and disciplined mathematical 
thought. The knowledge that it yields is 
usually not exhaustive, but opens new doors 
of mystery for further inquiry. The twenti- 
eth century has shown us that this mystery is 
as open to manipulation as it is inviting of 
religious wonder and scientific speculation. 
In fact, without a common understanding or 
unified epistemology about nature, the 
symbols of our worship life become eviscer- 
ated and science devolves into technique. 

What does religion offer science? 

It is often clear enough today why 
science is important to religion. Less clear 
is the way in which scientism can define a 

The Boston Theological Institute 

worldview and replace religion. For some, 
of course, this may be appropriate. How- 
ever, such sentiment often obscures the 
meaning of religion, its role in shaping 
understanding, and its function in human 
societies. A worldview, derivative of 
religion widely defined, is the formulation 
we give to a general order of existence. 
Religious perspectives are elaborated 
theologically and applied ideologically, but 
we know more surely today than ever before 
that those ideas which become central to our 
lives are not necessarily the religions of 
inherited social expression. Anything to 
which we bind our lives may become our 

Given this pervasive definition of 
religion the social problems that we encoun- 
ter as a society might be reconceived. For 
example, for some it is not traditional forms 
of religion but the world of dualistic 
(Cartesian) science, wed to technology and 
market expansion, that is the problem 
behind the failure to deal with patterns of 
consumption and issues of population. For 
others, scientism defined as such has 
contributed to an "economic (European) 
religion" of the market which distorts the 
real costs to populations and the environ- 
ment. This is not to excuse traditional 
patterns of religious expression from their 
role in the social problems that we face. 
However, it is no longer possible to scape- 
goat any one domain of human activity in 
the face of deepening environmental 
problems or as we begin to encounter the 
difficult issues surrounding cloning, 
genetics, health care, or issues raised by 
artificial intelligence, to name only a few. 

Although there were always voices 
questioning the relationship between science 
and a narrowing mechanistic positivism 
through the nineteenth century, European 
and Anglo-American societies grew to 
accept its division of facts from values, 
increasingly practiced from the Enlighten- 
ment into the modern period, often for good 
reason. Writing with David Hume's episte- 
mological skepticism in mind, Immanuel 
Kant's work and legacy was to put empirical 
knowledge on a firmer footing-but to the 

detriment of religious understanding, which 
was never satisfactory to Kant. Although 
the "real" God escapes knowledge, as Kant 
defines God in his Critique of Pure Reason, 
the idea of God is valuable for speculative 
thought in at least three ways. First, the 
concept of God helps to distinguish between 
appearances and things-in-themselves. This 
is the idea of "radical monotheism" often 
associated with the Protestant theologian, H. 
Richard Niebuhr, with Judaism, or with 
Islamic iconoclasm. Second, the idea of 
God suggests an explanation for the mystery 
of intuition, a variation on the early modern 
"God-of-the-gaps" theology so discredited 
through the nineteenth century. A third 
function of the idea of God is such as to 
promote scientific inquiry by offering 
confidence in the intelligibility and unity of 
the world. 

A deepening conversation 

Each of these three areas has fallen 
subject to hermeneutical and cultural 
discussion, in part due to the intensifying 
debate over the nature of rationality. 
Whether scientism or religious dogma has 
foisted upon the world a domineering 
anthropomorphism is not something to be 
resolved here. What is demanded by the 
deepening conversation between the 
sciences and religion is a more nuanced 
approach to our social problems. Whether 
religion as such, or a particular religion, can 
provide this wider vision for engaging 
ecologically tinged issues may depend on 
whether a given tradition or religious 
expression is seen as bearing signs of 
transcendence (symbolic instrumentalism) 
of as symbols embedded in religious forms 
of life (linguistic pragmatism), rationality 
grounded in a greater mystery. What does 
seem apparent is that what we acknowledge 
as foundational will shape our ethics. 

The social questions that we face 
mandate a deeper conversation between 
science and religion, a conversation that 
includes at least three observations. First, it 
is increasingly recognized publicly that the 
language of facts needs that of values. For 
example, a coherent ethic for sustainability 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

requires all the information that the sciences 
can muster. Yet, as Paul Ehrlich reminds us, 
above and beyond that technological and 
legislative changes that are mandated, the 
most important change that is required is a 
change in ourselves. That such a dialogue is 
possible is the result of many startling 
discoveries about the nature of our world in 
the twentieth century and comes out of a 
different intellectual climate in the philoso- 
phy of science and the sociology of knowl- 
edge since the Second World War. 

Second, this change in intellectual 
climate has made for a more equal relation- 
ship between science and religion in the 
Academy. New departments of religious 
studies have developed across the land, 
adding to the many divinity schools, schools 
of theology, and seminaries that have been a . 
part of this country's inheritance. This 
relationship is not merely based upon a 
deepening interest in the academic pursuit of 
religion, its bio-anthropological, sociologi- 
cal, as well as historical development, but is 
matched by discoveries in the sciences 
which discern in history, rather than in the 
laws of determinacy, a more basic perspec- 
tive by which to understand cosmology, the 
origin of particles and their transformation 
into the molecular structures with which we 
are so familiar, and the plenteous forms of 
life itself. History rather than determinacy 
provides the "gate" for increased traffic 

between science and religion, notes theolo- 
gian Ted Peters, adding that this is a space in 
which both theologians and practitioners of 
the new sciences are at home.. 

A third observation that might be made 
about the conversation between science and 
religion is that this "groundedness" in 
history implies a value placed upon human 
activity. It also evokes the question of how 
a Creator, and perhaps humanity as well, 
participate in the management of nature. 
Theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg implies by 
the providential activity wherein God aims 
to accomplish God's tasks, not a telos or 
entelechy, but that nature itself is to find its 
own fulfillment. This idea relates to a point 
raised by the Australian biologist Charles 
Birch, who, drawing from Alfred North 
Whitehead, finds in process theology the 
conceptual tools for a theology of nature. 
However, governance may also imply 
resistance. This reminds us that in the 
theologies of a number of different religious 
traditions, creation is not an extension or 
emanation of God: it is an object of God's 
love, free to depart from or participate with 
God's purposes. The arena for this drama is 
human activity in history. If history is a 
"gate" through which science and religion 
meet, we are drawn into an evolving 
narrative which includes conversation with 
all peoples of living faith. 

The Boston Theological Institute 



Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 


Barbara Smith-Moran, S.OSc, Director 
Center for Faith and Science Exchange 

The Student Essay Contest 

The time seemed right, in 1997, to 
present to seminarians and theological 
students a substantive extracurricular 
opportunity to think and write innovatively 
about one of the modes in which science 
and religion interact: the contribution of the 
sciences to the "knowledge base" of 
theology. How might the methodology, 
worldview, paradigms, and language of the 
sciences lead fruitfully to progress in 
learning information about God, the sacred, 
or the spiritual? 

The time seemed right for three 
reasons. First of all, the Religion and 
Science Program of The Boston Theological 
Institute (BTI) has been expanding and 
maturing, gaining national recognition. 
Organized in 1990 by the Center for Faith 
and Science Exchange (FASE), the purpose 
of the Program has been to create forums in 
which current and future religious leaders 
can carry on dialogue with the shapers of 
the wider techno-scientific culture— the 
culture where the churches, synagogues and 
mosques carry on their ministries. Sec- 
ondly, for three or four years, science-and- 
religion courses have been offered on a 
regular basis at BTI schools. Several 
faculty members of its nine member schools 
are recipients of Science and Religion 
Course Awards, given through a vigorous 
project of the John Templeton Foundation; 
and students now experience this topic as a 
regularized part of theological study. And 
thirdly, by now, "the academic landscape 
worldwide has changed to the degree that it 
has become possible for BTI graduates to 
find an advanced study concentration in this 
area at more than just a few institutions. 
Concurrently, faculty positions are begin- 
ning to open up for specialists. 

Given these circumstances, FASE 
proposed to administer an Essay Contest for 
all interested students of the BTI. Through a 
generous grant from the John Templeton 
Foundation, this first year of the Contest, 
entitled "Learning More about God: 
Sources of Information Beyond the Scrip- 
tures," solicited essays concerning how the 
natural, medical, behavioral, and social 
sciences might contribute to this endeavor. 

In not limiting the contest to those 
currently enrolled in one of the science-and- 
religion courses, the invitation was extended 
to others who might be thinking creatively 
along lines different from the recognized 
scholarship. This strategy proved to be very 
successful, as the breadth of themes wit- 

It was an important aspect of the contest 
that the schools were not in competition 
with each other. Each school had the 
opportunity to produce award-winners in 
each category. Only at the last stage were 
the top essays judged against each other for 
originality of thinking. 

The winning essays, published for the 
first time in this Journal, have passed a two- 
tier review system: (1) a panel of BTI 
faculty members and other Boston-area 
experts picked the finalists from an entry 
pool of nearly 100 essays; (2) a panel of 
internationally recognized scholars wrote 
commentary to each finalist and selected the 
sixteen Prize winners. Finally, the Reverend 
Dr. Arthur Peacocke, S.O.Sc, of Oxford 
University, wrote comments to each of the 
First Prize winners, and selected from their 
number the recipient of a Grand Prize. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Progress in theology through the 

Theology is often perceived by those 
outside the field to be resistant to innova- 
tion, concerned as it is with eternal truths 
about eternal subjects. Progress in theology 
seems to be regarded as a novelty by many 
who have come to expect frequent reports of 
progress in other fields, the sciences in 
particular. Part of this perception is attribut- 
able to the news media, of course, which 
feature daily briefs and features about 
progress in medicine and the other sciences. 

However, theologically trained persons 
have often found innovative approaches to 
problems in other fields, including scientific 
research and application. Likewise, we 
might expect that men and women trained in 
disciplines other than theology could bring 
innovative thinking to that field, as well. 
The contemporary work of Robert Russell, 
John Polkinghorne, Paul Davies and Herbert 
Benson comes to mind, to name just a few 
of a growing number of such cross-disciplin- 
ary scholars. 

As most professors will attest, one of 
their most valuable intellectual resources is a 
student's ability to stimulate new ideas on a 
given topic. They have the advantage of not 
yet being fully trained in the philosophy, 
discipline, and— importantly— the biases of 
their field of study. The 3000 seminarians 
and graduate theology students at the BTI 
schools represent a pool of fresh thinkers in 
theology. Some of them have the potential 
to contribute genuinely innovative thinking 
to the field, as will be seen in the essays that 
follow here. 

An important fact to recognize when 
considering progress in religion is its 
probable non-universality. What is seen to 
be progress in one tradition ought not be 
expected to translate as such to other 
traditions. For this reason, those selected to 
assay the originality of the submitted essays 
matched the traditions from which the 
students were writing. 

With this program, we at FASE and the 
BTI intend to help to "launch," with prize 
and publication, progressive thinkers and 
writers into leadership in American religious 

Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

Creation's Persistent Voice: Critiquing the Secondary 

Status of Creation as Revelation 


Christianity struggles with the concept that nature/creation is truly revelatory of God, and 
not merely confirmatory of theological conclusions derived from special revelation or deduced 
from rational reflection. The result is a stilted and narrow conversation between theology and 
the natural sciences, with the contribution of creation to knowledge of God being limited to 
certain well-worn paths. If theology is willing to hold a full-fledged conversation with the 
natural sciences, it may just find that new metaphors and conceptions of God arise that illumi- 
nate our understanding of God in ways that scripture alone cannot. Such conversations must be 
characterized (on both sides) as serious and tentative, with conclusions never considered to be 
final, but always open to further conversation as new paradigms emerge. 

Among the effects left behind at 
Jonathan Edwards' death in 1758 was a 
notebook of sketches and illustrations 
intended for future publication as his 
theology of creation. Containing a myriad 
of examples from nature, it represents 
Edwards' conviction that certain phenomena 
within creation signify deeper, spiritual 
realities. A rose with its thorns, for example, 
signifies that glory only comes through 
suffering and the cross, while the ways of 
serpents and spiders with their prey are 
"lively representations of the Devil's 
catching our souls by his temptations." 1 
Waves in a storm signify God's wrath, while 
blue skies, green fields, and pleasant flowers 
figure "the mild attributes of God." 2 

Perry Miller, who edited the notebook 
for publication in 1948, notes that "[a]t first 
sight the manuscript seems to be nothing but 
a catalogue of morals to be read into natural 
phenomenon by a pious, though to our taste 
naive, mind." 3 It is, of course, much more 
than that, standing in a tradition of Puritan 
use of emblems and allegories, and fitting 
Edwards' understanding of typology. . 
Edwards' conviction was that certain 
manifestations within creation were so 
remarkable and outside the norm that God 
obviously intended them to be special signs 
of spiritual truths. 

Edwards' intentions display more than 
naivete. At a deeper level the implications 
of his approach are decidedly unsettling. On 
Edwards' view, one finds manifestations of 
God and spiritual reality only in abnormal 
phenomena, not in the normal workings of 
the created order; and these signs can be 
linked with spiritual truths only because 
those truths are known previously by special 
revelation. In other words, creation itself is 
not truly revelatory, but only signatory. 

Edwards' approach is symptomatic of a 
larger ambivalence within Christian theol- 
ogy regarding creation as a -source of 
revelation about God. On the one hand, 
theology holds that creation is laden with 
meaning and significance as God's handi- 
work. Theologies of creation tend to push 
inexorably beyond the Pauline image of God 
as maker of pedestrian clay pots to a deeper 
portrait of God as artist. Since a work of art 
invariably reveals something of its maker, 
the sense persists that creation, too, must 
reveal something of its creator. 

On the other hand, theology encounters 
a significant challenge when it begins the 
task of unmasking the mind of the maker. 
Creation is no Norman Rockwell portrait. It 
exhibits angularities and oddities that raise 
questions about the One who stands behind 
the Many. There is an understandable fear 

The Boston Theological Institute 

of the strangeness of the God that nature 
reveals, and a suspicion that the image of 
God refracted through nature's lens may 
well be a caricature or a distortion. And 
what of philosophical and scientific theories 
of nature that shut out the notion of God 

Hence, a significant portion of the 
Christian tradition places the revelatory 

watching colleagues get caught in the 
creation/evolution crossfire have added a 
wariness to the subject, which discourages 
honest interchange between the natural 
sciences and theology. Add the prospect of 
ecclesiastical suicide to the natural feeling of 
vulnerability that follows from opening 
oneself up to the contributions of another 
discipline, and there is little inclination to 
ponder the scandals 

of this creation's 

Darwin 's theory of natural selection challenged particularity. Those 
theology to find value in death and the struggle who do wish t0 

°*^ . -,, . . consider nature as 

to survive , traditionally disvalued in Christian 

status of creation under suspicion, carefully 
circumscribing its power to reveal. Scrip- 
ture and creation are acknowledged as two 
books of revelation, special and general, 
respectively; but creation is relegated to 
secondary status. Scripture is canonical; 
creation is deutero-canonical. Like the 
apocryphal books, creation is available for 
edification, but not for establishing doctrine. 
Creation at best merely confirms what is 
already present in Scripture. Nature is 
confirmatory and signatory, not truly 

As a result, much of the Christian 
community limits creation to minor, 
supporting roles in human life and under- 
standing. Creation is suitable to teach 
children and to induce praise.. Parents and 
educators use a bowdlerized creation to 
teach children about God's wisdom, 
ingenuity, and unfailing providence. 4 For 
adults, a few of creation r s many-splendored 
exhibitions are mined over and over to prove 
God's power and majesty. Like a poorly 
planned evangelical worship service in 
which the praise chorus, "Our God Is an 
Awesome God," is repeated ad infinitum and 
ad nauseam, just a few of the many wonders 
of creation are harnessed to churn out the 
same sweet song again and again and again. 

Compounding the problem is the fact 
that significant portions of the Christian 
community steer clear of the junction 
between creation and theology. Decades of 

| well as the Christian 
| faith are tempted to 
I resort to the old 
dodge of compatibilism with its erroneous 
claim that religion and science each have 
their own domain, and can co-exist, so long 
as each limits itself to addressing the 
questions appropriate to its domain. 5 

Ignored is the fact that science and 
theology have inevitably had an interchange, 
with a resulting impact upon theology's 
understanding of God. The immanently 
active God of medieval and reformational 
thought gave way, in the face of scientific 
conceptualizing, to the wise and consistent 
God of infinite foresight of Isaac Newton 
and William Paley. The Darwinian revolu- 
tion provided a deeper challenge with the 
abandonment of biological determinism and 
an open future within the natural order. 
Darwin's theory of natural selection chal- 
lenged theology to find value in death and 
the struggle to survive, traditionally 
disvalued in Christian theology. The 
simplicity with which the theory pushed 
God to the margins, or out of the picture 
entirely, led to theological uneasiness. 
Uneasiness in theology and unrest in society 
encouraged the conversation between 
theology and science to slow to a trickle. 
Natural scientists and theologians frequently 
contented themselves with intra-disciplinary 

Admittedly, these generalizations apply 
primarily to that branch of Christian 
theology considered to be' conservative and 
evangelical, and certain movements within 

Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

Christian theology (for example, process 
theology) have consciously and conscien- 
tiously pursued rapprochement with the 
natural sciences . But such tendencies 
outlined above can be found in the practice, 
if not in the theology, of almost all segments 
of the Christian community. It leads one to 
ask what the result would be if the Christian 
community allowed creation to be taken out 
of the children's section and off the second- 
ary reference shelf and moved to a place of 
genuine engagement. What if the natural 
sciences were truly allowed a dialogue with 
theology, and Christian theology were to 
resist the impulse to cut the conversation 
short? It would undoubtedly mean some 
uncomfortableness as the conversation 
starts, and perhaps a few raised eyebrows 
and a few winces at observations and 
comments initially deemed inappropriate 
and in poor taste. But it would certainly 
provide lively table talk, and would, in all 
likelihood, produce unanticipated insights. 
While the results of an extended conversa- 
tion between the natural sciences and 
theology cannot be traced here, perhaps 
some initial instances can be given of how 
such a conversation might shape our 
understanding, metaphorically and other- 
wise, of God and God's intentions toward 
this world. 

To begin, consider one of the more 
famous references in the scientific literature 
to venture into theological terrain: 
Einstein's famous assertion that "I shall 
never believe that God plays dice with the 
world." 6 In context, of course, this is not 
Einstein's conclusion, but rather an assertion 
in the face of evidence to the contrary, 
pointing towards randomness and probabil- 
ity within the natural order. Einstein shared 
with theological orthodoxy an uneasiness 
about what indeterminateness meant, 
regarding the ultimate nature of the physical 
universe (and for theology, the God who 
stood behind the universe). The image from 
which both Einstein and theology drew back 
was of a non-providential God, of God as 
compulsive gambler, who jams dollar after 
dollar into the slot machine and mindlessly 
pulls the crank of the one-armed bandit. 

But is that the image that persists if the 
conversation is allowed to continue? In 
other words, is the metaphor apt? True, 
Einstein's assertion notwithstanding, if 
contemporary physics and biology shed any 
light upon the nature of God, it is of a God 
enamored of stochastic event. But there's 
method to the madness. Outcomes may not 
be certain, but tendencies inherent within the 
system produce jackpots of order and life 
with uncanny regularity. The probabilities 
are skewed. If God is a gambler, then it is 
the sort who gets banned from blackjack 
tables for counting cards. God plays with a 
stacked deck and rolls loaded dice. If the 
conversation between science and theology 
is allowed to continue without being cut 
short, the metaphor for God undergoes a 
subtle shift, from one that repels to one with 
provocative power. 

Or to take another casual comment from 
the natural sciences, consider the comment 
of the biologist J. S. B. Haldane, that the 
sort of Creator nature reveals must possess 
"an inordinate fondness for beetles." 7 This 
tongue-in-cheek retort to a half-serious 
question from a theologian (at least so the 
story goes) conta'ins the germ of a fascinat- 
ing conversation between biology and 
theology. What of the fact that there are 
somewhere between ten million and forty 
million species of living things, of which 
fully a quarter of all known species are 
beetle variants? Biology tells of a world in 
which nature's fecundity is only matched by 
its quest for diversity. If, as Annie Dillard 
puts it, "[njature will try anything once," 
what does that say of the God who stands 
behind it all? 8 If the conversation is 
allowed to continue, there would be ample 
room to explore the ideas of fecundity and 
biodiversity, as well as of the place and 
importance of humanity in the cosmos. If 
theology had taken such conversation 
seriously, it may have avoided at an earlier 
date the anthropocentric hubris that is now 
increasingly recognized as reprehensible. 
Instead, statements continue to emerge in 
line with the sentiments of the Second 
Vatican Council, that "[ajccording to the 
almost unanimous opinion of believers and 

The Boston Theological Institute 

unbelievers alike, all things on earth should 
be related to man as their center and 
crown." 9 This little bit of Aristotelian 
nonsense has produced much grief and little 
grace for the created order. Perhaps humans 
are crown, but certainly not center. As 
James Gustafson suggests, anthropocentrism 
in theology must give way to a theocentrism 
that allows all the disciplines to participate 
in the conversation. 1 " A healthy encounter 
with the "otherness" of creation, as well as 
openness to the contributions of other 
disciplines, prompts the sort of questioning 
that moves humans off center and toward a 
more inclusive worldview. 

Conversation such as these have so 
many interesting angles to explore. What if 
Biblical theologians were allowed to speak 
their piece about the God who, in mythic 
terms, conquers chaos? The Old Testament 
speaks of the God who splits the chaotic 
waters to call forth the world, 11 who splits 
the Red Sea waters to call forth the people 
of Israel, 12 who erects gates and bars to keep 
chaos from returning, even when human 
disobedience threatens to allow chaos to 
return. 13 The New Testament reveals a Jesus 
who stills the chaotic winds and waves, and 
returns the demons to g 
their proper abode in 
the chaotic Abyss. 14 
Chaos is a principle 
of disorder and 
dissolution. Then let 
the natural sciences 
speak of the emerg- 
ing concept of chaos 

within its field— a chaos not to be overcome, 
but one that names an organizing pattern 
that in-forms the structures of physical 
reality. 15 This chaos borders on the 
oxymoronic, being described at one and the 
same time as unpredictability and deter- 
minedness. It stretches the relationship of 
notions of order and disorder, of randomness 
and predictability. The biblical etching of 
God doing battle with "chaos"~a principle 
of disorder-is brought into deeper relief in 
dialogue with modern science's exploration ' 
of "chaos"~a principle of subtle order. God, 
it seems, conquers chaos with God's own 

variant of chaos. God patterns the universe 
in unpredictable fashion. 

Conversations such as these can take 
place, however, only if the participants are 
willing to continue conversing even should 
discussions take an uncomfortable turn, In 
particular, conclusions that are either 
dismissive of other conversation partners or 
that are rendered with finality, closing off 
further interchange, bring the conversation 
grinding to a halt. The nature of scientific 
theory as open to correction and reformula- 
tion must be matched by a willingness on 
the part of theology to keep lines of inquiry 

If one were to characterize this sort of 
conversation, it would best be described as 
both serious and tentative. Stakes are high. 
Discussion has implications for our concep- 
tions of God, the world, and the place of 
humanity in relation to each. It is not a 
conversation to be taken lightly. Partici- 
pants need also agree, however, that 
renderings can be no more than tentative, 
constantly open to correction and further 

Deviation from these guidelines in the 
past has led participants from both sides to 

Fears that dialogue with the natural sciences 
will irretrievably alter understandings of God 
need to be countered with the remembrance 
that exploration of ideas is not the same as 
commitment to those ideas. 

leave the table and proceed to carry on their 
own intra-disciplinary monologues. While 
carrying on these discussions, the respective 
sides have eavesdropped on the other, 
listening for some word or phrase that 
indicates an opportunity to restart the 
conversation, but/again, on their own terms. 
Such a point seems to have been reached in 
recent years with a new period of inter- 
change between biology and theology. The 
emergence within the past year of the 
concept of "irreducible complexity." with its 
promise of a powerful critique of Darwinian 
evolution as an all-encompassing theory 

Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

accounting for all variations of life forms, 
has again piqued interest. 16 Once again, it is 
intellectually civilized to posit a God of 
design. What is unseemly is the rush to the 
table with a readiness to talk, now that it 
seems like there may be an opening to 
discuss nature on theologian's terms. 

The danger is that those joining the 
conversation will continue the tendency in 
theology to treat nature as confirmatory and 
not revelatory, as a means of saying "I told 
you so," rather than listening to what the 
natural sciences are saying (the science of 
biochemistry in the case of irreducible 
complexity) and attempting to discern the 
impact this new debate has upon concep- 
tions of God and the world. New discover- 
ies almost inevitably lead to altered concep- 
tions, which subtly change our understand- 
ings of divinity. Fears that dialogue with the 
natural sciences will irretrievably alter 
understandings of God need to be countered 
with the remembrance that exploration of 
ideas is not the same as commitment to 
those ideas, nor is opening up conversation 
with the natural sciences the same as 
allowing the sciences univocally to set the 
agenda for discussion. 

At its most basic, this means that 
theology in its various traditions must be 
willing to let creation be moved from 
secondary status on the reference shelf and 
from its circumscribed role in Christian 
thought and life, and to become a full 
partner in pointing towards the God whose 
glory creation proclaims. In other words, let 
creation reveal, not merely confirm. Other- 
wise the Christian community lingers with a 
theology of creation, like that of Jonathan 
Edwards, that is moralistic and naive, and 
can at most point toward God without 
making substantial contributions to our 
knowledge of the Divine. 

Works cited: 

Abbot, Walter M., ed. The Documents of 

Vatican II. New York: Herder & Herder, 

Behe, Michael. Darwin's Black Box. New 

York: The Free Press, 1996.Clark, 

Ronald. Einstein: His Life and Times. 

New York: The World Publishers, 1971. 
Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. 

New York: Harper & Row, 1974. 
Edwards, Jonathan. Images or Shadows of 

Divine Things. New Haven: Yale 

University Press, 1948. 
Gleick, James. Chaos: Making a New 

Science. New York: Viking, 1987. 
Gustafson, James. A Sense of the Divine: 

The Natural Environment from a Theocen- 

tric Perspective. Cleveland: Pilgrim 

Press, 1994. 
Peterson, Eugene. The Contemplative 

Pastor. Carol Stream: Word Publishing, 

Quammen, David. Natural Act: A Sidelong 

View of Science and Nature. New York: 

Lyon Books, 1985. 
Stewart, Ian. Does God Play Dice: The 

Mathematics of Chaos. Cambridge: 

Blackwell, 1990. 
Van Till, Howard. The Fourth Day: What 

the Bible and the Heavens Are Telling Us 

About the Creation. Grand Rapids: 

Eerdmans, 1986. 


"Edwards, p. 45. 

2 Ibid., p. 49. 

2 Ibid., p. 3 

4 In her book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 
Annie Dillard uses the name "the' devil's 
tithe" to refer to the ten percent of all 
species that engage in parasitism. She then 
sugests that "we give our infants the wron 
idea about thier fellow creatures in world. 
Teddy bers whould come with tiny stuffed 
bear-live; ten percent of all baby bibs and 
rattles sold should be adorned with colorful 

The Boston Theological Institute 

blowflies, maggots, and screw-worms" (p. 
233). The idea certainly provides an 
alternative to the saccharine versions of 
nature typically dispensed. 

5 For an example of a recent atempt at 
compatibilism, see Van Till.. 

6 Clark, p. 340. This rendition is actually a 
paraphrase of remarks made in letters from 
Einstein to Max Born and James Franck. 

Tor a recounting of the event, see 
Quammen, p. xiii. 

8 Annie Dillard's capacity for observation 
of and reflection on nature and its meaning 
for theology is well documented, particu- 
larly in her work Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. 
Her skill at asking the right questions in the 
right places has led Eugene Peterson to 
recommend her as the pre-eminent "exegete 
of creation" (see Peterson, p. 77). Dillard's 
literary approach allows her to mediate 
between the natural sciences and theology 
without being accused of favoritism. 
Literary skill allows her to explore meta- 
phors and conceptions that are unnerving but 

provocative. For instance, at one point, she 
refers to God as a "deranged manic- 
depressive with limitless capital," and 
asserts that creation "is one lunatic fringe." 
Insect are "an assault on all human value, all 
hope of a reasonable god," and the dynamics 
of natural selection lead her to conclude that 
it is "a hell of a way to run. . .a universe." 
Dillard's saving grace is that she is willing 
to follow the conversation through to the 
end, and to allow tension to remain along- 
side resolution. Those who stay with her to 
the end come to appreciate in doxological 
fashion the mystery of encunter with God 
through creation. 

9 Abbott, p. 210. 

10 See Gustafson. 

"Genesis 1:1-2; Psalm 'l04:7-9. 

12 Isaiah 51:9-10. 

"Jeremiah 4:22-28. 

,4 Mark 4:35-5:20; Luke 8:26-39. 

l5 For a description of the emerging 
concept of chaos within science, see Gleick, 

Rolf Bouma is entering his second year of doctoral studies at Boston University School 
of Theology. He is a member of the Executive Board ofAuSable Institute for Environ- 
mental Studies, in Mancelona, Michigan, where he teaches environmental ethics. He 
has served in congregational ministry for ten years, and is currently Pastor of Hope 
Church in Framingham, Massachusetts. 

This essay received a First Prize and the Grand Prize. 

Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

All Things Reconciled: A Dialogue with the Sciences 

from a Reformed Perspective 

Gregory W. Carmer 

In this essay, the author examines some of the troubled interactions between science and 
religion in the West, attributing part of the trouble to a reliance upon anthropomorphic models 
of God and to an illusion of human separateness from the rest of creation. Citing recent findings 
of biology, neuroscience, and cognitive science, he argues that the human species is religious by 
its very nature. 


When I consider your heavens, the work of 
your fingers, 
the moon and the stars, which you have set 
in place, 
what are human beings that you are mindful 
of them, 
mortals that you care for them? 
Yet you have... crowned them with glory 
and honor. 

--Psalm 8:3-5 

The psalmist's question springs from a 
sense of wonder, occasioned by contempla- 
tion of the starry fields in their vastness and 
beauty. An answer is woven from the 
threads of God's majesty, the puzzle of 
human existence, and the order of the 
cosmos. All three elements play upon each 
other and find their meaning in relation to 
each other. Likewise, the most satisfying 
answers we give ourselves about the 
meaning of human existence flow from our 
investigation of the world in which we live, 
and are bracketed by a sense of the mysteri- 
ous, majestic, otherness of God. 

"Nearly all the wisdom we possess," 
writes John Calvin, "consists of two parts: 
the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But 
while joined by many bonds, which one 
precedes and brings forth the other is not 
easy to discern." ' What can we learn about 
God through scientific exploration of 
ourselves and the world around us? Surely a 
methodological approach to increasing our 
knowledge of God, apart from the study of 
Scripture, must focus on increasing knowl- 

edge of ourselves and our world, for God is 
not an object among objects nor a cause 
among causes. Growth in our knowledge of 
God does not occur as does progress in 
"normal" science. 2 Rather, our knowledge 
of God functions more like a theoretical 
construction, organizing our experience, 
informing the meaning we find and attribute 
to human existence, and ordering our 
relation to the cosmos and to each other. 3 
The findings and theories of science can 
either confirm the adequacy of a religious 
worldview as an intelligent, coherent, and 
comprehensive view of ourselves and our 
world, or can display the weakness of our 
conception of God to account for all 

A view from the Reformed tradition 

Four themes recurrent in the Reformed 
tradition shape my perspectives and inform 
my disposition towards the sciences: God's 
otherness, human creatureliness, life's 
religiousness, and a desire to relate all things 
to a unifying reference. 4 5 I propose that 
anyone, working from a perspective 
informed by these four themes, may benefit 
from, and dialogue with, other scientific 
disciplines in several ways. I argue that the 
findings and perspectives of the physical and 
human sciences can enrich the meaning of 
the first three themes by correcting the too- 
often closed and limited understanding of 
the nature of God, confirm convictions 
about the wonders and limits of creaturely 

The Boston Theological Institute 

existence, and corroborate the irreformably 
religious character of all human acts of 
meaning-making. The fourth theme, that of 
a unifying vision, I believe, dictates a 
disposition of openness, humility and 

a. God's otherness 

Different thinkers have expressed the 
otherness of God in various ways. Calvin 
meditates on the absolutely sovereign 
Governor who rules all parts of the uni- 
verse. 6 Edwards savors the sweet glory that 
appears in all things as expressions of his 
"great and glorious God" 7 Schleie'rmacher 
identifies God as the 
"Whence" of our exist- 
ence, upon which we sense 
ourselves as absolutely 
dependent. 8 Augustine 
perhaps best indicates the 
otherness of God in the 
following: "We are 

speaking of God. Is it any wonder that thou 
dost not comprehend? For if thou dost 
comprehend, He is not God.... [T]o reach 
God by the mind in any measure is a great 
blessedness; but to comprehend Him is 
altogether impossible." 9 

b. Our creatureliness 

As creatures we are aware that we have 
not called ourselves into being; we belong to 
something much greater than ourselves, and 
our existence is intertwined with the fabric 
of the natural order. Our creatureliness 
speaks to the relative significance of our 
existence and to the limited perspective of 
our understanding. This limits our ability to 
know God. It also limits our knowledge of 
ourselves. 10 Augustine cries in his Confes- 
sions, "I myself cannot grasp the totality of 
what I am. Is the mind, then, too restricted 
to compass itself. . . ?" " 

Yet, our creatureliness also suggests a 
degree of dignity resulting from the imprint 
of the Creator's image. It is our status as 
image-bearers that allows us to comprehend 
the intelligibility in the world and to respond 
in gratitude to its Author. That our minds 
can calculate probability waves of sub- 

atomic particles, that we can trace the 
Universe's history in cosmic radiation, that 
we can relieve mental anguish through 
pharmacological therapy, all speak not only 
of the wonderfully intelligible patterns in 
nature, but also-and more surprisingly-of 
our uncanny ability to perceive it. The 
wonder inspired by the human body and our 
ability to measure the universe point, in turn, 
to the character of the Creator. "In regards 
to the structure of the human body, one must 
have the greatest keenness in order to weigh 
its articulation, symmetry, beauty and use," 
writes Calvin; "but as all acknowledge, the 

It is our status as image-bearers that 
allows us to comprehend the intelligibility 
in the world and to respond in gratitude to 
its Author. 

human body shows itself to be a composi- 
tion so ingenious that its Artificer is rightly 
judged a wonder worker." " As Einstein 
said, "In every true searcher of nature there 
is a kind of religious reverence; for he finds 
it impossible to imagine that he is the first to 
have thought out the exceedingly delicate 
threads that connect his perceptions." ,2 

c. Life's religiousness 

"He who rejects one religion (or god) 
can only do so in the name of another," 
writes Cherbonnier. 1 - That humans are 
irreformably religious is a recurrent theme in 
the Reformed tradition. Calvin, with all of. 
Augustine's concern for concrete issues, 
insisted that there is no neutral ground from 
which to contemplate the meaning of life. 
Reinhold Niebuhr writes: "Implicit in the 
human situation of freedom and in man's 
capacity to transcend himself and his world 
is his inability to construct a world of 
meaning without finding a source and key to 
the structure of meaning which transcends 
the world beyond his own capacity to 
transcend it.". 15 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

d. A unifying vision 

A great contribution of the Reformers 
was their insistence on including all areas of 
life within the purview of religious con- 
cerns. Religion can no longer be viewed as 
a personal matter of one's supernatural end, 
super-added to the self-sufficient spheres of 
science and society. One's religious 
commitments must inform one's public life. 
And, likewise, what one encounters in the 
physical and social worlds must register in 
one's religious commitments. An absolutely 
sovereign God assures ultimate harmony 
among all elements of human existence. 
Behind this concern is the ancient notion 
that God is the one author of two great 
books: Scripture and nature. 6 

The desire for a unifying vision of all 
human experience suggests several things - 
for theology's dialogue with the sciences. 
First, we should not hesitate to look closely 
at the physical world, out of fear of what we 
may find. Neither should we be too certain 
in advance of what we might find. The 
Galileo affair was a lesson in the cost of 
suppressing acknowledgment of the contin- 
gencies of nature in the name of religious 
preconceptions. Second, growth in our 
knowledge of ourselves and consequently 
our knowledge of God, comes through 
humbly listening, looking, feeling and 
pondering. And finally, to benefit from our 
dialogue with nature, we must be willing to 
feel, as well as to think. Full understanding 
emerges only when the cool dispassion of 
controlled investigation is coupled with the 
drive of curiosity, the wonder of being, the 
excitement of discovery, and the response of 

Such a disposition can lead the theolo- 
gian into fruitful conversation with the 
sciences, conversation that "trades in 
intellectually satisfying understanding," as 
Polkinghorne says, "rather than in logically 
coercive demonstration." 17 The sciences 
can offer greater insight, corroborating and 
possibly correcting theological truths; but 
they can never fully "prove" religious 
claims. Likewise, theological truths can 
enlighten the findings of science, directing 
us in their application, explicating their 

significance, and even predicting possible 
findings. 18 To gain the most from this 
dialogue, the theologian must move beyond 
the realm of general epistemological and 
meta-methodological concerns, and into the 
consideration of particular, concrete 
observations. 19 In choosing to utilize 
conclusions drawn from such dialogues, we 
should exercise a good deal of parsimony, 
neither too quickly abandoning elements of 
the tradition nor too rashly constructing 
theories on debated issues in science. 

Three themes in conversation with the 

a. The idolatry of anthropomorphism 

Personhood is a central aspect in the 
Judao-Christian conception of God. God is 
portrayed in Scripture as one who feels love, 
friendship, anger, and jealousy; as one who 
calls, chooses, chastens and engages others. 
If our concept of God did not include the 
notion of personhood, we should not be able 
to engage God as another, as a Thou; we 
would cease talking of God's love for us and 
of our affection for God. While personhood 
seems a formal necessity in our talk of 
God, :o it can also lead to the mistake of 
conceiving God as too much like ourselves. 
We may affirm notions of the omnipresence 
of God, but we are unable to imagine a 
person without temporal and spatial locality. 
Likewise, the affirmation of the omniscience 
of God is typically no more than an allegory 
of human knowing extended without limit. . 
Consequently, the notion of personhood, 
conjoined with other divine attributes, leads 
us to imagine that God is a personal agent 
who attends, intends, desires, knows, 
purposes, and acts much as we do, but on a 
much grander scale. What Charles Coulson 
has labeled the "God of the gaps" is an idol 
based on a too-human-like notion of God. 21 
These anthropomorphic images have led to 
at least two historic clashes between 
theology and science, and have eventually 
yielded either to the recovery of neglected 
elements in the tradition or to the creation of 
new models and images of God. 

The first instance arose in the cosmo- 
logical debates of the seventeenth and 

The Boston Theological Institute 

eighteenth centuries. Spatial images of a 
god who literally abides above the Earth in 
an immutable sphere of perfection and who. 
orders the universe around the theater of 
human activity contributed to the resistance 
to accepting the Copernican model of the 
cosmos. Even after a heliocentric model 
was widely accepted, such an accomplished 
scientist and theologian as Sir Isaac Newton 
could still imagine God as tinkering with the 
planets and stars, much as a mechanic would 
fine-tune a clockwork. Such an overly 
anthropomorphized image of God, as a 
causal agent manipulating objects, was 
easily dismissed by 
Laplace as a superfluous - 
hypothesis. 22 

The second in- 
stance arose in the theo- 
logical responses to 
Darwin. Scientists and 
theologians such as 
Frederick Temple, Asa 
Gray, B. B. Warfield, 
Joseph van Dyke, 

W. B. Pope, and J. McCosh, all found 
meaning in an evolving universe only 
through recourse to an image of God as one 
who plans, plants, purposes, directs, guides, 
intervenes, and nurtures creation and its 
growth in ways allegorical to human activity 
in mechanical or horticultural projects.. 
Those who were best able to accept and 
assimilate evolutionary theory were those 
who were able to maintain a view of God as 
an active creative agent, but without casting 
their image of the divine in analogies of an 
inattentive watchmaker or an attentive 
gardener. Those who could free themselves 
from the powerful mythical images of God 
as one who fashions figures from clay and 
bone were able to integrate evolutionary 
theory fully within their theology. Aubrey 
Moore, James Iverach, H. W. Beecher, J. R. 
Illingsworth, 2? and more recently Pierre 
Teilhard de Chardin and Charles Hartshorne 
are such theologians. Teilhard and 
Hartshorne present novel and progressive 
notions of the nature of God, while the 
others, at the prodding of the natural 
sciences, were perhaps doing no more than 

recovering lost aspects of the tradition. In 
an often-neglected passage, Calvin asserts 
that we may rightly say that "nature is God," 
if we do so with a reverent mind. 24 

b. The illusion of self-possession 

If the idolatry of anthropomorphism is 
the mistake of imagining God as too similar 
to ourselves, the illusion of self-possession 
is the mistake of supposing too great a 
difference between ourselves and the rest of 
creation. The illusion of self-possession 
suggests that we are transparent to our- 
selves, that our desires and behaviors are 
controlled by rational reflection, that our 

Those who were best able to accept and as- 
similate evolutionary theory where those who 
were able to maintain a view of God as an 
active creative agent, but without casting their 
image of the divine in analogies of an inatten- 
tive watchmaker or an attentive gardener. 

being and destiny is a matter to be deter- 
mined by conscious deliberation. Recent 
theoretical and experimental work in the 
sciences confirms the limits of our self- 
knowledge and of our relative significance 
in the universe. 

The illusion of self-possession began to 
crumble with the post-modern critique of 
epistemology and science. Contemporary 
thought in philosophy, science, literary 
theory, and critical theory suggests that we 
do not belong to ourselves as much as we 
belong to traditions, interests, biases and 
socially constructed and transmitted 
institutions. 25 Likewise, what we do know 
as a matter of conscious reflection and focal 
attention is meaningful only against the 
backdrop of what is known tacitly. 26 At a 
fundamental level, the meaning of scientific 
language— and all other language-is 
"relational, multiple, and does not necessar- 
ily involve conscious categorization." 27 

In a similar vein, recent experimental 
work in the physiology and psychology of 
perception suggests that "scientific knowl- 
edge [of ourselves and our world] is (1) 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

limited and relative, (2) social, (3) tacit and 
dispersed, and (4) contextually constrained 
and value laden." 28 Neuroscientists tell us 
that the brain is in some ways "hard wired" 
to recognize certain sensory input as 
meaningful, to "make decisions," and to 
prompt behavior without the input of 
conscious deliberation. 29 These neurological 
shortcuts have probably arisen to insure the 
survival of our species better, but they pay 
no homage to the self-identified "I" that 
would exercise sovereign control over the 
"self." By this account, we are more like 
cockroaches-whose legs begin to move 
before the message of perceived danger 
reaches their brain-than like the masters of 
the universe of modern mythology. Recent 
advances in psychopharmacology and 
neuroscience leave no mistake about the 
complicity of mind and body; we are a part 
of nature. On our inability fully to compre- 
hend ourselves, cognitional theorist apd 
naturalist philosopher Colin McGinn seems 
to repeat St. Augustine, as quoted earlier, 
when he says, "the brain is an object of 
perception, laid out in space, containing 
spatially distributed processes; but con- 
sciousness defies explanation in such terms. 
Consciousness does not seem made up out 
of smaller spatial processes; yet perception 
of the brain seems limited to revealing such 
processes." 30 

But just as we are part of the natural 
order, we are also unquestionably set apart 
from it. All the experimenting and theoriz- 
ing that has lead to the above conclusions 
also serve as demonstration that we are 
unique creatures in our ability to ask the 
questions of who, what, and where we are. 
Still, as regards our relative significance in 
the cosmos, geology and astrophysics teach 
us that human existence comprises an 
infinitesimal portion of time and space. This 
does not mean that humans do not hold a 
unique position in the universe, but it does 
suggest that the extinction of our species 
would not much alter the great cosmic 
scheme. Some have argued from this 
"objective" view for a style of theological 
reflection that is truly theocentric rather than 
self-referenced. 31 

c. Homo religiosus 

Where Calvin speaks of the religious 
character of human life in theological terms 
and Niebuhr explicates the religious 
dimension in existential and phenomeno- 
logical categories, a case can also be built 
for the necessity of religious commitments, 
using evidence provided by natural history 
and cognitive science. 

Neurophysiologist Rodney Holmes 
traces the family tree of the genus Homo and 
notes the following: 

The key to the hominid story is that with each 
major increase in the functional ability of a 
hominid species, there is a major increase in 
cranial capacity. Each hominid takes its name 
from its new proficiency: able tool user, erect 
explorer, and wise deliberator. The signifi- 
cance of each new ability is understood better 
in terms of neuroanatomy than in terms of the 
skeletal anatomy of each hominid. In the 
details of this story one can see an emergent 
human character: intelligent, conscious, 
imaginative and religious. 32 

From these observations, along with insights 
from linguistics and neuroscience, Holmes 
concludes that we are "fundamentally a 
Homo religiosus" and that there is "a 
naturalistic justification for the reality of our 
interpretation of ourselves as part of 
ecology." ? 3 That the emergence of neuro- 
logical structures responsible for the 
creation of religious meaning can be 
identified is not cause to dismiss the objects 
attended by religious notions, but, rather, 
argues for accepting the religious picture of 
Ultimate Reality on the basis of natural 

Others have traced the meaning-making 
activities essential for maintaining a unified 
sense of self and world arid for forming the 
social relationships essential to human life to 
the normative operations of neural struc- 
tures. 34 It seems as though the human brain 
operates in such a way so as to necessitate 
the formation of "myths"-the cognitive 
elements of which are set by the environ- 
ment, and which secure a pattern of valua- 
tion and behavior within a social environ- 
ment. Given the ecological reciprocity of 
human meaning-making and the environ- 
ment, J. Ashbrook concludes that "neutrality 
about life-its purposes and processes—is no 

The Boston Theological Institute 


longer an option." 35 Instead, based on the 
neurological. evidence we can affirm that: 

Religion itself reflects humanity's meaning- 
discerning/meaning-constructing participation 
in the ecosystem of which it is a part and 
which it most fully expresses. Sensory 
processes awaken symbolic processes and, in 
turn, are shaped by symbolic processes. 
...Religion reminds us of God and the soul. It 
directs our attention to the depth of experi- 
ence. It seeks the value of what is. It insists 
upon the relatedness of everything, in a 
universe that is to be cherished even as it'gives 
birth to Homo sapiens, Homo religiosus. 


What, then, can we learn about God 
from the sciences? In addition to a renewed 
sense of marvel at our creaturely existence 
in a complex and orderly universe, we can 
learn with assurance that the posture most 
appropriate to our species is a religious 
orientation that unifies our sense of self and 
world and that spurs us to piety. 

Works cited: 

Ashbrook, James. The Human Mind and the 
Mind of God: Theological Promise in 
Brain Research. Lanham: University 
Press of America, 1984. 

: "Making Sense of Soul and 

Sabbath: Brain Processes and Making of 
Meaning." Zygon, 27 (March 1992), 

_ . "The Cry for the Other: The Bio- 

cultural Womb of Human Development." 
Zygon, 29 (September 1994), 297-314. 

. 1996. "Interfacing Religion and the 

Neurosciences: A Review of Twenty-five 
Years of Exploration and Reflection." 
Zygon, 31 (December 1996), 545-582. 

Augustine of Hippo. Confessions. Trans. H. 
Chadwick. Oxford: Oxford University 
Press, 1991. 

Berger, Peter. The Sacred Canopy: Ele- 
ments of a Sociological Theory of 
Religion. Garden City: Doubleday, 1967. 

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian 
Religion. Trans. F. L. Battles. Ed. J. 
McNeill. Philadelphia: The Westminster 
Press, 1960. 

Carnap, R. The Logical Syntax of Lan- 
guage. London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner 
& Co., Ltd., 1937. 

Cherbonnier, E. La B. Hardness of Heart. 
New York: Doubleday, 1950. 

Damasio, Antonio D. Descartes' Error: 
Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. 
New York: Avon Books, 1994. 

and Christof Tauk. Interview with 

Joe Palka, "Sounds Like Science", 
National Public Radio broadcast. 1 March 

and Daniel Tranel. 1985 "Knowledge 

Without Awareness: An Automatic Index 
of Facial Recognition by Prosopagnosics." 
Science, 228 (21 June 21 1985), 1453-54. 

d'Aquili, Eugene G. 1983. "Myth-Ritual 
Complex: A Biogenetic Structural 
Analysis." Zygon, 18 (September 1983), 

Dupre, Louis. Passage to Modernity: An 
Essay in the Hermeneutics of Nature and 
Culture. New Haven: Yale University 
Press, 1993. 

Edwards, Jonathan. "Personal Narrative." A 
Jonathan Edwards Reader. Eds. J. E. 
Smith, H. Stout and K. P. Minkema. New 
Haven: Yale University Press, 1995. 

Fish, Stanley. Is There a Text in This Class? 
The Authority of Interpretive Communi- 
ties. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univer- 
sity Press, 1980. 

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Truth and Method. 
New York: Crossroad, 1975. 

Gustafson, James. Ethics from a Theocen- 
tric Perspective, Vol 1. Chicago: Univer- 
sity of Chicago Press, 1981. 

. . Intersections: Science, Theology, 

and Ethics. Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 


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Habermas, Jiirgen. Knowledge and Human 
Interests. Boston: Beacon Press, 1968. 

Hahn, Roger. "Laplace and the Mechanistic 
Universe." God and Nature. David 
Lindberg and Ronald Numbers, eds. 
Berkeley: University of California Press. 

Heie, H., and D. Wolfe. The Reality of 
Christian Learning. Grand Rapids: 
Eerdmans, 1987. 

Hobson, J. Allen. The Chemistry of 
Conscious States. New York: Little, 
Brown and Co., 1994. 

Jacob, Margaret C. "Christianity and the 
Newtonian Worldview." God and Nature. 
David Lindberg and Ronald Numbers, 
eds. Berkeley: University of California 
Press, 1986. 238-53. 

Kaufman, G. Essay on Theological 
Method. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1975 

Holmes, Rodney. "Homo religiosus and its 
Brain: Reality, Imagination, and the 
Future of Nature." Zygon, 31 (Sept. 
1996), 441-55. 

Kuhn, Thomas. The Structure of Scientific 
Revolutions. Chicago: University of 
Chicago Press, 1962. 

Lindberg, David, and Ronald Numbers, eds. 
God and Nature: Historical Essays on the 
Encounter between Christianity and 
Science. Berkeley: University of 
Calfornia Press, 1986. 

Livingstone, David. Darwin's Forgotten 
Defenders. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 

McGinn, Colin. The Problem of Conscious- 
ness. Cambridge: Blackwell, .1991. 

Minsky, Marvin. The Society of Mind. New 
York: Simon and-Schuster, 1986. 

Moore, James. The Post-Darwinian 
Controversies: A Study of the Protestant 
Struggle to Come to Grips with Darwin in 
Great Britain and America, 1870-1900. 
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 

Niebuhr, H. Richard. The Responsible Self. 
San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1963. 

Niebuhr, Reinhold. The Nature and Destiny 
of Man. New York: Scribner's Sons, 

Ornstein, Robert. The Evolution of Con- 
sciousness. New York: Simon and 
Schuster, 1991. 

Otten, Willemien. 1995. "Nature and 
Scripture: Demise of a Medieval Anal- 
ogy." Harvard Theological Review, 88:2 
(1995), 257-84. 

Polanyi, Michael. Knowing and Being. 
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 

Polkinghorne, John. "God as Creator." 
Readings in Modern Theology. Robin Gill, 
ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995. 

. "Response to Norma Emerton's 

'Arguments for the Existence of God from 
Nature and Science.'" Science and 
Theology: Questions at the Interface. M. 
Rae, H. Regan & J. Stenhouse, eds. 
Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994. 

Popper, Karl. The Logic of Scientific 
Discovery. New York: Basic Books, 1959. 

Rae, Murray, H. Regan, and J. Stenhouse, 
eds. Science and Theology: Questions at 
the Interface. Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 

Schleiermacher, D. E. F. The Christian 
Faith. Mackintosh and Stewart, eds. 
Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1989. 

Shea, William R. "Galileo and the Church." 
God and Nature. David Lindberg and 
Ronald Numbers, eds. Berkeley: Univer- 
sity of California Press, 1986. 114-35. 

Trevarthen, Colwyn. "Brain Science and the 
Human Spirit." Zygon, 21 (June 1986), 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Westfall, Richard S. "The Rist of Science 
and the Decline of Orthodox Christianity: 
A Study of Kepler, Descartes and New- 
ton." God and Nature. David Lindberg 
and Ronald Numbers, eds. Berkeley: 
University of California Press, 1986. 

Westman, Robert. "The Copernicans and 
the Churches," God and Nature. David 
Lindberg and Ronald Numbers, eds. 
Berkeley: University of California Press, 

Wolfe, D., and H. Heie. The Reality of 
Christian Learning: Strategies for Faith- 
Discipline Integration. Grand Rapids: 
Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1987. 


'Calvin, I, p. 35. 

: Kuhn, chapts. 2-5. 

3 See Kaufman. 

4 I am not claiming fidelity to the theology 
of Calvin or any other Reformed theologian. 
Nor do I limit my theological language and 
categories to those of the tradition. Rather, 
much as J. Gustafson does in his Ethics from 
a Theocentric Perspective, I have a prefer- 
ence for themes that are evident in a 
trajectory leading from Augustine through 
Calvin, Schleiermacher, Edwards, and 
Reinhold and Richard Niebuhr. 

s Other theological themes— such as the 
role of affections in religious experience, the 
preference for a "salvation history" ap- 
proach of reading scripture, God's good and 
faithful provision for. human needs— can also 
be easily brought into conversation with 
scientific notions. Consider the essential 
role of emotions in rationality, that percep- 
tion occurs as things manifest themselves 
over a length of time, and what some 
physicists call the "anthropic principle." 
But the limits of this essay necessitate 

6 Calvin, I, p. 200. 

7 Edwards, p. 285. 

8 Schleiermacher, p. 16. 

9 Quoted in Reinhold Niebuhr, pp. 157-58. 

10 Calvin, I, chapt. 1. 

"Augustine, p. 187. 

12 Calvin, I, p. 53 

13 Quoted in Polkinghorne, p. 30. 

14 Cherbonnier, p. 41. 

l5 Niebuhr, vol. I, p. 164. 

16 For a full discussion of the ancient and 
medieval notion of the unity of nature and 
Scripture, see Dupre, Otten. 

l7 Polkinghorne, "Response," p. 98 

l8 ln his recent book, Intersections, James 
Gustafson traces several "themes" of 
interaction between theology and the 
sciences. Some of these intersections 
emphasize theology's ability to shape and 
inform the findings of science and others 
emphasize science's ability to ground and 
shape theological concepts while others 
-indicate no real substantial interaction 
between the two. For a working criterion of 
genuine integration, see Wolfe, "Introduc- 

'"Gustafson, p. 130 ff. 

20 See Kaufman. 

2l See Coulson. 

22 For a good discussion of the scientific 
and theological notions surrounding the 
cosmological debates, see essays by 
Westman, Shea, Westfall, Jacob, and Hahn. 

2? For a presentation of the thought of these 
men and those mentioned in the previous 
sentences, consult Moore, Livingston. 

24 Carvin, I, p. 58. 

25 See, for example, works by Berger, Fish, 
Gadafner, Habermas, Kuhn, and Popper. 

26 See Polanyi, 

27 Hodges draws his conclusions from the 
work of psychologists Gibson, Bransford & 
McCarrell, Michaels & Carello, Neisser and 
Burke. A similar argument, cast in philo- 
sophical language, was used by Carnap in 
his refutation of Popper's criterion of 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

28 Hodges, p. 123. 

:y See Damasio and Tranel; also Hobson, 
Minsky, Ornstein, Trevarthen. 
,0 McGinn, p. 12. 
-'"See Gustafson. 
32 Holmes, p. 449. 

3 *IbUL,p.451. 

"Ashbrook , "The Cry for the Other," p. 
.96; see also d'Aquili, Trevarthen. 

?5 Ashbrook, The Human Mind, p. 314. 
?6 Ashbrook, "Interfacing Religion," pp. 


Gregory Carmer holds a B.A. in philosophy and social sciences from Spring Arbor Col- 
lege. He is currently working toward the completion of his Ph.D. from Boston College 
Department of Theology. His current areas of research are in theological method and 
philosophy of science. 

This essay received a First Prize. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


16 Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

Is the Search for God Fact(oid) or Fiction? 

Forrest Clingerman 

This essay opens with an presentation of the postmodern crises of knowledge and method in 
both the scientific and the theological disciplines. There is potential for science and theology to 
work through these crises together. To do so, however, a new model of relating them needs to be 
used. One such model is found in following the discipline of the interdisciplinary. 

The Postmodern period began in the eighties, 
with the American religious deliriums, in both 
fundamentalist Christian and New Age forms, 
and with the indulgence of the imaginary 
anecdotes of Ronald Reagan and Tawana 
Brawley; it achieved its apotheosis in O. J. 
Simpson's acquittal. The salient questions in 
this new era tend to the epistemological: 
What do you know, and how do you think you 
know it? 

This quotation comes from a recent 
article by Kurt Anderson, addressing the 
factoid nature of the media; but it could just 
as easily refer to the theological state of 
affairs of Postmodern America. Instead of 
the cool assurance of Aquinas or even the 
liberal theology of the turn of the century, 
we have, to borrow from the subtitle of 
Anderson's article, been welcomed to the 
theological factual free-for-all. 

This precarious place of factual 
uncertainty can be seen in the epistemic 
crisis that seems to be inherent in any new 
theological endeavor. Perhaps the greatest 
contribution to theology in the past twenty 
years has been David Tracy's work, which 
has helped otherwise-lost theologians find 
their way through the mire of a method- 
ological nightmare. In essence, the problem 
is this: how does theology, which no longer 
has an unassailable epistemological founda- 
tion, reconfigure itself in order fully to 
comprehend the divine? This is a theologi- 
cal identity crisis of our time. 

Part of this identity crisis has come 
from the postmodern agenda that has been 
championed for the last few decades. In a 

rather vitriolic article, Margaret Archer 
explains the theological allure of 
postmodernism: "In short, postmodernists 
denounce modernity which to them is the 
embodiment of secular scientific rational- 
ism, therefore some theologians feel an 
elective affinity with opponents of their 
enemy." 2 If postmodernism, with its post- 
foundationalist and post-rationalist views, 
has led innocent theologians into the abyss, 
it has succeeded in making the "Enlighten- 
ment Project" seem at least tenuous, if not 
downright ludicrous. Theology has become 
much like a carpenter who spends most of 
her or his free time fixing the foundation of 
the house. It may be easier just to build a 
new foundation, but the problem is that there 
is a house sitting on top of the cellar hole. 
The accretions of theological tradition are 
some of the tools with which we must work, 
but that tradition is not entirely consistent. 
Thus, the foundation of our theological 
structure is in constant need of repair. 

Theology is not the only discipline that 
is currently going through the tremors of 
uncertainty. In essence, we have become 
more unsure of the "reality" that science 
portrays. All the while, science continues to 
make amazing strides in its predictive 
ability-which for most of us comes in the 
form of technology. Public sympathy 
toward the miracle-working science of the 
twentieth century is swiftly coming to a 
close, leaving behind a culture that is not 
entirely sure of the values of science, while 
mainlining its technological wares. The 

The Boston Theological Institute 


environmental crisis, cloning, and the 
products of the defense industry are topics in 
which science has shown its ethical ambiva- 
lence-and every day in the living room and 
in local pubs, new debates ernerge. While 
we may not see science as the best thing 
since the days of unsliced bread, we 

Theology has become much like a carpenter 
who spends most of her free time fixing the 
foundation of her house. It may be easier 
just to build a new foundation, but the prob- 
lem is that there is a house sitting on top of 
the cellar-hole. 

certainly see it as giving us an ever-increas- 
ing fix of our electronic high. So, novels 
from William Gibson and Douglas Coupland 
are filled with the curse and the blessing of 
our ill-fated love affair-with science, from its 
incomprehensible highs to its crushing, 
destructive lows. 

Like the crisis of theology, the crisis of 
science comes from its own making. This 
does not come strictly from philosophy of 
science, although the works of recent 
philosophers have helped. Kuhn and 
Lakatos are among the most prominent. 
More influential have been the unique 
contributions of twentieth-century science, 
which have helped create the scientific 
epistemological quagmire. One example 
that can be quickly pointed out is the dispute 
over the interpretation of quantum theory. 3 
In his book, Nature, Reality, and the Sacred, 
Langdon Gilkey gives us another example. 
Gilkey writes of an incongruency in many 
current scientific cosmologies, such as those 
of Sagan, Hawking, and Pagels. On the one 
hand, these self-assured authors embody 
propositions that are "characteristic of an 
older (in fact, nineteenth-century), now 
frequently repudiated, 'objectivist' under- 
standing of science, and therefore challenge 
directly the new understanding of science." 4 
This is the same viewpoint that many of the 
popular media hold of science. On the other 
hand, many scientists have begun to brush 
off their college philosophy texts in order to 

deal with the epistemological problem of the 
century-old "new science." Gilkey notes 
this as the realization of the hermeneutical 
character of science. Gilkey writes, "Never- 
theless, from my limited reading of scien- 
tific cosmologies, it appears that the word of 
this breakthrough in the philosophy of 

1 science has not reached 
most of the 'working 
cosmologists."' 5 How- 
ever, this breakthrough 
has reached others, 
making certain that 
science is no longer the 
island of certainty in a 
I sea of wishy-washy 
humanities. In fact, 
science seems to be floating above the sea of 
reality like the rest of the academic world. 6 
"What do you know, and how do you 
know it?" Our desire to know God may not 
come from the latest book on theology— in 
fact, more often than not, it does not. At the 
same time, I am sure that more people on the 
street where I live get their science lessons 
from watching "The X-Files" on television 
than from perusing the works of Kuhn, 
Lakatos, or Einstein. Similarly, much of the 
academic world has been led down a dark 
alley that may increase an oversaturated 
publishing market but does not help in 
finding the way to a better understanding of 

As can be surmised from this thought, 
this paper seeks to examine the theological 
crisis, although the scientific crisis plays a 
part in the discussion. Epistemology is 
reliant on method-thus, an epistemic crisis 
implicitly leads to a methodological one. It 
is to this point I would now like to turn. 

Methodological crisis 

I once saw a sign for a Bible study that 
read: "Religion and Science: Do you have 
to leave your brain outside the sanctuary 
door?" For April Fools' Day, I think I might 
put this same sign on a lab door, changing 
the word "sanctuary" to "laboratory." 
Although this would be amusing, there is 
some truth to answering "yes" to both 
questions. In a sense, you do have to leave 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

your "brain" at the door of both the lab and 
the sanctuary. The sense in which this is 
true comes from a facet of our thinking— 
namely, that ever-ubiquitous "method" that 
seems to be the bus driver for the Western 
academic route. Like any bus driver, Mr. 
Method knows to cut the route up, to stop 
only at given corners to let people out. If 
you would like to see something that is not 
on the route, you have to figure out how to 
get there. If you only take the bus, you may 
miss the fluidity of the surroundings. In 
other words, there is a place between the 
stop at the supermarket and the one at the 
bank, but the bus cannot take you there. Our 
methods determine our outcome. This is 
something that physics has discovered with 
wave/particle duality (to mention only one 
example); it is certainly not exclusive to 
science, however. 

In a more erudite way, Albert Camus 
made this point in The Myth of Sisyphus: 
"For methods imply metaphysics; uncon- 
sciously they disclose conclusions that they 
often claim not to know yet. Similarly, the 
last pages of a book are already contained in 
the first pages. Such a link is inevitable." 7 
This point is hardly a revelation in either 
religion or science. Further, there is a 
conscious link between epistemology and 
method; an epistemic goal implies a method. 
Since the epistemological crisis of our time 
is becoming more obvious, this also means a 
concomitant methodological crisis on our 
worldview. Again, this point is hardly a 
revelation. However, it is important to 
understand it, in order to negotiate the ways 
in which science and religion inform us 
about the divine. This leads to the crux of 
this paper. How can religion and science 
help each other out of the crisis in which 
they both appear to be embedded? The 
answer to this question points to the answer 
to another: How can science lead to 
information about the divine? This question 
might be addressed by raising the possibility 
that it is through a new understanding of 
"the theology act" that a more cogent 
method, and thus a more cogent epistemol- 
ogy, will emerge. 

A way out of the crisis, together 

There is an epistemological crisis, and 
epistemology is intricately tied to our 
methodological foundation. Thus far, we 
have seen that neither science nor religion 
has necessarily given us a trustworthy basis 
for finding God, if left to their own devices. 
The next step that must be taken is finding a 
new relationship toward theological method 
that will help in our quest of faith-a 
relationship that will reassert a methodologi- 
cal foundation. This new relationship, I 
believe, will have two consequences. First, 
it will give us a view of science and theol- 
ogy that does not suffer from the same 
epistemic tremors— in other words, a kinder, 
gentler theology and science. Second, and 
perhaps more germane to our final destina- 
tion, this new relationship will help us 
understand how science can be beneficial in 
our theological search for God. 

The first step is always the hardest, of 
course. In order even to attempt a new 
relationship with theological method, the 
relationship between theology and God must 
be clarified, or at least made slightly less 
murky. What does the gibberish of a 
theological text have to do with God? 
Envision two boxers beating each other 
(much as a student engages Aquinas). When 
the dust clears and a bloody glove is held up 
by the referee, victory appears. However, 
where does victory come from when it 
enters the situation? How does victory 
come about? 

Theology as a discipline is not properly 
a large, tree-lined avenue to God. It is, 
instead, one large question mark (or many 
different question marks). Theology is a call 
and a response, and it is only in the response 
that it gains any recognizable connection 
with the divine. Certainly, the most obvious 
example is the case in which God becomes 
part of liberation theology through Latin 
American base communities. But if we stop 
there, we are selling ourselves short. God 
also becomes part of theology through the 
act of recognition: as we see ourselves and 
our world within theological structure, the 
divine element of theology takes shape. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Properly speaking, theology is not simply Three ineffective models 

the formulating and systematizing, but is the That science is necessary for theology is 

integration of the system into our not some startling insight; rather, it is an 

worldview. Theology's relationship with emphasis that should be fostered. Our 

God is in the potential of a divine resonance knowledge of the world is a unitary whole, 

within our systematic view of reality, via our and theology and science can deliver a 

action stemming from, and our reaction to, portion of that knowledge. However, our 

our theology. relationship with God is not formulated 

This view of theology gives us a lens through simplistic academic parceling, 

through which to view the epistemic crisis. Thus, an appreciation of the theological 

After all, if religion is not entirely sure of its view of a resonance between God and our 

foundations, most likely this situation is worldview requires the traditional theologi- 

attributable to a lack of resonance between cal formulations to be transformed by 

God and our worldview. That malfunction, scientific understanding. Since many 

in turn, derives from the disintegration of theological programs attempt to use scien- 

theology's ability fully to evoke the question tific understanding in theology, if might be 

and response, this divine resonance with our beneficial to point out some lines of thought 

worldview. Of course, any statement like that attempt this connection, and to explain 

this should be qualified. Some theology why these lines are not implied in the 

does an admirable job; much of the time, argument made here. First, consider what 

though, it does not reach the pulpit and the might be termed the "awe and wonder 

street corner (unless the corner happens to factor." Usually this is propounded by those 

have a group of seminary students at it). So, in the scientific community, particularly 

the standard "neither the scope or size of the those who are not aligned with any specific 

present work" qualification must, unfortu- religious tradition. While the "awe and 

nately, be applied here. wonder" that occur when a scientist surveys 

However, we are still left enough room the order and complexity of the universe is 

to apply this understanding of theology to indeed awesome and wonderful, this a 

our present situation. In viewing theology theological statement does not make. The 

and its problems in this light, as well as "awe and wonder factor" is not sufficient to 

seeing that science can not deliver any rebuild a theological understanding, 
epistemic certainty to our overall worldview, A second line of thought, in which 

and assuming that this epistemic crisis is theology is completed by science, is the 
somehow also 

the conclusion that 6 " While the "awe and wonder" that occur when 
could be drawn is that a scientist surveys the order and complexity 

these fields must be ,^ un{yerse may in(Jeed fa awesome a nd 

somehow reintegrated. J J 

This reintegration wonderful, this a theological statement does 

would bring the not ma ^. 

various pieces of the 
pie back together. 

When theology is practiced in this way, it attempt to show how theology can be 

not only seeks the divine, but reaches the considered to be a scientific discipline. An 

crossroads of thought and action. To check excellent example of this is Nancey 

the score on the argument thus far, it reads: Murphy's work, Theology in an Age of 

science is necessary to complete the ■ Scientific Reasoning, in Which she seeks to 

theological act. show that theology can be considered as a 

Lakatosian research program. To say that 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

this is not an acceptable possibility in the 
current circumstance is not meant as a 
disparagement of Murphy's work— the 
clarity and erudition of the volume would 
make this difficult. But the effort is simply 
a mixing of apples and oranges. The 
definition of theology which I would like to 
present is not determined by the viability of 
theology as a scientific program. Similarly, 
the question of whether theology is such a 
discipline does not rest on the current 

Finally, the third line of thought is the 
segregated-knowledge argument. An 
example of this can be found in Langdon 
Gilkey's work, in which he describes the 
separate forms of scientific and theological 
knowledge. The problem with this argument 
is that it confuses differing methods— or 
maps to knowledge-with the knowledge 
itself. Assuming that knowledge is a unitary 
whole, I am suggesting something that 
contradicts the theory that there are different 
"types" of knowledge. There is absolutely 
nothing fundamentally different between the 
knowledge given by science and that given 
by theology. Admittedly, each discipline's 
questions and methods differ, and thus each 
gives different answers; but each is funda- 
mental for our overall view of reality. In 
effect, the difference that arises is in the 
mode of knowing, rather than the knowledge 
itself. 8 

The interdisciplinary as a new model 

If these three possibilities do not 
encompass what this synthesis of religion 
and science means, they are still indicators 
of what it means. In conclusion, the final 
thrust of the argument is this: that we must 
rediscover the interdisciplinary as discipline. 
A synthesis means finding the interdiscipli- 
nary as the discipline of seeking the divine. 
While both science and theology ask 
questions in their own respective ways, it is 
only through a "coming together" that the 
theological act can truly be completed. In 
many respects, this is already being done. 
We see the role of our faith when we 
understand how God's creation is degraded 
through clear-cutting or strip-mining. We 

feel the presence of God when we hear the 
cry of a baby that is born healthy in a 
modern hospital. We can only pray for the 
mercy of God when we see that we have 
built the weapons that kill people thousands 
of miles away. Each of these examples 
portrays the theological act in an intuitive 
way— and each reflects both science and 
religion. In addition to the theological 
viewpoints we have, science gives us new 
ways of viewing the world that are inte- 
grated into our knowledge of the divine. As 
we seek to find a way out of the epistemic 
maze without meeting up with the Minotaur, 
we will need to rely on all of our knowledge. 
Science gives us new ways to act, just as 
theology does. Through them, the theologi- 
cal act can be completed and the presence of 
the divine brought among us. 

Works cited: 

Anderson, Kurt. "The Age of Unreason: 

Welcome to the Factual Free-for-All." 

New Yorker, 3 February 1997, 40-3. 
Archer, Margaret. "The Threat of 

Postmodernism in Christian Theology." 

Things Old and New: Catholic Social 

Teaching Revisited. Eds. Francis P. 

McHugh and Samuel M. Natale. New 

York: University Press of America, 1993. 
Baudrillard, Jean. Simulations. Trans. Paul 

Foss, Paul Patten, and Phillip Beitchman. 

New York: Semiotext(e), 1983, 
Bohm, David. Wholeness and the Implicate 

Order. London: Routledge and Kegan 

Paul, 1980. 
Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus. 

Trans.. Justin O'Brien. New York: 

Vintage Books, 1961. 
Davies, Paul. God and the New Physics. 

New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983. 
Gilkey, Langdon. Nature, Reality, and the 

Sacred. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 

Herbert, Nick. Quantum Reality: Beyond 

the New Physics. New York: Anchor 

Books, 1985. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific 
Revolutions. Third ed. Chicago: Univer- 
sity of Chicago Press, 1996. 

Murphy, Nancey. Theology in the Age of 
Scientific Reasoning. Ithaca: Cornell 
University Press, 1990. 

Nishida, Kitaro. An Inquiry into the Good. 
Trans. Masao Abe and Christopher Ives. 
New Haven: Yale University, 1987. 

Polkinghorne, John. Reason and Reality. 
Valley Forge: Trinity Press, 1991. 


'Anderson, p. 40. 

: Archer, p. 405. 

3 Although many writers have tackled this 
subject in detail, a brief exposition may be 
found in chapter 2 of Nick Herbert's book, 
Quantum Reality: Beyond the New Physics. 

4 Gilkey, p. 45. 
. 5 Ibid.,p.44. 

6 For a helpful and brief analysis of current 
philosophy of science, see Murphy, ch 3. 

7 Camus, p. 9. 

8 This discussion is regrettably brief and 
deserves a paper unto itself. My thought on 
the subject has been formed, in part, by my 
studies in Buddhism, particularly Kitaro 
Nishida's work, An Inquiry into the Good. 

Forrest Clingerman received his M.Div. degree in 1997 from Boston University School 
of Theology. He currently works as Operations Manager for The Boston Theological 
Institute. His religious tradition is United Methodist. 

This essay received a Second Prize. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

Complexity, Consonance, and the Concept of God 

Peter Heltzel 

Complexity theory has much explanatory power in the scientific community today. The 
author finds that its bottom-up methodology and some of its concepts can facilitate new under- 
standings of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. 

You can see a world in a grain of sand 
And a heaven in a wildflower. 
--William Blake, 
"Auguries of Innocence" 

The potential of consonant discourses 

From the heavens full of galaxies down 
to the tiniest grains of sand, our world is full 
of amazing complexity. The enormous 
progress being made in our understanding of 
complex phenomena is considered by many 
scientists to be one of the most impressive 
features of contemporary science. 1 Nowhere 
are these gains more evident than in com- 
plex systems theory. This research method 
analyzes the complex interaction in groups 
of agents that work together to form a 
cohesive unit, such as an ant colony or 
human society. How does complexity arise? 
How can complexity increase our under- ■ 
standing of God? What type of deity would 
be found in the heaven seen in Blake's 

Today, complex systems theory can 
shed significant light upon theology. This 
essay makes the following arguments: first, 
that there is a consonance between complex 
systems theory and theology; and second, 
that complex systems theory helps to 
illuminate the Christian concept of the 

Ernan McMullin uses the term "conso- 
nance" to refer to a harmony of sounds or 
elements between two bodies of knowledge, 
such as religion and science. 2 Complexity is 
one such element that unites these two 
disciplines. Despite the fact that science and 
religion are different disciplines, with 
different tasks, categories, and objects of 

study, they complement each other in many 
ways. There is consonance between these 
two discourses that can deepen our under- 
standing of God through a new linguistic 
synthesis that reflects the complexity of the 
natural world. To illustrate this consonance, 
language from complex systems theory can 
be appropriated to articulate clearly the 
Christian doctrine of the Trinity, the Divine 
reality of three Persons united in one 

Within the Latin Medieval tradition of 
analogy, complex systems theory can make 
a great contribution to the elucidation of the 
received Christian doctrine of the Trinity. 
Most of the recent work written on complex T 
ity and God has focused on God's activity in 
the world. 3 As Athanasius pointed out in 
Against the Arians, God's acts (energeia) 
cannot be separated from God's being 
(ousia), although these two are distinct. 4 
Many of these authors have neglected to 
discuss how complexity can be employed in 
the constructive task of understanding and 
explaining both the acts and the being of 

The synthetic articulation of the Trinity 
at the end of this essay seeks to highlight the 
complex interaction among the three 
Persons within the Godhead. This task is 
taken up with great reverence and trepida- 
tion, since the being of God is a mystery. 
Complex systems theory is applied to 
doctrinal construction— a human analytic/ 
synthetic explanation of God that does not 
presume to make univocal claims concern- 
ing the mystery of God's essential essence. 5 
The Trinity displays complexity in three 

The Boston Theological Institute 


primary ways: the double-dimensionality of 
being both in time and eternity, the estab- 
lishment of identity through interaction, and 
the dynamic relations of the three Persons. 
This essay examines the complexity, within 
the nature of the Trinity, after introducing 
the contemporary discourses in Trinitarian 
theology and complex systems theory. 

Introduction to complex systems 

Complexity is a multivalent term used 
in a wide variety of contemporary dis- 
courses. It is a subject so wide-ranging that 
nobody quite knows how to define it. In a 
recent article, William Stoeger clusters many 
topics under the rubric of complexity 
including dynamical systems, chaos, non- 
equilibrium thermodynamics and the physics 
of self-organization and of complex sys- 
tems. 6 The physics of complex systems 
refers to the quality of a group of inter- 
related entities that form a single, whole. A 
complex system provides a forum where 
many distinct agents are interacting and 
interdepending on each other in a number of 
ways. The millions of chemically interact- 
ing proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids that 
make up the brain are an example of a 
complex system. 

The ant colony is another popular 
model for illustrating a complex system, 
because while the individual ant can perform 
only one task at a time, all the ants in the 
colony can together perform over three 
dozen tasks concurrently; their aggregate 
behavior enables the colony to operate 
almost as a single organism. Scientists 
analyze such systems from the bottom up, 
observing the behavior and patterns of the 
individual ants, in order to understand the 
system as a whole. Systems are often 
adaptive, so scientists frequently find 
surprising "emergent behavior," such as 
clusters of ants dividing labor to perform 
various tasks. 

Contemporary complex systems theory 
has some of its roots in the general systems 
theory of the fifties. In his book, Problems 
of Life, Ludwig vOn Bertalanffy, the father 
of systems theory, marvels at the "tremen- 

dous architecture" of systems in the body 
from chemical structures to cells, tissues, 
organs, and multi-cellular organisms. 7 
These multi-level systems all hold together 
in living beings. Systems theorist Ervin 
Laszlo unifies these natural complex 
systems in his philosophy of nature as 
"integrated pluralism," or "an ontology that 
proclaims both the diversity and unity of the 
world." 8 Thus, systems in nature are 
complex, yet unified and simple. This is the 
central paradoxical insight of complexity 
theory-unity within complexity. 

Today, some of the most innovative 
work in complex systems theory is being 
conducted at the Santa Fe Institute. This 
research center has applied complex systems 
theory to a variety of disciplines, including 
computers, 9 physics, 10 anthropology," and 
biology. 12 Mitchell Waldrop gives an 
account of the history of the Santa Fe 
Institute in his book, Complexity: The 
Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and 
Chaos, which contains one of the most 
comprehensive explanations of complexity 
theory to date. 13 

Waldrop argues that the structure, . 
coherence and self-organizing cohesion of 
complex systems bring order and chaos into 
a special kind of balance. 14 This balance is 
achieved at "the edge of chaos," which 
Waldrop compares to the difference between 
solids, where the atoms are locked into 
place— and fluids, where the atoms tumble 
over one another at random. 15 "The edge of 
chaos" is the transition stage between the 
extremes of order and chaos, where com- 
plexity is found: "a class of behaviors in 
which the components of the system never 
quite lock into place, yet never quite 
dissolve into turbulence either." 16 

Recovery of trinitarian theology 

As the scientific community is coming 
to a new understanding of complexity, the 
Christian theological community is at the 
start of a new recovery of its central doctrine 
of the Trinity, which sOme would consider • 
Christianity's most complex concept. 17 
Under the tutelage of Augustine and 
Aquinas, the West has inherited a rich 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange , 1997 

tradition of Trinitarian theology. Yet, Together they explored the implications of 

Western theology has not been without chaos and complexity theory for philosophi- 

problems. The West has tended to empha- cal and theological understandings of God's 

size the oneness of God, leading toward a action in the world. 26 

psychological model of the Trinity quite One of the theologians in this group, 

different from the Eastern communitarian Denis Edwards, wrote an important article, 

model. St. Augustine is often blamed for the entitled "The Discovery of Chaos and the 

Western emphasis on oneness at the expense Retrieval of the Trinity," in which he argues 

of the three Persons. 18 Karl Barth's and Karl that the universe is God's self-expression, 

Rahner's Trinitarian works build on this and that there are "proper" roles in creation 

Augustinian foundation— where God is seen • for each Person of the Trinity. 27 Edwards' 

as the one self-conscious subject, in three article is characteristic of most of the recent 

"modes of being" 19 and "distinct ways of literature in religion and science today, with 

subsisting." 20 its concern for God's activity in the world. 

This overemphasis on the unity of the Complex systems theory can. also illuminate 

Trinity was not found in the preceding strain the Triune nature of God. 

of Christian theology in the East. 21 Begin- ^ ,, . ,. , . „ 

. , -, , . „ r , „ . . God's nature in light of systems 

ning with the three Persons of the Trinity, 

the concept of God held by Athanasius and ™ 

the Cappadocian Fathers- was decidedly If U is true that the God created the 

more communitarian. 22 To start with the world ' ll would seem that God ' s >visible 

three Persons of the Trinity in salvation nature " wou,d be mirrored in some wa y s in 

history and then to move towards accounting the creation, both in humanity, which bears 

for the nature of their unity, anticipates the the ima 8° Dei > and in nature ' which a,so 

bottom-up research approach of complexity bears the Dlv,ne im P" n t- 28 Applying 

theory. Many contemporary Eastern analogies from the natural world to.the 

Orthodox theologians have employed this conce P l of God 1S a P rofltable w ay to deepen 

bottom-up methodology to preserve the our understanding of God; however, there is 

communitarian tradition; i n0 P erfect ana, °gy for God - ^ wor,d is a 
they include John 

ziziouias, who argues At the core of complexity is the conviction 

rim y is emg that complex systems share similar behavior; 

in communion. Com- r J 

munity is central to the so, what is learned from one system can be 

Christian understanding applied tO another. 

of God, since it posits 

Persons who are capable 

of fellowship. The contemporary recovery mirror of God, but God is not a mirror of the 

of the Trinity among Roman Catholics and world. Furthermore, the world is an 

Protestants also focuses on a relational and imperfect mirror of God, because of sin and 

communal model. 24 the fall of humanity. 

Some of these Christian theologians Analogies show similarity in difference, 
have begun to discuss God in light of There is a fundamental difference between 
contemporary science. Thomas Torrance natural systems and the Christian God- 
has led the way in this integrative approach namely the difference between created and 
to Christian theology. 25 More recently, uncreated, material and immaterial reality, 
during the summer of 1993, a cross- As Thomas Aquinas said in the thirteen 
disciplinary group of twenty scholars and century, "no term can be used of God in 
scientists met at the Center for Theology and quite the same sense [univoce] as it is of 
the Natural Sciences in Berkeley, California. other things." 29 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Analogies are limited, but beneficial, in The Trinity makes it clear that God is 

understanding God. They are windows to an active both in the world and in the Godhead, 

unfamiliar world. Analogies simply suggest, Through the incarnation, God entered into 

but do not exhaust, what they indicate. 30 space and time. 32 "Incarnation" is the term 

This suggestion requires a consonance, for the entry of the Son, the second Person 

which allows a harmonious chord to strike of the Trinity, into the natural world. 33 This 

when an analogy is appropriate. Although is the most obvious starting point for the 

God is clearly not a complex system, using Trinitarian revelation of God. "How can an 

insights from the concept analogically helps infinite God enter into finite time?" was a 

us to understand the Triune nature. The question that plagued many Jewish and. 

Western Medieval tradition was congenial to Muslim philosophers, including Philo, 

the use of analogy in theology. Averroes, and Maimonides. They were 

The Medievals saw the world as skeptical of the incarnation, because it 

sacramental and full of hidden meaning. would necessitate the complex double- 

They conceived of the natural world as a set dimensionality between the Godhead and 

of concentric spheres. Complex systems the Son. 34 The Son, the second Person of the 

theory fits easily into this framework. At the Trinity, entered fully into time, illustrating 

core of complexity is the conviction that the way in which all of the Persons of the 
complex systems share . 
similar behavior; so, what m, r -, 1 . . • . r rr> • v. i 

. . .• , . • The Christian concept of a Trinity shows 

is learned from one system K J J 

can be applied to another. complexity in three primary ways: the 
Dynamic patterns that double -dimensionality of being both in 

scientists see in an ant . . » »• » n 

colony can be applied to time an d in eternity, the establishment oj 

human community and identity through interaction, and dynamic 

even to the New York , .. ., n 

C4 , c . A , relations among the Persons. 

Stock Exchange. Analo- ° 
gies are a key to under- 
standing the interconnectedness within Trinity are involved in the world from its 
such complex systems. Analogical thinking creation to its consummation, 
helps us understand the complexity of the Even though the Son entered time, 
Triune God. according to Christian theology, he was still 

¥ , „ , •* /-.j, one with the Godhead. Particularly illustra- 

Levels of complexity to God's nature , , . , 

_ , V, , - . __ ■ . ", . tive are the statements of ontological unity 

Theologian Gordon Kaufman points out • . ^ ir/u^i- it 

■ .■'■•' _«_ ,„ . in the Gospel or John . For example, Jesus 

that the meaning or the concept or God is ., ;.. , . •' „, ft ' , 

' " , ,,,,,. , said, I and the Father are one. b Through 

itself extremely complex. Varying degrees , , . . , 

... . .. ,,,.., such statements, we see the intimacy and 

or complexity are round in all traditional ■ • . . t- L jo ill 

. ■'_■ ,. • ,,, ,. . unity between the Father and Son, although 

conceptions or God in the world s religions. , ... . „ , , ,. rr ° 

r ,,,,., r „ ,. they are distinct Persons and have different 

For example, the Hindu concept of God is .. , . ... _, „ , 

• - . ■ , x t ■ . roles in redemptive history. The Father and 

much more multifarious than the Christian „ .... , 

, ,, , , , .. . Son are distinct, but not separate, because 

concept; and all the personal deities of . ... 

... , . ., , -r • they are one communion, working to- 

Hinduism are considered as manifestations , „ _ . . . _ . . 

, , . ,. . . . „ gether. Father and Son work together in 

of one underlying divinity or unity. I he ,. cc , , 7, ^ 

_,, . . ■ P r^ . . ' . different ways to redeem the world. The 

Christian concept of a Trinity shows „ ., , , , ,.,;""« 

. . . ,. . , Father has the role or sender while the Son 

complexity in three primary ways: the . . . ' . ... 3 c 

, . . ■ . J .. . , , . . is sent into the world, to be crucified tor the 

double-dimensionality of being both in time . c . . _^ ' ; , • , , 

.... r ., . sins of humanity. The Father s and the 

and in eternity, the establishment of identity „ , . .. . . 

, ... . . ... Son s cooperative yet distinct roles in 

through interaction, and dynamic relations , . . , 

, _,• redemption make clear the personal mterac- 

among the Persons. ... , r , 

tion and interdependence of these two 

26 Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

distinct Persons, united with the Holy Spirit 
in one Godhead. The ants that work 
together in a colony, for their own self- 
preservation, model in a small way the 
Persons of the Trinity, who work together to 
redeem the world. 

The presence and activity of the Holy 
Spirit in the Trinity intensifies the complex- 
ity within the Godhead. The Holy Spirit, 
traditionally referred to as the third Person, 
is also revealed and implied in the acts and 
interactions of the Father and Son. 38 For 
example, the Holy Spirit plays many 
important roles in the life of Jesus— as the 
agent of the virgin birth of Jesus, the one 
who inspires his earthly life and the enabler 
of his works, death, and resurrection. As 
with the Father and the Son, the Holy 
Spirit's Triune identity comes through 
mutual interaction and relations in the 
shared activities of the Godhead. The Spirit 
is the Spirit by virtue of its interaction with 
the Father and the Son. The relations are 
constitutive of each Person's identity. 

The Holy Spirit, as third Person of the 
Trinity, has an essential place in the Triune 
communion, because it is the presence of a 
third Person, regardless of which one, who 
ushers in the complexity. The three-body 
problem from astrophysics will illustrate this 
point. When two planets are in orbit, 
astronomers have no problem predicting 
their coordinates. However, when a third 
planet is added, the conditions become 
infinitely more complex. Because of the 
mutual perturbations of the three, there is no 
longer a closed solution for the equation. 
Although the parallel between the three 
planets and Persons of the Trinity is acciden- 
tal, the fact remains that the Holy Spirit 
ushers an infinite amount of complexity into 
the Triune communion. 

The Trinity displays complexity through 
the establishment of identity through 
interactions, and through the double- 
dimensionality of being in both time and 
eternity. This complexity reaches its zenith 
in the perichoretic relations between the 
three Persons. "Perichoresis" is the tradi- 
tional term that describes this mutual 
containment, interpenetration and in- 

dwelling of the three Persons. Not only are 
there three Persons, displaying an infinite 
complexity, but these Persons wholly dwell 
within one another. This interpenetration is 
the height of complex interaction. The 
paradox is that, though each of the three 
distinct Persons mutually in-dwell, they are 
still three Persons united in one essence. 
While there is complexity in the Christian 
Trinity, God is also simple in very nature. 39 
Thus, the paradoxical insight of complexity 
theory— simplicity in complexity— is present 
in the Triune conception of God. 

In order to redeem the world, the Son 
entered into time, displaying a complex, 
double-dimensionality within the Trinity, of 
being simultaneously in. time and in eternity. 
Although Jesus was in time, he was not 
separated from the Father and the Spirit, 
because it is through their complex mutual 
interactions that their respective identities 
are found. The perichoretic relations among 
the three are the highest expression of the 
inner complexity present in the Trinity. 
Complexity is ordered into a beautiful unity 
in the concept of the' Trinity. This appropria- 
tion of the language of complexity theory 
into the doctrinal construction of the 
Christian concept of God is only the 
beginning. Other religious perspectives 
should be incorporated into the modern 
discourse on complexity. 

Clearly, a consonance may be found 
between complex systems theory and 
religion. As an example of how to work 
dialogically between these two disciplines, 
complex systems theory may be applied to 
concepts of God. The bottom-up methodol- 
ogy of complex systems theory is a further 
example of consonance between these fields 
and holds much promise for contemporary 
theological method. 

The discourse of complexity theory is 
especially suited for clear theological 
articulation. Not only Christians, but 
theologians from all religious traditions, can 
use. findings from complexity theory for a 
fresh articulation of their concepts of God. 
The complexity theorists can also benefit 
from dialogue with these faith traditions, to 
understand the deeper spiritual aspects of 

The Boston Theological Institute 


complex natural phenomena. From a grain 
of sand on the beach to the little children 
building sand castles, complexity in our 
world points to the multitudes of galaxies in 
the heavens and beyond. Not only can we 
see a world in a grain of sand, but we can 
ascend to heaven in our viewing of a 

Works cited: 

Aquinas, Thomas. Against the.G 'entiles. I. 
Trans. Anton C. Pegis. Notre Dame: 
University of Notre Dame Press, 1955. 

Athanasius. Against the Arians. Trans. J. H. 
Newman. Nicene and Post-Nicene 
Fathers. Ed. Philip Schaff and Henry 
Wace. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994. 

Augustine of Hippo. The Trinity. Trans. 
Edmund Hill. New York: New City 
Press, 1991. 

Bertalanffy, Ludwig von. Problems of Life: 
An Evaluation of Modern Biological 
Thought. New York: Watts and Com- 
pany, 1954. 

Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics. . The 
Doctrine of God. I/I. Ed. G. W. Bromiley 
and T F. Torrance. Edinburgh: T&T 
Clark, 1957. 

Basil of Caesarea. On The Holy Spirit. 
Trans. David Anderson. Crestwood: St: 
Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1980. 

Bracken, Joseph. Society and Spirit: A 
Trinitarian Cosmology. Cranbury: 

. Associated University Press. 1991. 

Dragas, George, "St. Athanasius on the Holy 
Spirit and the Trinity." Theological 
Dialogue between Orthodox and Re- 
formed Churches, Vol. II. Ed. Thomas F. 
Torrance. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic 
Press, 1992. 

Edwards, Denis. "The Discovery of Chaos 
and the Retrieval of the Trinity" Chaos 
and Complexity: Scientific Perspectives 
on Divine Action. Ed. Robert Russell, 
Nancey Murphy, and Arthur Peacocke. 
Rome: Vatican Observatory, 1995. 

Gell-Mann, Murray. The Quark and the 
Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the 
Complex, New York: W. H. Freeman and 
Company, 1994: 

Gregory of Nazianzen. Faith Gives Fullness 
to Reasoning: The Five Theological 
Orations of Gregory of Nazianzen. Trans. 
F.W. Norris. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1991. 

Gunton, Colin. "Augustine,- The Trinity, and 
the Theological Crisis of the West." The 
Scottish Journal of Theology, 43 (1988). 

Johnson, George. Fire in the Mind: Sci- 
ence, Faith, and the Search for Order. 
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993. 

Johnson, Elizabeth. "Does God Play Dice? 
Divine Providence and Chance." Theo- 
logical Studies, 57 (1996). 

Kaufman, Gordon. Theological Imagina- 
tion: Constructing the Concept of God. . 
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Kauffman, Stuart. At Home in the Universe: 
The Search for the Law's of Self-Organiza- 
tion and Complexity. New York: Oxford 
University Press, 1995. 

Kuppers, Bernard-Olaf. "Understanding 
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Ed. Robert Russell, Nancey Murphy, and 
Arthur Peacocke. Vatican City: Vatican 
Observatory, 1993. 

LaCugna, Catherine M. God For Us: The 
Trinity and Christian Life. San Francisco: 
HarperSanFrancisco, 1988. 

Laszlo, Ervin. Introduction to Systems 
Philosophy: Toward a New Paradigm of 
Contemporary Thought: New York: 
Harper and Row, 1979. 

Martland, Thomas R. "A Study of 
Cappadocian and Augustinian Trinitarian 
Methodology." Anglican Tradition 47 

McMullen, Ernan. "How Should Cosmol- 
ogy Relate to Theology?" Science and 
Theology in the Twentieth Century. Ed. 
Arthur Peacocke. Notre Dame: Univer- 
sity of Notre Dame Press, 1981. . 


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Moltman, Jurgen. The Trinity and the 
Kingdom of God. London: SCM Press, 

Oliver, Harold H. "The Neglect and 
Recovery of Nature in Twentieth Century 
Protestant Thought." Journal of the 
American Academy of Religion, LX/3 

Peters, Ted. God as Trinity: Relationality 
and Temporality in Divine Life. Louis- 
ville: Westminster/John Knox, 1993. 

_. "The Trinity In and Beyond Time." 

Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of 
Nature: Scientific Perspectives on Divine 
Action. Ed. Robert John Russell, Nancey 
Murphy, and C. J. Isham. Vatican City 
State: Vatican Observatory, 1993. 

Polkinghorne, Joha. "Chaos Theory and 
Divine Action." Religion and Science: 
History, Method, and Dialogue. Ed. W. 
Mark Richardson and Wesley Wildman. 
New York: Routledge, 1993. 

Russell, Robert John, Nancey Murphy, and 
C.J. Isham, eds. Quantum Cosmology and 
the Laws of Nature: Scientific Perspec- 
tives on Divine Action. Vatican City State: 
Vatican Observatory, 1993. 

Rahner, Karl. The Trinity. Trans. Joseph 
Donceel. London: Burns and Oates, 

Stoeger, William. "Key Developments in 
Physics Challenging Philosophy and 
Theology." Religion and Science: 
History, Method, and Dialogue. Ed. W. 
Mark Richardson and Wesley Wildman'. 
New York: Routledge, 1996. 

Torrance, Thomas F. Space-Time and 
Incarnation. Oxford: Oxford Press, 

. "God and the Contingent World." 

ZygonU:4 (19.79) 

. Reality and Scientific Theology. 

Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 
. The Christian Doctrine of God: 

Waldrop, M. Mitchel. Complexity: The 
Emerging Science at the Edge of Order 
and Chaos. New York: Simon and 
Schuster, 1992. 

Zizioulas, John D. Being as Communion: 
Studies in Personhood and the Church. 
Crestwood, N.Y: St. Vladimir's Semi- 
nary Press, 1986. 

Zurek, Wojciech H., ed. Complexity, 
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One Being, Three Persons. Edinburgh: T 
&T. Clark, 1996. 


'Kuppers, p. 93. 

: See McMullin. 

3 See Russell, Murphy, and Isham; 
Johnson; Polkinghorne. 

4 Athanasius, 2.2, 2.28, 3,65. 

5 Barth, pp. 1 79 ff; pp. 297 ff. 

^Stoeger, p. 183. 

7 von Bertalanffy, p. 23. 

K Laszlo, p. 47. 

9 See Zurek. 

l0 See Gell-Mann. 

"See Johnson. 

l2 See Kauffman. 

"See Waldrop. 

"Ibid., p. 12. 

i5 Ibid., p. 237. 

"Ibid, p. 239. 

17 Edwards, p. 157. 

,8 See Gunton; Augustine, 5.7, 8.11, 9.12, 

|y Barth, pp. 479 ff. 

:o Rahner, pp. 110 ff. 

21 See Martland. 

-Basil of Caesarea, pp. 42 ff; Gregory of 
Nazianzen, pp. 217 ff. 

23 See Zizioulas. 

:4 See Moltmann; LaCugna; Bracken; 
Gunton; Peters, God As Trinity: Torrance, 
The Christian Doctrine of God. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


25 See Torrance, "God and the Contingent 

26 See Russell, Murphy, and Peacocke. 

27 See Edwards. 

28 Romans 1:20; Augustine, 11:8. 

29 Aquinas, 1/32:143. 

30 Torrance, Reality and Scientific Theol- 
ogy, p. 202. 

31 Kaufman, p. 14. 

32 See Torrance, Space-Time and Incarna- 

"John 1:14. 

34 Peters, "The Trinity In and Beyond 
Time," p. 263. 

35 John8:58, 16:25. 

36 John 10:30. 

"Oliver, p. 399. 

38 Dragas, pp. 44 ff. 

39 Athanasius 4:1. 

The author dedicates this essay to his former teacher at Wheaton College (Illinois), 
Professor Mark Noll. 

Peter Heltzel is in the final year of the M.Div. program at Gordon-Conwell Theological 
Seminary. His interests lie in the fields of systematic theology, ethics, church history, 
and the interactions of science with theology. 

This essay was awarded a First Prize. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

Cosmic Evolution and the Theology of Social Solidarity 

John Newton Hewitt 

This essay is concerned with the intersection between theology, social theory, and evolu- 
tion. In an effort to sketch an ecologically sound theology of social solidarity and a global 
ethics, the author examines constructive theologies that take cosmic evolution as a central orga- 
nizing principle. While the inherent utopianism of Washington Gladden 's social gospel cannot 
be revived, his theology provides useful insights into the creative use of scientific and religious 
discourse for a contemporary democratic theology in search of the common good. 


The great development of the natural sciences 
and the rise of evolutionary theories have also 
had their effect upon Christian theology. That 
there are vast numbers of protestant Christians 
who have been scarcely touched by these 
influences is true; but these influences are 
shaping the thought of the world, and it is 
impossible that the theology of a living 
Church should not be profoundly affected by 
them. For natural science is simply telling us 
what God is doing in His world, and evolution 
is simply explaining the way in which His 
work is done. At bottom, all this is religious 
truth, of the most fundamental character; and, 
if Christian theology is true theology, it must 
include the truths of science and evolution. 
—Washington Gladden 1 

For more than a century now, there has 
been a consensus about evolution among the 
leading scientists and theologians. Indeed, 
an increasing number of prominent thinkers 
have professional qualifications both as 
scientists and theologians. 2 If one includes 
the work of a scientist and natural philoso- 
pher such as Paul Davies (a winner of the 
Templeton Prize), who is extremely inter- 
ested in questions of a religious nature— 
bearing in mind that his books sell by the 
proverbial truckload-then it is clear that 
there is a serious desire among educated 
people to find a vision for life that is at once 
spiritually edifying and intellectually sound. 
There may be some ruffling of the feathers 
at the margins of scientific and theological 
discourse— I speak of the "scientific cre- 
ationists" 3 -but most people concur with 
Arthur Peacocke's assertion that, "after two 

centuries or more of bickering, or of sullen 
silence with demarcation of spheres of 
interest, these two fundamental activities, 
the search for intelligibility and the search 
for meaning, that characterize respectively, 
but not exclusively, science and religion, 
find themselves inextricably interlocked 
with each other in the common human 
enterprise of seeking both intelligibility and 
meaning." 4 

A very clear example of what Peacocke 
is suggesting is provided in the work of 
astrophysicist Eric Chaisson. Chaisson 
defines cosmic evolution as "the study of 
change through time." 5 Over the course of 
time, this process of change has brought 
forth all the features of the physical uni- 
verse, and the emergence of lifeitself. 
Cosmic evolution thus includes biological 
evolution as a subset of the whole. Chaisson 
holds that "cosmic evolution is an attempt to 
build a cosmology in which life plays an 
integral role. It is an attempt to frame a 
heritage— a cosmic heritage— a sweeping 
structure of understanding based on events 
of the past (for as we look out in space we 
probe back in time), an intellectual road map 
identified and embraced by humans of the 
present, indeed a virtual blueprint for 
survival if adopted by our descendants of the 
future." h According to this description, 
Chaisson 's "scientific philosophy" clearly 
brings him into the ambit of theological 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Indeed, the key point for the purpose of 
this essay--and one certainly of. central 
importance for contemporary theology-is 
that with the emergence of the higher forms 
of life, and in particular the rise of con- 
sciousness, the very process of cosmic 
evolution is given a creative direction. This 
is a theme that Chaisson expands on in his 
book, The Life Era: Cosmic Selection and 
Conscious Evolution. Peacocke puts this 
idea into a somewhat more traditional 
theological form: 

It is as if man has the possibility of acting as a 
participant in creation, as it were the leader of 
the orchestra of creation in the performance 
which is God's continuing composition. In 
other words man now has, at his present stage 
of intellectual, cultural, and social evolution, 
the opportunity of consciously becoming co- 
creator and co-worker with God in his work 
on Earth, and perhaps even a little beyond 
Earth. To ask how to fulfil this role without 
the hubris that entails the downfall classically 
brought upon those who 'would be as gods' is 
but to pose in dramatic fashion the whole 
ecological problem. But at least one who sees 
his role as that of co-creator and co-worker 
with God might have a reasonable hope of 
avoiding this nemesis, by virtue of his. 
recognition of his role ipso facto as auxiliary 
and co-operative rather than as dominating 
and exploitative. 7 

This is an exciting idea, not just because 
it offers a potential synthesis of scientific 
and theological concepts, but also because it 
provides the grounds for a truly global 
ethics-one in which two features impress 
themselves upon us: (1) the interdepen- 
dency of all living things in the biosphere 
(the web of life), and (2) the responsibility 
that humans have towards the future 
direction of evolution within the biosphere 
(and possibly beyond). We will shortly 
discuss this point in more detail in relation 
to the work of Daly and Cobb. Of course, 
theologians will rightly interject that such a 
vision might engender the kind of hubris to 
which Peacocke alludes. Certainly, there is 
a danger of idolatry— humankind will not 
just become like God, but will act as God in 
the scheme of things. Interestingly enough, 
this universal human temptation was alluded 
to in the Hebrew creation stories. We are 
warned by the wisdom of the sages. 

Nevertheless, the arrow of time in the 
process of cosmic evolution cannot be 
reversed. Humans are indeed in a unique 
position, and undoubtedly hold a privileged 
position as the species that possesses not 
only consciousness (and the ability for 
reflexive and creative thought), but the 
ability to redirect the very process of 
evolution itself. For this reason, evolution 
has never been more central to the task of 
theology, and theology has never been more 
important as a means of interpreting this 
stage in the unfolding of a cosmic purpose. 
One cannot put it any more succinctly than 
Gordon Kaufman has: 

[H]umans have a power of creativity, a power 
to transform their inherited conditions of 
existence, which is unique among all living 
beings of which we know. Humans have 
produced a whole new order of reality- 
culture, the symbolic world, the order of 
meaning— which they have superimposed on 
the natural order into which they were born, 
and they have made this artificial world their, 
home. Of course, all living beings are able to 
process information, and animals are able to 
communicate with one another and to 
rearrange their natural environment so that it 
will be more suitable to sustain them (by 
building nests, storing food, and the like). 
Humans, however, have gone far beyond all 
others in constructing an entire artificial world 
which does much more than simply meet their 
biological needs: it introduces a wholly new 
realm of being, the symbolic order, the order 
of meaning (what we shall later call the order 
of 'spirit'), and this has in turn generated in 
men and women new desires, interests, and 
needs which go far beyond strict biological 
utility, and sometimes even contradict it. 8 

As already intimated, the theological 
enterprise (in Kaufman's "order of spirit") 
has never been more important as a means 
of navigating into the future. 9 Our realiza- 
tion of this fact has been brought on by a 
growing sense of a looming ecological 
crisis, the result of our technological 
development. But even more than this, 
humankind is threatened by a fundamental 
spiritual and ethical crisis (not necessarily 
related to increasing secularization-as this 
has often been liberating-but owing to the 
rise of egoism and materialistic values). As 
Chaisson says: 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

It is important to realize that the problems we and theologians— can provide a map for the 

face today are not similar, not even in future of humanity." 
principle, to those of previous generations. 

The recent exponential rise in technological It has become our task to make the next 
achievements and the inability of society to phase of evolution an "ethical evolution," I4 
cope with them have led to problems basically in which we play an active and creative role, 
different from those confronting earlier ■ -.,... 
civilizations.... We are in a transition period In so doin g we implicitly transcend the 
that no Earth society ever has encountered. Darwinian principles of natural selection. 
This is not a doomsday forecast but a Thus - 
statement that social and political organiza- 
tions appear unprepared to deal with the To. employ cosmic evolution as an intellectual 
widespread changes necessary for our as well as a practical guide toward the Life Era 
continued existence. 10 is to think in dynamic rather than static terms, 

to forge a link between natural science and 

Chaisson continues to provide a sketch human history, to realize the evolutionary 

of a solution to this crisis in the "life era." " roots of human values, to renew a sense of 

It has now become imperative that human hope. . 1 suggest that cosmic evolution is a 

r powerful synthesis to use as perspective .... 

beings develop a "global culture and a From the stu dy of cosmic evolution may well 

"planetary ethics. " |: This ethics must of emerge a sense of 'big thinking' and with it 

necessity be able to apply to all of humanity the global ethics and planetary citizenship 

,.„.;, u j- . c - needed if our species is to have a future. In 

and be flexible enough to fit the process of the words of S0ren Kierkegaard, ' Life can 

change itself. He doubts whether philoso- only be understood backwards, but it must be 

phy, religion, and even science (given its ,ived forwards.' Tritely stated though no less 

..... -__ . . _, . true, our future will likely be a measure of our 

specializations) can effectively carry out this current wisdom ls 

task, owing to the pluralistic nature of our 

societies. No single religious tradition There is n0 ^ tsX[on that this credo of 

would be able to generate a sufficiently Chaisson 's has a religious quality.' 6 And 

global ethics perhaps it marks the possibility of a true 

However, Chaisson turns to evolution revival of interest in the reli 8 ious s P irit 

•♦ if *u „~ „.^ t i,-„„i nn ^ Q fu;^<- itself. 17 Alfred. North Whitehead's remark 

itself as the source of this planetary ethics. 

comes to mind: "Religion will not regain its 
I old power until it 

Humans hold a privileged position as the spe- I can face chan § e in 

• I the same spirit as 

cies that possesses the ability to redirect the very I does se j en ce. its 
process of evolution itself . For this reason, I principles may be 

» ,. , , > . .» eternal, but the 

evolution has never been more central to the expression of those 

task of theology, and theology has never been principles require 

more important as a means of interpreting this continual deveiop- 

stage in the unfolding of a cosmic purpose. progress of science 

must result in the 

He believes that evolution provides suffi- unceasing codification of religious thought, 

cient common ground for religion, philoso- to the great advantage of religion." 18 
phy, and science to be able to subscribe: As Gordon Kaufman correctly reminds 

"[T]he concept of evolution, invented by us - theology is "a human imaginative 

philosophy and now fully embraced by task." 19 I would argue that the issue of 

science, is acceptable to all but the most "planetary ethics" is indeed a fundamental 
fundamentalist religions. Its broad approval is . iL iL , , , , ., , 

why an appreciation and understanding of q uest,on that must be addressed by theolo- 

evolution in its most awesome sense-cosmic gians within all the major religious tradi- 

evolution, a scientific philosophy capable of t j ons Perhaps the theologian who has most 

applying the tools of technology to the time- Hirertlv tarklerl this issue to date is Hans 

honored questions first posed by philosophers directly tackled this issue to date is Hans 

Kiing in his Global Responsibility: In 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Search of a Mew World Ethic. For Kiing, a 
"world ethic" would reflect our common 
evolutionary heritage, and even more 
particularly, our willingness to embrace a 
common future destiny. As such, "theolo- 
gians should attempt to construct concep- 
tions of God, humanity, and the world 
appropriate for the orientation of contempo- 
rary human life." 20 

Washington Gladden's "Organic Law 
of Human Society" 

The social gospel movement took shape 
during the years when evolution was making 
its converts among the progressive clergy, and 
since ministers who were liberal in social 
outlook were almost invariably liberal in 
theology also, the social theory of the 
movement was readily affected by the impact . 
of naturalism upon social thought. The 
growing secularization of thought hastened the 
trend among clergymen to turn from the 
abstractions of pure theology to concrete 
social questions. The liberalization of 
theology broke down the insularity of religion. 
Social gospel leaders were also inspired by the 
vistas of development opened both forward 
and backward in time by the evolutionary 
perspective; and their belief in an inevitable 
progress towards a better order on earth - the 
Kingdom of God - was fortified by the 
evolutionary dogma.... This combination with 
scientific evolutionary thought has freed the 
kingdom ideal of its catastrophic setting and 
its background of demonism, and so adapted it 
to the climate of the modern world. Spencer's 
organic interpretation of society also appealed 
to the progressive clergy, although they 
usually put it to uses of which he would have 
sternly disapproved. For them the social 
organism concept meant that the salvation of 
the isolated individual had lost its meaning, 
and that men in the future would speak With 
Washington Gladden -of 'social salvation. ' 
--Richard Hofstadter 21 

It may seem a little incongruous to 
consider at this point the work of a theolo- 
gian who commenced his pastoral ministry 
over a century ago. And yet, the work of 
Washington Gladden (1836-1918), while 
somewhat in eclipse for most of this century, 
is instructive for a contemporary theology of 
social solidarity. Gladden, regarded as the. 
"father" of the social gospel, 22 attempted to 
fit a distinctly liberal theological focus on 
the progressive emergence of the kingdom 
of God (the primary theological motif of the 
social gospel movement) into an evolution- 

ary theoretical framework. However, 
Gladden's interpretation of Social Darwinist 
ideas was especially critical of Spencer's 
laissez-faire economics and non-interven- 
tionist social policies (championed in 
America by the Yale sociologist William 
Graham Sumner), while also steering a path 
away from the more radical versions of 

According to Jacob Dorn, whose work 
constitutes the major single study of 
Gladden's life and teaching, "Evolution 
became the leaven of his religious and social 
thought, and the authority of its philosophi- 
cal implications was, for him, unchal-' 
lenged." 23 Gladden was particularly 
influenced by the philosophy of John Fiske, 
who maintained "that evolution was another 
evidence of divine purpose and the optimis- 
tic law of progress." 24 Like Gladden, Walter 
Rauschenbusch saw that the progressive 
nature of the kingdom of God was supported 
by the scientific theory of evolution: 
"Translate the evolutionary theories into 
religious faith, and you have the doctrine of 
the Kingdom of God." 25 

As early as 1870, Gladden was preach- 
ing about Darwinism and the link between 
natural and social evolution. He argued that 
while evolutionary theory had shown a 
natural progress in life forms best adapted to 
their environment, this did not guarantee 
that the best or ideal forms ultimately 
survived. In a mean society, the mean are 
probably the most fitted for survival. It was 
therefore the role of religion to foster the 
social virtues of love and compassion, and to 
promote the common good. In this way the 
recognition that we are part of a social 
organism dawns upon humankind, and we 
realize our divinely appointed role in 
fostering the divine consciousness that leads 
inevitably to the fullness of God's kingdom. 

Throughout his many books and 
published sermons, Gladden stressed three 
related ideas in social Christianity consistent 
with an evolutionary approach: (1) the 
immanence of God in the cosmic process, 
(2) the organic or solidaristic view of 
society, and (3) the presence and growth of 
the kingdom of God. For Gladden, the 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

evolutionary view of the universe helped to 
ground the doctrine of divine immanence; 

The God in whom we live and move and have 
our being will not need to be certified by 
documents or symbolized by sacraments or 
demonstrated by logic; our .knowledge of him 
will be immediate and .certain. If He is, 
indeed, the Life of all life; if He is 'more 
present to all things He made than anything 
unto itself can be'; if He is 'stream of 
tendency, whereby all things fulfil the law of 
their being'; if He is really 'working in us, to 
will and to do of His good pleasure,' then life 
possesses a sacredness and a significance 
which few of us have yet conceived. This 
truth sanctifies and' glorifies the whole of life. 
It is the truth which lies at the heart of what is 
known as the 'new theology'; and, if the 
Christian pulpit can but grasp it and realize it, 
we shall have such a revival of religion as the 
world has never seen. 26 

For Gladden, the theological appropria- 
tion of evolutionary ideas supported the two 
principal truths of the social gospel: the 
"Fatherhood of God" and human "Brother- 
hood." The doctrine of the "Fatherhood of 
God"— as exemplified in the life and works 
of Jesus— shifted the focus away from the 
view of God as a distant monarch, to that 
whereby God and the creation are enmeshed 
in a relationship of filial love: 

The doctrine must have vast social conse- 
quences. When it is once fully accepted, and 
all that it implies is recognized and enforced, 
society will be regenerated and: redeemed. If 
all men are, indeed, brothers, and owe to one 
another, in every relation, brotherly kindness; 
if there is but one law of human association - 
'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself; if 
every man's business in the world is to give as 
much as he can, rather than to get as much as 
he can, then the drift of human society must 
now be in wrong directions, and there is need 
of a reformation which shall start from the 
centers of life and thought. 27 

As a liberal, Gladden believed that with 
sufficient moral education mediated by the 
key social institutions, 28 people could be 
made aware of their organic relationship to 
each other and to God. However, he was 
also disturbed by the fragmentation of 
knowledge, whereupon scientific knowledge 
could be isolated from humanitarian, 
cultural, and religious knowledge. If, as he 
believed that evolution showed, the whole 
universe was revelational, then all knowl- 
edge, whether of the rational, mystical, 

moral or cultural dimensions, were to be 
integrated as truth. 29 Gladden addressed the 
issue of reconciling religious and scientific 
knowledge in his book, Burning Questions. 
In the first essay, entitled, "Has Evolution 
Abolished God?" he not only answers in the 
negative, but goes on to argue that evolu- 
tionary theory can be put to use as an 
apologetic for the existence and activity of 
God in the cosmos. Indeed, the "dynamic 
and creative cosmos of Darwin was a much 
more exciting, mysterious, and free universe 
than the static, self-contained, mechanical 
one of Copernicus and Newton." 30 

For Gladden, developments in nine- 
teenth century science had shown that God 
was immanent and omnipresent. Fry and 
Fry express this idea of the dynamic 
evolutionary model quite nicely: "History 
moved into eschatology— liberty now joined 
spirituality, rationality, community and 
morality in the process. Freedom with faith 
and reason, coupled with fellowship, led to a 
forward momentum for the human family." 31 

One of the reasons why the social 
gospel lost its momentum after World War I 
was precisely the fact that it was seen to be 
overly optimistic about the human condition. 
As Hopkins shows in his classic study of the 
movement, "[t]he religious rationalization 
of evolution carried with it the uncritical 
assumption of the corollary belief in 
progress. Many Protestant thinkers saw the 
process of development at work in the 
religious and moral realms as well as nature. 
Progress was held to be real and evolution to 
provide cosmic sanction for trust in the 
ultimate triumph of good." 32 There is no 
doubt that the major theological work of our 
century to express such optimism in 
progressive evolution is that of Pierre 
Teilhard de Chardin. But in effect, this is . 
probably nothing more than the last sigh of a 
theology of predestination. We cannot 
escape the fact that we live in a contingent 
universe. Nothing is determined-cosmic 
evolution is an open process. As reflexively 
conscious beings, we have reached the stage 
in cosmic evolution where we are able to act 
as creative agents in the whole process. We 
may not be able to have Gladden 's confi- 

The Boston Theological Institute 


dence in the divine unfolding of the king- 
dom of God through evolution, but we can 
at least recognize the invaluable role that an 
ecologically sound theology of social 
solidarity can play in shaping the future. 
Templeton Prize-winning Australian 
scientist and process theologian, Charles 
Birch, makes the point that since both 
science and religion are moving away from 
substantialist presuppositions-recognizing 
that they use different models for explaining 
the world-it may be that they will "find new 
depth in each other's endeavours" 33 More- 
over, one "objective of theology is to bring 
science and religion closer together in a 
'deeper religion and a more subtle science.'" 
34 It is certainly true that theology can no 
longer claim to read directly the divine 
revelation in the book of nature; the truth 
about nature is best approached through the 
application of scientific methodology. 
Theologies are constructed to serve a 
hermeneutical purpose. They exist as 
cathedrals of the mind; places where 
spiritual, aesthetical, and moral concerns can 
be crafted and sent forth into the world. 
Washington Gladden 's evolutionary theol- 
ogy of social solidarity is one such example. 
It has the distinct virtue of providing a 
meaningful social vision for humanity that 
directly challenges the destructive acids of 
atomistic egoism, cynicism, and despair: 

"Human beings are made to live together upon 
this planet and to find in mutual cooperation a 
large part of the good of being. The law of life 
is therefore love or good will. They are 
sharers in one another's welfare; each one is 
largely dependent for his happiness on the 
well being and well doing of his fellows. This 
is the organic law of human society . . . ." 35 

The human factor: Hefner on 
evolution, culture, and religion 

Philip Hefner's The Human Factor is a 
major work of constructive theology. It 
encompasses a breadth and depth of learning 
that is impossible to convey in such a short 
summary. Starting with biocultural evolu- 
tion and leading to a balanced ecological 
view of humans as co-creators, it offers 
perhaps the closest theological counterpart 
to the work of Eric Chaisson. 

Following the same perspective as 
Chaisson, Hefner writes: 

The picture of cosmic evolution contains, 
therefore, at least four segments: Big Bang 
cosmology, biological evolution, human 
ontogeny, and cultural development. Although 
each of these is distinct from the others in its 
particular laws of unfolding, more and more 
observers are recognizing that the several 
phases can be considered as portions or 
dimensions of one cosmic evolution. 36 

He wants to construct a framework of 
meaning that locates the human person 
within the whole scope of cosmic evolution. 
This task of explication he holds to be 
primarily that of the theologian, although 
philosophers, scientists, artists, and poets 
each have a role to play in the formation of a 
meaningful symbolic cultural world. 
However, he is quick to point out the past 
failures of theology to work constructively 
with the sciences in articulating a cogent 

Theology has far to go if it is to engage the 
possibilities offered by the sciences for 
articulating the Christian insights in a way that 
is intelligible, let alone cogent, within the 
configurations of mind that have been 
nurtured in the bosom of the modern sci- 
ences. 37 

His theology (which he proposes as a fully 
fledged and testable theory after the analysis 
of Imre Lakatos) is an attempt to address 
this problem and thus contribute to the 
reconciliation between science and religion. 

The. work commences with the ques- 
tion, "Who are human beings?" And the 
core proposal for his answer is: "Human 
beings are God's created co-creators whose 
purpose is to be the agency, acting in 
freedom, to birth the future that is most 
wholesome for the nature that has birthed 
us-the nature that is not only our own 
genetic heritage, but also the entire human 
community and the evolutionary and 
ecological reality in which and to which we 
belong. Exercising this agency is said to be 
God's will for humans." 38 Moreover, the 
evolutionary process is the conditioning 
matrix that produced the human being as a 
more complex phase in the emergence of a 
free creation. 39 This free creation— an open- 
ended process— has come about because 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

humans have evolved as reflexively con- This awesome responsibility has now 

scious creatures and have developed cultures become ours, and in order to resist the 

and technologies that now directly influence temptation to anthropocentrism, the created 

the on-going process of creation. Human co-creator needs to work at developing an 

consciousness is nothing short of the cosmos appropriate ethics that takes into account' the 

becoming conscious of itself. entire planetary ecosystem: 

Hefner reduces his theological theory to Justice for ^ who , e creation . Da , 

three basic points: , „ . . 

v and Cobb 

1. The human being is created by God to be Irf thdr influential book-synthesizing 
a co-creator in the creation that uod has . . . , ° 
brought into being and for which God has political, economic, and theological con- 
purposes, cerns— Herman Daly and John Cobb have 

2 The conditioning matrix that has ca „ ed for a « bioS p h eric vision." 42 By this 
produced the human being-the evolutionary r . , : 

process-is God's process of bringing into they mean, first of all, a paradigm shift away 

being a creature who represents the creation's from the contemporary economic under- • 

zone of a new stage of freedom and who standing of human beings as Homo ' 
therefore is crucial for the emergence of a tree . ., r , ... 

creation economicus Homo economicus is the 

3. The freedom that marks the created co- assumption that discrete individuals exercise 
creator and its culture is an instrumentality of rational choice so as to maximize their self- 
God for enabling the creation (consisting of the . A T r . .. .. it _. 
evolutionary past of genetic and cultural interest - In terms of social P ohcV ' thls 
inheritance as well as the contemporary economic view has led to the breakdown of 
ecosystem) to participate in the intentional trje we lfare state (a particular politico- 
fulfillment of God's purposes. 4 " II a „ n „,.„ ~,„„„;.™ 

y v economic organiza- 

__,. , iii s-ii »» »• r- j ■ I tion of the common 

We may not be able to have Gladden s confidence weat , and the 
in the divine unfolding of the kingdom of God I resurgence of 
through evolution, but we can recognize the in- s ° c,al Da ™ m,sm ' 

° ' ° taking us back 

valuable role that an ecologically sound theology again to the domain 
of social solidarity can play in shaping the future, of conflict in which 

Gladden's ideas 
I emerged. As Daly 

Hefner goes to considerable lengths to and Cobb put it, "Economists typically 

ground his theological theory and the identify intelligent pursuit of private gain 

created co-creator in the natural evolution- with rationality, thus implying that other 

ary order. As he puts it: modes of behavior are not rational. These 

This creature not only creates its meanings, modes include other-regarding behavior and 

grounded in its experience of the natural actions directed to the public good." 44 
world. . .but it has adapted so successfully to jbis narrow view of the human person 

• its global ecosystem that it has been able to . , . ^ , r ... . . , • . 

impose an overlay upon the pre- and nonhu- 1S not mere, y mistaken-failing to take into 

man systems of nature, such as those systems account all the socializing influences that 

are thoroughly conditioned by human cultural persist in an individual's life—but it is 

inputs. All this is rooted in the evolved human . , c .. *:..„„* 

F , , • ... . .. , ( . • • r extreme y dangerous from the perspective of 

creature, who is within itself a symbiosis of J 6 K v 

genes and culture, and who through its culture enhancing the ecology of the social and 

continually seeks to bring its genes and the environmental worlds. Rather than building 

rest. of its environment into conditions of bn the ecological vision implicit within : ' 
existence that only the culture-rorming co- ° r 

creator would ever dream of. The point is that evolution, the Homo economicus is a 

nature should function, in large part, as Homo throwback to the dualistic pre-evolutionary- 

sapiens desires it to function, so as to become doctri ne of dominion, in which human 
in tact the world that the created co-creator . . 

believes is most desirable for its existence. 41 beings are created as distinct entities to lord 

it over the rest of creation. For Daly and 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Cobb (as process theologians), stewardship 
of the earth starts by recognizing Homo 
economicus as "person-in-community." 45 

A"biospheric vision" recognizes that 
anthropocentric dualism is an inadequate 
framework within which to build a global 
ethics. "The point here is," Daly and Cobb 
remind us, "that when economists deal with 
living things, and especially with large 
systems of living things, they cannot think . 
of these only as resources for fueling the 
human economy. Instead, the human 
economy needs to be shaped with the health 
of the biosphere in view." 4 * The biosphere 
is a society of interrelatedness, a society of 
societies: 'To view human relations with 
other living things in the context of a 
community of communities is to move into a 
biospheric vision." 47 Evolution clearly 
provides epistemic grounds for an ethics that 
moves us from the flawed notions of 
atomism and anthropocentric dualism to "a 
homeostatic one serving the common goal of 
individual and communal survival and 
growth." 4X 

Daly and Cobb stress the need to move 
from chrematistics to oikonomia. In doing 
so, they borrow a distinction made by 
Aristotle. Chrematistics "can be defined as 
the branch of political economy relating to 
the manipulation of property and wealth so 
as to maximize short-term monetary 
exchange value to the owner. Oikonomia, 
by contrast, is the management of the 
household so as to increase its use value to 
all members of the 
household over the long 
run. If we expand the 
scope of the household to 
include the larger 
community of the land, of 
shared values, resources, 
biomes, institutions, 

language, and history, then we have a good 
definition of "economics for community." 4 " 
Oikonomia does not lend itself to the kind of 
reductionistic forms of rationalism evident 
in what we have come to know as economic 
rationalism. Economic rationalism (which is 
closely allied to social Darwinist policies) is 

perhaps the most obvious example of 
chrematistic thinking in political economy. 
Oikonomia is as much concerned with social 
capital as it is with monetary capital. 
Indeed, it sees the economy as simply one 
means by which benefits might be generated 
for the community as a whole, rather than 
reducing all social interactions to questions 
of instrumental economic rationalities. 

Daly and Cobb-as Christian theists— 
acknowledge that the biospheric vision is 
not only consistent with evolution (to coin a 
metaphor: we are all cut from the same 
cloth), but also with a rich religious under- 
standing of the cosmos. For instance, many 
traditional religious worldviews have 
expressed the deep sacred ties that exist 
between all living entities; and in the case of 
the Australian Aboriginal "dreamtime," 
these sacred links extend to the land, sea, 
and air. Daly and Cobb agree, however, that 
modern Western Christianity has often been 
opposed to biospheric thinking, given that it 
has readily been expressed in terms of 
anthropocentric dualism. 50 Nevertheless, the 
biospheric vision "is richly inclusive and 
transformative of human perceptions. Once 
community with other living things is truly 
experienced and appreciated, aspects of our 
thinking and our way of life previously 
taken for granted become unacceptable. In 
short it is in itself a religious vision. The 
rise of this vision, especially through the 
influence of ecological and feminist sensi- 
tivities, has been one of the great advances 

The biospheric vision of "deep ecology" is 
intimately related to evolution for its episte- 
mological grounding, and to religious sensi- 
bilities for its ethics of social solidarity. 

of this generation. Only as the vision 
deepens and spreads is there hope for 
making the changes that are required... ." 51 

The biospheric vision of "deep ecology" 
is therefore intimately related to evolution 
for its epistemological grounding, and to 
religious sensibilities for its ethics of social 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

solidarity. The task of a theology of social 
solidarity is to bring these two facets— the 
epistemological and the ethical-together. 

Conclusion: Towards a "Planetary 
Theology" in the reconciliation 
between science and religion 

Darwinian evolution, in indicating that all 
species of earthly life are related and that all 
arose from ordinary matter, made it clear that 
there is no wall dividing us from our fellow 
creatures on earth, or from the planet that gave 
us all life - that we are such stuff as worlds are 
made of. --Timothy Ferris 52 

The links between social solidarity and 
evolution extend beyond the fact that life is 
"all of a piece." In a real sense, our very 
survival depends upon our mutual coopera- 
tion. 53 We are therefore inextricably bound 
together in a common destiny. 

Jiirgen Moltmann reminds us from a 
theological perspective of what Eric 
Chaisson has to say from a scientific one— 
that evolution implies an open-ended view 
of the creation: 

Today, the direct continuation of the evolution 
that led to the origin of the human species on 
earth lies in the hands of human beings 
themselves. They can either destroy this stage 
of evolution, or they can organize themselves 
into a higher form of common living than 
before, and advance evolution further. 54 

Indeed, one might even find within this 
open-ended, contingent view of cosmic 
evolution the intimations of a democratic 
social order. Moltmann argues that as an 
open system, the universe is both a partici- 
patory system and an anticipatory one: "It 
would seem that the universe contains 
within itself the trend towards the universal 
symbiosis of all systems of life and mat- 
ter." 55 As an anticipatory system, the 
universe is capable of self-transcendence, 
which has become possible through' its 
having evolved reflexively conscious 
creatures, capable of being co-workers in the 
process of evolution. 

To conclude then, many of the themes 
already covered in this essay have been 
summed up in the profound liberation 
theology of Sri Lankan theologian Tissa 
Balasuriya. A Roman Catholic, he speaks of 

a "planetary theology" and the need for a 
holistic perspective to tackle social, eco- 
nomic, and environmental problems from a 
world-systems perspective. Indeed, "[t]he 
present world system of human relationships 
did not arise in a day or a generation. It is 
the result of a protracted historical evolution 
of the human race in its relationship to 
nature, of different peoples and cultures to 
one another, of the sexes to each other." 56 
He concludes: 

The spirituality of the Christian must therefore 
include a love of the whole of humanity in its 
return to the Creator; it also requires a love 
and service of the universe, and of our planet 
.earth. Christian spirituality has to be open to 
the good in all others whatever their religion . 
or ideology, for Christ is all in all. Christians 
have to be both radical and conservative - 
radical in order to participate in the revolution- 
ary changes that reshape our societies for the 
better and conservative in order to preserve 
what is valuable in all ages and cultures. They 
are called on to conserve the radicality of the 
revelation in Jesus Christ. This is an impor- 
tant challenge to all believers in Christ, 
especially those in the Western countries and 
the local elites of poor nations, A rethinking 
of Christian theology is essential today for 
both the personal fulfillment of each unique 
human person and the global survival and 
evolution of the human race and of the 
universe. 57 

As we have seen throughout this essay, 
both theology and science have important 
roles to play in the formation of a new 
"planetary ethics." May it be that the 
reconciliation between these two noble 
disciplines will lead humankind to a fuller 
realization of its co-creative task in the 
evolution of the cosmos. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Works cited: 

Balasuriya, Tissa. Planetary Theology. 
Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1984. 

Birch, Charles. On Purpose, Sydney: . 
University of New South Wales Press, 

Boyer, Paul. Urban Masses and Moral 
Order in America, 1820-1920. Cam- 
bridge: Harvard University Press, 1978. 

Chaisson, Eric J. "Cosmic Evolution: A 
Synthesis of Matter and Life." Zygon, 
14:1(1979), 23-39. 

. "Our Cosmic Heritage." Zygon, 23:4 

(1988), 469-79. 

. The Life Era: Cosmic Selection and 

Conscious Evolution. New York: W. W. 

■ Norton & Company, 1989. 

Daly, Herman E., and John B. Cobb. For 
the Common Good: Redirecting the 
Economy Toward Community, the Envi- 
ronment, and a Sustainable Future. 
Boston: Beacon Press, 1989. 

Dawkins, Richard. River Out of Eden. 
London: Phoenix, 1995. 

Dewey, John. A Common Faith. New 
Haven: Yale University Press, 1934. 

Dorn, Jacob Henry. Washington Gladden: 
Prophet of the Social Gospel. Columbus: 
Ohio State University Press, 1967. 

Dorrien, Gary J. Reconstructing the 
Common Good: Theology and the Social 
Order. Maryknoll, Orbis Books, 1990. 

Durkheim, Emile. The Division of Labor in 
Society. New York: The Free Press, 1984. 

Ferris, Timothy. Coming of Age in the Milky 
Way. New York:. Anchor Books, 1989. 

Fry, C. George, and Jon Paul Fry. Pioneer- 
ing a Theology of Evolution: Washington 
Gladden and Pierre Teilhard De Chardin. 
Lanham: University Press of America. 

Gladden, Washington. Applied Christianity: 
Moral Aspects of Social Questions. 
Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 

. Burning Questions of the Life that 

Now is and of That Which is to Come. 
New York: Century, 1892. 

. Tools and the Man: Property and 

Industry Under the Christian Law. 
Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 
. Ruling Ideas of the Present Age. 

Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 

. Social Facts and Forces. Port 

Washington: Kennikat Press, 1897. 
. How Much is Left of the Old 

Doctrines. Boston: Houghton Mifflin 
Company, 1899. 
. "The Outlook for Christianity." 

Great Religions of the World. Ed. 

New York: Harper & Brothers, 1901. 
. Social Salvation. Boston: 

Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1902.- 
. The New Idolatry and Other 

Discussions. New York: McClure, 

Phillips & Company, 1905. 
. Present Day Theology. Columbus: 

McClelland & Company, 1913. 
. The Forks of the Road. New York: 

Macmillan, 1916. 

Hefner, Philip. The Human Factor: Evolu- 
tion, Culture, and Religion. Minneapolis: 
Fortress Press, 1993. 

Hofstadter, Richard. Social Darwinism in 
American Thought, 1860-1915. Philadel- 
phia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 

Hopkins, Charles Howard. The Rise of the 
Social Gospel in American Protestantism 
1865-1915. New Haven: Yale University 
Press, 1940. 

Kaufman, Gordon D. In Face of Mystery: A 
Constructive Theology. Cambridge: 
Harvard University Press, 1993. 

Knudten, Richard D. The Systematic 
Thought of Washington Gladden. New 
York: Humanities Press, 1968. 

Kiing, Hans. Global Responsibility: In 
Search of a New World Ethic. London: 
SCM Press, 1991. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

Loewy, Erich H. Freedom and Community: 
The Ethics of Interdependence. Albany: 
SUNY Press, 1992. 

Mather, Kirtley F. Science in Search of God. 
New York: Red Label Reprints, 1928. 

Moltmann, Jurgen. God in Creation: An 
Ecological Doctrine of Creation. London: 
SCM Press, 1985. 

Numbers, Ronald. The Creationists: The 
Evolution of Scientific Creationism. New 
York: Knopf, 1992. 

Peacocke, Arthur R. Creation and the World 
of Science. Oxford: Oxford University 
Press, 1979. 

. Theology for a Scientific Age: 

Being and Becoming— Natural, Divine, 
and Human. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 

Rauschenbusch, Walter. Christianizing the 
Social Order. New York: Macmillan, 

Schwarz, Hans. "The Significance of 
Evolutionary Thought for American 
Protestant Theology: Late Nineteenth- 
Century Resolutions and Twentieth- 
Century Problems," Zygon, 16:3 (1981), 

Torrance, T F. Reality and Scientific- 
Theology. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic 
Press, 1985. 

Whitehead, A. N. Science and the Modern 
World. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 

Wiebe, Robert H. The Search for Order 
1877-1920. New York: Hill and Wang, 

Wish, Harvey. Society and Thought in 
Modern America: A Social and Intellec- 
tual History of the American People from 
1865. New York: Longmans, Green and 
Company, 1952. 

Wuketits, Franz M. "Darwinism: Still a 
Challenge to Philosophy." Zygon, 23:4 
(1988), 455-67. 


'Gladden, "The Outlook for Christianity," 
pp. 269-70. 

2 Among the many one might think of: T. 
F. Torrance, Karl Schmitz-Moormann, 
Arthur Peacocke, John Polkinghorne, and 
Charles Birch. 

3 An admirable account of the rise of this 
fundamentalist movement is given by 

4 Peacocke, Theology for a Scientific Age, 
p. 5. 

5 Chaisson, "Our Cosmic Heritage," p. 

6 Ibid.,p. 471. 

7 Peacocke, Creation and the World of 
Science, p. 305. 

8 Kaufman, p. 105. 

In the earlier part of this century the 
Harvard geologist, Kirtley Mather, touched 
rather presciently on this point: "To 
discover the moral quality of the universe, 
man must be vividly aware not only of those 
things which have time-space relations, but 
also of those values which transcend such 
relations. That discovery is possible only 
through the cooperative endeavor of those 
who strive to utilize all potential capabilities 
of mankind. Toward this goal, science and 
religion are advancing hand in hand," 
Mather, p. 156. 

'"Chaisson; Cosmic Evolution, p. 38. 

"Chaisson believes that the Life Era 
heralds a whole new direction for cosmic 
evolution since human technology actually 
begins to influence the future. "Because 
technology, for all its pitfalls, enables life to 
begin to control matter, much as .matter 
evolved to control radiative energy more 
than ten billion years ago. As such, matter is 
now losing its total dominance, at least at 
those isolated residences of technical 
competence. This change, from matter- 
dominance to life-dominance, I claim is the 
second of two preeminent events in the 
history of the Universe." Chaison, "Our 
Cosmic Heritage," p. 473. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


]2 Ibid., pp. 473-74. 

a IbuL,.'p.476. 

H Ibid., p. 477. 

l5 Ibid., pp. 478-79. 

l6 In his book, A Common Faith, John 
Dewey foreshadows the emergence of 
humanistic religious ideals: "It is widely 
supposed that a person who does not accept 
any religion is thereby shown to be a 
nonreligious person. Yet it is conceivable 
that the present depression in religion is 
closelyconnected with the fact that religions 
now prevent, because of their weight of 
historic encumbrances, the religious quality 
of experience from coming into conscious- 
ness and finding the expression that is 
appropriate to present conditions, intellec- 
tual and moral.... I believe that many 
persons are so repelled from what exists as a 
religion by its intellectual and moral 
implications, that they are not even aware of 
attitudes in themselves that if they came to 
fruition would be genuinely religious" (p. 9). 
What is needed is to "emancipate the 
religious quality from encumbrances that 
now smother or limit it..." (p 10). More- 
over, "[w]e who now live are parts of a 
humanity that extends into the remote past, a 
humanity that has interacted with nature. 
The things in civilization we most prize are 
not of ourselves. They exist by grace of the 
doings and sufferings of the continuous 
human community in which we are a link. 
Ours is the responsibility of conserving, 
transmitting, rectifying and expanding the 
heritage of values we have received that 
those who come after us may receive it more 
solid and secure, more widely accessible and 
more generously shared than we have 
received it. Here are all the elements for a 
religious faith that shall not be confined to 
sect, class, or race. Such a faith has always 
been implicitly the common faith of 
mankind. It remains to make it explicit and 
militant" (p. 87). This is not unlike what ' 
Chaisson is trying to do. 

l7 Arthur Peacocke addresses himself to 
issues similar to Chaisson's, albeit from a 
theological perspective, in a chapter entitled, 
"Natural Human Being: The Perspectives of 

the Sciences and Their Implications for 
Theology," Theology for a Scientific Age, 
pp. 213-54. 

"^Whitehead, p. 219. 

19 Kaufman, p. 32. 

20 Ibid.,p.3\. 

2, Hofstadter, pp. 88-89. 

"Dorien, p. 19 

2? Dorn, p. 168. 

24 Wish, p, 327. 

25 Rauschenbusch, p. 90. 

26 Gladden, "The Outlook for Christianity," 
pp. 274-75. 

27 Ibid, pp. 275-76. 

28 See, in particular, his Social Facts and 
Forces. This book represents his major 
contribution to the emerging discipline of 
sociology in the United States. Many of his 
ideas about social solidarity in industrial 
society are quite like those outlined by 
Emile Durkheiirfs "organic solidarity." 

29 Charles Birch deals with this same 
problem from a contemporary perspective, 
and his answer is not unlike that of 
Gladden 's: "The fragmentation of knowl- 
edge has its far-reaching implications. It has 
produced destructive conflict between 
individuals, disciplines, ideologies and 
nations. It has helped to plunge the world 
into the global crisis of management in 
which we seem unable to utilize the world's 
resources without massive environmental 
deterioration. As we attempt to save 
ourselves we are in danger of losing the 
world. The problems of global management 
are all connected. You can no longer do 
only one thing. Resource shortages, 
unemployment, inflation, environmental 
deterioration, population explosion and 
crime are all interconnected. This network 
of problems won't be solved by any one 
expert or any number of experts. It is one 
problem and has to be tackled as one. 
Experts can't do that because they have 
tunnel vision. What is needed is a pan- 
oramic view." Birch, p. 140. 

30 Fry and Fry, p. 14. 

M lbid., p. 16. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

"Hopkins, p. 130. 
"Birch, p. 147. 

"Gladden, The Forks of the Road, p. 35. 
36 Hefner, p. 108. 
v Ibid., p. 37. 
x Ibid, p. 27. 
^Ibidi, p. 42. 
40 Ibid.,p. 32. 
4 7ta/., pp. 277-78. 
42 See Daly and Cobb. 
«/&<*.; p. 5. 
45 Ibid., p. 7. 
Vbid., p. 202. 
4 7ta/., p. 203. 
48 Loewy, p. 46. 
49 Daly and Cobb, p. 138. 
50 Ibid., p. 376. 
"Ibid., p. 377. 
'Ferris, pp. 367-68. 


"This perspective is quite different from 
the one proposed by social Darwinists— 
where only the fit may survive. It is not 
surprising to see this view held most 
strongly by people inclined towards eco- 
nomic rationalism. Their worldview grew 
out of the Enlightenment's fascination with a 
mechanical universe, and as a consequence 
they find it extremely difficult to see the 
world from a holistic (ecological) perspec- 
tive. Because they see evolution from the 
perspective of the many parts, they are led to 
believe that it involves merely a competition 
in which the fittest survive the process of 
natural selection. This, however, is not the 
tive of the whole is a history of gains 
through the accumulation of more and more 
complex interrelations between cooperating 
systems. See Dawkins. 

54 Moltmann, p. 196. 

55 Ibid., p. 205. 

56 Balasuriya, p. 17. 

51 Ibid., pp. 191-92. 

John Newton Hewitt is completing a thesis on the work of Washington Gladden for the 
Master of Sacred Theology program atAndover Newton Theological School. He has 
contributed a chapter on Gladden for the forthcoming text, Makers of American Theol- 
ogy (Abingdon Press). With a first master's degree in social theory, he teaches sociol- 
ogy and political science courses at the University of Melbourne, Australia, while simul- 
taneously pursuing his doctoral studies. His interest in the interaction between science 
and religion was kindled by Karl Schmitz-Moormann and Arthur Peacocke, both of whom 
he met during his undergraduate program at Ridley College, Melbourne. 

This essay was awarded a First Prize. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


44 Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

Psychoanalysis and God: A Comparative Analysis of 
Jacques Lacan and John of the Cross 

Ted Kepes, Jr. 

The author makes the case that Lacan and John of the Cross, taken together, reveal the full 
spectrum of the human journey toward God. Lacan s psychoanalytic theory is a valuable re- 
source for understanding the earlier stages of the comprehensive spiritual development of the 
human person. By contrasting Lacan s thought with the spiritual tJwology of John of the Cross, 
the author finds that both of them coordinate their understanding of human psychology in terms 
of the tripartite division of the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real. 

Jacques Lacan 

Jacques Lacan 's project is rooted in a 
return to the work of Sigmund Freud, 
especially in what Lacan considers to be 
Freud's essential message: that the unconr 
scious is structured like a language.' The 
development of the ego, for Lacan, begins in 
what he calls the "Mirror Stage" which 
occurs sometime between the sixth and 
eighteenth month of the newborn in the 
infans stage (without speech). Prior to birth, 
the fetus's body is united with the body of 
the mother, which supplies it with an 
environment of connectedness and whole- 
ness (nutrients, security, warmth). The birth 
of the fetus results in a radical separation 
from the mother, which ruptures its sense of 
completeness. At some point, the infant 
attempts to recover its lost experience of 
wholeness by recognizing itself as the 
perceived reflection in some other, such as 
the mothering one. The infant's identifica- 
tion with the images of sensory perception 
leads to a sense of control, unity, and 
wholeness, which eases the discomfort of 
the fragmentation and provides a sense of 
unity and completeness. The infant, and the 
sensory world of its environment, become 
one. Lacan calls the object of the infant's 
unification the "mOther," for although the 
object of union involves the whole of 
sensory experience that is Other, it is most 
centered on the primary caregiver, or 
mother. The relationship between the infant 

and the mOther is characterized by an 
immediate and imaginary union. The fact 
that the origin of the development of the ego 
is constituted by an imaginary reflection in 
the external mOther will remain an essential 
element in the whole of Lacan's work. 
Thus, the subject remains incomplete, a 
fragment in itself and will strive in vain to 
reach wholeness in a unification with the 

Human being inevitably moves beyond 
infancy as the child begins to babble. With 
its movement into the symbolic order of 
language, or the law of the father, as it is 
called by Lacan, its imaginary oneness with 
the mOther is ruptured. This "moment in 
which desire becomes human is also that in 
which the child is born into language." 2 
Entrance into the symbolic order "raises 
desire to a second power," as it forces one to 
signify the Other, which is now mediated by 
language. The once-immediate union with 
the mOther is no longer possible. Having 
previously identified itself with the totality 
of the mOther, the child, whose movement 
into the symbolic order causes it to experi- 
ence a separation from this fullness, hence- 
forth attempts to retrieve the lost Object 
through the mediation of the symbolic order. 
These symbolic representations, however, 
can only signify a lack: "For the signifier is 
a unity in its very uniqueness, being by 
nature symbol only of an absence." 3 The 
signifier is a symbol of an absence because 

The Boston Theological Institute 


the mOther, with whom the infant previ- being, but unveils itself as the lie, the 

ously identified, was never truly possessed. mistake, and the error. Truth says: 
At best, the union was characterized by only Ut a sharper scent than all your cate gories 

images and mirror-like reflections. guide you in the chase to which I incite you: 

As lone as the signifier is constitutive of or if the cunning of reason, however disdainful 

. . . , . r she may be.of you, remained open to your 

the subject, one is at the mercy of the law of faith beside yoU5 j the tmth would be Deceit 

the symbolic order. 4 Rather than allowing itself, since my ways pass not only through a 

one to reach the object of one's desire, it crack t0 ° narrow to find for want of pretense 

A and through the inaccessible cloud of the 

forces an even greater separation. As one dream? th f ough the motiveless fascination of 

becomes more separated, one seeks, more the mediocre and the seductive impasse of 

desperately, that which one lacks; but in so absurdity. 

doing, one is again forced to do so within La Can concludes that the truth is a lie and 

the alienating function of the symbolic reality is absurd because it is not possible to 

order. get to the real. 

So runs the signifier 's answer, above and Remarkably, this conclusion was 

beyond all significations: "You think you act actually the essential message of John of the 

when I stir you at the mercy of the bonds r , hnmanitv is separated 

through which I knot your desires. Thus do Lr0SS " as lon S as numamt y ,s separated 

they grow in force and multiply in objects, from that which is ultimately real, the truth 

bringing you back to the fragmentation of your we do have is a lie and the reality we do 

shattered childhood. So be it: such will be „'„„«,;.,., •„ „k„..,^ o^ti, t n „„„ n „A i~u„ ~e 

. .,• .... fl , , ., perceive is absurd. Both Lacan and John of 

your teast until the return or the stone guest 1 r 

shall be for you since you call me forth." 5 the Cross agree that life becomes tragic 

,„ . , . , . . when there is a separation between desire 

This play between one s action and desire, , , , . -5 ir -« ^ 

. c , , , r , , r -i and the obiect of fulfillment. They also 

and of the former s fundamental failure to , , , . r 

.... „ . . agree that dependence on the images of 

catch up with the latter, suggests the comic . . , , ,. . , 

,. . „ , . j. • h r~, . sense experience and the symbolic order of 

dimension or the human condition". This , , • . . 

... . , .... , _• ,• concepts, thoughts, imagination, and 

comic dimension shows that the relationship ■ ' _ 

.. . , ,. ' , . memory, serve to alienate one from that 

is not one of triumph of action over desire, , . , :. , _ , ., _ ■ 

, . iL . . _ , _ ., which is most real. But while tor Lacan 

but reveals the continuation of the futile , . % . • . 

. . r . , . . there is no escape from the imaginary and 

situation we can find ourselves in. , , . . _ , r _ , _ ?., 

_, iL . , • . , • symbolic, John or the Cross maintains that 

The third component in the Lacanian , , ,. : . . 

. , . , « ,„ „ ¥ ^, . the human condition remains tragic only as 

triad is the real . For Lacan, there is an , . , .._ ,. f . , 

... . , iU long as one identities reality exclusively as 

important distinction between the term , . . , , , ,. _ J . , 

tt ..„,,., r , , the imaginary and the symbolic. The crucial 

reality (which refers to what we can have ,.„ -,..,. . . 

\ . ,, '. . , , . ,.'v difference lies in his conviction that it is 

access to in the imaginary and the symbolic) 

and the "real," which is 

precisely that which is It is simply the case that what one can become 
apart from ein g aware of in faith goes beyond the conceptual 

imagined or symbol- J J ° J r 

ized. Thereat is the apparatus of human reason. This transition 
impossible because it [ s Ufa ajourney into the dark night only 

is bevond that which is 

grasped within the because oj the human tendency to have an 

imaginary or the inordinate dependency on the intellect as the 

svmbolic. Because of \ r u • /» »v_ 

1 .. t f . t full expression of reality. 

the distinction between j j 

reality and the real, there is a radical possible, though difficult, to be led by grace 

separation of Lacan 's epi'stemology from to go out of one's "house" of images and 

ontology. When truth "speaks" in The symbols where one can be united with the 

Freudian Thing, it does not reveal "real" supreme reality of God. 8 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

John of the Cross 

John of the Cross' transformative 
encounter with this vast and mysterious, 
though supremely real, presence of God led 
him to realize we are all part of a tremen- 
dously vast horizon that goes far beyond our 
ability to sense, understand, imagine, or 
know. In terms of the human person, John 
of the Cross uses the term "soul" to convey 
this fullness of our being. The soul is 
understood in terms of various levels: the 
sensory part being located at the most 
external level, allowing for sense experi- 
ence, natural appetites and drives; the 
spiritual part exhibits the deeper levels of 
human nature, allowing for the faculties of 
the intellect, memory, and will; and at the 
deepest center of the soul of the human 
being is the very presence of God. 9 Al- 
though our sense experience and limited 
capacity to understand tell us something of 
thisvast horizon of the supremely real, we 
can easily be fooled into thinking that they 
are the full expressions of the real. These 
limited abilities, which allow a glimpse of a 
part of the real, can become hindrances if 
not understood in the context of the more 
comprehensive and mysterious whole. 

It seems Lacan, and many of the post- 
moderns, have become excessively attached 
to the imaginary and symbolic as the only 
expressions of reality. While it is certainly 
the case that the human person moving 
toward the infinite horizon of God needs to 
pass through the imaginary and symbolic 
stages, the only way one can begin to 
become aware of the fullness of this larger 
horizon is to let go of one's exclusive 
dependence on these more limited capaci- 
ties. This movement is described as a 
journey into the "dark night" of the senses 
and spirit. The movement beyond what 
Lacan describes as the imaginary is ad- 
dressed by John of the Cross in the dark 
night of the senses; the movement beyond 
Lacan 's symbolic is addressed in his dark 
night of the spirit." 1 

The journey toward union with God is 
necessarily dark, because all that we have 
become accustomed to bringing light 

(sensation and understanding) are no longer 
prioritized. This movement necessarily 
involves a shifting of perspectives, from the 
limited and narrow view of the senses and 
understanding, to the ultimate, all-encom- 
passing horizon of God in faith. Faith is the 
theological virtue that corresponds to the 
human intellect. Although it is certainly the 
case that one needs to move beyond com- 
plete dependence on the human intellect to 
grasp the fuller context of the real that is 
God, it is not the case that faith is void of 
any content at all. It is simply the case that 
what one can become aware of in faith goes 
beyond the conceptual apparatus of human 
reason. Again, this transition is like a 
journey into the dark night only because of 
the human tendency to have an inordinate 
dependency on the intellect as the full 
expression of reality. Although faith may 
seem to be obscure and ambiguous, this is 
not because it is irrational or chaotic, but 
because the limitedness of the human 
condition prevents an understanding of its 
infinite intelligibility. 

What is required is simple; its actualiza- 
tion, however, is tremendously difficult. 
John of the Cross is not suggesting we stop 
thinking, imagining, reflecting, or under- 
standing; rather, that we not depend exclu- 
sively on these abilities as the final means 
toward the real. Only in letting go of our 
attachment to these limited human abilities 
can we hope to become aware of the fuller 
context of God. "For the less a soul works 
with its own abilities, the more securely it 
proceeds because its progress in faith is 
greater." " Human reliance on the intellect 
alone functions to blind one to the light of 
God, which is revealed only when the 
excessive dependence on this faculty is 
eliminated. "Such is faith to the soul; it 
informs us of matters we have never, seen or 
known, either in themselves or in their 
likeness. In fact, nothing like them exists. 
The light of natural knowledge does not 
show us the object of faith, since this object 
is unproportioned to any of the senses." I2 
Thus, in the dark night of the spirit, one 
must rely on the content of faith as one's 

The Boston Theological Institute 


guide simply because it alone is able to rest 
on the fullness of the real. Any other 
dependence will necessarily be less than this 
fullness, and may cause one to be deceived 
about the truth. 

Concluding thoughts 

If one is inordinately attached to an 
intellectual system, one's whole intentional 
world becomes that intellectual system. 
Living life only from within the bounds of 
the imaginary and symbolic would force one 
to experience and understand the world only 
in terms of that limited perspective. Confin- 
ing oneself to this limited worldview would 
render one unable to consider any other 
alternative, precisely because of the limited 
scope of that particular worldview. It would 
seem that Lacan's psychoanalytic theory 
suffers from just such a self-imposed 
limitation. His conviction that humanity is . 
trapped in the imaginary and symbolic order 
is the very thing that keeps him from 
becoming open to other possibilities. Rather 
than searching for any 
possible solution, he 
looks to the psychoana- 
lytic tradition to help him 
and others cope with their 
affliction. It is precisely 
this kind of resolute 
attachment to the imagi- 
nary and symbolic that keeps one from 
being led beyond them toward God who 
alone can satisfy the whole of our desire. 

Only those who set aside their own knowledge 
and walk in God's service like unlearned 
children receive wisdom from God. This is 
the wisdom about which St. Paul taught the 
Corinthians: Si quis videtur inter vos sapiens 
esse in hoc saeculo, stultus fiat ut sit sapiens. 
Sapientia enim hujus mundi stultitia est apud 
Deum. [If any among you think they are wise, 
let them become ignorant so as to be wise. 
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness 
with God.] Accordingly, to reach union with 
the wisdom of God a person must advance by 
unknowing rather than by knowing. 13 - ' 4 

Lacan's clinical experience and psychoana- 
lytic theory suggest precisely what can 
happen if one relies exclusively on the 
limited human capacities to experience and 
understand reality. His tragic conclusions 

are only symptoms of his failure to be led 
beyond the prison of his own subjectivity. 
Whereas Lacan's psychoanalytic system 
embodies the "turn to the subject" that has 
been the hallmark of the Modern and Post- 
modern worldview, the spiritual theology of 
John of the Cross embodies the "turn to the 
object" of revelation that has characterized 
so much of the Ancient and Medieval 
worldview. Both viewpoints emphasize 
important and legitimate aspects of the 
whole of reality. If it is the case that the 
entire "one-verse" of creation is an expres- 
sion of God, then this expression will be 
understood adequately only insofar as the 
whole is considered. The time has come for 
humanity to move beyond the limited 
fixation on either the objective or the 
subjective poles of reality and to embrace an 
integration of the whole. 

Lacan's system brilliantly develops the 
psychological, epistemological, anthropo- 
logical, and linguistic character of the 

If it is the case that the entire "one -verse" of 
creation is an expression of God, then this 
expression will be understood adequately 
only insofar as the whole is considered. 

imaginary and the symbolic. If applied to 
the night of the sense and spirit in John of 
the Cross, it would allow for a development 
that could go well beyond the capability and 
understanding of the sixteenth century. But 
whereas this development could explain 
more. fully the difficulties and consequences 
of life strictly within the imaginary and the 
symbolic, John of the Cross is able to show 
how one can become aware of the ultimately 
real that goes beyond the limitations of the 
strictly human faculties. Taken together, 
Lacan and John of the Cross reveal more 
adequately the fullness of human being. 
Understood in its proper context, Lacan's 
elaborate description of the imaginary and 
symbolic stages can be regarded as expres- 
sions of God rather than limited and 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

absolute ends in themselves. However, the 
only way to real-ize the theological signifi- 
cance of Lacan's work is to move beyond it. 
Only by being led beyond the imaginary and 
symbolic stages can one hope to understand 
them as aspects of the fuller context of the 
comprehensive horizon of God in faith. 

Works Cited: 

de Saussure, Ferdinand. Course in General 
Linguistics. New York: Mcgraw-Hill, 

John of the Cross. "The Ascent of Mount 
Carmel." The Collected Works of John of 
the Cross. Trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and 
Otilio Rodriguez. Washington, D.C.: 
Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1991. 

. "The Living Flame of Love." Op. 


'The Dark Night." Op. cit. 

Lacan, Jacques. Ecrits: A Selection, tr. 
Alan Sheridan. New York: W. W. Norton 
& Company, 1977. 

Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar of Jacques 
Lacan: Book VII. Ed. Jacques-Alain 
Miller. Trans. Dennis Porter . New York: 
W. W. Norton, 1992. 

Muller, John P., and William J. Richardson, 
eds. The Purloined Poe: Lacan, Derrida 
& Psychoanalytic Reading. Baltimore: 
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988. 


'Lacan, Ecrits: A Selection, p. 159. 

2 Ibid., p. 103. 

? Muller and Richardson, p. 39. 

4 Drawing on the work of Ferdinand de 
Saussure, Lacan stresses that despite the 
inability of the imaginary and symbolic to 
represent the lost Object, one can, nonethe- 
less, understand something of the structure 
of the symbolic order. See de Saussure. 

5 Muller and Richardson, p. 52. 

6 Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: 
Book VII, p. 313. 

7 Lacan, Ecrits: A Selection, pp. 121-123. 

8 In the poem, "The Dark Night," one goes 
out of one's "house" into the dark night to 
be united with the Beloved. See John of the 
Cross, "The Dark Night," pp. 50-52. 

9 John of the Cross, "The Living Flame of 
Love," 1: 9-17, pp. 644-647. 

l0 It is important to note that both the njght 
of senses and the spirit involve an active 
stage, in which one actively prepares oneself 
for divine union, relying on faith alone; and 
a passive stage, in which one passively 
assents to being moved to complete union 
with God in complete darkness. 

"John of the Cross, "The Living Flame of 
Love," 2:1:3, p. 155. 

V -Ibid., 2:3:3, p. 158. 

,3 1 Corinthians 3:18-19. 

14 John of the Cross, "The Ascent of Mount 
Carmel," 1:4:5, pp. 125-126. 

Ted Kepes is entering his second year of doctoral studies in the Department of Theol- 
ogy at Boston College. His area of specialization is systematic theology, with an em- 
phasis in science and theology. He earned a first master's degree in theology from 
Loyola University, Chicago, and a second master's in philosophy from Boston College. 
Once he completes his Ph.D., he plans to write and to teach at the university level. 

This essay was awarded a Second Prize. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


50 Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

The Kingdom of God as Relation 

Amelia Nan Langston 

The author describes the theory of an emerging interdisciplinary field called 'ecological 
science, ' the study of which leads to innovative ideas about the nature of God. 

Science and theology have long been 
blood-brothers, and they have feuded as 
only close relatives can. While each has 
longed to claim a primacy of vision and 
truth for itself alone, theology based upon 
sacred texts and revealed truth, and science 
upon doubt, procedure, and discovery, they 
have always shared a fundamental belief 
about the nature of reality—a belief in the 
ancient Greek philosophical notions of 
perfection. They have shared a search for 
the immutable, the unchanging, the first 
cause, the unmoved mover, the Theory of 
Everything, the Mind of God. The first 
scientists were frank about their search for 
God in the laws of the universe; somewhere 
there were regularities to be discovered, 
rules that God had put in place when 
creating the universe, rules that still 
governed. Knowing these laws would 
provide the solid basis for a moral human 
life. God as the Good, the first cause, the 
unmoved mover is familiar in theology, and 
much thought has been devoted to ferreting 
out this God through the judicious use of 
logic and elimination— God must do good 
and not evil, for instance. 

However, recent changes in science 
question the very existence of perfect, 
unchanging essence. Critiques of the 
traditional scientific quest for essential 
truths propose a very different metaphysical 
vision, one based upon process and relation 
as formative and fundamental. This 
"ecological" science prompts us to reread 
the scriptures with different assumptions in 
mind, and to notice that Jesus said, "The 
kingdom of God is among you." 1 

Theology has sought to define how God 
must be, while science has sought God in 
the natural world, basing the search upon 
theological ideas of God. Many of the 
defining characteristics of God have been 
rooted in ancient Greek philosophy. .The 
goal of the early Greek philosophers was to 
"account for all natural phenomena in terms 
of a few simple substances or principles." 2 
These substances or principles had to adhere 
to the Greek notions of perfection; they had 
to be unchanging, transcendent, and immu- 
table. Plato developed a notion of Forms, 
which sees the material world as a shadowy 
and imperfect realization of a spiritual ideal. 
This spiritual ideal must represent the 
perfect essence of its material realization, 
thus it must be unchanging, immutable, 
timeless. This philosophical frame of 
reference was picked up by early Jewish and 
Christian theologians such as Philo of 
Alexandria and Augustine, and so on into 
modern theology and modern science. 

The Jewish theologian Philo (d. c. 50 
C.E.) wedded Greek philosophy and Hebrew 
religion to'develop a doctrine of God as pure 
being, as the First Principle. 3 Augustine of 
Hippo (5th c.) later made similar claims— 
that God must be pure being, immutable and 
unchanging. 4 David Pailin points out some 
of the problems with the logical progression 
of these ideas about God in theology. 
According to Pailin, both Anselm (1 l-12th 
c) and Aquinas (13th c) conceived a God 
that cannot relate to or be affected by 
creatures, for to do so would be to compro- 
mise the divine perfection and immutability." 
This quest for the essence, or essential 

The Boston Theological Institute 


definition, of God continues to the present had combined objects in the natural world 

day. The problem with this endeavor is that into stable and predictable systems. 8 This 

in the search for God's essence, God must model sees a world that functions as a 

immediately be made finite and bounded by machine, and that can be understood as 

human rationality. God must be good and such. It assumes that the existence of 

not evil, unmoved but capable of setting in discrete entities that interact in a linear 

motion. Paul Tillich, for example, attempts fashion, and that by discovering these 

to unbind God by defining Deity as both entities and their interactions, one can 

being and non-being; and yet he still successfully predict and thus control the 

weights being, equating it with goodness. 6 future. 

Science, in seeking the mind of God in the Two centuries after Descartes set forth 

natural world, has been plagued with these the basic principles of science, Thomas 

same assumptions about God. Huxley, natural scientist and friend to 

Early science sought to discover the Charles Darwin, struggled to realize a 

laws and universal principles that God put - comprehensive scientific model of knowl- 

into place when creating the universe. As edge based on the world-as-machine model, 

such, the laws and universal principles that Huxley, in his Essays, felt that the paradigm 

science would uncover must necessarily of the machine could be applied to all areas 

reflect the same paradigm as God's own of study in the natural sciences. Once one 

self; they must be unchanging, universal, had determined the laws and principles that 

perfect, and true. Rene Descartes laid down moved the machine, one would have 

a paradigm of proper knowledge in his discovered the mind of God and would have 

Discourse on Method and Meditations on a basis for moral action, for nature "is 

First Philosophy, unconsciously using these ' creating a firm and living faith in the 

same categories. Descartes hoped that by existence of immutable moral and physical 

using a system of radical doubt and skepti- laws, perfect obedience to which is the 

cism, and by applying all "ideas" 7 to that highest possible aim of an intelligent 

doubt, one could discover things that one being." 9 

could not doubt, and these ideas could then Worldviews are subject to change, 

be considered to be 

true. His methodoi What I will call ecological science encompasses 

ogy consisted of many theories, such as chaos, bifurcation, 

breaking down ideas 

into their component f catastrophe, complexity and hierarchy, as well 
parts, testing the as feminist post-modern critiques of traditional 

parts for truth, and 

then rebuilding the I science - 
idea. An idea with 

true parts must as a whole be true-much however. Thomas Kuhn, in The Structure of 

like a machine, whose component parts must Scientific Revolutions, claims that when 

have integrity for it to function. current theories and models are found to be 

Even though he had developed a inadequate and are subject to repeated and 

concept and methodology of radical doubt, systemic theory failure, a revolution in 

there were many fundamental assumptions scientific thought occurs. 10 The Cartesian 

about the nature of the world that Descartes world-as-machine model has come to be 

did not question. Descartes assumed that seen as inadequate to describe the world, 

there were indeed fixed laws, put in place by This revolution began first, perhaps, with 

God at creation: that matter is inert and physics and Heisenberg's Uncertainty 

dead, quickened only in human beings by Principle, which states that the more 

the God-given rational soul, and that God accurately one measures a particle's mass, 

the less accurately one can measure its 

52 Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

speed." This principle states that perfect 
knowledge in one area precludes it in 
another, and thus overturned the possibility 
of determinism and certainty at the smallest 
level, bringing the Cartesian worldview into 
doubt. Ecology, as a science based upon 
systems rather than discrete entities, is a 
more recent challenge to the traditional 
scientific model, questioning the basis for 
reductionism, linearity, and cause-and-effect 

Recent critiques of traditional science 
range across a spectrum of the degree to 
which they disagree with Cartesian defini- 
tions of reality. What I will call ecological 
science encompasses many theories, such as 
chaos, bifurcation, catastrophe, complexity 
and hierarchy, as well as feminist post- 
modern critiques of traditional science. 
These theories, or sciences, are ecological in 
that they seek to understand systems of 
relation and process, rather than discrete 
entities or universal principles. Upholders 
of theories such as chaos, complexity and 
hierarchy, however, seem more inclined to 
accept the existence of an external reality, 
while feminist, post-modern critiques 
maintain that we create the reality that we 
seek to explain. They diverge in that 
sciences of complexity focus on new ways 
of doing science, and post-modern critiques 
focus on new ways of doing science. Both, 
however, see relation and process as 
fundamental realities, and it is that realiza- 
tion that differentiates them from traditional 

Chaos, complexity, and hierarchy are 
interrelated theories that state that the world 
is made up of systems that are inherently 
unpredictable (chaos), irreducible and 
nonlinear (complexity), and which, there- 
fore, must be explained with limited and 
contingent theories that are relevant only for 
a particular scale or situation (hierarchy). 
There are several techniques or theories that 
deal with unpredictability— bifurcation, 
mathematical chaos, and catastrophe. They 
all deal with phenomena of change, and with 
the inherent indeterminacy of system ' 
function. 12 These theories maintain that 
systems are naturally chaotic and unpredict- 

able, rather than being stable, as a Cartesian 
framework assumes. For that reason, they 
. are interested in process and the evolution of 
systems, seeing change as a fundamental 
reality. Thus, an essential aspect of chaos 
theory is that the complex interactions that 
arise in systems cannot be extrapolated back 
in time, or back to a first cause; predictable 
linearity does not hold. 

Complexity states that a fundamental 
reality of systems is that they are complex, 
i.e., nonlinear and irreducible. Non-linearity 
has to do with unpredictability and organic 
process. Systems or entities do not march 
forward in a simple, cause-and-effect 
pattern; there is no determined or inevitable 
end to any set of interactions. Instead, there 
are feedback loops, self- regulatory mecha- 
nisms, unknown and indeterminate interac- 
tions, phase shifts to new levels of stability. 
1 + 1 + 1 may equal 1, or it may equal 57, or 
the whole system may shift and negate the 
frame of reference that defined the 1. For 
example, if one looks at climate change as a 
simple, linear system, the temperature of 
Earth should increase incrementally as the 
level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere 
increases (if the greenhouse theory is 
correct). Recent findings indicate, however, 
that marine algal blooms, caused by nutri- 
ent-loading from sewage and agricultural 
runoff, as well as warming ocean waters, 
make a waste product, dimethyl sulfide, 
which may seed cloud formation, increase 
the albedo effect, and decrease Earth's 
temperature. Such feedback loops are an 
intrinsic part of self-regulating organic 
systems, and they render linear frameworks 
useless for understanding, much less for 

Irreducibility is another facet of 
complexity and non-linearity. Irreducibility 
holds that the sum is greater that the parts. 
Thus, a system cannot be broken into its 
individual parts and put back together 
through linear logic, as Descartes assumed 
was possible; nor can individual organisms 
be abstracted from their communities and 
contexts as representative of the whole 
system. For instance, Stephen Jay Gould 
maintains that variation in populations and 

The Boston Theological Institute 


change over time are the reality; one cannot 
reduce "horses" to "horse," for example, and 
have an understanding for the present, past 
or future. The range and variety of horses 
within their environments has scientific 
meaning and validity, not the concept of the 
essential horse, abstracted from relation to 
environment and dynamic change. 14 Theo- 
ries, as well, cannot be reduced to one 
theory that can explain everything. Stewart 
and Cohen show that even with a Theory of 
Everything (TOE) established within a very 
simple, rule-based logical universe— a 
computer program, for instance— chaotic 
circumstances arise which the TOE cannot 
explain or predict. 15 

Hierarchy serves as a theoretical 
justification for the patchwork of theories 
and explanations that arise out of complexity 
and chaos. Hierarchy theory maintains that 
reality is made up of interconnected levels 
that cannot be reduced to, and understood at, 
a more basic level. One cannot abstract a 
single individual and hope to explain a 
community or society from that person, nor 
can one theoretically explain the biological 
progression from a single cell to an indi- 
vidual human being. Theories must be 
located within a particular hierarchical level, 
and the findings will be relevant for that 
level only. Two different hierarchical levels 
probably cannot be described or explained 
by the same theory, and no universal theory 
can exist to make sense of phenomena. 

The fundamental assertion within this 
systems mode of thought is that, unlike 
Newton's interacting bodies that remain 
unchanged by the interaction, individuals do 
not exist as discrete entities. Instead, in an 
ecological science, entities are seen to be 
formed by their relations— to their environ- 
ments, to other entities, to their pasts. As 
O'Connor points out: 

In the view of complexity, the properties that 
an element displays are not deemed intrinsic 
and immutable to the observed 'object' itself. 
Rather, the discernible components together 
with their properties 'emerge' and are manifest 
within a collective regime of activity. Objects 
and properties are the co-effects of the totality 
of their interactions. A given element can only 

be understood in terms of its inter-being with 
the rest of what is (which is, in the first 
approximation, the object's environment)." 1 

This kind of understanding changes the 
nature of science itself. The traditional goal 
of prediction and control must give way to 
respect for the integrity of systems, for 
variation, and for diversity. The inherent 
unpredictability of reality, rather than being 
a stumbling block, can be seen as the vital 
signs of a living system. As O'Connor says, 
indeterminacy points us toward better 
theories and questions about the world. 17 
The prediction and manipulation desired by 
traditional science is a dead system of 
control, not a living conversation with 
dynamic phenomena. 18 

These criticisms are carried a step 
farther by feminist thinkers who use post- 
modern concerns about the nature of 
objectivity to question the execution of 
science, as well as the responsibilities of 
scientists themselves. Ina Wagner and 
Elisabetta Donini both call for a 
contextualization of science and scientists, 
and an integration of science into the 
responsibilities of process and relation. 

Ina Wagner is concerned about the 
performance of science by its practitioners. 
She sees the need for scientists to work in 
context and in responsible relation to the 
world. From this perspective, she criticizes 
the concept of objectivity, which she claims 
allows scientists to evade responsibility for 
their work by pretending that the scientific 
question and answer were both inevitable, 
existing independently of the scientist. 19 
The tendency to abstract, and to work in 
simulations of reality, encourages the 
attitude that science is a game, that all is 
permitted, and that social norms, therefore, 
are suspended. Scientific inquiry does not 
encourage its practitioners to seek out the 
difference between model and reality; effort 
is focused oh the medium— the conceptual 
tools and methods. The problems of 
objectivity and abstraction remove the 
scientist and scientific endeavor from a 
sense of responsibility, accountability, and 
meaningful location within a world of very 
real issues and problems. Wagner suggests 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

several methods for scientists to 
recontextualize themselves and their work, 
which involve being aware of the political 
and technological implications of one's 
work, and of the assumptions and paradigms 
under which one works; such awareness can 
help with the important task of making one's 
work accessible to people outside one's own 
field. Wagner's critique is useful in bringing 
a sense of responsibility and accountability 
into scientific practice. 

The tendency to abstract, and to work in 
simulations of reality, encourages the 
attitude that science is a game, that all is 
permitted, and that social norms, therefore, 
are suspended. 

Elisabetta Donini, however, takes this 
critique farther in questioning the very 
paradigm of science itself. Donini denies 
the existence of objectivity as well, seeing 
male subjectivity as "embedded in the very 
structure of objectivity ascribed to science" 
and, therefore, also. calling into question the 
inevitability of scientific values and valua- 
tions. 20 For Donini, however, the ability to 
question objectivity, and thus the presumed 
necessity of doing science in a particular 
"objectively correct" way, opens a path for 
new ways of thinking about science. Donini 
and her colleagues in Italy used the problem 
of radioactive fallout from Chernobyl to 
propose a new scientific ethic. Instead of 
the "male-biased aims of building up more 
and more sophisticated technological 
systems, in an endless challenge to subju- 
gate natural forces," Donini proposes an 
"awareness of limits" and a sense of being 
within the processes and relationships of the 
natural world. This "location internal to 
process" changes the focus of science from 
the ends to the means. Good process means 
good relation and, thus, desirable ends. 

These critiques of science offered by 
chaos, complexity, hierarchy, and feminist 
post-modernism question the ancient Greek 

philosophical notions of truth and perfect 
knowledge as being immutable, universal, 
unchanging, and transcendent. Ecological 
science locates truth in process and relation, 
rather than in objectively discoverable 
principles, or definable entities. The 
concept of natural law in science-the desire 
to locate God in the workings of the 
universe— seems a valid way of understand- 
ing ourselves and our relation to the divine, 
since we are certainly an important part of 
the natural world. However, it is unlikely 
| that the God we discover 
there will be immutable, 
unchanging, or perfect in 
any philosophical sense. 

Jesus said "The 
kingdom of God is among 
you." 21 If we can find God 
| in the process of relation, 
I perhaps we can indeed 
I dwell in a kingdom of God. 
What ecological science points us toward, 
however, is an awareness that this kingdom 
is not only peopled by human beings, but 
must be made up of the entire natural world. 
Complexity theory proposes the emergence 
of entities from relations, and so emphasizes 
our ability to affect and create our world, 
while indeterminacy and chaos underscore 
our inability to control it. This realization 
makes human beings responsible for right 
relation, which is all we can do, for control 
is forever out of our reach. Perhaps in 
means that are respectful of other creatures 
and Earth, the kingdom of God can be 
created and the ends will take care of 

Works cited: 

Cheetham, Tom. "The Forms of Life: 
Complexity, History, and Actuality." 
Environmental Ethics, 15, no. 4 (1993), 
293-3 1 1 . 

Descartes, Rene. Discourse on Method and 
Meditations on First Philosophy. Third 
ed. Trans. Donald A. Cress. Indianapo- 
lis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Donini, Elisabetta. "Feminisms, Contextu- 
alization; and Diversity: A Critical 
Perspective on Science and Develop- 
ment." Women's Studies Int. Forum, 17, 
no. 2/3 (1994), 249-56. 

Gould, Stephen Jay. Full House: The 
Spread of Excellence from Plato to 
Darwin. New York: Harmony Books, 

Hawking, Stephen. A Brief History of Time: 
From the Big Bang to Black Holes. New 
York: Bantam Books, 1988. 

Huxley, Thomas H. Essays. Ed. Frederic 
Barry. New York: The MacMillan 
Company, 1929. 

Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific 
Revolutions. Second ed. Chicago: 
University of Chicago Press, 1970. 

O'Connor, Martin. "Complexity and 
Coevolution: Methodology for a Positive 
Treatment of Indeterminacy." Futures, 
26, no. 6(1994), 610-15. 

Pailin, David A. Groundwork of Philosophy 
of Religion. London: Epworth Press, 

Stead, Christopher. Philosophy in Christian 
Antiquity. Cambridge: Cambridge 
University Press, 1994. 

Stewart, Ian, and Jack Cohen. "Why are 
there simple rules in a complicated uni- 
verse?" Futures, 26, no. 6 (1994), 648-64. 

Tester, Patricia A. "Climate Change and 
Marine Phytoplankton." Ecosystem 
Health, 2, no. 3 (1996), 191-97. 

Tillich, Paul. The Courage to Be. New 
Haven: Yale University Press, 1952. 

Toulmin, Stephen. Cosmopolis: The 
Hidden Agenda of Modernity. Chicago: 
University of Chicago Press, 1990. 

Wagner, Ina. "Connecting Communities of 
Practice: Feminism, Science, and 
Technology." Women 's Studies Int. 
Forum, 17, no. 2/3 (1994), 257-65. 


"Luke 17:21. 

2 Stead, p. 4. 


"Ibid., p. 223. 

5 Pailin, pp. 144-145. 

6 See Tillich. 

7 Ideas, for Descartes, were the mental 
representations of all things— perceptions of 
emotions, people, trees, animals, heat, cold, 
mathematical principles. All of these things 
could be known only through their mental 
representations— as an "idea," and another 
person was as open to doubt as an emotion 
or feeling. 

8 Toulmin, pp. 110-115. 

9 Huxley, p. 45. 

,0 See Kuhn. 

"Hawking, p. 55. 

12 See O'Connor. 

13 See Tester. 

14 See Gould. 

I5 See Stewart and Cohen. 

,6 0'Connor, p. 612. 

"Ibid., p. 614 

18 Cheetham, pp. 293-311. 

ly See Wagner. 

:o See Donini. 

21 Luke 17:21. 

Amy Langston received her M.Div. degree from Harvard Divinity School in 1997. She 
served for two years as Environmental Chaplain at the Divinity School, and also as co- 
director of the Faith and Ecology Program of the B.T.I. She currently works in the field 
of cross-species epidemiology at Health, Ecological, and Economic Dimensions of Glo- 
bal Change, based at Harvard University. Her religious tradition is Unitarian Universal- 

This essay was awarded a Second Prize. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

Thomas and Damasio in Dialogue 

William C. Mattison, III 

The author looks at the role of human emotions in decision-making. After noting the weak- 
ness in the Kantian view of morality, he examines Thomas Aquinas 's ideas concerning the place 
of the passions in moral agency. Finally turning to Antonio Damasio 's interpretations .of con- 
temporary neurological research, he finds support for Thomas and new opportunity for fruitful 
dialogue between theology and science. 

The relation between reason and the 
emotions is not often treated in Christian 
moral theology. Because moral theology 
has traditionally been concerned with the 
assignment of praise or blame for human 
actions, the will has been the subject of 
closest scrutiny. Surely this discipline may 
be expected to continue to focus on the 
will; however, underlying such a concen- 
tration on the will, often may be found a set 
of assumptions regarding reason and 
emotion. In the exercise of the will, the 
moral agent is encouraged to heed the 
guidance of reason, and be wary of the 
unpredictable and often adulterating 
influence of the emotions. When consider- 
ing an ethical decision, one is warned, 
"Don't be so emotional! Be reasonable 
about this!" Emotions are viewed as 
unreliable, untamed impulses that interfere 
with the "cool" precision of reason. 1 
Reason, on the other hand, is seen as the 
impartial judge that enables a moral agent 
to weigh alternative choices prudently 
before selecting the most morally accept- 
able. Consequently, theologians of the past 
have been, at best, wary of the role of 
emotion in the moral life. The most 
notorious example of such a view is that of 
Kant, who insisted that any moral action, in 
order to be considered such, must be 
performed purely out of duty. 2 Any other 
motivation rendered that action morally . 
meaningless. One imagines the Kantian 
ideal moral agent as some sort of automa- 
ton, coldly moving through life, making 
passionless decisions out of duty. 

Surely a better understanding of living a 
moral life is needed. Moral theology, or 
Christian ethics, considers not the immanent 
essence of God, but rather how people in 
relation to God can make that relation the 
defining element of their life. Such treat- 
ment always implicitly reveals something 
about God. To understand how human 
emotion can be most properly understood as 
part of that moral life, theologians would be 
best served by knowing how emotions 
function in the person from the perspective 
of biology, psychiatry, and psychology. The 
purpose of this paper is to contribute to that 
dialogue between theology and the sciences. 
It will focus an the relationship between 
reason and the emotions as understood by 
Thomas Aquinas and by contemporary 
neurologist Antonio Damasio. Two prelimi- 
nary topics, however, must be addressed 
prior to that discussion. First, a brief 
description will be offered of how dialogue 
between theology and science has pro- 
gressed to the present, having paved the way 
for current work. Next, a central theological 
issue, the relation between nature and grace, 
will be adduced as a cornerstone to this 

A comparison of Thomas with a 
contemporary neurologist may appear odd. 
Yet, perhaps due to his knowledge of 
Aristotelian naturalistic philosophy, Tho- 
mas's theological system is quite thorough 
in its elaboration of human anthropology, 
' and it directly addresses this issue of the 
relation between reason and the emotions. 
While describing "man and his acts" 3 in the 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Secunda pars, Thomas is far more nuanced claims a more comprehensive approach in 

as to the role of emotion in the moral life matters of ultimate meaning. Finally, he 

than the above caricature of Kant's thought. states that theology often claims a privi- 

Damasio's work will be offered as a leged place in such dialogue, because the 

correction to, yet far from a dismissal of, most important issues in the sciences are 

Thomas's vision. In fact, it will be demon- viewed as primarily theological and, hence, 

strated that the majority of Thomas's work best left up to theological interpretations and 
on the emotions is 

quite compatible Understood in tandem, as partners in dialogue. 

with modern , ■ . 

scientific research. Damasio and Thomas present a vision of the 
Understood in ro [ e of emotions in the moral life that satisfies 

tandem, as partners , /»»„», » » ». 

in dialogue, Damasio the concerns of both theology and science in 
and Thomas present their convergence on the truth. 

a vision of the role of i 

emotions in the moral life that satisfies the approaches. 6 A fine example of these 

concerns of both theology and science in approaches is the realm of bioethics, into 

their convergence on the truth. which religious ethicists may tread with 

As stated above, this dialogue is already little or no understanding of the medical and 
well under way. Earlier in this century, biological reality defining the situation. 
Alfred North Whitehead melded his work in Yet Gustafson is dissatisfied with these 
mathematics and in philosophy to form a approaches. He prefers an intersection 
vision that has engendered the process between theology and the sciences with two- 
approach to theology. This work continues way traffic. In this scenario, theology still 
today through such authors as John Cobb "has a claim to be heard" 7 as much as other 
and David Griffin. In "Philosophy and disciplines. Yet theology and ethics also 
Philosophising in Theology," Karl Rahner have a responsibility to be informed by 
claims that theology's new partner in contributions from other fields of inquiry in 
dialogue in the age of pluralism should be their "descriptions, explanations, and 
the sciences, as opposed to philosophy. He interpretations of the human." 8 It is this 
asserts that theology is concerned with model which is supported and utilized in this 
humanity's history and future— not as things, essay. It rests on a foundational theological 
but as created by humanity. 4 While philoso- assumption, the subject of the second 
phy can consider history and the future only preliminary remark. 

in a formal manner, "the sciences represent Science is concerned primarily with the 

history and the future." 5 Paul Davies is a natural, and it can neglect the divine (and 

more recent advocate of that dialogue, has often done so). Theology, on the other 

speaking from the side of the sciences. hand, is concerned especially with the 

One final example of such dialogue divine, yet cannot neglect some treatment of 

offered here is the recent book of James M. nature in that vision. However, understand- 

Gustafson entitled Intersections. In it he ings of the natural order can vastly vary, 

explicitly treats the dynamics of the dia- Some may view the natural realm as 

logue. He claims that "intersections" worthless and decrepit, and focus solely on 

between theology and science have thus far . the world to come. Others may see it as 

been primarily one-way streets, with divinely created and sanctified, albeit 

theology serving as informer of the "Godless incomplete. Those involved in the dialogue 

sciences." Gustafson finds three reasons between science and theology tend toward 

behind this dynamic. He cites religion's the latter position, and Thomas would be a 

common claim to special authority by divine good example. His contention that grace 

revelation. He notes that theology often perfects nature is well known. He affirms 

5# Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

Dionysius when he says, "it belongs to between emotions and reason. Yet it is a 

Divine providence, not to destroy but to necessary starting point in elaborating his 

preserve the nature of things." 9 His treat- main thesis, the conception of an embodied 

ment of the order of love confirms that mind (as opposed to "em-brained" mind), 

Thomas views divine agency as operative which will not be discussed here. He 

not against, but within and through divinely attempts to demonstrate that reason can 

created nature. 10 Such, an understanding of never be "pure," in the sense of "emotion- 

the relationship between grace and nature is less." He argues that while an overly 

crucial to this inquiry. It is here assumed emotional person may reason poorly, so too 

that knowledge of God, or especially will the nonemotional person. This argu- 

knowledge of how people in relation to God ment is obviously relevant to any judgment 

are defined by that relation, can be gleaned of Kant's understanding of morality, 
from analysis of divinely created nature. Damasio's methodology combines 

Thomas is surely no "naturalist" in the sense experimentation and theory. He begins by 

described by Rahner and Vorgrimler, for he describing several cases, briefly treated here, 

does not completely identify the natural with to add clarity to his conclusions. Two 

the real." But he may be called a "natural patients, Phineas and Eliot, suffered from 

theologian" through his affirmations similar disorders, and their cases will be 

concerning the natural world, insofar as it is described simultaneously. Both sustained 

God's creature. 12 major damage to portions of the frontal lobe 

These two preliminary considerations of the brain. Amazingly, the damage spared 

are by no means exhaustive treatments of all cognitive, motor, language, and sensory 

what are two challenging and complicated abilities. The victims could speak, move 

subjects. The brief discussion of theology normally, and solve problems. 13 However, 

■ they were still 

Science is concerned primarily with the natural, irrevocabl y changed 

They are described 

and it can neglect the divine (and has often as fitru i irreverent, 

done so). Theology, on the other hand, is con- impatient with things 

j . .. ... .» ». • that conflict with 

cerned especially with the divine, yet cannot t , > . . 

r J * J their immediate 

neglect some treatment of nature in that vision. desires, capricious, 

vacillating, and 
and science in dialogue is not meant to be a lacking any effective future planning. They 
comprehensive account, nor an appraisal of seemed to show no responsibility for 
the validity, of the specific work mentioned. themselves or others. It seemed they had 
It is merely an indication that some sort of lost something uniquely human." 14 
dialogue is extant, and that the comparison As doctors continued to test for intellec- 
below is not as odd as it might initially tual defect, they noticed the patients' 
seem. The even shorter discussion of the surprising lack of emotion. Eliot is de- 
relation between nature and grace barely scribed as totally neutral about everything, 
scratches the surface of that topic. Yet it He could recite the circumstances of his 
will hopefully remind the reader of instances illness as a completely disinterested ob- ■ 
in the Christian tradition-where knowledge server. Eliot even mentioned at one point 
of the divine-human relation is gleaned from that he didn't "feel" things emotionally as he 
inquiry into the divinely created natural had before his illness. Damasio elaborates 
order. on the brain structures that were damaged, 

Damasio offers one such attempt in noting their instrumental role in human 

Descartes' Error. His explicit purpose is not emotion. Both astonished and horrified, he 

merely the re-articulation of the relation asks his readers to imagine being intellectu- 

The Boston Theological Institute 


ally aware of something, and even cognizant 
that it once roused them, yet to feel abso- 
lutely nothing regarding it. Such was life 
for Phineas and Eliot. 

Regarding the implications of these 
findings for the moral life, the results of 
several batteries of tests showed that Eliot 
was indeed aware of ethical guidelines, and 
would even choose the "morally right" 
solution in the laboratory setting. He could 
retain, learn, and apply ethical norms, yet 
never in the outside world. Neither patient 
was able to hold a job, make simple deci- 
sions, or maintain familial and other 
interpersonal relations. Apparently "some 
part of the value system remains, and can be 
utilized in abstract terms, but it is uncon- 
nected to real-life situations." 15 Once, upon 
finishing a set of such tests, Eliot, com- 
pletely devoid of emotion, remarked, "After 
all this, I still Won't know what to do." 16 In 
this, he was wrong: he knew what to do, yet 
could not act on that knowledge. 

Damasio concludes that "reduction in 
emotion may constitute an equally important 
source of irrational behavior" (emphasis in 
original). 17 He claims that "pure reason" is 
an inadequate view of decision-making. 
People simply do not imagine all possibili- 
ties, weigh them rationally, and select the 
most reasonable option. Besides being 
wildly inefficient, such an approach would 
fail to "moye" the agent toward appropriate 
choices. And so he posits a "somatic marker 
hypothesis" to explain how people make 
choices. As a person envisions different 
scenarios, he or she experiences bodily 
("somatic") feelings toward them, which 
then "mark" that scenario. The person still 
rationally weighs alternatives, yet the 
emotions contribute to, and maximize 
(rather than replace), the efficient use of 
reason. Reason alone cannot cope well with 
the complexity and uncertainty of life, and 
thus requires special assistance. 1S Emotions 
are essential in the assignment of basic 
value, and provide that assistance. 19 Para- 
phrasing Pascal's famous maxim, Damasio 
says, "the organism has some reasons that 
reason must utilize" (emphasis in original). 2 " 

One may begin to wonder what any of 
this has to do with Thomas Aquinas or even 
with theology. The intent here is not to 
confine moral theology to the field of 
cognitive psychology. Nor is the richness, 
complexity, and challenge of the moral life 
to be "explained away" with a biological 
account of the interplay between reason and 
the emotions. Certainly the moral life is not 
to be equated with the ability to hold a job or 
to recount an experience emotionally. Moral 
theology and neurology ask different 
questions, utilize different methodologies, 
and arrive at different forms of solutions. 
Yet both investigate the human reality, and 
surely there are intersections between the 
impact of.the emotions on reason and the 
attempt to live a moral life. So, while the 
moral theologian need not grasp the intrica- 
cies (or even rely on the validity) of the 
somatic marker hypothesis, that theologian 
may allow an abundance of empirical 
evidence to impact the understanding of the 
role of emotions in the moral life. 

With this purpose in mind, a brief 
description of Thomas's understanding of 
the relation between reason and the passions 
is offered to further that dialogue. Thomas 
directly inquires as to the goodness or 
badness of the passions {i.e., emotions) in I- 
II, 24, 3. A thorough analysis of this article, 
and those that support its presuppositions, 
will reveal Thomas's view on this question. 

In article three Thomas claims "man's 
good is founded upon reason as its root." 
Earlier in the work he has established a 
systematic vision of humanity in relation to 
God, who is the final end and greatest . 
happiness for humanity. Reason is the 
faculty that specifies actions that will lead 
humanity to this end. 21 While reason is 
humanity's greatest (natural) asset on the 
path toward God, Thomas immediately 
asserts in article three that the human "good 
will be all the more perfect, according as it 
extends to all things pertaining to man." He 
seeks an integration of all that is human, 
when describing humanity's greatest good. 
AH that is naturally and uniquely "human" is 
subject to the command of reason. The next 
logical question, then, is whether the 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

passions are subject to the command of . or. during that decision can only diminish the 

reason. The answer to this question will moral goodness of an act. 
reveal both the moral quality of the passions, Though employing quite different 

and how (or if) they are related to reason. language and methodology, clearly the 

Thomas had already addressed this thought of Damasio enjoys intersections 

topic in I-II, 17, 7. In that article Thomas with that of Thomas . First, some similari- 

reminds the reader that the passions are part ties. Both thinkers view reason as crucial in 

of the sensitive appetite. "Now it must be making moral decisions. For Damasio, it 
observed that the 

sensitive appetite differs Thomas recognizes the valid role of the 
from the intellective paS sions in the moral life. They prompt the 

appetite, which is called r m 

the will, in the fact that person toward morally good actions. Yet he 
the sensitive appetite is a considers their "input" morally appropriate 

o?g W an! whereaTt°hTwiii onl y a f ter reason has "decided" on the right 
isnot" For Thomas, the way to act. The impact of emotions before 
P as * ions ar e firm| y or during that decision can only diminish 

embodied. As such, ° 

they are not wholly the moral goodness of an act. 

subject to the command 

of reason," since the "condition or disposi- weighs somatically marked alternatives 

tion of the body is not subject to the com- (though to describe its role separates reason 

mand of reason." However, to the extent - from emotion too distinctly in the process), 

that any act of an appetite follows apprehen- For Thomas, reason is the final human 

sion (which is regulated by reason), an "act criterion of goodness. Both also claim that 

of the sensitive appetite is subject to the the moral life is inadequate without the 

command of reason." involvement of emotions. For Thomas, the 

Where does that leave the passions? person who possesses the human virtues 

Considered in themselves, there is no moral might be called "passionately reasonable." 

good or evil in the passions." Yet if they are Damasio might call such a person an 

"subject to the command of reason," there is "emotional reasoner." Both paradigms are 

moral good or evil in them. 23 That leaves vastly different from the Kantian model, and 

the passions in a "twofold relation to the unfortunately neither accurately describes 

judgment of reason." 24 Antecedently, the Phineas or Eliot. 

passions "obscure the judgment of reason" Yet there are subtle differences between 

and, hence, diminish the moral quality of an the two paradigms, as should be apparent 

act. Yet consequently, the passions can from the above descriptors. Whereas 

cooperate with the judgment of reason and Thomas's paradigm is a reasonable person 

help a person work "more promptly" toward with passion, Damasio 's person is emotional 

the good. In this sense the passions increase before using reason. In other words, the 

the moral quality of an act. For "it belongs passions have only consequent moral value 

to the perfection of moral or human good, for Thomas. In fact, antecedently they 

that the passions themselves also should be ■ "obscure" reason and "diminish" the moral 

controlled by reason." 25 Thus Thomas quality of an act.- This is far from the case 

recognizes the valid role of the passions in for Damasio. While not wanting to make 

the moral life. They prompt the person emotion the sole determiner of ethical 

toward morally good actions. Yet he action, he certainly proposes a crucial role 

considers their "input" morally appropriate for emotion before the use of reason. In 

only after reason has "decided" on the right fact, he claims that reason cannot function in 
way to act. The impact of emotions before 

The Boston Theological Institute 61 

the real world without such emotional 

Another point on which they diverge is 
the assignment of value to choices. For 
Thomas this is solely a matter of reason. Yet 
for Damasio, the emotions must also be 
involved rn that process. Emotions add a 
value to a choice that somehow moves the 
agent to act toward that option.. (Recall that 
Eliot could never act on his accurate 
knowledge of ethical convention.) Thomas 
indicates a possible openness to such a role 
for the emotions in I-II, 24, 4 ad. 2, when he 
mentions certain passions as having material 
goodness in themselves. Yet in the end, 
emotions for Thomas must remain firmly 
subject to the command of reason. He even 
claims that one way in which passions arise 
.consequently is by an overflow from a 
strong will! 26 

Thomas offers an account of the 
passions that gives them an important role in. 
the moral life. Yet his account is inadequate 
in its overemphasis on the primacy of reason 
during moral decision-making. Were it 
adequate alone, Eliot and Phineas would be 
able to live moral, albeit passionless, lives. 
Yet Damasio's work demonstrates. that 
reason alone does not compel one to act 

Contemporary theologians would 
benefit from drawing on Thomas's largely 
accurate work on the passions, along with 
some correction from recent neurobiological 
research, in order to construct a vision of the 
moral life in which the emotions enjoy their 
proper role. This paper is obviously only 
the beginning of that task. Several issues 
are yet to be addressed. For instance, moral 
theologians today tend to elaborate an. 
"ethics of being," or even a virtue ethic, 
approaches not treated here. It is supposed 
that such demonstration of the necessity of 
emotion in an act-based ethic would make 
that task easier. Perhaps Thomas's moral 
virtues would result in passions that could 
antecedently contribute to moral decision- 
making. There are also issues of religious 
and ethical motivation that are only hinted at 
here. Finally, an approach has been chosen 

here that is more individualistic than would 
be preferred either by evolutionary biolo^ 
gists or by community ethicists. Future 
work to broaden the scope of approach 
along these lines promises to be fruitful, 
owing to the benefits offered by theology 
and science in dialogue. 

Works cited: 

Aquinas, Thomas . Summa Theologica. 
New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1948. 

Boyle, Leonard E., O.P. "The Setting of the 
Summa theologiae of Saint Thomas." 
Rassagna di Letteratura Tomista. 30 
(1985), 1-30. 

Damasio, Antonio R. Descartes' Error. 
New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1994. 

Gustafson, James M. Intersections. Cleve- 
land: Pilgrim Press, 1996. 

Kant, Immanuel. The Fundamental Prin- 
ciples of the Metaphysics of Ethics. New 
York: D. Appleton-Century, 1938. 

Keenan, James F. Goodness and Rightness 
in St. Thomas Aquinas s Summa 
Theologiae. Washington, D.C.: 
Georgetown University Press, 1992. 

Oakley, Justin. Morality and the Emotions. 
New York: Routledge, 1993. 

Rahner, Karl. "Philosophy and 
Philosophising in Theology." Theological 
Investigations IX. Karl Rahner. Trans. 
Graham Harrison. New York: Seabury 
Press, 1972. 

Rahner, Karl and Herbert Vorgrimler. 
Dictionary of Theology. Seconded. New 
York: Crossroad, .1981. 


'Oakley, p. 88. 
2 Kant, p. 13. 
3 Boyle, p. 16. 
4 Rahner, pp. 60-62. 
5 Ibid.,p. 62. 
6 Gustafson, pp. 2-3. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

Ibid., p. A. "Ibid., p. 53. 

"Ibid., p. 6. ' m Ibid.,p. 191. 

9 Aquinas, Ml, 10, 4. ,9 /ta/., p. 197. 

10 /fo</. , 11-11, 26, 6. 20 /fc^. , p. 200. 

"Rahner and Vorgrimler, p. 329. 21 Keenan, p. 69. 

V -Ibid., p. 331. -Aquinas, I-II, 24, 1. 

"Damasio, p. 8. ™Ihid. 

u Ibid.,p. 19. 24 /frrf., I-II, 24, 3. 

l5 Ibid.,p.U. 25 Ibid. 

l6 Ibid.,p. 49. 26 /b/J. 

£/'// Mattison received the Master of Theological Studies degree in 1997 from Weston 
Jesuit School of Theology. He is currently pursuing doctoral studies at the University of 
Notre Dame. 

This essay received a First Prize. 

The Boston Theological Institute 63 

64 Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

The Advancement of New Theology Using New Science: 
The Three Key Concepts of Thomas Torrance 

Susan Murtha-Smith 

The author begins with a selective outline of historical understandings of the concepts of 
space and time, in order to demonstrate their import for and engagement with theology. She 
then procedes to organize the three key concepts in Torrance's thought that are the most signifi- 
cant to the advancement of contemporary theology using insights from "new science. " 

Theologian Thomas Torrance has 
shown that the concepts of space and time 
have been key epistemological instruments 
of historical theological and scientific 
paradigms, creating either intellectual- 
spiritual synthesis or dissonance. Torrance 
cogently demonstrates that the epistemology 
of 'new science' has allowed for dramatic 
advances in its development of 'cognitive 
instruments' that can discern objective 
knowledge in a way that is compatible with, 
and especially constructive for, the task of 
new theology. 

Understandings of space and time: 
relational finite receptacle, infinite 

Within Greek science and philosophy, 
space was understood as a 'finite receptacle' 
or container that delimited matter, thereby 
making the material world finite and 
comprehensible. Patristic thinkers argued, 
instead, that since God created out of 
nothing, space and time are rational 
structures, created with and embedded in 
nature. They further argued that all of 
creation— rational and material— is made 
comprehensible through the divine creative 
power, not through God's physical embodi- 
ment of the universe. Furthermore, since 
space and time are the bearers of the' 
universe's immanent order, they are the 
rational media through which God is made 
known to us in the incarnation. Thus, a 
concept of space emerged as the seat of 
relations-ontologiCal and dynamic— 

between God and the universe, established 
in creation and brought into its sharpest 
focus in the incarnation. 1 Thus, it was very 
much a differential concept, relating 
creaturely and transcendent rationality. 

With the recovery of Aristotelian 
philosophy and science in the late Middle 
Ages, there was a return to the finite 
receptacle notion of space and time and a 
correlative static notion of God as the 
Unmoved Mover. However, with the 
Reformation doctrine of 'grace alone' and 
the contingency of the world, a new interest 
was aroused in empirical investigation into 
the rational world. Aligned with the 
attempts of Renaissance science to set aside 
a priori explanations and 'final causes,' the 
notion of space developed as the 'infinite 
receptacle' of all things. Newton, who 
embraced this view, understood space and 
time as attributes of God; that is, he held that 
God quite literally contains and compre- 
hends the universe in the divine self. 2 
Furthermore, as the infinite receptacle of all 
creaturely matter, God conferred rationality 
upon nature by causally conditioning 
material existence. 

Newton's scheme carried with it 
enormous theological and scientific implica- 
tions. First, absolute space and time were 
immovable, conceptualizations that brought 
a return to static notions of God. Also, as 
fixed frames, space and time were unaf- 
fected by what happened in them. This 
built-in dualism between space/time and 
matter meant there was no way in which 

The Boston Theological Institute 


God (as absolute container) could become or her own appropriation (Christ-for-us) and 

incarnate (as content). Indeed, Newton not one ontologically given. 6 

found himself in sharp conflict with It is in this conflation of Newtonian, 

Athanasius' notion of homoousion and Lutheran and Kantian ideas that Torrance 

defended Arianism, instead. 3 At the same finds the root of the modern Protestant 

time, the notion that fixed space and time antithesis between God and the world, 

causally condition material existence (the phenomenal and eternal events, Geschichte 

inertial system) led naturally to a mechanis- and Historie- that is so problematic for 

tic view of the universe. 4 contemporary Christians. Such a conflation 

. Torrance finds this dualism and staticity, was possible because of the shared 'recep- 

together with the Lutheran view of finitum tacle' notion of space and time, with their 

capax infiniti, to be the intellectual roots of epistemological corollaries. Atheism, 

deism, natural theolo- 

_ ' , , ..... gy> an d existentialism 

Newton s scheme carried with it enormous were inevitable, says 

theological and scientific implications. As I Torrance, because if 
fixed frames, space and time were unaffected J f eolo f is de , ta ched 

J J y r . from the ontology 

by what happened in them. This built-in dual- established in the 
ism between space/ time and matter meant there interaction between 

..,„,. , f God and the world, it 

was no way in which God (as absolute con- 1 could « only break u 

tainer) could become incarnate (as content). I into as many theolo- 
gies as there are 

| theologians." 7 

Kant's thought. When 'awoken from his _ T , ' . . 

, , , , „ , , New science and new theology 

dogmatic slumber by Hume s radical . , , *: 

c . ... «■• "" i . ... ' In Torrance s view, the task of contem- 

critique of causality, Kant concluded that . , , • , . , . 

, i j • .u u .u j- .• porary science and theology is to bring 

knowledge arises through the coordination K , , , . , , , . 

c ... . . , . "/ together the ontological and dynamic 

of empirical a posteriori elements (syn- b , . „, , 

t , t . , . , . . £ ' c u a approaches. Torrance argues that new 

thetic) and a priori forms of human under- T , , , 

. ■,■■,. .u u • science has begun to develop the appropriate 

standing that organize these apprehensions. .. . b _ ,. , , 

tt. ... . Iyr .:,,. „ 'cognitive instrument' for this task and to 

Thus, while Kant was right in attempting to .,,..,, r ... 

,. .». ■' .. . . , ... give helpful clues for accomplishing it. The 

coordinate the theoretical and empirical, ° . . . , . . 

-r .u . cc •* u 4. c j three chief characteristics of this instrument 

Torrance argues that, in effect, he transferred ,. . , , 

. .. ,. .,. , . r tU ... are outlined below: 
the limiting comprehension of the material 

universe from God to the human mind (') The instrument must coordinate rational 

,. , TT . __ . form or theoretic components and being or 

( transcendental ego ). Here, in effect, the material existence. This eliminates dualism 

human mind becomes the (Newtonian) .or disintegration of imbued structures. (In 

infinite receptacle that makes knowledge theology, this coordination is necessary 

... because material existence is imbued with 

possible. rationality in God's act of creative-compre- 

The first implication is that God, who is hension.) 

outside this world, is strictly unknowable, ,.,. ™ . t . . . ., 

J (11) I he instrument must be upwardly 

not being an object that can be shaped by adaptable, such that it uses one level of 

human reason. If God is to be known, it rationality and material existence while 

must be through some other means. Thus, pointing beyond itself to another level, yet 

° without becoming detached rrom the lower 

there arose a radical dualism between Kant's i eve i. This eliminates reductionism. (In 

notion of faith's knowledge and reason. The theology, this is necessary because creation 

second implication is that, if space and time and th 5 ir f arnation provide the ontological 

... r . ground or our existence while pointing 

are a priori forms of human perception, then beyond themselves, revealing the truth of 

the only God a person can have is one of his God.) 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

(Ill) The unity of rational form and being in 
nature means that our investigation is fused 
with both components from the start. Thus, 
true knowledge cannot be: 
—known in advance: a priori conceptualism 

of imposing form upon content, 
—directly experienced: pure empiricism, 
—artificially abstracted: theoretic rationality 

separate from materiality. 

Rather, ontological knowledge is an "experi- 
enced imperceptible." 10 Thus, there is no 
method Tor its discovery; only by intuitively 
penetrating reality can true knowledge of 
nature and God can be disclosed. 

Before discussing new science and new 
theology in light of this instrument, it will be 
useful to review the methodological shift 
from Newton to Kant to. new science. 

Newtonian Methodology 

As stated above, it was during the 
Reformation and Renaissance that an 
attempt at an a posteriori science emerged. 
However, as Torrance interprets the matter, 
Newton's methodology did not fully 
conform to this agenda. The first scientific 
contradiction arose with Newton's claim that 
he was deriving his scientific concepts 
empirically . "Whatever is not deduced 
from phenomena is to be called an hypoth- 
esis," said Newton; "and hypotheses... have 
no place in experimental philosophy." 11 But, 
in fact, he contradicted this precept by 
identifying space and time with the absolute 
-which, by definition, was completely 
inaccessible to empirical observation 
Newton did bring theoretical components 
into his analysis. The second problem was 
that these theoretical components were an 
artificial abstraction of form, separated from 
interaction with material content, and thus 
not ontological. Because of Newton's 
profound success in defining motion, 
Torrance notes that the scientific world was 
misled into believing that the scientific 
process is that of deducing rational laws 
from sense experience. 12 

According to Torrance then, for two 
related reasons Newton's approach does not 
satisfy the challenge of new science and new 
theology to develop appropriate cognitive 
instruments. First, form or rational struc- 
tures must be coordinated with material 

content (see (I) above), whereas Newton 
separated them by identifying space and 
time as entities independent of the material 
world. Second, while Newton was right in 
attempting to discover form (though he 
actually imposed it), he erroneously con- 
ceived of this as direct empiricism. But as 
new science shows, rational space and time 
are fused with matter and energy; rational 
forms alone are not directly accessible! 13 
Following Einstein, Torrance maintains that 
"while concepts are suggested by experi- 
ence, they require creative and constructive 
activity on the part of the human mind for 
their discovery." They are "experienced 
imperceptibles" (see (III) above). 14 

Kantian Methodology 

With Hume's critique of causality, 
empirical science had no means of justifica- 
tion. Kant did not challenge Newton's 
theoretical scheme, but instead found a 
justifiable explanation for it with his 
synthetic a priori. But, of course, this meant 
that the intellect does not draw its laws out 
of nature, but instead imposes its laws upon 
nature. 15 Correlatively, nature in itself 
cannot be known. While Torrance affirms 
Kant's attempt to coordinate the theoretical 
and the empirical, his notion of a priori 
human conceptuality was erroneous in that it 
meant empirical knowledge was essentially 
controlled and not apprehended. It is here 
that Torrance believes science and theology 
accepted the notion that form is not some- 
thing to be discovered (contra (III) above); 
rather "we clothe the universe with form and 
structure and thereby give it meaning for 
ourselves." 16 From this came the rational- 
istic functionalism (instrumentalism) of the 
modern mind. 

New Science Approach 

Torrance argues that new science has 
begun to develop this cognitive instrument 
that overcomes the problems of the 
Newtonian and Kantian models. Below is a 
summary of his view of what has been 
discovered using the three essential charac- 
teristics of the instrument as outlined above. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


(A) Coordination of form and being (rational 
structures and material existence). 

New science shows a world in which 
relations between bodies are just as real as 
the bodies themselves. 17 For instance, 
special relativity shows that space and time 
are not independent, but represent just two 
different cross-sections of one'space-time'. 
continuum. General relativity theory shows 
that space itself is affected by matter, that 
space affects the movement of matter, and 
that time is shrunk by gravity. The splitting 
of this four-dimensional continuum into 
three dimensional space and one-dimen- 
sional time is purely arbitrary and instru- 
mental. Attempts to separate form and 
materiality necessarily involves artificial 
construction of an abstraction, such as 
Newton's geometry of the relations between 
rigid bodies, independent of time— relations 
derived logically and not ontologically. 
Such dualisms have been found to be 
incongruent with reality and, thus, must be 
set aside. 18 

(B) A flexible instrument that coordinates 
different levels of existence without 
confusing them or nullifying lower levels. 

An example of this is new science's 
development of unitary field theory, which 
attempts to give full weight both to knowl- 
edge of countable quantized packets of 
energy and momentum (particle-like 
behavior), and to knowledge of field 
properties of extension in space (wave-like 
behavior). The newly developed tool of 
unitary theory enlarges the imagination to 
perceive a new level of complexity not 
foreseen in the individual parts. This 
coordination must put to rest any forms of 
reductionism, as new science has come to 
recognize that component parts have no 
separate identity and can only be understood 
within their holistic configuration. 20 

(C) An instrument that penetrates into the 
"experienced imperceptibility" and, through 

■ testing, establishes a true ontology. 

Now that new science has accepted the 
unity of form and material existence and put 
to rest a mechanistic understanding of 
nature, it no longer attempts naive empiri- 
cism, false abstraction and a priori concep- 

tualism. Concurring with Einstein, Torrance 
maintains that there is no logical path to the 
laws of nature, but "only intuition, resting 
on sympathetic understanding of experience, 
can reach them." 21 The true ontology of 
these 'free concepts' will be established or 
negated when tested against intelligible 

An example is found in relativity 
theory. This cognitive instrument shows an 
invariant structure of relatedness in nature, 
irrespective of any observer. 22 Thus, says 
Torrance, "the very fact that we can offer 
various representations, without making any 
difference to what we apprehend, reveals 
that it is so objectively deep that it remains 
invariant to our representations of it." 23 
Torrance states, "This 'invention' comes to 
us from the universe itself and with its 
astonishing correlation between our human 
thinking and empirical reality, we cannot 
think that they might just as well have 
happened otherwise, for it is thrust upon us 
as belonging to an intelligible order indepen- 
dent of us." 24 It should be noted that 
Torrance does not regard this cognitive 
instrument as final, but rather as "an open 
and flexible structure used postulationally" 
as reality is probed. 25 

New Theology 

When theology seeks to interpret the 
incarnation and creation with respect to the 
questions of space and time, it too needs to 
develop an appropriate cognitive instrument 
in accordance with the characteristics 
outlined above. Below is a summary of- 
Torrance's insights about this instrument for 
new theology. 

(1) Coordination of form and being.. 

Without the dualism of materiality and 
rational space-time, or between nature and 
supernature, there can no longer be a 
dualism between natural theology and 
revealed theology. Whatever is revealed 
about God is done within the created 
rationalities of space-time and, thus, can 
only be discerned within them. Revealed 
theology can no longer be pursued apart 
from the structures of space and time, lest it 
lapse into irrationality. 26 In order to develop 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

an adequate account of creation and incarna- in itself (since the contingent world cannot 
tion, theology must consider the empirical explain itself), but only as attaining meaning 

dimensions in space-time. Analogously, and cogency when properly coordinated 

natural theology must be transformed. with the empirical conditions of revealed 

Historically, natural theology used a method theology. 29 

of abstract reasoning based upon sense Thus, to avoid reductionism, ontologi- 

experience and then attempted to relate that cal knowledge requires asking questions 'in 

opposite directions' at the 
r same time — in accordance 

Without the dualism of materiality and with the nature and acts of 

rational space-time, or between nature \ God and in accordance with 

. . , . • . the nature and acts of ere- 

and supernature, there can no longer be ation ne possible way of 
a dualism between natural theology and expressing this, Torrance 
revealed theology. Whatever is revealed suggests, is to use the model 

°* / or horizontal and vertical 

about God is done Within the Created coordinate systems. Accord 

rationalities of space-time and, thus, can m ^ Jesus Christ is then the 

, , ,. i • i • » place in all of space and time 

only be discerned within them. where God meets with 

humanity and humanity meets 

reasoning to God. But new natural theology with God, thus constituting ah intersection 

can no longer be extrinsic to actual knowl- of vertical and horizontal planes. ?a This is 

edge of God; rather, Torrance calls for where human .beings are opened to the 

natural theology as a 'theological geometry' transcendent ground of God that gives 

that can articulate the material logic of humanity its true place, for it relates its 

knowledge of God as mediated within place to its ontological ground, so that it is 

space-time. 27 This overall coordination of not submerged in relativities of what is 

materiality and rationality is analogous to merely horizontal. Since this coordination 

the task of new science when it disavowed of vertical and horizontal axes relates two 

Euclidean geometry as an a priori system different realities, they are not to be thought 

independent of materiality, and introduced of as one and the same language. The 

four-dimensional physical-geometry. resultant confusion inevitably leads to 

(2) Coordinating creaturely and Divine breaking them apart entirely; and then, 

rationalities without confusing them or erroneously, they become merely symbolic. 

nullifying creaturely rationality. Development of these differential languages 

Because of God's transcendent freedom, lies ahead in theology, 
created rationality cannot be identified with (3) Penetrating into the "experienced 

Divine rationality (contra Newton). How- imperceptibility" and, through testing, 

ever, since created rationality is derived establishing true ontology, 

from the Divine rationality, we must not Since an a posteriori approach in 

think of the incarnation as abrogating the science and theology is sought, there are no 

rational structures of this world; rather, the rules or 'methods' for discovering ontologi- 

incarnation is to be understood as the freely cal knowledge. What is required is penetrat- 

chosen path of God's rationality. 28 Precisely ing into and following what is given, 
because there is an axis of intersection The truth of findings are determined by 

between God and the world in creation and correlation. When rationality and being are 

the incarnation, they can and must be disjoined, and abstractions are made, 

properly coordinated. Such a non-reduction- theorists then test for inner consistency and 

istic coordination means that natural coherence in order to ascertain their logical 

theology cannot be thought of as complete truth or falsity. This is an instrumentalist 

The Boston Theological Institute 69 

and positivist approach to science and its 
verification, which does not seek to grasp 
reality in its depth (ontologically). 31 In 
contrast, Torrance argues, when theorists 
operate with the unity of rationality and 
being and penetrate into reality so as to 
grasp its invariant structures, then reality 
itself is the ultimate judge of what is true or 
false, since the concern is for ontic and not 
logical necessity. 32 For theology, the 
decisive act of God in the incarnation is that 
invariant locus for our knowledge of God, 
which can be discerned only by following 
God in that spatio-temporal disclosure. 33 


Thomas Torrance's instruments of space 
and time are profoundly valuable for 
bringing to the surface the deep inter- 
relationship between theology, science and 
epistemology. In the summarization of these 
relationships for this paper, simplification 
may shade into falsification of major lines of 
thought. Torrance's corpus greatly expands 
upon this intellectual history, but he too may 
simplify in his attempt to illumine the 
modern and post-modern struggles with 
notions of realism and ontology. 

Certainly many theologians today have 
come to recognize the need to move past 
dualism and reductionism. And yet, few 
have grasped the deeper workings of a 
cognitive instrument that can overcome 
them in the way that Torrance sets forth, nor 
do they recognize the ontology implicit in 
doing so. However, Torrance's deepest 
insight about an instrument that attempts to 
set aside empiricism, a priori conceptual- 
ism, and abstract rationality, in favor of an 
intuitive penetration of the deeper ontology 
of nature and of God, seems a far more 
Utopian vision. Few are gifted with the 
requisite combination of genius, creativity 
and faith for such fluid, free and open 
movement of thought. Most will continue to 
impose preconceived ideas about God and 
nature onto theology, as well as to attempt to 
find logical bridges rather than ontological 
explanations for reality. It is likely that a 
multiplicity of theologies will continue to be 
formulated and evangelized. If Torrance 

himself has not fully conceived of the 
cognitive instrument for theology, he can be 
fully credited with insightfully identifying 
what it ought to be seeking after; and, 
therefore, he may have a place among those 
great theologians he notes as exemplars of 
his vision— Athanasius of Alexandria, 
Anselm of Canterbury, and Soren 

Works cited: 

Torrance, Thomas F. Divine and Contingent 

Order. Oxford: Oxford University 

Press, 1981. 
Torrance, Thomas F. Reality and Scientific 

Theology. Theology and Science at the 

Frontiers of Knowledge, no. 1. Series ed. 

Thomas F. Torrance. Edinburgh: Scottish 

Academic Press, 1985. 
Torrance, Thomas F. Space, Time and 

Incarnation. London: Oxford University 

Press, 1969. 
Torrance, Thomas F. Transformation & 

Convergence in the Frame of Knowledge: 

Explorations in the Interrelations of 

Scientific and Theological Enterprise. 

Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans 

Publishing, 1984. 


l Space, Time and Incarnation, p. 18. 

2 Ibid, p. 38. 

'Ibid, pp. 39-40. 

'Ibid, pp. 38-9. 

^Transformation & Convergence, p. 37. 

h Space, Time and Incarnation, p. 44. 

Ibid, p. 48. 

8 While Patristic theology was governed by 
these approaches, it must be restated today 
in light of the findings of new science. 
However, it should be made very clear that 
Torrance does not suggest that theology 
derives credibility by conforming to science. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

Rather, they are accountable to one another, 
though science is free to derive its credibil- 
ity from other parameters, such as function- 

Torrance does not separate out these 
characteristics which, in my opinion, is the 
cause of much confusion in his otherwise 
cogent arguments. 

^Transformation & Convergence, p. 77. 

"Ibid., p. 17. 

r -Ibid., p. 23. 

"Ibid., p, 77. 

"Ibid, pp. 77-8. 

'7/?^., pp. 271-2. 

]b Ibid, p. 6. 

"Ibid, pp. 44-5. 

]H Ibid, p. 76. 

^Space, Time and Incarnation, pp, 76-7. 
Torrance's development of this example 
may be somewhat confused. At points he 
implies that the two levels that are being 
coordinated are that of quantum theory and 
relativity theory. But what is actually being 
coordinated is the unitary quantum field 

theory on the higher level of complexity 
with the two lower level theories— quantum 
and relativity theories. 

20 For instance, a helium atom cannot be 
understood as having distinguishable parts 
that can be individually analyzed and built 
up so as to the predict the behavior of the 
whole atom. 

21 Transformation & Convergence, p. 78. 

22 lbid, p. 273. 

*/«£, p. 275. 

2 "Ibid., p. 214. 

25 Ibid. 

2h Reality and Scientific Theology, p. 36. 

11 Space, Time and Incarnation, p. 70. 

28 Ibid., p. 67. 

29 Reality and Scientific Theology, pp. 41, 

M) Space, Time and Incarnation, 75. 

31 Reality and Scientific Theology, pp. 54, 

n Ibid, p. 50. 

^Space, Time and Incarnation, p. 68. 

Susan Murtha-Smith received the M.Div. degree in 1997 from Andover Newton Theo- 
logical School. An engineer by training, she is working toward ordination within the 
United Church of Christ. 

This essay was awarded an Honorable Mention. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


72 Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

God, Neo-Symbiosis, and the Unlearning of the 

Social Darwinist Narrative 

Josh Pawelek 

The evidence for symbiosis as a mechanism in evolution suggests that nature is not only 
competitive in the Darwinist sense, but also inherently creative and cooperative. The author 
grounds the concept of God's transformative power within this scientific mechanism of symbio- 
sis, and argues against competition as the dominant social metaphor. 

Our age is retrospective. It builds the 
sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biogra- 
phies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing 
generations beheld God and nature face to 
face; we, through their eyes. Why should not 
we also enjoy an original relation to the 
universe? Why should not we have a poetry 
and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, 
and a religion by revelation to us, and not the 
history of theirs? 

—Ralph Waldo Emerson 

This essay tells a story about God. 
Specifically, it is a story about how science 
changed peoples' understanding of God's 
role in history; how the interpretation of 
scientific evidence forced God out of 
history; and how new scientific evidence 
can open the way for God's return to 
history. This is an interdisciplinary story. 
First, it tells history, because people learn 
the most meaningful lessons about them- 
selves, when they encounter their own 
history. Second, it discusses science, 
because we live in an age when it is perilous 
either to accept or deny completely what 
science teaches. Finally, it explores 
religion, because, in the act of theological 
reflection, we can discover for our age what 
Emerson sought for his: revelation to us. 
These three disciplines do not appear in any 
particular order. They interact with each 
other throughout the essay, which is how 
they must interact in our lives if they are to 
teach us what it means to be fully human. 

We tell history less to know the truth 
about what has happened, and more to 
articulate what we believe is true about 
ourselves. This species of history that lies 

at the borders of mythology involves artistry 
and politics. An artistic endeavor, the telling 
of history seeks a deep understanding of the 
human condition. What does the past tell us 
about ourselves and our way of life? In 
answering these questions, history becomes 
metaphor, appealing to our innermost 
passions and values. Yet, as politics, history 
serves the often hidden purposes of the 
historian. Factual evidence is filtered 
through the historian's interpretive lens, so 
that the past appears to validate the present, 
when in reality, present conditions have 
been used to construct the past. Our great 
historical narratives inspire us to think 
boldly and creatively, and simultaneously 
enclose us in the social and cultural systems 
they uphold. History's drama brings us 
dangerously close to the precipice beyond 
which chaos reigns, and then calls us back to 
safety— to order. 

Christian salvation history is one such 
narrative. For more than 1,700 years, from 
the time the New Testament was written, its 
message that God acts in history was the 
dominant narrative for Western society. The 
Luke-Acts composite is the New 
Testament's most cogent telling of this 
narrative. It divides history into three 
epochs. First, the time of the law extends 
from God's creation of the Earth, and 
foreshadows the coming of Christ. Second, 
the brief time of Jesus witnesses to God's 
fundamental revelations: the incarnation 
and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Third, the 
time of the Church extends from Christ into 

The Boston Theological Institute 


the historian's present, and makes God's had passed between the beginning of life 

revelation manifest in the Church's activi- and the beginning of humanity. God may 

ties. Most versions of the salvation narrative have been present in the beginning, but had 

foresee an end to time, when Christ shall been replaced in history by natural selection, 
return to Earth to reign in eternal glory. This Evolution's implications for the future 

narrative's artistry is its capacity to impart a were also devastating to the principles of 

sense of meaning and historical destiny to its salvation history. Where Christians had 

audience. Its politics aim at upholding the envisioned Christ's eschatological return to 

authority of Church and Bible. It gives . Earth, Darwin saw only uncertainty: 
Christians the freedom to experience God's Qf the species now , iving very few will 

love, while simultaneously providing transmit progeny of any kind to a far distant 

parameters for the experience. It intertwines futurity. . .for the greater number of species in 

. .. . .. . . each genus... have left no descendants, but 

science, history and religion into one have become utterly extinct 3 

homeostatic system. Science serve the 

intellectual needs of religion and history; Humans wou,d not necessarily recognize 

history explains the meaning of worldly themselves in the future; nor could they 

events in terms of divine providence; legitimately claim to have a future. One 

religion is the source of highest authority for thin S was certain: in this narrative, Christ 

interpreting history and science. was not comin S back - "^ kin 8 dom come " 

The 1859 publication of Charles was st,H a P owerful theological petition, but 

Darwin's The Origin of Species completed " carried no historical significance in the 

what the Enlightenment had begun; the new sc,entlflc reaht y- 
elevation of science, the removal of God The disappearance of God from history 

from history, and the unwriting of the went hand in hand wit ^ the decline of 

Christian salvation narrative. Darwin's Church author,t y and the nse of secularism, 

scientific claims did not dismiss God In this context < Darwin * s fo,lowe rs formu- 

outright. He allowed that a Creator may ,ated a new narratlve for Western society: 

have breathed life into a few original Social Darwinism. Although Social 

organisms; but from then on, natural Darwinism wore the cloak of science, 

selection was the sole creative mechanism.' Darwinian evolution proved too bleak an 

interpretive tool for understand- 
F actual evidence is filtered through the ing society; and historical and 

historian 's interpretive lens, so that the re hgious imaginings soon 

_ replaced scientific rigor. The 

past appears tO Validate the present; social Darwinists never quite 

when in reality, present conditions have admitted that natural selection 

u„„„ . „„j 4. 4. 4. *i 4. occurred over hundreds of 

been used to construct the past. t . ;..♦•.* A 

^ generations, or that it referred 

1 mainly to the ability to repro- 

Evolutionary time replaced Biblical time. duce. Their version of Darwinism assumed 

. Darwin's conclusion that it might require a that through competition a human being 

thousand generations for one species to could become highly evolved within one 

produce two well-distinguished varieties generation. They translated Darwinian 

was ominous: clearly, the world had been science into a dramatic story of competitive 

around much longer than the Bible indi- human struggle against adversity. Their 

cated. "The mind," said Darwin, "cannot twisting of Darwin's theory made the 

possibly grasp the full meaning of the term science behind it more palatable. The Social 

of even a million years." 2 Darwin removed Darwinists' artistry lay in their recasting of 

God from creative proximity to humanity by Darwinism as a socially meaningful story, in 

articulating the sheer expanse of time that which they identified themselves as trium- 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

phant masters of natural selection. The 
politics of this narrative lay in its affirmation 
of society's most rich and powerful mem- 
bers. One's wealth became proof that not 
only were Darwin's theories correct, but that 
the wealthy were shining examples of 
human progress. Those who could not see 
themselves reflected in this story were 
regarded as unfit to survive. Social Darwin- 
ism thus provided the perfect historical 
explanation for the rise of big business and 
free markets, and it became the new 
scientific rationale for "rugged individual- 
ism," racism, economic exploitation, and 

Natural selection also acquired religious 
characteristics in the Social Darwinist 

Although Social Darwinism's most 
ruthless Spencerian form was gone from the 
American scene by World War I, Richard 
Hofstadter argued in 1944 that a resurgence 
of Social Darwinism was always possible, as 
long as an element of predacity existed in 
society; scientific critiques of Darwin's 
theories would have little impact on social 
thought, because "survival of the fittest" was 
fixed in the public mind. 7 Today this 
narrative still resonates deeply in society. 
We may think "survival of the fittest" is 
inhumane, but no idea has yet challenged the 
stability of the Social Darwinist homeosta- 
sis. God remains in exile from history, 
replaced by a compassionless, pseudo- 
scientific notion. 

The scientific basis for a 

' 1 new narrative-one that can 

Humans would not necessarily recognize bring God back into history- 

themselves in the future; nor COuld they has already been established: 

legitimately claim to have a future. One 
thing was certain: in this narrative, 
Christ was not coming back. 

narrative. British philosopher Herbert 
Spencer, who coined the term, "survival of 
the fittest," understood evolution as a moral 
system. He saw the human capacity to adapt 
to environmental conditions as synonymous 
with the capacity for good; non-adaptation . 
was the root of all evil. 4 Nature, he felt, 
sought to eliminate those who were not 
morally capable, as they constituted a drain 
on society's resources. If the poor were not 
fit to survive, he wrote, then perhaps it was 
best that they die. 5 In the United States John 
D. Rockefeller explained evolution as a law 
of God, while Andrew Carnegie used it to 
replace his old religion. Carnegie said, "Not 
only had I got rid of theology and the 
supernatural, but I had found the truth of 
evolution." 6 Science, history, and religion- 
though truncated— had reached a new 
homeostasis in the Social Darwinist narra- 
tive. In this new system, the counterpart for 
God was a competitive, individualistic spirit 
who sought to control or vanquish society's 
weakest members. 

symbiosis. University of 
Massachusetts microbiologist 
Lynn Margulis has been the 
j primary theorist behind 
I symbiosis for more than thirty 
. years. She defines symbiosis 
as "the living together in intimate associa- 
tion of different kinds of organisms." ? In 
studying the microbial world Margulis has 
shown in a myriad of ways how microorgan- 
isms do not always compete for survival; 
rather, they frequently join together, creating 
wholly new organisms to meet environmen- 
tal challenges. The evidence for symbiosis 
as a mechanism in the creation of species 
suggests that Nature is not only competitive, 
but also cooperative and creative. Symbio- 
sis thus subtly complements and expands 
Darwin's theory of evolution. 

For an example of symbiosis as an 
evolutionary process, consider the relation- 
ship between eukaryotes and mitochondria. 
All eukaryotes— organisms with nucleated 
cells, such as humans, animals, plants, and 
fungi— depend on mitochondria in their cells • 
to process oxygen and convert nutrients into 
energy. Interestingly, the DNA in mitochon- 
dria is more akin to the DNA of certain free- 
living bacteria than to the DNA in the nuclei 
of their home cells. This is evidence that in 

The Boston Theological Institute 


our evolutionary past mitochondria were 
free-living bacteria that, over time, came to 
merge with nucleated cells, creating the- 
oxygen-processing metabolism common to 
all eukaryotes today. 9 

. Symbiosis is not limited only to such 
microbial mergers. There are many ex 
amples of "intimate 
associations" in Nature 
that illustrate symbiosis, 
such, as the relationship 
between insects and 
flowers in pollination. 
This, leads to a tempting 
question: Is the coopera- 
tive principle in symbiosis 
an example of divine revelation in Nature? 
Not at all. The claim that symbiosis 
manifests God's actions has been made 
before, but it is no different than the Social 
Darwinist search for moral guidance in 
Darwinian science. Margulis would agree; 
she is known for her criticisms of those who 
equate symbiosis with spiritual forces. Nor 
does symbiosis constitute evidence that 
cooperation and competition are respectively 
good-and bad; competition is too important a 
biological force for such a sacred-profane 
dualism to take hold. Symbiotic coopera- 
tion, like Darwinian competition, is fore- 
most a scientific theory that informs us 
about evolution. We should not succumb to 
the temptation to see it otherwise. 

We encounter God only when we 
remember that science in the form of basic 
knowledge is insufficient to account for our 
whole experience of reality. To learn how 
symbiosis might inform us about God, we 
must situate it in relation to history and 
religion. I call this project neo-symbiosis. 
What narrative would we tell if we inter- 
preted the past in terms of cooperation and 
creativity rather than competition? How 
might this narrative intersect with our 
religious lives? In answering these ques- 
tions, it is not enough just to tell stories 
about teamwork. Nobody disputes the value 
of cooperation^ yet SocialDarwinist 
competition remains operative in our lives. 
Truly to change peoples' attitudes about how 
best to order their lives, this narrative must 

self-consciously dismantle the tenets of 
Social Darwinism, so that a balance between 
competition and cooperation can be 
achieved. Such is the task of the neo- 
symbiotic narrative. 

What better way to begin imagining 
neo-symbiosis than to tell a neo-symbiotic 

To admit that the living self is an inherently 
dynamic and expanding incorporation of 
organisms means letting go of the differen- 
tiated self we know. Here the limits of 
science merge naturally with religion. 

story? It begins with the revolutionary 
success of antibiotics in fighting infectious 
diseases. The rise of antibiotics was often 
described in Social Darwinist terms: 
humans increased their ability to survive by 
adapting to an environmental threat. In the 
process of Our adaptation, we demonized 
bacteria, much as Herbert Spencer demon- 
ized the poor a century earlier. However, 
winning this struggle produced hidden 
medical costs. In 1953, biologist Helen 
Coley Nauts noted: 

[N]eoplasms [cancerous tumors] have been 
observed to regress following acute infections, 
principally streptococcal. If these cases were 
not too far-advanced and the infections were 
of sufficient severity or duration, the tumors 
completely disappeared and the patients 
remained free from recurrence."' 

Similarly, in 1950, M. J. Shear of the 
National Cancer Institute observed that 
seventy-five percent of the spontaneous 
remissions in untreated leukemia at Boston's 
Children's Hospital occurred following an 
acute bacterial infection. He went on to ask, 
"[I]n making progress in the control of 
infectious diseases, are we removing one of 
Nature's controls of cancer?" " Until now 
the medical world has never answered this 
question, because to do so would be 
inconsistent with its Social Darwinist view 
of bacteria. 

John Pawelek of Yale University has 
begun to rethink the demonization of 
bacteria. He offers the following answer to 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

the queries of Nauts and Shear: progress in 
the control of infectious diseases very likely 
did eliminate one of Natures controls of 
cancer, namely, bacteria. In an unpublished 
article, "Tumor-Targeted Salmonella as a 
Novel Anti-Cancer Vector," he describes his 
success in using bacteria to suppress, growth 
of human melanoma tumors in mice. 
Pawelek found that properly engineered 
salmonella can selectively infiltrate tumors, 
reproduce, and retard tumor growth. They 
can also deliver anti-cancer proteins to 
tumors. 12 As with fire or water, what is 
perceived as an enemy in one context may 
be an ally in another. Bacteria can wreak 
havoc in human bodies, but the Social 
Darwinist belief in their inherent badness 
isolates us from their contribution to a 
larger, healing reality. Though far from 
complete, Pawelek's work suggests that the 
human body can cooperate with bacteria— 
that bacteria symbiotically become part of 
our immune response to cancerous tumors. 

There are three elements that make this 
a neo-symbiotic narrative. First, there is a 
lived experience of cooperation and creativ- 
ity. The story above features cooperation 
between humans and bacteria, creating the 
possibility of a new approach to treating 
cancer. Neo-symbiotic partners work with 
each other, helping each other, learning from 
each other. Their act of coming together, 
whether a physical merger or a sharing of 
skills or ideas, creates something new: it 
may be a new organism; it may be a new 
concept. Note that the lived experience of 
cooperation does not have to be symbiotic in 
the strict scientific sense. Symbiosis simply 
provides the natural model for neo-symbi- 
otic cooperation. 

Second, neo-symbiosis locates itself in 
history. For example, the story above 
presents Pawelek's work not only in his 
scientific terms, but as the emergence of a 
new approach to medical healing, after forty 
years of Social Darwinist misunderstanding 
of bacteria. The artistry of the neo-symbi- 
otic narrative lies in its capacity to make 
cooperation historically meaningful. Its 
political aim is to problematize Social 

Darwinism so that some authority is 
transferred to cooperation. It does not allow 
us to value cooperation in word and then 
practice competition in deed. It illustrates 
how we avoid cooperation at our peril. 
Although science does not permit us to view 
symbiosis and Darwinian competition as 
opposite extremes on a moral spectrum, 
history takes greater liberties. To make 
history relevant we must find our moral 
lives reflected in it. As we move from 
Social Darwinism to neo-symbiosis, we 
unabashedly attach moral significance to 
each, making competition morally subordi- 
nate to cooperation. The neo-symbiotic 
narrative thus gives the comforting sense 
that history is moving toward cooperation. . 

Third, neo-symbiosis presents new 
possibilities in religious discourse and 
experience. It does so by begging a question 
that science and history can only partially 
answer: What is self? For example, are 
bacteria that can enhance our immune 
response to cancer part of our self or not? 
Where Darwinian competition upholds the 
self, encouraging independence, symbiosis 
suggests that self is an illusion. It regards 
self as a composite, a merger of once 
distinct organisms, and always merging 
further. 1,1 To admit that the living self is an 
inherently dynamic and expanding incorpo- 
ration of organisms means letting go of the 
differentiated self we know. Here the limits 
of science merge naturally with religion. In 
wrestling with the fuzzy boundaries of self, 
we begin to speculate about our true nature 
and purpose. We wonder: If we choose to 
let go of self, what will we become? We 
find ourselves dangerously close to the 
precipice beyond which chaos reigns. 
Letting go requires faith that in relinquishing 
self, we become contributors to a creative 
process that ultimately transforms us for the 
better. In letting such faith guide our lives, 
we stop valuing our competitive isolation 
and start cultivating creative relationships. 
In these relationships we bring what is best 
in ourselves to the creative process, and we 
make ourselves open to what others bring. 
It is almost paradoxical that in moving 

The Boston Theological Institute 


beyond the "completeness" of. self, we 
encounter a sense of wholeness that the self 
alone cannot attain. 

From the realization that neo-symbiosis 
supports an abiding faith in the power of 
creative relationships, we may come, if we 
choose, to the reemergence of God in 
history. For in placing our faith in mutual 
creativity as the source of transformation, 
we stumble upon God. Twentieth-century 
theologian Henry Nelson Wieman suggests 
how this might happen. Wieman examined 
the natural world for an experienced reality 
that is beyond our control, yet involves us in 
our own redemption. He found this reality 
in the Creative Event, which he identified as 
God. The Creative Event has four sub- 
events. First, the individual becomes aware 
of qualitative meaning extending from 
another organism. Second, this new 
meaning is integrated with the individual's 
old meaning. Third, the individual's 
capacity to appreciate the world is increased. 
And, finally, there is a widening and 
deepening of community among all partici- 
pants. 14 The Creative Event itself always 
takes precedence over an individual's stated 
conception of truth. That is, one does not 
experience God in isolation, but in creative 
process with others. When human beings 
choose to come together in cooperative 
relationship, God moves among them as 
creativity, and yields transformation. 

This does not mean that neo-symbiosis 
requires a theological position, nor does it 
automatically proclaim the reemergence of . 
God in history. Wieman's approach to 
creativity is one of many we could incorpo- 
rate into the neo-symbiotic narrative. 
Nevertheless, where competition leads us 
further into ourselves, neo-symbiotic 
cooperation leads us beyond ourselves into 
unknown space and time. This can be 
difficult and frightening. In claiming with 
Wieman that God is creativity, we give a 
name to that experience of selflessness at the 
center of the neo-symbiotic narrative. We 
enter the space between ourselves and other 
organisms, not knowing what may become 
of us, but believing that God/Creativity will 
transform us. This neo-symbiotic faith' 

liberates us from the competitive stress of 
Social Darwinism, giving us the freedom to 
embrace cooperation and creativity as new 
organizing principles for our lives. 

At the base of the neo-symbiotic 
narrative is science's revelation that Nature 
is cooperative. Symbiosis is the evidence 
our minds crave for the legitimate writing of 
a new narrative. It provides the much- 
needed metaphor to make our new history 
resonate deeply in our hearts. And its 
challenge to the self is the catalyst for a new 
faith in creativity that nourishes our souls. 
Neo-symbiosis thus encompasses a 
reconfiguration of science, history, and 
religion, such that we may encounter God 
acting anew in history. 

Works cited: 

Darwin. Charles, The Origin of Species. 
New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1975. 

Hofstadter, Richard. Social Darwinism in 
American Thought. Boston: Beacon 
Press, 1992. 

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. "Micro- 
cosmos." From Gaia to Selfish Genes: 
Selected Writings in the Life Sciences. Ed. 
Connie Barlow. Cambridge: The MIT 

. Press, 1992. 

Nauts, Helen Coley. "A Review of the 
Influence of Bacterial Infection and of 
Bacterial Products (Coley's Toxins) on 
Malignant Tumors in Man." Acta Medica 
Scandinavica, CXLV (1953). 

Pawelek, John M., K. Brooks Low, and 
David Bermudes. "Tumor-Targeted 
Salmonella as a Novel Anti-Cancer 
Vector." Research report, Departments of 
Dermatology and Pharmacology, Thera- 
peutic Radiology, and Internal Medicine, 
Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, 
CT 1992. 

Shear, M. J. "Chemotherapy of Malignant 
Neoplastic Diseases." Journal of the 
American Medical Association, 142 
(1950), 383-390. 

Spencer, Herbert. Social Statics. New York: 
D. Appleton & Co., 1864. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

Southworth, Bruce. At Home in Creativity: 
The Naturalistic Theology of Henry 
Nelson Wieman. Boston: Skinner House 
Books, 1995. 


'Darwin, pp. 116, 123. 
2 Ibid.,p. 117. 
3 Ibid., p. 122. 
4 Spencer, pp. 9-80. 
5 Ibid., pp. 414-415. 
6 Hofstadter, p. 45. 

7 Ibid.,p. 203, 

8 Margulis and Sagan, p. 64. 

9 Ibid., pp. 62-63. 

10 Nauts,p. 5. 
. "Shear, p. 390. 

12 Proper engineering virtually eliminates 
the pathogenicity of the salmonella. Treated 
mice in Pawelek's study lived twice as long 
as untreated mice. See Pawelek, Low, and 

l3 Margulis and Sagan, p. 66. 

,4 Southworth, pp. 41-42. 

Josh Pawelek is in the final year of the M.Div. program at Harvard Divinity School. He 
is preparing for parish ministry within the Unitarian Universalist Association. In addition 
to his academic and vocational activities, he plays drums with a Boston-based rock, 
band, and has completed the Boston Marathon three times. 

This essay was awarded a First Prize. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


80 Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

Studying the Effects of Intercessory Prayer on Healing: 

A Theological Examination 

Betsy Perabo 

This essay is an exploration of some of the implications for theology and for religious 
practice that might be drawn from experiments to determine the effects upon the sick of inter- 
cessory prayer offered on their behalf by others. 


In 1982, a San Francisco cardiologist 
began a clinical trial to test the effectiveness 
of a certain treatment method on a group of 
about 393 hospital patients. 1 The study 
reported to demonstrate empirically that the 
treatment method was effective. Despite the 
fact that neither the patients nor their doctors 
were aware of whether they had received the 
treatment, thus eliminating the possibility of 
a placebo effect, patients who received it 
experienced an easier recovery than a 
control group of patients who did not. The 
study, similar to thousands of other medical 
experiments carried out every year using the 
same procedures, was different in one 
significant respect: the treatment method 
tested was prayer. 

Although this is the only significant 
study on prayer that has been published in a 
major medical journal, it has raised the 
possibility that the effectiveness of prayer in 
healing could be empirically demonstrated. 
While the link between a patient's own 
religious beliefs and practices and his or her 
potential for recovery has been noted in 
clinical trials, there is a tacit assumption in 
the medical literature that this can be 
attributed to the patient's mental attitude 
rather than to intervention by God. 2 If 
dozens of scientifically acceptable trials on 
intercessory prayer produced results similar 
to those in the San Francisco study, both 
doctors and theologians would be forced to 
confront their assumptions about how 
healing occurs. If prayer is effective 

whether or not the patient is aware of it, and 
if this effectiveness can be proven through 
standard scientific methodology, doctors 
would be forced to alter radically the way 
they do business. Theologians and others 
would then need to consider a number of 
important questions related to the ways in 
which this scientific evidence does provide, 
or can provide, information about God. 
Obvious questions arise. Does God cure 
illness? and if so, under what circum- 
stances? However, an empirical study of the 
effectiveness of prayer could be designed to 
answer other critical theological questions. 
An outline for such a study will be described 

Divine activity and the body 

In certain respects, the body is an ideal 
testing ground for determining the activity 
of God in the world. The body is the means 
by which we are intimately connected to the 
material world, intruding, with its need for 
food, sleep, or sex, upon what we might 
sometimes imagine as our more central and 
spiritual selves. However, although the 
healing of physical ailments is experienced 
in this intimate manner, in many cases it is 
also scientifically verifiable and quantifiable 
in a way other "religious experiences" are 
not. Additionally, other sorts of suffering 
may be alleviated due to human actions (for 
examples, a donation of money or a proposal 
of marriage), which complicates the issue of 
whether God has intervened directly in 
response to a prayer. The actions of others 

The Boston Theological Institute 


do not directly affect illness in this way. 
Whether we view illness as a punishment 
from God, a challenge to spiritual growth, or 
an arbitrary affliction (issues beyond the 
scope of this essay), our understanding of 
God's role in treating illness has wider 
implications for our comprehension of 
God's activities in the world, in general, and 
of the very nature of God. 

History of research 

There is a long history of anecdotal 
evidence for the power of healing prayer, 
but the idea of studying its effects systemati- 
cally has attracted little attention from either 
the medical community or religious healers. 
An 1872 article by F. Gallon first broached 
the subject, stating that it is a valid topic of 
inquiry, but indicating that prayer probably 
is not an effective treatment ? Prior to the 
San Francisco study, only two small trials on 
the efficacy of prayer had appeared in the 
medical literature 4 , and neither was consid- 
ered conclusive. 5 

The San Francisco study, carried out by 
cardiologist Randolph Byrd, attempted to 
remedy the problems found in the earlier 
studies by expanding the group tested and 
bringing the trial's conditions into line with 
standard medical practices. In Byrd's study, 
patients admitted to San Francisco General 
Hospital's coronary care unit were randomly 
assigned to receive intercessory prayer, or 
not to receive it (control group). There were 
no statistical differences between the two 
groups at the time of admission. The 
intercessors, born-again Christians (as 
designated by Byrd) from local Protestant 
and Roman Catholic churches, were told to 
pray daily, outside of the hospital, for the 
selected patients. The hospital course after 
admittance-the degree to which the patient 
improved during the hospital stay— was 
classified as good, intermediate, or bad, . 
based on an elaborate set of medical criteria. 
Of the patients in the prayer group, 85% had 
a good hospital course, 1% had an interme- 
diate hospital course, and 14% had a bad 
hospital course. Compare to the control 
group: 73% good, 5% intermediate, and 
22% bad. In his analysis of the study, Byrd 

concluded that these differences were 
statistically significant and demonstrated 
that intercessory prayer did indeed have 
verifiable therapeutic effects. 

Since the medical community has 
opened itself, however tentatively, to a 
discussion of the verifiable effects of 
intercessory prayer, every attempt should be 
made to determine how this topic could be 
examined aggressively, not simply to 
determine the best treatment approaches, but 
to learn answers to critical theological 

Designing a study 

If enough reputable studies are done 
that provide empirical evidence for the idea 
that prayer works in this way, further studies 
would be called for to pinpoint the effective- 
ness of particular types of prayer or particu- 
lar intercessors. In the San Francisco study, 
only Christians prayed; the prayers of 
adherents of other traditions would also need 
to be tested. Atheists could be asked to wish 
someone well silently, in order to test the 
effectiveness of positive mental energy (an 
idea discussed further below). Prayers could 
be tested by people outside of their tradition: 
Buddhist intercessors could use Christian 
prayers, and atheist intercessors could 
invoke the gods of African indigenous 
religions. Studies could also be run on the 
characteristics of effective intercessors— age, 
gender, degree of religious commitment, 
etc.— and on the effect of similarities or 
dissimilarities between patient and interces- 
sor, or possibly even the doctor. The nature 
of the patient's illness and the particulars of 
the recovery would also need to be exam- 

The San Francisco study tested standard 
medical treatment in combination with 
prayer, against standard medical treatment 
alone. Additional comparative studies 
would also need to be run to include prayer 
as the sole treatment. Christian Scientists, • 
for example, believe that people can heal 
themselves, or come to the realization that 
the illness is an illusion, with the aid of a 
practitioner. 6 (It should be noted that while 
Christian Scientists have put forward much 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

anecdotal evidence to support these claims, God to see if Christians will be lured by 
there have been many widely-publicized science into a false belief in evolution, 
instances of failures, and scientifically valid Consequently, anyone using the results of 
studies on this subject are lacking.) These the study would first have to assume the 
individuals believe that surgery and other existence of God, and to consider these 
standard medical treatments reflect a lack of healings by prayer to be a true reflection of 
faith in God and may have a detrimental God's activities, 
effect. Thus, it is theoretically possible that Assuming these two things, then, 
prayer alone would be more effective than theologians could learn from these experi- 
either of the other options. However, this ments the following information about God: 
would be more difficult to test, since the 1) whether God intervenes directly in the 
patients would be aware that traditional lives of individuals; 2) whether this inter- 
treatments were not being provided, unless vention is consistent and therefore, perhaps, 
deceptive (and probably ethically suspect) somehow "controllable" by human beings; 
measures were taken to prevent them from 3) which religion and/or which group God 
discovering this. Nevertheless, perhaps favors, if any; 4) whether God is more 
experiments of this nature could be run- concerned with practice or belief; and 5) 

1 whether God favors those who 
i j iL a. rri/^ j j rely only on prayer, or heals as 

Some would suggest that if God responds J^[ Xy q ^ qk effectively 
directly to prayers in a consistent and | when medical science is used 

predictable fashion, the activities of God I t0 complement it ah of these 

topics are enormously corn- 
are somehow under human control. plex . The following discussion 

y is intended only to give a 

with the patient's consent-on less serious sample of the sort of information that might 

ailments: for example, a minor infection be forthcoming as the result of a comprehen- 

could be treated with prayer and a placebo, sive prayer trial, 

rather than penicillin. Should the. effective- , Divjne intervention 
ness of prayer alone be demonstrated on A successful study of inter cessory 

these sorts of cases, it could become heaU prayer cqM substantiate claims that 

ethically permissible to test this method on God does intervene directly in the lives of 

more serious illnesses. individuals with respect to their physical 

Possible implications of the study health. This could have far-reaching 

What would the results of such experi- implications for the discernment of divine 

ments say about the nature of God? Atheists intervention in other areas. Similar studies 

or agnostics could say they mean nothing, could be set up to test the impact of prayer 

unless a method could be developed to on natural phenomena such as earthquake or 

determine whether all prayers were working drought, and on more complex situations 

simply because of some sort of positive involving free will-the rehabilitation of 

mental energy communicated by the criminals, for example. This would clearly 

intercessors (also, of course, impossible to . be an extremely fertile area for additional 

track scientifically). On the other end of the study. 

spectrum, adherents of some traditions could 2 Human c j raimscr j b j ng f God 
argue that such successes reflect not God's Some would suggest that if God 

work but Satan's; or that (if, for example, responds directly to prayers in a consistent 

Buddhist intercessors were more effective and predictable fashion, the activities of God 

than Christians) God is using these experi- are some how under human control: if 

ments to test the faithful, similar to the certain conditions are mel5 God will auto- 
argument that fossils have been placed by 

The Boston Theological Institute 


matically respond in the desired manner. some respects, God could then be viewed as 

Even if God is the one doing the healing, the ancient Roman deities were, requiring 

people are the ones who somehow control it ' acts of devotion rather than spiritual or 

by opening up the channels through which it intellectual commitment. 

is carried out. However, a number of 5 Degre£ Qf d ndence 

believers in healing prayer say this is not the . ^^ intriguing issue rdates t0 the • 

case. According to Christian Science d£gree tQ which God jntends peop , e tQ re)y 

founder Mary Baker Eddy, humans are not ,• ., .... . . , .. 

■^ J ' directly on divine intervention in healing. 

healed because they ask God to do some- ^ ., u-i»- a\k 

J There are three possibilities. A) If prayer 

thing and God does it; they merely are given alone [& mQre effective than prayer in 

the power to recognize the illusion of conjunction with standard medical treat- 

illness. 7 Others have argued that God could _ . n , _ , ,. ., 

& ment, God may be seen as rewarding those 

have willed the prayers as well as the •., . A f , , ~ '. 

K J ■ with a greater degree of dependence. Trust 

ea in ^' in God alone, to the exclusion of medical 

3. Religious or personal favoritism. science, would then be given an extremely 

A study of this nature could settle many high value. However, a test of this sort 

of the questions relating to God's attitude would be skewed by the fact that the patient 

towards and support of the various world is unaware she is depending on God alone, 

religions. (In non-theistic belief systems, B) If the two methods are similarly effec- 

this relationship would be conceived of tive, God could be understood to be acting 

differently; for the sake of simplicity, "God" through both prayer and medical science, 

is used here.) If God answers the prayers of C) If prayer and medicine used together are 

Jews but not of Christians, or vice versa, this more effective than either used separately, 

would be an indication that one of these God may be encouraging people not to rely 

groups is on a more correct path. If, on the on prayer alone, but to look to their own 

other hand, all prayers are answered with abilities and talents in solving problems, 
equal results, this could 
indicate that the differences lj 

between the world religions If religions are to use science as a confir- 

are insignificant— from .. r*j • t »• r *i ^ l •#!• 

Gods ers ective The tnation oj their beliejs, they must be willing 

results could also indicate | to operate on science y s own terms. 

that God pays attention to 

the prayers of certain individuals regardless Reliance only on prayer could be viewed as 

of religion; the reasons for which God might testing God rather than trusting God. 

grant favor to these individuals would have ^ . . 

f , . , Conclusion 

to be explored. , 

For many people, even those who 

4. Practice vs. belief believe in the power of prayer, experiments 

If, for example, an atheist patient is such as these may seem to be ridiculous or 

prayed for by an atheist intercessor using a even sacrilegious. To attempt to quantify 

Christian prayer, and recovers better than a God's activity in the world using mere 

Christian patient who is not prayed for at all, human tools and methods, however "scien- 

this could indicate that God is more con- tifically sophisticated," may be perceived as 

cerned with the performance of religious inane. The above list of informatiOn.that 

rituals than an individual's beliefs. Given could be yielded by healing prayer trials 

the stress of western Christianity on experi- ma y read like a parody of both good science 

encing God personally, this could lead to a and good theology. Indeed, the medical 

radical change in our views of the relative journal articles on the subject, with titles 

importance of these facets of religion. In such as "Positive Therapeutic Effects of 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

Intercessory Prayer in a Coronary Care Unit 
Population," have a surreal ring, and seem to 
conflate oddly the authority of medical 
science and the authority Of God. For some, 
God is absolute mystery, radically unknow- 
able; the San Francisco study is a fluke, and 
no comprehensive study such as the one 
suggested in this paper could ever yield 
intelligible or useful results, and those who 
believe otherwise are simply delusional. For 
others, carrying out experiments such as 
these demonstrates a lack of faith in God or 
sheer presumptuousness. They may believe 
in God's direct healing activities but also 
deem it inappropriate to test God in this 

Nevertheless, many people have argued 
that the healing that God does in response to 
prayer is both real and reliable, and have put 
forth supporting reports. The Byrd study 
has been widely cited in the popular press 
and among the clergy, although usually 
without the precise statistics. (Byrd himself 
notes the relatively small differences in 
recovery evaluations between the prayer 
group and the control group, but says they 
may result from the fact that intercessors 
outside the study— such as family and 
friends— may have prayed for members of 
the control group.) If the effects of prayer 
are, in fact, real and reliable, they should be 
tested; and if the tests generate scientifically 
verifiable results, these should be used as a 
scientific basis for theological inquiry. If no 
scientifically verifiable information is 
yielded, believers/although they may still 
argue for the efficacy of prayer in healing, 
must acknowledge that it is not a consistent 
phenomenon. If religions are to use science 
as a confirmation of their beliefs, they must 
be willing to operate on science's own 
terms, exploring all of the things that science 
can teach them, and carefully considering 
the consequences of those results. 

Works cited: 

Byrd, R. "Positive Therapeutic Effects of 
Intercessory Prayer in a Coronary Care 
Unit Population." Southern Medical 
Journal, 81 (1988), 826-29. 

Collipp, P. "The Efficacy of Prayer: A 
Triple-Blind Study." Medical Times, 97.5 
(1969), 201-4. 

Eddy, Mary Baker. Science and Health With 
Key to the Scriptures. Boston: The First . 
Church of Christ, Scientist, 1934. 

Gottshalk, S. The Emergence of Christian 
Science in American Religious Life. 
Berkeley: University of California Press, 

Joyce, C. R. B., and R. M. C. Welldon. 
"The Objective Efficacy Of Prayer: A 
Double-Blind Clinical Trial." Journal of 
Chronic Disease, 18 (1965), 367-77. 

Kowey, P. R., T. D. Friehling, and R. A. 
Marinchak. "Prayer-meeting 
Cardioversion." Annals of Internal 
Medicine, 104 (1986), 727-28 

Marwick, C, "Should Physicians Prescribe 
Prayer for Health? Spiritual Aspects of 
Weil-Being Considered." Journal of the 
American Medical Association, 273 
(1995), 1561-62. 

Roland, C. "Does Prayer Preserve?" 
Archives of Internal Medicine, 1 25 (1 970), 

Rosner, F. "The Efficacy, of Prayer: Scien- 
tific vs. Religious Evidence." Journal of 
Religion and Health, 14.4 (1975), 294-98. 


'See Byrd. 

: See Marwick; Kowey, Friehling, and 
. -See Roland. 

4 See Joyce and Welldon; Collipp. 

5 See Rosner 
. ''See Gottshalk. 

7 See Eddy. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


The author wishes to thank Howard Rhodes for helpful comments on this essay. 

Betsy Perabo is a second-year student in the li/l. T.S. degree program at Harvard Divin- 
ity School. She graduated in 1987 from Northwestern University, with undergraduate 
degrees in English and Russian. She has a first master's degree in Russian Transla- 
tion and lived for a time in Russia. During several years in California, she managed a 
research project on nuclear proliferation. She plans to pursue doctoral studies in theol- 
ogy. ' . 
This essay was awarded an Honorable Mention. 

86 Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

Swarm Theology 

Deborah J. Pope-Lance 

After showing the unsuitability of continuing to use some earlier models of divine action, 
the author examines the implications for God's involvement in the world suggested by the cur- 
rent understanding of the behavior of complex systems. 

To the problem of God, Henry Nelson 
Wieman responds, "whatever the word God 
may mean, it is a term used to designate that 
Something upon which human life is most 
dependent for its security, welfare and 
increasing abundance. That there is Some- 
thing cannot be doubted. The mere fact that 
human life happens, and continues to 
happen, proves this Something, however 
unknown, does certainly exist." ' 

Life happens. God is what makes life 
happen and continue to happen. How does 
life happen? All theology is cosmology— a 
theory about the origins, process and 
structure of the universe. Theologies and 
cosmologies outline how the universe 
happened, how it works and how it contin- 
ues to happen. 

Consider how the Medieval world 
worked, according to both theologians and 
scientists. The universe was a three-story 
apartment building. Heaven on the pent- 
house, full of stars and God. Earth on the 
middle floor, housing people and animals 
and plants. And in the basement, Hell, 
residence of the devil and the damned. 
From the penthouse, God watched humanity. 
God controlled and directed everything. 
Humanity prayed for God's mercy and 

Lately, in the last 500 years or so, 
beginning about the time Copernicus 
discovered that the sun did not move around 
the earth, this view changed. Scientists no 
longer generally agreed with theologians 
about the nature of the universe. Theolo- 
gians still look for God in heaven but 
scientists report God has moved. Scientists 
since Copernicus observe that the earth and 

The Boston Theological Institute 

the people on it are in motion. And that the 
earth is just one of many planets that move, 
and not the center of anything at all. No 
longeT residing in heaven, watching and 
directing human life, God became a remote, 
uninvolved creator. Humanity, no longer the 
center of God's attention, managed the best 
it could. 

Two interesting spiritual developments 
occurred as a result of this changed view. 
One was that humanity began to accept 
responsibility for the quality of life in the 
universe. Humanity could not manage 
God's scale of control, of course. But 
neither could we simply sit back and expect 
a free ride. Humanity had a partnership with 
God. A second spiritual development was 
acknowledgment of the human person as 
individual and unique, especially in perspec- 
tive. Diversity was born. When God 
controlled everything, there were no 
individual opinions; just heresy. In the 
God-Human partnership, a variety of 
viewpoints are understood as valid and 

In contemporary formal scientific 
discourse, God rarely appears. But in 
private conversations, scientists sometimes 
acknowledge a reverence for the designer of 
this vast, complicatedly wondrous cosmos. 
More technical than theological, more 
watchmaker than loving parent, science's 
designer God amounts to necessary precon- 
ditions or operating structures. A designer 
God is theology as pure cosmology. God is 
how the universe is and how it works. One 
cosmology widely accepted by contempo- 
rary scientists is interdependence. 


Based on biological models, interdepen- 
dence states that all of life, humanity as well 
as all living organisms and systems, operates 
by an interdependence of various internal 
processes and within an interdependence of 
external processes. The universe is an 
interdependent web of existence. 2 The 
prosperity or survival of any life form is 
interdependent on all life forms. The 
universe is a big boat; we are all in the boat 

This view is vastly different from the 
cosmology forwarded in the Book of 
Genesis. "Be fruitful and multiply," God 
directs humanity in the first chapter, "and 
fill the earth and subdue it; and have 
dominion over the fish of the sea and over 
the birds of the air and over every living 
thing that moves upon the earth." Hardly 
interdependent, humanity is described as 
living off the earth and every living thing 
like a parasite. Humanity's dominion has 
met with decidedly mixed results. Human 
existence now threatens earth's existence.. 
In this cosmology, God, who made and 
directs everything, may need to make and 
direct a miracle in order to save creation. 

Sometimes interdependence is sug- 
gested as a saving corrective to the mess 
made by humanity's dominion. Humanity 
should live interdependently with earth and 
every living thing, and disaster wijl be 
prevented. In this way, interdependence 
functions as a belief about how things could 
be, about how the world might be better, 
about how life might 
happen in a hetter way, if 
we were to think and act 
more interdependently. 
Before applying pesticides 
to kill off pesky insects, for 
example, humanity should 
consider how these 

pesticides will adversely impact human and 
other life. Thinking interdependently will 
lead to the discovery of insect-control 
methods that are less injurious to us and to 
the interdependent web of all existence. 

Alice Walker speaks of this type of 
interdependent consciousness through her 
heroine in The Color Purple. Awed by the 

recognition that she was connected to 
everything else, Celie observes "that feeling 
of being part of everything, not separate at 
all. I knew that if I cut a tree, my arm would 
bleed." 3 And in the words attributed to 
Native American Chief Seattle, "Humankind 
has not woven the web of life. We are but 
one thread within it. Whatever we do to the 
web, we do to ourselves. All things are 
bound together. All things connect." 4 
Walker's and Chief Seattle's views, while 
admittedly theological, describe a quid-pro- 
quo kind of connection. As corrective 
visions, they caution, "Don't hurt others 
because you'll hurt yourself." In an 
interdependent web of existence, however, 
connection is more complicated and 
pervasive. Interdependence cautions that 
whatever we do to any part of the web 
effects every part of the web. 

Interdependence is the way everything 
is. Everything effects everything else. Even 
when you are not aware it does. Even when 
you cannot figure out how it interdepends, it 
does. We are all related. Everything is 
related to everything else. Nothing can be 
isolated or disintegrated from the whole. 

Biological interdependence is not 
merely connection. It is interaction. All 
living systems and organisms operate 
according to feedback loops. Biological 
feedback loops operate like home thermo- 
stats. When we are cold and want it to be 
warmer, we turn the thermostat up to a 
higher temperature. The higher temperature 

In a simultaneous, interactive process of 
infinite interactions (and interactions of 
interactions), something can be both cause 
and effect. 

turns the furnace on and generates heat. The 
temperature in the room gets hotter. The 
thermostat senses the hotter air exceeding 
the requested temperature and signals the 
furnace to stop generating heat. 

All biological systems, big ecological 
systems, smaller organisms like humans, 
and even tinier organisms like sea coral, 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

reduce to feedback loops. These regulate 
everything. How many trout will be jn the 
pond this summer? How much sunlight 
reaches the earth? Too much rain and lawn 
fertilizer, fewer trout; fewer trout, fewer 
tourists fishing, more mayflies; more 
mayflies, more trout. Unprecedented 
volcanic eruptions produce ash and smoke; 
the ash and smoke clouds the skies for 
months; less sun reaches the gardens; the 
temperature drops; the tomatoes are small. 
These feedback loops are described in more 
or less linear and consequential terms, but 
biological interdependence is more accu- 
rately circular and concurrent. And more 

Biological systems amount to endless 
interactive and simultaneous networks of 
feedback loops. Less sunlight reaching the 
earth reduces the algae in the pond, which in 
turn increases the oxygen in the water and 
the likelihood of more trout surviving. More . 
trout may improve the fishing and raise the 
number of human neighbors. More humans 
in the area may result for a time in the 
increase of lawn fertilizer followed by a 
consciousness about the toxic effects of 
fertilizer on trout. In a simultaneous, 
interactive process of infinite interactions 
(and interactions of interactions) something 
can be both cause and effect. 

A causes B. B causes C. C causes A. A 
is both cause and effect. Defying all 
customary logic, something can be both its 
own cause and effect. Brian Goodwin, an 
evolutionary biologist, observes, "The 
organism is the cause and effect of itself, its 
own intrinsic order and organization. 
Natural selection isn't the cause of organ- 
isms. Genes don't cause organisms. There 
are no causes of organisms. Organisms are 
self-causing agencies." 5 

In interdependence, God is not sitting in 
the penthouse, ordering out for green 
tomatoes and trout. Living systems and 
organisms are distributed systems. Control 
of what happens is not centralized or 
isolated but distributed throughout the 
system. Trout and tomatoes participate in 
the ordering-out process. The autonomous 

actions of every living thing connect and 
interact infinitely. 

Among the more dramatic illustrations 
of distributed systems is the operation of a 
swarm of bees. Kevin Kelly describes it: 

A hive about to swarm is a hive possessed. It 
becomes visibly agitated around the mouth of 
its entrance. The colony whines in a center- 
less loud drone that vibrates the neighborhood. 
It begins to spit out masses of bees, as if it 
were emptying not only its guts but its soul. 6 

What commands a hive of bees to swarm? 
Scientists know it is not the queen bee. 

When a swarm pours itself out through the 
front slot of the hive, the queen bee can only 
follow. The queen's daughters manage the 
election of where and when the swarm should 
settle. A half dozen anonymous workers scout 
ahead to check possible hive locations in 
hollow trees or wall cavities. They report 
back to the resting swarm by dancing on its 
contracting surface. During the report, the 
more theatrically a scout dances, the better the 
site she is championing. Deputy bees check 
out competing sites according to the intensity 
of the dances and will concur by joining in the 
scout's twirling. That induces more followers 
to check out the lead prospects and join the 
ruckus when they return by leaping into the 
performance of their choice. Few bees visit 
more than one site.... [T]he bees simply get 
the message, "Go there, it's a nice place." So 
they go and return to say, "It's real nice, go 
there." The favorite sites get more visitors.... 
Gradually.. .the biggest crowd wins.... This is 
the true nature of democracy and of all 
distributed governance. By choice of the 
citizens, the swarm takes the queen and 
thunders off in the direction indicated by mob 
vote. The queen follows. 7 

The hive commands. A mob, thousands of 
bees united into one, directs itself to swarm. 

An endless interactive network of 
feedback loops. The swarm has no center, 
but rather thousands of autonomous bees 
engaged in parallel actions, interacting with 
one another, influencing each other in 
nonlinear— even non-rational— ways. The 
bees decide to swarm out of the hive by 
interactive networking, by interplaying 
multiple directives, and by resolving a vast 
diversity of choice. The swarm is a distrib- 
uted being, in which no individual part is 
more or less powerful, more or less valuable 
than any other. Whatever happens emerges 
from the interaction of all the bees. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Indeed, "the marvel of [a] hive mind," 
writes Kevin Kelly, "is that [while] no one is 
in control. invisible hand {seemingly] 
governs, a hand that emerges not from any 
one bee but from [the individual bees all 
together]." * What emerges is more than a 
sum of its parts. In the words of an expert in 
ant colonies, a hive emerges from the mass 
of individual ants, a "superorganism 
superceding the resident properties of the 
collective ants." In this way "emergence 
was a way to reconcile the reduce-it-to-its- 
parts with the see-it-as-a-whole approach." 9 
Emergence happens because of each part's 
capacity to connect, interact, to relate. 
Emergence keeps life happening, generating 
the whole's capacity to evolve, to create 
something new and distinct. Emergence is 
how life happens and continues to happen. 

"If God is that Something," as Wieman 
attests, "that makes life happen," what can 
we learn of God from this biological model 
of interdependence? What sort of theology 
does this cosmology assume or infer? 

In a distributed system, like a swarm of 
bees, what makes life happen, what controls 
everything, is the interaction of all the 
autonomous multiple parallel parts. God is 
not one supremely influential node in the 
network. God is not even the network itself. 
God is the capacity to network, to be 
immanent in an endless act of interacting 
and networking. 

Martin Buber wrote 
in his most famous title, 
/ and Thou, "In the 
beginning is the rela- 
tion." 10 God is dis- 
cerned not as a separated 
being, as an entity or 
figure, but a being in 
relation, as in the very 
essence of the verb, to be and to become. 
God is relation, the capacity to relate, 
connect, and interact, from which emerges 
life, evolving, new and abundant. 

In an entirely secular perspective, this 
relational capacity has been identified as the 
process by which individual humans evolve. 
Psychologist Judith Jordan and other 

therapists have observed that psychological 
theories that posit, a contained, distinct self, 
separated from its context, are limited and 
not wholly accurate. Instead, she offers a 
relational model of human development, 
which "stresses the importance of the 
intersubjective, relationally emergent nature 
of human experience." She observes that 
"the deepest sense of one's being is continu- 
ously formed in connection with others, and 
is inextricably tied to relational move- 

Relationality. Connectivity. Inter- 
activity. Emergence. These are the pro- 
cesses from which every living thing is 
created, survives, and prospers. The powers 
of God, immanent within and among all 
living forms and organisms. This is a 
relational god, wielding power in relation, a 
relation of which we are an essential 
participant. Carter Heyward observes that 
this power in relation, inherent in human life 
and in every living thing, is what we may 
lay claim to, in order to change the world. 
Heyward writes, "For god is nothing other 
than the eternally creative source of our 
relational power, our common strength, a 
god whose movement is to empower, 
bringing us into our own together, a god 
whose name in history is love." 12 

A god of relational power is quite other 
than a god in the three-story universe. The 
God who spoke to Job out of the whirlwind 

Our previous understanding of our world 
is not working, because it is not fully or 
accurately informed by how things really 
work, especially complicated things. 

was omnipotent and almighty. "Who is this 
that darkens counsel with words without 
knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I 
will question you, and you shall declare to 
me. Where were you when I laid the 
foundations of the earth?" I3 Wielding 
unilateral power. Job's God is the biggest, 
most powerful being in his neighborhood 
called Universe. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange y 1997 

Bernie Loomer, a process theologian, 
distinguishes these two kinds of power: 
"unilateral power" and "relational power." 
Unilateral power is "the capacity to produce 
an effect or to influence another." Unilateral 
power avails one with the capacity to control 
or manage another. Relational power is "the 
capacity to be influenced or to sustain a 
relationship" by or with another. Unilateral 
power assumes that one actor directs, 
manages, or coerces other actors to desired 
action. Relational power generates mutually 
determined action. Unilateral power has an 
inherent potential for abuse or violence, 
because by it one person is controlled and 
molded to another's whim. Relational 
power is inherently inclusive and mutual, 
because by it everyone is created and all 
action is determined. In relational power 
everything is a consequence of relationships 
with others. "The commitment, within 
relational power," as Loomer notes, is not to 
the self only and "not to each other but to 
the relationship which is creative of both." I4 
Under unilateral power, diversity gives rise 
to the problem of heresy. . Under relational 
power, diversity is not a problem to be 
solved, but a resource to be valued and 
utilized toward solution. 

Wieman described God as "the growth 
of connection between activities which are 
appreciable." IS In the same way that 
distributive beings have connective capacity, 
God, to Wieman 's view, is connective 
capacity. Wieman considers God to be that 
which makes for possibility. Sounding 
remarkably like an evolutionary biologist,. 
Wieman describes God as "Creativity," as 
"Creative Event," and as "Saving Creativ- 
ity." "What will save and transform us," 
asks Wieman, "like nothing else can?" Our 
devotion to Creativity and Creative Inter- 
change, he answers. He describes Creative 
Interchange this way: 

...a process in relationship in which individu- 
als express themselves truly and fully to one 
another; in which each welcomes and seeks to 
understand the undisguised individuality of the 
other; each understands the view held hy the 
other and absorbs [that understanding) into a 

personal view. In this way, each expands and 
enriches the fullness of experience and 
increases the depth of reality which enters into 
personal consciousness. 16 

Wieman describes a process nearly 
identical" to emergence in distributive 
systems. He asserts that what will save us 
like nothing else can is our expanded 
understanding of each other and our world 
and the exercise, of our capacity to engage in 
the process that ever enlarges that under- 

Wieman 's soteriological perspective is 
similar to Kelly's and others'. 17 Our ' 
previous understanding of our world is not 
working, because it is not fully or accurately 
informed by how things really work, 
especially complicated things. If humanity 
is going to evolve and survive, we will have 
to manage increasingly complicated 
problems. Complicated problems and 
operations are simply too difficult to manage 
by centrally controlled processes. Distribu- 
tive systems offer a capacity to evolve, the 
aggregate capacity of endless networks of 
paralleL processes. Humanity will be saved 
only by using the way every living thing 
works, to make every living thing work 

A god understood and experienced in 
these ways will have broader religious 
implications. Ethics will evolve from a 
conversation about rights and rules, obliga- 
tions and principles, to a conversation about 
connections and creativity and how to 
enhance and empower both. Worship of an 
interactive and relational God may first 
challenge language's capacity to render 
passionately and poetically the spirit's 
movement among us. More importantly, 
worship will be understood to be about 
being in relation, about connecting in the 
interdependent web, and about participation. 
Indeed, "participation" will be "the holy 
thing giving shape to love and justice," ! 8 a 
divine immanence whose image we not only 
share but exercise. God is not only that 
Something upon which human and all living 
things depend, but that Something in which 
every living thing will interdepend and 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Works cited: 

Adams, James Luther. On Being Human 
Religiously. Boston: Beacon Press, 1977. 

Bertalanffy, Ludwig von. General Systems 
Theory. New York: George Baziller, 

Buber, Martin. / and Thou. Trans. Walter 
Kaufmann. New York: Charles 
Scribner's Sons, 1970. 

Hey ward, Carter. Our Passion for Justice. 
New York: Pilgrim Press, 1984. 

Jordan, Judith V. "A Relational Perspective 
for Understanding Women's Develop- 
ment." Women 's Growth in Diversity. Ed. 
Judith V. Jordan. New York: Guilford 
Press, 1997. 

Kelly, Kevin. Out of Control: The Rise of. 
Neo-Biological Civilization. New York: 
Addison- Wesley, 1994. 

Loomer, Bernie. "Two Conceptions of 
Power." Process Studies 6 (Spring 1976). 

Seattle, Chief. Source unknown. 

Singing the Living Tradition, ed. Hymnbook 
Resources Commission. Boston: 
Unitarian Universalist Association, 1993. 

Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. New York: 
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982.. 

Wheeler, William Morton. Emergent 
Evolution and the Development of 
Societies. New York: W. W. Norton & 
Co., 1928. 

Wieman, Henry'Nelson. Religious Experi- 
ence and Scientific Method. New York: ■ 

' MacMillan, 1926. 

. Seeking a Faith for a New Age: 

Essays on the Interdependence of Reli- 
gion, Science and Philosophy. Ed. Cedric 
Hepler. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 

, and W. Horton. The Growth of 

Religion. Chicago: Willet, Clark & Co., 
1938. . 

Endnotes: • 

'Wieman, Religious Experience and 
Scientific Method, p. 9. 

2 For a religious affirmation of the interde- 
pendent web of all existence, see the seventh 
principle of the Unitarian Universalist 
Association, found in Singing the Living . 
Tradition, p. 1. For a scientific affirmation, 
see von Bertalanffy, 

3 Walker, p. 203. 

4 Seattle. 

5 See Kelly, p. 124. 

6 Kelly, p. 6. ■ 

Ibid., p. 7, 

Hbid.,p. 12. 

9 Wheeler, as quoted in Kelly, p. 11. 

10 Buber, p. 67. 

"Jordan, p. 15. 

,2 Heyward, p. 119. 

'Mob 38:2-4. 

14 Loomer, p. 87. 

15 Wieman and Horton, p. 353. 

16 Wieman, Seeking a Faith for a New Age, 
p. 102. 

,7 Kelly, p. 4. 

l8 Adams, p. 17. 

Deborah Pope-Lance is enrolled in the Doctor of Ministry program atAndover Newton 
Theological School. An ordained Unitarian Universalist minister and licensed marriage 
and family therapist, she has served since 1978 in parish and counseling ministries. 

This essay was awarded a Second Prize. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

Theories of Grammar, Thoughts of God 

Brian Mark Sietsema 

This essay is an exploration of the potential of modern scientific linguistic study to provide 
insight into the ways of God. 

The nature and power of language 

There is an intimate connection between 
language and religion. The religious 
impulse of humankind expresses itself in 
manifold ways: sacred meals, visual arts, 
instrumental music, construction of holy 
spaces, offering of incense, ritual dance, 
ascetic postures and control of the breath, to 
name just a few. We tend, however, to 
identify the core expressions of faith with 
the operation of our linguistic faculty: 
prayer, hymnody, writing and reading of 
sacred texts, and the articulation of creeds. 
Indeed, our nonlinguistic expressions of 
faith often require the consecration of sacred 
words in order to qualify as holy. Islamic 
decorative art, for example, escapes from the 
prohibition against graven images simply 
because it developed from the exquisite 
stylization of the letters of the Qur'an. 

The Christian tradition, in particular, 
exhibits an insistent orality in all of its forms 
of piety. Ritual acts, which might be 
performed wordlessly in other faiths, are 
always accompanied by language in 
Christianity. Incense is never offered 
without psalms and prayers; ancient and 
medieval Christian music made no use of 
instruments except as an accompaniment for 
the human voice. Unlike the silent Japanese 
tea ceremony, the Christian Eucharistic meal 
cannot be accomplished without the spoken 
words of consecration. Eastern Orthodox 
piety considers an icon to be uncanonical 
unless it bears a superscription with the 
name of the saint or feast depicted. Even the 
Christian form of "yoga," of meditative 
prayer and breath-control, is effected only in 

conjunction with the repetition of the Jesus 
prayer. The logocentric impulses of the 
Christian tradition are even more distilled in 
Reformational theology, which tends to 
favor verbal expressions of faith to the 
exclusion of all others, especially the visual 

This insistent orality of Christianity 
should probably come as no surprise, since 
we find that already in the earliest decades 
the Church's theologians were willing to 
elevate the very noun ^oyo^,' "word," to the 
status of a divine name. One might even 
argue that Christianity inherited this close 
connection between language and God as a 
legacy from Judaism, whose God revealed 
the inner life of the divine Self in the words 
of the Torah, and whose prophets were 
moved by God's Spirit to monumental 
poetic feats. The Biblical God also creates 
the world— not by laying a cosmic egg, nor 
by dividing up the corpse of the vanquished 
enemy-but by speaking: "By the word of 
the Lord the heavens were made, And all the 
host of them by the breath of God's mouth" 
(Psalm 33:6). 

Being fashioned in the divine image, all 
human enterprises show a spark of this 
creative fire of God, but it is in the realm of 
language that humanity realizes its greatest 
similitude to the Creator. Humankind 
effects all other achievements in the arts and 
sciences through the refining, reworking, 
and reordering of existing materials: rocks, 
trees, oil, water, and plants become by our 
hands buildings, baseball bats, books, bread, 
and bassoons. But in no enterprise do we 
make something out of nothing, except in 

The Boston Theological Institute 


our use of language. All humans who have 
the faculty of speech are capable in theory of 
uttering (or signing) an infinite number of • 
sentences that have never been uttered 
before, of inventing new words, of telling 
new stories, of making a verbal thing that 
never existed before. 

The philosopher J. L. Austin was the 
first to give a name to a particular feature of 
human linguistic creativity, the performative 
speech act. A performative speech act is an 
utterance that accomplishes something in the 

Is in the realm of language that humanity 
realizes its greatest similitude to the Creator. 
In no enterprise do we make something out 
of nothing, except in our use of language. 

physical world merely by its vocalization. 
For example, a promise, an oath, and an 
apology are all created by the utterance of 
the following sentences: 

I promise that I will wash the car tomorrow. 

I swear that I never saw him before.. 

I apologize for being so tardy. 
Sometimes in order for a speech act to have 
performative force, certain contextual 
conditions must be met: the sentence, 

I christen thee the 'Santa Maria.' 

actually names a boat, just in case the 
speaker is breaking a bottle of champagne 
across the bow of a sailing vessel. Contex- 
tual conditions for other performatives, such 


I now pronounce you man and wife, 

I bet you five dollars and a beer. 

are well defined by societal conventions. In 
any case, through the utterance of these 
speech acts a human being has actually 
created a thing—an abstract and intangible 
thing, to be sure, but a thing nonetheless, 
one that never existed before the moment of 
its utterance. Indeed, through a 
performative speech act one may create 
something that never existed before in the 

history of the world. For example, an 
almost certainly unique sentence, such as the 

I promise to name my next ferret "Betty," in 
honor of the B.T.I. 

creates an obligation where there was none 
before— ex nihilo, one might even say. 

Language, then, is not only intimately, 
connected with our sundry exercises of 
religious feeling, but it is also integral to our 
composition as the imago dei, inasmuch as 
we reflect the image of the Creator in all our 
If performative speech acts. 
In a singular way (accord- 
ing to the sensibilities of 
the peoples of the Book, at 
least), the Divine nature 
clothes Itself for us in 
language. The metaphor of 
I language as Divine 
1 clothing suggests that the 
study of language may allow privileged 
insights into the Divine reality, that is, into 
the actions and energies of God. For 
example, if a chest of clothing from some 
unknown civilization were to wash up on the 
beach, we could garner many significant 
insights about the culture of that alien 
people simply from an examination of their 
garments: what their average height and 
weight are, the climate of their land, their 
level of technological achievement, and 
perhaps even what they eat (judging from 
stains on their apparel). Indeed, from the 
range of hues in which their garments were 
dyed we may even have a guess at their skin 
color, and from their choice to expose 
certain parts of the body and to cover others 
we may even have a glimpse into their 
notions of the erotic! Likewise, by examin- 
ing human language as the clothing of God, 
we may derive some insights into the 
workings of the Divine nature. 

Some elements of grammatical theory 

Linguistics over the last century has 
come to a consensus that it is less appropri- 
ate to speak of human grammars than to 
speak of human grammar. The singular 
noun better conveys the linguistic notion 
that human beings have, by an innate 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

endowment, a common language faculty that 
operates within certain prescribed param- 
eters. This single abstract grammar is 
worked out in different ways by different 
languages; but in a very real sense, all 
languages share a common set of principles 
according to which some constructions are 
grammatical and others are ungrammatical 
in every language. 

One example of a deep grammatical 
principle can be found in English contrac- 
tion "rules." Sentence (1) has two mean- 

(1) Which relatives do you want to visit? 

In the first reading we understand the 
question to ask which relatives the 
interrogatee would like to entertain as 
guests, and in the second reading we 
understand the question to ask which 
relatives the interrogatee would like to go 
and see. These meanings correspond- to the 
following underlying structures, respec- 

(2a) You want [which relatives to visit]? 

(2b) You want [to visit which relatives]? 

Sentence (1), however, can be pronounced 
with a contracted verb form, so that "want 
to" comes out as "wanna," as in (3). (The 
merits or demerits of such contractions are 
outside of the scope of this essay.) 

(3) Which relative do you wanna visit? 
Curiously, though, sentence (3) has only the 
meaning of (2b); it cannot have the meaning 
of (2a), in which the interrogatee would act 
as the host of visiting relatives. Perhaps this 
is because in such a case the contraction 
would have to take place across the syntactic 
gap left by the preposed noun phrase: 

(4a) Which relatives do you want [__ to visit]. 

For the meaning conveyed by (2b), however, 
"want" and "to" are not separated in the 
underlying form by the movable noun 
phrase, and so the contraction rule finds no 
gap to jump over: 

(4b) Which relatives do you want [to visit ]. 

Speakers of English are quite unani- 
mous in their judgments of the different 
potential meanings of sentences (1) and (3), 
though quite at a loss to explain why there is 

a difference or when they learned this fact 
about the contraction of "want to" to 
"wanna." In a roomful of Anglophones of 
different ages, from different parts Of the 
country, and of different backgrounds, one 
might find no other point of universal 
agreement than this fact, that sentence (1) 
has two possible meanings and sentence (3) 
has only one. Linguists have learned, 
moreover, that gaps left hy transposed words 
or phrases affect meanings in many lan- 

An example of a universal grammatical 
proscription can be found in the following 

(5a) Most drivers who own their own truck like 
to wash it once a week. 

(5b) Most self-employed truckdrivers like to 
wash it once a week. 

(5c) Most self-employed truckers like to wash it 
once a week. 

In (5a), the pronoun "it" may have the 
preceding word "truck" as its antecedent (or 
it may refer to another rtoun in an earlier 
sentence not recorded here, such as "laun- 
dry"). In sentence (5b) and (5c), however, 
the pronoun it cannot be construed as having 
as its antecedent the word truck in the 
morphologically complex nouns 
"truckdrivers" or "truckers"; the pronoun 
must find its antecedent in some preceding 
sentence. (Or, if there is no salient noun in 
the preceding discourse, the word-// in 
English may often be construed as referring 
to some taboo entity.) There seems to be a 
rule that says that a pronoun cannot look 
inside of a compound noun or a derived 
form in order to find its antecedent. 

Again, these judgments of possible and 
impossible meanings are held unanimously 
by all native speakers of English and are 
matched by similar grammatical judgments 
of like constructions by native speakers of 
other languages. This is true, despite the 
fact that none of us had a lecture in seventh- 
grade English (or Dutch or Swahili) class on 
the impossibility of nouns within com- 
pounds to act as antecedents for a pronoun— 
or on the semantic possibilities of sentences 
with verbal contractions, for that matter. 
This bedrock of common knowledge about 

The Boston Theological Institute 


our own languages is unconscious and 
untaught but very deeply known in the sense 
that we never break these rules through 
carelessness or ignorance, not even as 
children at an imperfect stage of learning 
our native languages. The parameters of 
possible meaning for contractions and 
pronouns seem somehow to be part of our 
basic linguistic endowment, part of the 
"universal grammar" of human speech. 

In discovering that certain aspects of 
language are innate and, therefore, a matter 
of biological endowment, we discover that 
human language has certain limits of 
expression. Where there are parameters, 
there are necessarily boundaries. As we find 
the core principles of possible human 
grammars, we discover also that certain 
conceivable constructions are impossible for 
humans beings to learn as their native 
language. For example, there are languages 
with accentuation systems in which stress 
falls on the first or last syllable (Finnish and. 
French, respectively, on the penultimate 
syllable (Polish), and on the antepenultimate 
syllable (Macedonian), but none with stress 
on the fourth-to-last syllable. It seems that 
human grammar just cannot count that high. 
Furthermore, in the Australian language 
Yidiri y , the stress falls on all odd-numbered 
syllables (first, third, fifth) except when one 
of the even-numbered syllables has a long 

All who cherish a sacred text must admit 
that the God of eternity has accepted a sort 
of circumscription in choosing to be revealed 
in a limited set of words composed in a lim- 
ited human grammar. 

vowel, in which case stress falls on the 
even-numbered syllables. Such a stress 
system is very complicated: it would be far 
less complicated to have a stress rule that 
says, "Stress the last syllable if there is an 
odd number of syllables in a word, and the 
first syllable if there is an even number." No 
language, however, has a rule like this. Core 
human grammar, it seems, can count in 
some ways but not in others. Language is 

both infinite in its power to express new 
ideas and yet finite in its function, like all 
other human faculties. 

Theological inferences 

Some reflections arise from this brief 
study of grammatical theory. First, although 
linguistics has made the case that certain 
deep principles govern the grammar of all 
human languages, we must not lose sight of 
the fact that, in many ways, our languages 
vary considerably: we may use different 
sounds or different orderings of verb and 
direct object, or different classifications of 
grammatical gender for nouns, and so on. 
That is to say, despite our common linguistic 
endowment, we still have managed in our 
various cultures to devise wildly divergent 
systems of communications. We could all 
have the same syntax or phonology, but we 
do not. Such is not the case with animal 
communications systems: dogs have 
basically the same set of barks and cats the 
came set of meows and hisses, whether they 
live in Mexico or Malawi or Massachusetts. 
So while there is a certain core consistency 
to human language, there is also a certain 
innate possibility for great diversity. The 
task of discerning what is a core principle of 
language and what is a culture -specific 
feature of a given language is often difficult; 
the distinction between core and periphery 
II in grammar emerges 
only through the study 
of many languages. 
This means that in order 
to discover our core 
human grammar, we 
cannot limit our 
\ investigations to our 
native language alone. 

Second, linguists have noted that, 
despite the fact that humans have strong and 
consistent judgments about the 
grammaticality of certain constructions in 
their native language, they almost never 
have such clear intuitions about similar 
constructions in a language that is not their 
mother tongue. When we learn a second 
language after a certain age "(generally 
considered to be around the onset of 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

puberty), our ability to have native intuitions 

is lost— even if our first language behaves 

very similarly to our second language in 

most respects. For example, Dutch is quite 

similar to its sister language English, but the 

two languages differ 

markedly in whether 

they allow a preposition 

to be "stranded," that is, 

left behind when its 

object has been moved 

to the front of the 

sentence. The two 

sentences in (6) have the 

same meaning, but the 11 

Dutch sentence is ungrammatical (as - 

indicated by the asterisk), whereas the 

English sentence would be -accepted by most 

native speakers. ' 

(6a) *Welke vrouwen hebben jullie over 
gesproken? [Which women have you (pi.) 
about spoken?] 

(6b) Which women have you spoken about? 

Simply put, an English speaker must be 
taught this fact about Dutch, whereas seven- 
year-old Dutch children know this fact about 
their language even before their first lessons 
in grammar. This means that in our investi- 
gation of human language in all its variety, 
we cannot rely on ourselves alone: we 
require the collegial cooperation of linguists 
from every language background. Whereas 
in physics or chemistry or anatomy, a single 
scientist or a monocultural group of scien- 
tists have equal access to the raw data of 
their subject of inquiry, in linguistics we can 
advance only in a community of diverse 
scholars informing one another about the 
facts of our native languages. We can find 
our own innate human grammar, in other 
words, only by interacting with and learning 
from those who are linguistically different. 

Let us return to the metaphor of 
language as Divine clothing. Consider again 
the hypothetical chest of clothes that washed 
ashore from an unknown civilization. 
Suppose we examined these garments and 
discovered that no article of clothing cOuld 
be put on by one person alone, but that the 
arrangement of buttons or hooks or ties 
required that the one donning the apparel 

seek help from another person, who must 
stand facing the wearer of the garment. This 
fact would tell us a great deal about the 
sociology of our unknown culture: their 
notion of community would have to be 

The God who created language has forced 
humankind, in its investigations of language, 
to face one another, to form a community, to 
look for ourselves in the other, and to find 
our unity in our diversity. 

refined to a very high degree. And yet this 
is precisely what we have found in our study 
of Divine clothing. The God who created 
language, and who through language reveals 
the ways of Divinity, and who in acts of 
religious language meets humanity, has 
forced humankind, in its investigations of 
language, to face one another, to form a 
community, to look for ourselves in the 
other, and to find our unity in our diversity. 

In other words, we have in the linguistic 
enterprise an icon of the doctrine of the 
Trinity. Unity in diversity, diversity in unity, 
a mutual interpenetration of essence and a 
mutual self-discovery in community—this is 
classic Christian triadology. The Divine 
nature that clothes Itself in language is 
making a point for us about the makeup of 
the Divine life, and even more, invites us 
through linguistic study to participate 
vicariously in the Divine communal mode of 

Finally, the combination of infinite 
expressive power in a finite faculty reminds 
us that the infinite God, through condescen- 
sion, is clothed in the finite workings of 
human speech. This observation holds, 
regardless of one's faith tradition: all who 
cherish a sacred text must admit that the 
God of eternity has accepted a sort of 
circumscription in choosing to be revealed 
in a limited set of words composed in a 
limited human grammar. In this sense, the 
inscripturation of Divine revelation stands as 
a type of the Christian belief in the Incarna- 
tion, the consummate Divine act of conde- 

The Boston Theological Institute 


scension through the human enfleshment of 
the Son of God. 

The intimate connection between faith 
and language, therefore, gives us hope that 

through the study of grammar we might 
learn more about this God of community 
and condescension Who meets us in our 

Brian Mark Sietsema is in his final year of the Master of Divinity program at Holy Cross 
Greek Orthodox School of Theology. A linguist by training, he is the Pronunciation 
Editor for Merriam-Webster, Publishers, in Springfield, Massachusetts. In addition, he 
is Associate Professor of English at Westfield State College and teaches linguistics at 
Hellenic College in Brookline, Massachusetts. 

This essay was awarded a Second Prize. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

On Learned Ignorance: Science and Unknowability 

in the Religious Enterprise 

Jennifer Snow 

The author looks at the importance of the dynamic of unknowability in theology and in 
science, alike. Both disciplines teach us about ourselves, not about God. Learning about the 
universe and our own place in it, we learn more about our fallibility and the need for humility. 

Can science teach us anything new 
about God? No. Yet th.e work of science is 
extremely valuable to the religious en- 
deavor-if we are willing to take what 
science teaches us seriously. 

There have been theologians throughout 
the history of the Church, including Origen 
and Nicholas of Cusa, who have held that 
God is unknowable. And even those 
theologians who held otherwise, such as 
Augustine, were quite clear that the knowl- 
edge vouchsafed to us is very limited, and 
that it is only available by believing first and 
asking questions later. In the Christian 
tradition, the religious endeavor turns on 
belief without proof, on the subjective 
commitment to a Person whose existence 
and significance is doubted by many. The 
very dynamic of unknowability is deeply 
important; it is necessary to the religious 
enterprise that we constantly keep our ideas 
of God before us as ideas, and remain 
always ready to acknowledge our limitations 
before that which we try to comprehend. 
Trying to search out the nature of God 
through science is a futile endeavor; but 
remembering the inadequacy of our ideas of 
God is extremely important, and we can 
thank science in all its disciplines for 
making the search a necessity in today's 

Science is helpful to religion, because it 
increases awareness of this religious 
dynamic of unknowability. Many people 
•have argued that science undermines 
religious validity, because it undermines the 
"knowledge" that earlier generations have 

had of God. Science reminds us that this 
"knowledge" was false and misleading, and 
that "knowledge" is never the point anyway. 
Science teaches us ourselves, not God. It 
offers insights into the nature of religious 
knowledge, the nature of religion, and the 
importance of the unknown. 

The traditional philosophical definition 
of knowledge is tripartite: to know is to 
hold a true, justified belief. To be true 
means that a given proposition represents 
reality accurately. To be justified means that 
there is external support for the proposition's 
truth. A true belief that is unjustified is 
merely a guess, while a false belief that is 
justified is simply wrong. Science seeks to 
match beliefs with reality by providing 
"objective" external justification. Religious 
beliefs, in order to qualify as knowledge, 
must also be able to check propositions 
against reality, must be able to find external 
justification for believing. In the past, 
Christians have sought to check their 
propositions against the external world, and 
particularly against the Scriptures. But 
science has dismantled the traditional 
arguments from natural theology-design, 
first and final cause, degrees of perfection, 
are no longer available to us to "prove" that 
our beliefs qualify as knowledge. And the 
authority of the Bible as an "objective" 
source of information has been greatly 
undermined by higher criticism. 

Science, in the form of history, archae- 
ology, and linguistics, has forced us to take 
stock again of the nature of revelation itself. 
Many liberal theologians no longer regard 

The Boston Theological Institute 


the Bible as inerrant, but see it now as being 
the work- of human beings-inspired by God, 
perhaps, but still human enough to speak a 
limited human language, written down and 
redacted by others who may not have been 

Many people have argued that science 
undermines religious validity, because it 
undermines the "knowledge" that earlier 
generations have had of God. 

inspired at all. While some Christians have 
applied "scientific" methods to Scripture, 
using "Baconian" methods to discover what 
God intends, in doing so it seems that they 
prove only that it is impossible to read a 
coherent system of theology out of it 
without putting many of their own presuppo- 
sitions Not surprisingly, they find 
what they expected to find. The Bible exists 
as an "objective" artifact, but whatever 
knowledge it may offer is highly subjective. 
Scripture cannot serve as our objective 

Scientific method begins by teaching 
that our conceptions do not always match 
reality—that they are forever subject to 
correction by a reality greater than they. We 
can learn from this that our ideas of God are 
not God, not the "reality" itself. Our 
conceptions are fluid, changeable. Where 
science attempts to compare conceptions to 
objective reality and correct conceptions 
thereby, we do not compare our theological 
conceptions to the reality of God, but to the 
reality of what the Scriptures say, or to what 
we have experienced, or to doctrinal 
standards. And these things in themselves 
are not God; they too are conceptions. 

Science attempts "objectively" to 
measure reality and create conceptions that 
match this external truth, the "things as they 
are." Yet even scientists now realize that, at 
a certain point, purely objective measure- 
ment is impossible. The viewer cannot 
observe without participating in what is 
observed. Religious knowledge is similar 
(though, of course, the analogy is limited). 

There is no "objective" standard, no reality 
that is not conceptualized. In order to gain 
anything even resembling knowledge, we 
must enter into what we are observing— give 
credence to the Scriptures or to our own 
experience. But neither of 
these things of itself offers 
knowledge of absolute reality. 
Our own experience, which 
perhaps comes closest to what 
is free from conceptualization, 
is itself "subjective." It 
"proves" nothing. Through it, 
we may redefine our beliefs, our concep- 
tions; but they remain fallible and subject to 
future revision. 

The progress of science forces us 
constantly to remake our conceptions of 
God. For instance, the discoveries about 
evolution, the geological age of the earth, 
and the extent of the universe have forced us 
to recreate the idea of what a Creator could 
be, and what it could mean that we are 
created in God's image. Many of us realize 
now that our ideas of God are limited 
analogies and metaphors, rather than 
representative of sacred reality; and so we 
reinterpret the old ideas,, repaint the pictures 
in our mind. Tillich's "ground of being," for 
instance, is a new picture of the creative 
activity of God. We are always in danger Of 
becoming attached to our ideas; but science, 
if we listen to it, reminds us that idea is not 

Of course, a significant difference 
between religious conceptions and scientific 
conceptions is that science does envision 
someday getting to the bottom of it all. 
Some scientists believe that there is a finite 
amount of knowable things and that some- 
day we will know them all. Their belief is 
that science's triumph will be the unveiling 
of all mysteries of the universe. The search 
in physics for a unified field theory, ever 
elusive, may someday be rewarded. 
Biology's fascination with the origins of life 
and paleontology's questions about evolu- . 
tion may someday be answered. Of course, 
not all scientists think this is possible; 
surely, there will always be technology, at 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

least, even if science comes to an. end. 
Science pursues the unknown. Science as a 
whole tries to explain what we do not 
understand; individual scientists spend their 
lives learning what other scientists have 
done, and hope in their turn to contribute to 
knowledge, to discovery. It is the lure of 
discovering the unknown that makes science 
the great human story that it is. Should all 
mysteries one day be solved, on that day 
science will be dead. 

Similarly, what would religion be if 
God were scientifically "known"— if 
propositions about the nature of God could 
be scientifically, objectively "proven"? Our 
relation with God is largely energized by the 
dynamic of not-knowing, of trusting without 
guarantees, of believing things that we 
cannot prove, of bowing our heads before 
inscrutability. The entire point of mystery 
and miracle is its inexplicability. When 
miracles are proved to be frauds or to have 
naturalistic explanations, they are no longer 
considered miracles. When mysteries are 
uncloaked, they are no longer mysteries. To 
some, theology is a devotion, not a science. 
As we. learn about our universe, we learn 
about our ways of conceiving God, and find 
new ways of casting our definitional nets, 
individually and culturally; but because God 
remains unknown, the relationship with God 
is always new, always being rediscovered. 

But don't we know 
anything about God? I 
would argue that our 
knowledge is limited to 
ourselves and our 
environments. The 
information that we have 
about God is really 
information about 

ourselves, and about the constructs of God 
we have created. For instance, we "know" 
that there is only one God, eternal and 
omnipotent, who should be the exclusive 
object of our worship. When we think about 
it, we know that God is to be worshipped 
simply because giving our hearts and souls 
to temporal things is a faulty and disappoint- 
ing way to live. We know, and have always 
known, that turning ourselves towards the 

eternal is what is best for us. We identify 
God as eternal; indeed, eternality is part of 
the definition of God. Yet we do not know 
that God exists. We merely turn towards the 
inconceivable eternal as though it is a 
property of a person whom we love, 
knowing that to love anything else is, in the 
end, futile. We do not know God. We know 
only that we must not worship temporality. 
Our knowledge has reference to ourselves; it 
is our belief and our hope that have refer- 
ence to God. 

History, anthropology, and psychology 
teach, us that religion is a deeply human 
pursuit, universal, taking on different forms 
in different times and places, and apparently 
with good and useful potentialities in every 
form. When the conceptions given by our 
religion are challenged by the conceptions of 
another, we can no longer easily assert that 
our form of religion is correct, that our form 
of religious knowledge is the only true one. 
Our "knowledge" of God is no longer 
absolute, but relative, fallible. We see ever 
more clearly that religion, like culture and 
language, exists for and is created by human 
beings. It is temporal, finite, historical, 
conditional. To worship a religion blindly, 
rather than God, is to offer sacrifice to a 
thing made with hands. 

The transcendent God that Christians 
believe in could not, by definition, be 

Our relation with God is largely energized by 
the dynamic of not-knowing, of trusting 
without guarantees, of believing things that 
we cannot prove, of bowing our heads before 

discovered by objective study of the world. 
Science does help religion in the only way 
that it can: by teaching about its subject 
matter— ourselves, our universe, our experi- 
ence. It can teach us about our ideas of God 
and of the sacred, and these ideas will 
change as our knowledge of ourselves 
changes. For instance, learning about other 
religions has, for many, precipitated a 
change in the view of exclusive salvation. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


We have also learned, from Freud, Marx, 
and cultural anthropologists and psycholo- 
gists, to be wary of our religious ideas, to be 
aware that they tend to be about ourselves 
more than about God. From historians, we 
learn to place the Bible in historical context 
and to be wary of idolizing it. From 
physicists and biologists, we have learned to 
change our ideas of what it means to be 
"creator" of the world, and to afford greater 
respect to other living beings on the globe 
we share. We learn,'too— or we should— that 
we are not the center of the universe after 
all, and that humility before the vastness of 
creation and the One who created suits us 
better than hubristic claims of our own 

This, it seems to me, is more true to the 
nature of the religious enterprise. The 
discovery of God does not involve knowl- 
edge, but belief, hope against hope. Trust, 
humility, love: these things do not involve 
"information." When we learn more about 
the universe, we learn about its greatness, 
and put ourselves in our place. We learn our 
own limits, compared to the limitlessness of 
the infinite. We learn to love and value what 
is outside ourselves, and give ourselves into 
God's hands for safekeeping. We learn that 
the world has room both for chance and 
determinedness. We learn that medicine can 
cure disease. We learn that we have it in our 

power to destroy ourselves and our home. 
We learn that death is inevitable, even for 
the universe. We learn that mortality- 
entropy— is the sine qua non of the entire 
creation. Both our will and our fate are 
given greater scope. And all these things we 
weave into our thoughts of God. Our 
science and the minutiae of our personal 
lives are brought to God in prayer and 
through theology— another sort of devotion. 

Science does not show us God. It 
shows us that our pictures of God have been 
inadequate and intimates that they still are; 
and the nature of the subject matter reminds 
us that they always will be. What are we, 
that we should be able to comprehend God? 
Science is constantly teaching us to look at 
religious belief in new ways and with a 
critical eye, to remember that when we 
claim to have the sort of "objective" 
knowledge of God that science has of the 
universe, we are mistaken, deluded by pride. 
Our belief must be valued as the bridge that 
we build between ourselves and God, 
trusting in what we do not understand. 
Science, in its methods and its discoveries, 
constantly gives the religious person cause 
to let go of false claims to infallible knowl- 
edge. Though science does not show us . 
God, it reminds us that we have always been 
in danger of creating God for ourselves. 

Jennifer Snow was awarded her M.A. degree in 1997 by Boston University School of 
Theology She reads books on science written for a popular audience, both for fun and 
for use in her theological studies, which she hopes to pursue at the doctoral level in the 
near future. Her religious tradition is Roman Catholic. 

This essay was awarded an Honorable Mention. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

Science and the Knowledge of God: 
From Machine to Metaphor 

Peter S. Sprigg 

After a review of how the machine model of nature has been used to argue both for and 
against the existence of God, the author makes the case that metaphors borrowed from the 
sciences can suggest new information about God. 

The idea that we can or should "learn 
more about God" from "sources of informa- 
tion beyond the Scriptures" may raise a red 
flag of caution for many evangelical 
Christians. Evangelicals and their predeces- 
sors have spent the last century or more 
urging people to seek learning and informa- 
tion about God from within the Scriptures, 
and discouraging them from looking 

However, the idea that we can obtain 
meaningful information about God from 
extra-biblical sources is not without prece- 
dent in evangelical theology, and in Scrip- 
ture itself. If we view God's creation as a 
form of revelation from God, and we view 
nature as being God's creation, and we view 
science as the study of nature, then we can 
even suggest that science may serve as one 
means of discerning God's own self- 

A number of terms have been applied to 
this way of gaining knowledge about God. 
"Natural theology," "general revelation," 
and "common grace" are all related concepts 
but can take on slightly different nuances, 
depending on the historical, ideological and 
theological commitments of the persons 
using the terms. "Natural theology" has 
been official dogma for the Roman Catholic 
Church since Vatican Council I. 1 However, 
it is frequently criticized by Protestants, who 
accuse the "natural theologians" of underes- 
timating the corruption of human reason 
caused by sin, and also accuse them (per- 
haps unfairly) of suggesting that God's self- 
revelation in nature is sufficient for an 

observer to attain salvation, even apart from 
the "special revelation" through Christ and 
the Bible. 

Protestants, therefore, have tended to 
prefer the term "general revelation" over 
"natural theology." It carries with it the 
conviction that God has revealed the divine 
self in two principal ways— through creation 
("general revelation") and through Christ 
and the Scriptures ("special revelation"). 
And most Protestants would agree that the 
former provides insufficient information to 
attain salvation without the addition of the 

Protestants remain divided, however, on 
whether God's "general revelation" in nature 
is even intelligible to human beings who 
lack a prior faith in Christ. Is it, in other 
words, part of God's "common grace," 
freely available to all? Or, is even the 
"general revelation" only comprehensible by 
virtue of God's "special grace" through 
Jesus Christ? Karl Barth is among those 
who argued the latter (breaking sharply with 
Emil Brunner over the issue). 2 Reformed 
theologian G. C. Berkouwer likewise argues 
that "no true knowledge of the revelation of 
God in the works of his hands is obtainable 
without faith in Christ," 3 adding that "when 
God's Word is not heard, his working is no 
longer understood." 4 

However, Scripture itself would seem to 
indicate that nature does indeed testify to 
God in a way that all can understand. Psalm 
l c ): 1-4, for instance, declares: 

The Boston Theological Institute 


The heavens are telling the glory of God; 

and the firmament proclaims God's 
Day to day pours forth speech, 

and night to night declares knowledge. 
There is no speech, nor are there words; 

their voice is not heard; 
yet their voice goes out through all the earth, 

and their words to the end of the world. 

The apostle Paul made a similar point in his 
letter to the Romans. In Romans 1:19-20, he 
is not speaking about believers, but warning 
of God's wrath against the wicked: 

For what can be known about God is plain to 
them, because God has shown it to them. Ever 
since the creation of the world God's eternal 
power and divine nature, invisible though they 
are, have been understood and seen through 
the things God has made. So they are without 

These passages seem to show plainly 
that God's "general revelation" is indeed 
part of "common grace." John Calvin said, 
"There are innumerable evidences both in 
heaven and on earth that declare his wonder- 
ful wisdom," including those "for the 
general observation of which astronomy, 
medicine, and all natural science are 
intended." 5 It therefore seems reasonable to 
conclude that an evangelical can accept the 
findings of the natural sciences as one 
source of knowledge about God. 

In examining the relationship between 
science and religious belief, it is intriguing 
how often one particular concept comes up. 
This is the concept of a "machine." What 
makes it intriguing is that the image of a 
machine is employed by those at completely 
opposite ends of the spectrum— by both 
believers and unbelievers. Those who 
believe in science and are skeptical about 
God argue that both the universe and living 
things can be described as functioning as 
machines— and, therefore, there is no need, 
nor room, for the supernatural intervention 
or sustenance of God. Those, on the other 
hand, who believe in God (and may harbor 
some skepticism about science) argue that 
the machine-like precision that describes the 
functioning of both life and the cosmos is 
exactly the thing that proves the existence of 
God. These two views of the machine will 
be examined before a third approach to the 

relationship of science and religion is 

Virginia Stem Owens writes that "ever 
since the age of Newton and the classical 
laws of physics, civilized folk have agreed 
that matter is essentially a manipulable 
machine." 6 The new view of the heavens 
promoted by Galileo and Copernicus should 
also be credited with helping to foster the 
view that knowable forces lead to predict- 
able events in nature. And the notable 
successes experienced in applying machines 
to science (the telescope, the microscope) 
and in applying science to machines (the 
industrial revolution) also seemed to shrink 
the realms in which knowledge or achieve- 
ment were dependent upon divine revela- 
tion, supernatural mystery, or miraculous 

Nevertheless, as recently as 1851 an 
observer could write that "science... is in 
almost every great department thoroughly 
Christian in its radical principles, and in the 
sincerest and deepest convictions of those by 
whose labors it has been formed." 7 Yet only 
a half century later, an author would take 
two volumes to describe A History of the 
Warfare of Science with Theology in 
Christendom. 8 And by the mid-twentieth 
century a theologian would declare that "in ; 
our modern universities... more than ninety 
percent of the faculty are either completely 
naturalistic or materialistic. . ., or very 
nominally religious." 9 What could have so 
tipped the balance against the spirit and in 
favor of the machine? 

The obvious answer is Darwin's theory 
of evolution. If naturalistic, mechanical 
processes could explain not only the 
movement of falling bodies and heavenly 
ones, but the origins of different life-forms, 
then what place was there left for God? 
Critics of Christianity such as Bertrand 
Russell could take glee in declaring that 
"everything distinctive of living matter can 
be reduced to chemistry, and therefore 
ultimately to physics." 10 And books by 
contemporary Darwinist Richard Dawkins 
are sold with the assertion, "Man is a gene 
machine, blindly programmed to preserve its 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

selfish genes." " Dawkins even bluntly 
credits Darwin with making it possible to be 
an "intellectually fulfilled atheist." 12 

However, the picture of nature as a 
machine does not belong to atheists alone. 
It has been used for quite the opposite 
purpose. The classic example is nineteenth- 
century Christian apologist William Paley. 
In his book Natural Theology, he gives an 
oft-quoted illustration: 

In crossing a heath, ...suppose I had 
found a watch upon the ground, and it should 
be inquired how the watch happened to be in 
that place.... When we come to inspect the 
watch, we perceive... that its several parts are 
framed and put together for a purpose, e.g. 
that they are so formed and adjusted as to 
produce motion, and that motion so regulated 
as to point out the hour of the day; that if the 
different parts had been differently shaped..., 
of a different size or placed after any other 
manner, or in any other order either no motion 
at all would have been carried on in the 
machine, or none which would have answered 
the use that is now served by it.... The 
inference, we think, is inevitable; that the 
watch must have had a maker... who formed it 
for the purpose which we find it actually to 

Every manifestation of design, which 
existed in the watch, exists in the works of 
nature... [which] are not less evidently 
mechanical, not less evidently contrivances, 
not less evidently accommodated to their end, 
...than are the most perfect productions of 
human ingenuity. 11 

Paley 's "argument from design" for the 
existence of God came under attack over 
time from philosophers and scientists alike. 
The theory of evolution seemed to provide a 
plausible explanation for the appearance of 
design based only on the blind forces of 
natural selection (hence, Dawkins' book 
title, The Blind Watchmaker). 

But a funny thing happened on the way 
to a completely naturalistic and mechanistic 
view of reality. The twentieth century, 
which was supposed to uncover the remain- 
ing pieces of the machine while closing the 
few remaining windows open to supernatu- 
ral intervention, did just about the opposite. 
In realms of science from the very large (the 
origin of the universe) to the very small 
(molecular biology), the naturalistic answers 
are missing, while the evidence for what is 
now called "intelligent design" is growing. 

Let us look first at that which is older 
and larger-the universe itself. Of all the 
findings of the cosmologists in this century, 
one of the most easily understood (and thus 
easily nicknamed) is the "Big Bang" theory. 
The discovery that nearly all observable 
galaxies in every direction of the sky are 
moving away from our own galaxy at 
considerable rates of speed led to the idea 
that the entire universe is expanding. 
Extrapolating this motion backwards in time 
led to the conclusion that the universe, 
instead of having existed in a "steady state" 
for all eternity, had in fact burst into 
existence in a huge explosion at a particular 
point in time and an unbelievably small 
point in space. This view of an instanta- 
neous creation of all that is, at a moment 
before the physical laws of our universe 
even operated, sounds suspiciously like the 
description given in the first few verses of 

Another aspect of the new cosmology 
that suggests the existence of design is what 
has come to be known as the Anthropic 
Principle. This is the observation that many 
of the characteristics of the universe seem to 
be precisely calibrated so as to produce the 
only conceivable type of universe in which 
human life could exist. Of course, some 
would say this is a rather circular argument, 
because if the universe had been otherwise, 
no one would have been here to ponder its 
characteristics. And for all we know, there 
may be, or have been, billions of parallel 
universes without these characteristics. 

However, the inference of intentional 
design remains an obvious and tempting 
one. Hugh Ross, an astrophysicist (and 
evangelical Christian), cites no less than 26 
such precise characteristics, some of which 
"must be fine-tuned to better than one part in 
10 37 for life of any kind to exist." These 
range from the "strong nuclear force 
constant" to the "velocity of light" to the 
"decay rate of the proton" to the "polarity of 
the water molecule." And just for good 
measure, Ross adds another 33 characteris- 
tics of our "Galaxy-Sun-Earth-Moon 
System" that are essential to the develop- 
ment of life. 14 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Even when we turn to Darwin's own For the scientist who has lived by his faith in 

«.,. , .. . .■ -a the power of reason, the story ends like a bad 

science of biology, we see that the evidence dr J m He has scaled the m ^ untains of 

of intelligent design keeps popping up. The ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest 

discovery of the double-helix design of the peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, 

DNA molecule, for example, appeared to J e is g reetedb y a band of theologians who 

' v •> yy have been sitting there for centuries, 

reveal that an incredibly intricate and 

purposeful design is at the foundation of life. So in science ' the machine that has no 

More recently, biochemist Michael room for God has faltered, and the machine 

Behe has challenged naturalistic views of that makes God a necessity is now ascen- 

evolution by carefully describing biological dant - T^ theologians have won. But what, 

structures of "irreducible complexity." To exactl y> have the y won? Have we reall y 

suggest that all life evolved from a single experienced "an increase in information 

cell, for instance, has little utility in explain- about God ' the Sacred ' or the Spiritual?" 
ing how life began when we observe that After all > theologians, particularly 

even a single cell is incredibly complex. evangelical Christian ones, assert much 

Behe returns to our central image, saying more about God than merely the fact of 

that "life is based on machines-machines existence. They also do not merely assert 

made of molecules! . . .Highly sophisticated that God is intelligent, deliberate, and 

molecular machines control every cellular powerful. Does science have anything to 

process. Thus the details of life are finely sa y for or a g ainst such Christian doctrines as 

calibrated, and the machinery of life the t"nity, the incarnation, or the atonement? 

enormously complex " 15 What about prayer, predestination, and 

. As an example, Behe provides an judgment? Can it solve the problem of evil, 

illustration of "the biochemical complexity once an d tor all . 

of a bacterial flagellum," which is complete Hu S h Ross, the prolific evangelical 

with a drive shaft, rotor, bushing, universal auth or and scientist-apologist, has ambi- 

joint, and propeller! Our knowledge of how tiousl y suggested that science can indeed 

such processes work has become quite answer such questions. In his recent book, 

comprehensive/but Behe notes that if you Beyond the Cosmos, he draws on the 

concept of "extra- 
ct .. , . ,» . i dimensionality" to suggest 

So in science, the machine that has no room answers to a number <J 
for God has faltered, and the machine that theological puzzles, we 
makes God a necessity is now ascendant. are accust °med to living 

in a four-dimensional 
The theologians have WOn. But What, universe (the three 

exactly, have they WOn ? dimensions of space, plus 

time). We have also 
search the scientific literature for theories as grown accustomed to thinking of the 
to how such machines developed in the first fundamental subatomic particles as points, 

place, "you find an eerie and complete However, recent research has shown that it 

silence." In the end, he suggests, "we are may be more useful to conceive of them as 

left with no substantive defense against what vibrating "strings." This "string theory" has 
feels to be a strange conclusion: that life brought us closer to the goal of a unifying 

was designed by an intelligent agent." 16 the four fundamental forces of nature under 

Robert Jastrow has put the present state a single theory. It also provides a plausible 
of science in perspective: description of conditions much closer to the 

initial moment of the Big Bang. There is 
only one problem: It requires not three or 
four dimensions, but ten in which to operate. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

As a result of this view of the first split- Once again, however, my fellow 

second of creation, Ross concludes that the evangelicals may bristle— this time at the 

Creator must actually operate in at least thought of reducing our conceptions of God 

eleven dimensions. This "extra-dimension- to the level of "mere metaphor." My 

ality" may help to explain some doctrines argument, however, is that the concept of 

that appear otherwise paradoxical to those of "metaphor" does not deserve the diminutive 

us limited to four dimensions. For example, "mere." As evidence, we need only return 

how could Jesus be both God and a human to the special revelation of Scripture itself, 

being? After the crucifixion, how could he We have tended to forget that some of the 

be both dead and alive? most common terms for God in the Bible 

An illustration of the answer may be are in fact metaphors. Every time we call 

drawn from the dimensions we do under- God "father," for instance, we are using a 

stand. For example, a circle, by definition, metaphor, knowing full well that it was not 

1 God's sperm that 

My fellow evangelicals may bristle at the ZoLX^ggL form 

thought of reducing our conceptions of God to us The absence of 
the level of "mere metaphor. " My argument, ^ on our bodies 

. ' ° I hardly causes us to 

however, is that the concept of "metaphor" 1 question Jesus' 
does not deserve the diminutive "mere. " characterization of 

himself as our "shep- 
1 herd." And we do not 

cannnot at the same time be a triangle— that need to have lived under slavery or feudal- 

is, if we are dealing in only two dimensions. ism to understand submission to our "Lord." 
In three dimensions, however, it is possible There are dangers in resting theology 

to have the shape of a cone, which is both a upon science. One is finding God only in 

triangle (when viewed from the side) and a the gaps where science offers no explana- 

circle (when viewed from the top) at the tions. The danger is that as the gaps grow 

same time. In the same way, God's exist- smaller, our concept of God does, too. 
ence in dimensions beyond our own Another is in tying our ideas about God 

constitutes a scientific explanation of the too much to one scientific paradigm— be it 

divine ability to do things and have qualities that of Aristotle, Ptolemy, or Copernicus, 

that are impossible for us. 18 Darwin, Einstein, or Hawking. When the 

But does this really "prove" anything paradigm shifts, there may be no platform 

about God? Does string theory demonstrate for our God. 

that Jesus was God incarnate? It would be a But there are two things that science can 

huge leap to make such a definitive claim. do, and recently has done, for our theology. 

So what kind of contribution, if any, do such It can, perhaps surprisingly, break down 

scientific findings make for our understand- barriers to belief in God's existence; and it 

ing of God? can provide new metaphors to help us finite 

The answer, I believe, requires us to creatures conceptualize the infinite God. In 

move beyond the concept of machine to that doing the latter, in helping us to move 

of metaphor. Science cannot show us beyond nature-as-machine to nature-as- 

directly what God's essence is, because God metaphor, science has indeed helped us to 

is beyond our capacity to understand. What learn more about God. 
it can do, however, is to provide us with new 
ways of thinking about what God might be 
like-in other words, with new metaphors for 
our theology. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Works cited: 

Baird, Robert. The Christian Retrospect and 
Register: A Summary of the Scientific, 
Moral and Religious Progress of the First 
Half of the 19th Century. New York: 
M. W. Dodd, 1851. 

Behe, Michael J. Darwin's Black Box: The 
Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. 
New York: Free Press, 1996. 

Berkouwer, G. C. General Revelation, 
Studies in Dogmatics.. Grand Rapids: 
Wm.B. Eerdmans, 1955: 

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian 
Religion. Trans. Ford Lewis Battles. 
Library of Christian Classics, Vol. 20. Ed. 
John T. McNeill. Philadelphia: 
Westminster Press, 1960. 

Dawkins, Richard. The Blind Watchmaker. 
London: W. W. Norton, 1986. 

. The Selfish Gene. Book jacket. New 

York: Oxford University Press, 1989. 

Fraenkel, Peter, trans. Natural Theology: 
Comprising "Nature and Grace" by 
Professor Dr. Emil Brunner and the reply 
"No!" by Dr. Karl Barth. London: 
Geoffrey Bles, Centenary Press, 1946. 

Jastrow, Robert. God and the Astronomers. 
New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1978. 

Owens, Virginia Stem. And the Trees Clap 
Their Hands: Faith, Perception, and the 
New Physics. Grand Rapids: William B. 
Eerdmans, 1983. 

Paley, William. Natural Theology: Or, 
Evidences of the Existence and Attributes 
of the Deity, Collected from the Appear- 
ances of Nature. Boston: Gould and 
Lincoln, 1854. 

Ramm, Bernard. The Christian View of 
Science and Scripture. Grand Rapids: 
Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1954. 

Ross, Hugh. Beyond the Cosmos: The 
Extra-Dimensionality of God: What 
Recent Discoveries in Astronomy and 
Physics Reveal about the Nature of God. 
Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1996. 

. The Creator and the Cosmos: How 

the Greatest Scientific Discoveries of the 
Century Reveal God. Colorado Springs: 
NavPress, 1995. 

Russell, Bertrand. Human Knowledge, Its 
Scope and Limits. New York: Simon & 
Schuster, 1948. 

Van Engen, J. "Natural Theology." Evan- 
gelical Dictionary of Theology. Ed. 
Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids: Baker 
Book House, 1984. 

White, Andrew Dickson. A History of the 
Warfare of Science with Theology in 
Christendom. New York: D. Appleton 
and Co., 1910. 


'See Van Engen. 

: See Fraenkel. 

3 Berkouwer, p. 285. 

"Ibid., p. 331. 

s Calvin, I.v.2, p. 53. 

6 Owens, p. viii. 

7 Baird, p. 125. 

8 See White. 

9 Ramm, p. 17. 

"'Russell, as quoted in Ramm, p. 55. 

"Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, book jacket. 

l2 Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, p. 6. 

13 Paley, pp. 5-6, 13. 

,4 Ross, pp. 118-21, 138-41 (reveiw edn). 

l5 Behe, pp. 4-5. 

i6 Ibid., pp. ii, 5, 252. 

17 Jastrow, p. 116. 

18 Ross, pp. 55-56. 

Peter Sprigg graduated in 1997 with an M.Div. degree from Gordon-Conwell Theologi- 
cal Seminary. His religious affiliation is with the American Baptist Church. 

This essay was awarded a Second Prize. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

Creation and Revelation: Two Edges of Contact 

Between Science and Religion 

Bob Wickizer 

The author, who is a physicist, engages in theological conjecture suggested by some of the 
concepts of his discipline, demonstrating the fruitfulness of creative appropriation of ideas across 
disciplinary boundaries. Two futuristic scenes contrast possible developments of the Church 
within a technological society. 

Junika stepped into her pew at the New 
Crystal Chapel in the City of the Angels, and 
immediately her personal reality space there 
alongside other worshippers changed 
chameleon-like to the rhythm of her own 
thought patterns. Images of ancient and 
modern scenes flashed before her retinas in 
pace with the powerful voice breaking open 
the timeworn words of a ritual performed long 
ago by priests in black robes. Pleasurable 
sensations arose within her as the bio- 
computed virtual Eucharist reached its peak 
with the words invoking the Holy Spirit to 
come upon these gifts. They were followed by 
a quick sense of satiation. Stepping out of her 
space, Junika glanced at her watch, as if her 
appointed worship time today would be any 
different from last week's. "There it's done, 
fifteen minutes and I feel closer to God." Out 
on the street humanity surged like New York 
on a sultry day. Those who could afford the 
city and what modern life had to offer walked 
with the confidence of a Centurion, while far 
off in the sun-parched valleys lived the masses 
who were about to inherit the earth. 

The irony of this futuristic vignette is 
that the evangelicals, with their wealth and 
their zeal for a personal encounter with our 
savior Jesus Christ, evolved their churches 
into a technological, individualistic ritual 
society that idolized the encounter itself, 
stripping it of any meaning, reality, faith- 
community or purpose. They fashioned 
their hi-tech Jesus by introducing one 
technological innovation after another, until 
the upbeat evangelical churches turned into 
"cyber-cafes" of virtual encounters with the 
divine, and into real profits with the bank. 
Even the growing mega-churches in Asia 
converted to this techno-religion, owing to 

its increased efficiencies and its use of local 
technology. During this same period, the 
Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant 
churches managed to fill only a few splendid 
cathedrals with tradition-bound conserva- 
tives, while the radical sects of Roman 
Catholics, Anglicans, and Protestants lived 
among the burgeoning masses of the poor, 
whose existence hovered tenuously between 
the potential for another disastrous cereal- 
crop failure, and the ability of the bio-pharm 
labs to manipulate the crop genetics one step 
ahead of the Divine plan. The question is, 
will technology ever keep us one step ahead 
of God, or is everything we call progress 
just a gossamer-thin illusion for our radical 
separation from that which is both really 
true and truly real? Can science and 
religious faith coexist in a "both-and" 
proposition, or do we sail on a collision 
course where the objects of worship become 
technological, media-generated radical 
isolation, while wisdom and faith become 
known only to those whose lives derive 
directly from laboring on the land? 


This essay will cover an enormous 
range of scientific ideas in an attempt to 
establish a working dialogue between two 
fields that are rapidly diverging, at a time 
when the world desperately needs a conver- 
gence and integration of thought and ethics. 
In the course of these Annie-Dillard-like 
musings, two edges of contact between 
theology and science will be explored. One 

The Boston Theological Institute 


is revelational, and the other involves 
creation or the "Creative Power," as Dorothy 
Sayers puts it. The science fiction opening 
and closing paragraphs frame two distinctly 
plausible futures. The first presents a 
culture that continued on today's course, to • 
become alienated and fragmented by 
technology. The closing story shows 
another plausible future, where social 
relationships reach a more egalitarian level, 
and humanity's relationship to knowledge 
has shifted away from today's narcissistic, 
self-interested sphere, toward a more 
humble, respectful position in relation to 
Divine mystery. The aim of this paper, then, 
is to demonstrate the plausible existence of 
two common boundaries shared by science 
and theology, in hopes of kindling further 
dialogue along new lines. A longer-term 
goal of this general effort involves the 
mission of the church itself, in getting both 
sides to incorporate Divine mystery into 
their schemas, and to lead the culture in its 
understanding of the place of the Creative 
Power, not only in religious processes, but in 
the scientific method itself. The harvest is 
plentiful— and the laborers are plentiful. 
Where are we to begin? 

How can scientific theories apply to 

Casting about for an overlap between 
science and theology, we haul up from the 
bottom of physics the detritus of ideas 
examined by philosophers and theologians 
from Newton to Chopra. Many of these 
ideas have been considered by modern 
philosophers and theologians with the intent 
of working physical theories into a system- 
atic framework for the unscientific fields of 
theology or philosophy. We will stop far 
short of a systematic approach, hoping only 
that a review of some of major advances in 
the sciences may help point our hearts and 
minds in the right direction. We should note 
carefully, however, that physical theories are 
not used to explain theology, interpret 
scripture, or to explain human nature. 
Rather, what can be gleaned from the major 
scientific advances are ways of looking at 
the cosmos; and from that point, some 

theological conjecture or, at best, extrapola- 
tions can be offered. 

The first stop is the idea of invariance. 
As Einstein first conceived of special 
relativity, spinning his well-known railroad 
car explanations, he must have been 
troubled by the idea that fundamental 
physical properties such as distance, time, 
and mass vary or change quantitatively 
depending upon the observer's frame of 
reference. Simply put, a yardstick will not 
be measured as thirty-six inches in length by 
an observer traveling at a velocity close to 
the speed of light relative to the location of 
the yardstick. It turns out that in the model 
of the universe explained by special relativ- 
ity, only a handful of all the hundreds of 
basic physical properties of the universe are 
found to be invariant in this sense. In a 
more poetic sense, however, ideas such as 
"terra firma" 1 and the so called "truth 
claims about God" need to be critically 
examined in the humbling shadow of one 
fact— namely, that there are very few things 
in the universe that are absolutely true and 
unvarying in all times and in all places. 
Perhaps Pilate was onto something when he 
asked Jesus, "What is truth?" 

We should avoid the common trap of 
extending the idea of relativistic invariance 
in the world of physics to a relativizing of 
ethics. Instead, invariance can be used as 
one of many chains that bind and constrain 
epistemology or what we can know about 
the universe. 

Two other links in the chain that we can 
borrow from the physics of the early 
twentieth century are the famous Heisenberg 
Uncertainty Principle and the Godel 
Incompleteness Theorem. 3 As Einstein 
wrestled with the failure of classical 
(Newtonian) physics to explain the phenom- 
ena of relativistic variations when observer 
and observed frames of reference move 
relative to one another at nearly the speed of 
light, Werner Heisenberg and others 
wrestled with the failures of classical 
physics to explain phenomena of very small, 
atomic-scale interactions. In brief, on a 
softball field, we can set up an experiment to 
measure simultaneously the position and 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

momentum (mass times velocity) of a about truth and completeness? 

softball to any degree of precision desired. At the same time, rational, systematic 

The accuracy of making such a measure- handling of theology tries to construct 

ment is limited only by the experimental complete, theologically dogmatic descrip- 

equipment we use. If we try to make the tions of the divine, often without incorporat- 

same measurements on an electron traveling ing mystery. We may have stumbled upon 

around a hydrogen nucleus, 

we find that there is a . . . _ , 

quantitative barrier beyond In a sense > these P l and Sl g ma bonds are 

which we cannot more really "clouds of unknowing, " where 

accurately and simuita- scientists are comfortable within the 

neously measure the . ~ 

position and momentum of limitations to their knowledge. After all, 
the electron. No matter how tne theories are good enough to develop 

accurate our experimental . • . 

apparatus becomes, there is new plastics and pharmaceuticals. 

a fundamental, physical 

limit to the state of our knowledge even an irony here, where the scientist lives with 

about one of the simplest physical systems mystery and unknowing every day, and even 

of all, the hydrogen atom. incorporates theoretical formulations that 

Contemporaneously with Einstein's and deliver useful benefits to humanity. The 

Heisenberg's work, the mathematician, Kurt theologian, on the other hand, presses on, 

Godel posed his Incompleteness Theorem, hoping to construct a sufficient, dogmatic 

stating that any axiomatic mathematical system, sometimes avoiding mystery as 

system (such as Euclidean geometry) will much as possible. 

always contain questions that cannot be Departing from the arena of epistemol- 

proved or disproved on the basis of the ogy, we find more parallels between the use 

axioms within the system. Even though of system approaches in thermodynamics 

some have noted that only mathematicians and biology and religious communities, 

and God can play with truth, Godel 's proof Without reviewing the histories of science in 

forces mathematics to take its place along- two diverse fields, one of the important 

side theology and other disciplines as ideas that emerged from the late nineteenth 

"unfinished objects," or fields where century onwards was that populations can be 

knowledge and truth may be necessary, but modeled in useful ways. Groups of things 

can never be sufficient. There will always can be measured, and theories can be 

be more. developed to explain phenomena ranging 

Given these conjectures regarding the from the pressure of a gas in a balloon to the 

limits of knowledge, then towards what end fluctuations of snowshoe hare populations in 

is knowledge being pursued? When we the Arctic. In Christian ethics we find that 

study organic chemistry, we learn about the "there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor 

chemical bonds of outer electrons described . free. . ." We are commanded to love our 

as "pi" and "sigma" bonds, which are neighbor as ourselves. We are equal as 

constructed mathematically as "probability individuals in the eyes of a loving God, but 

clouds" describing where the electron is populations and communities matter, too. 

likely to be. In a sense, these pi and sigma We may all be equal spirits, zipping around 

bonds are really "clouds of unknowing," with Brownian motion in the Divine plan; 

where scientists are comfortable within the but just as the aggregate behavior of gas 

limitations to their knowledge. After all, the molecules causes a phenomenon we call 

theories are good enough to develop new "pressure," it is the community of faith that 

plastics and pharmaceuticals. Why worry creates meaning. The Christian ethic is full 

The Boston Theological Institute 


of paradoxes. We are equal in the eyes of 
God, but the shepherd will-go to any length 
to save the one lost sheep. Individuals are 
saved by grace now, but at the end of time, 
all will be judged. 

Two edges of contact between science 
and theology 


In a poetry reading in Cambridge last 
year, Robert Bly observed that many new 
science Ph.D. graduates today have a 
passion to "knock off' the leading theorists 
in their respective fields. The sense that- a 
scientist stands on the shoulders of her or his 
predecessors seems to 
have been replaced by 
a prevailing attitude o 
narcissism, fueled by 
fear. Given the 
pressures of modern 
society and academia, % 
the presence of fear that leads to narcissism 
may not be unique to the scientific disci- 
plines. The fear involved in this process 
may involve a gnawing suspicion that there 
is more, that the theory is not complete or 
sufficient. The fear may involve personal 
issues such as perfectionism, elitism, or 
egoism. The bottom line of a quest for 
knowledge and insight, whether in physics 
or theology, is that in the presence of 
personal fear, the end towards which 
knowledge is pursued becomes pure 
narcissism, a building up of the self without 
regard for others— or worse, a building up of 
the self at the expense of others. If we seek 
knowledge and insight courageously, what is 
the starting point of the quest? and where 
does it lead? 

The scientist starts with a belief in the 
ability of the rational, human mind to reach 
new insights and gain new knowledge. 
From that basis, the scientist proceeds with 
an understanding that there must exist a 
formal way to explain the observed phenom- 
ena. In spite of these two layers of rational- 
ity, and the impressive achievements of the 
past century, the courageous scientist will 
ultimately acknowledge that Godel was 

correct: that there is always more than the 
theory can explain. The courageous 
scientist will become inexorably drawn from 
a position of certitude and confidence to 
another place of uncertainty and mystery. 
The courageous scientist will move from 
what is rational to what is not rational. The 
end towards which this scientist pursues 
knowledge then becomes part of the 
mystery, as well. The revelation of that 
which is more, or Tillich's "ultimate being," 
emerges from the scientist's peering into a 
universe that is full of unknowables. Thus, 
science and theology converge on one edge 
of revelation of the real source and font of 

Just as the aggregate behavior of gas molecules 
causes a phenomenon we call "pressure, " it is 
the community of faith that creates meaning. 

all knowledge. It all begins with reviewing 
what we do not know and cannot ever know. 
Can we see God face to face and live? 


The scientific method is nonlinear; it 
loops endlessly, repeating a cycle of 
hypothesis, experiment, data collection, test 
of hypothesis, and the emergence of more 
questions that lead to yet another hypothesis. 
In this looping, the scientific method works 
largely in a sphere of rationality. When 
great discoveries are made, and bold leaps 
taken by leading scientists who permanently 
change the paradigm for a field of knowl- 
edge, those leaps move into mystery and a 
"non-rational" sphere. The imaginings of 
Einstein, Heisenberg, and Godel would have 
seemed wildly speculative or even prepos- 
terous to some in their day. 

The "religious method" or liturgy 2 is 
also nonlinear, looping endlessly in a cycle 
where people gather together, praise and 
give thanks to God, enter the mystery (of a 
sacrament); and at the end of the liturgy the 
people go out into the world to return again 
at a later time, often with more questions. 
Unlike the scientific method, the religious 
method loops largely within a non-rational 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

sphere. Mystery is already present, but what 
is lacking is empirical data. When saints, 
sinners, and everyday people begin to grasp 
the implications of the liturgy in their daily 
lives, they become motivated by their ethical 
considerations to perform works of justice. 
These works of justice are the empirical data 
of the religious method, and in a fashion that 
is complementary to the scientific method, 
the religious method starts in a non-rational 
sphere and moves to the rational, where faith 
propels works of justice. 

Scientific and religious methods then 
form a complementary pair of processes, 
sharing a common boundary of creative 
power. It takes creative power to have 
scientific insight as well as ethical insight. 
In both methods, a community creates the 
meaning. In spite of beliefs to the contrary, 
the scientist really does stand on the 
shoulders of a long tradition of discovery. 
In addition, the scientist is accountable to a 
community of peers, where the interpreta- 
tion often emerges from the dialogue. The 
result of courageously moving across the 
two-way-mirror boundary from non-rational 
to rational (or the reverse), is the accumula- 
tion of new knowledge for one person; for 
the other, justice. Anselm once described 
theology as "faith seeking understanding.'' 
Conversely, perhaps science can be consid- 
ered as "understanding seeking faith." 


The information explosion and the 
accelerating pace of life affect nearly 
everyone on this planet in various ways. 
Family farms are giving way to agricultural 
factories; "concert-A" is higher in pitch than 
it used to be; people in England and North 
America are measurably affected by 50- and 
60-Hertz power grids; more books are 
published in a year than all of the Western 
world's output up to the nineteenth century, 
etc. To what end is this increased pace 
directed? To what. purpose is the accumula- 
tion of more knowledge with less wisdom? 

Stopping by church after attending her 
Oil and Gas Resource Management Board 
meeting, Junika waved to the laborers heading 
home from their work in the villages. All her 
life the church was there as a light for her and 
her community, setting up medical care, 
family care for children and the elderly, 
organizing groups to work with industry and 
government. Decades earlier, the four 
horsemen of the post-millennial apocalypse 
had changed the world forever. Global 
epidemics coupled with crop failure from 
intensive monocultural practices had both 
taken place, along with economic implosions 
in the Orient and environmental disasters in 
Europe. People could no longer ignore history 
or community. People realized that complex 
problems could not be solved by reactionary 
conservatives with clever one-line analyses 
like the "sound bites" of an earlier era. 
Science and technology no longer enjoyed 
their radical isolation from the arena of human 
needs and values. There again, the highly 
trained clergy of the church re-entered the 
world of business and science that it had 
ignored since the thirteenth century. Business 
now operates with an integral understanding 
of the sanctity of human life and the value of 

Tonight was Junika's turn to lead the 
community in worship and the weekly meal. 
. She looked forward to this special meal 
tonight, when the laborers sat down next to the 
merchants, students, families, and guests. The 
pace of the worship and the meal together 
reflected the pace of a world with an ancient 
but new-found purpose, taking one delicately 
slow step after another towards the Divine. 

Dis-integration is far easier than 
integration, because both human and natural 
systems have a built-in tendency towards 
disorder and chaos in the absence of an 
external energy source. In communities of 
faith, Divine and human love is the energy 
countering disorder; but the powerful 
economic forces of contemporary Western 
culture have hammered the Church into 
irrelevance. Perhaps a mission of integra- 
tion of theology and science will enable 
ends, motives, and purposes of the culture to 
be brought to the table alongside the 
commandment to "Love your neighbor as 
yoursejf." It is time for a new hammer. 

The Boston Theological Institute 



'All it takes is the personal experience of 
one earthquake of Richter magnitude 6.0 Or 
higher to dispel this medieval notion. 
2 Literally, "the work of the people." 
3 Also known as the "undecidability 

Author's dedication: "To my late uncle, Dr. Robert J. Moon of the University of Chicago, 
whose work on the Manhattan Project, whose radical Christianity, and whose subse- 
quent efforts towards world peace and nuclear disarmament have been lifelong inspira- 
tions for me. " 

Bob Wickizer is a student in the M.Div. degree program at Episcopal Divinity School. A 
physicist by training, he serves on the Episcopal Church Working Group on Science, 
Technology & Faith. 

This essay was awarded a Second Prize. 

U4 Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1997 

The collection of prize-winning essays from the 1997 contest, "Progress in 
Religion through the Sciences," written by graduate students in the schools 
of The Boston Theological Institute on the topic, "Learning More About God: 
Sources of Information Beyond the Scriptures." 

The member schools of The Boston Theological Institute: 

Andover Newton Theological School, Newton Centre 

Boston College Department of Theology, Chestnut Hill 

Boston University School of Theology, Boston 

Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge 

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton 

Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge 

Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline 

Saint John's Seminary, Brighton 

Weston Jesuit School of Theology, Cambridge 

e stourna 


Jaitn and 



Volume II 

The Boston Theological Institute 

Newton Centre, Massachusetts, U.S A. 

^*^%< m, t* ^ ^^mms<^ ^'■*mm«* lgf ^**m«***r ^^m^w^^^mmf^ #^+*+ rm **>*'^ 


£ iiod 


The Journal of Faith and Science Exchange 

Volume II 


edited by 
Barbara Smith-Moran, S.O.Sc 

with a foreword by 
Rodney L. Petersen, Ph.D. 

The Boston Theological Institute 

Newton Centre, Massachusetts, U.S.A. 

1998 Editorial Panel: 

Carol Rausch Albright, Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, Science and 

Religion Course Program 
Abdul Basit, University of Chicago 
Audrey Chapman. Program of Dialogue between Science and Religion, American 

Association for the Advancement of Science 
Ronald Cole-Turner, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary 
Demetrios Demopulos, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church (Fitchburg, Mass.); 

Holy Cross Greek Othodox School of Theology; Advisory Board, Center for 

Faith and Science Exchange 
Anne Foerst, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard Divinity School 
John Haught, Center for the Study of Science & Religion, Georgetown University 
Philip Hefner, The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago; Chicago Center for 

Religion and Science 
Wentzel van Huyssteen. Princeton Theological Seminary 
Judith Jenkins Kohatsu, Ballard Vale United Church (Andover, Mass.); Methodists 

Involved in Science, Technology and Theology; and Advisory Board, Center for 

Faith and Science Exchange 
James Salmon, S.J., Cosmos and Creation at Loyola College in Maryland. Woodstock 

Theological Center 
Joshua Segal, Mitre Corporation; Congregation Betenu (Amherst, N.H.); and Advisory 

Board, Center for Faith and Science Exchange 
Wesley Wildman, Boston University School of Theology 

ISSN 1520-9792 

Editor's Note: As a matter of editorial policy, gender-inclusive language has been used 
throughout. Scripture quotations have been modified accordingly, but not quotations from 
other source material. 

Subscription information: The Journal of Faith and Science Exchange is published 
annually by the Boston Theological Institute. It is available to individuals and congregations 
within North America at a cost of $10, or $12 beyond. For libraries within North America, 
the cost is $20, or $25 beyond. Previous volumes are available at the same rates. 

Advertising rates: For information, contact the Editor. 

Cover design: Forrest Clingerman. 

Copyright © 1999. The Boston Theological Institute. All rights reserved. No part of this 
Journal may be reproduced by any means without the written permission of the publisher. 

Printed in the United States of America. 

The Boston Theological Institute 

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telephone. 617-527-4880; fax, 617-527-1073 


Foreword, by Rodney L. Petersen, Ph.D v 

Introduction, by Barbara Smith-Moran, S.O.Sc ix 

Patterns of Speciation and Extinction and the Divine 

Valuing of Creation 1 

Rolf Bouma 

Theology of Creation and Natural Science 9 

Wolfliart Pannenberg 

Cog and the Creativity of God 21 

Peter Heltzel 

No Time for Time: Trans-temporal Creation of a 

Time-bound Realm 31 

Troy Catterson 

Theory of Evolution and Faith in Creation: 

On the History of a Tense Relationship 39 

Karl Schmitz-Moormann 

Fifteen Billion Years of Waiting for God: 

Neither Religion nor Science Can Afford to Be Dogmatic 57 

Daniel Lee Kaplan 

The Missing Face of Ecology in Pauline Theology: 
Conservation of Mass-Energy in Reconfiguring 

Immortality as Everlastingness 67 

Nicole Roskos 

Limit Conditions on an Encounter of Theology with Neuroscience 79 

Andrew Irvine 

The Full Wealth of Conviction and Cognition: 

Psychology's Modernist Critique of Fundamentalism 91 

Branden T. C. Miller 

The Boston Theological Institute 


*"" Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 


Rodney L. Petersen, Executive Director 
The Boston Theological Institute 

This second volume of The Journal of 
Faith and Science Exchange conies as West- 
ern societies and the global order that they 
have helped to shape arrive at the beginning 
of a new millennium. A dominant concern 
of those in the natural sciences, as well as the 
social sciences, is that of fostering an ethical 
order in the years that lie before us. It is the 
function of the schools that compose the Bos- 
ton Theological Institute to prepare students 
for ethical leadership in society, primarily 
through religious and voluntary institutions. 
Leadership of this kind requires clearly ar- 
ticulated goals which have been thoughtfully 
developed, a moral integrity that reflects those 
goals, and the will to pursue these ideals. This 
volume symbolizes an attempt to foster such 
vision and to encourage the kind of work re- 
quired of religious leadership. 

For example, one of the overriding is- 
sues facing us in the new millennium is that 
of environmental practice and how it will 
shape our conceptions of consumption and 
population policy. Ethics in this domain is 
clearly being worked out in relation to sci- 
entific knowledge (facts) and religious re- 
flection (values). 1 These categories are two 
parts of a whole that frame the way we view 
and maintain sustainability within the envi- 
ronment. 2 The historical era into which we 
are moving challenges us to formulate a new 
ethic appropriate to the task before us. 3 The 
need for additional approaches to the kinds 
of issues raised in this volume on the part of 
society at large, government agencies, and 
among churches and other voluntary agen- 
cies has become clear, particularly in rela- 
tion to global economic structural concerns. 4 
Earth's capacity to meet human demands for 
natural resources and, equally, its ability to 
absorb the waste produced by human activ- 
ity, is reaching its limits. 5 In addition to the 

kind of integration between science and re- 
ligion that is required, the following strate- 
gies (among others) might be suggested. 

First, better long-range thinking is nec- 
essary to meet the environmental challenge. 6 
This requires a cross-cultural scope because 
the nature of the problem is global. The 
search for a global ethic for environmental 
security and economic sustainability has im- 
plications for human rights. 7 Any transna- 
tional thinking requires interreligious consid- 
erations^ This is particularly true for reflec- 
tion on The Earth Charter, which seeks to 
identify the core values and principles that 
should guide global environmental conserva- 
tion and sustainable development. 1 ' The dis- 
cussion entails derivative questions about 
human rights in the context of an emerging 
global politics, which demands that we move 
beyond the patterns of national interest that 
have dominated political thought at least since 
the Peace of Westphalia ( 1648).'" It draws in 
definitions of development that affect eco- 
nomic well-being and reflect indigenous and 
other religious worldviews. ' ' The discussion 
entails the value of all sentient life and picks 
up the issues raised by "deep ecology" or 
"eco-philosophy." I2 These are issues that re- 
quire good science, as well as good reflec- 
tion on the nature and origin of our values, 
traditionally matters of faith or religion. 

Secondly, further thought needs to be 
given to the meaning and use of technology. 
"Ecology" has to do with all living species, 
habitats, and ecosystems; "environment" has 
to do with the human social, economic, and 
material context for life. Yet the terms are 
often used without discrimination or are col- 
lapsed into each other, interfering with our 
understanding of culture and nature. It is 
the premise of most theorists that the way 
we live in relation to these categories is both 

The Boston Theological Institute 

the locus of the problem, as well as the solu- 
tion. Politics and disputes about the mean- 
ing of environmental degradation become 
directly involved in the implications of eco- 
nomic action and technical deployment. 13 
Our sense of the meaning and use of tech- 
nology is directly related to our understand- 
ing of the meaning of human activity in the 
world. How we think about ourselves is re- 
flected in the development — creation — and 
use of technology. Again, these are issues 
that draw us to the concerns of this journal. 

The metaphor that seeks to tie together 
many of the religious traditions as they ap- 
proach global sustainability is that of stew- 
ardship. Embedded in Semitic tradition and 
developed variously, this image emphasizes 
the relational context in which humanity 
stands with respect to the rest of nature. 14 
Stewardship neither gives way to depressive 
determinism nor becomes overly optimistic 
about the spheres of human freedom open to 
us in the future. 15 It demands as full a knowl- 
edge of the natural world as can be discerned. 

And finally, in the movement toward 
equity in consumption and population within 
the parameters of global sustainability, what 
encouragement is there for those who have 
more to give to those who have less, par- 
ticularly in light of human competitiveness? 
The answer requires a metaphor for human 
self-identity and behavior such as that im- 
plied by the idea of stewardship. Without 
such a metaphor to relate us to God's cre- 
ation, any idea of a Jubilee Year, Sabbath 
Restitution, or Islamic Order, as conceived 
in our different religious traditions, will 
never be realized. 

Works cited: 

Albrecht, Paul. "From Oxford to Nairobi: 
Lessons From Fifty Years of Ecumenical 
Work for Economic and Social Justice." 
The Ecumenical Review 40 (April 1988). 

Bent, Ans van der. Commitment to God's 
World. Geneva: WCC Publications, 1995. 

Coward, Harold, ed. Population, Consump- 
tion, and the Environment. Albany: State 
University of New York Press, c 1995. 

Crocker, David A., and Toby Linden, eds. 
The Ethics of Consumption. Lanham, 
Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, c 1998. 

The Earth Charter: A Joint Initiative of the 
Earth Council and Green Cross Interna- 
tional." A Report prepared by the Earth 
Council and Green Cross International in 
connection with the Earth Charter 
Workshop, The Peace Palace, The 
Hague, May 31, 1995. 

Engel, J. Ronald, and Joan Gibb Engel, 
eds. Ethics of Environment & Develop- 
ment: Global Challenge, International 
Response. Tucson: University of 
Arizona Press, 1993. 

Goldblatt, David. Social Theory and the 
Environment. Cambridge, England: 
Polity Press, 1996. 

Hall, Douglas John. The Steward: A 
Biblical Symbol Come of Age. Grand 
Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1994 ed. 

Hallman, David G., ed. Ecotheology: 
Voices from South and North. 
Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books, 1994. 

Harrell, Andrew, and Benedict Kingsbury, 
eds. The International Politics of the 
Environment. New York: Oxford 
University Press, 1992. 

Huntington, Samuel. The Clash of Civi- 
lizations and the Remaking of World 
Order. New York: Simon & Schuster, 

Kiing, Hans. Global Responsibility: In 
Search of a New World Ethic. New 
York: Continuum, 1993. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

Leslie, John. The End of the World: The 
Science and Ethics of Human Extinc- 
tion. New York: Routledge, 1996. 

Nash, James A. "Toward the Revival and 
Reform of the Subversive Virtue: 
Frugality." Consumption, Population, 
and Sustain-ability. Religion and 
Science in Dialogue. Ed. Audrey 
Chapman, Rodney Petersen, and 
Barbara Smith-Moran. Washington, 
D.C.: Island Press, forthcoming. 

Rasmussen, Larry. Earth Community, Earth 
Ethics. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1996. 

Rockefeller, Steven C. Principles of 
Environmental Conservation and 
Sustainable Development: Summary and 
Survey. San Jose, Costa Rica: Earth 
Charter Project, 1996. 

Rolston, Holmes, III. Environmental 
Ethics: Duties to and Values in the 
Natural World. Philadelphia: Temple 
University Press, 1988. 

Rosen, Bernard. Strategies of Ethics. 
Boston: Houghton Mifflin, c 1978. 

Skolimowski. Henryk. Eco-Philosophy: 
Designing New Tactics for Living. 
London: Marion Boyars, 1981. 

Sustainable Growth — A Contradiction in 
Terms? Report of the Visseft Hooft 
Memorial Consultation (Chateau de 
Bossey: The Ecumenical Institute, 1993). 

Sylvan, Richard, and David Bennett. The 
Greening of Ethics: From Anthropomor- 
phism to Deep-Green Theory. Tucson: 
The University of Arizona Press, 1994. 

Wapner, Paul. Environmental Activism and 
World Civic Politics. Albany: State 
University of New York Press. 1996. 

Whyte. Anne. "The Human Context." 
Population, Consumption, and the 
Environment. Ed. Harold Coward. 
Albany: State University of New York 
Press, c 1995. 

Williams, George H. "Mercy in the 
Grounding of a Non-Elitist Ecological 
Ethic." Festschrift in Honor of Charles 

Speel. Ed. Thomas J. Sienkewicz and 
James E. Betts. Monmouth. 111.: 
Monmouth College, 1996. 

Williams. J. Phillips. A Study Guide for 
Douglas John Hall's The Steward, A 
Biblical Symbol Come of Age. New 
York: Friendship Press, 1985. 

World Commission on Environment and 
Development. Brundtland Report. Our 
Common Future. New York: Oxford 
University Press, 1987. 


1. On the role of ethics with respect to 
sustainability, see Engel and Engel. See 
also Crocker and Linden. See the debate 
over Act theories of ethical reflection which 
deny the necessity of rule theories, whether 
teleological or deontological, in Rosen. 

2. Whyte, p. 52. 

3. Ethical reflection in the churches of 
the twenty-first century must move more 
profoundly beyond the three tendencies 
identified by Paul Albrecht over the past 
seventy-five years: 1 ) an ethic of agape 
going back to the origins of the Life and 
Work Movement (Stockholm. 1925); 2) a 
participatory and populist ethic with an 
overriding concern for those oppressed 
through racial, religious, or sexual identity; 
and 3) liberation theology, guided by a 
Marxist "science" in matters of praxis with 
a preference for the poor. See Albrecht. 

4. See, for example, Rasmussen; van der 
Brent: Hallman 

5. Whyte. p. 48. 

6. World Commission on Environment 
and Development. Brundtland Report. 
The Report notes the rapid deterioration of 
the global environment as threatening 
human life on earth. It seeks to delineate 
approximate and possible ways to deal 
with environmental issues. It stands for: 1) 
meeting the needs of the present without 
compromising the ability of future genera- 
tions to meet their needs; 2) creating a 

The Boston Theological Institute 


sustainable situation for all countries; and 
3) a concern for equality within and between 
generations, not just physical sustainability. 
This was the third in a series of UN reports, 
following the Brandt report North-South 
( 1980) with its sequel Common Crisis 
( 1983) and the Palme report Common 
Security (1985). It deals with major prob- 
lems like the greenhouse effect, deforesta- 
tion, soil loss, the debt crisis, the global 
commons, and the explosion of cities. 

7. See Kiing. 

8. See Leslie. He insists that environ- 
mental issues are the national security 
issues of the twenty-first century. See also 
Huntington, pp. 130-35. 

9. See Rockefeller. 

10. Hanell and Kingsbury; Wapner. 

1 1 . See the papers from the conference 
"A Religious and Moral Challenge. 
Environmental Justice.'* A Briefing 
Sponsored by The National Religious 
Partnership for the Environment. January 9 
and 10, 1995. See also Sustainable 
Growth — A Contradiction in Terms? 

12. See Sylvan and Bennett. See also 
Skolimowski, p. 54. He develops an 
ecological humanism as an alternative to 
industrial society which sees: 1 ) steward- 
ship as a prevailing metaphor for human 
activity in the future, 2) the world to be 
best conceived of as a sanctuary in a 
religious sense, and 3) knowledge to be 
defined as the intermediary between us 
and the creative forces of evolution. 

13. I am following Goldblatt here. 

14. See Coward, Part II, a survey of 
different religious traditions, pp. 63-194. 
See also Hall, pp. 103-21. In developing his 
ideas on stewardship, Hall contends that a 
form of Christian Humanism that transcends 
the theocentric as well as the older Liberal 
perspective (faulted for its assumptions 
about humanity and history and failure to 
provide an acceptable theology of nature) 
must be pioneered. In order to enlarge our 
vision of the full ramifications for steward- 
ship, he cites the following five principles: 
globalization, communalization, ecologiza- 
tion, politicization, and futurization (pp. 
122-54). See the modified or "weak" 
anthropoeentrism of Holmes Rolston. 

15. In referring to the potential latent in 
the metaphor of stewardship, Hall writes 
that as Martin Luther's vision of a justifying 
grace enabled people to overcome a sense 
of medieval guilt and thereby find the 
courage to live, so too "the sense of being 
stewards of earth and of life itself could 
provide a generation of world-weary and 
apathetic survivors some feeling of pur- 
pose" (Hall, p. 7). See his comments about 
the history of the book, first published in 
1982, with reference to the emergence of 
the "Justice, Peace, and the Integrity of 
Creation" process in the World Council of 
Churches (xii). A helpful study guide is 
available to Hall's understanding of 
stewardship, written by J. Phillips Williams. 
Other metaphors include those of "frugality 
" and "mercy." On the former, see Nash; on 
the latter, see George H. Williams. 

The Reverend Dr. Rodney Petersen, Executive Director of the Boston Theological 
Institute, teaches courses in the member schools in the fields of history and ethics. 
Previously he taught at the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, Illinois), 
Webster University (Geneva, Switzerland), and worked with churches in France and 
Eastern Europe. His books include Christianity and Civil Society (Orbis, 1995). With 
Audrey Chapman and Barbara Smith-Moran, he edited Consumption, Population, 
and Sustainability: Perspectives from Science and Religion (Island Press, 1999), 
and produced the companion video, "Living in Nature." With his oversight, together 
with the many faculty members of the BTI schools who have pioneered in this field, 
the BTI offers a Certificate Program of Study in Religion and Science . 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 


Barbara Smith-Moran, S.O.Sc, Director 
Center for Faith and Science Exchange 

What can scientific observations con- 
tribute to knowledge about God and divine 
action? The belief that observations of na- 
ture do inform theology is at least as old as 
the biblical record. Like biological evolu- 
tion itself, the development of a theology of 
creation has been episodic, with extended 
periods of stability and "user satisfaction," 
followed by periods of innovation and 
change. The 1998 Essay Contest in the field 
of science and religion, organized by the 
Boston Theological Institute for graduate 
students in seminaries and theological pro- 
grams in the Northeast U.S., has strongly en- 
couraged such innovation and change. 
Working out a theology of creation is the 
concern of most of the award-winning es- 
says, presented here, one that is reflective 
of and responsive to the vocabulary and con- 
cepts of our time. Three additional essays, 
by speakers from the Lecture Series of the 
Center for Faith and Science Exchange, pro- 
vide a broader context for presenting these 
"evolutionary experiments'* in theology to 
study creation and thereby learn about its 

Rolf Bouma opens this volume of The 
Journal of Faith and Science Exchange with 
his essay entitled "Patterns of Speciation and 
Extinction and the Divine Valuing of Cre- 
ation." He challenges the often-heard anthro- 
pocentric claim that a uniquely human role 
in Creation is to assign value to living crea- 
tures. He makes a case for a system of valu- 
ation intrinsic within nature — pre- and. pre- 
sumably, post-human — as evidenced in an 
ecological study of which species become 
extinct and which survive for continued evo- 
lution. He extrapolates from observed pat- 
terns to knowledge about the Creator's work 
and love for the world. 

In an essay on "Theology of Creation and 
Natural Science," Wolffian Pannenberg re- 
fers to his own experience of the importance 
of philosophy to help negotiate through the 
maze of misunderstandings the dialogues be- 
tween science and theology. He makes the 
case for an effective trialogue: science and 
theology with philosophy, their common 
"cousin." In a talk given at the Massachu- 
setts Institute of Technology, he explored how 
a return to the philosophical sense of "field" — 
which is actually the precursor of current sci- 
entific usage — might contribute to a fresh un- 
derstanding of some of God's attributes. 

In "Cog and the Creativity of God," 
Peter Heltzel probes human creativity in the 
field of artificial intelligence and in the fab- 
rication of humanoid robots, and he draws 
conclusions about God's own creativity. 
Troy Catterson. in his essay. "No Time for 
Time." works within the formalism of quan- 
tum theories of origination to find new un- 
derstanding of God's creative work. 

Karl Schmitz-Moormann. in his paper 
on "Theory of Evolution and Faith in Cre- 
ation." traces the history of the development 
of biological evolution as a concept, as well 
as the fits and starts of theology to make 
friends with it. The details covered in this 
historical overview are all too rarely included 
in seminary or university survey courses. 
Dan Kaplan looks at the fifteen-billion-year 
evolution of the universe as a whole and re- 
gards it as a long quest for God on the part 
of a cosmos that longs to know. His essay. 
"Fifteen Billion Years of Searching for God" 
shows his own delight and wonder to be a 
member of the search party, as well as some 
frustration that it progresses so very slowly. 

Nicole Roskos finds some serious short- 
cominss in Paul's understandina of resur- 

The Boston Theological Institute 


rection, in her essay, "The Missing Face of 
Ecology in Pauline Theology." She argues 
for reclaiming the scientifically sound eco- 
logical relationship of earth and earthling, 
as found in Genesis. She points up the posi- 
tive theological view of death found in the 
Creation stories, which is gone by the time 
of Paul's writings. 

The reductionism of contemporary neu- 
roscience and its clash with theology is the 
subject of Andrew Irvine's study. His es- 
say, "Limit Conditions on an Encounter of 
Theology with Neuroscience," looks at a 
possible resolution in the dispute over be- 
liefs and claims regarding personhood and 

In the only essay concerning the social 
sciences, Andrew Irvine presents the classic 
critiques of "old time religion" (biblical lit- 
eralism) leveled by "old time psychology." 
Itself the object of postmodern critique, psy- 
chology has examined the cultural context 
of its own beginnings. Fundamentalism is 
now beinc reassessed as a sort of buffering 

strategy used by some communities for cul- 
tural preservation. 

At the close of his essay, Karl Schmitz- 
Moormann observes, "[t|he question of 
whether, in the long run, theology can sur- 
vive while continuing to ignore the results 
of science, especially evolution, has yet to 
be answered." The scholars who have con- 
tributed their work to this volume are clearly 
engaged in the enterprise to help our reli- 
gious traditions respond, adapt, evolve, sur- 
vive — and thrive. 

Note: The Boston Theological Institute 
and the Center for Faith and Science Ex- 
change express their gratitude to the John 
Templeton Foundation for the grant that sup- 
ported the 1998 Student Essay Contest in 
Science and Religion. This program has 
encouraged the innovative work of gradu- 
ate students in an important field of research, 
development, and application. 

The Reverend Barbara Smith- Moran, S.O.Sc, was trained as an astronomer at 
Harvard University before studying theology at the Church Divinity School of the 
Pacific (Berkeley California) and Episcopal Divinity School (Cambridge, Massachu- 
setts). She is a life-professed member of the Society of Ordained Scientists (an 
Anglican religious order of preachers and teachers) and serves as Co-chairperson 
of the Episcopal Church Working Group on Science, Technology, and Faith. She 
was a producer of the educational video, Living in Nature, the companion for the 
book, Consumption, Population, and Sustainability: Perspectives from Science and 
Religion (Island Press, 1999), which she edited with Audrey Chapman and Rodney 
Petersen. Her recent book, Soul at Work (St. Mary's Press, 1997), is a collection of 
retreat meditations that encourage a Christian spirituality of scientific and techno- 
logical work. 

Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

Patterns of Speciation and Extinction and the 

Divine Valuing of Creation 

Rolf Bouma 

The near-universal concern over the current rate of species extinction must be contextu- 
alized, given the occurrence of previous mass extinctions during the course of Earth's natu- 
ral history. Current scientific knowledge regarding patterns of speciation and extinction 
present two challenges to the theologian: 1 ) how to understand God's relationship to these 
patterns; and 2) how to understand God's valuation of transient creatures in creation. After 
reviewing current theories regarding speciation and extinction, the implications for theol- 
ogy are addressed, particularly the need to account for extinction as an undeniable feature 
of cosmic history. 

The world's species are in serious de- 
cline, a situation simple to detail even if fig- 
ures are less than precise. Somewhere be- 
tween 5 and 40 million species of living crea- 
tures populate the earth. Estimates place the 
present rate of extinction at up to 50.000 
species per year. According to the latest State 
of the World publication. "[t]hree fourths of 
the world's bird species are declining, and 
nearly one fourth of the 4.600 species of 
mammals are threatened with extinction." ' 
Prime factors in current extinctions are loss 
of habitat (e.g., destruction of rain forests) 
and ecosystem disruption (e.g.. introduction 
of non-native species, overharvesting). 

Whether from a "shallow" anthropo- 
centrism or a "deep" ecocentrism, concerns 
abound. 2 At the very least, the richness of 
biological resources available for human use 
and enjoyment is in serious jeopardy. On a 
larger scale, there is a sense that something 
"out there" (God. the universe, the web of 
life — to name a few candidates) is being 
shortchanged in the narrowing of biological 
diversity. Of added concern is the human 
role in the situation, as "[f]or the first time, 
a single species — Homo sapiens — has be- 
come a vast, destructive ecological force." ' 

Concerns, however, must be contextu- 
alized, and contextualization is a dicey busi- 

ness. Simply put, what context? If histori- 
cal perspective is considered to be cotermi- 
nous with human history, then trends are 
clearly new and alarming. An unprecedented 
extinction event requires prompt attention 
and action. When placed in cosmic historical 
perspective, however, the issues become 
murkier. What if. as seems to be the case, 
this is not the first period of mass extinction, 
but merely the latest of a number of such pe- 
riods? Does precedence diminish concern, or 
does historical inquiry push past precedence 
to find the unprecedented in this period of 
extinction (e.g., the human factor), and thus 
foster rather than inhibit concern and action? 
Religious voices increasingly insist that 
proper respect for divine artistry demands 
protection of endangered species. 4 What sort 
of warrant is there for a religious ethic re- 
garding endangered species? Ethics from 
an ecological perspective often operates on 
the principle that "what ought to be is de- 
rived from what is." ? What "'is," so far as 
nature/creation is concerned? This essay will 
outline patterns of speciation and extinction, 
then examine theories regarding those pat- 
terns, particularly as they influence the 
theist's concept of the nature and direction 
of God's activity in this world and our valu- 
ation of the world. 

The Boston Theological Institute 

Historical notions of species 
appearance and disappearance 

That species appeared and vanished was 
a relatively novel idea in the 1700s. Jewish 
and Christian traditions claimed one primary 
act of creation, and for much of Western his- 
tory there was no reason to challenge the idea 
that, once created, the orders of living things 
remained fixed. The position that individual 
channels of overflowing divine goodness as 
exemplified in God's creatures might stop 
flowing was inconsistent with God's infini- 
tude and ongoing concern for creation. 6 

The position that individual channels 
of overflowing divine goodness as 
exemplified in God's creatures might 
stop flowing was inconsistent with 
God's infinitude and ongoing concern 
for creation. 

The emergence of fossil remains as a 
subject of scientific and religious discussions 
in the eighteenth century required new con- 
ceptions. The prevailing viewpoint became 
old earth catastrophism, in which an ancient 
earth experienced several epochs of creation 
of biological forms, each epoch coming to a 
complete end through catastrophe with no 
carry-over of species from one epoch to an- 
other. Typically this was combined with a 
belief that some past processes either no 
longer operated in the present or operated at 
a diminished level. 7 

Following the lead of Charles Lyell in 
geology, Charles Darwin challenged these 
assumptions in the mid- 1 800s with his model 
of speciation, characterized by uniformity of 
process and incremental changes in life 
forms, with the gradual emergence of new 
species over extended periods of time. 
Darwin's was primarily a model of specia- 

tion, with extinction handled by auxiliary 
hypotheses. For Darwin, species might dis- 
appear in one of two ways: 1) a species 
might linger long enough to register upon 
the fossil record, yet ultimately prove to be 
a loser in the struggle for survival and truly 
become extinct; or 2) a species might evolve 
into a significantly different form (a process 
known as "pseudo-extinction"). In either 
case, the end result was the presence of a par- 
ticular form in the fossil record and its ab- 
sence in the current panoply of living species. 
Key to Darwin's theory is the matter of 
incremental change, and at this point Dar- 
win met his most substantial 
challenge. The fossil record, 
exhibiting fits and starts, left 
major gaps to be filled in 
imaginatively. The imagina- 
tion fired by Darwinian theory 
saw a procession and progres- 
sion filling in the gaps through 
a steady, inexorable diversifi- 
cation of the biotic commu- 
nity. To skeptics, however, the 
list of species leaving the tail- 
end of one segment of the fos- 
sil record so differs from that which begins 
the next that it seemed improbable that Dar- 
winian evolution could account for the dra- 
matic difference. 

Current concepts 

Current theories suggest that forms of 
life on earth coalesced approximately 3.5 bil- 
lion years ago, with animals emerging some- 
what less than a billion years ago. Today's 
significantly broader data from the fossil 
record challenges Darwinian evolutionary 
theory, since neither speciation nor extinc- 
tion seem to occur incrementally — which in 
turn has raised questions about the unifor- 
mity of natural processes. 

Speciation seems to occur fitfully, with 
long periods of stability punctuated by peri- 
ods of rapid appearance of new species. 
Why the explosion in speciation at some 
times, and the dearth of it in others? Com- 

Journal of Faith and Science Exchange , 1998 

meriting on the explosion of speciation dur- 
ing a 5-to-10-million-year segment of the 
Cambrian period and the fact that subsequent 
periods do not show a similar explosion, 
Richard Leakey writes: 

It was as if the facility for making evo- 
lutionary leaps that produced major 
functional novelties — the basis of new 
phyla — had somehow been lost when 
the Cambrian period came to an end. 
It was as if the mainspring of evolu- 
tion had lost some of its power/ 

Extinctions similarly punctuate the 
record. While the number of species in ex- 
istence at a given time has increased over- 
all, the fossil record exhibits a series of ex- 
tinctions of moderate degree in which 15 to 
40 percent of animal species disappeared. 
On five occasions, 11 massive extinctions ap- 
pear to have taken place in which 65 to 95% 
of all animal species disappeared. As Rich- 
ard Leakey describes it: 

The Big Five [extinctions! interrupted 
that rise [of diversity] to dangerously 

low levels.... This handful of major 
events, from oldest to most recent, 
are: the end-Ordovician (440 million 
years ago), the Late Devonian (365 
million years ago), the end-Permian 
(225 million years ago), the end-Trias- 
sic (210 million years ago), and the 
end-Cretaceous (65 million years ago). 10 

The resulting pattern of species devel- 
opment highlights two seemingly contradic- 
tory facts: 1 ) The present geological period 
has the highest species diversity within natu- 
ral historical time (at least prior to the cur- 
rent period of extinction related to human 
causes): and 2) virtually all species no longer 
exist. Leakey notes: 

Some thirty billion species are 
estimated to have lived since multi- 
cellular creatures first evolved in the 
Cambrian explosion. According to 
some estimates, thirty million species 
populate today's Earth. This means 
that 99.9 percent of all species that 
have ever lived are extinct. As one 
statistical wag put it. "To a first ap- 
proximation, all species are extinct."" 

A number of culprits have been identi- 
fied for precipitating mass extinction, with 

the most likely candidates considered to be 
meteorite impact and/or volcanism with con- 
comitant changes in climate and sea levels. 
Since 1980, the darling of catastrophes has 
been meteorite impact, with the suggestion 
that the impact of a large meteorite (diam- 
eter >10 km) disrupted global ecosystems 
and led to mass extinction some 65 million 
years ago. Primary evidence for this theory 
is the high level of the element iridium found 
at the K/T boundary. 12 but other evidence 
points in this direction as well. 

Does this theory account for one mass 
extinction or many? While the main focus 
has been on the dinosaur extinction of the 
Cretaceous period, some scientists have 
pushed the theory further. David Raup. 
among others, considers the claim that all 
extinctions are the result of meteorite im- 
pact and subsequent systemic disruption, and 
further, that these extinctions happen peri- 
odically at intervals of approximately 26 
million years. 13 Extinction would thereby 
be catastrophic and periodic. Raup himself 
is tentative with this proposal, and few sci- 
entists consider it likely. 

A close cousin to impact theory is that 
of volcanism. 14 Volcanic eruption can seri- 
ously disrupt the earth's ecosystem, as well 
attested in the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo 
in the Philippines. If volcanic activity in- 
creases substantially, climate change occurs 
at a rate faster than organisms can adapt. 
Volcanism may also account for high iridium 
levels at those points in the geological record 
that coincide with mass extinctions. 15 

Beyond these catastrophic disruptions, 
attention focuses on population patterns 
themselves. Contemporary ecological 
theory emphasizes the interrelatedness of 
species within ecosystems. The loss of a few 
key species can collapse an entire ecosys- 
tem, resulting in the loss of almost all its 
species." 1 Species population rarely remains 
constant for any length of time, and patterns 
of fluctuation are difficult to decipher. Is 
there a descriptive regularity to population 
patterns? The simple relationship once 

The Boston Theological Institute 

thought to exist between food/prey and 
predators is actually quite complex. Not only 
do population patterns fluctuate wildly, but 
it is highly suspected that population patterns 
are chaotic. 17 Natural fluctuations occasion- 
ally bring population levels down to the 
lower end of survivability. As David Raup 
puts it, extinction can be as much the prod- 
uct of bad luck as of bad genes. 

One of the legacies of the Darwinian 
revolution imposed a very particular 
view of the world on Western intel- 
lectual thought. According to that 
perspective, species thrive because 
they are superior in some way to 
their competitors: they win in the 
"struggle for existence," to use 
Darwin's phrase. Similarly, species 
go extinct through succumbing to 
competition: they are failures in 
life's struggle.... But one of the 
more important developments of 
evolutionary biology in recent years 
is the recognition that luck, not 
superiority, plays a cogent role in 
determining which organisms 
survive, especially through times of 
mass extinction. 

Difficulties with the twin pillars of clas- 
sical Darwinism — uniformitarianism and in- 
cremental change — have become substantial 
enough to bring them 
renewed scrutiny as 
central organizing prin- 
ciples of evolutionary 
theory. While Darwin- 
ian evolution has not 
been unseated from its 
preferred position in 
the scientific commu- 
nity, catastrophism has 
reclaimed a major 
place in the explanation of extinction and 
subsequent re-speciation.' 1 ' Catastrophes 
precipitate crises among species, with a re- 
sulting disintegration of entire ecosystems. 
This claim then links to a second, in which 
the suddenly-open playing field brought on 
by mass extinction results in an explosion 
of new forms. A larger number of complex 
creatures emerges in a shorter period of time 
than would be predicted under a Darwinian 

evolutionary scheme. Further, the forms that 
emerge in an explosion of speciation do not 
necessarily resemble those of the previous 
extinction. Principles of complex organiza- 
tion seem to play a role. The quest and the 
question is not only to discover the prin- 
ciples, but also why they seem to operate at 
one time and not at another. 

Evolution, theology, and ecological 

What effect does recent scholarship 
have upon theology and the understanding 
of God's ways with this world, particularly 
in relationship to species? Two major re- 
considerations should take place. First, the- 
ology should describe God's relationship to 
the world in such a way as to account for 
extinction as well as rapid speciation. Di- 
vine design arguments certainly cannot be 
framed as they were in the seventeenth cen- 
tury, nor even as they were in the past cen- 
tury, where theology accommodated evolu- 
tion by allowing God's design to blaze a path 
of progress. If "design" is perceived too 
tightly, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion 
that God wasn't overly-enamored with cer- 

If "design" is perceived too tightly, it is 
difficult to avoid the conclusion that God 
wasn 7 overly enamored with certain ef- 
forts , having followed several different 
design projects and seen fit to abandon 
some of these in midstream. 

tain efforts, having followed several differ- 
ent design projects and seen fit to abandon 
some of these in midstream. Such a sce- 
nario gives an interesting slant to Van Gogh's 
conjecture that the world was "a study that 
didn't come off." 2 " 

It is still possible, however, to speak of 
divine design in coherent fashion. There has 
to be some looseness allowed, with God's 
design establishing parameters and marking 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

the channels through which random genera- 
tion and transmutation of forms may take 
place. There is a discernible trajectory of in- 
creasing complexity and diversity even though 
this trajectory is intermittent and scattered. 
Clearly organisms increase in complexity at 
a variety of levels. Diversity over time in- 
creases. Sentience emerges. Occasional mass 
extinctions seem to operate as wildfires do in 
ecosystems, to clear the landscape for a pro- 
fusion of new forms. Extinctions are contex- 
tual. As Holmes Rolston states: 

Even species come and go, over 
millions of years.... The half-life of 
a species is typically upward of ten 
million years. Some become extinct 
without issue, but nature's long- 
standing trends transform others and 
increase the numbers of species 
present in each later epoch, as well 
as their richness.... Even the few 
crashes and mass extinctions, though 
setbacks, have reset life's direc- 
tion.... Retrenchments in the quan- 
tity of life were followed by explo- 
sive inventiveness in its quality. 22 

Under such a view, theology laments the 
current extinction not simply because it op- 
poses an overall trajectory and pauperizes a 
world which God steers toward richness, but 
also because there is no [ 
clearing for new forms to 
flourish in a world 
hoarded by humanity. 

Secondly, theology 
needs to understand value 
in a way that does justice 
to the "temporal" as well 
as the "eternal". That 
something endures 
through time might be a 
consideration in its value, 
but not its chief determiner. Failure to ap- 
preciate this has led theology to value the 
soul disproportionately over the body, the 
human over the animal, and to assume that 
God values only that which endures. With 
this in mind, theology which took a Darwin- 
ian approach felt obligated to move God's 
concern for all creatures from the individual 

to the species. Tennyson observed, "So care- 
ful of the type [Nature] seems, so careless 
of the single life," 23 which was an echoing 
of Mary Wollstonecraft's theological obser- 
vation that "[i]t is the preservation of the spe- 
cies, not of individuals, which appears to be 
the design of Deity throughout the whole of 
nature." 24 Tennyson, like Wollstonecraft. 
was wrong. If profligate with individuals, 
then creation is profligate with species as 
well. It is difficult to see how current knowl- 
edge suggests a divine preference for spe- 
cies over individuals. 

The answer is not to consider God as 
disvaluing both, but to understand that a 
more complex valuational scheme pays at- 
tention to various structural levels in the 
world. Theology must develop a nuanced 
understanding of divine valuation. In this 
regard, contemporary ecological theory is 
helpful as it cautions not to isolate value at 
one level. Just as the physical world has the 
three dimensions of space and the fourth di- 
mension of time, so valuation needs to take 
into account the three dimensions of indi- 
viduals, species, and systems, joining these 
together with the dimension of process 

That something endures through time 
might be a consideration in its value, but 
not its chief determiner. Failure to appre- 
ciate this has led theology to value the 
soul disproportionately over the body, the 
human over the animal, and to assume 
that God values only that which endures. 

(time ). 2? Rather than demand pre-eminence 
for one of these dimensions (as is evident, 
for instance, in the animal rights movement's 
concern for the individual and its allegation 
of speciesism against any consideration on 
the species level), consideration of the value 
inherent within and instrumentally joining 
the parts of creation leads us to see the val- 

The Boston Theological Institute 

ues present at various levels. Thus, species 
are valuable not only as the form through 
which individual lives flow, but as parts of 
systems in which the presence of a species 
shapes and moves the system and its com- 
ponents along an uncharted path. 


Endangered species preservation is an 
ethical issue that requires adequate scientific 
knowledge as well as theologically informed 
ethical principles. Theology and science can 
interact constructively in this regard to avoid 
either oversimplification on one hand, or a 
battlement which precludes action on the 
other. Fortunately, the complexity of 
science's description of speciation and ex- 
tinction patterns can be matched by theol- 
ogy in its description of God's connections 
to and desires for the world. Theology's pe- 
culiar power is to provide a conceptual 
framework for understanding the present 
dilemma of species extinction by drawing 
us outside ourselves and our fixation on 
purely human pursuits that leads to catas- 
trophe for others of God's creatures. Theol- 
ogy enables us to perceive the nature of 
God's connection to the world and the ways 
in which God channels value through the 
creation. That perception is an integral pan 
of addressing the current crisis in species 
extinction and cutting short a catastrophe of 
human origin. 

Works cited: 

Barbour, Ian G. Religion and Science: His- 
torical and Contemporary Issues. San 
Francisco: Harper, 1997. 

Briggs, John. "Mass Extinctions: Fact or 
Fallacy?" The Mass-Extinction Debates. 
Ed. William Glen. 

Dillard. Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. 
New York: Harper & Row, 1974. 

Glen, William, ed. The Mass-Extinction 
Debates: How Science Works In a Crisis. 
Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 

Hsu, Kenneth. "Uniformitarianism vs. 
Catastrophism in the Extinction Debate." 
The Mass-Extinction Debates: How Sci- 
ence Works in a Crisis. Ed. William Glen. 

Jablonski, David. "Extinctions in the Fossil 
Record." Extinction Rates. Ed. John H. 
Lawton and Robert M. May. Oxford: 
Oxford University Press, 1995. 

Leakey, Richard, and Roger Lewin. The 
Sixth Extinction: Patterns of Life and the 
Future of Humankind. New York: 
Doubleday, 1995. 

Officer, Charles, and Jake Page. The Great 
Dinosaur Extinction Controversy. Read- 
ing, Mass.: Addison- Wesley Publishing 
Co., 1996. 

Raup, David M. Extinction: Bad Genes or 
Bad Luck? New York: W. W. Norton, 

Ratzsch, Delvin Lee. The Battle of Begin- 
nings: Why Neither Side Is Winning the 
Creation-Evolution Debate. Downers 
Grove, 111.: InterVarsity Press, 1996. 

Rolston, Holmes, III. Environmental Eth- 
ics: Duties to and Values in the Natural 
World. Philadelphia: Temple University 
Press, 1988. 

Session, George, ed. Deep Ecology for the 
21st Century. Boston: Shambhala, 1995. 

State of the World: A Worldwatch Institute 
Report on Progress toward a Sustainable 
Societx. New York: W. W. Norton, 1997. 

Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

Tennyson, Alfred Lord. InMemoriam. Bos- 
ton: Tickner & Fields, 1856. 

Wildman, Wesley J., and Robert John 
Russell. "Chaos: Mathematical Introduc- 
tion with Philosophical Reflections/" 
Chaos and Complexity. Eds. Robert John 
Russell, Nancey Murphy, and Arthur 
Peacocke. Berkeley: Center for Theol- 
ogy and the Natural Sciences, 1995. 

Wollstonecraft, Mary. Letters Written Dur- 
ing a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, 
and Denmark. Letter 19 ( 1796). Lincoln: 
University of Nebraska Press, 1976. 


1 . Brown et al., p. 13. Estimates of present 
extinction rates vary widely, with common 
portrayals of "one species per day" or "three 
species per day." Extinction estimates are 
the result of multiple factors, such as the 
number of species per hectare, the average 
range per species, and the rate of habitat de- 

2. For a history of the "shallow" and 
"deep" designations made popular by Arne 
Naess, see Session, pp. ix-xiv. 

3. State of the World, p. 13. 

4. From an evangelical perspective, see the 
articles in Green Cross, Vol. 2:1 (Winter. 

5. Rolston, p. 58. This principle is dis- 
puted by some philosophers and theologians 
as an impermissible deviation from the ethi- 
cal norm that What ought to be can never be 
derived from what is. 

6. Carl Linnaeus, the father of modem tax- 
onomy, wrote in his Philosophic! Botanica 
of 175 1: "There are as many species as the 
infinite being created diverse forms in the 
beginning, which, following the laws of gen- 
eration, produced as many others but always 
similar to them. Therefore, there are as many 
species as we have different structures be- 
fore us today." Cited in Hsu, p. 218. 

7. Ratsch, pp. 15-16 

8. Leakey and Lewin, p. 27. 

9. The exact number of mass extinctions 
is contested. William Glen, for instance, 
claims evidence for up to twelve periods of 
mass extinction. Glen. p. 25. 

10. Leakey, p. 45. 

11. Ibid., p. 39. 

12. Iridium is an element in the platinum 
family which, due to its "iron-loving" quali- 
ties, sank to the center of the planet in the 
early stages of earth's development. Its pres- 
ence at the K/T boundary, the juncture be- 
tween the Cretaceous Period (dinosaurs and 
conifers) and the Tertiary Period (the mod- 
ern era of mammals and flowering plants) is 
strongly suggestive of meteorite impact. 

13. See Glen. pp. 26-29. for a history of 
discussions about extinction and periodicity. 

14. For the argument for volcanism and 
against impact theory, see Officer and Page, 
pp. 158-77. 

15. Iridium is also consistent with volca- 
nism. but only with deep core volcanoes. 
Most volcanoes are shallow and form at the 
edge of surface plates. Volcanoes at the cen- 
ter of plates tend to be fewer, but deeper. 

16. Jablonski. p. 39. 

17. See Leakey and Lewin, pp. 149-170. 
One difficulty is that "chaos" is a popularly 
invoked concept, although it is difficult to 
prove. As has been pointed out, "chaos, suf- 
ficiently complicated periodicity, and what 
[is] called strict randomness... can rarely be 
phenomenologically distinguished from 
each other...." Wildman and Russell, p. 78. 

18. Ibid.. 17-18. 

19. There are. of course, those who refuse 
to give up on uniformitarianism, and see in 
catastrophism a return to pre-Darwinian ig- 
norance. Briggs, pp. 230-36. It must be 
admitted that neither is the fossil record suf- 
ficiently complete nor are dating methods 
sufficiently precise to settle conclusively the 
question of the swiftness of past mass ex- 

The Boston Theological Institute 

20. Quoted in Dillard, p. 69. Dillard takes 
issue with Van Gogh's comment, but only 
because her sense of God's profligacy is 
matched by her awe at the intricacy of God's 

21. Barbour, p. 238. 

22. Rolston. p. 221. 

23. Tennyson, Prologue 55, st. 2. 

24. Wollstonecraft, Letter 19. 

25. See Rolston, pp. 192-245. Few schol- 
ars have explored the notion of value in re- 
gard to the natural world as extensively as 

The Reverend Rolf Bouma is in his third year of doctoral studies at Boston Univer- 
sity School of Theology, Boston, Massachusetts. He has been a member of the 
Executive Board of the AuSable Institute of Environmental Studies in Mancelona, 
Michigan, where he also teaches a course in Environmental Ethics. He has served 
in congregational ministry for many years in the Christian Reformed Church, and is 
currently Pastor of Hope Church in Framingham, Massachusetts. 

This essay received a First Prize and the Grand Prize. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

Theology of Creation and Natural Science 

Wolfliart Pannenberg 

The author advocates for the mediating role of philosophy in the dialogues between 
science and theology, in particular, the dialogues to clarify that the creation of biblical faith 
is the same entity as the cosmos of scientific study. He points out that most current scientific 
concepts, such as field,' have a prior history of usage in philosophical discourse, before 
being modified for usage in scientific contexts. This example, together with associated con- 
cepts, holds special promise for developing a contemporary theology of divine presence and 

Introduction: philosophy's role in 
the dialogue between theology and 
the natural sciences 

Half a century ago. Karl Barth wrote in 
the preface to his treatment of creation in 
his Church Dogmatics that there are "abso- 
lutely no scientific questions, objections or 
supports concerning what scripture and the 
Christian church understand to be God's 
work of creation." ' Such a restriction of the 
theology of creation to a "retelling" of what 
the Bible tells us about this subject has its 
price, and the price to be paid here was that 
it could no longer be made clear just how 
far the biblical faith in creation means the 
same world that the human race now inhab- 
its and that is described by modern science. 
The affirmation that the God of the Bible 
created the world degenerates into an empty 
formula, and that very biblical God becomes 
a powerless phantom if no longer understood 
as the one who originates and completes the 
world as it is given to our experience. For 
this reason, one should not agree with Barth, 
but rather with Karl Heim, in his attempt to 
relate theological affirmations about the cre- 
ation and final consummation of the world 
to the respective conceptions of contempo- 
rary science. In the context of Anglican the- 

ology, a theological appropriation of 
Darwin's doctrine of evolution was devel- 
oped as early as 1889, in the famous vol- 
ume Lux Mundi, edited by Charles Gore, 
where the biblical conception of a history of 
salvation, culminating in the event of incar- 
nation, was combined with the modern evo- 
lutionary perspective. This view has been 
effective into the present day. together with 
related ideas issuing from the work of 
Teilhard de Chardin. 

In spite of all the difficulties of a theo- 
logical interpretation of the natural world. 
Christian theology must not evade the task 
of interpreting the same world that is de- 
scribed by scientists to be, in fact, the cre- 
ation of God. It is not enough simply to de- 
clare the world to be God's creation; such a 
theological affirmation has to be made plau- 
sible. This is not to suggest that theology 
should enter the discussions among scien- 
tists on their level of scientific description 
and theory. Theological interpretation of the 
world of nature in terms of creation cannot 
be presented as competing with physics or 
with any other natural science. Claims like 
that are excluded by the fact that theologi- 
cal arguments move on another method- 
ological level than the hypotheses of natu- 

The Boston Theological Institute 

ral law in the sciences do. with their exami- 
nation by experiment. From a theological 
perspective, the reality of the world presents 
itself in the form of a unique and irrevers- 
ible historical process which is the result and 
expression of divine action. Certainly, in the 
process of this history, there emerge unifor- 
mities and structural types of sequences of 
natural events that correspond to the scien- 
tific concept of natural law. In the book of 
Genesis, after the story on the flood, it says: 
"As long as the earth endures, seedtime and 
harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, 
day and night, shall not cease.*' 2 Such regu- 

The affirmation that the God of the 
Bible created the world degenerates 
into an empty formula, and that very 
biblical God becomes a powerless phan- 
tom if no longer understood as the one 
who originates and completes the world 
as it is given to our experience. 

larities of natural processes, however, are 
themselves considered as products of a 
unique divine decision, not as evidence of a 
timeless order of nature. The theological 
focus on the historically unique and on the 
irreversible process of history is also related 
to the fact that theology does not conceive 
of space and time in the sense of homoge- 
neous sequences of spatial and temporal 
units, sequences that can be geometrically 
constructed, counted and measured. The 
mathematical form of representing and de- 
scribing natural processes and the scientific 
concept of law belong together. The absence 
of mathematical description in theology, on 
the other hand, speaks not merely to the in- 
ability of theologians, but also to the pecu- 
liarity of the theological subject matter and 
its appropriate treatment. 

Now, the question arises, whether the- 
ology exemplifies a qualitative mode of de- 

scribing reality, a mode that has been reduced 
so often in the history of modern science to 
a quantitative and, consequently, mathemati- 
cal way of description. The ideas of the bib- 
lical reports on creation, about the sequence 
in the emergence of natural forms, have been 
indeed replaced in modern science by con- 
ceptions based on quantitative descriptions 
of processes regulated by natural law. 
Should this tendency be generally valid con- 
cerning the relationship between theology 
and science? Professor Frank Tipler, math- 
ematical physicist at Tulane University, 
claims in his recent book, The Physics of Im- 
mortality, that theology finally 
has to be absorbed into phys- 
ics. He tries to show that the 
history of the universe tends 
towards an omega point, char- 
acterized by peculiar proper- 
ties of the traditional concept 
of God, and which functions 
not only as the result but also 
as the creative origin of the 
movement of the universe. It 
is, therefore, occasion for an 
identical repetition of all forms 
of intelligent life in the dimension of eter- 
nity. Tipler accounts for these claims by a 
proposed theory of scientific cosmology. 
The educated layman cannot help being im- 
pressed, but he or she is also impressed by 
the multitude of different models of scien- 
tific cosmology produced over recent de- 
cades. Cosmology, to all appearance, is a 
highly speculative discipline. But how is 
theology to be expected to relate to the pos- 
sibility of those arguments? 

I think that attempted transformations 
of theology into physics should be observed 
with curiosity on the one hand, but also with 
a certain degree of skepticism on the other. 
Curiosity and openness are appropriate, 
since even tentative constructions of this 
kind work against the widespread prejudice 
that theological and scientific conceptions 
are unrelated — a prejudice the effect of 
which is usually that theology seems to be 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

irrelevant concerning our understanding of 
the reality of the world we inhabit. Skepti- 
cism, however, is appropriate, because of the 
apparent incommensurability between the 
scientific conception of natural law and the 
theological approach to reality. Could, in- 
deed, the conception of the world in terms 
of a unique and irreversible history of ever 
new and contingent events — including the 
idea of God providing their origin, and of 
Christian eschatological hope — be dis- 
solved, without important remnant, into a de- 
scription of the world process in terms of 
natural law? 

Even at this point, I see no basis for 
theological anxieties. After all, there is the 
historical parallel of Aristotelian physics, the 
objects of which included the existence of 
God. though not a future resurrection of the 
dead. A proper conception of God as cre- 
ative origin of the natural universe, to be 
sure, had to describe the creation of the world 

It is not enough simply to declare the 
world to be God's creation, but such a 
theological affirmation has to be made 
plausible. This is not to suggest that 
theology should enter the discussions 
among scientists on their level of 
scientific description and theory. 

by starting from God as origin of it, rather 
than dealing with God as an exponent of the 
cosmic process. In Christian theology, such 
a comprehensive knowledge of creation that 
would comprise all the different aspects of 
created reality is not expected before the fi- 
nal consummation of the world, in connec- 
tion with the eschatological vision of the 
glorified ones. Until then, it seems likely 
that human knowledge about the world will 
develop under conditions of human finitude 
and, therefore, in the form of conjectures 

only, and by way of their examination and 
revision. In a reverse argument. Christian 
theology seeks to conceive of God as cre- 
ator of the world on the basis of the revela- 
tion in Jesus Christ. But in doing this, the- 
ology is not in a position to explain in detail 
the processes in the natural world. 

The aim of reaching an agreement be- 
tween the theology of creation, on the one 
hand, and the scientific knowledge about the 
world of nature on the other, may be indi- 
cated, then, more properly by the term con- 
sonance between the two perspectives than 
by any sort of reduction of one of them to 
the other. Consonance presupposes the ab- 
sence of contradiction. But it requires more 
than that. Contradictions can be absent sim- 
ply because ideas stand unrelated to each 
other. Consonance, however, implies the 
image of some harmony and. consequently, 
of a positive relationship. How can such a 
consonance be claimed with respect to 
affirmations that belong to 
quite different method- 
ological levels? In such a 
case, it is necessary to look 
for a third level to which the 
two others are related. In 
the case of the dialogue be- 
tween science and theology, 
such a third level has. in- 
deed, always existed. It is 
the level of philosophy. 

Whenever scientists 
talk about the relevance of 
their findings and theoreti- 
cal formulas in view of the understanding 
of reality, they move in the medium of philo- 
sophical reflection on procedures and results 
of their science, and not. in the strict sense, 
on the level of scientific argument. Reflec- 
tions on the relationship between natural law 
and the contingency of events, between cau- 
sality and freedom, matter and energy, the 
concepts of time and space or evolution, take 
place inevitably in a medium that is impreg- 
nated with philosophical language and its 
history. Furthermore, in most cases, key con- 

The Boston Theological Institute 


cepts of science have philosophical origins 
and underwent modifications in order to fit 
the requirements of their use in science. 
Recent investigations into the history of sci- 
entific concepts, such as space, time, mass, 
force and field, demonstrated connections be- 
tween the philosophical meaning of these 
concepts and their scientific use. Therefore, 
together with familiarity with the philosophi- 
cal discussions on these subjects, a degree of 
knowledge in the history of science and es- 
pecially about the history of scientific termi- 
nology is a presupposition of a productive 
dialogue between theology and the sciences. 
Christian theology, on the other hand, 
during the entire course of its history, has 

In most cases, key concepts of science have 
philosophical origins and underwent modifi- 
cations in order to fit the requirements of their 
use in science... . Therefore, a degree of 
knowledge in the history of science and espe- 
cially about the history of scientific terminol- 
ogy is a presupposition of a productive dia- 
logue between theology and the sciences. 

developed in close connection with philoso- 
phy, though the relationship was not with- 
out its complications and strains. In con- 
trast to this situation with the sciences, the 
relationship of theology to philosophy is not, 
in the first place, a matter of philosophical 
origins of a particular terminology. Rather, 
it is a task of integrating into theology and 
its explication of the relation of the God the 
creator and redeemer of the world and hu- 
manity, the philosophical language about 
God, the world and the place of human be- 
ings in it. Such integration of philosophical 
theses and conceptions into Christian theol- 
ogy always meant a more or less incisive 
transformation of the philosophical mean- 
ing, and occasional tensions between theol- 
ogy and philosophy in the course of history 
often arose from such attempts at appropria- 

tion. Theology, however, in affirming the 
abiding truth of the biblical God and of di- 
vine revelation as concerning every human 
being, always depended, and will continue 
to depend, on the rational universality of 
philosophy. Therefore, it had to assimilate 
into itself not only the philosophical doc- 
trines of God, but also the philosophical 
affirmations about the world and human be- 
ings. At this point, it finally becomes ap- 
parent just how important the relationship 
to the philosophical interpretation of the 
world becomes, as the basis of a dialogue 
between the sciences and Christian theology. 
The inclusion of scientific considerations 
and results into a reflection upon how to 
! perceive of reality at 
large — and of the situ- 
ation of human beings 
in the world — is not 
the first and sole sub- 
ject of a theological 
doctrine of creation. 
That has always be- 
longed to the philo- 
sophical interpretation 
of the world. In its 
task of critical appro- 
priation and assimila- 
tion of the philosophical view of the world, 
theology always dealt implicitly with the 
knowledge of nature given through science. 
However, the theological transformation of 
philosophical concepts of the world has to 
be evaluated just as philosophical hypotheses 
themselves are — namely, by their ability to 
do justice to scientific views and results. 

Unfortunately, the task of the philoso- 
phy of nature and of its integrative reflec- 
tion of scientific descriptions of nature is 
now neglected by most philosophers. The 
resulting gap is often filled by natural scien- 
tists, who, from the perspective of their re- 
spective discipline, offer generalized philo- 
sophical reflections and conjectures concern- 
ing the world at large. In this connection, 
however, the horizon of philosophical prob- 
lems connected with the respective subject 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

matters and the history of those philosophi- 
cal problems is often not appropriately con- 
sidered. It these cases, it becomes the task 
of theologians to be in dialogue with natural 
scientists, to remind them of the philosophi- 
cal problems involved in the subject matter 
of such dialogues, and to argue, within such 
a framework, for the specifically theologi- 
cal concerns. 

The purpose of the rest of this paper is 
to exemplify what has been said so far in 
general terms concerning the dialogue be- 
tween theology and science, in relation to a 
number of specific issues that appear to me 
as particularly important for such a dialogue, 
because they are important in the founda- 
tion of any interpretation of the world. In 
the first place, some reflections on the con- 
cept of law seem to be appropriate, and this 
in relation to the correlate of law in what is 
contingently given. The correlation of these 
two aspects in describing natural processes 
can be shown in the concept of natural law 
itself, but this also offers the opportunity for 
Christian theology to relate the specifically 
biblical understanding of reality to the de- 

If there was a point on which modern 
philosophical theology was in unanimous 
agreement with the earlier scholastic 
teaching about God, it was the affirma- 
tion that God cannot be a body. 

scription of nature by laws and formulas. A 
second consideration shall focus on the ideas 
of space and time, which are not only basic 
in science, but also important in theological 
affirmations on God's relationship to the 
world. A third question will deal with the 
relationship of affirmations about God and 
divine activity to the motion of bodies, their 
development and decay. This is the classi- 
cal theme of scientific descriptions of na- 
ture in the framework given by the ideas of 

space and time. A clarification of how the 
idea of God relates to space and time, there- 
fore, may have consequences for an under- 
standing of created existence and movement 
within space and time in their relationship 
to God. In this connection finally certain 
conclusions will arise in relation to the con- 
cept of evolution, but not only with respect 
to the evolution of organic life, but also to 
its setting in the history of the universe. 

The concept of nature's laws 

In 1970. 1 wrote an article called "'Con- 
tingency and Natural Law." The topic had 
been under close discussion for a number of 
years in a circle of physicists and theologians 
in Heidelberg, Germany, and my ideas had 
undergone considerable modification as a re- 
sult of these discussions. The subject was 
interesting from the theological perspective, 
because the Biblical reports on God's action 
in history emphasize the element of the new 
and unexpected in divine actions, an empha- 
sis that also characterizes the action of God 
in the creation of the world. The history of 
God's action constitutes a unique and irre- 
versible sequence of such contingent acts. 
The concept of contingency 
that is used to characterize 
divine action in history has 
its philosophical origin in 
Aristotle. There it refers to 
what occurs by chance and 
to what is non-essential but 
possible, in contrast to what 
is necessary. In Aristotle, 
however, contingency was 
connected with the concept of matter; while 
medieval Christian Aristotelianism, espe- 
cially since Duns Scotus, connected it with 
God's freedom of will and action. 

The concept of natural law, on the other 
hand, is logically related to conditions of its 
application that are contingent in relation to 
the formula of law as such, to initial condi- 
tions, and to marginal conditions of the pro- 
cesses described by a formula of law. Those 
initial and marginal conditions can them- 

The Boston Theological Institute 


selves result from processes that, in their 
turn, may be described by formulas of law. 
This does not change the basic fact, how- 
ever, that each such description again pre- 
supposes contingent conditions of its appli- 
cation, with the effect that laws of nature may 
be conceived as descriptions of certain uni- 
formities in natural processes that occur in 
what is, basically, contingently given. This 
implies the assumption that all events are 
contingent in the first place, even when the 
sequence of events shows similarities or 
uniform structures. 

This consequence appeared to the natu- 
ral scientists participating in the above-men- 
tioned discussions at Heidelberg in the 1960s 
as rather problematic, although such an as- 
sumption is also suggested by the irrevers- 
ibility of time. In the meantime, the contin- 
gency of events, in distinction from contin- 
gency in a merely logical sense, seems to be 
generally accepted, in view of the fact that 
many natural processes take place in cha- 
otic forms. The contingency of events can 
be affirmed especially with relation to the 
indeterminacy of elementary events in quan- 
tum physics, provided that account is taken 
of the fact that the same events, on account 
of the uniformities in their sequence, also 
become objects of descriptions in terms of 
natural law. The possibility of such descrip- 
tion, on the other hand, does not eliminate 
the fundamental contingency of events; 
rather, the regularities that can be observed 
in contingent sequences of events and that 
can be described by hypotheses are them- 
selves contingent facts. But, while theologi- 
cal affirmations concerning the reality of cre- 
ated existence and the action of God in cre- 
ation are primarily related to this aspect of 
contingency in natural processes, a scientific 
description of these natural processes is pri- 
marily concerned with the demonstration of 
regularities in those processes. However, the 
dependence on something contingently given 
is a precondition in the applicability of the 
concept of law itself. 

To those involved in the Heidelberg dis- 
cussions, a common basis for the dialogue 
between theology and nature seemed to 
emerge from the clarification of the correla- 
tion between natural law and contingency, a 
common basis beyond vague analogies and 
metaphors transferred from one discipline to 
the other. Nevertheless, the agreement on the 
correlation of natural law and contingency did 
not open access to a more concrete under- 
standing of nature in theological perspective. 
In order to find the key to that access, a theo- 
logical approach had to be developed to fun- 
damental concepts of physics, such as energy 
or force or movement, as well as to their pre- 
supposition in ideas about space and time. 

The concepts of space and time 

In the early eighteenth century, a philo- 
sophical dispute concerning the concept of 
space took place in which theological im- 
plications played a decisive role. Even to- 
day, the correspondence between Leibniz 
and Samuel Clarke 3 on Newton's descrip- 
tion of space as sensorium Dei in his Opticks 
holds more than merely historical interest. 
Certainly, Newton's concept of absolute 
space has become obsolete since Einstein's 
theory of relativity, but Newton's thought 
about space and about God's relation to 
space was very complex. It is worthwhile 
to take a closer look, in order to find out just 
how many of these ideas have become ob- 
solete and how many have not. The con- 
ceptions of absolute direction in space and 
of absolute dimensions of objects in space 
are certainly no longer valid. But Newton's 
and Clarke's ideas about God's relation to 
space contain another insight that is still 
important. Clarke defended Newton's attri- 
bution of the concept of space to the idea of 
God against Leibniz' objection that God, in 
such a case, would be divisible and com- 
posed of parts. Clarke's main argument was 
that all division in space already presupposes 
space, because division can only take place 
within space. The space that is presupposed 
in all spatial division is infinite and undi- 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange , 1998 

vided; and it is this infinite space, not geo- 
metrical space, composed of pails, that is 
said to be identical with the divine immen- 
sity that enables God to be present to every 
creature at its own place. This argument was 
reproduced by Kant in his Critique of Pure 
Reason in 1781. According to Kant, the in- 
tuition of space as an infinite whole is pre- 
supposed in any conception of determinate 
spaces. 4 Kant stopped exploring the theo- 
logical implications of this idea, because he 
conceived of space as a merely subjective 
form of human intuition. As soon as one 
wonders about this subjectivism, however, 
as did Samuel Alexander in this century, then 
the theological implications of the priority 
of infinite and undivided space in relation 
to every determinate concept of spaces re- 
emerges before one's eyes. The point of this 
argument is that the infinite space that is pre- 
supposed in each division of space is neces- 
sarily undivided, in contrast to all geometri- 
cal conceptions of space. 

Geometrical concepts of space are con- 
structed on the basis of units of measure- 
ment: each geometrical unit of measurement 
is itself a unit of space, the concept of which 
presupposes the undi- 
vided whole of infinite 
space. That, however, is 
an infinity that is not to be 
conceived the same way 
as in geometry — by in- 
definitely repeated addi- 
tion of units of measure- 
ment — but an infinity that 
is prior to all division and. 
therefore, also prior to all 
forms of measurement. 
The mistake that Spinoza 
made in his conception of space as an at- 
tribute of divine substance consists in the fact 
that he did not distinguish infinite geometri- 
cal space from the infinite undivided space 
of the divine immensity — which is presup- 
posed in every geometry. If this distinction 
is considered, then no pantheistic conse- 
quences result from such a close connection 

between God and space, consequences that 
Leibniz seems to have suspected in Newton's 
thought. The transition from the undivided 
space of divine immensity to the space of 
our experience that knows of parts and places 
can be considered, then, a consequence of 
the occurrence of finite objects and their re- 
lations to each other. In such a way one can 
also do justice to the relativity of spatial re- 
lations, with regard to the masses moving in 
space. Each type of space that consists of 
parts presupposes, as Kant emphasized, 
some undivided whole of space, because di- 
visions and parts are only possible within 
some space that is already there and. there- 
fore, prior to geometrical conceptions of 
space. The ideas about divine immensity and 
God's omnipresence with every creature can 
be referred to this presupposition of undi- 
vided space, as Newton and Clarke did, with- 
out violating the divine transcendence over 
the world. This contrasts with Spinoza's 
conceptualization, which Einstein felt sym- 
pathetic with, by the way. but which did not 
distinguish between the undivided infinite 
space of divine omnipresence and the space 
of geometry. 

One of the most renowned historians of 
science in our century, Max Jammer, 
who investigated the history of a number 
of key concepts of physics, considers the 
pneuma concepts of classical antiquity 
as predecessors of the field concepts of 
modern physics. 

The relationship between God's eternity 
and time is largely analogous to that between 
God's immensity and space. Kant's treat- 
ment of time in his transcendental aesthet- 
ics corresponded closely to his treatment of 
the idea of space. In both cases, an infinite 
and undivided whole is considered the pre- 
condition of all division and of all concep- 

The Boston Theological Institute 


tions of parts. With reference to time this 
means, "Different times are but pails of one 
and the same time" 5 The undivided whole 
of time, or, rather, the whole of life that ap- 
pears divided in the sequence of time, has 
been termed 'eternity' in the philosophical 
and theological tradition, ever since the trea- 
tise on time by Plotinus (3rd century c.e.) in 
his Enneads. Eternity. Plotinus says, is ulti- 
mate completion without parts or division 
of what occurs in divided form in the se- 
quence of time. 6 Boethius (d. 524 c.e.), who 
transmitted this definition to later genera- 
tions, called eternity the simultaneous and 
complete presence of unlimited life. 7 Eter- 
nity, then, is not atemporal or timeless in the 
sense that eternity and time were completely 
foreign to each other. Rather, according to 
Plotinus, time is constituted by eternity, be- 
cause the transition from one temporal mo- 
ment to the next is understandable only if 
we presuppose some presence of the whole 
that is separated in the sequence of tempo- 
ral moments even within that separation — 
in other words, a presence of eternity in the 
course of time itself. The same idea is ex- 
pressed in Kant's sentence: different times 
are just parts of one and the same time. 
However, Kant did not view time as consti- 
tuted by the presence of eternity; but, in anal- 
ogy to his conception of space, he thought 
time to be constituted on the subject of ex- 
perience — more precisely, on the "standing 
and persisting" human ego, which, as per- 
sisting through time, according to Kant, 
forms the basis of the unity of all human 
experience. 8 In view of the temporality of 
the ego itself, however, which we are aware 
of in our self-consciousness, Kant's attempt 
of accounting for the unity of time on the 
basis of the unity of the subject may seem to 
be considerably more problematic than 
Plotinus' foundation of time on the concept 
of eternity. 

From a theological perspective of na- 
ture, then, God's eternity is present in time, 
more specifically, as origin and completion 

of time and of all temporal reality: origin in 
the sense of conditioning the continuity of 
what occurs separately in the sequence of 
time; completion, however, because all tem- 
poral reality, according to Plotinus, tends to- 
ward the future, in order to realize the whole- 
ness of its being. It is through the future 
that eternity enters into time. 

With respect to time as well as to space, 
the result is that these ideas cannot be suc- 
cessfully defined on the basis of measure- 
ment by clocks or by spatial units of mea- 
surement. This may be a very important 
point in the dialogue between theology and 
science, because the scientific interest in 
time, as well as in spatial dimensions, is so 
closely connected with the possibility of 
measurement. The ideas of space and time, 
however, claim priority over those regard- 
ing measurement techniques. If this prior- 
ity is neglected, contradictions will be the 
inevitable consequence. This is so, because 
all units of measurement are themselves al- 
ready parts of time and space that have to be 
delimited within time and space from other 
such pails and, therefore, already presuppose 
time and space as such. 

Motion, force, and field 

Much more difficult than the question of 
the relationship of space and time to God's 
immensity and eternity is a clarification of 
God's relation to the forces working in the 
motions of nature. And yet, this is a decisive 
question for every biblically based doctrine 
of creation, because at this point the possibil- 
ity of God's action in creation is at stake, ac- 
tion not only in the beginning, but also in the 
entire process of the history of creation. It 
was at this point that, in the seventeenth and 
eighteenth century, the alienation between 
Christian theology and the scientific descrip- 
tion of nature began. The starting point of 
this alienation was the mechanistic interpre- 
tation of natural processes. Descartes inau- 
gurated it and it triumphed against Newton's 
intentions in the eighteenth century, when all 
natural force was reduced to bodies and to 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

their effects upon each other. This concep- 
tion necessarily excluded God from the un- 
derstanding of natural processes. If there was 
a point on which modern philosophical the- 
ology was in unanimous agreement with the 
earlier scholastic teaching about God, it was 
the affirmation that God cannot be a body. If 
all natural force resides in bodies, then any 
idea of an exercise of power on God's part 
and, resultantly, any assumption of divine 
action in the course of nature were a priori 
excluded. Thus, God was respectfully urged 
out of the natural world. 

When one duly considers the far-reach- 
ing consequences that the reduction of forces 
and motion to conceptions of bodies and 
masses had upon an atheistic picture of na- 
ture, one can also imagine the potential sig- 
nificance that Faraday's introduction of field 
concepts into the description of natural pro- 
cesses would have for a theological inter- 
pretation. This statement does not mean that 

Just as God's omnipresence is co-present 
to all things without falling prey to the 
relativistic paradoxes of simultaneity — 
since God's omnipresence is not depen- 
dent on the velocity of light — in a similar 
way, the field effects of divine omnipres- 
ence are not in need of being transmitted 
by waves. 

the demonstration of the efficacy of electric 
and magnetic fields could immediately be 
used as a model to conceive of God's effi- 
cacy in nature. But although field effects 
usually have their correlate in masses, Fara- 
day had already entertained a vision of fi- 
nally interpreting all bodily phenomena as 
manifestations of fields. A vision like that 
was close to Newton's own vision that the 
forces of natural movement are, in the end, 
not material, as they do not issue from bod- 
ies. Rather, Newton conceived of God's ef- 

ficacy in the universe in analogy to how the 
human spirit moves the parts of the body. 

An introduction of the field concept into 
theology is not. however, suggested prima- 
rily by the question of how to understand 
God's activity in nature; but it is suggested 
first by internal problems in the doctrine of 
God. The designation of the divine being as 
"spirit" in the Gospel of John 1 ' has been in- 
terpreted since Origen in the sense that God 
is nous, a bodiless spiritual intellect. But 
this Platonizing interpretation does not cor- 
respond to the original meaning of the bibli- 
cal word pneuma, nor to the corresponding 
Hebrew word ruah. In both cases, the root 
meaning is moved air. breath, even wind. In 
Greek thought, the word pneuma, which is 
usually translated by "spirit," was used in 
the sense of air in motion, as in breath or 
wind. This applies to the pre-Socratic phi- 
losophers, especially to Anaximenes, but 
also and particularly to the Stoics. Accord- 
ing to Stoic doctrine, air. as 
the most subtle element, 
penetrates everything and 
holds the entire cosmos to- 
gether through its particu- 
lar "tension" (tonos). Early 
Christian theologians be- 
fore the third century un- 
derstood the New Testa- 
ment identification of God 
as pneuma in similar ways. 
Now. one of the most re- 
nowned historians of sci- 
ence in our century. Max 
Jammer, who investigated the history of a 
number of key concepts of physics, consid- 
ers the pneuma concepts of classical antiq- 
uity as predecessors of the field concepts of 
modern physics. Indeed, the intuitive idea 
of a field of power comes to paradigmatic 
expression in "a state of tension in the air." 
Modern field concepts, however, differ 
in an important aspect from the conceptions 
of pneuma in classical antiquity: field ef- 
fects do not require a material medium like 
air or "ether" — though in the nineteenth cen- 

The Boston Theological Institute 


tury, an ether was still assumed. Field ef- 
fects can pervade space without such a me- 
dium. The materialism of the Stoic doctrine 
of pneuma as air, however, in the sense of a 
most subtle element that penetrates every- 
thing else, formed the main reason for 
Origen's rejection of this conception in in- 
terpreting the Johannine characterization of 
God as spirit. The absurdities of a concep- 
tion of God as body — as divisible and com- 
posed of parts — formed the negative reason 
for interpreting pneuma in terms of nous, and 
thus for conceiving of God in the image of a 
bodiless intellect. It is now evident that this 
conception does not correspond to the root 
meaning of pneuma. At this point, the field 
concept that replaces the pneuma doctrines 
of classical antiquity can become helpful in 
theology, because it allows the root mean- 
ing of pneuma to be distinguished from the 
concept of a material basis, ether, or medium. 
If the divine reality is conceived in terms of 
a field that manifests itself in the three "per- 
sons" of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then 
justice is done to Origen's objections against 
any conception of God as body, while pre- 
serving the genuine meaning of pneuma. 

Is such a theological use of the field 
concept a mere metaphor? At first glance, it 
may look like that. But one should not over- 
look that the fundamental requirement has 
been met for the application of the concept 
of field to theology, namely, the relationship 
to time and space — though in the sense of 
what has been said about the undivided infi- 
nite space of divine immensity, presupposed 
in all geometrical description of space, and 
about the undivided unity of time in God's 
eternity as the condition of all temporal se- 
quence. The interpretation of the pneumatic 
particularity of God's being as field can be 
accounted for by relating it to the undivided 
wholeness of time and space prior to all geo- 
metrical description. By the same reason, it 
is distinguished from the field concepts of 
physics, but would function as a condition 
of those by analogy to what had to be said 
concerning space and time. The field of di- 

vine omnipotence, then, does not compete 
with concrete physical fields, but its activ- 
ity works through all the natural forces with- 
out being exhausted by them. Just as God's 
omnipresence is co-present to all things with- 
out falling prey to the relativistic paradoxes 
of simultaneity — since God's omnipresence 
is not dependent on the velocity of light — in 
a similar way, the field effects of divine om- 
nipresence are not in need of being trans- 
mitted by waves. The concept of waves, 
though important in the field notions of clas- 
sical physics and especially as a basis for 
quantitative descriptions of field effects, may 
not be constitutive of the field concept as 
such, even though that concept would be 
empty without being related to time and 
space. If the concept of field in the strict 
sense can be conceived of without the idea 
of expanding through waves, then types of 
non-local, instantaneous communication 
between physical phenomena can also be 
conceived of in terms of field effects. 

In the framework of this paper, it is not 
possible to apply what has been said thus 
far to a theological interpretation of the world 
of creatures, according to the sequence of 
their emergence in the history of the uni- 
verse. A sketch of such an interpretation has 
been published in the context of my treat- 
ment of the doctrine of creation in the sec- 
ond volume of my Systematic Theology. In 
the dialogue between theology and science, 
however, it is even more important to reach 
agreement about the foundations of interpre- 
tations of such a type. This much may be 
said here: the key for perceiving the inter- 
connection of eternity and time lies with the 
relevance of the future in understanding ev- 
erything existing in time. It is through the 
future that eternity enters into time. Ever 
new contingent events proceed from the fu- 
ture, and, on the other hand, everything ex- 
isting in time can expect from the future only 
the possible wholeness of its life. All things 
proceed towards the kingdom of God, whose 
sovereignty is already at work by entering 
from God's future into the presence of all 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

creatures. From the point of view of the crea- 
tures, this relationship gets reversed: the 
future becomes the direction of extrapola- 
tions from the present and from whatever is 
known from the past. That is also true in the 
history of the universe. Mythical interpre- 
tation of the world looks at the order of the 
universe as founded in its beginning. Even 
the biblical report of creation, though no 
longer a myth in its literal form, exemplifies 
this way of looking at the world. The image 
of the foundation of all creaturely forms in a 
first week of seven days is in a certain ten- 
sion, however, to the perspective otherwise 
characteristic for the biblical understanding 
of reality, the perspective of ever new ac- 
tions of God in history toward the future 
completion of creation. The idea of an or- 
der of creation, complete in the beginning 
and not significantly changed in subsequent 
time, made agreement between theologians 
and scientists difficult for a long period, es- 
pecially during the struggle about the doc- 
trine of evolution. Much more important, 
however, in view of a possible consonance 
between a theology of creation and natural 
science, is that the evolution of life occurs 
within an irreversible process, where again 
and again contingencies occur. 

It is similar with the history of the uni- 
verse. With regard to the origin and evolu- 
tion of life, as well as in the field of cosmol- 
ogy, the ideological barriers between the 
scientific description of the world and the 
interpretation of the same world in Chris- 
tian theology broke down. One would be 
asking too much if scientific cosmology 
were expected to produce a demonstration 
of the existence of God right away, as Pope 
Pius XII believed at the time of the first en- 
thusiasm about the present standard model 
of the expanding universe. It is sufficient 
that theological interpretation of the history 
of the universe in terms of creation can be 
developed in consonance with scientific data 
and procedures. To this end, it is necessary 
that the theological doctrine of creation re- 
main able to learn, not in the sense of adapt- 

ing itself apologetically to every change of 
the scientific description of nature, but in the 
sense that theology remains vigorous enough 
to keep developing, from its own resources, 
new interpretations that try to do justice to a 
changing state of experiential knowledge of 
our world, in order to integrate it into the 
Christian understanding of the cosmos as be- 
ing created by the God of the Bible. 

Works cited: 

Alexander. Samuel. Basis of Realism. 

London: Oxford University Press, 1914. 
. Space, Time and Deify: The 

Giffoni Lectures at Glasgow, 1916. 

London: Macmillan. 1920. 
Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics. 4 vols, 

ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance. 

Tr. G. T. Thomson et al. Edinburgh: T. 

&. T.Clark. 1936-69. 
The Bible. New Revised Standard 

Version. Copyright 1991, 1994 by 

Oxford University Press. 
Boethius. The Consolation of Philosophy. 

Tr. Richard Green. Indianapolis: 

Bobbs-Merrill. 1962. 
Clarke. Samuel. The Leibniz-Clarke 

Correspondence, together with extracts 

from Newton's Principia and Opticks. 

Ed. H. G. Alexander. Manchester: 

Manchester University Press, 1956. 
Gore, Charles, ed. Lux Munch: A Series of 

Studies on the Religion of the Incarna- 
tion. London: J. Murray, 1889. 
Heim. Karl. Christian Faith and Natural 

Science. Trans. N. Horton Smith. New 

York: Harper, 1953. 
Jammer, Max. "Kraft." Historisches 

Worterbuch der Philosophic Joachim 

Ritter. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche 

Buchgeselschaft, 1971- . IV. 1178f. 
Kant, Immanuel. Kritik der reinen 

Vernunft. Riga: Verlegts Johann 

Friedrich Hartknoch. 1781. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Newton. Opticks, or, A treatise of the 
reflexions, refractions, inflexions and 
colours of light. London, 1704. 

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Systematic Theol- 
ogy. 3 vols. Tr. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. 
Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 

Plotinus. The Enneads. Tr. Stephen 
McKenna. New York: Burdett, 1992. 

Tipler, Frank J. The Physics of Immortal- 
ity: Modern Cosmology, God and the 
Resurrection of the Dead. New York: 
Doubleday, 1994. 


l.Barth, III/l. 

2. Gen. 8:22. 

3. Clarke. 

4. Kant, A 24f. 

5. Ibid., A 31. 

6. Plotinus, III.7. 11. 

7. "Interminabilis vitae tota simul et 
perfecto possession Boethius, V.6.4. 

8. Kant, A 123. 

9. John 4:24. 

Wolfhart Pannenberg is Professor of Systematic Theology on the Protestant Theo- 
logical Faculty at the University of Munich, and one of the foremost theologians of 
the twentieth century. In addition to his three-volume Systematic Theology 
(Eerdmans, 1991-98), his other recent books include Toward a Theology of Nature: 
Essays on Science and Faith (Westminster/John Knox, 1993), Metaphysics and the 
Idea of God (Eerdmans, 1990), and Christianity in a Secularized World (Crossroads, 

This talk was presented at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in May 1994, 
as part of the Lecture Series of the Center for Faith and Science Exchange. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

Cog and the Creativity of God 

Peter Heltzel 

The construction of a humanoid robot may be within reach. The science of artificial 
intelligence (AI) offers new understandings to contemporary Christian theology. First of 
all, the emerging field of embodied intelligence discloses the wholeness of the human being, 
correcting the tendency in Christian theology toward an anthropological dualism of body 
and soul. Secondly, artificial intelligence offers fresh understandings of the human mind, 
with implications for how human creativity reflects the creativity of God. 

Can you imagine having a witty con- 
versation with your own personal robot, 
similar in construction to C3PO from the 
film Star Wars, while he takes care of your 
laundry, dishes and waste disposal? By con- 
structing "small" machines and robots like 
C3PO, the artificial intelligence community 
hopes to improve the quality of human life. 
For example, the construction of a human- 
oid robot named Cog is currently underway 
at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at 
MIT. When the possibility of "artificial hu- 
manity" is considered, it seems that "natu- 
ral humanity" has reached a new height of 
creative power.' What is the source of the 
human creativity that makes the construc- 
tion of a robot possible? Is it simply evolu- 
tionary development, or does human creativ- 
ity have its source in something that tran- 
scends human life? What kind of deity, if 
any, is implied in the creation of artificial 

Artificial intelligence (AI) sheds signifi- 
cant light on contemporary Christian theol- 
ogy.- This programmatic essay asserts three 
primary hypotheses. First, the attribute of 
human creativity is clearly illustrated in AFs 
attempt to construct a humanoid robot. Sec- 
ondly, the creativity expressed in AI points 

to a creative transcendent being. The cre- 
ative actions of the God of Christianity will 
be employed as a case study to put forward 
one explanation for the existence of human 
creativity. Thirdly. AI, like all human cre- 
ations, is an example of humans being "cre- 
ated co-creators" with God; as such, it can 
be used for good or evil. 

Artificial intelligence is a scientific dis- 
cipline that studies all facets of the human 
mind. It culminates in the construction of 
useful artifacts based on human intelligence. 
Launched at a 1956 conference at Dartmouth 
College, conference as a systematic research 
program. AI is directed toward getting com- 
puters and robots to be "smart" and do 
"smart" things to assist humans in daily and 
vocational tasks. AI also employs comput- 
ers and robots to simulate activities of hu- 
man beings, so that the understanding of how 
humans work can be deepened. 3 AI is be- 
coming increasingly a reflexive science, con- 
stantly benefiting from a dialectic between 
computers and the human mind. 4 This sym- 
biosis allows for immense creativity through 
the development of many different engineer- 
ing applications, including robotics, vision 
systems, language systems, and circuit de- 
sign technology. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Cog, a humanoid robot 

A major advance in the creative human 
spirit is occurring at the MIT AI Lab in its 
current attempt to construct an artificial hu- 
man, something like the fictitious Lt. Com- 
mander Data of the television series. "Star 
Trek: The Next Generation." The construc- 
tion of such a robot, named Cog, testifies to 
the remarkable creativity of AI. Isaac 
Asimov's vision in his mid-century novel, /, 
Robot, about a positronie android brain with 
humanlike consciousness, is slowly becom- 
ing a reality. Margaret Boden argues that 
developments like the construction of Cog 
have increased the sense of wonder among 
scientists today, wonder over the possibility 
of representation, meaning and mind.' 1 One 
reason for the "wonder factor 7 " within AI is 
the fact that the human mind-and-body is a 
mysterious and complex frontier. In visual 
art. drawing and painting the human figure 
is the most difficult creative challenge; like- 
wise, in AI, building a humanoid robot is a 
formidable task. Although only the upper 
torso is complete on this fabricated human. 
Cog will be fully operational soon. 

The justification for Cog comes out of 
a new trend in AI toward embodied intelli- 
gence (contra Dreyfus).' 1 challenging the tra- 
ditional symbolic approach, which asserts 
that intelligence is ultimately abstract, for- 
mal symbol manipulation that is independent 
of the medium in which the symbols are 
embodied. 7 Rodney Brooks, on the other 
hand, sees humanlike embodiments as criti- 
cal to the development of humanlike intelli- 
gence. Embodied intelligence is a point of 
contact in the dialogue between AI and 
Christian theology, which affirms the psy- 
chosomatic unity of the human person/ The 
central premise behind embodied intelli- 
gence is that human consciousness is human 
because it is formed in a human, physical 
body. Although humanoid robots are not 
human, since they are not complex biologi- 
cal systems with a brain and central nervous 
system, James Sennett hypothesizes that they 
can still be thought of as persons (though 

not human persons) when they exhibit "self- 
consciousness" (e.g., in the ability to assess 
their own states)." 

During the past decade, AI has run into 
several roadblocks in constructing a human- 
oid robot. For example, in terms of the de- 
velopment of mind, emotions remain an 
enigma. In contrast to Cartesian rational- 
ism, recent neurological evidence suggests 
that emotions are not a luxury, but rather that 
they are essential for rational decision mak- 
ing. 11 ' Many studies are currently underway 
in cognitive robotics that attempt to model 
human emotion, further expressing creativ- 
ity in the lab. ' ' Every step of the way, teams 
of AI engineers must be creative as they in- 
tegrate new systems and abilities into Cog. 
The creative problem solving and sense of 
wonder in AI research is present in other re- 
search fields, but embodied AI's goal of 
building a humanlike robot, from the inside 
out, is a unique challenge. Where does this 
creativity point? 

Analogy and the image of God 

Jewish and Christian theologians are es- 
pecially interested in AI's attempt to build a 
humanoid robot because of their belief that 
humanity is created in the image of God 
(imago Dei). 12 The concept of imago Dei 
claims analogically that in some sense hu- 
manity "images" God. Analogies show simi- 
larity in difference. There is a fundamental 
difference between humans (and humanoid 
robots) and God — namely, the difference be- 
tween created and uncreated reality, the ma- 
terial and the immaterial. Medieval theolo- 
gian Thomas Aquinas wrote, "No term can 
be used of God in quite the same sense 
(univoce) as it is of other things." L3 Although 
analogies are limited, they can deepen the 
understanding of God. 

Analogy is also a central form of rea- 
soning within science, including AI. The 
central thesis of AI — that human mental ac- 
tivities are similar to the activities of a com- 
puter — is based on analogy. Instead of see- 
ing humans as made in the image of God, 
humans are viewed as machines. Such rea- 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

soiling is creatively employed by AI engi- 
neers daily as they try to build a robot analo- 
gous to humans. The ultimate success of AI's 
analogical approach depends on the adequacy 
of a mechanistic and functionalistic explana- 
tion of humanity. 14 Daniel Dennet has be- 
come one of the chief proponents of the func- 
tionalist view of human life. In Conscious- 
ness Explained Dennet argues that human 
consciousness can be explained comprehen- 
sively and decisively in purely material terms. 
Roger Penrose counters that human con- 
sciousness is beyond the algorithms of com- 
putational science. When human beings are 
said to be self-conscious, it means that there 
is such a thing as being human: human be- 
ings have subjectivity. The subjectivity of 
the human person is a stalling point for many 
modern theologians, including Wolfhart 
Pannenberg. 1? This theological approach is 
typically called "theological anthropology." 
It attempts to discover the theological sig- 
nificance of human self-consciousness as de- 
scribed by the natural and human sciences, 
which today includes AI. Creativity is one 
aspect of human consciousness and intelli- 

There is a significant sense in which 
the act of humans building humanoid 
robots mirrors God's creation of and 
continued interaction with humanity. 

The creativity of God is a sufficient ex- 
planation of the creativity of the human 
mind, but not a necessary one. There are 
alternative and competing theories that are 
equally viable, but these do not have to ex- 
clude a theist option. If Penrose is right in 
saying that a computational explanation of 
consciousness is inadequate, maybe another 
approach will succeed in explaining and con- 
structing humanlike consciousness. For ex- 
ample, the embodied approach employed in 
the Cog project, may eventually succeed in 

producing autonomous, self-conscious intel- 
ligence. If this end is accomplished, many 
naturalists will claim that this human attain- 
ment proves God's nonexistence. However, 
this would be only the second time that au- 
tonomous intelligence was created, the first 
being the creation of human intelligence. 

When one considers all of the intellec- 
tual capital — both in theory and infrastruc- 
ture — that has gone into developing science 
and technology throughout human history in 
order to place AI on the platform, possibly 
to create autonomous robots, it is an unlikely 
conclusion that this is an accident of cultural 
evolution. A great deal of time, planning, 
and cumulative collective human intelli- 
gence would have gone into the successful 
creation of an autonomous humanoid robot. 
Why not conclude that this deliberate, labo- 
rious process points to an even greater pre- 
existent intelligence? This essay will pro- 
ceed by correlating the human creation of 
robots with the divine creation of the world. 

The analogical argument 

The source of human creativity is co- 
herently explained by the paradigmatic bib- 
lical creation accounts. The 
creativity demonstrated in AI 
reflects the creativity of 
God. 1 " Creativity, which is a 
central part of human 
personhood. finds its source 
within God. the Creator of 
the universe, who continues 
creative activity throughout 
human history. The similarity in the anal- 
ogy is that humans building robots mirror 
God's creation of mankind. One difference 
is that humans were originally created per- 
fect (imago Dei), whereas cognitive robots 
will never be perfect because of human fal- 
lenness (imago humanitatis). Therefore, ro- 
bots made in the human image inherit both 
its beauty and its ugliness. Because human 
existence is divided between good and evil, 
AI (and all human endeavors) have the po- 
tential for good and evil. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


The second hypothesis of this essay, that 
the creativity expressed in AI points to a cre- 
ative transcendent being, is questioned by 
some scientists. For example, Karl Popper 
contends that theories should be, in principle, 
falsifiable. 17 Since the concept of the cre- 
ativity of God implies the existence of a de- 
ity, which is an unfalsifiable belief. Popper 
would claim the second hy- 
pothesis of this essay to be 
inadequate. However, 
Popper's positivist episte- 
mology has now been ques- 
tioned by many post- 
foundationalist philoso- 
phers, including Kuhn and 
Lakatos. It is the method- 
ological work of Imre 
Lakatos (via Nancey 
Murphy) which is especially 
helpful in getting around 
this roadblock to religious discourse. 18 

In contrast to Popper's concern with the 
falsifiability of theories, Lakatos emphasizes 
commitment to a certain "research program." 
He urges that attention be directed not to 
individual hypotheses and theoretical net- 
works at any one point in time, but to the 
development of research programs over a 
span of time, such as the Newtonian program 
to treat the universe as a mechanical system. 
The "hard core" of a program (like Newton's 
laws) is exempt from falsification so that 
positive possibilities can be explored. There- 
fore, this essay will proceed with the triune 
God of Christianity as the "hard core," while 
exploring the possibility of the Christian God 
being the source of human creativity exhib- 
ited in AI. This "gamble on transcendence," 
as George Steiner describes it, suggests that 
all human creative efforts imply the exist- 
ence of a God. It is the imago Dei that serves 
as the essential link between humanity and 
God in the biblical narratives. 

In the Old Testament, the image of God 
is mentioned directly in only three passages 
(Genesis 1:26-27; 5:1-3; 9:5-6). This essay 

emphasizes creativity as one way humans 
reflect God. The idea of humanity's creativ- 
ity being a reflection of God's own creativ- 
ity has a long poetic heritage. For example, 
British Romantic poet, Samuel Taylor 
Coleridge, asserts in his Biographia 
Literaria, that it is in the act of human cre- 
ation that the imago Dei is truly expressed. 2 " 

Source Analogy 


Target Analogy 



(imago Dei) 

(imago Dei) 

Humanoid Robot 
(imago humanitatis) 

Coleridge defined imagination as "the pri- 
mary Power and prime Agent of all human 
Perception, and as a repetition in the finite 
mind of the eternal act of creation in the in- 
finite I am." 21 Coleridge asserts, intuitively, 
that human creativity points to a creative 
transcendent being. 

Is this transcendent creativity an abstract 
principle or a personal God? Rejecting 
speculative metaphysics and focusing on 
human creativity, humanist theologian H. N. 
Wieman claims that God is "Creativity." 22 
The notion of person implicit in the Chris- 
tian doctrine of the Trinity (one essence and 
three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit) 
does not allow for a deity who is simply an 
abstract principle of creativity. The Chris- 
tian understanding of the triune God brings 
together human creativity and divine creativ- 
ity in the doctrine of creatio continua; since 
the initial creation of the world, God con- 
tinually and creatively sustains it. There is 
a significant sense in which the act of hu- 
mans building humanoid robots mirrors 
God's creation of and continued interaction 
with humanity. Furthermore, humans as ere- 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

ative agents have freedom to "co-create" 
with God, through making artifacts out of 
natural materials. 

The creative God 

Theologian Robert Neville argues that 
creation is the root doctrine of Christian the- 
ology and a paradigm for human creativity. 23 
Creation means the work of God in bring- 
ing into being, without the use of any preex- 
isting materials, everything that is. The bib- 
lical story affirms that God brought the 
whole world into existence, ex nihilo — out 
of nothing. 24 Although the initial creation 
was immediate, there has also been a medi- 
ate or derivative creation, God's subsequent 
work of developing and fashioning what was 
originally brought into existence. In Book 
12 of his Confessions, Augustine describes 
the subsequent origination of new entities 
fashioned from the previously created ma- 
terial that the Bible calls "formless and void" 
(Gen I:!). 25 From this invisible myriad of 

In these cases, humans are often part- 
ners with God in producing what comes 
to be, "imaging forth" artifacts as God 
did in creation. Thus, from this per- 
spective, God is involved in A I as engi- 
neers construct robotics out of various 
metals, circuits and chips. 

atoms, God continues, throughout the first 
chapter of Genesis, to fashion the universe 
by progressively bringing forth matter: God 
says, "Let the waters bring forth. . ." (vs 20), 
and "Let the earth bring forth. . ." (vs 24). 
Furthermore, the description of the forming 
of Adam specifies the use of some type of 
material — "dust from the ground" (2:7). 
According to Augustine's exegesis it may 
well be that what God did originally was 
merely to create from nothing, and then in 
subsequent creative activity, God fashioned 

everything from the atoms initially created. 
Therefore, the various species created at the 
later time would be just as much God's do- 
ing as was the origin of matter. 

If God does at least part of the creative 
work through immanent means, the origi- 
nation of the various later species through 
the laws of genetics — even recent hybrid va- 
rieties of roses, corn, cattle, and horses — is 
God's creative work. In these cases humans 
are often partners with God in producing 
what comes to be, "imaging forth" artifacts 
as God did in creation. Thus, from this per- 
spective, God is involved in AI as engineers 
construct robotics out of various metals, cir- 
cuits and chips. God's initial creation be- 
comes a paradigm for the ongoing creative 
process in the world. 

After sparse mention in the early twen- 
tieth century, the doctrine of creation has 
enjoyed a recent renaissance in Christian 
theology, related to contemporary environ- 
mental concerns. Earlier un- 
derstandings of creation em- 
phasized the initial act, and 
particularly the uniqueness 
of God's power to create ex 
nihilo. while human beings 
are always dependent on 
preexisting materials for 
their creative acts. More re- 
cent considerations of the 
doctrine of creation, how- 
ever, have emphasized the 
continuing creativity of 
God. emphasizing the simi- 
larity between divine and human creativity 
through the recognition that God, as do 
people, creates by rearranging preexisting 

This renaissance in the doctrine of cre- 
ation has been enriched by the contributions 
of theologians from a variety of perspec- 
tives. 26 The concept of creatio continue) 
makes three primary affirmations: (1) cre- 
ation is an ongoing process in which God is 
continuously active; (2) God is everywhere 
present, affecting the creation at every mo- 

The Boston Theological Institute 


ment and at every level of complexity; (3) 
the future of creation is open-ended.- 7 These 
affirmations show that God may be seen as 
one who accompanies the evolution of the 
cosmos, sustaining and influencing its de- 
velopment. 2 * If God is continuing to create 
new forms and new possibilities, what is 
humanity's role in this continuing creation? 

Co-creating in artificial intelligence: 
a concluding proposal 

Human work, especially technological 
innovation, may be seen as partnership with 
God in the continuing work of creation. 
Some have suggested the term "co-creation" 
to describe this role for humans. Karl Barth 
was leery of this term because it implied an 
unsubstantiated equality with God that has 
been articulated by some AI researchers. : " 
Philip Hefner's more nuanced version, "cre- 
ated co-creators," is more appropriate. 
Hefner writes, "the human being is God's 
created co-creator, whose purpose is the 
modifying and enabling of existing systems 
of nature so that they can participate in God's 
purposes." 3 " 

Through science, a greater comprehen- 
sion is gained of the natural processes 
through which God creates. For example, 
cognitive robotics is helping with the under- 
standing of the complex interaction of all the 
human systems that make for human con- 
sciousness. With a deeper understanding of 
these processes, human beings can partici- 
pate in the ongoing creativity of God. 31 From 
this perspective, science and technology 
serve God's ongoing creative work. 

When seen in this light, cognitive ro- 
botics is a new modality for divine agency, 
as are other forms of technology. This is 
not to take away from the high level of hu- 
man creative intelligence demonstrated in 
projects like the construction of Cog. Rather, 
this Christian concept of God goes beyond 
both deism and naturalism. Creatio continue! 
opens up the possibility that God continues 
to act creatively in sustaining the world. 

The concept of created co-creators im- 
plies that human beings actively take part in 
God's ongoing creativity. Thus, they also 
have responsibility for their creations. 
Frightening images of Frankenstein and 
golem loom large in the cultural imagina- 
tion of the West. AI can be applied for good 
or evil ends. Therefore, it is in the techno- 
logical assessment of AI that a dialogue be- 
tween science and religion can be helpful. 
AI challenges traditional Christian theolo- 
gians to resist the neo-Luddite impulse and 
critically embrace the changing world. On 
the other hand, Christian theology challenges 
AI researchers to think profoundly about the 
nature, responsibility and puipose of human- 
ity. Together, scientists and theologians can 
begin to discuss the plethora of pressing 
questions raised by this creative advance. 32 

Instead of subvening human creativity, 
the Christian concept of an active, personal. 
Creator God provides a compelling expla- 
nation for humanity's creative prowess. This 
dynamic view of the creative God as a spiri- 
tual explanation for the evolution of human 
creativity provides an alternative to Dennet's 
naturalistic explanation. Seen in this light, 
AI is a shadow box show of the continuing 
creativity of God. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

Works cited: 

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William Watts. Cambridge, Mass.: 
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Aquinas, Thomas. Against the Gentiles. 
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Damasio, A. Descartes' Error: Emotion, 
Reason, and the Human Brain. New 
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Davis, John J. "Quantum Indeterminacy 
and the Omniscience of God." Science 
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Dennet, Daniel. Consciousness Explained. 
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Foerst, Anne. "Artificial Intelligence: 
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(December 1996), 681-93. 

. "Cog, A Humanoid Robot, and the 

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University Press, 1970. 

LeDoux, J. The Emotional Brain. New 
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Lillegard. Norman. "No Good News for 
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Early Christian Thought. Trans. A. S. 
Worral. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 1995. 

Moltmann. Jurgen. God in Creation: A 
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of God. The Gifford Lectures 1984- 
1985. Trans. M. Kohl. San Francisco: 
Harper & Row. 

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bridge. Mass.: Harvard University Press, 

Murphy. Nancey. Theology in the Age of 
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University Press. 1990. 

Neville, Robert Cummings. Creativity and 
God. New York: The Seabury Press, 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Pannenberg, Woltliart. What is Man'.' 
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Fortress, 1970. 

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Consciousness. Oxford: Oxford Univer- 
sity Press, 1994. 

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and the Golem of Rehovot." Commen- 
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droid?" Cross Currents, 46:2 (Summer 
1996), 195-214. 

Stein, L. A. "Imagination as Situated 
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ment. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993. 

Velasquez, J. "Modeling Emotions and 
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1. The term "artificial humanity" is used 
by Rodney Brooks and others within the field 
of cognitive robotics (a subdiscipline within 
AD to indicate the goal of constructing an 
autonomous humanoid robot. 

2. The term "artificial intelligence" (AD 
will be employed throughout this paper to 
denote both the scientific discipline, as well 
as the community of scientists and engineers 
who carry out research in this field. 

3. Brooks and Stein. 

4. Cf. Wiener, pp. 1 Iff.; cf. Stein. 

5. Boden. 

6. Brooks and Steels; Foerst (1998), pp. 
99-102; cf. Dreyfus. 

7. For an explanation of the symbolic ap- 
proach see the discussion of "Good Old 
Fashioned AI (GOFAI)" in Haugeland. 

8. The classical Christian affirmation of 
embodied humanity (contra gnosticism) is 
reinforced by the doctrines of the incarna- 
tion of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of 
the dead. Cf. Tracy for a modern treatment 
of embodiment . 

9. Sennett, p. 197; cf. Lillegard. 

10. Damasio; LeDoux; Picard. 

1 1. Velasquez; Pfeifer. 

12. See Foerst (1998). 

13. Aquinas, 1.32. p. 143. 

14. Foerst (1996), p. 685. 

15. Pannenberg. 

16. On the warrants of analogy in theo- 
logical construction, see Tracy, pp. 405-445. 

17. Popper. 

18. Murphy. 

19. Scholem, pp. 63, 64; Sayers. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

20. Coleridge, part 13. 14. 

21. Coleridge, I, p. 199. 

22. Wieman. 

23. Neville. 

24. Gen. 1:1; cf. John 1:1-3; Rev. 4:11; 
Romans 4:17; May. 

25. Augustine. 2.12.1-17. pp. 289-328. 

26. E.g., Whiteheadian process theolo- 
gians (John Cobb and David Griffin), scien- 
tist-theologians (Arthur Peacocke and John 
Polkinghorne), and trinitarian theologians 
(Jurgen Moltmann and Thomas Torrance). 

27. The openness of the future, the third 
point, is the most theologically debatable of 
the three affirmations of creatio continua. 
The future is open in terms of the creative 
potential of human beings; however, the fu- 
ture of the cosmos is certain from an escha- 
tological standpoint. Limiting God's knowl- 
edge of the future is problematic for the tra- 
ditional understanding of the omniscience of 
God. For a defense of God's omniscience, 
focusing on the issue of quantum indeter- 
minacy, see Davis. 

28. Peacocke; Polkinghorne. 

29. Theologian Karl Barth argues that the 
primary continuing creative work of God is 
building the new creation, the Church. See 
Barth HI/ 1. 

30. Hefner, p. 212. 

31. The idea that humans can co-create 
does not mean that all human creative ac- 
tivities are divinely inspired. 

32. Pressing ethical and philosophical 
questions raised by AI remain for further dis- 
cussing: e.g.. How will these robots be 
used — for the benefit or destruction of hu- 
manity? Do robots have a soul? What moral 
and ethical properties do robots have? How 
will the existence of thinking machines that 
are smarter than humans affect human self- 
understanding? May the conversation con- 

Having received his M.Div. degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 
1998, the Reverend Peter Heltzel is now a doctoral student in theology at Boston 
University. He is a published author in the science-and-religion discourse. An or- 
dained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), he serves Park Street 
Church in Boston, Massachusetts, as a minister to college students. 

This essay, dedicated by the author "to three generations of Heltzel men: Robert 
Edgar, Samuel Bowen, and Robert Strader, " was awarded a First Prize. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


30 Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

No Time for Time: 
Trans-temporal Creation of a Time-bound Realm 

Troy Catterson 

The radical contingency of all scientific laws is now recognized, owing to new vistas 
opened by research in Quantum Field Theory, a contingency that implies the dependence of 
the structural parameters and developmental trajectories of the universe upon the creative 
power of God. This essay delineates a specific model of atemporal causation, which eluci- 
dates the relationship between a time-bound universe and a God who is beyond time. 

Classical theism engenders for itself an 
interesting and yet vexing conundrum: It 
posits a God that exists beyond time and the 
vicissitudes of change, and yet it is this God 
who must somehow 'act' to produce the 
whole spectacle full of sound and fury. The 
God who cannot change is the creator of all 
change. This is the problem of Aristotle's 
'unmoved mover.' 

Nonetheless, the modern theist who 
wants to take science and its methods seri- 
ously cannot take Aristotle's way out. God 
cannot play the role of the final cause of the 
cosmos, first of all, because this would con- 
strain God's influence upon creation to a nec- 
essary outworking of God's mere subsis- 
tence — God had no choice but to create — and 
secondly, because science in its physical in- 
carnation brooks no appeals to final causes. 

From the perspective of general relativ- 
ity, or even classical mechanics, the same 
problem appears in a different garb. Theists 
want to say that God is the creator of the 
entire spatiotemporal realm and its contents. 
But whatever could they mean by this locu- 
tion? They could mean that God is the cause 
of the existence of the universe. But, this 
will not do. Within these theories, causality 
is always articulated in terms of chrono-geo- 
metric relatedness. That is to say, two enti- 
ties or events are said to be causally related 

only if they can be placed on the same mani- 
fold. Since, by hypothesis. God is beyond 
this manifold, it would not make theoretical 
sense to speak of God as the 'cause' of any- 
thing within it, let alone the manifold itself. 
So classical scientific models of causality fail 
to be models of divine creativity. Instead, 
they serve to set in sharp relief the current 
lack of a theological model that satisfies the 
sentence, "God is the creator of the world." 
However, recent developments in Quan- 
tum Field Theory allow for a specific model 
of atemporal causation, which elucidates the 
relationship of a God who is beyond time to 
a time-bound world. These developments 
consist in the setting forth of various quan- 
tum models of cosmology. What is interest- 
ing about these models is the way in which 
they explicitly rely on the ontological effi- 
cacy of the mathematical formalism that 
underlies their construction. The emergence 
of such models seems to abet theists who 
espouse a logos-centered cosmogony, 
whereby God creates or determines the na- 
ture of reality by means of the defining struc- 
tures of rational or linguistic form.' It pro- 
vides them with a clear way of making sense 
of the sentence. "God creates the world 
through the power of God's word"; and it 
does so without submerging either the tem- 
poral or trans-temporal perspectives. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Of course, immediately pertinent is the 
question of how the construction of a coher- 
ent model of divine causality helps to learn 
anything about God. When one says that 
one has learned something concerning an 
object of inquiry, it usually means that one 
has come to know something about it. Mere 
consistency does not entail correspondence, 
and it is precisely this correspondence that 
is sought. In response, the 
question may be inverted: 
How, indeed, does one sup- 
pose to learn anything at all 
about the world without the 
mediation of some theoreti- 
cal model? 

Perhaps an example is 
in order. In trying to find 
out why a gas, released into 
one side of a sealed cham- 
ber, distributes itself evenly 
throughout the chamber, what is the first 
thing to do in order to begin answering this 
question? A causal mechanism is sought that 
explains this dispersion. But such a mecha- 
nism, by the nature of the case under con- 
sideration, would not involve observable 
entities. So the first thing is to formulate a 
model of a gas as an infinite ensemble of 
microscopic particles in constant motion and 
interaction with each other. Then, this model 
is utilized to construct a theory of the evolu- 
tion of the gas to a state of equilibrium that 
pictures the outcome of this process as a con- 
sequence of the motions and collisions of 
the constituents of this ensemble. 

It is only after the model is constructed 
and it has passed the tests of coherence and 
explanatory efficacy that one comes to the 
question of truth. Indeed, without the model 
the question cannot even get off the ground. 
One is left in a state of blissful bewilder- 
ment, musing over an apparent mystery of 
nature. The situation is the same in the case 
of learning about God's creative agency in 
and of the world. The development of a co- 
herent model of atemporal causation sets the 

stage for an inquiry that would have been 
inconceivable without it — a sort of groping 
around blindly for a way in which to ask the 
question meaningfully. Now the subject of 
veracity can be broached. 

Quantum cosmologies treat the universe 
and its evolution like the history of a sub- 
atomic particle and its change of state be- 
tween any two points in phase space. In so 

So classical scientific models of causal- 
ity fail to be models of divine creativity. 
Instead, they serve to set in sharp relief 
the current lack of a theological model 
that satisfies the sentence, "God is the 
creator of the world." 

doing they can ideally determine a unique 
state function for the universe. This func- 
tion assigns a probability for the appearance 
of a particular classical spacetime, namely 
this one. It is significant that the mecha- 
nism of causation brought into play here is 
not physical in the vulgar or intuitive sense. 
Instead, the existence of the state function is 
relied upon. This mathematical function 
occupies the role of the determinative as well 
as the descriptive factor in an explanation. 
And since the occurrence of a particular 
spacetime is to be solved for, the notion of 
determination or causality, in this context, 
cannot be time-dependent; it must 'tran- 
scend' the manifold it seeks to specify. 

John Wheeler's model of quantum origi- 
nation, in my opinion, combines the theo- 
retical insights of earlier theories utilizing 
path integrals. 2 However, before delving into 
the details of this formulation, it is neces- 
sary to achieve a rudimentary understand- 
ing of the path integral approach to quan- 
tum dynamics. When determining the clas- 
sical path of a particle between two points, 
the principle of least action is used. In a 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

one-dimensional illustration, where a par- 
ticle moves from a point A at an initial time 
t to a final point B at t (% . By fixing the end- 
points, a path between A and B is specified 
that satisfies two requirements: 1) the time 
required by the particle to travel from A to 
B along this path is less than that required 
by any alternative path arbitrarily close to 
the postulated path; and 2) the difference be- 
tween the total energy of the particle and its 
potential energy is a minimum along all 
points of the path. This is called the "path 
of least action." and the quantity that gives 
this path is called the Hamiltonian. Now this 
interest in the Hamiltonian as the value of 
the extremum path between point A and point 
B carries over completely into the quantum 
formulation — except, instead of the Hamil- 
tonian providing the actual path of the quan- 
tum particle, it becomes the value on which 
the determination of the probability ampli- 
tude of any possible path between the two 
points is uniquely dependent. 

In the path integral approach to calcu- 
lating the amplitude, the final amplitude is 
the summation of all possible paths whose 
amplitudes constructively or destructively 
interfere. The summation, however, is not 
strictly democratic. In fact the contribution 
of any particular path e is directly propor- 
tional to the Hamiltonian. Amplitudes that 
differ substantially from this value can be 
pictured as being completely, or at least 
nearly completely, out of phase with the clas- 
sical path. Hence, destructive interference 
cancels out its contribution to the final prob- 
ability distribution. This, of course, portends 
a positive contribution of the values of those 
paths that are most nearly in line with the 
classical path, which implies a stabilization 
of the amplitude peak around the vicinity of 
the classical path. But in order to achieve 
this result, which removes intractable infini- 
ties, the time variable must be rotated to 
imaginary values in the complex plane. This 
transforms the metric from a Lorentzian to 
a Euclidean path integral. 3 

Several alterations need to be made in 
this account, before it can be generalized to 
determine a state function for the history the 
universe. First of all, the usual state func- 
tion is time-dependent. That is to say, the 
evolution of state for a quantum particle is 
formulated as a function of a background 
space and time. Since the universal state 
function is supposed to calculate a probabil- 
ity amplitude associated with the obtaining 
of spacetime itself, the function has to be re- 
formulated in terms of certain internal pa- 
rameters that will serve analogous roles. The 
most common way to go about this is the uti- 
lization of an infinite dimension vector space 
called 'superspace.' Roughly speaking, this 
is a way to geometrize intuitions concerning 
certain complex physical quantities — quan- 
tities that are functions of multiple param- 
eters or conditions — by shrinking the coor- 
dinate systems through which they are rep- 
resented to individual points on superspace. 
By doing this, their relations with other quan- 
tities can be depicted geometrically. 

Implicit within the Hilbert derivation of 
general relativity are the basic principles that 
make up superspace. Add to this a quantum 
formulation for the determination of the ac- 
tion integral; only, instead of dealing with 
the paths of individual particles, the wave 
function is utilized to determine a sequence 
of spacelike surfaces of simultaneity in 
superspace. or a series of three dimensional 
surfaces between two bounded hypersur- 
faces. This can be accomplished because 
the infinite dimensionality of superspace al- 
lows each 3-geometry to be treated like a 
point. Using coordinate-free geometrical pa- 
rameters, state functions for each pointlike 
3-geometry are formulated that depend on 
what is fixed at the two endpoints: 

In the quantum analysis, however, these 
state functions constitute probability ampli- 
tudes. Hence, the 3-geometries with appre- 
ciable probability amplitudes are far more 

The Boston Theological Institute 


numerous than can be accommodated in any 
one integration between the two boundary 
points. This can be dealt with by treating 
any possible sequence of 3-geometries like 
a possible "path' between two endpoints. 
The amplitude to go from one boundary 
point to the other is the sum of the ampli- 
tudes for each interfering alternative path: 


¥( (3) g), 

" over all paths from a to b c 

where Y is a classical spacetime path be- 
tween two 3-geometries a and b. 

The amplitude for a given path has a 
phase proportional to the action, S/h/27l. 
where the value of S is given by the extremal 

If God extrinsically determines the character 
of every moment by means of some trans- 
temporal mode of action , and if these modes 
of action ensure the exact determination of 
everything that occurs at these space-like 
slices, then nothing in the spatiotemporal 
matrix is self-determined. There is no free- 
dom or contingency in any concrete sense. 

value of the action integral. Now, since the 
extremal is assumed to be the path of classi- 
cal action, the derivation of the classical 
spacetime is permitted to within arbitrary lim- 
its. In such a scenario, the action is very large 
compared to h. Therefore, neighboring paths 
have different actions which, because of the 
smallness of h, have very different phases. 
As a result, their contributions cancel each 
other out. Only in the vicinity of the classi- 
cal path, where the action changes little when 
the path varies, will neighboring paths con- 
tribute in the same phase and constructively 
interfere, thus magnifying the amplitude of 
the classical trajectory. 

However, there is a price to be paid for 
this type of fixing of successive 3-geom- 
etries. In doing this, the notion of a rate of 
change from one state to another must be 

discarded. In other words, the 3-geometry 
alone on an initial spacelike hypersurface 
may be determined to within arbitrarily nar- 
row limits. But the reciprocal uncertainty 
in the rate of change will then be directly 
proportional to the degree of specificity at- 
tached to the 3-geometry. Therefore, it 
would appear as if the superspace deriva- 
tion of a state function for the universe al- 
lows only limited validity to be attached to 
the notion of time. This limited validity does 
not imply the illusory nature of time. Rather, 
time must be redefined in such a way that 
two perspectives become equally necessary 
in any delineation of the nature of temporal 
process. Here is where 
the notion of an inter- 
nal time coordinate 
comes in handy: the 
notion of a change of 
state or spatial con- 
figuration is used to in- 
terpret directly what is 
meant by 'time coordi- 
nate' in the first place. 
In order to do this, a 
sequence of different 
state configurations 
; must be selected that 
are asymmetrically 
and linearly ordered, thus mirroring the or- 
dering of the time coordinate. Since what is 
desired is to specify a classical spacetime with 
a positive matter/energy density— i.e., a uni- 
verse like this one with a Robertson-Walker 
metric — the scale factor or the volume of the 
universe can serve this puipose rather well. 
To see how this works, picture a particle at 
point A at time 1. In order to express the fact 
that this particle changed position over a spe- 
cific interval of time, one must merely specify 
the change of position at a different volume 
of the background space. Specifying any- 
thing over and above this would be redun- 

This allows a view of time from two dif- 
ferent, and yet compatible, perspectives: 
from the perspective of the whole, and from 
the perspective of any particular member of 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange , 1998 

the temporal series. Of course, in fixing the 
whole of the sequence— say, by means of 
solving for the state function of this 
spacetime— there is neither before nor af- 
ter. The determination of the entire metric 
takes place outside of the temporal sequence, 
and yet is intimately related to every point 
within the sequence. So although the deter- 
mination is not temporally related to any 
point in the sequence, it is, nonetheless, caus- 
ally orconstitutively related. Now, why does 
this not do away with the notion of before 
and after? Precisely because the internal 
relatedness of each member in the series is 
just as real or fundamental as that of any 
other member. The fact that what is deter- 
mined is a linear asymmetrical ordering 
guarantees this. 

For those who hold that time is an open 
flow, indeterminate as to the fixing of future 
possibilities, this account cannot do justice 
to what intuition wants to say about time. 
To them, this openness to the future and its 
possibilities is the necessary element in any 
satisfactory account of contingency and, 
hence, freedom. So, it makes sense to ask 
how the fixity of all temporal moments can 
allow for contingency, 
and, thus, open the door 
for human freedom. There 
are two answers to this 
question, one logical, and 
the other culled from the 
treasuries of the quantum 
theory of origination, pres- 
ently being formulated. 
First of all, logical contin- 
gency does not depend on 
time. Consider a being 
that exists eternally, that is, 
at all points in time. Does the being's eter- 
nal existence imply that it exists necessar- 
ily? Certainly not! One cannot posit the 
being's existence at some point in time and 
then go about denying its existence at some 
other point in time. But a possible world can 
be constructed where it is true that this being 
exists at no point in time. There is no incon- 
sistency here— or if there is, it cannot result 

from the mere fact of the being's eternality. 
In other words, an eternal being can exist as 
a mere matter of fact. But then, contingency 
does not depend on being in time; something 
can be eternally fixed without being neces- 

Nevertheless, admitting this does not 
provide extrication from the original conun- 
drum. If God extrinsically determines the 
character of every moment by means of some 
trans-temporal mode of action, and if these 
modes of action ensure the exact determi- 
nation of everything that occurs at these 
spacelike slices, then nothing in the spa- 
tiotemporal matrix is self-determined. There 
is no freedom or contingency in any con- 
crete sense. 

However, quantum theories of origina- 
tion do not ensure the actuality of anything, 
even in their ideal form. They only provide 
a probability for the obtaining of a particu- 
lar spacetime. So, the problem has been 
shifted a bit. Now the question becomes: 
How can quantum laws of determination be 
taken as God's modes of creative action, 
when they seem to render God powerless to 
determine the outcome of anything? In view 

The problem has been shifted a bit Now 
the question becomes: How can quantum 
laws of determination be taken as God's 
modes of creative action when they seem to 
render God powerless to determine the 
outcome of anything? In view of this, it 
really seems as if God does * throw dice.' 

of this, it really seems as if God does "throw 
dice.' My contention is that the fault is not 
in the theory, but in ourselves— that is, in the 
interpretation of the notion of probability in 
this global context. In normal scientific 
contexts, assigning a probability to the oc- 
currence of a certain event may mean one 
of several things. It may mean to measure 
the subjective degree of confidence 

The Boston Theological Institute 


as to the certainty of a particular outcome. 
But this interpretation of probability seems 
to imply that, in fact, the outcome is deter- 
ministic, contrary to the results of the Aspect 
experiments, which seem to make quantum 
probabilities an objective feature of the physi- 
cal situation. 4 

A second way to interpret probability 
statements, and by far the most popular 
among physicists, is to take 
them as a measure of the 
frequency of the occurrence 
of a particular phenomenon. 
So in assigning a tossed 
coin a 0.5 probability of 
landing on heads, we really 
mean to say that if tossed 
ten times, it will land on 
heads five times. It is obvi- 
ous that this notion of prob- 
ability is time dependent. 
Thus, it cannot function as a model for the 
probability of a singular occurrence, and, a 
forteriori, it makes no sense in the atemporal 
case. The universe and its obtaining, by hy- 
pothesis, is not an occurrence; it cannot hap- 
pen a certain number of times. 

A third way is the statistical interpreta- 
tion, where there is an ensemble of actual 
worlds, a certain number of which are in- 
stances of classical spacetimes, like our own. 
But there cannot be any uncertainty in the 
obtaining of this particular spacetime, since, 
by hypothesis, every possible world is al- 
ready actual. Moreover, there is a problem 
with interpreting the path integral approach 
in this manner, as different worlds would 
need to be associated with interfering paths. 
If all of these paths are actual, the confluence 
of contradictory actualities would have to be 
postulated. Even the spacetime paths that 
differ only slightly and, hence, constructively 
interfere would still be incompatible in the 
details. Thus, either they could not inter- 
fere at all, or else those that do interact would 
have to be completely identical. Nor does 
interpreting probabilities as innate propen- 
sities help here, since it is not at all clear 
what would be meant by a tendency, apart 

from some measure of relative frequency. 

I believe that the only way to render 
coherent the notion of a numerical probabil- 
ity within the context of atemporal origina- 
tion is to interpret probability as relative in- 
formational specificity. It is already clear 
that the quantum evolution of a particle is 
completely compatible with intervals of 
completely deterministic evolution. 3 In other 

One can speak of the path integral as 
God's way of canceling out possibilities 
by means of creative informing. For 
example, fixing the boundaries ensures 
that an infinity of otherwise-possible 
alternative universes do not become 

words, the quantum system can be prepared 
in such a manner as to have a concrete eigen- 
value apart from any measurement of the 
system with respect to that quality. It is also 
the case that at the same time the particle 
can be in a state of coherence with respect 
to other eigenvalues. That is to say, it is con- 
sistent to view the system as a whole as em- 
bodying only a partial collapse of its wave 
function. In the same manner, one can speak 
of the path integral as God's way of cancel- 
ing out possibilities by means of creative 
informing. For example, fixing the bound- 
aries ensures that an infinity of otherwise- 
possible alternative universes do not become 
actual. The Euclidean rotation to the com- 
plex plane guarantees destructive interfer- 
ence among paths of completely different 
phases, and hence functions at an even 
greater level of specificity. 

The upshot is this: specificity of infor- 
mation cancels out possibilities, thereby en- 
gendering greater and greater degrees of ac- 
tuality. In many ways this formulation cap- 
tures what is meant by a state of affairs be- 
ing actual. Consider the case where I am 
building a house. Once I have laid the foun- 
dation, it will be actually the case that my 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

house occupies a certain position on the 
block. Thus, the objective embodiment of a 
specific set of information cancels out any 
other possible location, and. in so doing, pro- 
duces a concrete actuality. Of course, the 
house is not completely determined by the 
laying of the foundation. Degrees of actual- 
ity are measured by differing levels of ab- 
straction. A general fact concerning an 
individual's existence does not determine the 
specific identity of the individual, and the 
determination of the specific identity of the 
individual in question does not decide the 
precise state that this individual exists in. 
Complete actuality is obtained only when all 
possibilities with respect to every facet of 
an entity's being are excluded, with the ex- 
ception of one. Thus, the act of creation is 
equivalent to the stipulation of new patterns 
of information through God's intentional 
orchestration of God's own actuality. This 
is what is meant by God's creative decree. 
The uniquely ontological and effica- 
cious status of the formalism in quantum 
theories of origination was noted earlier. 
Hence, the intuitive dichotomy between 
physical matter and conceptual information 
or structure phases out at this level of dis- 
course. There is no problem with talking 
about God creating the world by means of 
canceling out possibilities through God's 
aboriginal actuality. Furthermore, the quan- 
tum picture of origination allows this God 
the ability to leave the universe open to a 
certain extent. God specifies the parameters 
of the world's development in such a way as 
to have these parameters converge on a cer- 
tain level of actuality, but this actuality is 
never so complete that it excludes the possi- 
bility of certain segments of the universe de- 
veloping through self-specification. Thus, to 
hearken back to the house-building analogy. 
God as the master builder has the preroga- 
tive to hire out subcontractors who contrib- 
ute to the erection of the finished product, 
called creation. There may be no "time" for 
time. But there certainly is a "place" for it. 

Works cited: 

Clauser, J. C. and A. Shimonly. "Bell's 
Theorem: experimental tests and 
implications." Reports on Progress in 
Physics, 41 (1978), 1881-1927. 

Feynman. A., and A. Hibbs. Quantum 
Mechanics and Path Integrals. New 
York: McGraw Hill. 1965. 

Hartle. J., and S. Hawking. 
"Wavefunction of the Universe." 
Physical Review, D28 (1983), 2960-75. 

Isham. C. J. "Quantum Theories of the 
Creation of the Universe." Quantum 
Cosmology and the Laws of Nature: 
Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action. 
Ed. Robert John Russell, Nancey 
Murphy, and C. J. Isham. Vatican City 
State: Vatican Observatory; and 
Berkeley: CTNS. 1993. 

Peacocke. Arthur. Creation and the World 
of Science. Oxford: Oxford University 
Press, 1979. 

Polkinghome. John. Science and Cre- 
ation. London: SPCK. 1994. 

Vilenkin. A. "Did the Universe have a 
Beginning?" Physical Review. D46 
(1992), 2355-61. 

Wheeler. John. "From Relativity to 

Mutability." The Physicist's Conception 
of Nature. Ed. J. Mehra. Dordrecht: 
Reidel, 1973. 


1. See, for example, Peacocke. 

2. Wheeler; Hartle and Hawking; 

3. See Feynman and Hibbs. 

4. See Clauser and Shimony. 

5. Isham , p. 86. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Troy Catterson is a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at Boston University, where he is 
doing work in the foundations of mathematics and the philosophy of logic. He re- 
cently received his M.A. in religious studies from B.U., in the Science, Philosophy 
and Religion Program. Originally from New York City, he received his bachelor's 
degree from the University of Hawaii, with a double major in Philosophy and Chi- 
nese Language and Literature. He then served as a Chinese interpreter in the 
This essay was awarded a Second Prize. 

38 Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

Theory of Evolution and Faith in Creation 
On the History of a Tense Relationship 

Karl Schmitz-Moormann 

This overview of the history of the idea of evolution includes the work of many European 
scholars often omitted from such accounts, particularly in the United States. It provides a 
case study in the origin of cultural tensions, owing to the attempts of some scientists and 
theologians, without sufficient interdisciplinary understanding, to undermine public confi- 
dence in each other's proper authority. 

In the ongoing fight concerning the con- 
cept of evolution as a description of the re- 
ality of the universe, a large number of mis- 
understandings remain as to what should be 
considered a part of evolution and what is 
just part of a special theory of evolution. 
Before turning to the history of the concept 
of evolution, it seems necessary, at least to 
me, to clarify that this concept is not neces- 
sarily linked with a definite theory of evolu- 
tion. Evolution in its general sense is nei- 
ther Lamarckian nor Darwinian (explana- 
tions below); rather, it is only a descriptive 
term stating that everything within the uni- 
verse has come forth through a process of 
becoming. Becoming in this context desig- 
nates not simply the process known in biol- 
ogy as ontogenesis: the transformation of 
the highly densified information contained 
in a zygote into a living being of the same 
kind, a process that does not produce any- 
thing really new. Evolution, on the contrary, 
means exactly this: the appearance of new 
realities that did not exist before a particular 
point in time, through a process of becom- 
ing. The concept of evolution in its most 
general meaning thus states that the more 
comes forth from the less. This applies not 
only to the history of becoming from the pro- 

tozoa to Homo sapiens, ' but to the history 
of science and knowing, as well. The his- 
tory of the idea of evolution is itself a good 
example of evolution. 

The development of the idea of evolu- 
tion is linked with the history of the concep- 
tion of becoming. In striving for continuity, 
for stability, for security, for eternity — as it 
was expressed in very early funeral rites — 
human beings resented the idea that becom- 
ing should be of fundamental importance. 
The Eastern philosophers solved the "prob- 
lem" of becoming by ascribing futility to all 
the outcomes of this process, declaring it to 
be Maya, just appearance. Only the return 
to the "eternal one." the divine whole or nir- 
vana, which absorbs all individuality, is nec- 
essary for a meaningful existence. Falling 
into the world of Maya and re-ascending to 
the true world of the "eternal one" are the 
two aspects of a cyclic process, in which be- 
coming is, at best, of secondary importance. 
Similar cyclic visions were developed in 
Taoism, e.g.. in the belief that all things 
"come from the originative process of Na- 
ture and return to the originative process of 
Nature." 2 Later on, the book of I Ching. 
which was written under Taoist influence, 
introduced the cyclic principle of yin and 

The Boston Theological Institute 


yang, both produced by the Great Original 
One. With this background, it is understand- 
able why modern Chinese thinking did not 
turn to Darwin and the idea of evolution. 
Their expository textbooks on the world of 
Western thought mention names like Spen- 
cer, Huxley, Kropotkin, Bergson and the pro- 
cess philosophers, 1 but not Darwin. 

In the Occident, the idea of evolution is 
at least implicitly contained within the 
cosmologies of the pre-Socratics. Thales 
(6th-7th century b.c.e.) had everything 
evolve out of the water. Anaximander (6th 
century b.c.e.) taught that the lineage that 
started with initial slime and led finally to 
the human being, had to pass, for example, 
through the stage of fishes. Xenophanes (6th 
century b.c.e.) recognized the fossils to be 
the remains of a once-living, but different, 
flora and fauna. The idea of a kind of gen- 
eral evolution out of prefabricated pails was 
developed by Empedocles (5th century 
b.c.e.). In his view, most accidental struc- 
tures were discarded because they were not 
viable; in other words, the viable ones were 
selected. The explanation of the appearance 
of living forms through chance and selec- 
tion is not, in fact, a very modern theory. 

When Pannenides (6th century b.c.e.), 
and in his footsteps Plato and Aristotle, made 
the idea of being the center of their meta- 
physics, this early start to thinking the world 
to be radically within the horizon of becom- 
ing was lost. To Aristotle — and with him 
the Middle Ages and modern times 4 — be- 
coming was essentially only the reconstitu- 
tion of a past state of matter. Becoming, in 
this worldview, is repetition — the reproduc- 
tion of something that has already existed. 
Within such a vision, everything is contained 
in the beginnings, and anything really new 
cannot come into being. Certainly, there 
were other attempts to go beyond the phi- 
losophers' principle of being, and to under- 
stand becoming in its property to produce 
really new forms of being. The atomists, 
known through the didactic poem De natura 
rerum by Titus Lucretius Carus (99-55 

b.c.e.), are the most prominent example. For 
Lucretius the human race originated in natu- 
ral processes, first by pure chance and se- 
lection. Its evolution started with primitives 
living in caves, passed through a culture of 
hunters and gatherers, produced civilization 
that mastered metallurgy, and finally reached 
the high culture of the Roman Golden Age. 
Lucretius had only minor influence on the 
thinking of the following centuries, which 
were dominated by neo-Platonism, by the 
Stoa, and later on by Aristotelianism. But 
often the fact is overlooked that there was a 
Lucretius-renaissance at the beginning of 
modern times, which spread the ideas of the 
atomists, mostly through clandestine 
groups. 5 

Among the Arabs, Avicenna (980-1037 
c.e.), whose influence on occidental think- 
ing is well known, presented the idea that 
the human race had its origins in an earlier 
form of animal. In considering Avicenna's 
mystical interpretation of the universe, a defi- 
nite theory of becoming should not be ex- 
pected. Picking up Plotinic ideas, he thought 
in terms of the emanation of the multiple 
from the one and the return of the multiple 
to the one. The ideas of Avicenna are remi- 
niscent as of Hindu cosmology, as well as of 
the speculations of Nicholas of Cusa or of 
Teilhard de Chardin, at least in consideration 
of the return of the multiple to the one.'' 

In the Christian world of the West, the 
biblical story of creation was taken to be an 
historical report on the appearance of the 
species. It is certainly not a mistake to sup- 
pose that this understanding of the text by 
the vast majority of thinking people was not 
very helpful in furthering the idea of evolu- 
tion. The experience of Galilei, who tried 
with insufficient proof to impose the helio- 
centric cosmos, shows how difficult it is to 
think in a way other than that of the vast ma- 
jority. As far as the cosmic time frame is 
concerned, scholars relied on the dates of the 
Bible. They calculated the movements of 
the stars, the planets, and the sun quite ex- 
actly for each day of this universe — though 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange >, 1998 

they evidently missed the fact that the uni- 
verse did not start on Day Zero, as calcu- 
lated. As late as 1852, the Oxford Univer- 
sity Press published a set of tables, indicat- 
ing the times of sunrise and sundown, start- 
ing with the sundown of Day One, 24 April 
of the year a.m., 7 or 4005 b.c.e. 

Given this very restricted time frame in 
the mind of most people of the time, it is 
surprising to find that Leonardo da Vinci 
( 1452-15 19), on the basis of his observations 
of Alpine marine fossils — which he recog- 
nized as such, started to reflect on the pro- 
cess of sedimentation, mineralization, and 
natural erosion. As a result of his specula- 
tions, he proposed a minimum age of 
200,000 years for the earth, a proposition 
some people might have considered highly 
dangerous. As a brilliant observer he also 
noticed the similarity between apes and men s 
— two hundred years before Linnaeus and 

The idea of a kind of general evolution 
out of prefabricated parts was developed 
by Empedocles. In his view, most acci- 
dental structures were discarded because 
they were not viable; in other words, the 
viable ones were selected. The explana- 
tion of the appearance of living forms 
through chance and selection is not, in 
fact, a very modern theory. 

Giordano Bruno (15487-1600), who 
was a very controversial man in his time, 
and who is today often celebrated as a "mar- 
tyr of science," believed in the eternity and 
infinity of the universe (the influence of 
Lucretius). According to Bruno, the spiri- 
tually endowed matter within the universe 
deployed itself creatively in its becoming. 
It is questionable whether his ideas can be 
said to be evolutionary, since his vision was 
strictly cyclical. At any rate, the time was 

not yet ripe for such an idea, even among 
the most prominent scientists. This becomes 
evident when turning to Carl Linnaeus 
(1707-1778) who, in 1735 and 1766, pub- 
lished the first comprehensive classification 
of the flora and the fauna since Aristotle. He 
introduced the system of binomial classifi- 
cation, which allowed every living being to 
be classified according to its genus and spe- 
cies — the same classification system still in 
use. though somewhat refined. Human be- 
ings were classified by Linnaeus among the 
primates as Homo sapiens. This has been 
refined to Homo sapiens sapiens to differ- 
entiate today's humanity from earlier hu- 
man forms. 

In the nineteenth century. Linnaeus' clas- 
sification became one of the principal argu- 
ments in favor of evolution, and it still is to- 
day. Linnaeus himself was absolutely alien 
to such an idea, convinced that his system 
described the species just as they sprang from 
the hand of God in the first 
days of creation. 

A French contemporary 
of Linnaeus, Pierre Louis 
Moreau de Maupertuis 
( 1698-1759). influenced by 
Lucretius, developed the 
idea of selection and chance 
changes, the same as chance 
mutations. Such chance 
changes might, through al- 
teration in environmental 
and geographical condi- 
tions, explain anatomical 
changes in a species, if 
enough time were allowed. He employed 
probability calculus to reason his theory of 
heredity in an empirical study of albinism 
and polydactylism. 1 ' Neither in its method 
nor in its theory has modern neo-Darwin- 
ism reached better models of explanation 
than that of Maupertuis. 

In his Histoive naturelle, Georges Louis 
Leclerc Comte de Buffon (1717-1788)."' 
another contemporary of Linnaeus, ex- 
plained that species do change and conse- 

The Boston Theological Institute 


quently bring forth new species. According 
to his view, all species may have evolved 
from a single species existing in the distant 
past. He found support for this hypothesis 
in the parallelism of organs and the involu- 
tion of organs. Buff on did not offer a theory 
of evolution — which in my opinion makes 
him superior to the neo-Darwinists — but this 
deficit was certainly not the reason for the 
condemnation of his doctrine by the theolo- 
gians of the Sorbonne. 

Button did not limit his ideas about evo- 
lution to the realm of living species. He 
linked the appearance of the planets with a 
solar event in which a big comet hit the liq- 
uid surface of the sun, flinging out into space 
a sort of matter-fog that contained the mass 
of the future planets. He constructed a his- 
tory of the earth that is very close to present 
ideas in geological dimensions. Based on 
the fossil layers, whose specificity was clear 
to him, he distinguished seven epochs, each 
of which was measured in millions of years. 
This, for the theologians of his time, was an 
absolutely unacceptable idea; only recall the 
time frames mentioned above. 

Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752- 
1840), while not explicitly a forerunner of 

Science has adopted a very ahistorical way 
of thinking: in its own short view of its 
past, it replaces historical truth by hagio- 
graphic stories. Most people have the 
impression that the notion of evolution did 
not really exist before Darwin. 

an evolutionary understanding of reality, 
made an important contribution that prepared 
the ground for it. He employed compara- 
tive anatomy to elaborate the morphologi- 
cal differences of geographically separated 
human populations. At the young age of 
twenty-three, he published his thesis, which 
is the starting point of physical anthropol- 

ogy as the science of the natural human 

In England, the successful physician and 
botanist Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802) had 
formulated clearly the question of the ori- 
gin of species and life. In his treatise, 
Zoonomia: or the Laws of Organic Life 
( 1796) he proposed the idea that all life de- 
veloped from one primordial filament exist- 
ing on the surface of the earth — an evolu- 
tion that had started many millions of years 
in the past and was not yet finished. Erasmus 
Darwin, like many of his romantic contem- 
poraries, speculated on a future open for the 
evolution of some kind of superhuman be- 

It is astonishing that practically all these 
names linked with the history of the idea of 
evolution — and I did not mention them all — 
are omitted from the textbooks that teach 
about this topic. Science has adopted a very 
ahistorical way of thinking : in its own short 
view of its past, it replaces historical truth 
by hagiographic stories. Most people have 
the impression that the notion of evolution 
did not really exist before Darwin. Perhaps 
Erasmus Darwin receives an occasional 
mention, but only because he was Charles 
Darwin's grandfather. 

The other man men- 
tioned is Jean Baptiste 
Pierre Antoine de Monet, 
Chevalier de Lamarck 
(1744-1829), the "pet 
hate" of the Darwinists. 
Without any doubt, he 
was the first to try to de- 
velop a viable theory of 
the biological evolution. 
He was educated for the office of clergy, as 
was Darwin; but after a short time in the 
army, he turned toward science, first to me- 
teorology and then to botany and zoology. 
As a botanist he elaborated a new analytical 
system of classification. 12 Professor of zo- 
ology at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, he 
introduced the differentiation between the in- 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange , 1998 

vertebrates and the vertebrates; and he dis- 
tinguished the groups of Crustacea. Arach- 
nids and Annelida. 13 This highly important 
work of his is rarely mentioned today. 

Everybody, however, knows about the 
first modern theory of descent, which 
Lamarck developed in his Philosophic 
zoologique. The rather vulgarized descrip- 
tion of this theory as the inheritance of ac- 
quired qualities makes it an easy target for 
Darwinists. Lamarck's doctrine is much 
more differentiated, in fact. It distinguished 
between what is known as function-Lama- 
rckism (whereby an organ is developed by 
use and is lost by nonuse ) and psycho-Lama- 
rckism (whereby new qualities of existing 
organs may appear by a "need" for them). 
A real refutation of Lamarck's ideas has yet 
to be proposed, though Darwinists have a 
habit of citing the experiments by August 
Weismann. He experimented with cutting 
the tails off mice for many generations, and 
wondered that their progeny continued to be 
born with tails. These experiments fail to 
consider, however, the essential points of 
Lamarck's theory: cutting off the tails nei- 
ther takes away their function nor does it 
create a "need." The question is still open. 14 

Nevertheless, Darwin had an easy mark 
in the theories of Lamarck, whose work he 
mentions only briefly. The old Anglo-Saxon/ 
French rivalry in science was in favor of 
Darwin. (Newton versus Descartes is another 
example: Robert C. Gallo" versus Luc 
Montagnier"' is a more recent one; yet an- 
other is Stanford versus CERN, over the con- 
firmation of the Z-boson (Z °). Besides that, 
even in his lifetime Lamarck was a whipped 
dog — and easy to continue to whip. His su- 
perior at the Jardin des Plantes. George 
Baron de Cuvier (1769-1832), made his life 
hell. He did not want to share the opinions 
of his competitor. The fact that Cuvier. from 
1 822 on. was also the supervisor of the Prot- 
estant theological faculties in France may in- 
dicate the sources of the resistance against 
the rather revolutionary ideas of Lamarck. 
Both Cuvier and Lamarck were fully aware 

of the fossil evidence and they did not have 
any essential disagreement in the zoologi- 
cal field. 17 Based on the fossil evidence, 
Cuvier developed the idea of consecutive 
"eons." each one ending in a catastrophe, the 
evidence for which is found in the fossil 
record. The recolonization of the earth by a 
new fauna could start in either of two ways: 
1 ) the migration of surviving species from 
other regions unaffected by the catastrophe. 
or 2) by divine re-creation. Cuvier viewed 
the latter to be the more probable. 

This interpretation shows Cuvier quite 
in line with the tradition of the physico-theo- 
logians. who tried to prove God the Creator 
from the evidence in complex anatomical 
structures, in the behavior of animals, and 
even in stones. The most prominent name 
in this field is William Paley. whose Natu- 
ral Theology was rather a latecomer after the 
Insecto-Theologia by Friedrich Christian 
Lesser 18 and other continental authors. But 
in his time. Cuvier was referenced not only 
by other workers in science, but by the large 
majority of philosophers, as well. 

Emmanuel Kant, after having elaborated 
the reasons to accept the idea of evolution 
of living beings, had this to say about the 

...a risky adventure of reason: and 
there might be only few, even among 
the most ingenious scientists, who 
have never have it cross their mind. 
For you cannot say it is senseless, as 
is the generatio cequivoca, where- 
with we understand the production 
of an organized being through the 
mechanism of raw unorganized 
matter. It would still be generatio 
univoca in the most general meaning 
of this term, inasmuch as only 
something organic is produced out 
of another organic, even though 
among this kind of being something 
specifically different, e.g., when 
certain aquatic animals become, by 
and by. amphibians: and. after some 
generations, out of these land 
animals arise. I9 

The idea of evolution has been expressed 
here in a general, but correct, manner. Re- 
flecting further on it. Kant stated: 

The Boston Theological Institute 


A priori, within the judgment of 
pure reason, there is no contradic- 
tion. But experience does not show 
us an example of this: according to 
iexperience, all generation that we 
know about, is generatio 
homonyma, not only univoca, as 
contrary to the generation out of 
unorganized matter: it produces a 
product which is of the same kind as 
the generating being even in its 
organization: and generatio 
heteronyma is, as far as our 
experience of nature goes, to be 
found nowhere. 20 

A small step from this point would have been 
sufficient to reach a theologically acceptable 
idea of evolution. But it is obvious that Kant 
had very serious doubts about this possibil- 
ity, as he expressed with the rhetorical ques- 
tion, "Are you in a position to say: Hand 
me matter, I will show you how to generate 
a caterpillar!?" 21 

In 1785, thirty years after he (anony- 
mously) published Allgemeine Natur- 
geschichte, Kant was still more outspoken: 

The smallness of the degrees of 
difference among the species is 
(since the number of species is so 
high) a necessary consequence out 
of their number. Only a relationship 
among them — such that either one 
genus had sprung from another and 
all from a single original genus, or 
from one single generating mother's 
womb — would lead to ideas that are 
so monstrous that reason recoils 
from them. 22 

Kant fully subscribed to the idea of creation 
meaning the creation of each species indi- 
vidually, which presupposes the creation of 
at least one pair for each species. The ques- 
tion, "Why is it necessary that such a pair 
exists?" is answered by: "This alone makes 
an organized whole, even though not within 
a single, individual body." 23 

Thus, in refuting the idea of evolution 
Cuvier could appeal to philosophers of his 
time, who are still highly respected today, 
even among scientists. Hegel, who quoted 
many pages of Cuvier, and Lamarck, as well, 
in his Enzyklopddie der Wissenschaften, re- 
jected any possibility of evolution: 

Nature is essentially mindful. What 
Nature forms is definite, limited, and 
enters existence as such. Even 
though the earth was in a state 
devoid of living being, with only 
chemical processes, etc., there is, 
nevertheless, once the lightning of 
life hits matter, immediately a 
definite, completely formed being, 
like Minerva jumping fully armed 
from Jupiter's head. The Mosaic 
story of creation is still doing it best, 
when it says naively: one day the 
plants came into existence, another 
day the animals, and another day 
humankind. Humankind did not 
originate in animalkind, nor 
animalkind in the plants; everything 
is completely what it is at its 
moment of creation. 24 

Hegel's view was anti-evolutionary: 

Nature is to be considered as a 
system of steps, each of which 
proceeds by necessity out of the 
other and is the next truth of that one 
out of which it results — but not in 
such a way that the one would 
originate naturally out of the other. 
[Metamorphosis applies only to the 
such a concept. J... It was a clumsy 
idea of older, and even newer, 
natural philosophy to consider 
continued formation and the passage 
of one natural form and sphere to a 
higher one, as an externally efficient 
production: which, inorder to make 
it clearer, was relocated backwards 
into the darkness of the past.... 
From such nebulous, basically 
sensual notions, especially the so- 
called "proceeding," e.g., of plants 
and animals out of the water and the 
"proceeding" of the more developed 
animals out of the less developed 
ones, etc., from such notions 
intelligent consideration must 
abstain. 25 

This anti-evolutionary position was 
rather general among the leading philoso- 
phers and scientists of the first decades of 
the nineteenth century, and one might won- 
der how it became possible for Charles 
Darwin's opus. On the Origin of Species, to 
be immediately received by a large public. 26 
Evidently, there must have been a change in 
the general opinion. 

In 1843-46, Robert Chambers had pub- 
lished his Vestiges of the Natural History of 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

Creation 27 in England. In this work, he pre- 
sented a deistic and vitalistic theory of adap- 
tive organic transformism (evolution) and of 
cosmic development. The book is full of 
factual errors, pointed out early on by Hugh 
Miller and Adam Sedgwick, but this did not 
hinder the book's publication in numerous 
editions and translation into many languages. 
Darwin himself gave rather late recognition, 
in the sixth edition of his Origin of Species, 
to the fact that this book was of essential im- 
portance in preparing the ground for his work 
to be accepted: 

In my opinion it has done excellent 
service in this country in calling 
attention to the subject, in removing 
prejudice, and in thus preparing the 
ground for the reception of analo- 
gous views. 28 

But Chambers' book alone could not ex- 
plain why Darwin's ideas were received 
within the philosophical and in the scientific 
world. It should be recognized that science 
had increasingly settled on a level of mate- 
rialistic-mechanistic interpretation of real- 
ity. This interpretation became added in with 
a faith in the unlimited possibilities of sci- 
ence, which was spread largely by popular- 
izes and authors. Enlightenment attitudes 
not only in France, but elsewhere as well, 
had an anti-ecclesiastic and especially anti- 
Catholic tendency. Many years before the 
French Revolution, The Berlin Monthly 2 " 
was filled with polemics against Roman 
Catholics and their superstitions. The ma- 
terialism of the French Encyclopedists, 
Baron d'Holbach chief among them, was 
widely spread among the intellectuals of the 
time; religion was accepted only as a means 
to domesticate the lower classes. In Ger- 
many, Feuerbach ( 1804-72) opened the way 
to an atheistic understanding of reality, and 
at least the popularizers among the scien- 
tists made these ideas their own. 

There is no doubt that quite a large num- 
ber of nineteenth-century natural scientists 
thought themselves charged to refute faith 
in God, since everything is to be explained 

scientifically. In a rather naive way, Jules 
Verne expressed this conviction when he had 
the protagonist of his Journey to the Centre 
of the Earth declare, "However great the 
miracles of Nature may be, they can always 
be explained by the laws of physics." This 
expression of scientistic materialism — as it 
would be called today — with its unshakable 
faith in science, which believed itself to be 
the heroic fighter against the irrational faith 
in God of Christians and of all other reli- 
gions in general, were represented in Ger- 
many most evidently by Karl Vogt, Jakob 
Moleschott and Ludwig Biichner. They were 
not philosophers who, like Holbach, taught 
a speculative atheistic materialism, but men 
of science, of the laboratory. 

Karl Vogt 30 (1817-1895) was a zoolo- 
gist at the University of Giessen, which he 
had to leave in the context of the 1848 revo- 
lution. He withdrew to Geneva, where he 
worked mostly in the field of paleontology. 
He is known for his violent defense of a ma- 
terialistically interpreted Darwinism. A year 
before Darwin published his magnum opus, 
Vogt had translated Robert Chambers' Ves- 
tiges of the Natural History of Creation into 
German. When Darwin's theory was pub- 
lished in 1859. Vogt started preaching it, 
because he considered this theory to be sup- 
portive of his materialism. In his 
Vorlesungen iiber den Menschen {Lectures 
on Man), a curious discrepancy is found be- 
tween his calmly exposited scientific argu- 
ments and his controversy with the biblical 
texts that is totally ignorant of the histori- 
cal-critical method. This new biblical schol- 
arship, at least in the Protestant world, was 
already past its first steps. For Karl Vogt, 
Noah's ark was a barrier to scientific devel- 
opment, and it had to be surmounted. Con- 
cerning Cain, he asked where his wife had 
come from. And he wondered why the Ro- 
man Catholic Church in Paris did not like 
him! He is probably the only scientist who 
managed to end a serious work of scientific 
inquiry with a defiant wave of the fist against 

The Boston Theological Institute 


yapping dogs (the clergy of Paris) and the 
words, "Let them bark till they can bark no 
more." " 

This aggressive posture of the popular- 
izes is by no means an exception among 
the representatives of nineteenth-century 
scientists. Thomas H. Huxley was celebrated 
as the great protagonist against Bishop 
Samuel Wilberforce by contemporary litera- 
ture, and praised as St. George killing the 
dragon Samuel Church doctrine was de- 
scribed as immobile in its dogmatic state and 
as unable to adapt to progressing knowledge. 
Belief in God's absolute revelation was a 
blockage to the progress of knowledge — an 
insurmountable barrier. This combative at- 
titude became most clearly exposed in John 
William Draper's History of the Conflict be- 
tween Religion and Science, a book show- 
ing only black and white, and full of banali- 
ties. Most readers today would discard it 
quickly as nonsense. But in its time it was 
one of the most frequently read books, trans- 
lated into many languages: French, German, 
Italian, Spanish, Polish. Russian. Portuguese 
and Serbian — and quite naturally it was put 
on the Index librorumprohitorum by the Ro- 
man Curia (4 September 1876). It displays 
the same kind of accusations against religion 
that are as old as Lucretius: that the history 
of the Church is marked by bloody suppres- 
sion, that all knowledge is suppressed by the 
Church, and that only science can free hu- 
manity. Draper's faith in the liberating ef- 
fect of knowledge brought forth by science, 
shows a strange collection of inventions ben- 
eficial to people, all due to science — and 
opposed to faith, especially Roman Catholi- 
cism. The following list, far from complete, 
may give an idea of Draper's argumentation: 
telescopes, balloons, diving bells, thermom- 
eter, barometer, schools, newspapers, hos- 
pitals, canals, sanitation, census reports, cot- 
ton gin, medicines, manures, photography, 
railways, sewing machines, rifles, and war- 
ships. 32 Evidently, in this context, faith in 
science is much more important than valid- 
ity of arguments against Christian faith. 

What does photography prove against faith? 
To be honest, it must be said that most of the 
scientists of Draper's day considered his ar- 
guments to be nonsensical babble. But he 
evidently expressed what people of his time 
wanted to believe: namely, that science is 
the great human liberator that will free the 
race from all misery, in which the Church — 
and especially the Roman Catholic 
Church — wants it to languish. 

Draper, in the name of science, fought 
the Roman Catholic Church relentlessly, and 
there was plenty of usable material in the 
texts of the Syllabus of Errors and the First 
Vatican Council to show the antiscientific 
stance of the Catholic Church. His picks up 
on such condemning statements as these: 

All truths of religions derive from 
the natural potency of human 
reason. It is the first parameter 
according to which man may and 
must all truths of any order. 

Divine revelation is incomplete, and, 
because of this, is submitted to a 
constant progress, which must 
correspond to the progress of human 
reason. 34 

Strict rationalists were naturally provoked 
beyond bearable limits by such declarations. 
Feuerbach had already recognized religion 
as some kind of projection. Miracles could 
not be proven by experiments; they contra- 
dicted scientific insight. The Syllabus may 
certainly be called opposed to science. The 
antimaterialistic stance, as well, becomes 
evident as in the following anathema: 

Whoever is not ashamed to affirm that 
there is nothing besides matter, he be 
excluded. 35 

The doctrine of evolution in its most gen- 
eral form is condemned as a sort of panthe- 

Whoever says that the physical as 
well as the spiritual finite things, or 
at least the spiritual ones, emanated 
out of the divine substance, or the 
divine essence, and by manifestation 
and evolution becomes everything 
or, even worse, that God is the 
universal or indefinite being that 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

constitutes itself by determining the 
distinct universe of beings according 
to genera, species and individuals: 
he be excluded. 3 ' 1 

The Roman Catholic Church clearly claimed 
the right to delimit the autonomy of human 

Whoever says that human reason is 
independent in such a way, that God 
could not command belief, he be 
excluded. 37 

And it is easy to understand why critical sci- 
entists felt perplexed by such sentences as 
the following: 

Whoever says that human sciences 
must be handled with such au- 
tonomy that its assertions are to be 
held true and may not be disaffirmed 
by the church, even if they contra- 
dict the revealed doctrine, he be 
excluded. 3S 

Whoever says that it is possible that 
according to the progress of science 
one might be obliged to understand 
the propositions of faith defined by 
the Church sometimes differently 
from the meaning by which the 
Church understood and understands 
them, he be excluded. 31 ' 

Certainly such assertions coming from 
the Church must be understood with rela- 
tion to the attacks it was receiving, especially 
those coming from the popularizers like 
Draper and Vogt. Draper aired his ideas for 
the first time in Oxford in 1 860 before the 
British Association, while the audience was 
waiting for Huxley and Wilberforce to start 
then - well known debate. Vogt taught that hu- 
man beings did not exercise free will and 
that all thought and action were just the re- 
action to preceding physical states or pro- 
cesses. Such denial of human responsibil- 
ity provoked a necessary response from the 
moral theologians. It would be a mistake to 
read the Roman Catholic teachings as a re- 
action to the modern sciences of the nine- 
teenth century. Rather, they have to be seen 
as reactions to the materialistic ideological 
usurpation of scientific knowledge, a usur- 
pation that itself pretended to be scientific. 

Vogt did not need Darwin's theory, even 
though he judged it to be very useful as a 
contribution for the defense of his ideas. 
Jakob Moleschott used similar means. He 
was born of a Dutch freethinker father, and 
beginning in 1847 he taught physiology in 
Heidelberg. He made the ideas of Feuerbach 
and D. F. StrauB 40 mostly his own. 
Moleschott's central scientific realization 
was linking the law of the conservation of 
matter, proposed by Lavoisier, with the law 
of the conservation of energy proposed by 
R. Mayer. From this linkage of matter with 
energy, he concluded that all processes of 
soul and mind are material-physiological in 
nature. In his Lehre der Nahrungsmiltel — 
Fur das Volk, AX Molleschott stated, "No 
thought without phosphorus." which became 
a slogan for many decades. Feuerbach. who 
was one of his spiritual fathers, wrote the 
following ironic review, much to 
Molleschott 's irritation: 

Man is what he eats [Der Mensch 
ist. was er iBt]... Formerly we heard: 
In the beginning was God. Today 
we hear: In the beginning was the 
belly... The old world made the 
spirit the lather of matter, the new 
one makes matter the father of the 
spirit. 42 

But Feuerbach 's harsh critique was power- 
less against the popularity of Moleschott. 

Unlike Vogt. Moleschott was a rather 
sober man. who was no fighter for his ideas. 
In 1852, in his book, Der Kreislauf des 
Lebens (The Cycle of Life), he proposed that 
people abandon the use of cemeteries in fa- 
vor of cremation, because cremation would 
bring corpses back into the cycle of life as 
fertilizer, instead of removing them from it 
in tombs. This suggestion made Moleschott 
one of the most controversial figures among 
the German scientists. Harassed by the pub- 
lic, he had to go abroad — but only as far as 
Italy. In Italy there were a number of pro- 
tests staged against Moleschott by Roman 
Catholic students — probably none of whom 
had ever read one of Moleschott's contro- 

The Boston Theological Institute 


versial books. He concentrated on his sci- 
entific work in the second half of the nine- 
teenth century. He died in 1893 in Rome, 
after the city was no longer under papal gov- 
ernment. His name became a sort of slogan 
for a materialistic worldview, but he hardly 
bothered, in fact, to defend materialism dur- 
ing his time in Italy. 

It was quite another mat- 
ter with Ludwig Biichner 
(1824-99), 4 - who fought all 
his life for his materialistic 
"Weltanschauung." In 1855, 
four years before Darwin's 
Origin of Species, he pub- 
lished his book, Kraft und 
Stoff {Force and Matter). By 
1904, it had been reprinted 
twenty-one times, and it was 
translated into fifteen lan- 
guages. Journals and reviews 
criticized the book as 
bungled, but it was a strong seller, nonethe- 
less. The core of his materialistic thinking 
centered around the idea of a purposeless 
universe; the appearance of life and human- 
kind were unplanned, chance events of na- 
ture. The Darwinian description of evolu- 
tion was helpful to him in defending his ma- 
terialistic worldview. It is matter who thinks, 
not the spirit. Human intellectual forces are 
just a secretion of matter — an epiphenom- 

This book by Biichner might be consid- 
ered to be the popular, vulgarizing presenta- 
tion of the opposition between faith and sci- 
ence; it did not give a serious elaboration of 
the tension between faith and knowledge, but 
set them in opposition to one another in a 
combative posture. To Biichner, as to most 
of his readers, it was evident that force and 
matter were concepts that might be inter- 
changed. Thus, it is meaningless to speak 
of "spiritual'" forces. The process of creatio 
ex nihilo, as seen by Christian faith or by 
any other religion, was to be refuted, since 
matter is eternally conserved and cannot be 

augmented nor diminished. The old 
Lucreatian notions, with the help of the first 
law of thermodynamics, experienced a 
happy revival. Any limitation on space could 
not be imagined — as Lucretius already said; 
consequently, space must be infinite. All life 
resides in organic matter, out of combina- 
tions of cells that arose out of livins matter. 

It would be a misunderstanding to read 
the Roman Catholic teachings as a 
reaction to the modern sciences of the 
19th century. Rather, they have to be 
seen as reactions to the materialistic 
ideological usurpation of scientific 
knowledge, a usurpation that itself 
pretended to be scientific. 

In the end, this world will be destroyed, be- 
cause the laws of thermodynamics are unre- 

With the most absolute truth and 
with the greatest scientific accuracy 
can we say today: there is nothing 
miraculous in this world. 44 

In such a universe, devoid of goal and 
purpose, there is no room for any religion. 
The universe is the product of the blind, un- 
changeable necessity of the laws of matter. 
Priests, then, are either ambitious or they are 
charlatans; and all faithful people are fanat- 
ics. Only ignorant laymen could believe in 
a personal God Such conclusions were un- 
avoidable for the educated person follow- 
ing the ideas of Biichner. 

Such perspectives are not really great 
visions of the future. These days, when ma- 
terialistic ideas are wide spread, the radical 
striving for happiness demonstrates in many 
ways the hopelessness and the futurelessness 
of modern humanity. A century and a half 
ago, Biichner had to realize that reading his 
books turned people to melancholy. They 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

complained about the hopelessness to which 
his books exposed them. He tried to con- 
sole his readers with the thought that stand- 
ing under the merciless law of nature begets 
feelings of humility, or of repose, out of 
which grow self-contentment and self-re- 

Not as the humble and submissive 
slave of a supernatural master, nor as 
the helpless toy in the hands of heav- 
enly powers, but as the proud and free 
son of Nature, understanding her laws 
and knowing how to tutor them to his 
own use, does the creature of modern 
civilization, the Freethinker, appear. 
the incarnation of the mightiest effort 
of Nature. 45 

These are only a few examples of so- 
called scientific ideologies of a generally ma- 
terialistic color. There is no need to exam- 
ine the materialistic faith of Ernst Heinrich 
Haeckel, who tried eagerly to win members 
for his Monist Union, 4 '' through which he 
spread the Darwinist evolutionary doctrine. 
It was no longer science that was proclaimed, 
but a scientifically ensconced religion . 

Thus, no clear-cut picture may be found, 
with honest scientists in the service of truth 
on one side, and on the other side, benighted 
ecclesiastic theologians, still thinking in the 
Dark Ages. Actually, up to the nineteenth 
century, there was little fighting between sci- 
ence and theology. The utterings of the 
churches against science are rather to be 
looked at as something like trench warfare: 
one keeps the enemy at a distance without 
really knowing much about it. This view 
may make those antiscientific statements 
more understandable from a human stand- 
point,. From a theological standpoint, 
though, they are more justified than the claim 
of the proponents of science — or at least of 
those who thought of themselves as the mis- 
sionaries of a materialistic worldview, 
preaching that science would be able to ex- 
plain the world completely, once all the ma- 
terial prerequisites of the material process 
were discovered. 

The late nineteenth century was deeply 
impressed with these notions. Between the 

teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, at 
least, and science thinking in an evolution- 
ary mode, a large gap had opened; and with 
the faith in the superiority of science, there 
was little doubt as to where truth was to be 
found. This general belief is most succinctly 
expressed by the answer of a fourteen-year- 
old Harrow schoolboy. When asked, "What 
did Darwin do?" he replied, "Darwin dis- 
proved the Bible." 

It might appear that Rome and the 
Catholic Church only disapproved of the 
idea of evolution, following a theology in 
the style of "Roma locuta, causa finita" 
[Rome has spoken, the case is closed]. But 
no less a man than John Henry Newman 
stated: "I cannot imagine. . .why Darwinism 
should be considered inconsistent with 
Catholic doctrine." 47 He made it quite clear 
why he thought so: 

There is as much want of simplicity 
in the idea of distinct species as in that 
of the creation of trees in full growth, 
or rocks with fossils in them. I mean 
that it is strange that monkeys should 
be so like men. with no historical con- 
nection between them, as that there 
should be no course of facts by which 
fossil bones got into rocks. The one 
idea stands to the other as fluxions to 
differentials... 1 will either go the 
whole hog with Darwin, or. dispens- 
ing with time and history altogether, 
hold not only the theory of distinct 
species but also that of the creation of 
fossil-bearing rocks. 4 * 

When the English anatomist and biolo- 
gist St. George Jackson Mivart converted to 
Catholicism and, therefore, had to leave Ox- 
ford University, he taught in London at St. 
Mary's Hospital Medical School and pub- 
lished Lessons from Nature in 1876. He ac- 
cepted the notion of evolution but argued 
against Darwin's theory of mutation and se- 
lection. Instead, he proposed an innate plas- 
tic power of "individuation" that would ex- 
plain the production of new species. 41 ' 
Huxley, as well as the Roman Catholic 
Church, turned against Mivart in his attempt 
to bridge the gap between religion and sci- 
ence. This Church looked with growing dis- 

The Boston Theological Institute 


approval at his publications, and in 1892/93 
they were put on the Index. When he pub- 
lished a few journal articles in January 1900, 
he was excommunicated by Herbert Cardi- 
nal Vaughan. Some years after Mivart's 
death, this judgment was nullified on the 
ground that he was mentally ill at the end of 
his life. 

The ideas of Mi van were picked up by 
others. The Dominican, M. D. Leroy, put 
forward his version of them in his book 
V Evolution restreinte aux especes 
organiques. An American exposition fol- 
lowed, by J. A. Zahm in his book. Dogma 
and Evolution. In Belgium, Canon Henry 
de Dorlodot taught quite positively on evo- 
lution. 50 In France, Pierre Teilhard de 
Chardin started to write on evolution during 
World War I. It must be pointed out that, to 
date, Teilhard has presented the most com- 
prehensive essay integrating the world, un- 
derstood as evolutionary, into theology. His 
life, marked by his banishment from an aca- 
demic career at the Catholic University of 
Paris and his exile from Fiance, is well 
known. 51 

But these were only some isolated Ro- 
man Catholic avant-gardes, fighting for a 
positive understanding of evolution and of 
science in general. In a wider view, neither 
among the theologians nor among the sci- 
entists was there any great readiness to talk 
with one another. Theologians liked to use 
arguments from the realm of science, but 
quite often without any real understanding 
and mostly for apologetic puiposes. A nice 
example is a professor of dogmatics named 
J. Bautz, who taught in Minister. He used 
the example of volcanos to demonstrate the 
existence of hell in the center of the earth," 2 
an argument that exposed him to general ridi- 
cule and earned him the nickname 
"Hollenbautz." That being said, it should 
be acknowledged that some of the so-called 
scientific claims were no less ridiculous — 
for example, Haeckel's declaration. "We 
now know that the soul is the sum of the 
plasma movements in the ganglion cells." 
Only in Haeckel's case, nobody laughed. 

The profound abyss between Christian 
believers and those believing in science was 
well illustrated by Dostoyevsky in his novel, 
The Possessed, 53 in the episode about a young 
lieutenant who had attacked his superior in 
a rage, biting him into the shoulder. This is 
the description of his settling into his rural 

[He had] thrown two icons out of the 
window and hacked one of them 
with a hatchet. On the shrine in his 
room he had placed the books of 
Vogt, Moleschott and Biichner and 
had lighted church candles before 

In view of the harshness of the contro- 
versy, which to this day has not totally dis- 
appeared, some vestiges of hope for better 
relations sometimes appear among theolo- 
gians as well as among scientists. It is some- 
what astonishing that there never was a for- 
mal condemnation of the theory of evolu- 
tion by the magisterium of the Roman Catho- 
lic Church. Vatican I made no explicit deci- 
sion against the doctrine of evolution; it es- 
sentially just repeated the principle that there 
is no possibility of a contradiction between 
faith and science. The most respected theolo- 
gians of that time were nevertheless con- 
vinced that they had to refute the idea that 
the human body and the human race had 
arisen through evolution, and they declared 
those who held such opinions to be heretics. 
Thus, it really is amazing that the efforts of 
Monsignor Benigni to have evolution con- 
demned by the Roman Catholic Church as 
heresy in 1925 did not succeed — thanks to 
the opposition of Cardinals Ernie, Mercier, 
Bourne and Maffi. 54 This did not deter Car- 
dinal Ruffini and other theologians of the 
"integrist" camp — as they are known in ret- 
rospect — from defending, up into the 1950s, 
the opinion that the human body was cre- 
ated directly by God and did not arise through 
of evolution. The last defensive statement 
of any importance to this question was the 
encyclical, Humani generis, 55 which admit- 
ted the possibility that the human body may 
have arisen by evolution, but with the restric- 
tion that human beimis must have had a 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

monogenetic origin, that is, an origin in a 
single pair of parents. 

Today it might be stated that, at least 
within the Roman Catholic Church, there is 
no longer any resistance to the notion of evo- 
lution. With the publication of the writings 
of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, which began 
upon his death in 1955, there was quite a 
stirring of interest and great discussion, most 
of it only inside the churches. Vatican II. 
and most especially the pastoral constitution, 
was influenced by his thought, even to the 
very choice of words, if we are to trust the 
commentary of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger 
on Gaudium et Spes (the Second Vatican 
Council, 1962-65). It is evident that 
Teilhard's ideas have not, even to this day, 
been adequately received, neither in science 
nor in theology. Theologians like to quote 
him. especially to show that there is no in- 
compatibility between Christian faith and 
evolutionary theory. But mostly they are 
contented just with this statement, without 
asking the hard questions about what kind 
of fundamental changes in theology will fol- 
low if this world is an evolving creation. 

Thus, no clear-cut picture may be found \ 
with honest scientists in the service of 
truth on one side, and on the other side, 
benighted ecclesiastic theologians, still 
thinking in the Dark Ages. 

Today, the battle around evolution has 
practically ceased. But this does not mean 
that any fundamental changes in the presen- 
tation of the doctrine of creation have been 
made in the theological manuals; this does 
not differ essentially from that in the manu- 
als of the last century. By having pushed 
the process of demythologization ever fur- 
ther (most often combined with a growing 
sociologization), theology and faith largely 
got rid of the difficulty with confronting the 
knowledge of science. Even more, trans- 

cendalization has opened up a region in 
which, by definition, no empirical proof is 
possible. Except among the fundamental- 
ists in some regions of the United States and 
Australia, where they exercise some influ- 
ence as "creationists," and except for the few 
dispersed integrists in the Roman Catholic 
world, no theologian today is seriously con- 
cerned about scientific theories such as the 
theory of evolution — though exceptions do 
make the rule. 

The existence, side by side, of these two 
realms of knowledge — which consider one 
another as mutually irrelevant — is not with- 
out consequences. With science, the narrow- 
ing of the horizon of cognition to the em- 
pirical, experimentally provable — and/or to 
the mathematically expressible — has led to 
the incapacity of science to speak about the 
spiritual dimension with competence. This 
is clearly demonstrated by experimental psy- 
chology, for example, which is barely able 
to recognize the nuances of the spiritual. The 
innumerable theories of human psychology 
that keep appearing, and the schools linked 
with these theories, may be sufficient indi- 
cations of this state of affairs. 
It might be said that the 
controversy today is no 
longer maintained by 
strongly opposed positions 
on either side. Attempts to 
deliver a theory of science as 
a secure basis of the sciences 
have not succeeded with a re- 
ally convincing proposition. 
The discussion has withdrawn to the ques- 
tion of true and false judgments, and this has 
given scientists a much clearer feeling for 
the preliminary nature of their knowledge 
and especially of their vvorldview — if they 
dare to try one. The claim to refute religion 
or faith is alien to most scientists of today, 
even though there might be a few grandchil- 
dren of the Haeckels and the Drapers around. 
The fight is over, but there is no victor. 
The fighters lost interest in their fight with- 
out overcoming their opponents. The inter- 

The Boston Theological Institute 


est of science in refuting theology, with few 
exceptions, no longer exists. Nor does the- 
ology feel itself menaced by science; theol- 
ogy generally considers science to be irrel- 
evant — and therewith, the theory of evolu- 

Looking at the present situation, the 
whole fight between theology and science 
appears rather superfluous. The idea of evo- 
lution was used, as Haeckel intended, as a 
weapon to destroy Christianity and all other 
religions. Unfortunately, this fight stopped 
theological thinking from seriously address- 
ing the question of the importance of the 
process of evolution for the Christian faith. 
Even now, thinkers get stuck in an apolo- 
getic, defensive stance, which inhibits a posi- 
tive integration of the evolutionary charac- 
ter of the universe into a theology of cre- 

On the other hand, it must also be stated 
that the inability of the scientists to liberate 
themselves from their materialistic preju- 
dices has trapped them in the rationally un- 
acceptable theory of neo-Darwinism, which 
seems to be breaking up today — but only 
very slowly. 

The question of whether, in the long run, 
theology can survive while continuing to ig- 
nore the results of science, especially evo- 
lution, has yet to be answered. This is a ques- 
tion that cannot be treated by giving an his- 
torical overview such as this. The answer 
will be found, rather, by starting from 
theologically given presuppositions, e.g., 
from the article of the creed, that this uni- 
verse — which is explored by science — is 
God's creation. 

Works Cited: 

Bautz, J. Die Holle. Mainz: Franz 
Kirchheim, 1882. 

Begouin, Max Comte. Quelques souvenirs 
sur les mouvements ties idees 
transformistes dans les milieux 
catholiques. Paris: Bloud et Gay, 1945. 

Blumenbach, Johann Friedrich. De 
generis human varietate nativa. Disser- 
tation. Gottingen: University of 
Gottingen, 1775. 

. Collectio craniorum diversarum 

gentium. Gottingen, 1800-1820. 

. Handbuch der Naturgeschichte. 

Gottingen: J. C. Dieterich, 1779-80. 
. Institutiones physiologicae. 

Gottingen: J. C. Dieterich, 1786. 
Buchner, Ludwig. Kraft und Staff'. 

Frankfurt a. M.: Meidinger, 1855. 
Buffon, Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de. 

Histoire naturelle. Paris, 1749-1789. 
Catholic Church. Acta Apostolicae Sedis; 

commentarium offiale. Vol. 46 ( 1954). 

Citta del Vaticano: Typis Plyglottis 

Chadwick, Owen. The Secularization of 

the European Mind in the Nineteenth 

Century. New York: Cambridge 

University Press, 1975. 
Chambers. Robert. Vestiges of the Natural 

History of Creation. London, 1843-46. 
Chang, Wing-Tsit. A Source Book in 

Chinese Philosophy. Princeton: 

Princeton University Press, 1969. 
Congressus Thomisticus Internationales 

(3rd: 1950: Rome, Italy). Acta III 

Congressus thomistici internationalis 

(11-17 Septembris 1950). Torino, Italy: 

Marietti, 1951. 
Cuenot, Claude. Teilhard de Chardin, A 

Biographical Study. Tr. Vincent 

Colimore. Ed. Rene Hague. Baltimore: 

Helicon, 1965. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

Cuvier, Georges Baron de. Le regne 

animal distribue d'apres son 

organisation, pour servir de base a 

Vhistoire nature! le des animaux et 

d' introduction a l' anatomic comparee. 

Paris: Deterville, 1817. 
Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species 

by Means of Natural Selection. London: 

John Murray, 1859. 
. On the Origin of Species by 

Natural Selection, with historical sketch 

from the sixth edition. New York: 

Avenel Books, 1979. 
Dorlodot, Henry de. Le darwinisme au 

point de vue de Vorthodoxie catholique. 

Bruxelles: Vromant & c, 1921. 
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. The Possessed. 

Trans. Constance Garnett. New York: 

E. P. Dutton. 1931. 
Draper, John William. History of the 

Conflict between Religion and Science. 

New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1875. 
Feuerbach, Ludwig. A review of 

Moleschott's book, Lehre der 

Nahrungsmittel — Fur das Volk. Blatter 

fur Literarische Unterhaltung. 9 Nov. 

Haeckel, Ernst Heinrich. Generelle 

Morphologic der Organismen. Berlin: 

G. Reimer(1866). 
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. 

Enzyklopddie der philosophischen 

Wissenschaften im Grundrisse. Heidel- 
berg: Osswald, 1827. 
Hinske, Norbert, ed. Wr/.v ist Aufklarung? 

Beitrdge aus der Berlinischen 

Monatsschrift. Darmstadt : 

Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 

Holbach, Paul Henri Thiry, baron d'. 

Christianisnie devoile. Amsterdam: 

Marc Michel Rey, 1767. 
Huniani generis. See Congressus 

Thomisticus Internationales. 

Kant, I. Allgemeine Naturgeschichte und 
Theorie des Himmels. Leipzig: Johann 
Friederich Petersen. 1755. 

. Kritik der Urteilskraft. Gratz, 


Kauffman. Stuart A. "Antichaos and 
Adaptation." Scientific American, 
August 1991,64-70. 

Lamarck. Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de 
Monet. Chevalier de. Flore Francoise. 
Paris: L'imprimerie royale, 1778. 

. Philosophic zoologique. Paris: 

Dentu et UAuteur, 1809. 

Leroy. M. D. L' Evolution restreintc aux 
especes organiques. Paris, 1891. 

Lesser, Friedrich Christian. Insecto- 
Theologia, oder: Vernunft und 
Schriftgemaper Versuch, wie ein Mensch 
durch aufmercksame Betrachtung der 
sonst weniz geachtcten Insecten zu 
lebendigcr Erkenntnifi und 
Bewunderung der Allmacht, Weifiheit, 
der Giite und Gerechtigkeit des groften 
Gottes gelangen konne. Frankfurt/ 
Leipzig: M. Blochberger, 1738. 

Mivart, St. George Jackson. Lessons from 
nature, as manifested in mind and 
matter. London: J. Murray. 1876. 

Moleschott. Jakob. Lehre der Nahrungs- 
mittel — Fur das \ oik. Erlangen: F 
Ente. 1850. 

. Der Kreislauf des Lebens. Mainz: 

V. v. Zabern. 1 852. 

Paley, William. Natural Theology: or, 
evidences of the existence and attributes 
of the Deity, collected from the appear- 
ances of nature. Philadelphia: John F. 
Watson, 1814. 

StrauB, David Friedrich. Das Leben Jesu, 
kritisch bearbeitet. Tubingen: C. F 
Osiander. 1835. 

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. "La Lutte 
contre la Multitude." Ecrits du temps de 
la guerre. Paris: Grasset, 1965. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Verne, Jules. A Journey to the Centre of 
the Earth. English tr. New York: 
Scribner, Armstrong & Co., 1874 

Vico, Giambattista. Autobiografia. 
Torino: G. Einaudi, 1965. 

Vogt, Karl. Vorlesungen iiber den 
Menschen. Giessen: J. Rickersche 
Buchhandlung, 1863. 

Wildiers, N. Max. Werelfbeeld en 
teologie: Van tie middeleeuwen tot 
vandaag. Antwerpen: Standaard 
Wetenschappelijke Uitgeverij, 1973. 

Zahm, John Augustine. Dogma and 
Evolution. Chicago: D. H. McBride, 


1. Some philosopher or other worker in 
the field of human sciences might look 
with dismay at the idea that human 
knowledge itself is a part and continuation 
of the evolutionary process. But this is an 
evident fact inasmuch as the human being 
has never ceased to be a part of the 
evolutionary process. It is not a matter of 
nature on the one side, humanity on the 
other. The latter is a part of nature, and 
nature's process of becoming did not come 
to a standstill with the human being. 

2. Chang, p. 204. 

3. Ibid., pp. 743-5. 

4. Exceptions like Whitehead and his 
school of process philosophers, or Teilhard 
de Chardin or Bergson confirm this 
statement rather than contradict it. 

5. Cf. Giambattista Vico (1688-1744), 
for example, who belonged to one such 
clandestine group in Naples for some time; 
his ideas, largely exploited in Europe by 
plagiarism, show clear resonances with 

6. Tielhard de Chardin, pp. 109-32. 

7. Annus Mundi — Year of the World; cf 
General Tables of the Fasti Catholici or 

Fasti Temporis perpetiii from 1 a.m. of the 
year 4004 b.c. to 6004 a.m. of the year 
6000 a.d. 

8. This similarity had been already noted 
by Galen, whose knowledge about 
anatomy was largely based on the dissec- 
tion of apes. Only during the late Middle 
Ages — by order of the Pope — did anato- 
mists begin to abandon the taboo concern- 
ing the dissection of human coipses. 

9. His theory was based on an atomistic 
dualism: all matter possesses a certain 
degree of sensibility, intelligence and 
memory. The influence of Lucretius and 
Vico are noticeable here. 

10. This history comprises 44 volumes! 

11. Blumenbach, Collectio\ Institu- 
tions, vol. 4. 

12. Lamarck. 

13. He also introduced the term "biol- 
ogy" into science. 

14. There are many points that remain 
unanswered by the purely neo-Darwinist 
scenario. The highly complicated and 
complex structures in many features of 
existant fauna, including the human 
species, evidently transcend currently 
proposed explanations. 

15. Chief of the tumor cell biology 
laboratory, National Cancer Institute. 

16. Institut Pasteur, Paris. He sent to 
Gallo a specimen of the French isolate of 
the AIDS virus that Gallo claims to have 

17. Cuvier. 

18. This work was translated into Italian 
and French and was republished twice 
(1740. 1757). 

19. Kant (1797), A 365-6. note. 

20. Ibid. Cf., "Matter, which is the basal 
stuff of all things, is... bound to certain 
laws. Left to them, it must produce, by 
necessity, beautiful combinations. It does 
not have any freedom to deviate from this 
plan of perfection. Since it is thus in the 
state of being submitted to the wisest 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

intention, thus it must be placed by 
necessity into such harmonic conditions by 
a first cause that rules over it, and there- 
fore, there is a God, just because nature, 
even in chaos, cannot be otherwise than 
regular and orderly." Ibid.. XXIX-XXX. 

22. Akademie Ausgabe T.8. 54. 

23. Kant (1797), A 376. 

24. Hegel, par. 339. 

25. Ibid., par. 249. 

26. The first edition sold out in one day. 

27. The opus was published anony- 
mously. The author was identified only in 
1884, years after Darwin's death. 

28. Historical sketch from the sixth 
edition, p. 58. 

29. Cf. selected articles in Hinske. 

30. He was not one of the really great 
scientists of his time. Certainly his books 
sold enormously well — the same is true 
today for the popularizing works of writers 
of a materialistic bent. Vogt's book were 
considered to be outdated in the first half 
of the twentieth century, especially in as 
much as his defense of a materialistic 
worldview is concerned. The 1934 edition 
of the encyclopedia, Der Grope Black- 
balls, still devoted seventeen lines to him, 
though more recent editions stopped 
mentioning him. 

31.Chadwick, p. 167. 

32. Draper, pp. 32 Iff. 

33. Omncs religionis veritates ex nativa 
humanae rationis vi derivant; hinc ratio 
est princeps norma, qua homo cognitio- 
nem omnium cuiuscunque generis verita- 
tum assequi possit ac debeat. (D. 1704) 

34. Divina revelatio est imperfecta et 
idcirco snbiecta continuo et indifinito 
progressui, qui humanae rationis 
progressui respondeat. (D. 1705) 

35. Si quis praeter materiam nihil esse 
affirmare non erubuerit: Anathema sit. 
(D. 1802) 

36. Si quis dixerit, res finitas turn 
corporeas turn spirituales out saltern 
spirituales e divina substantia emanasse, 
— ant divinam essentiam sui manifesta- 
tione vel evolutione fieri omnia, — aut 
denique Deum esse ens universale seu 
indefinitum quod esse determinando 
constituat rerum universitatem in genera, 
species et individua distinctam: A. S. (D. 

37. Si quis dixerit, rationem humanam 
ita independentem esse, ut fides ei a Deo 
imperari non possit: A.S. (D. 1810) 

38. Si quis dixerit, disciplinas humanas 
ea cum lihertatc fractandas esse, ut earum 
assertiones, etsi doctrinae revelatae 
adversentur, tanquam verae retineri neque 
ab Ecclesia proscribi possint: A. S. (D. 

39. Si quis dixerit, fieri posse, ut 
dogmatibus ab Ecclesia propositis 
aliquando secundum progression scientiae 
sensus tribuendus sit alius ab eo, quern 
intellexit et intelligit Ecclesia: A.S. (DS 

40. StrauB. 

41. Translates as Doctrine of Food— for 
the People. Today it would be Manual of 
Dietetics — for Everybody. 

42. Feuerbach. p. 1082. 

43. After a short time as lecturer at the 
University of Tubingen, he established 
himself as a general practitioner in 
Darmstadt. Kraft und Stojf, 1855. Natur 
undGeist, 1857. Physiologische Bilder,2 
volumes. 1861 and 1975. Die Danrinsche 
Theorie von der Entstehung un 
Umwandlung der Lebewelt, 1868: Der 
Gottesbegriff und dessert Bedeutung fur 
die Gegenwart, 1874; Am Sterbelager des 
Jahrhunderts. 1898; //;/ Dienste der 
Wahrheit, 1899. 

44. Biichner, p. 95. 

45. Ibid., p. 254. 

46. "Monistenbund," which asserted the 
essential unity of inorganic and organic 

The Boston Theological Institute 


nature. Haeckel's propagandism was a 
chief factor in the success of evolutionary 
doctrine in Germany. 

47. Newman, Doc. A. 18.21, Birming- 
ham Oratorium. Quoted from Wildiers, p. 
275, n. 75. 

48. Newman. Sundries, p. 83. Quoted 
from Wildiers, p. 275, n. 75. 

49. This position is much closer to that of 
modern chaos researchers. Cf. Kauffman. 

50. The second volume of Dorlodot's 
work was never published. Dorlodot 
influenced the thinking of Teilhard de 
Chard in. 

5 1 . Cf. Cuenot. 

52. Bautz. 

53. Dostoevsky, eh. 2. 

54. Cf. Begouin. 

55. The attempt by Prof. Charles 
Moeller, of the University of Louvain, to 
interpret the encyclical openmindedly 
landed on the Index, still existing at that 
time. See Catholic Church, p. 25. 

An eminent scholar in the science-and-religion field, Karl Schmitz-Moormann was 
Professor of Philosophical Anthropology and Ethics at the Fachhochschule Dortmund. 
Author of many articles and books in German, he and his wife, Nicole Schmitz- 
Moormann, also translated and edited works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. For 
more than thirty years, with lectures on four continents and as a visiting professor at 
schools in the United States and Australia, he worked to develop the vision of Teilhard. 
He was cofounder and first President of the European Society for the Study of Sci- 
ence and Theology (ESSSAT). He died suddenly in 1996 at Princeton, New Jersey, 
where he was Fellow at the Center of Theological Inquiry In this essay, he ob- 
serves that "no theologian today is seriously concerned about scientific theories 
such as the theory of evolution, "and then makes a self-reference with the quip, " — 
though exceptions do make the rule. " His last book, Theology of Creation in an 
Evolutionary World, written in collaboration with James F. Salmon, S.J., was pub- 
lished posthumously in 1997 by Pilgrim Press. 

He presented this paper at Boston University School of Theology in February 1993, 
an event cosponsored by the Center for Faith and Science Exchange, the Boston 
Theological Institute, and the American Scientific Affiliation. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

Fifteen Billion Years of Searching for God: 
Neither Science nor Theology Can Afford to Be Dogmatic 

Daniel Lee Kaplan 

This essay argues that, in the search for truth, the findings of both science and theology 
are provisional. The author makes a strong case for clergy to stay informed about current 
science and technology, so that they can challenge their congregations to be skeptical and to 
develop a mature faith that serves the needs of contemporary life. He sets a healthy ex- 
ample, raising thoughtful questions about the nature of God and the universe. 


We are here tonight as scientists and re- 
ligionists, hopefully, in a common pursuit 
of truth. That may be where our similarity 
ends. It is told that three men of different 
occupations were looking at the Grand Can- 
yon. The archaeologist said: "What a won- 
der of science!" The clergyman said: "One 
of the glories of God!" The cowboy said: 
"A heck of a place to lose a cow!" 

Some think of God as the Truth. Oth- 
ers of more humility reconcile themselves 
to finding truths. There is a Midrash that 
asks: If God had a signature, what would 
that be? The answer: God would use the 
first, middle, and last letter of the Hebrew 
alphabet. That would symbolize all know 1- 
edge. But those three letters also spell a He- 
brew word, EMET, which means Truth. 

We get carried away with our own pow- 
ers of discovery, but given that we have 
minds, it would be a travesty not to use what- 
ever capabilities we have to understand more 
of the universe. An anecdote is told about 
George Washington Carver, the botanist who 
achieved wonders with the humble peanut. 

It is said that when he was young, Carver 
used to ask God to tell him the mystery of 
the universe. The answer that came to him 
was that such knowledge was reserved for 
God alone. So, then Carver ask for the mys- 
tery of the peanut. And God said. "Well. 
George, that's more nearly your size." And 
then God told him. 

Those religionists who are not funda- 
mentalists wrestle with every major scien- 
tific breakthrough from astronomy to zool- 
ogy, creation, evolution, cloning, sex rever- 
sals, lobotomies, transplantations. I recently 
heard about placing a microchip in the brain 
of a stroke patient, enabling him to send out 
directions. The list is unending. 

And now, many whose lives have been 
dedicated primarily to one of the numerous 
scientific disciplines are searching for other 
truths in a totally nonrational approach to 
religion or — to use the very popular word 
these days — spirituality. The cover story of 
a July issue of Newsweek magazine was en- 
titled "Science Finds God." ' I envy those 
scientists; I am still searching! 

The Boston Theological Institute 


The dangers of dogmatism 

Except for isolated individuals in the 
past, this is a new phenomenon. Most clergy 
are poorly acquainted even with other reli- 
gions. And in my early days in the Rabbin- 
ate, I wondered how scientifically brilliant 
members of my congregation were not em- 
barrassed to express such an infantile ap- 
proach to faith, to the texts, to ritual in our 
own tradition. 

The so-called conflict 
between religion and science 
was foremost — ignorance. 
That soon translated into a 
hardening of positions, 
wherein both became dog- 
matic. Instead of being part- 
ners in the search for truth, 
they became enemies. Each 
side proclaimed what the 
other side believed, stating 
the case, making the accusation, and find- 
ing them guilty. 

There are those, far too many for my 
liking, who have not moved from that posi- 
tion. They know that they possess the truth 
and all who do not conform are either her- 
etics or irrational dolts, depending on which 
camp you are in. 

I must admit that I have little patience 
with the revelationists whose direct pipeline 
to God enables them to dismiss the chal- 
lenges of the doubters. That is a formidable 
number of people in our so-called sophisti- 
cated, technologically advanced society. 
Statistical surveys say that approximately 
half of American Christians (Catholics and 
Protestants) are, in essence, fundamentalist. 
Some 40% actually believe that there is a 
Devil, a true being ruling the domain of Hell 
(wherever that is). 

Orthodox Jews are also fundamentalists, 
who believe that only the Revelation to 
Moses is true while all other claims are prod- 
ucts of creative imaginations. These Bibli- 
cal literalists insist that the words of scrip- 
ture are unimpeachable, and any theory of 
science cannot be true if it disagrees with 

the sacred text. The matter is not confined 
to Genesis, creation accounts, and evolution. 
Ethical behavior is of profound relevance 
because the Bible is the source of ethics. The 
Hebrew Bible posits the theory of Ethical 
Monotheism. That means God must act ethi- 
cally — in sharp contrast to the deities of an- 
cient Greece and Rome — being, in fact, 
bound by God's own laws of ethics. But 

Who is responsible for all the evil in the 
world? It is not a good enough answer — 
unless one is a humanist — to blame all 
events on people. Of course if there is 
no God, there is no theological problem. 
But who wants a god less compassionate 
than oneself? 

one must do many mental gyrations to jus- 
tify such acts of God as a Flood that wiped 
out all humankind, except Noah and his fam- 
ily. And why did God create all those na- 
tions with their gods who demanded human 
sacrifice and sex acts with holy prostitutes 
to ensure fertility of crops? (It certainly 
would ensure male attendance at services!) 

And why did a Jewish God who inter- 
vened so often in biblical history, and who, 
according to Christians, intervened once 
more by sending the Son of God to save hu- 
mankind, suddenly do a disappearing act in 
modern times? Where was God when the 
Black Death struck down millions in Eu- 
rope? Where was God during the Holocaust? 
Emil Fackenheim's answer was, "In times 
of darkness, Jews have to contend with a si- 
lent God." Where was God's intervention 
when Stalin slaughtered millions, when Mao 
massacred millions more? Others posit that 
the ways of God are a mystery. But that turns 
religion into magic, and God is the disap- 
pearing magician. 

Where is God now, with Bosnia, 
Kosovo, Tibet, Rwanda, or during hurri- 
canes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and floods? 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

Does God only appear only to the faithful at 
worship services or in an occasional vision? 
Is God's relationship to ethical principles 
mental and not physical? Could it be indif- 
ference? Elie Wiesel has stated that this is 
the worst sin of modem times: to watch, to 
be a bystander and do nothing to reach out 
to one in need. Or can we admit that God is 
limited and not omnipotent? God might not 
be omniscient either! 

What does i mi ratio dei — imitating 
God — mean for the modern, sensitive per- 
son? Who is responsible for all the evil in 
the world? It is not a good enough answer — 
unless one is a humanist — to blame all events 
on people. Of course if there is no God. there 
is no theological problem. But who wants a 
god less compassionate than oneself? 

Openness to uncertainty in the 
pursuit of truth 

Besides the fundamentalists, it may be 
equally difficult for more open-minded 
thinkers to allow every theory, scientific or 
religious, to be questioned, by anyone at any- 
time. And yet, it seems to me, that is the 
bottom line in an honest pursuit of truth. 

I was raised in a liberal, thinking and 
questioning home. My experiences in Bible 
classes in rabbinic seminary merely extended 
an awareness that the Creation Stoiy was not 
just poetry, but myth — and, indeed, there 
were two versions of the myth in Genesis. 
My teachers also made me aware of the fact 
that every culture has the psychic need to cre- 
ate a myth of origin. It seems that same psy- 
chic need, which is deeper than curiosity, has 
prompted this century's deepening astro- 
nomic research, resulting in the more or less 
general acceptance of the Big Bang theory. 

Whether creation occurred thirteen or 
fifteen or eighteen billion years ago is irrel- 
evant to me. However, being the rationalist 
that I am (at least some of the time), I must 
admit that talk about this ever-expanding 
universe, beginning from a pinpoint, requires 
greater faith and suspension of the rational 
than accepting even a modified version of 
the Biblical account of creation. 

I quote from a recent article by Gregg 
Easterbrook in The New Republic magazine: 

When the Big Bang sounded, the 
universe expanded from a pinpoint 
to cosmological size in far less than 
one second — space itself hurtling 
outward in a torrent of pure physics, 
the bow wave or the new cosmos 
moving at trillions of times the 
speed of light. You believe that this 
process unleashed such powerful 
distortions that, for an instant, the 
hatchling universe was curved to a 
surreal degree. Extreme curvature 
caused normally rare "virtual 
particles*' to materialize from the 
quantum netherworld in 
cornucopian numbers, the stuff of 
existence being "created virtually 
out of nothing," as Scientific 
American once phrased it. 

Further, you believe that, as 
subatomic particles began to 
unbuckle from the inexplicable 
pro to- real it v. both matter and anti- 
matter formed. Immediately these 
commodities began to collide and 
annihilate themselves, vanishing as 
mysteriously as them came. The 
only reason our universe is here 
today is that the Bang was slightly 
asymmetrical, its yield favoring 
matter over anti-matter by about one 
part per 100 million. Owing to this. 
when the stupendous cosmic 
commencement day ended amid 
sundering energies beyond compre- 
hension, a residue of standard matter 
survived, and from it the galaxies 
formed. That is to say: You believe 
that a microscopic, transparent, 
empty point in primordial space- 
time contained not just one universe 
but enough potential for 100 million 

It may not be difficult to see why most 
religious fundamentalists find this a strain 
on belief. Indeed, one does not even have 
to believe in God to find this mind-boggling. 
A Orthodox Jew. Gerald Schroeder — the au- 
thor of two books. Genesis and the Big Bang 
and The Science of God — in trying to rec- 
oncile the Big Bang theory and evolution 
with the biblical account of creation in Gen- 
esis, writes: 

[TJhe first 6 days were no longer 
than the 6 days of our work week, 
but thev contained all the aees and 

The Boston Theological Institute 


all the secrets of the universe.... 
Einstein's laws of relativity taught 
the world that the passage of time 
and the perception of time's flow 
varies from place to place in our 
most amazing universe.... We look 
back while the Bible looks forward 
and as we look back, the universe 
becomes smaller and smaller. 2 

To Schroeder, "Genesis 1 and science tell the 
same account, but seen from vastly different 
perspectives." It's somewhat refreshing to 
find an Orthodox Jew accepting or even ad- 
vocating such an approach, in the face of oth- 
ers who deny even the existence of dinosaurs. 
One group of fanatics in Israel protested 
against a company that placed pictures of 
these "nonexistent" creatures on milk cartons 
in order to deceive young Orthodox children. 
Scientific research has brought to light 
another serious problem: the aspect of ran- 
domness, which also brings in the subject of 
chance. What truly opened my eyes to that 
other world were the writings of Carl Sagan. 
To the pure scientist he might be looked upon 
as a mere popularize!'. To me he was a 
Rebbe, a teacher of EMET, more truth, more 

Besides the fundamentalists, it may be 
equally difficult for more open-minded 
thinkers to allow every theory, scientific 
or religious, to be questioned, by anyone 
at anytime. And yet, it seems to me, that 
is the bottom line in an honest pursuit 
of truth. 

knowledge. Following are several ideas 
Sagan has taught me. 

The universe doesn't care about itself. It cre- 
ates beyond its control, creatures of destruc- 
tion, from dinosaurs to viruses, such as cancer. 

Darwin laid the groundwork; many have 
brought much of his research up to date. He 
wrote of natural selection and survival of the 
fittest. Natural selection is ruthless. Survival 
of the fittest is not necessarily true. 

A present estimate of all species is over 10 
million. Scientists hold that 100 species be- 
come extinct each day and we are acquainted 
with less than 10% of the total. Many spe- 
cies are becoming extinct before we even 
know of their existence. 

Most of the billions of species of life that have 
ever lived are extinct. Extinction is the norm; 
survival is the triumphant exception. 65 mil- 
lion years ago most of the species on earth 
were snuffed out, probably because of a mas- 
sive cometary or asteroidal collision. 

Let us assume that the universe is fif- 
teen billion years of age. Was that original 
pinpoint hovering in space, or where did it 
come from? Was that all of existence, in- 
cluding space? Was space, too, nonexistent? 
Or did space always exist? Did God come 
into being with the Big Bang? Or was God 
that high-energized pinpoint? Or did God 
exist before the Big Bang? 

How self-confident was God the Creator? 
The Midrash says that God created several 
worlds before this one. They didn't please 
God, so they were destroyed. God wasn't en- 
amored of this one either, but just gave up. 
I saw a cartoon re- 
cently that pictured God as 
a bearded figure, sitting be- 
hind a desk with a globe of 
the Earth on it. It was en- 
titled: "God complains 
about his job." The second 
frame had God saying, 
"The hours stink and there's 
no chance to move up." So, 
is God the imperfect Cre- 
ator, or among the created? 
Is it part of God's nature to create, come what 
may? The prophet Isaiah says that God is 
the ultimate source of everything — "I form 
the light, and create darkness: I make peace 
and create evil." 3 

Too often Jews and Christians, espe- 
cially in the Western hemisphere, believe 
they have a monopoly on the truth. Listen to 
a passage from Hindu sacred literature. The 
major deities, Vishnu, Siva, and Devi have a 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

supporting cast of thousands of gods. The 
Brahman poets in the Rg-Veda voiced their 
courageous doubt in their Hymn of Creation: 

Who verily knows and who can here 
declare it, whence it was 
born and whence came this 
The gods are later than this world's 
production. Who knows, 
then, whence it first came into 

He, the first origin of this creation, 
whether he formed it all 
or did not form it. 
Whose eye controls this world in 
highest heaven, he verily 
knows it, or perhaps he does not. 4 

What does "eternity" mean? Was there 
time before fifteen billion years ago? Could 
eternity exist in nonexistence? Is God eter- 
nal? Or are these terms essentially mean- 
ingless now? To me it is ludicrous when 
people talk about life eternal. Of course, they 
are talking about the future and not the past. 

The Midrash says that God created 
several worlds before this one. They 
didn't please God, so they were destroyed 
God wasn't enamored of this one either, 
but just gave up. 

But if we get wrinkled now in our eighties, 
imagine what we would look like after a few 
billion years! And I assume the earth will 
continue at least for that period. 
Carl Sagan has written: 

Evolution suggests that if God exists, 
God is fond of secondary causes and 
factotum processes: getting the uni- 
verse going, establishing the laws of 
nature, and then retiring from the 
scene. A hands-on Executive seems to 
be absent: power has been delegated/ 

Evolution suggests that God will not inter- 
vene, whether beseeched or not, to save us 
from ourselves. Evolution suggests we're on 
our own, that if there is a god, that god must 
be very far away. 

Black smokers bubbling up from the 
ocean floors at temperatures exceeding 200 
degrees Fahrenheit may have been where life 
in the form of microbes first appeared. Re- 
cent tests show these microbes can also sur- 
vive extremes of cold. Sagan writes about a 
self-replicating, catalytic RNA molecule as 
the first living thing in the ancient oceans 
about four billion years ago, its close rela- 
tive. DNA, being a later evolutionary refine- 
ment. There was an endless chain of adap- 
tations, many of which didn't work. Mol- 
ecules simply produce a steady stream of va- 
rieties. Every DNA is vulnerable to muta- 
tion. Randomness is more prominent that 
natural laws of progress. Life just doesn't 
know where it's going. 

We are continually barraged by new sci- 
entific theories. They are fascinating to say 
the least. About fifteen years ago, the exist- 
ence of stars composed exclusively of quarks 
was hypothesized. A quark, as I understand 
it, is composed of both a 
strong and weak force within 
each atomic particle. Scien- 
tists named these hypothetical 
stars "strange stars." How- 
ever, as yet no strange stars 
have been identified. That 
one must take on faith! 

In mid-October, a Nobel 
Prize was awarded to scien- 
tists who were able to divide 
the charges in an electron. This was affirmed 
by a team of physicists at the Weizmann In- 
stitute of Science in Israel. Electrons have 
traditionally been defined as tiny particles 
that carry the smallest negative charge in 
nature. A current made up of fractions of 
electronic charges would therefore seem just 
as absurd as describing a crowd as being 
composed of fractions of people. However, 
the only explanations scientists can devise 
for certain behavior of electrons are based 
on the assumption that electrons only seem 
to be fractionated. 

Not too long ago. scientists posited the 
theory that most galaxies probably have a 
black hole — which is like a vacuum cleaner, 

The Boston Theological Institute 


sucking in debris, stars, whatever conies its 
way. Our own Milky Way probably has one 
at its center. A black hole cannot and will 
never be seen, and yet the theory further 
states that its weight is three million times 
that of the sun. It is governed by quantum 
gravity. Is this where all existence might end 
up? Might this theory also be sucked up? 

Religion's internal impetus to change 

Religion is also undergoing challenges 
from within its own ranks. We can make 
peace with scientific discoveries easier than 
reconciling ourselves to religio-philosophic 
views of our theologians over the millennia. 

Being the rationalist that I am (at least 
some of the time), I must admit that talk 
about this ever-expanding universe, 
beginning from a pinpoint, requires 
greater faith and suspension of the ratio- 
nal than accepting even a modified ver- 
sion of the Biblical account of creation. 

The first real departure in Judaism from 
a personal deity came with the medieval Jew- 
ish philosophers, in particular Maimonides, 
who concluded that God was the Intelligence 
of the universe. It's a school of thought that 
has led to Einstein and the acceptance that 
laws of Nature point to such a power. Ran- 
domness and chance are not considered. 

A modern Jewish thinker, Mordecai M. 
Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Ju- 
daism, referred to God as "the Power that 
makes for salvation." He called his religious 
approach "transnaturalism." denying abso- 
lutely a supernatural deity, while not wholly 
satisfied with a down-to-earth humanism. 
However, salvation for Kaplan would be the 
this-worldly, fulfilling, psychological ideals 
of such writers as Fromm and Maslow. 

The most recent challenge of and by Jew- 
ish and Christian thinkers is called Process 
Theology. The thoughts I now share with you 

are from my colleague Rabbi William 
Kaufman's book, The Case for God. He be- 
gins by accepting the atheistic challenge, 
which, he admits, is formidable. When he 
once asked the American philosopher, Willard 
Van Orman Quine, why he pronounced a 
theory of atomistic materialism, Quine told 
him that God is an unnecessary hypotheses. 
Quine sees science as the only route to truth. 
Questions of ethics and moral values are com- 
pletely human in origin. Quine readily ad- 
mits that belief in God can be comforting, 
but rejects the argument that design is enough 
of a reason for belief in a Creator. 

Alfred North Whitehead 7 
admits that we cannot know 
anything beyond this tempo- 
ral world, so that if a God ex- 
ists, that God must be imma- 
nent and not transcendent. 
God is eternal while all other 
entities are temporal. But 
since everything is in God, 
part of God is also temporal. 
Whitehead concludes that the 
world is too complex to be 
random. For Whitehead, the 
order we find in nature cannot be accounted 
for without the assumption of the existence 
of God as the "ordering entity." However, 
we must think of God in a completely dif- 
ferent way than religions have in the past — 
and most, up to the present. God is not King 
of Kings. In fact, Whitehead's God is very 
much limited, working by persuasion rather 
than force. This God is the source of all new 
possibilities — good and evil — incorporating 
themselves, as well as all events, natural phe- 
nomena from electrons to tornadoes, chaos 
and order, novelty and structure. Nature 
makes choices and we make choices. How- 
ever, the bifurcation of nature into mind and 
matter is wrong and leads to our sense of 
alienation. But ultimately Whitehead, phi- 
losopher, mathematician, man of sciences, 
thoroughly conversant with the theory of 
evolution, takes a leap of faith. God is not 
only the continuing source of becoming and 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

the ordering entity of the universe, but is a 
being with whom one can enter a relation- 
ship of communion and trust. He even says 
that God suffers, which seems to me an at- 
tempt to restore some of his early 
Christology and wrap it in sheepish mysti- 

I would say that the foundation for all 
process theologians is Spinoza. s His pan- 
theistic view of Dens sive Nature/ — God and 
Nature are the same — is the starting point 
for modem theories. Just as every individual 
is both being and becoming, as is Nature, so 
do the modern thinkers devise new concepts 
of God to reflect this same process. Charles 
Hartshorne" extends Spinoza's pantheism to 
panentheism, i.e., the universe is within God. 
Hartshorne writes that it is inconceivable to 
think of non-being, of pure nothingness. 
Therefore, there must be at least one indi- 
vidual — God — who exists necessarily. 
Kaufman points out that much of 
Hartshorne's philosophy is intuitive. 
Hartshorne also states that complete cosmic 
chaos is inconceivable. Are there not laws 
of nature? This old argument from design 
is frequently challenged by scientists and is 
part of a running argument that will continue, 
at least for decades. To Hartshorne, it is ir- 
rational to choose not to believe in God. 
Humanism is inadequate, because "to say 
nature is godless is to say that it is not basi- 
cally intelligible." For him. the ultimate in- 
telligibility and integrity of the universe is 
basic, an ontological presupposition. 

There are many other process theolo- 
gians; I just wish to give you a taste, because 
it seems to me that no further analysis of 
ancient and medieval views of God is needed 
or relevant for contemporary seekers after 
truth. Talmudic pilpul and medieval scho- 
lasticism are diversionary bleeps on the con- 
tinuum of philosophic and religious inquiry. 

Other perplexities, religious and 

Both Hebrew and Christian scriptures, 
although each has different emphases, are 

books of faith. They are not scientific texts. 
There were no stenographers trailing along 
with Moses or Jesus, and the record of their 
revelations is, at best, secondhand reporting. 
Any individual's claim, in any period of his- 
tory, is his or her reality only. Others may 
wish voluntarily to accept it as truth and even 
form groups of followers. So be it. But that 
claim is not empirical nor subject to any ra- 
tional testing. Any group's dogmatic claim 
to exclusivity is nonsense. If there is a god. 
that god must be god of the universe and all 
humanity. Also, it seems to me there is little 
difference if a certain culture believes in one 
God while others hold to many deities. The 
bottom line is the ethics of existence. Any 
interpretation of a tradition is morally bank- 
rupt if it justifies the bombing of abortion clin- 
ics and cold blooded murder of physicians, 
or portrays acts of terrorism as warranted and 
pleasing in the eyes of God. But can we com- 
plain about moral bankruptcy among peoples, 
if God can and yet does nor intervene with 
all the human tragedies that abound? Where 
do we get our sense of ethical? 

I mentioned several problems presented 
by scientific findings. Here are a few more 
questions: How fast is our universe expand- 
ing? Despite the enormity of our universe 
with a hundred million galaxies, and billions 
and billions of stars, is it the only universe? 
Might there be other universes, some smaller, 
some larger, out in infinite space? Why not 
multi-universes? Is there a God for each uni- 
verse? Polytheism might be right after all! 

So many scientific theories are math- 
ematical constructs. Most of us think of re- 
ality in terms of four dimensions. Several 
years ago I read about ten dimensions. The 
last six. I was told, are mathematical formu- 
lae. Under the same rubric comes the more 
recent "superstring theory." in which all fun- 
damental particles are made of incredible 
tiny loops of enormous tensile strength. The 
way they vibrate generates the entire two 
hundred particles. What are superstrings 
made of? Nothing. They are a mathemati- 
cal construct. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


How does the brain remember, and how 
did consciousness come about? How did it 
emerge from the brain's complicated mo- 
lecular structure? What will the human brain 
be like in the next millennium? Arthur 
Koestler has written that in the course of 
evolution human beings have progressed 
from instinct to emotion to rationality. As 
you recall, Aristotle wrote that "man is a ra- 
tional animal.'* My own postscript is: Yes, 
every once in awhile. Of course, tonight is 
one of those rare moments! 

Why are we usually mired in our emo- 
tion? Why are our animal needs so over- 
powering? Why can we not get a handle on 
our hostility? And yet there is something 
special about human beings. We are creators 
of art, music, and literature. Why this aes- 
thetic need? We do not need these for sur- 
vival, but they certainly enhance our lives. 

TOE is the abbreviation for Theory of 
Everything. That is what we really seek. 
Some believe science will arrive at the ulti- 
mate unifying equation. Some believe reli- 
gion already has arrived there in the being 
of God. And some of us are humble enough 
to admit that we don't know very much about 
either. Martin Gardner, in a recent essay en- 
titled "Science and the Unknowable," wrote: 

There is no escape from the 
superultimate questions: Why is 
there something rather than nothing, 
and why is the something structured 
the way it is? As Stephen Hawking 
recently put it, "Why does the 
universe go to all the hother of 

For fifteen billion years our universe, 
we suppose, has been in existence. Ever 
since our first ancestors began seeking an- 
swers to their origins, the quest has been un- 
relenting. If we don't destroy ourselves in 
the meantime, we should arrive at a few more 
answers every billion or so years. 

Works cited: 

Agus, Jacob. Interview in The Condition 
of Jewish Belief: A Symposium. 
Compiled by the editors of Commentary 
magazine. Toronto and New York: 
Macmillan, 1966. 

Begley, Sharon. "Science Finds God." 
Newsweek (20 July 1998), 46-51. 

The Bible [Hebrew]. Tanakh: A New 
Translation of the Holy Scriptures. 
Philadelphia: Jewish Publication 
Society, 1985. 

Davies, Paul. God and the New Physics. 
New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983. 

Easterbrook, Gregg. "Science Sees the 
Light." The New Republic ( 12 Oct. 
1998), 24-9. 

Fackenheim, Emil. Interview in The 
Condition of Jewish Belief: A Sympo- 
sium. Compiled by the editors of 
Commentary magazine. Toronto and 
New York: Macmillan. 1966. 

Fromm, Erich. You Shall Be As Gods. New 
York: Holt. Reinhart & Winston, 1966. 

Gamow, George. One, Two, Three, 
Infinity. Republication of 1961 revised 
edition. New York: Dover, 1988. 

Gardner, Martin. "Science and the Un- 
knowable." Skeptical Inquirer, 22, 6 
(Nov./Dec. 1998), 20ff. 

Jones, W. T. A History of Western Philoso- 
phy. Vol II. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 

Kaplan, Mordecai M. The Meaning of 
God in Modern Jewish Religion. 
Revised edition. New York: Jewish 
Reconstructionist Foundation, 1957. 

Kaufman, William. The Case for God. St. 
Louis: Chalice Press, 1991. 

Koestler, Arthur. The Act of Creation. 
New York: Macmillan, 1964. 

Martin, Bruce. "Coincidences: Remark- 
able or Random?" Skeptical Inquirer 
22, 5 (Sept./Oct. 1998) 23-28. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

Raymo, Chet. Skeptics and True Believ- 
ers. New York: Walker & Co.. 1998. 

Renou. Louis, ed. Hinduism. Great 
Religions of Modem Man. New York, 
George Braziller, 1961. 

Rubenstein, Richard. Interview in The 
Condition of Jewish Belief: A Sympo- 
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Commentary magazine. Toronto and 
New York: Macmillan, 1966. 

Sagan, Carl. The Demon-Haunted World. 
New York: Random House, 1995 

, and Ann Druyan. Shadows of 

Forgotten Ancestors. New York: 
Random House, 1962. 

Schroeder, Gerald. Genesis and the Big 
Bang. New York: Bantom Books, 1990. 

. The Science of God: The Conver- 
gence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom. 
New York: Free Press, 1997. 

. "in the Beginning." The Jerusa- 

lem Post (29 Aug 1998). 

Sternglass, Ernest J. Before the Big Bang. 

New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 

Wiesel, Elie. The Town Beyond the Wall. 

Trans. Stephen Becker. New York: 

Atheneum. 1964. 
Zierler, Wendy. "Genesis Stars on TV." 

Moment Magazine (Oct. 1996) 52ff. 


1. See Begley. 

2. Schroeder (1998). p. 15. 

3. Isa45:7. 

4. Rg-Veda 10.129. See Renou, p. 68. 

5. Sagan and Druyan, p. 67. 

6. See Kaufman. 

7. See Jones. 

8. See Kaufman. 

Dr. Kaplan is the founding Rabbi of Congregation Klal Yisrael, Stoughton, Massa- 
chusetts. After receiving his bachelor's degree from the Johns Hopkins University, 
he received his ordination and Doctor of Divinity from Hebrew Union College. An 
adjunct faculty member at Stonehill College, he teaches courses in the departments 
of History and Religious Studies. He is an active participant in both Jewish/Catholic 
and Jewish/Protestant dialogue groups. 

He gave this talk in November 1 998, opening the annual lecture series of the Center 
for Faith and Science Exchange. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


66 Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

The Missing Face of Ecology in Pauline Theology: 

Conservation of Mass-Energy in Reconfiguring 

Immortality as Everlastingness 

Nicole Roskos 

The early Judaic affirmation o/generation(s) and earthly incorporation, a value of eco- 
logical potential, is undermined by the resurrection theology of Paul. The author argues 
that, when the first law of thermodynamics is taken into consideration, a reconstruction of a 
more ecologically responsible conception of immortality emerges. 

His disciples said to him, "When will 
the kingdom come?" [Jesus said] "It 
will not come hy waiting tor it. It will 
not he a matter of saying 'here it is' or 
'there it is.' Rather, the kingdom of 
the father is spread out upon the earth, 
and people do not see it." 

—The Gospel of Thomas 138' 

His disciples said to him, "When will 
the repose of the dead come about, and 
when will the new world come?" He 
said to them, "What you look forward 
to has already come, hut you do not 
recognize it." 

— The Gospel of Thomas 51 2 

On Earth, death is essential to the re- 
generation of life. Decaying matter is com- 
posed of nutrients "regenerated into forms 
that can be reused by plants, by the activi- 
ties of the countless worms, snails, insects, 
mites, bacteria, and fungi that consume de- 
tritus (dead material)... as food." 3 While the 
notion of reincorporation into the earth is 
identifiable in the early Judaic tradition of 
"dust to dust," 4 Pauline theology tells a dif- 
ferent story: 

What is sown is perishable, what is 
raised is imperishable.... For the perish- 
able body must put on imperishability, 
and this mortal body must put on 
immortality.... Death will be swallowed 
up in victory. 5 

This essay will explore these opposing views 
of death and the renewal of life in early Ju- 
daic thought. Pauline theology, and their re- 
spective ecological and cosmological impli- 
cations. The objective is twofold: 1 ) to de- 
scribe the early Judaic blessing of earthly 
generation(s) and its struggle in the first cen- 
tury c.E. with an ecologically resistant, 
Pauline ideal of immortality; and, 2) in af- 
firmation of ecological generations ), to use 
the law of conservation of mass-energy as a 
tool for reconsidering the Pauline Spirit in 
an everlasting universe. 


To understand how death is constructed 
in early Judaic cosmology, the descriptions 
of creation in the book of Genesis are im- 

Birth from the earth: 
"Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants 
yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind 
on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it" 

Birth from its waters: 
"Let the waters bring forth swarms of living 
creatures, and let birds fly above the earth 
across the dome of the sky.... God blessed 
them saying. 'Be fruitful and multiply and 

The Boston Theological Institute 


fill the waters in the seas, and let birds mul- 
tiply on the earth'" (1:20, 22). Human- 
kind too are encouraged to "be fruitful and 
multiply" (1:28). And all of "[t]hese are 
the generations of the heavens and the 
earth..." (2:4). 

In considering generation(s) as a pre- 
dominant theme of Genesis there is an ini- 
tial implication of sustenance: "See, I have 
given you every plant yielding seed that is 
upon the face of the earth" (1:29). Not just 
to humankind, but "to every beast of the 
earth, and to every bird of the air ...every- 
thing that has the breath of life, I have given 
every green plant for food" (1:30). Earthly 
sustenance has death built into its logic: es- 
sentially, these plants die when consumed. 
But in sustaining new life, could plant death 
simply imply a transformation of energy? A 
dying plant ultimately relinquishes its iden- 
tity as a plant, whereas the elements of its 
body live on and are transformed through 
the food chain. 

However death is defined, then, either 
as the loss of an individual life or as incor- 
poration into new life, the book of Genesis 
affirms a fundamental tenet of contemporary 
ecology — the food web. Producers such as 
plants transform sunlight, water, and carbon 
dioxide into glucose and oxygen. Consum- 
ers ingest these plants or other consumers, 
while decomposers (bacteria and fungi) feed 
off of all dead matter, breaking it down into 
those nutrients essential to a plant's survival.'' 

"Plants yielding seed of every kind" 
(1:12) initially has the message of 
generation( s) woven into it. The seeds sig- 
nify death when they signify life. "It is the 
power of fertility that makes the continuance 
of the species possible," 7 the continuance 
of all species. Genesis 1:11 repeatedly em- 
phasizes the generational capacity of birth: 
"Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants 
yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind 
that bear fruit with the seed in it." Death is 
encoded in the generation of both plant and 
animal bodies. Thus, the theme of 

generution(s) in Genesis affirms the life- 
death cycle, making this text a powerful 
source of ecological wisdom. In Earth's eco- 
systems, generation marks both the How of 
energy from producers through decompos- 
ers and the How of energy through repro- 
duction from one generation to the next.* 

Death is forever inscribed in the story 
of Genesis when the generations are said to 
return to the earth from which they emerge 
(3:19). Earth is the root of generation and 
the body of incorporation. All life is bom of 
earth, consumes or is consumed, and returns 
to the earth in death. This connection to the 
earth is an essential component of the gen- 
erational theme. For humanity, earthly conti- 
guity is emphasized in the ha-adama/ha-adam 
(earth/earthling) wordplay: 

[T]hen Yahweh God formed the 
earth creature [ha-adam] of dust 
from the earth [ha-adama] (2:7)/' 

Lyn Bechtel calls the relationship in Gen- 
esis between earth and earthling a "differ- 
entiated unity": 

The human's original unity with the 
ground establishes an intimate related- 
ness that is always retained (as an 
adult, the human's primary role will be 
to cultivate the ground to produce 
food, 2:5; 3.23).... Unity and separa- 
tion are an essential dynamic that 
continues throughout life, beginning in 
the separation of life (birth) and 
ending in the return to unity with the 
ground in death (3:19)."' 

"Dust to dust" reunion with earth is indirectly 
emphasized in Genesis when any attempt to 
live forever is banned in the forbidden tree 

of life (3:22). 

The sin/fall interpretation 

To this point, this discussion of Gen- 
esis has purposefully ignored the sin/fall in- 
terpretation. The reading of the story of Eden 
as "the Fall" seems to have been constructed 
through a Hellenistic lens that favored im- 
mortality. The concept of resurrection, stem- 
ming from Zoroastrian religion, emerged in 
Jewish apocalypticism, which in turn was 
influenced by "the Hellenistic milieu" of life- 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

after-death traditions." Emphasis on heaven 
as the site of immortality, or "astral immor- 
tality," 12 established an apparent dualism that 
favored an immortal heaven over a mortal 

The sin/fall interpretation stands in con- 
trast to the early Judaic view of death as in- 
tegral to life, of earth as the source and des- 
tination of bodies. Its ideals of immortality 
render death a punishment, ultimately ne- 
gating the very meaning, in Genesis, of gen- 
erational earth. The sin/fall interpretation 
demonstrates little if any viability in the text 
of Genesis and subsequent Judaic scripture. 
Scholars have questioned the stark absence 
of any 'sin,' 'Fall,' or 'punishment' references 
to the Eden story throughout the whole of 
the Hebrew Bible, "despite the plentiful op- 
portunities — particularly in the prophets." l3 
Some hints of the beginnings of a sin/fall 
type of interpretation emerge much later, 
from the third century b.c.e., in 
Ecclesiasticus and the Wisdom of Ben Sira. 14 
The "ideas of a 'Fall' came into the Chris- 
tian world through Orphic thought... found 
in the Phaedrus, where Plato describes heav- 

However death is defined, then, either 
as the loss of an individual life or as 
incorporation into new life, the book of 
Genesis affirms a fundamental tenet of 
contemporary ecology — the food web. 

enly perfections shedding their wings and 
falling to the earth to be implanted and born 
as humans." 15 Thus, Carol Meyers con- 
cludes that "it is more appropriate to drop 
the term 'Fall' from any reference to the story 
in its Hebraic context." "' 

Immortality: Christian theology eats 
of the tree of life 

The story of Eden assumes a radically 
different form in early Christianity. The 
works attributed to Paul clearly and firmly 

establish a system of death versus immor- 
tality in his interpretation of Adam. Paul 
constructs a "divided self* l? along the lines 
of a Christ/Adam dualism, analogous to life/ 

For since death came through a 
human being, the resurrection of the 
dead has also come through a human 
being: for as all die in Adam, so all 
will be made alive in Christ... .The 
last enemy to be destroyed is death. 
(1 Cor 15:22-26) 

According to Paul, the transgression of 
Adam causes death. In turn, Christ's death and 
resurrection essentially breaks the ha-adaml 
ha-adama continuity. Paul's Christ frames 
the familiar conception that humans may be 
liberated from "bondage to decay" (Rom 
8:19-23) into a heavenly eternal life. But 
Paul tells us: 

[l]t is not the spiritual that is first, but 
the physical, and then the spiritual. 
The first man was from the earth, a 
man of dust; the second man is from 

(1 Cor 15:46-47. emphasis added) 

And so it is with the resurrection of the dead 
that the ecologically impossible happens: the 
immortalization of bodies. 
"The dead will be raised im- 
perishable" until "Death has 
been swallowed up in vic- 
tory" (1 Cor 15:50-54). Hav- 
ing reinterpreted Genesis, 
Paul effectively "eats" of the 
Tree of Life. 

Why was immortality so 
important to Paul? Why this 
urgency to be freed from the "bondage to 
decay?" Paul reads Adam's sin as an initia- 
tion of death; the fleshly side of the self har- 
bored a state of both sin and mortality. In 
contrast, Christ symbolizes the aspect of the 
self that participates in the spiritual life with 
an ability to do good, to the point of being 
liberated from sin and death. By equating 
sin with death, Paul finds the goodness of 
Christ, not simply in living the virtuous life, 
but also in the belief that he was 

The Boston Theological Institute 


resurrected after his death. Thus, salvation 
has come to mean goodness in this world, 
and goodness has come to mean immortal 
life. 1 ^ 

Does Paul not encourage a generational 
message in the recycling of physical bodies 
through the resurrection? In reference to 
1 Cor 15:38-58, Joel Green is one of many 
scholars who have noticed in Pauline theol- 
ogy a "profound continuity between present 
life in this world and life everlasting with 
God." '" For instance, Paul symbolizes the 
logic of resurrection through a simple ob- 
servation of nature: "What you sow does not 
come to life unless it dies" (vs 36). Paul's 
message takes a turn against nature, how- 
ever, upon the introduction of his preference 
of the spiritual body of heaven over and 
against the physical body of earth. His dis- 
crimination against the earthly or physical 
becomes clear as he declares that "what is 
sown is perishable"(vs 42) and in a state of 
"dishonor" and "weakness" (vs 43); these 
"sown" aspects are to be ultimately escaped 
in the resurrection. Eventually, this spiritual 
or heavenly body will be victorious, as "the 
dead will be raised im- 
perishable" (vs 52). 

Distinct from the 
preresurrected, the res- 
urrected body is again 
described by Paul, 
ironically using nature 
as an analogy: "like a 
flower compared to its 
seed" (1 Cor 15: 36- 
38). An attempt to 
comprehend the kind 
of body resurrected was obviously impor- 
tant in Paul's context. In his book The 
Corinthian Body, Dale Martin speculates 
that, despite evidence that many Jews and 
Christians at the time equated resurrection 
of the body with resurrection of the corpse, 
Paul rejected the resurrection of flesh and 

What kind of body is to be resurrected 
for Paul? His response to this question 

evokes a hierarchical view of Creation. 
Those of the flesh (sar.x), i.e., humans, 
beasts, birds, and fish — terrestrial bodies — 
are posited as being lesser than the celestial 
bodies (soma) (1 Cor 15:39-40). Martin 
claims that Paul's designation of terrestrial 
bodies as initially sar.x and the celestial as 
soma caters to a physiological hierarchy, 
favoring the celestial over the terrestrial. 
"The switch in terminology is the first clue as 
to how important a physiological hierarchy is 
for Paul's own conception of the resurrected 
body." The resurrection "will partake of a 
nature similar to that of heavenly bodies and 
will be as much higher than the current earthly 
body in the physiological hierarchy as the 
heavenly bodies are in comparison to earthly 
bodies." 20 

Martin emphasizes that those transla- 
tions which posit a "physical body" against 
a "spiritual body" are faulty, because audi- 
ences are blinded by a Cartesian material/ 
immaterial dualism, quite contrary to Paul's 
intentions. Martin suggests the two bodies 
would be better translated as pneumatic 
body/psychic body (soma pneumatikonl 

Paul's message takes a turn against na- 
ture, however, upon the introduction of his 
preference of the spiritual body of heaven 
over and against the physical body of 

soma psychikon). He argues that to be true 
to the context both kinds of bodies must be 
considered to be material, composed of dif- 
ferent substances. The resurrected, "pneu- 
matic," body was believed to have a higher 
nature, since pneuma was airy and 
illuminous and therefore finer in substance 
than the denser, decay-prone psychic body. 21 
Martin explains: 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

According to Paul, the resurrected 
body is stripped of flesh, blood, and 
soul (psyche): it has nothing of the 
earth in it at all, being composed 
entirely of the celestial substance of 
pneuma...and hence the possibility 
for immortality. 22 

Conserving generation(s) and the 
conservation of mass-energy 

As previously argued, the book of Gen- 
esis harbors an ecological message of gen- 
eration: organic creation, reproduction, and 
reincorporation into earth through death. 
John Cobb explained the contemporary 
problem of human generation! s) by claim- 
ing simply that humans have already fulfilled 
the commandment to be fruitful and multi- 
ply. 23 Human overpopulation threatens all 
generations of life. It is also "consuming 
resources faster than new resources are be- 
ing regenerated by the biosphere, all the 
while pouring forth so much waste that the 
quality of the environment in most regions 
of the earth is deteriorating at an alarming 
rate.'* 24 In this sense, extinctions born of 
human over-exploitation blaspheme the 
name of Genesis, ending generation(s). 

As examined above, Pauline under- 
standing of the resurrec- 
tion appears to obscure the 
early Judaic message pro- 
claiming "dust to dust." 
Immortality, for Paul, pre- 
scribes salvation/rowi and 
not for earthly genera- 
tions), thereby breaking 
the connection between 
earth and earthling. More- 
over, through later Chris- 
tian acceptance and appro- 
priation of Pauline theol- 
ogy, this model of immortality has produced 
practices that abandon the stewardship of the 
generation(s) of earth, in favor of a stew- 
ardship of souls. 

How might one conceive of life after 
death without ending ecological 
generations p. The following reconstructive 
exercise attempts to answer this question 

through an exploration of a "spiritual mate- 
rialism," one that values heaven-earth, life- 
death, and earth-earthling connections of 
Genesis as "differentiated unities," 2;i over 
such Pauline dualist hierarchies as heaven/ 
earth, spiritual/physical, and life/death. This 
reconceptualization of cosmology will not 
simply dismiss Pauline heritage. In fact, it 
finds great inspiration and momentum 
through Paul's own vision of cosmic recon- 
ciliation, while simultaneously criticizing the 
Pauline hierarchical valuation of immortal 
heaven over mortal earth. 

First, an abbreviated look at physics will 
establish the ground for this conception of 
the universe. The law of conservation of 
mass-energy postulates that mass equals 
energy; that this mass-energy can neither be 
created nor destroyed but simply trans- 
formed from one entity into another. 2 '' For 
instance, ecology examines how "the cycling 
of elements has assumed equal standing with 
the flow of energy." 27 

The law of conservation of mass-energy 
provides the basis for reconstructing immor- 
tality as the everlastingness of the universe. 
The persistent quantity of matter-energy not 

Immortality, for Paul ', prescribes salvation 
from and not for earthly generation(s), 
thereby breaking the connection between 
earth and earthling. This model of immor- 
tality has produced practices that abandon 
the stewardship of the generation(s) of 
earth for a stewardship of souls. 

only inspires a particular ecological and cos- 
mological awareness of our manipulation 
of matter (e.g., the burden of landfills and 
radioactive dumps upon future generations), 
but it also provides fuel for understanding 
death. In light of how both ecology and 
Genesis appear to affirm reincorporation of 
the body through death, notions of 

The Boston Theological Institute 


generations) may truly be relevant to Chris- 
tian interpretations of immortality. 

Perhaps the desire for life after death 
stems from a human need to seek a mean- 
ingful existence beyond death. As the body 
decomposes, a familiar question arises: what 
happens to the "soul"? Studies in neuro- 
science and genetics have confirmed the 
physiological sources of human behavior; as 
a matter of reaction, there has been a move- 
ment to propose a conception of the soul 
according to a non-reductive physicalist po- 
sition. In Whatever Happened to the Soul: 
Scientific and Theological Portraits of Hu- 
man Nature, the soul is defined in various 
ways, from the individual perspective in re- 
lationship and the conscious mind to the 
emotional, psychological, and/or rational 
aspects of a person that facilitate experiences 
of love, transcendence, and morality.- 18 
While the non-reductive physicalist position 
roots these aspects in physiological pro- 
cesses, they must not be merely reduced to 
scientific explanation. 2 " 

In accordance with the non-reductive 
physicalist definitions of soul, the original 
question now may be reconsidered: what 
happens to the soul after death? If the soul/ 
self is simply reabsorbed into the ecosystem, 
would popular culture not consider this a 
great loss? The law of conservation of mass- 
energy declares the soul/self not destroyed 
but converted into another form of energy. 
Accordingly, an organism's lifetime depth 
of knowledge and/or experience is lost, then, 
to what physicists call a "heat death." 30 What 
moral inspiration can be derived from such 
a death? Is there any hope in the meaning- 
fulness of life without an individual resur- 

Cosmic Christ 

For Paul, the resurrection of the body is 
not one of individual human resurrection. 
Martin claims that in Paul's view, every 
Christian body consists of two natures: the 
Adamic body (earthly psychic body of flesh 
and blood) and the body of Christ (pneumatic 
body from heaven). During earthly life hu- 

mans share bodily continuity with both na- 
tures — sar.x and pneuma. As sarx can pol- 
lute the pneumatic body, the pneuma cleanses 
the body of death and/or sin. 11 In its con- 
text, Martin suggests that the "salvation of 
the spirit" might be otherwise conceived as 
the "health of the pneuma.'"' 1 ' 1 Paul's pneu- 
matic resurrection body is a light, airy, lu- 
minous substance that can exist in earthly 
bodies, though its destination and source is 
heaven. This bodily continuity that humans 
share with the cosmos in Pauline physiol- 
ogy enables further speculation on the sig- 
nificance of bodily resurrection, not as indi- 
vidual, but as cosmic redemption. 

Pauline resurrection theology calls for 
a cosmic redemption based upon the unity 
of all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:10), 
where God may be all in all (1 Cor 15:28). 
Through Christ all things were created, and 
in Christ all things hold together and are ul- 
timately reconciled "whether on earth or in 
heaven" (Colossians 1: 14-20). Although this 
vision does justice to the contemporary eco- 
logical and cosmological view of a unified 
universe that is deeply interconnected, Paul's 
cosmic redemption clearly strays from this 
ecological course in the hope for a deathless 

For the creation waits with eager 
longing for the revealing of the sons of 
God: for the creation was subjected to 
futility, not of its own will but by the 
will of him who subjected it in hope; 
because the creation itself will be set 
free from its bondage to decay and 
obtain the glorious liberty of the 
children of God. . .the redemption of our 

(Rom 8:19-22) 

What does this redemption mean in light 
of Martin's argument about the pneumatic 
body? If Paul's resurrected body was indeed 
meant to be a pneumatic body, then his view 
of incorruptibility and the reconciliation of 
creation must be understood as being based 
upon an idea of celestial materiality. In other 
words, his interpretation of the resurrection 
will not involve life as we know it on earth: 
no crawling, walking, or slithering bodies, 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

no waterfalls, trees, mud. or birds. To the 
contrary, is his vision not that cosmic recon- 
ciliation will transform us all into stars? 

Consider the possibility that the pneu- 
matic nature of the resurrection is not of 
individuals such as ourselves, but rather a 
reincorporation into the pneumatic body of 
the celestial. Pneuma, for the Greeks, might 
signify breath or air. as well as the illumina- 
tion of the stars. From contemporary cos- 
mology, we know ourselves and the earth to 
be made of star dust destined for a celestial 
reunion. In light of Dale Martin's argument 
that the Pauline resurrection involves a ce- 
lestial body, Paul's view can be seen as not 
so removed from some general assumptions 
of today's cosmology. 

Recall the big bang theory of an increas- 
ingly expanding and cooling universe: gen- 
erations of proto-galaxies emerged from the 
hydrogen and helium gas under the collaps- 
ing pull of gravitaty. The matter of the gal- 
axies collapsed into stars, some of which 
exploded as supernovas, turning into black 
holes or dense neutron stars. These explo- 
sions flung out heavier elements, which be- 
came part of the material for the next gen- 
eration of stars. Our sun, a second- or third- 
generation star, was formed from a cloud of 
rotating gas debris of earlier supernovas. 
Cosmologist Stephen Hawking explains how 
the universe came into being: 

Most of the gas in that cloud went to 
form the sun or got blown away, but a 
small amount of the heavier elements 
collected together to form the bodies 
that now orbit the sun as planets like 
the earth. 33 

Earth is also destined for the stars. It may 
be reincorporated into the celestial either by 
the explosion of a nearby star or by the even- 
tual swelling of our own star, the sun. 34 

Might Paul's pneumatic body be likened 
to the star energy that gave birth to Earth and 
to which Earth is destined? Undoubtedly, 
Paul's conception of the cosmos was radically 
different from today's cosmology. His de- 
valuation of the mortal life of terrestrial bod- 
ies contrasts with our understanding of the 

precious conditions under which biological 
life can develop. If indeed Martin is correct 
in suggesting that Paul considered immortal 
life of the pneuma as also entailing rational, 
cognitive, or perceptive aspects of life, then 
Pauline ascription of immortality to celestial 
bodies is scientifically implausible. 35 

Paul's breathing light of pneuma. iflik- 
ened to the star matter composing Earth, can 
indeed evolve into and exist within life sys- 
tems. However, nothing approaching human 
life could survive under the extreme condi- 
tions of stars. Additionally, stars themselves 
are not immortal but follow the generational 
pattern of creation. Individual death is not 
excluded even from the heavens. Once bom, 
all stars will eventually die. 

What if the pneumatic body was likened 
to the clouds of dust and particles moving in 
and out of stars and galaxies? Might, then, 
this everlasting matter-energy in the universe 
be of an immortal and incorruptible nature, 
in the sense that it can never be lost or de- 
stroyed, only transformed? The notion of 
an eternal universe has been appealing to sci- 
entists and theologians alike, but the possi- 
bility has been put on the back burner by 
most scientists, due to the entropic principles 
of the second law of thermodynamics. Paul 
Davies describes its effects on the cosmos: 

Everywhere we look, in every corner 
of the cosmos, entropy is rising irre- 
versibly... .The universe seems des- 
tined to continue crumbling, running 
down towards a state of thermody- 
namic equilibrium and maximum dis- 
order, after which nothing further of 
interest will happen. Physicists call this 
depressing prospect 'the heat death.' 3 ' 

Although matter-energy in an expanding 
universe is never lost, it is unforeseeable that 
the formation of new stars or galaxies, not 
to mention life, could occur under such ex- 
treme conditions. As the universe itself ex- 
perienced a birth, like the human it will also 
experience death. 37 While the energy of the 
universe will never disappear (in this sense 
truly everlasting), eventually it will no longer 
be capable of beaming with life, galaxies, 
and stars, as it does now. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


While this view of a dying universe is 
bleak, the current limitations of knowledge 
must be considered. Although the under- 
standing of entropy creates this depressing 
apocalyptic view of the cosmic future, this 
same rise of entropy has given birth to the 
complex universe we know today. Ilya 
Prigogine describes the entropic creation of 
the cosmos: 

The universe starts with a burst of 
entropy (chaos) which leaves matter in 
an organized state. And, after this, the 
matter is slowly dissipating and 
creating in this dissipation, as a by- 
product, cosmological structures, lite, 
and finally, ourselves. You see, there 
is so much entropy dissipated that you 
can use it to build something." 38 

That the same principle responsible for 
the organization of the universe is respon- 
sible for its demise suggests that despair is 
perhaps not warranted. And so, as life is de- 
pendent upon the cosmic and earthly gen- 
erational processes, indebted to them for 
existence, should not trust be placed in the 
spirit of this cosmic miracle by resigning to 
it at death, and understanding that this dis- 
solution is part of the "bottomless mystery 
that can never be reducible to current scien- 
tific hypotheses?" 39 Human construction 
and perception indeed has its limits. Even 
as the understanding of the meaning and 
workings of creation deepens, no one can 
boast of certitude about the meaning, source, 
and destination of all that exists. 

Many find hope in scientific speculation 
about the possibilities for the cosmos. The 
notion of the everlastingness of generation(s) 
may be hopeful in light of the "many-uni- 
verses" theories arising from quantum cos- 
mology. For instance, theories of mother and 
child universes allow for an infinite number 
of generations of universes. These provide 
hope for the continued self-organization of 
life despite an eventual heat death of our 
universe. These theories are based on "ran- 
dom fluctuations" of quantum physics where 
on "an ultramicroscopic scale, ...all manner 
of bumps, wormholes. and bridges should be 

forming and collapsing throughout space- 
time." In this view, our universe began as 
"an outgrowth of some larger system, which 
then detached itself to become an indepen- 
dent entity." 4 " Davies continues: 

The "mother" universe which spawned 
ours is also continuously inflating at a 
fantastic rate and spewing out baby 
universes for all its worth. If this state 
of affairs is correct, it implies that 
"our" universe is only part of an infi- 
nite assemblage of universes, although 
it is self-contained now.... An interest- 
ing question is whether our universe is 
also capable of being mother, and 
producing child universes.... 41 

A many-universes theory proposed by Lee 
Smolin describes the existence of stars as 
"an essential prerequisite for the formation 
of life," and says that "the same conditions 
that encourage life also encourage the birth 
of other life-giving universes." 42 

As examined above, Paul's celestial res- 
urrection parallels contemporary cosmology. 
As stars facilitate conditions for life, "the 
pneumatic body" is also responsible for life. 
Might the pneuma be somehow immortal- 
ized through its petpetual existence in our 
universe, or in its transformation from one 
universe to another? However, Paul's be- 
lief that immortality necessarily excludes 
death still remains untenable for this theory. 
Even with the prospect of many universes, 
as far as can be told, each universe would 
still operate with entropy and death as inte- 
gral to the renewal of life. 

Cosmic Christ and ecological ethics 

Might Paul's "cosmic Christ" be trans- 
formable into an advocate for an environ- 
mental ethic? James Nash, in his book, Lov- 
ing Nature: Ecological Integrity and Chris- 
tian Responsibility, writes that Christian be- 
lief in cosmic reconciliation proves that the 
Creator values the whole of nature, and thus 
that Christians must imitate a God who cares 
for and has mercy on all creatures. 41 Nash 
believes the Spirit is leading us to manifestat 
of the New Creation. Thus, God's objective 
becomes our responsibility. We must pre- 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

pare for God's final re-creation by participat- 
ing in it, by caring for and loving nature. 44 In 
contrast to this love for nature, Nash echoes 
Paul's reduction of death to evil. He explains: 

[Mortality is the ultimate problem of 
morality when God is perceived as 
beneficent, and death is interpreted as 
conclusive... .[Arguments from 
biological necessity — death as a 
function of the limitation of resources 
and the condition of new life — do not 
resolve the problem. They fail to do 
justice to a fundamental query: Why 
did a good God create a biosphere in 
which the evil of death is necessary to 
avoid a greater evil of biological 
unsustainability? 45 

Nash's belief that death is evil seems to be 
in reaction to death as "conclusive." He 
claims that a "good" God of love, justice, 
and reconciliation would not "finally break 
all relationships." It would be ironic, he says. 
to be told to love one another by a God that 
would "snap forever all ties." 4 " 

The book of Genesis best demonstrates the 
covenant o/generation(s) as a link between 
birth and death through 'earth' in the 
ha-adam/ha-adama wordplay. If this 
generational covenant is considered along- 
side the law of conservation of mass-energy, 
then might the everlastingness of the 
universe provide a meaning for death? 

It is of concern that Nash sees death only 
as an end to relationships. Indeed, death as- 
sumes a painful loss of loved ones. Undoubt- 
edly, death is too often the unfortunate con- 
sequence of human evil or accident. How- 
ever, this does not make death itself evil. In 
addition, does not the recognition that death 
will terminate our relationships with loved 
ones intensify the meaningfulness of loving 
one another? Does not the act of loving now 
somehow continue after death, positively re- 

verberating through generation(sp. Ecologi- 
cal integrity means enabling the highest qual- 
ity of existence for all generation! s) and thus 
advocates experiencing love in the present. 
The book of Genesis best demonstrates 
the covenant of generations) as a link be- 
tween birth and death through 'earth' in the 
ha-adam/ha-adama wordplay. If this gen- 
erational covenant is considered alongside 
the law of conservation of mass-energy, then 
might the everlastingness of the universe 
provide a meaning for death? We inherit this 
earth through countless hands, paws, and 
roots. The land is ancestry, composed of the 
generations of life. 

In this view, humanity is not responsible 
for biological mortality. We are, however, 
responsible for morality, the choice of good 
or evil, well-being or exploitation. We have 
not only been blessed with the wisdom and 
bodies of our ancestors, but Paul's notion of 
inherited sin is indeed a way 
of reckoning and transform- 
ing our "heritage of injus- 
tice." 47 Paul's conception of 
inherited sin is valuable in 
this way. It also allows us 
to question the eco-in justice 
of his celestial immortality 
ideal that depreciates terres- 
trial nature. After the rec- 
ognition of redeemable con- 
ceptions passed down from 
Paul (cosmic reconciliation, 
inherited sin), the "quasi- 
Gnostic cosmology" 4S of 
Pauline resurrection theol- 
ogy needs to be reconsidered. Rosemary 
Radford Ruether does not reserve judgment 
on this point. She states: 

The reconstruction of the ethical 
tradition must begin by a clear 
separation of the questions of finitude 
from those of sin. Finitude is not our 
fault, nor is escape from it within our 
capacities. Mature spirituality frees up 
from ego clinging for acceptance of the 
life processes of which we are 
inescapably a part. 41 ' 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Although death involves the end of our more 
individualized soul-selves, it simultaneously 
affirms the physical unity of a cosmos that 
transforms its body/bodies over time. 

If this participation in cosmic reconcili- 
ation involves eradicating death in nature, 
as Nash's proposal implies, then this type of 
stewardship is not ecologically viable. Not 
only is deathless life unsustainable, for we 
would have to stop eating, but our own cel- 
lular reproduction relies on constant renewal, 
involving the replacement of dead cells with 
new ones. It must be emphasized that many 
environmental problems stem from our 
resistence to death, including our refusal to 
use biodegradable materials, to allow dead 
trees and leaves to replenish the soil, or even 
to allow our own bodies to decay without 
toxically embalming them and burying them 
in sealed coffins. 

Nash rightfully finds hope for the earth 
in cosmic reconciliation. Paul's vision of 
the cosmic Christ affirms a divine body uni- 
fying the cosmos in creation and re-creation. 
However, in support of Earth and thereby in 
contrast to Paul, I believe cosmic reconcili- 
ation must extend beyond Greco-Roman ide- 
als of astral immortality that discriminate 
against the terrestrial, to a cosmic salvation 
that encourages a diverse magnitude of ter- 
restrial life. The resurrection Spirit must not 
be reduced to the celestial: pneumatic breath 
and light must renew earthly life as well. 

As mentioned earlier, death points to the 
importance of the present, to the significance 
of moral action physically extending indefi- 
nitely. Through the law of conservation of 
mass-energy, everything we do to affect or 
change the world stands to participate in fu- 
ture generation(s). Moral responsibility is 
not about individual immortality and reserv- 
ing a seat in heaven; it is about caring for 
and loving the born and unborn generations, 
about "the health of the pneuma" that will 
be passed on to them. The everlasting uni- 
verse, embodied with past generations, is 
the ground of the present. Simultaneously, 
our lives, actions, and bodily inscriptions 

construct and become a part of the bodies of 
future generation(s). 


Ecology teaches us that death is essen- 
tial to the generation(s) of life. In contrast, 
Pauline theology echoes a definitive percep- 
tion that "[d]eath will be swallowed up in 
victory" (1 Cor 15:42-54). Paul's ecology 
may yet prove viable, though not without 
challenging his foundational beliefs. Dead 
bodies are in fact "swallowed up" in "the 
victory" of worms, bacteria, fungi, and the 
earth. Pauline theology may escape a dis- 
missal of gcneration(s) if the body that at- 
tains imperishability is understood to be that 
which is resurrected in the lives of its con- 
sumers, or as the body of energy in an ever- 
lasting universe. In this sense, the matter of 
generation(s) remains part of an everlasting 
process, an exchange of energy in an open 
portal of movement between all bodies of 
heaven, earth, and universes. 

Perhaps the restricted tree of life in Gen- 
esis justly warns against a human desire to 
cling to an everlasting self. Notions of an 
individualized immortality dangerously ex- 
clude generation(s), whether through tech- 
nologies that resist decomposition, beliefs 
that reject Earth in favor of heaven, or 
anthropocentrism that exalts industrial en- 
deavors at the expense of natural ecosystems. 
Protecting both the tree of life and Earth from 
human attempts at immortality ultimately 
blesses all generation(s) of heaven and earth. 
It celebrates an everlasting universe. 

Paul lends us a meaningful vision: "God 
was pleased to reconcile all things to the di- 
vine self, whether on earth or in heaven..." 
(Col 1 :20). The resurrection is not about the 
individual, but about the whole. As the Gos- 
pel of Thomas proclaims: 

Jesus said, "It is I who am the light 
which is above them all. It is I who 
am the all. From me did the all 
come forth, and unto me did the all 
extend. Split a piece of wood, and I 
am there. Lift up the stone, and you 
will find me there." (77) 5U 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

Works cited: 

Bechtel, Lyn. "Genesis 2.4b-3.24: A Myth 
of Human Maturation.'* Journal for the 
Study of the Old Testament, 67 ( 1995). 

The Bible. Revised Standard Version, 
copyright 1946, 1952, 1971, 1973 by the 
Division of Christian Education of the 
National Council of the Churches of 
Christ in the U.S.A. 

Briggs, John, and F. David Peat. The 
Turbulent Mirror: An Illustrated Guide 
to Chaos Theory and the Science of 
Wholeness. New York: Harper & Row. 

Brown, Warren S. "Cognitive Contribu- 
tions to the Soul." Brown, Murphy, and 

Brown, Warren S., Nancey Murphy, and 
H. Newton Malony, eds. Whatever 
Happened to the Soul'? Scientific and 
Theological Portraits of Human Nature. 
Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998. 

Cobb, John. Graduate colloquium. Drew 
University, November 1990. Reported 
by Prof. Catherine Keller, Drew 

Davies, Paul. God and the New Physics. 
New York: Simon & Schuster. 1983. 

Davies, Paul. The Mind of God: The 
Scientific Basis for a Rationed World. 
New York: Simon & Schuster. 1992. 

Eliade. Mircea. Encyclopedia of Religion. 
New York: Macmillan, 1986. 

Green, Joel B. "'Bodies — That Is. Human 
Lives': A Re-Examination of Human 
Nature in the Bible." Brown, Murphy, 
and Maloney. 

Hawking, Stephen. A Brief History of 
Time: From the Big Bang to Black 
Holes. Toronto: Bantam, 1988. 

Hengel, Martin. Judaism and Hellenism. 
Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974. 

Keller, Catherine. Private conversation 
with the author. 15 January 1999. 

Kormondy. Edward J. Concepts of 

Ecology. Fourth Edition. Englewood 

Cliffs. N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1996. 
Martin, Dale. The Corinthian Body. New 

Haven: Yale University Press, 1995. 
Meyers. Carol. Discovering Eve: Ancient 

Israelite Women in Context. New York: 

Oxford University Press, 1988. 
Miller, G. Tyler, Jr. Sustaining the Earth. 

An Integrated Approach. Second ed. 

New York: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 

Murphy. Nancey. "Nonreductive Physical- 
ism: Philosophical Issues." Brown, 

Murphy, and Maloney. 
Nash, James. Loving Nature: Ecological 

Integrity and Christian Responsibility. 

Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991. 
Ricklefs. Robert E. The Economy of 

Nature. New York: W.H. Freeman and 

Company, 1997. 
Robinson. James M.. ed. The Nag 

Hammadi Library. San Francisco: 

Harper Collins. 1978. 
Ruether. Rosemary Radford. Gaia and 

God. San Francisco: Harper. 1992. 
Trible. Phyllis. God and the Rhetoric of 

Sexuality. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 

Westermann, Claus. Genesis 1-11 : A 

Commentary. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 



1. Robinson, p. 138. 

2. Ibid., p. 132. 

3. Ricklefs, p. 169. 

4. Genesis 3:19. 

5. 1 Corinthians 15:42-54. 

6. Miller, p. 29. 

7. Westermann. p. 160. 

8. Kormondy. p. 18. 

9. Trible, p. 78. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


10. Bechtel, p. 10. 
ll.Hengel, p. 196. 

12. Ibid., p. 197. 

13. Bechtel, p. 4. 

14. Meyers, p. 75. 

15. Ibid., p. 77. 

16. Ibid. 

17. Reuther,p.l28. 

18. Ibid. 

19. Green, p. 153. 

20. Martin, p. 126. 

21. Ibid., p. 132. 
22. Ibid. 

23. Cobb. 

24. Rieklefs, p. 635. 

25. Bechtel, p. 10. 

26. Miller, p. 23. 

27. Ibid., p. 62. 

28. Brown, p. 100. 

29. Murphy, p. 130. 

30. Davies(1983),p. 199. 

31. Green, p. 172. 

32. Ibid., p. 170. 

33. Hawking, p. 120. 

34. Davies (1983), p. 200. 

35. Martin, p. 263. 

36. Davies (1983), p. 199. 

37. For portions of this paper relating to 
physics and cosmology, I am grateful for 
the patient and insightful consultation of 
Dr. Ashley Carter, Professor of Physics at 
Drew University. 

38. Briggs, p. 148. 

39. Keller. 

40. Davies (1992), p. 72. 

41. Ibid. 

42. Ibid., p. 221. 

43. Nash, p. 132-33. 

44. Ibid., p. 136. 

45. Ibid., p. 130. 

46. Ibid., p. 131. 

47. Ruether, p. 142. 

48. Ibid., p. 129. 

49. Ibid., p. 141. 

50. Robinson, p. 135. 

Nicole Roskos is a Ph.D. student in Theological and Religious Studies at Drew Uni- 
versity, Madison, New Jersey. She grew up in Topeka, Kansas, and Dallas, Texas, 
in a Jewish and Christian family. Before entering graduate theological training at 
Drew, she studied the anthropology of religion as an undergraduate at New York 
University She has worked both as an international fashion model and as an envi- 
ronmental activist. 

This essay was awarded a Second Prize. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

Limit Conditions in an Encounter of 
Theology with Neuroscience 

Andrew Irvine 

Insofar as theology is responsible to its religious sources, it seeks to answer religious 
questions, such as, for Christians, "What must I do to be saved?" However, theology also 
involves asking whether such a question is the right one at all. This essay attempts an 
innovative approach to this question by investigating the intelligibility of "the soul." Much 
recent neurobiology suggests that, even if a defensible notion of soul can be presented, it is 
unclear that it would allow meaningful talk about salvation. 

Introduction: the question 
concerning salvation 

It" there is something about human be- 
ings that is saveable, what is it? What makes 
it saveable? This "something" has been vari- 
ously named; here it will be called psyche, 
or soul. Such radical questions are theologi- 
cally vital today, because certain neurosci- 
entific research suggests that, even if a de- 
fensible notion of soul can be presented, it 
is not clear that the notion would have any 
content allowing meaningful talk about "sal- 
vation." In light of this, this essay attempts 
an encounter between seemingly quite un- 
compromising positions: in neuroscience, 
eliminative materialism; and in theology. 
Eastern Orthodoxy. Through this test case, 
certain "limit conditions" of exchange be- 
tween theology and neuroscience may be- 
come apparent. 1 

Theology as "interested observation" 

Theology, 2 like any inquiry, is partial to 
its own interests. When theologians describe 
human being, they work with terms that help 
them to understand religion with relevance 
to theos, God — for example: soul. mind, 
choice, conscience. This terminology is not 

self-fulfilling prophecy, though. As the "new 
physics" of the twentieth century has 
evinced, observation is never uninterested: 
objects of inquiry appear different, accord- 
ing to different methods of inquiry. In this 
sense, theologians have a priori commit- 
ments regarding which terms best make 
sense of human being, and they rightly re- 
quire convincing of the need to let go their 

Yet, theology, like every other inquiry, 
ought to be conducted with interests that are 
"pure." So. for instance, theologians, taken 
as a community of disciplined inquirers seek- 
ing rational understanding of religion with 
respect to God. are normally adamant that 
they do not merely invent the objects that 
they study — that is. that their terms refer to 
things, situations, relations that are not 
merely linguistic. If "the soul" is a referent 
within theological language, then an under- 
lying expectation is that the soul is a reality 
in a world in which it is referable, and that it 
is positively usable in other discourses, too. 
The minimal affirmation is that the soul have 
a public "persona." 

W. Mark Richardson has enumerated a 
set of theological interests relevant to inquiry 

The Boston Theological Institute 


into the soul. They constitute "a recogniz- 
able core understanding of human agency 
. . . [that is] inalienably wedded to what is fre- 
quently called commonsense psychology." 3 
Commonsense psychology (CSP, also fre- 
quently called "'Folk Psychology") holds that 
terms such as those that theologians use re- 
fer to real features of human being. CSP 
trusts first-person reportage as an accurate 
indicator of the reality of a first person, an 
"1." as such. However, the accomplishments 
of neuroscience in this century have contrib- 
uted to a fragmentation of a shared horizon 
that helped to validate commonsense psy- 
chology. One problem for a present-day 
theologian seeking to pose the question con- 
cerning salvation, then, is that neuroscientifie 
pictures of human being equivocate on the 
reality-status of the referents of CSP com- 
mitments. For example, the picture projected 
by eliminative materialism (EM), a 
neuroscientifie hypothesis which rejects CSP 
outright in favor of experimental neurobiol- 
ogy, may imply that any theological claim 
about human being is meaningless, inasmuch 
as it is "inalienably wedded" to CSP. Still, 
theologians who intend to maintain the pub- 

N either is the soul a body-part: it is 
difficult to fix for examination because 
that would annihilate the object of 
study, which is not merely a body but 
animated human being. 

lie reality of the soul should be willing to 
submit their claims alongside those of EM. 
As previously noted, to affirm such a degree 
of publicity does not imply that theological 
inquiry is disinterested observation; but nei- 
ther should an honest test of theological 
claims begin by preferring a "purely" non- 
theological account as the norm by which to 
measure them. Such a maneuver, if possible, 
would be both unfitting and irresponsible to 

the engendering religious situation in which 
the question concerning salvation arises — 
a falsely humble "cultural cringe" before sci- 
entific hegemony. 

The mythic horizon of theological 


An integrative "psyche-logy," respon- 
sive to neuroscience without ceding theo- 
logical interest, is imaginable. In the first 
place, treated as a formal term, the "soul" 
symbolizes the defining aspect(s) of human 
being with respect to God, without neces- 
sarily specifying its character. That the soul 
has been important to theology in the past 
and less esteemed in neurobiology is not an 
essential characteristic of this symbol: per- 
haps the biochemical activity of the brain is 
the most religiously significant aspect of hu- 
man being. 4 Secondly, whether from inher- 
ited dogmatic prejudices or from experience 
of human behavior, theologians have tended 
to image the soul as in need of salvation. 
Indeed, it is an image of the fundamental 
condition of human being (though less fun- 
damental for current neuroscience). 5 Thirdly, 
the soul perhaps is not present to empirical 
analysis in the way the 
brain is. Theological inter- 
est in the soul involves a 
mythic framework. Even if 
neurobiological inquiry 
found the "same" soul in the 
"same" predicament, neuro- 
' biological modes of dis- 
course are sufficiently dif- 
ferent from theological 
modes that it would not be 
apparent that the same things had registered 
without an involved hermeneutical meta-in- 

Myth is discourse that images what is 
most valuable but least graspable about re- 
ality, and it does so indirectly and poetically/' 
It is a way of world-making. Within this 
horizon, one can call theological psyche- 
logy, without disparagement, a "soul-search- 
ing." However, myth is not the only hori- 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

zon for theology and, therefore, does not pre- 
clude engagement with the sciences. It is a 
proper theological task to inquire after the 
truth of the symbol of the soul. Thus, theol- 
ogy may be interested in science in overlap- 
ping ways. With respect to truth, does the 
CSP specification of the soul correspond to 
something real? Is it verifiable at least some- 
what independently of religious and theo- 
logical assertion? Is theology absolutely 
committed to CSP? With respect to the in- 
strumental side of the question of salvation, 
if there is a soul, is it saveable, and how? 
Clearly, a serious engagement between the- 
ology and science necessitates sensitive 
checking and cross-checking. It is a herme- 
neutical engagement, not a wholesale demy- 
thologization or "operationalization" of the- 
ology for the sake of science (the cultural 
cringe). Myth refers to the empirical world, 
not as that world's superficial embellish- 
ment, but inasmuch as poiesis assumes ma- 
terials with which to create, 7 Christian myth 
images this by underscoring the contingency 
of salvation upon actualizing choices. 8 From 
a theological perspective, then, one may con- 
clude that the soul of human being is respon- 
sible being, that is, being required to choose. 1 ' 
Thus, the most important theological inter- 
est in a dialogue with neurobiology is to test 
whether the notions of choice and responsi- 
bility are intelligible in the biological con- 

Toward integration 

/. Scientific psychologies 

With the rising success of scientific- 
methods in explaining natural events in the 
human environment, ambitions grew to un- 
derstand through explanation what human 
beings are in themselves. In pan, these am- 
bitions rode tandem with rejection of eccle- 
siastical power in society. Church power 
depended, some argued, on a rhetoric of an 
immortal soul whose everlasting fate lay in 
the care of the Church. But that soul was an 
occult notion that did not explain anything- 
unless the irrational subjugation of masses 

of people to Church power. So, a vicious 
ecclesial circle. 1 " 

This historical current stimulated at- 
tempts to explain the soul more scientifically, 
including modern psychoanalysis, behavior- 
ism, and neurobiology. Yet, differences 
among these sciences are strong. For in- 
stance, some neurobiologists take a stand 
against psychoanalysis and other forms of 
CSP. arguing that these are no less occult 
then religious authority. Advocates of EM 
(that stand in its strongest form) expect to 
do away with any talk of psyche. Paul M. 
Churchland states: 

Eliminative materialism is the thesis 
that our common-sense perception 
of psychological phenomena consti- 
tutes a radically false theory, a 
theory so fundamentally defective 
that both the principles and the 
ontology oi' that theory will even- 
tually be displaced, rather than 
smoothly reduced, by completed 
neuroscience. Our mutual under- 
standing and even our introspection 
may then be reconstituted within the 
conceptual framework of completed 
neuroscience, a theory we may ex- 
pect to be more powerful by far than 
the common-sense psychology it 
displaces, and more substantially 
integrated within physical science 

Churchland 's thesis has merit: after all, 
no psychoanalyst has ever seen an id; but 
his complaint is akin to cosmonaut Yuri 
Gagarin's boast that he did not see God w hile 
he orbited the earth. Gagarin mistakenly 
supposed that all theologians think God is 
an entity in and of the cosmos. Neither is 
the soul a body-part: it is difficult to fix for 
examination because that would annihilate 
the object of study, which is not merely a 
body but animated 12 human being. Among 
scientific psychologists, this is treated as an 
aspect of the so-called mind-body problem. 
EM is one of several non-dualistic, physi- 
calist approaches to resolving the difficulty. 13 

To be true to EM, though, we should 
not consider it any kind of modern psychol- 
ogy. For its advocates, it is the way of the 
future: "completed" neuroscience will not 

The Boston Theological Institute 


bring about any reduction of mental events 
to physical events, but will supersede the un- 
wieldy and false language of mentality and 
psyche. The notion of "completed neuro- 
science" is only one of a variety of refer- 
ences to the anticipated success of EM. 

The rejection of CSP works in the fol- 
lowing way. Advocates of EM argue that 
CSP constitutes an empirical theory of hu- 
man being. This is in contrast to other views, 
which either take CSP to be a normative 
theory, — that is, a representation of how a 
properly functioning human being (one 
whose being is in a state of well-being)" 
would understand him/herself — or do not 
consider it a theory at all but simply the re- 
flective gleaning of the kinds of states, atti- 
tudes, decisions, beliefs, etc., that are the 
content of mental events. 

If CSP is an empirical theory, then it 
may be tested in the following ways: first, 
for a theory truly to account for the phenom- 
ena to which it refers, it must demonstrate 
explanatory and predictive success. Paul 
Churchland acknowledges that CSP stands 
up reasonably well under this test.' 4 For 
example, if I see some- 
one having a drink of 
water, I can hypoth- 
esize that the reason is 
that they feel thirsty 
with a usual confirma- 
tion of my hypothesis . 
The feeling of thirst 
thus becomes an effec- 
tive explanation for the 
observed behavior of 
drinking water, and not 
only for one experimental subject but for 
many. However, the extent and importance 
of CSP's failures should also be recognized. 
On this score, Churchland especially empha- 
sizes an inability to generate knowledge 
about learning processes. 13 Relevant here is 
a second test of a theory's truth, the extent 
of "its coherence and continuity with fertile 
and well-established theories in adjacent and 
overlapping domains." 

If we approach homo sapiens from 
the perspective of natural history 
and the physical sciences, we can 
tell a coherent story of his constitu- 
tion, development, and behavioral 
capacities which encompasses 
particle physics, atomic and 
molecular theory, organic chemistry, 
evolutionary theory, biology, 
physiology, and materialistic 
neuroscience. That story, though 
still radically incomplete, is already 
extremely powerful, outperform- 
ing... [CSP| at many points even in 
its own domain. And it is deliber- 
ately and self-consciously coherent 
with the rest of our developing 
world picture. In short, the greatest 
theoretical synthesis in the history of 
the human race is currently in our 
hands, and pails of it already provide 
searching descriptions and explana- 
tions of human sensory input, neural 
activity, and motor control. 

But... [CSP) is no part of this 
growing synthesis. 16 

Making allowance for his penchant for ba- 
thos. Churchland does have a significant 
claim against CSP here. At the same time, 
Churchland's seemingly unintentional allu- 
sion to CSP's "own domain" is a notewor- 
thy concession. The idea of a domain re- 

That the soul has been important to theol- 
ogy in the past and less esteemed in neuro- 
biology is not an essential characteristic of 
this symbol: perhaps the biochemical activ- 
ity of the brain is the most religiously sig- 
nificant aspect of human being. 

fleets this essay's terminology of horizons 
and resolutions. 

A claim for the virtues of EM is made 
at length by Patricia Smith Churchland. 
Briefly, the EM resolution of the mind-brain 
problem is entirely in terms of the structure 
and biochemical activity of the brain and ner- 
vous system. This establishes relations of 
continuity between humans and other ani- 
mals, since "neurons and their modus oper- 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

andi are essentially the same in all nervous 
systems — our neurons and the neurons of 
slugs, worms, and spiders share a fundamen- 
tal similarity." 17 That similarity has been 
key to research programs of EM, since the 
same activities that are masked by so much 
complexity in human beings can be studied 
in environments of relatively simple organi- 
zation. Although EM refuses the language 
of CSP, it does not affect to simplify human 
beings. From the level of basic cellular form 
and function. Smith Churchland builds up a 
picture of the increasing complexity and 
interactivity of structural organization and 
biochemical processes, and develops ac- 
counts of behavior, without resort to language 
of agency, responsibility, freedom, or choice. 
The challenge posed to theological descrip- 
tion of human being by EM in its construc- 
tive program is just the adequacy of its ac- 
counts of human behavior, which prescind 
from introduction of CSP concepts. How- 
ever, criticisms have been leveled against EM 
from several quarters. 

Several criticisms may be made of the 
Churchlands' position. First, and in good 
CSP fashion, it may be suggested that "'there 
are more things in heaven and earth than are 
dreamt of in your neuro-philosophies." Ad- 
mittedly, such a claim has counted against 
CSP and in favor of EM. Where advocates 
of CSP had perhaps assumed that there could 
be no reduction of mental to physical, in fact 
neurobiologists have made extraordinary lev- 
els of knowledge available about the bio- 
chemical goings-on of human beings. Both 
Churchland and Smith Churchland are ada- 
mant about taking a naturalist stance. The 
question is, why do they restrict the charac- 
ter of nature to what current physical sciences, 
perhaps slightly extended, can make known? 

A second criticism is leveled at the 
construal of CSP as an empirical theory that 
involves defining the content of CSP as a set 
of regulative propositions. Since observa- 
tions of human behavior showed that these 
propositions were not obeyed, CSP must be 
taken to be a false theory. John Searle ques- 
tions whether CSP is an empirical theory in 

quite the way advocates of EM pose it. "Con- 
sciousness has an ineliminable subjective 
ontology," he writes. 1S The "postulates" of 
CSP are not postulates at all; they are expe- 
riences and therefore exhibit subjectivity: 

[W]e do not postulate beliefs and 
desires to account for anything. We 
simply experience conscious beliefs 
and desires. Think about real-life 
examples. It is a hot day and you 
are driving a pickup truck in the 
desert outside of Phoenix. No air 
conditioning. You can't remember 
when you were so thirsty, and you 
want a cold beer so bad you could 
scream. Now where is the "postula- 
tion" of a desire? ,l) 

A third and related criticism is that EM is 
a theory that, for all its pretensions to monism, 
is really just a half a dualism. Searle again: 

Now why are they [materialists] so 
anxious to deny the existence of 
irreducible intrinsic mental phenom- 
ena? Why don't they just concede 
that these properties are ordinary 
higher-level biological properties of 
neurophysiological systems such as 
human brains? 

...|A)t least part of the answer 
has to do with the fact that they 
accept the traditional Cartesian 
categories, and along with these 
categories the attendant vocabulary 
with its implications. I think from 
this point of view to grant the exis- 
tence and irreducibility of mental 
phenomena would be equivalent to 
granting some kind of Cartesian- 
ism.... What I want to insist on. 
ceaselessly, is that one can accept 
the obvious facts of physics — for 
example, that the world is made up 
of physical particles in fields of 
force — without at the same time 
denying the obvious facts about our 
own experiences-for example, that 
we are all conscious and that our 
conscious states have quite specific 
irreducible phenomenological prop- 
erties. The mistake is to suppose 
that these two theses are inconsis- 
tent, and that mistake derives from 
accepting the traditional vocabulary. :n 

Three further criticisms can be made. 
First, Churchland 's focus on defining CSP 
in terms of propositional attitudes flattens 
language to a mere projective function. 21 But 
human beings also "do things with words." 

The Boston Theological Institute 


The poetic indirection of myth bears this out. 
Linguistic action, just as one example of hu- 
man activity, is accomplished very differ- 
ently from the way in which biochemical 
processes occur. Secondly, Churchland tests 
CSP according to criteria of predictive suc- 
cess and coherence with other theories, but 
not according to criteria of representational 
correspondence to reality. Hence, there is 
no obligation upon him, as there is upon most 
theologians, to "save the appearances." 
Churchland's freedom here, unlike the free- 
dom postulated by integrative theologians, 
seems sheerly arbitrary. And finally. 

Clearly, a serious engagement between 
theology and science necessitates sen- 
sitive checking and cross-checking. It 
is a hermeneutical engagement, not a 
wholesale demythologization or "op- 
e rationalization" of theology for the 
sake of science (the cultured cringe). 

Churchland's claim that CSP has stagnated 
for two to three thousand years might actu- 
ally suggest the efficiency and accuracy of 
CSP in judging what goes on in nature, such 
that human beings have succeeded in dy- 
namic engagement with changing environ- 
ments for millennia. 

//. A humble theological claim for the soul 
William Seager recognizes the difficul- 
ties of EM, and the unlikelihood of a com- 
plete, reductive explanation of mind, since 
the kind of information necessary to provide 
such an explanation (explanations are "ac- 
counts of phenomena that aim at truth and 
which seek to make the phenomena intelli- 
gible to their target audience") is unlikely to 
be intelligible to any human being." Seager 
suggests a realistic goal is resolution — cor- 
relating different entities and theories about 
them, without explicating physical causation 
at every point. 23 This concession, together 

with the final criticism made of Churchland 
above, raises a major preoccupation of this 
essay, namely, what constitutes theological 
humility? Theology, inasmuch as it responds 
to its engendering religious situation, is an 
articulation of the claims and the being- 
claimed of a Christian life-world. Proper 
theological humility would, thus, be com- 
mitted to these various claims, even in ac- 
knowledging imperfect understanding as to 
the claims' performance. 24 

Orthodox theologian, John Zizioulas, 
insists that personhood is fundamental to 
human being. ("Personhood" answers to 
soul, psyche, in the present 
context.) It is Zizioulas' fun- 
damental term for describing 
human being and the basis of 
responsibility — it is not free- 
dom in an unconditioned 
sense ( freedom from biologi- 
cal constitution, or "biologi- 
cal hypostasis," as Zizioulas 
puts it), but transcendence of 
the biological situation in 
such a way as to be respon- 
sible for it ( the freedom of our 
biological hypostasis). Personhood contrasts 
with the horizon of "biological anonymity" 
(my term) that helps validate EM: as Patricia 
Smith Churchland indicates, EM succeeds, 
in part because all neurons share a basic 
structural homology. However, some ques- 
tions might be asked, informed by Zizioulas' 
study: If \ht prosopon merely masks real bio- 
logical anonymity, then why do humans 
"face" one another, "lose face," and so on? 
What is the reason for the infinite nuance of 
human relations? A serious account would 
resist biological anonymity by recognizing 
the powers of personhood. 

Asserting the primacy of personhood is 
not, for Zizioulas, a disavowal of our bio- 
logical constitution, but a realization of its 
proudest claim: that it is God's image. Si- 
multaneously, to be human is to be so 
claimed. In other words, that we think of 
ourselves as persons is not obviously a bio- 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

logical necessity, and to this extent it is a 
free, decisive act; yet, neither is it obviously 
a choice for which the "I" can take credit or 
blame (hence, the religious intensity of de- 
bates over abortion and euthanasia). 
Zizioulas says that any assertion of 
personhood admits of being claimed by 
God. 25 Personhood should lead to a thankful- 
ness, communion, orthodoxy, which mark a 
transformation of the biological hypostasis: 

The eternal survival of the person as 
a unique, unrepeatable and free 
"hypostasis," as loving and being 
loved, constitutes the quintessence of 
salvation, the bringing of the Gospel 
to man. In the language of the 
Fathers this is called "diviniza-tion" 
(theosis), which means partici-pation 
not in the nature or substance of 
God, but in his personal existence. 26 

This divinization realizes what Zizioulas will 
call "ecclesial hypostasis." 

However, the biological constitution of 
the human being must be called "tragic," be- 
cause it is not only a basis but a subversion 
of the saveability of the person. As elimina- 
tive materialists take for granted — and not 
they alone — humans die. The tragedy is not 
that we delude ourselves about our real (bio- 
logical) nature, a la 
Nietzschean resentment. 
Rather, "it lies in (the hu- 
man being's] tendency 
toward becoming a per- 
son through it and failing. 
Sin is precisely this fail- 
ure. And sin is the tragic 
prerogative of the person 
alone" 27 Zizioulas pre- 
sents, then, an account of 
the soul as emergent 
from, and yet somehow 
also preceding, the biological constitution of 
human being. :s This echoes non-EM neu- 
roscientific theories of the "emergence" or 
" supervenience" of personal reality from 
biological existence. It implies that one 
ought not disavow the biological constitu- 
tion of human being, but look for a kind of 
"new birth" in which that biological hyposta- 

sis is itself constituted through the "hyposta- 
sis of ecclesial existence." 24 

Clearly, Zizioulas would only refuse a 
neurobiological account insofar as it takes 
place outside of a horizon concerned with sal- 
vation. That the horizon entails Christology 
is evidence of its modesty, in my view: hu- 
mans express humility first and foremost, in 
attempting Christology (or Buddhology, or the 
Tao of the sage, etc.), in owning the transcen- 
dent virtue of a "perfected human": 

Christology... is the proclamation to 
man that his nature can be "assumed" 
and hypostasized in a manner free 
from the ontological necessity of his 
biological hypostasis, which, as we 
have seen, leads to the tragedy of 
individualism and death. Thanks to 
Christ man can henceforth himself 
"subsist." can affirm his existence as 
personal not on the basis of the 
immutable laws of nature, but on the 
basis ol' a relationship with God 
which is identified with what Christ 
in freedom and love possesses as 
Son of God with the Father. 30 

Christology is both the proclamation to and 
the proclamation of human being of its 
ownmost possibility. It is thus, Christolog- 
ically. that the peculiar reciprocity of the 

Yet, both empirical science and Christian 
faith have built-in resistances to the 
possibility of completion. There will, 
therefore, always be a degree of competi- 
tion between the accounts while their 
horizons differ; but they are not mutually 

soul's emergence and preemergence can 
make sense for Zizioulas. The soul's dig- 
nity and humility coincide in the biological 
constitution's Christological transcendence 
into ecclesial hypostasis/ 1 

Nevertheless, we do still die: the body 
corrupts. Life in the Church does not prevent 
this. Zizioulas acknowledges this and argues: 

The Boston Theological Institute 


[W|e really need a new ontological 

category — not to destroy the distinc- 
tion which I have made between 
biological and ecclesial hypostasis, 
but to express the relationship of 
these two to each other. In fact the 
encounter between the ecclesial and 
the biological hypostases | perhaps the 
paradigm for the present exploration] 
creates a paradoxical relationship in 
human existence. Man appears to 
exist in his ecclesial identity not as 
that which he is but as that which he 
will be; the ecclesial identity is 
linked with eschatology, that is, with 
the final outcome of his existence. 32 

As eschatological, the preemergence of the 
soul might be described as "advenient" (a 
counterpart to the neuroscientific theory of 
supervenience alluded to above). Zizioulas 
does not detail the exact character of the 
eschatologically completed human being — 
for instance, with regard to the "eternal sur- 
vival of the person," whether it is "subjec- 
tive" or "objective" immortality, to use terms 
that process theologians have long employed. 
The intelligibility of objective participation 
in life is a preliminary question of no little 
note in regard to Orthodox theology. But it 
should also be observed that Zizioulas does 
not speak of the biological hypostasis in its 
ecclesial, eschatological transformation as 
un-dying, but as transcending death. 33 


What can a theologian learn from this 
test case in constructing an integrative 
psyche-logy? This has been an unusual ex- 
change, in that much care has been exerted 
to qualify theological credulity for neurosci- 
entific findings. The point has been not so 
much to limit theological assertion as to un- 
derstand limit conditions for the encounter 
of theology and neuroscience. Prime among 
them must be the genuine humility of frank 
interestedness in the inquiry. Other limit 
conditions have also been at least somewhat 
clarified, and two are noted here. First, the 
study of Zizioulas has hardly refuted EM 
(and EM would direct pointed questions to 
Zizioulas). However, it does challenge 
eliminative materialists to complete neuro- 

science — if they can — before the completion 
of human personhood takes place and the 
Church triumphs — if it does. Both these 
completions are "eschatological" in their 
way. Yet, both empirical science and Chris- 
tian faith have built-in resistances to the pos- 
sibility of completion. There will, therefore, 
always be a degree of competition between 
the accounts while their horizons differ; but 
they are not mutually exclusive. Each owes 
humility to the other. In addition, a core 
problem must be recognized before a seri- 
ous encounter can occur, namely, to describe 
the relationship, if any, between emergence 
and preemergence, supervenience and 
advenience. It is still not clear that there is a 
way to reduce the different trajectories these 
concepts plot for the relation of soul and 
body to a final account; but the viability of a 
resolution involving Christological interest 
has been maintained by attending to 
Zizioulas' theological construal of biologi- 
cal constitution as fundamentally personable 
and, so, basic to human responsibility. These 
conditions, then, supply a modest proposal 
for a genuinely humble exchange between 
theological and neuroscientific inquiry. 

Works cited: 

Barbour, Ian. Issues in Science and 

Religion. Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 

Prentice-Hall, 1966. 
Churchland, Patricia Smith. 

Neurophilosophy: Toward a Unified 

Science of Mind-Brain. Cambridge, 

Mass.: MIT Press, 1986. 
Churchland, Paul M. "Eliminative 

Materialism and the Propositional 

Attitudes. "Journal of Philosophy, 78 

(1981), 67-90. 
Cole, R. David. "The Molecular Biology 

of Transcending the Gene." Religion 

and Science: History, Method, Dialogue. 

Ed. W. Mark Richardson and Wesley J. 

Wildman. New York and London: 

Routledge, 1996. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

Finger. Stanley. Origins of Neuroscience: 
A History of Explorations into Brain 
Function. New York and Oxford: 
Oxford University Press, 1994. 

Flanagan. Owen. The Science of the Mind. 
Second ed. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT 
Press, 1991 

Hart, Ray L. Unfinished Man and the 
Imagination: Toward an Ontology and a 
Rhetoric of Revelation. New York: 
Herder and Herder. 1968. 

Ivanhoe, Philip J. "A Happy Symmetry: 
Xunzi 's Ethical Thought." JAAR 59 
(1986), 309-22. 

Keck, David. Forgetting Whose We Are: 
Alzheimer's Disease and the Love of 
God. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996. 

Kramer, Peter D. Listening to Prozac. 
New York: Penguin Books, 1993. 

Marx, Karl. "Contribution to the Critique 
of Hegel's Philosophy of Right." Early 
Writings. Trans, and ed. T. B. 
Bottomore. New York: McGraw-Hill. 

Oliver, Harold H. "A Relational Reassess- 
ment of Myth." Relatedness: Essays in 
Metaphysics and Theology. Harold H. 
Oliver. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University 
Press, 1984. 

Richardson, W. Mark. "The Theology of 
Human Agency and the Neurobiology of 
Learning." Religion and Science: 
History, Method, Dialogue. Ed. W. 
Mark Richardson and Wesley J. 
Wildman. New York and London: 
Routledge, 1996. 

Robinson. Daniel N. An Intellectual 
History of Psychology. New York: 
MacMillan, 1976. 

Saiving, Valerie. "The Human Situation: 
A Feminine View." Womanspirit 
Rising: A Feminist Reader in Religion. 
Ed. Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow. 
San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979. 

Seager, William. Metaphysics of Con- 
sciousness. London and New York: 
Routledge, 1991. 

Searle. John R. The Rediscovery of the 

Mind. Cambridge. Mass.: MIT Press, 

Xunzi. Xunzi: A Translation and Study of 

the Complete Works. Volume III: 

Books 17-32. John Knoblock. 

Stanford: Stanford University Press, 

Zilboorg. Gregory. A History of Medical 

Psychology. In collaboration with 

George W. Henry. New York: W. W. 

Norton. 1941. 
Zizioulas. John D. Being as Communion: 

Studies in Personhood and the Church. 

Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir's 

Seminary Press. 1985. 


1. Some might question the absence 
from this essay of a concerted critique of 
EM as dogmatically reductionistic. That 
critique is warranted. However, in this 
essay, I prefer to recognize the ambitions 
of eliminative materialists, like the 
Churchlands. at face value, for the sake of 
elucidating "limit conditions" for a 
mutually uncompromising encounter 
between theology and neuroscience. Let 
compromise (and/or correction) be a 
possible outcome, not a precondition, of 
the encounter. 

2. Unless otherwise indicated, by 
"theology" and "theologian" I mean a 
discipline and a practitioner within 

3. Richardson, p. 351. 

4. Keck addresses this possibility and, 
through it. conditions for the contempo- 
rary possibility of the question concerning 

5. On the other hand, more than once 
neuroscience and related scientific/tech- 
nological developments have prompted 
controversies about the integrity of being 
with well-being in the person. "Surgical" 

The Boston Theological Institute 


operations on the brain, ranging from the 
famous accident of the railroad foreman 
Phineas Gage, to frontal lobotomy, demon- 
strated that a person's public identity and 
well-being somehow is implicated with the 
physical condition of the brain. Gage 
(1823-1860) survived an accident in which 
a tamping iron more than a meter long and 
weighing six kilograms was shot com- 
pletely through his skull and cerebrum, 
although he was "no longer Gage" 
according to John Harlow, a doctor who 
attended Gage over several years. See 
Finger, pp. 272-273. More recently, the 
antidepressant, Prozac, has occasioned 
public controversy over just what kind of 
"medical miracles" we will tolerate and 
which should be left to God. See Kramer. 

6. By poetic indirection I mean princi- 
pally that myth invokes a person's or 
community's active participation for the 
realization (poiesis) of its reference 
structure. Myth is "merely myth," in the 
pejorative sense, when mythic conscious- 
ness dies. Two theologians dealing with 
comparable notions are Hart and Oliver. 

7. A further implication, important for 
this essay, of the idea of poetic indirection 
is that there is, after all, a sense in which 
religion invents the soul. If theology is 
completely at the behest of religious life 
then practitioners of other kinds of inquiry 
would have grounds to dismiss it alto- 
gether. However, insofar as theology is 
autonomous with respect to religious 
interests, it has a comparable standing with 
other disciplines. Thus, if theologians find 
reasons for the plausibility of the soul, it is 
at least possible that inquirers in other 
disciplines may do the same. 

8. Theologians have then gone various 
ways, more or less consonant with the 
mythic presentation. The doctrine of 
double predestination and the Social 
Gospel, for instance, are very different 
interpretations, each with serious disso- 

9. Cf. Richardson, p .352, where he 
states that the first of the core theological 
beliefs with regard to human being is that 
the Creator desires a relationship with 
finite creatures that entails reciprocity and 
responsibility: "The divine-human rela- 
tionship is a moral relationship, involving 
promises, obligations and goods to be 
pursued." Also cf. Barbour, pp. 360-61: 
"The Old Testament sees man as rooted in 
nature, sharing the finitude, creatureliness 
and death of all living things.... Man and 
beasts are equally perishable. Yet man is 
distinguished from this animal world by 
his special relationship to God. Man alone 
is a responsible self who can be addressed 
by God. Man, as a free purposeful agent 
who can respond to the demands of 
righteousness and justice, is made "in the 
image of God." Man's 'breath' or 'spirit' is 
not a separate entity but the animating 
principle of the total person, the vitality of 
the whole individual in his biological, 
mental, and emotional life." 

10. See Flanagan, p. 1. He writes: "In 
1663, thirteen years after his death, all of 
Descartes' works were put on the Index of 
the Roman Catholic Church, even though 
his writings contained two proofs for the 
existence of God as well as arguments for 
the incorporeality and immortality of the 
human soul. Descartes was a threat 
because he took the science of his day so 
seriously that he considered extending 
Galileo's mechanical conception of the 
physical universe to human behavior." 
See Robinson, p. 197, where he interprets 
modernity as a broader rejection of a 
Renaissance worldview, "the triumph of 
naturalism over spiritualism." Also see 
Zilboorg, p. 180, where he, too, identifies 
a sixteenth/seventeenth century shift away 
from "metaphysics," foreshadowing "the 
coupling of psychology with physics; the 
words anima and spiritus, so monoto- 
nously popular theretofore, began to be 
supplanted...." Marx's critique, more 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

subtle than his slogans sometimes sound, 
makes the point plain: "Religion is the sigh 
of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of 
a heartless world, the soul of soulless 
conditions [emphasis added). It is the 
opium of the people." See Marx, pp. 43-4. 

11. P. M. Churchland. p. 67. 

12. Is this slipping the soul back in 
through the back door of Latin? The move 
is slightly more subtle; it is a suggestion 
that the kind of phenomena prompting any 
psychology appear to be not merely 
mechanical effects of the position of some 
kind of on-off switch. The most basic 
question asked by all psychologies, then 
(and by an integrative psyche-logy), is 
whether the appearance is true to reality. 

13. Seager identifies five physicalist 
approaches. In descending order of 
sympathy for CSP they are: type-identity 
theory, psycho-functionalism, token- 
identity theory, psychological instrumen- 
talism and eliminative materialism. Cf. 
Seager. Part 1 . 

14. P. M. Churchland, pp. 72-3. 

15. Ibid., pp. 73-4. 

16. Ibid., p. 75. Churchland 's seemingly 
unreflected allusion to CSP's "own 
domain" is a noteworthy concession. The 
idea of a domain suits this essay's termi- 
nology of horizons and resolutions. 

17. Smith Churchland. p. 36. 

18. Searle. p. 56. 

19. Ibid., p. 59. On this point, it seems 
to me that Richardson presents CSP in a 
more "theoretical*' way than Searle thinks 
is realistic. I have tried to steer a path 
between, by reducing the stipulative 
claims of a theological commitment to 
"human being is responsible being." 

20. Ibid. pp. 27-8. 

21. P.M. Churchland, p. 85. 

22. Seager, p. 18. Note that Seager 
eschews the Churchlands' zeal for 
"supersessionist" language in describing 
the aoal of EM. 

23. Ibid., p. 13. 

24. I take this to be a crucial attitude for 
a theology that regards human beings as 
such, irrespective of their particular 
religious commitments. Such is the 
evangelical genius of Orthodox theology, 
as discussion to follow may indicate; I also 
connect this approach with the example of 
Valerie Saiving in her now-classic feminist 
theological consideration of the human 
situation. See Saiving. pp. 37-9. 

25. See n. 6. 

26. Zizioulas, pp. 49-50. 

27. Ibid., p. 52. 

28. On emergence as an explanation of 
personhood within neurobiological theory, 
see Cole, pp. 343-50: Richardson. 

29. Zizioulas. p. 53. 

30. Ibid., p. 56. 

31. The Chinese tradition has been on 
the whole more able to image the self- 
sameness of human dignity and humility 
than have many strands of Christian 
tradition. For example, the Xunzi, 19.6. 
reads: "Heaven is able to beget the myriad 
things, but it cannot differentiate them. 
Earth can support man. but it cannot 
govern him. The myriad things under the 
canopy of heaven and all those who 
belong among living people depend upon 
the appearance of the sage, for only then is 
each assigned to the proper station." See 
Xunzi. p. 67. See also Ivanhoe. 

32. Zizioulas, p. 59. 

33. Ibid., pp. 64-5. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Andrew Irvine is in the third year of the Ph.D. program in theology at Boston Univer- 
sity. He comes from Narromine, Australia, where he belongs to the Uniting Church 
in Australia. After earning his baccalaureate in English Literature at the University 
of Sydney, he worked for two years for the National Council of Churches of Austra- 
lia, in education and fund-raising for community development and emergency relief. 
His interests include liberation theology and philosophies of culture. 

This essay earned a First Prize. 

90 Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

The Full Wealth of Conviction and Cognition: 
Psychology's Modernist Critique of Fundamentalism 

in Postmodern Perspective 

by Branden T. C. Miller 

The author draws parallels between psychology and religious modernism as exempli- 
fied in the writings of such figures as Harry Emerson Fosdick. Miller suggests that psycho- 
logical research arguing that fundamentalists are "cognitivcly challenged" is more reflec- 
tive of psychology's unacknowledged modernist assumptions than descriptive of fundamental- 
ists. A post-modernist recognition of psychology's bias should help redirect efforts toward 
understanding fundamentalists' pressing desire to preserve a particular orderly culture. 

"Organized knowledge has come into 
open conflict with organized ignorance," 
Maynard Shipley declared at one peak of the 
controversy between Christian modernists 
and fundamentalists earlier this century. 1 
Surely not too many periods in any nation 
have been completely void of religious 
change or unrest, but the past century on the 
religious frontier in America, filled with 
apocalyptic visions on all sides, has achieved 
some particularly interesting and dramatic 
extremes. The great force of "ignorance*' to 
which Shipley referred was America's own 
homegrown brand of Christian fundamen- 
talism, a small but vocal movement that has 
been at the center of (or pushing stridently 
along the edges through) much of the change 
and controversy this century. The opposing 
principles of modernism, whose early con- 
fidence in new fields of human knowledge 
ultimately became a part of the dominant 
cultural point of view, seem to have pre- 
vailed for some time. According to some 
more recent prophets of the postmodern era, 
however, confidence in those principles has 
now been largely discredited. Condemna- 
tion of fundamentalists and their methodolo- 
gies has, nonetheless, remained substantially 
the same, even among the critically astute. 
Harold Bloom, for example — always as id- 

iosyncratic as he is insightful — plays on the 
literal meaning of an old term, dubbing them 
the nation's new "Know-Nothings." 2 

A significant portion of the polemic 
against fundamentalism sustained after 
Shipley's day has come from perspectives 
making reference to psychology — a quintes- 
sentially modernist undertaking. By the 
1960s, at least five major studies showed a 
negative correlation between religiosity and 
intelligence and/or education. 3 Despite much 
subsequent research and a fair amount of evi- 
dence now available to the contrary, some 
contemporary investigators have still felt 
compelled to ask whether "intelligent funda- 
mentalist" might not be an oxymoron. 4 The 
question is whether these assessments are just 
another round of "canon fire" between two 
warring cultures of belief, or whether, once 
they are controlled for some hidden preju- 
dices, they actually are indicative of some 
genuine characteristics distinguishing funda- 
mentalists as a whole from other groups. 

The feature of biblical literalism has 
been central to a great deal of the psycho- 
logical research on fundamentalism because 
of its presumed association with less cogni- 
tive complexity — that is to say, with a ten- 
dency toward concrete rather than abstract 
thinking. It will be proposed, however, that 

The Boston Theological Institute 


a better explanation for the principle of bib- 
lical literalism in fundamentalist circles may 
be that it is part of a socially shared cognitive 
style or culture of interpretation. Such a view 
might not only help explain fundamentalists' 
frequent, unacknowledged, departures from 
literal interpretation, it might also suggest a 
connection to other related features, such as 
their selective attention and dogmatism. 
From this point of view, the attraction of this 
movement has much less to do with intelli- 
gence than with personal inclinations such as 
a preference for order, an intolerance of am- 
biguity, or an underlying wish to preserve a 
certain ideological vision and way of life. 

What is at risk for the fundamentalists 
in interpreting the Bible is not its 
authenticity, but the credibility of a 
carefully constructed absolutist dogma 
that is never to be challenged — not 
even by the Bible. 

Before an evenhanded evaluation of 
fundamentalist beliefs can be produced from 
the psychological point of view, it is impera- 
tive (though seemingly unpracticed) to ac- 
knowledge the historical context of this ideo- 
logically loaded debate. Psychology is cer- 
tainly an heir to modernist views of funda- 
mentalism — a legacy of assumptions that 
continues to play a role in its evaluations and 
self-understanding. Despite this significant 
proviso, a brief survey of some relevant lit- 
erature shows that, as a systematic approach, 
psychology may yet have a great deal to of- 
fer in the quest to understand fundamental- 
ism. The observed differences in cognitive 
complexity probably result not from the fun- 
damentalists' being "cognitively chal- 
lenged," as many have suggested, but rather 
from their being culturally trained and in- 
clined to different habits of cognition — most 
likely within the single domain of religion. 

The further suggestion is made that through 
a process of recognizing some of its own 
value judgments, psychology itself may have 
begun to acknowledge the limits of modern- 
ism, and may even be seen as tempering 
some of its previous conclusions in response 
to postmodern perspectives. 

Modernism and the origins of 

During the last half of the nineteenth 
century, under general pressure from the 
waxing influence of scientific methodology 
and from the Darwinian revolution in par- 
ticular, Christianity slowly fissured into two 
camps: the modernists, who 
sought to incorporate new 
means of exploration and new 
knowledge into theology, and 
the fundamentalists, who re- 
sisted such change. Funda- 
mentalism thus arose as a de- 
fense, out of a genuine con- 
cern to preserve the integrity 
I of a faith and its tradition of 
values that seemed to be 
threatened by the increasing 
popularity of scientific approaches and val- 
ues. By the beginning of the twentieth cen- 
tury, however, this movement clearly started 
losing ground to ascendant modernist val- 
ues. It was unable to claim its place as a 
completely logical, empirically based ap- 
proach, and began crystallizing around five 
dogmatically held "fundamentals" of faith: 

1. The inerrancy of the Bible 

2. The virgin birth 

3. Christ's substitutionary atonement 

4. Christ's physical resurrection 

5. Christ's anticipated return to 
earth to reign over a thousand 
years of peace before Judgment. 

Of these doctrines, only the second, third, and 
fourth are ancient Christian beliefs."' Together, 
these fundamentals defined the movement that 
came to be known as ''fundamentalism." 
Number five, the "premillennialist" assump- 
tion, certainly lends a heightened sense of ur- 
gency, but it is perhaps the doctrine of the in- 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

errancy of the Bible that has been the flash 
point for the greatest controversy. 

"Biblical inerrancy" and the errors 
of interpretation 

"All Scripture is given by inspiration of 
God, and is profitable for doctrine, for re- 
proof, for correction, for instruction in righ- 
teousness." f> Often citing this son of pas- 
sage, fundamentalists revere the Bible as the 
sole and sufficient rule, which, therefore, has 
to be objectively true and plainly accessible 
to all. Following the developmental models 
of Piaget, 7 psychology has been inclined to 
equate this insistence on literal interpreta- 
tion of the Bible with having become stuck 
at the "concrete" level of understanding, and 
possibly not having fully developed the ca- 
pacity for abstract thinking/ In all fairness 
to psychology, some fundamentalist state- 
ments do, at least at first blush, lend them- 
selves to this sort of interpretation. What is 
to be made, for example, of the apparent 
blindness to hermeneutic complexities illus- 
trated by President Grover Cleveland's ex- 
pression of frustration with biblical scholar- 
ship: "I do not want notes or criticism or 
explanations about authorship or origins or 
even cross-references. / do not need them 
or understand them, and they confuse me'"! 9 
And yet. if the admission is made from the 
beginning that reading the Bible is hard — 
hard for anyone — and that anyone's reading 
of a text is invariably reductive and person- 
ally biased in some ways, then what might 
ultimately be found is that there is much 
more behind Literalism (and its shibboleth 
of "biblical inerrancy") than mere cognitive 
simplicity. At the same time, some grounds 
for critique of the fundamentalist approach 
are preserved. As Peter Gomes notes, the 
idea that "the Bible says what it means and 
means what it says. as dangerous and 
wrong as it is simple and memorable." "' 
Indeed, no one, not even a fundamentalist, 
really reads the parables of Jesus or the Song 
of Solomon the same way that he or she 
would read the Ten Commandments. 

It is not, however, just biblical literal- 
ism, but also selective attention and dogma- 
tism, that appear to possess a more exagger- 
ated presence in fundamentalist practice and 
belief. In his recent volume. The Good Book, 
Gomes makes a particularly helpful contri- 
bution in his assertion that there are actually 
three deadly temptations in the process of 
biblical interpretation. First comes "literal- 
ism," the worship of the text, in which the 
letter is given an inappropriate superiority 
over the spirit. Next is "culturism." the wor- 
ship of culture, in which the Bible is forced 
to conform to the norms of the prevailing 
culture. And thirdly, the worship of the Bible, 
whereby it is granted the place and authority 
of God. Gomes identifies as "bibliolatry." " 

Other investigators would probably 
agree that all three of these errors are to be 
found peppered in among the modern mani- 
festations of fundamentalism in various com- 
binations and concentrations. More specifi- 
cally, however, the investigation pursued 
here argues that culturism, rather than the 
popularly brandished literalism, is the pri- 
mary culprit and defining impulse of funda- 
mentalism. Rather than literalism resulting 
from cognitive characteristics, the inconsis- 
tency of its application as an interpretive 
principle suggests that when it actually does 
appear, it does so largely in service of cul- 
tural forces and personal needs. Such a con- 
clusion might be of little suiprise to anyone 
viewing the problem from a purview out- 
side psychology's modern cultural domi- 
nance. Today, however, having given over 
so many modes of thought to psychological 
ways of thinking, scholars and others may 
have absorbed some of its disciplinary bias 
(as the study of the mind) and become preju- 
dicially quick to embrace cognitive expla- 
nations, seeing them as primary, indepen- 
dent, or underlying all others. 

This is not, on the other hand, to say 
that psychology is in any way a bootless or 
redundant enterprise, or that its instincts in 
this regard are entirely wrong. Rather it is 

The Boston Theological Institute 


to suggest that there may be alternative psy- 
chological viewpoints, superior to those usu- 
ally applied, that better explain why 
fundamentalism's particular culturist tenden- 
cies are appealing to some people, and how, 
exactly, individuals accomplish such 
Procrustean readings of the Bible in service 
of their social assumptions and dogmas. 
Indeed, everyone might have a great deal to 
learn from the observation of this dynamic: 
it entails the same processes of selective 
reading and misreading that allowed good 
Christian Americans to be slave owners un- 
til the Civil War, and to participate in segre- 
gation up until the time of Martin Luther 
King, Jr. i: 

The first observation to be made regard- 
ing this process is that when faced with the 
difficult task of having to read the Bible, the 
fundamentalists' need to avoid actually read- 
ing the Bible as a whole may come as an 
appealing relief to many. This has probably 
also contributed heavily to an increase in the 
numbers of those falling prey to Gomes' 
third interpretive temptation, bibliolatry. Just 
so, Ellen Rosenberg has remarked, "As the 
code words have be- 
come 'Biblical iner- 
rancy,' the Bible itself is 
less read than preached, 
less interpreted than 
brandished." 13 Even 
more than a "protean 
Rorschach," as she sug- 
gests, when it comes to 
the Bible, the real 
meaning of "inerrant" 
today is "unread." 14 In- 
deed, "textual" preaching is frequently wor- 
thy of being lampooned these days because, 
as Gomes observes, the Bible is often merely 
used as "...some sort of spiritual or textual 
trampoline: You go into it in order to bounce 
off of it as far as possible, and your only pur- 
pose in returning to it was to get away from 
it again." l5 

Only the hierarchy of interdependent 
interpretive errors presented here, placing 

culturism at its head, also explains the in- 
consistencies that have exasperated so 
many critics and allowed psychologists to 
blur fundamentalism's predilections with 
intellectual misfortune. The reason Ortho- 
dox rabbis insist that King David was holy 
and did not sin, despite what the Bible 
says, 16 is that fundamentalism of all kinds 
demands not literal interpretation by lim- 
ited minds, but rather a subscription to the 
absoluteness of a single preordained doc- 
trinal point of view. What is at risk for the 
fundamentalists in interpreting the Bible is 
not its authenticity, but the credibility of a 
carefully constructed absolutist dogma that 
is never to be challenged — not even by the 
Bible. Intransigence is the true goal, and 
literalism is sometimes the means, some- 
times an obstacle, and often merely a skirt 
to hide behind in a modernist-style culture 
that demands some kind of systematic ap- 
proach. These important points issuing 
from a historically and anthropologically 
informed point of view will be revisited 
after an exploration of modernism and a 
survey of some of the psychological mate- 

Christian modernism.. .tended to assume 
that knowledge was inherently good, that 
progress was inevitable, that any question 
was answerable, and that religion and 
science were ultimately compatible if they 
were explored with rigorous, systematic 

rial regarding fundamentalism in light of 
that perspective. 

Modernism and the cultural 
grounding of knowledge 

Growing out of the Enlightenment, 
modernism has sometimes been defined 
through its association with four emergent 
cultural trends: a new respect for rational 
thinking, a strong faith in the utility of sci- 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

ence and philosophy to ascertain the Truth, 
an inchoate understanding of global plural- 
ism, and the rise of a secular world-view. 
Christian modernism, as popularly exempli- 
fied by Harry Emerson Fosdick's 1922 ser- 
mon, "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?" n 
tended to assume that knowledge was inher- 
ently good, that progress was inevitable, that 
any question was answerable, and that reli- 
gion and science were ultimately compat- 
ible if they were explored with rigorous, sys- 
tematic thought. 

Despite their obvious differences, in 
earlier parts of this century, fundamentalism 
and modernism had a number of character- 
istics in common: both took faith seriously 
and provided an alternative to secularism; 
both saw themselves as making a much 
needed response to the spirit of the age and 
tried to preserve the Bible as pail of modern 
life; and most importantly for the purposes 
of this study, modernism as typified by 
Fosdick. and fundamentalism as originally 
inaugurated by Charles Hodge, were both 
optimistic enterprises. That is to say, while 
their methods and conclusions differed 

Compared to the fundamentalists tested, 
the non-fundamentalists were shown to 
be more complex, open, and critical pro- 
cessors — fail only of the information 
related to existential! religious issues. 

sharply from each other, they both believed 
that everything in the Bible and in the world 
had a pattern, and that systematic efforts can 
always lead to improved answers to ques- 
tions and. in time, to the arrival at the Truth. 
"There is — quite ironically," as medical an- 
thropologist Byron Good has said, "a close 
relationship between science and religious 
fundamentalism": both hold to the neces- 
sity and diligent pursuit of "correct" be- 
liefs. 18 To put it another way, the hallmark 

of the modern secular approach, according 
to Clifford Geertz. is "a salvational belief in 
the powers of science." l9 The fact that this 
could not be a more apt characterization of 
psychology's deepest self-understanding — 
an understanding that has come into ques- 
tion in the postmodern era — should lend cru- 
cial perspective to any assessment of psy- 
chological literature concerning fundamen- 

While it is easy to recognize the inter- 
pretive errors, inconsistencies, and biases of 
other systems of understanding, such as fun- 
damentalism, " is difficult to avoid a 
strong conviction that our own system of 
knowledge [actually] reflects the natural 
order.. .that our own. ..categories are natural 
and 'descriptive' rather than essentially cul- 
tural and 'classificatory.'" 20 This is what 
Good has called anthropology's greatest con- 
tribution to twentieth-century sociology of 
knowledge: its insistence that all our " 
man knowledge is culturally shaped and con- 
stituted in relation to distinctive forms of life 
and social organization." 21 These are the 
perceptions that have led to thepostmodern 
perspectivism — a recogni- 
tion of the much more 
sweeping manner in which 
"truth" and understanding 
are shaped by one's point of 
view. In this epistemologi- 
cal milieu, psychology 
seems to be beginning to rec- 
ognize some of the value 
judgments inherent to its en- 
terprise — to recognize, that is to say, its own 
modernist tendencies. 

Cognitive psychological views of 
fundamentalism: from "cognitively 
challenged ,, to culturally-shared 
cognitive style 

Psychological studies have explored 
many dimensions of fundamentalism and 
associated it with everything from far more 
positive attitudes towards corporal punish 
ment 22 to a higher incidence of colon can- 

The Boston Theological Institute 


cer. 23 More to the point, however, in addi- 
tion to Goldman's work in the tradition of 
Piaget and the five other studies discussed 
by Meadow and Kahoe, 24 mentioned above, 
there are other studies from the past few de- 
cades that continue to lend support to the 
thesis that fundamentalists are, on average, 
of lower intellectual functioning. In two 
studies of Who's Who, published in 1969 and 
1971, for example, James Dittes observed 
that high status in our society has for some 
time been correlated with religious skepti- 
cism and nonaffiliation. 25 

Beyond Zaehry's hesitant conclusion 2 ' 1 
that an "intelligent fundamentalist" just 
might be a contradiction in terms, Edgington 
and Hutchinson 27 showed a significant cor- 
relation between fundamentalism and gen- 
eral lack of cognitive complexity through a 
paragraph completion test that specifically 
measured how an individual classifies and 
integrates information. Hunsberger and his 
coworkers 2 * discovered that while non-fun- 
damentalists reported coming to significant 
doubts about their religion by "just thinking 
about it," only the significant jolt of trau- 
matic life events seemed to do the same for 
fundamentalists. Striking a similar chord, 
Malony 2 " claims to have found significant 
differences in cognitive functioning (lower 
degree of cognitive flexibility, less sensitiv- 
ity to the multiplicity of objects' meanings, 
etc.) through a scale measuring the degree 
to which an individual made literal, "anti- 
literal," and mythological interpretations of 
doctrinal statements. 

As cumulatively persuasive as these 
studies may seem, there are a number of 
studies that do not share their conclusions. 
Indeed, some of the earlier developmentally- 
based models that equated fundamentalism 
with arrested cognitive development 3 " have 
been discredited by findings that many 
people's religious thinking actual regresses 
toward literalism again after they reach ma- 
turity, 31 rather than progressing from literal- 
ism toward abstraction. Furthermore, less 
disparaging interpretations seem to be avail- 

able for most of the recent research. While 
the issue does remain unresolved, until the 
last few years most psychological investiga- 
tors seem to have overlooked the possibility 
that, rather than demonstrating the sort of 
general cognitive differences that their dis- 
cipline is inclined to pursue, research results 
may actually be reflecting differences in cog- 
nition specific only to the domain of religion. 

The critical question, then, that must be 
asked is this: "Is there any basis for inter- 
preting findings as indicative of overall abil- 
ity, rather than simply an elected preference 
in specific areas of functioning? With the 
possible exception of Edgington and 
Hutchinson's 1990 study, the answer to this 
question seems to be "no." Hunsberger et 
al. 32 cite two studies showing that, in regard 
to religious/existential issues (such as the ex- 
istence of God and life after death), strong 
fundamentalists were much less cognitively 
complex in their thinking. In regard to non- 
religious issues, however, there seemed to 
be no difference in complexity of thought 
between fundamentalists and non-funda- 
mentalists on nonreligious issues. Their sub- 
sequent study 33 produced similar results by 
presenting subjects with two ethical, two en- 
vironmental, and two religious dilemmas. 
The responses they received were then ana- 
lyzed for integrative complexity of thought. 
Compared to the fundamentalists tested, the 
non-fundamentalists were shown to be more 
complex, open, and critical processors — but 
only of the information related to existen- 
tial/religious issues. 

If this is in fact the case, reference-frame 
theory may partially explain this phenom- 
enon: when asked to view a situation from 
a religious perspective, an individual could 
be expected to use a cognitive scheme re- 
lated to his or her manner of processing bib- 
lical information. Another implication here 
is that methods of religious pedagogy should 
contribute to the shaping of cognitive pro- 
cessing styles. One study comparing Bap- 
tists and Roman Catholics 34 has substanti- 
ated exactly this point. In the Baptist tradi- 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

tion, in which individuals are encouraged to 
"witness" and "testify," it was found that in- 
dividuals were much more likely to think 
about themselves and make interpretations 
with reference to concrete personal episodes 
that psychology would invariably assess as 
pan of lower-level thinking. ,s 

As McCallister 36 has recently suggested, 
these data help to illustrate persuasively that 
certain denominations do cultivate goal-re- 
lated preferences for particular cognitive 
styles. In this same manner, fundamental- 
ists may train each other to exhibit the lit- 
eral and concrete-level thinking that has been 
observed, as a socially shared processing 
style. The question that now remains to be 
addressed is why this thought-shaping phe- 
nomenon should exist. Other lines of re- 
search may help explain why and how this 
cognitive style or preferential mode of func- 
tioning develops and maintains itself in in- 
dividuals and in groups. 

Fundamentalists: "cognitive misers" in 
a different way or to a different degree? 

Psychology has catalogued many heu- 
ristics, schemas, and biases that human be- 
ings cultivate as efficient cognitive shortcuts 
to guide behavior while reducing mental 
load and reaction time.' 7 Without them, the 
barrage of sensory data and logical and emo- 
tional contingencies would be completely 
immobilizing. In this sense, human beings 
are all, therefore, "cognitive misers" — ca- 
pable only of thinking actively about a cer- 
tain subset of the facts, issues, realities, and 
possibilities that shape their lives, some of 
which are chosen and some of which are not. 

Considered from a sheerly pragmatic 
psychological point of view, religion is the 
most elementary story that humans tell about 
themselves, giving definition to the world 
and identifying the human purpose and 
proper place within it; and it surely func- 
tions as one of the most important reposito- 
ries of perspectives and rules for use as men- 
tal shortcuts to guide behavior and shape un- 
derstanding. While many psychologists 
would concede that religion in general sup- 

plies meaning to life and offers a degree of 
relief from some potentially overwhelming 
anxieties, they, along with observers from 
many other perspectives, are quick to sug- 
gest that there seems to be something differ- 
ent, something unusually extreme, going on 
under the wings of fundamentalism. 

Exploring the ideology of political ex- 
tremism. Liset and Rabb 3x may make a help- 
ful contribution to the understanding of the 
fundamentalist anthem of biblical inerrancy 
and literalism when they target the occur- 
rence of "simplism" — the "unambiguous as- 
cription of single causes and remedies for 
multifactored phenomena." Simple answers 
to complex problems have always been 
popular, but it is significant that, according 
to their study, 62% of right-wing letter writ- 
ers, versus 28% of the national population, 
hold that "the answers to our country's prob- 
lems are much simpler than the experts 
would have us believe." 3 ' Seeming to par- 
allel fundamentalism in several important 
ways, the mentality of simplism shuns obvi- 
ous complexity and affirms that the experts — 
those who have specialized knowledge — are 
wrong, and those who do not, are right. 

In their tendency towards simplism in 
biblical interpretation and other practices, 
fundamentalists are certainly cognitive mi- 
sers of another degree, if not an entirely dif- 
ferent ilk. But this issue returns to one of 
the principal concerns here, namely, to a fur- 
ther consideration of the dichotomy drawn 
between cognitive capability and culturally 
shared and selected processing styles. 

The modernist/fundamentalist 
debate: a century-long clash of two 
cultures differing in cognitive style 

As one psychologist recently proposed 
in a virtual reissue of the modernist mani- 
festo, whereas most people tend to partition 
their beliefs so that religion conflicts less 
with the forces of reason they use to 
guidetheir behavior, fundamentalists often 
simply do not. 40 In 1922, Harry Emerson 
Fosdick underscored a similar point when 
he affirmed his belief that scripture. God. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


and the world might ultimately be under- 
stood, but only through a reconciliation of 
religious faith with the evolving knowledge 
of human beings and the universe — a recon- 
ciliation necessary to keep Christianity co- 
herent and relevant to many thoughtful Chris- 
tians. As he said, "There are multitudes of 
reverent Christians who have been unable to 
keep... new knowledge in one compartment 
of their minds and the Christian faith in an- 
other." Most people of Fosdick's day tended 
" see... new knowledge in terms of the 
Christian faith and to see the Christian faith 
in terms of this new knowledge." 41 In con- 
trast to the fundamentalists, who do not feel 
compelled to effect this sort of reconcilia- 
tion, the majority of people have subscribed 
to modernist beliefs and see reaching such 
resolutions to be a basic part of understand- 
ing and, hence, of behaving properly in this 
world. To put it another way. a broader ap- 
plication of self-critical, systematic method- 
ologies is seen as the best means of negotiat- 
ing the path between human goals and hu- 
man limitations as agents acting in the world. 
Given the modernist assumptions of 
most people today, the fundamentalists' par- 
ticular choice of cognitive parsimony can be 
very difficult to separate from a general con- 
ception of ignorance. Dealing with funda- 
mentalism can be frustrating, and it is easy 
to confuse a choice not to think with an in- 
ability to think — because the results are es- 
sentially the same. One segment of the dia- 
logue between Clarence Darrow and Will- 
iam Jennings Bryan at the Scopes Trial in 
1925 illustrates this point very nicely; it not 
only elicited a confession from Bryan that 
he had never chosen to explore the claims 
of other religions, it also produced the fol- 
lowing exchange: 

Darrow: When was the flood? 

Bryan: I would not attempt to fix the 
date. The date is fixed as suggested 
this morning [i.e., according to 
Bishop Usher's chronology, 
included in many Bibles]. 

Darrow: But what do you think that 
the Bible itself says? Don't you 
know how it was arrived at? 

Bryan: I never made the calculation. 
Darrow: A calculation from what? 
Bryan: I could not say. 
Darrow: From the generations of 

Bryan: I would not want to say that. 
Darrow: What do you think? 
Bryan: / do not think about things I 

don't think about. 
Darrow: Do you think about things 

you do think about? 
Bryan: Well, sometimes. 42 

While Bryan was surely a man of intel- 
ligence and complexity, he showed neither 
trait when it came to his religious world- 
view. Darrow, consequently, made a fool of 
him, just as psychology has at times made a 
mockery of fundamentalism. As discussed 
above, however, dogmatism and constricted 
ranges of questioning are not unique to fun- 
damentalism; they can result from any 
discipline's unquestioned assumptions and 
conceptual blind spots. Just so, one could 
use Thomas Kuhn's analysis of paradigm 
clashes in science to show that studies sug- 
gesting fundamentalism to be the result of 
cognitive impairment or even psychopathol- 
ogy are completely misinterpreted. 

Ralph Hood makes just such an argu- 
ment, warning that psychologists should be 
more wary of the influence of epistemic sys- 
tems and power dynamics on the collection 
and interpretation of data. 43 The history of the 
psychological analysis of fundamentalism 
does indeed indicate that psychologists should 
heed this warning. At least as early as 1968, 
psychologist Paul Pruyser 44 observed that 
some people who are perfectly capable of 
thinking abstractly simply choose not to do 
so, under the auspices of some religions. It 
would seem, however, that psychology's sci- 
entific/modernist bias against fundamental- 
ism and towards cognitive assessments have 
hindered its pursuit of this interpretation. 

Perhaps a similar process of selective 
attention can be observed in the discipline's 
response to another extensive study carried 
out by Gary Maranell. 45 He explored the re- 
ligious attitudes of five different groups: stu- 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

dents, college professors, clergy, citizens of 
a small Southern town, and members of a 
Midwestern community. There were signifi- 
cant educational and intellectual differences 
between fundamentalists and non-funda- 
mentalists only in the Southern town sample. 
The fact that these differences were not 
found in any of the other four samples seems 
to have had little effect on the attitude of most 
subsequent psychological researchers. It 
seems reasonable to suggest that the South- 
ern town sample supported the conclusions 
that most researchers were looking for, and 
the other data has simply been rationalized 
away or selectively ignored. 

In an effort to avoid relativism, a signifi- 
cant difference should be noted here: whereas 
science does its best to recognize and correct 
these sorts of inconsistencies — and psychol- 
ogy has come a long way to recognize some 
of its disciplinary prejudices — fundamental- 
ism simply attempts to defend and preserve 
them at all costs. Prosecuting what it claims 
to be a single, preordained, immutable point 
of view, and doing so according to a method- 
ology at odds with almost all others applied 
at that same level to life in the modern West, 
fundamentalism frequently becomes a source 
of great consternation to those who encoun- 
ter it. Harold Bloom surely articulates an 
embittered but prevalent exasperation when 
he says, "You can argue against dogmatism, 
...but how can you argue against ignorance 
stubbornly proud of itself?" 46 

Maintaining the unmaintainable: 
subordination of logical consistency 
to cultural vision 

Studies have shown that many fundamen- 
talists might very well be cognitive misers in 
a distinctively different way; 47 but not even 
this finding in conjunction with the effects of 
paradigm-related blind spots is sufficient to 
explain the fundamentalist phenomenon in its 
entirety. A return to the above-outlined dis- 
cussion of the dogmatic "culturism" is war- 
ranted. Fundamentalism might be seen as a 
willful, knowing neglect — a conservation in 
the use of reason for a reason. 

Many psychological studies and theories 
of fundamentalism have associated it with 
"authoritarianism," that is to say, a very low 
tolerance for ambiguity and need for definite 
structure. 4 * The fundamentalist phenomenon 
has also been described in terms of "self- 
schemas," patterns of understanding that 
emerge in areas that individuals care about, 
use to identify themselves, and inevitably 
become attached to. Religious self-schemas 
might logically result in protective cognitive 
narrowing on religious topics in order to pre- 
serve one's preferred identity. 4 ' Both of these 
explanations have merit and are probably 
major components in the appeal and preser- 
vation of fundamentalist beliefs. But a third, 
complementary psychological explanation 
that is extremely consistent with funda- 
mentalism's historical origins may be even 
more encompassing: fundamentalism can be 
seen as a primarily culturist enterprise — an 
illusory attempt to resist change by clinging 
to a moral, social, and cosmological system 
that is not open to question. 50 

Although fundamentalists are surely sin- 
cere Christians, the fact that they claim to be 
biblical literalists while often ignoring the 
texts' literal sense, is convincing evidence 
that they have a cultural viewpoint to which 
they want to adhere, no matter what the Bible 
or any other source of knowledge has to say. 
Gomes' notion of culturism is.thus, clearly 
demonstrated by the chasm of "biblical pro- 
portions" that exists between their stated 
methods and their formulaic conclusions. 

The characteristic aggressiveness of fun- 
damentalists' evangelism, and the sometimes 
shrill desperation with which their agenda can 
be executed might even be said to have a "she- 
doth-protest-too-much" edge that is equally 
damning. Any number of observers have 
wondered if their frequently extreme tactics 
are not actually a defensive overcompensa- 
tion for underlying uncertainties that they 
wish to dispel. Past studies have indeed 
shown that some of the most outspoken and 
defensive individuals are frequently the least 
certain of their views. 51 Similarly, although 
its findings are not absolutely unambiguous 

The Boston Theological Institute 


one recent investigation found that in response 
to the question, "Do highly religious people 
secretly have doubts about their religion?" 
seventy-three percent of the most strongly fun- 
damentalist respondents said "yes." 5: 

What more can be said about how fun- 
damentalists' beliefs are maintained in the 
face of adversity? As Gomes remarks, one 
certainly cannot preserve the 
conclusion that the Bible has 
a "clear and plain meaning" 
by reading it. 53 A recently 
published study by Hertwig, 
Gigerenzer, and Hoffrage 54 
entitled "Reiteration Effect 
in Hindsight Bias" may, 
however, give the first coher- 
ent psychological explana- 
tion for how one might come 
to that conclusion simply by 
wanting to believe it and 
then repeating it or hearing it over and over 
again. Exposing the deeper mechanics of 
this phenomenon, these researchers have 
constructed a compelling model of how rep- 
etition of any assertion gradually increases 
the degree of belief in that assertion. 

Another piece of the puzzle comes from 
cognitive dissonance theory. According to 
findings, once an individual commits to a 
particular position, he or she selectively at- 
tends to supportive pieces of information 
while ignoring contradictory ones. 5 ' Fun- 
damentalists conform to this model since, 
relative to other groups, they have a much 
higher desire to ignore literature critical of 
their position. Together with observations 
regarding reiteration effects, this research 
seems to provide a persuasive explanation 
of how fundamentalists use self-isolation 
from other points of view and the repetition 
of carefully selected biblical verses to main- 
tain their beliefs and shared cognitive styles. 

Conclusion: final judgments in the 
postmodern milieu 

At this point, it is important to re-em- 
phasize that this method of willful, distort- 
ing self-exposure (as some psychologists 

might see it) is no more characteristic of 
Christianity in general than it is of every 
other way of life. Some rather unsympa- 
thetic branches of psychology have ques- 
tioned whether many normative Christian 
beliefs would survive without some constric- 
tion of the range of questions allowed. Par- 
ticularly in the wake of modernism's well- 

The shift. . .in psychology's perspective 
from seeing fundamentalism as a cog- 
nitively challenged movement to one 
simply subscribing to a particular 
cultural style of mental processing (and 
perhaps only of expression) is a signifi- 
cant step in this postmodern direction. 

touted decline, however, there is little ground 
for asserting that conservative theology, in 
and of itself, is a sign of inconsistency or 
lack of cognitive complexity. Furthermore, 
one should note that, when evaluating fun- 
damentalists, psychology might have over- 
reached its own bounds in yet another way. 
In a lecture, Peter Gomes' 6 cited the words 
attributed to Anna Barlett Warner — "Jesus 
loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me 
so" — as an example of the proto-fundamen- 
talists' redefinition of terms to meet the mod- 
ernist challenge. Subsequently, affirmations 
such as these have continued to be dispar- 
aged by psychology as evidence of non-op- 
timal or underdeveloped thinking. However, 
Karl Barth, one of the most learned and pro- 
lific theologians of this century, when asked 
late in life what was the most important thing 
he knew about the Christian faith, responded 
with these very same, simple words: "Jesus 
loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me 
so." " One such concrete answer — which 
obviously signifies a great deal more to such 
a sophisticated religious thinker — is enough 
to call into question some of the most per- 
suasive psychological studies. Even in its 
more modest assertion that it may be only 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

within the domain of religion that fundamen- 
talists do not think with as much complex- 
ity, psychology has always focused on how 
they choose to express themselves, not nec- 
essarily on the thought that lay behind the 
formulation of that expression. 

In his article entitled "The End of the 
Modern World,'* Diogenes Alien 5 * hails the 
postmodern epistemological position to 
which our culture has drifted as an opportu- 
nity to "recover the full wealth of convic- 
tion." Arguing that the ideas upon which 
the modernist world-view was founded seem 
to have crumbled, he seizes upon the posi- 
tive dimension of our current situation, cast- 
ing it as one in which Christianity can be 
seen as fully relevant once again, intellectu- 
ally and in every other respect. What others 
have deplored as a relativizing trend, he 
greets as an emancipating force liberating 
religious belief from the intellectual subju- 
gation it has suffered at the hands of mod- 
ernism. The shift, chronicled here, in 
psychology's perspective, from seeing fun- 
damentalism as a cognitively challenged 
movement to one simply subscribing to a 
particular cultural style of mental process- 
ing (and perhaps only of expression) is a sig- 
nificant step in this postmodern direction. 

While psychology still adheres, with 
good reason, to its culturally enshrined as- 
sumptions, it is at least beginning to recog- 
nize them as such — to see, for example, that 
more complex cognitive structure is better, 
and logical consistency is superior, only in 
relation to certain objectives that have been 
culturally identified as valuable. Many may 
be prepared to make these value judgments, 
seeing them not only as culturally validated 
but also, according to our best judgments, as 
somehow more attuned to "reality" as it has 
presented itself. Indeed, scholars must enter 
the fray and stake their claim somewhere. 
The difference is that now. with the aura of 
absolute Truth dispelled from modernist as- 
sumptions, modernism's claims can be rec- 
ognized for what they are: value judgments 
that hold their place and their power with re- 

spect to a particular point of view that, while 
it may be provisional, most people have iden- 
tified as best. In a sense, then. Harold Bloom 
was right to ask how one could argue against 
a group so defiantly proud of its ignorance. 
But the belittling tone of such remarks is part 
of a judgment issuing from a deeply contex- 
tualized alternative value system, one that 
leads to exasperation with this group because 
it vigorously promotes a different set of rules. 
Thus, while it may not be possible to resolve 
these cultural differences and their authori- 
tative antinomies and methodological incom- 
patibilities, at least they have been recognized 
as such — an important accomplishment in its 
own right. 

Works cited: 

Alock, James. "Religion and Rationality." 
Religion and Mental Health. Ed. John 
Schumaker. Oxford: Oxford University 
Press. 1992. 

Allen. Diogenes. "The End of the Modern 
World." Christian Scholar's Review, 
22:4(1993). 339-47. 

The Bible. Authorized King James Version. 

Bloom. Harold. The American Religion: the 
Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation. 
New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992. 

Cacioppo. John. "Central and Peripheral 
Routes to Persuasion." Journal of 
Personality & Social Psychology, 5 1 :5 
(1986), 1032-43. 

Edgington. Thomas, and Roger 
Hutchinson. "Fundamentalism as a 
Predictor of Cognitive Complexity." 
Journal of Psychology and Christianity. 
9:1 (1990). 47-55. 

Fosdick. Harry Emerson. "Shall the 
Fundamentalists Win?" The Riverside 
Preachers. Ed. Paul Sherry. Cleveland: 
Pilgrim Press. 1978. 

Goldman. Robert. Religious Thinking from 
Childhood to Adolescence. London: 
Routledse and Kesan Paul. 1964. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Gomes, Peter. The Good Book: Reading 
the Bible with Mind and Heart. New 
York: Morrow, 1996. 

. Lecture. Harvard University. 15 

April 1997. 

Good, Byron. Medicine, Rationality, and 
Experience: an Anthropological 
Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge 
University Press, 1994. 

Hertwig, Ralph, Gerd Gigerenzer, and 
Ulrich Hoffrage. "The Reiteration 
Effect in Hindsight Bias." Psychologi- 
cal Review, 104:1 (1997), 194-202 

Hood, Ralph. "Maintenance of Religious 
Fundamentalism." Psychological 
Reports, 59:2 (1986), 547-59. 

Hunsberger, Bruce, Susan Alisat, Mark 
Pancer, and Michael Pratt. "Religious 
Fundamentalism and Religious Doubts: 
Content, Connections, and Complexity 
of Thinking." The International Journal 
for the Psychology of Religion, 6:3 
(1996), 201-20. 

Kahneman, Daniel, Paul Slovic, and Amos 
Tversky. Judgment Under Uncertainty: 
Heuristics and Biases. Cambridge: 
Cambridge University Press, 1982. 

Kavan, Michael. "Colon Cancer: Personal- 
ity Factors Predictive of Onset and Stage 
of Presentation." Journal of Psychomet- 
ric Research, 39:8 (1995). 1031-39. 

Kuhn, Thomas. The Structure of Scientific 
Revolutions. Chicago: University of 
Chicago Press, 1962. 

Lipset, S. M. and E. Rabb. The Politics of 
Unreason: Right-wing Extremists in 
America. New York: Haiper & Row, 1978. 

Malony, H. Newton. Psychology of 
Religion: Personalities, Problems, 
Possibilities. Grand Rapids: Baker 
Book House, 1991. 

Maranell, Gary. Responses to Religion. 
Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 

Marsden, George. Fundamentalism and 
American Culture: The Shaping of 

Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism , 

J 870- 1925. Oxford: Oxford University 

Press, 1980. 

McCallister, Beverly. "Cognitive Theory 
and Religious Experience." The 
Handbook of Religious Experience. Ed. 
Ralph Hood. Birmingham, AL: Reli- 
gious Education Press, 1995. 

McFarland, Sam, and James Warren. 
"Religious Orientations and Selective 
Exposure Among Fundamentalist 
Christians." Journal for the Scientific 
Study of Religion, 31:2 (1992), 163-74. 

Meadow, Mary Jo, and Richard Kahoe. 
Psychology of Religion: Religion in 
Individual Lives. New York: Harper & 
Row, 1984. 

Pruyser, Paul. A Dynamic Psychology of 
Religion. New York: Harper, 1968. 

Wiehe, Vernon. "Religious Influence on 
Parental Attitudes Toward the Use of 
Corporal Punishment." Journal of 
Family Violence, 5 (1990), 173-86. 

Zachry. William. "Correlation of Abstract 
Religious Thought and Formal Opera- 
tions in High School and College 
Students." Review of Religious Re- 
search, 31 (1990), 405- 12. 


1. Marsden, p. 189. 

2. Bloom, p. 228. 

3. Meadow and Kahoe, p. 351. 

4. McCallister, p. 323. 

5. Bloom, p. 224. 

6. 2 Timothy 3:16. 

7. See McCallister.. 

8. See Goldman. 

9. Gomes, p. 8. Emphasis added. 

10. Ibid., p. 41. 

1 1. Ibid., p. 36. 

12. Ibid., p. 51. 

13. As quoted in Bloom, p. 220. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

14. Ibid., p. 230. 

38. Liset and Rabb. p. 7. 

15. Gomes (1996). p. 11. 

39. Ibid., p. 8. 

16. Ibid., pp. 25-26. 

40.Alock. 1992. 

17. Fosdick. 

41. Fosdick. p. 28. 

18. Good. p. 17. 

42. Marsen, p. 187. Emphasis added. 

19. Ibid., p. 182. 

43. Hood. p. 551. 

20. Ibid., p. 3. 

44. Pruyser, 1968. 

21. Ibid., p. 21. 

45. Maranell. p.247. 

22. Wiehe, p. 173. 

46. Bloom, p. 230. 

23. Kavan, p.1031. 

47. Cacioppo. p. 1032. 

24. Meadow and Kahoe. p.351. 

48. E.g., Meadow and Kahoe; Edgington 

25. Ibid., p. 354. 

and Hutchinson. 

26. Zachry, p. 405. 

27. Edgington and Hutchison, p. 47. 

28. Hunsberger et al.. p. 201 

49. McCallister. p. 325. 

50. Meadow and Kahoe, p. 354. 

51. Edgington and Hutchinson, p. 47. 

29. Malony. p. 296. 

30. Cf., e.g.. Goldman. 

52. Hunsberger et al., p. 211. 

53. Gomes (1996 ). p. 31. 

31. Malony. p. 305. 

54. Hertwig. Gigerenzer, and Hoffrage, 

32. Hunsberger et al.. p. 201. 

33. Ibid., p. 202. 

34. McCallister, p. 326. 

35. Ibid., p. 326-27. 

36. McCallister, p. 316. 

p. 194. 

55. McFarland and Warren, p. 163. 

56. Gomes (1997). 

57. McCallister. p. 324. 

58. Allen, p. 347. 

37. See Kahneman, Slovic. and Tversky. 

Branden Miller received his M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, 
Massachusetts, in the spring of 1998. Before beginning theological studies, he 
majored in the ethics, politics and economics program as an undergraduate at Yale 
University. With a Knox Fellowship from Harvard, he is currently pursuing doctoral 
studies at Wolf son College, Oxford University, working on the psychology of creativ- 
ity and religious experience. His religious tradition is Unitarian Universalist. 

This essay was awarded a First Prize. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


104 Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1998 

A collection of essays by speakers in the Lecture Series of the 
Center for Faith and Science Exchange, and by prize winners in the 
1998 essay contest, "Progress in Religion through the Sciences," 
for graduate students in theology and religious studies in schools 
of the Northeast U.S. 

Articles by: 

• Rolf Bouma, Boston University (Boston, Massachusetts) 

• Troy Catterson, Boston University 

• Peter Heltzel, Boston University 

• Andrew Irvine, Boston University 

• Daniel Lee Kaplan, Congregation Klal Yisrael (Stoughton, 

Massachusetts), Stonehill College (North Easton, Massachusetts) 

• Branden T. C. Miller, Oxford University (England) 

• Wolfhart Pannenberg, University of Munich (Germany) 

• Nicole Roskos, Drew University (Madison, New Jersey) 

• Karl Schmitz-Moormann, Center of Theological Inquiry 

(Princeton, New Jersey) 

Jne journal of 

^raiin and 





Volume III, 1999 

The Boston Theological Institute 

Newton Centre, Massachusetts, U.S.A. 

The Journal of Faith and Science Exchange 

Volume HI 


edited by 
Barbara Smith-Moran, S.O.Sc. 

with a foreword by 
Rodney L. Petersen, Ph.D. 

The Boston Theological Institute 

Newton Centre, Massachusetts, U.S.A. 

Editorial Board: 

Barbara Smith-Moran, S.O.Sc, Editor 

Gail Phillips Bucher, Director, New England Center for Faith and Science Exchange; and 
Coordinator, Certificate Program in Science and Religion, Boston Theological Institute 

Rodney L. Petersen, Executive Director, Boston Theological Institute 

J. John Keggi, S.O.Sc, Executive Board, New England Center for Faith and Science Exchange 

1999 Editorial Panel: 

Jensine Andresen, Assistant Professor of Theology and Director of the Program in Science, 
Philosophy, and Religion, The School of Theology, Boston University 

Joseph D. Cassidy, O. P., Associate Professor of Biological Sciences and of Philosophy, The 
University of Illinois and Providence College 

Robert S. Corrington, Professor of Philosophical Theology, The Caspersen School of Gradu- 
ate Studies, Drew University 

Manuel G. Doncel, S.J., Professor of the History and Philosophy of Science, Seminari de 
Teologia i Ciencies, Institut de Teologia Fonamental, Sant Cugat, Barcelona; Professor of 
Theoretical Physics, and Director of the Center for the Study of the History of Science, 
Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona 

Ronald Highfield, Associate Professor in the Religion Division, Pepperdine University 

Catherine Keller, Professor of Constructive Theology, The Theological School, Drew University 

Everett Mendelsohn, Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University 

Nancey Murphy, Professor of Christian Philosophy, Fuller Theological Seminary 

Tom Settle, S.O.Sc, Faculty of Divinity, Trinity College, The University of Toronto 

Kevin Sharpe, S.O.Sc, Core Faculty, The Graduate College, The Union Institute 

ISSN 1520-9792 

Editor's Note: As a matter of editorial policy, gender-inclusive language has been used 
throughout. (Exceptions are made for reasons of historical accuracy and for the treatment of 
gender-specific matters.) Scripture quotations, but not quotations from other source material, 
have been modified accordingly. 

Subscription information: The Journal of Faith and Science Exchange is published 
annually by the Boston Theological Institute. It is available to individuals and congrega- 
tions within North America at a cost of $15, or $18 beyond. For libraries within North 
America, the cost is $25, or $30 beyond. Back issues are available at the same rates. 

Advertising rates: For information, contact the Editor, <>. 

Copyright © 2000, The Boston Theological Institute, All rights reserved. No part of this 
journal may be reproduced by any means without the written permission of the publisher. 

Printed in the United States of America. 

Boston Theological Institute 

210 Herrick Road 

Newton Centre, MA 02459 USA 

telephone, 617-527-4880; fax, 617-527-1073 
< > 


Foreword, by Rodney L. Petersen, Ph.D v 

Introduction, by Barbara Smith-Moran, S.O.Sc vii 

In Breakable Glasses: Toward a Naturalist 
Orientational Cosmology 1 

Marylu Bunting 

Division of Religions and Theological Studies, Boston University 

Language and Ideology: A Role for Scientific Metaphor 21 

John Darling 
Division of Religious and Theological Studies, Boston University 

Evolution and Epiphany: Language in Biological and 
Theological Perspective 37 

Maurice Lee 

Fuller Theological Seminary and Yale University 

Economy, Technology and the Environment: 
The Islamic Middle Way 55 

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad 

Minaret of Freedom Institute, The Johns Hopkins School for 

Advanced International Studies, and the University of Maryland 

The Potential of the Science-Religion Confluence 
for Affecting Policy and Administration 69 

Bruce Babbitt 
United States Department of the Interior 

In the Beginning: American Physics, the Kansas Science 
Education Standards, and the Attack on Scientific Cosmology 75 

Margaret Doris 
The School of Theology, Boston University 

The Challenge of Science to the Thinking Church 89 

Arthur Peacocke, S.O.Sc. 
The University of Oxford 

A Modern Natural Theology? 105 

Matthew Stanley 
Harvard University 

A Critical Review of Ian Barbour's Treatment 
of the Mind/Body Problem 1 13 

Craig A. B rammer 
The Graduate College, The Union Institute 

The Boston Theological Institute ffi 

Room for God? 119 

Ann Bersky 
Trinity College, The University of Toronto 

Science and Religion: Stepping Toward the Light at the 
Mouth of the Cave 131 

Richard Honeycutt 
The Graduate College, The Union Institute 

La Evolution de la Consciencia y la Action de Dios en el Mundo 141 

The Evolution of Consciousness and God's Action in the World 153 

Noemi Perez 

Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona 

Molding the Physical World Upon Francis Bacon's Anvil 163 

Chris Doran 
Pepperdine University 

boethius and the block universe! physical and 
Metaphysical Considerations of Time 175 

John Maxwell Kerr, S.O.Sc. 
Winchester College and the University of Oxford 

Chaos and Order in Nature/Creation: A Reading of 
Genesis l-2:4a in Dialogue with Science and Philosophy 193 

Jean H. Kim 
Drew University 

Whewell's Wager: The Continuing Dialogue of 
Metaphysics and Physics in Science 205 

Elora We ringer and Joseph D. C as sidy, OP. 

Providence College 

Ethics in the Context of Evolutionary Naturalism 229 

Gregory A. Maslowe 
Division of Religious and Theological Studies, Boston University 

iv Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1999 

Rodney L. Petersen, Ph.D., Executive Director 

The Boston Theological Institute 

The publication of this third volume of the Journal of Faith and Science Exchange 
comes at a time when the Boston Theological Institute (BTI) celebrates its first recipients of 
the Certificate in Science and Religion. These topics were of central interest in the founding 
ethos of the fourth university, or college, in the New World, Harvard College. Following the 
founding of the University of San Marcos in Lima and Universidad Real y Pontificia of 
Mexico, both in 1551, and the University of (New) Cordoba in Argentina under the Jesuits in 
1609, Harvard College (1636) would reflect the deep theological division that existed in 
early seventeenth-century European thought. 

Harvard represented a form of established Reformed polity, in distinction from other 
Catholic and Anglican divisions, where foundational epistemological ideas would be worked 
out in dependence upon Covenantal theology. The surprising thing about this theology, 
when viewed from the perspective of the twenty-first century, is the remarkable way in 
which it sought to find, through the developing sciences, a way of understanding the wisdom 
and ways of God beyond the smoke of theological controversy or the raging wars of religion. 

Not surprisingly, this may be seen in the desire to live under God's law. For early New 
England, this desire was worked out for society by Nathaniel Ward, a pastor in Ipswich who 
also had legal training. His Laws would be adopted provisionally in 1641, and would re- 
ceive their definitive form in 1648 as the Book of the Laws and Liberties Concerning the 
Inhabitants of Massachusetts. This work would constitute the civil counteipart of the colo- 
nial Cambridge Platform of Church Discipline of the same year, which adopted the cat- 
echism and formularies of the Westminster Assembly in all but polity. 

How this practice was perceived was subject to much earlier debate, as the "heart" of 
New England was "rent" by the Antinomian Controversy ( 1636-38). pointedly centered on 
the question of the perception and practices of God's laws as expressed in God's covenants. 
The Antinomian Controversy was relevant to the early shaping of Harvard College. Finding 
the grace of law more foundational to the early colony than that of Spirit, colonial leaders 
followed the path charted by Thomas Shephard, rather than that of John Cotton or Anne 
Hutchinson. The traumatic experience that was a part of this controversy brought about 
New England's first pan-colonial synod and in the end would inoculate Massachusetts Puri- 
tanism for a century to come against "fanaticism" and would consequently also inhibit the 
successors of the Bay Colonists from letting go their acquired society-protective rationalist 
disposition at the time of the Great Awakening. In effect, this inoculation would protect the 
College from emotional extremes but also inhibit Harvard from participating in the fresh 
vitalities of the eighteenth-century revivals of religion, secure in its self-confident "provin- 
cial" latitudinarian rationalism. 

However, apart from these debates, so formative of colony and college, the ways in 
which God's regular ordering of nature were to inform theological expression finds pointed 
visibility in the third president of Harvard College, the Reverend Dr. Leonard Hoar ( 1630- 
75). Committed to, among other things, a kind of Puritan orare et laborare, seen in William 
Law's A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1728), Hoar shaped his theology through 
the methodical lotzic of French humanist and Calvinist Peter Ramus (1515-72), Alexander 

The Boston Theological Institute 

Richardson's "Tables", i.e., The Logicians School-Master or, A Comment upon Ramus 
Logic, ...Comments on grammar, notes on physics, ethics, astronomy, medicine, and optics 
(London 1629; 1657), and William Ames' Medulla theologica (1628). In a letter to a young 
protege, Hoar counsels the fixing of some form of index to knowledge incrementally gained, 
alluding to his own Index Biblicus (1668). Hoar had been able to broaden his own knowl- 
edge of the developing sciences in England, having struck up a friendship with Sir Robert 
Boyle (1627-91), a leading figure in the newly chartered Royal Society of London for Im- 
proving Natural Knowledge ( 1662). The Society included such other luminaries as Sir Isaac 
Newton, all of them embraced in the first scientific society in Latin Christendom, and Hoar 
became part of the new world of science and scholarship. He may well have surmised that if 
the God of the "covenant of grace" (Anne Hutchinson and the Antinomians) was increas- 
ingly difficult to discern, then perhaps the God of the "covenant of works" (Thomas Shephard 
and early Harvard College) might be verified in the realms of orderly nature (natural reli- 
gion). In Hoar this new knowledge was integral to the transposition of his own focus of 
epistemology from revelation to empiricism. There was now a tradition of Reformed scho- 
lasticism of scientific inquiry with laboratory experimentation, accompanied by "utmost 
ratiocination," defined by Rene Descartes (1596-1650), in his preface to the Discourse on 
Method (1637), as the new laws of the methodologically purified mind, as a "new Bible." 

Hoar was abreast of the new empiricism pioneered in his time by John Locke (1632- 
1704). In epistolary exchanges, he had become familiar with chemist and physician Robert 
Hooke (1635-1703), with botanist Robert Morison (d. 1683), who was senior physician to 
Charles II and the first professor of botany at Oxford, and with botanist Alexander Balaam, 
British resident in Tangiers. Botany, chemistry, physics, and the world of medicine were 
opened up to Hoar by these scientists, on whose recommendation, and then on royal com- 
mand, the College of Physicians in London, on 20 January 1671, granted him the M.D. 
degree of Cambridge University. When the Reverend Dr. Hoar returned to New England, 
late in the winter of 1671/72, to take up a call to serve at the Third Church in Boston (Old 
South), and then to serve as President of Harvard College, his dedication to a learned minis- 
try certainly included the kinds of instruction we celebrate with the scholarship represented 
in this Journal and with the BTI Certificate in Science and Religion. 

With the publication of this volume and with the successful launching of this Certificate 
Program, we do well to note that the engagement between science and religion is as old as 
theological reflection itself. The contemporary work of Arthur Peacocke, Ian Barbour, and 
John Polkinghorne, to name but a few, stands in a long line of reflection on the mysteries of 
God and the ways of understanding and practice. 

vi Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1999 

Barbara Smith-Moran, S.O.Sc, Editor 

New England Center for Faith and Science Exchange 

The Boston Theological Institute (BTI) and the New England Center for Faith and Sci- 
ence Exchange (F&SE) publish The Journal of Faith and Science Exchange as one of the 
few journals for academics and professionals doing research, development, and application 
at the intersection of science and religion. The editors have selected the best work of prom- 
ising graduate students in this field, and present it alongside the work of more established 
scholars. This policy is the essence of the mission statement of the Journal. 

This 1999 volume of the Journal spotlights the work of thirteen students at graduate 
institutions worldwide. The programs represented by these students include theology, phi- 
losophy, the history of science, psychology, and several natural science disciplines. For the 
first time, we publish an essay in Spanish, as originally submitted by the author, together 
with an English translation. All essays have been recommended for publication by the fac- 
ulty members who have personally mentored the students' work. These faculty members 
comprise the 1999 Editorial Panel. 

In addition, we include essays by four well-known and established thinkers in the field: 
Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Bruce Babbitt, John Maxwell Kerr, and Arthur Peacocke. Each 
has presented the paper published here as an invited speaker at conferences or lecture series 
sponsored by the BTI and F&SE. 

Study of the interactions between religion and science was, not long ago, a rather nar- 
row field. Reconciliation of Jewish and Christian scriptural accounts of creation and miracles 
with scientific laws and observations was of prime concern. Today, however, this study 
encompasses a dozen or more active areas, including the five topical categories treated by 
this year's essays. 

Linguistic studies 

The first three essays deal with the use of language for conveying meaning and evoking 
both emotion and motivation. Marylu Bunting proposes a formulaic description of the 
cosmos, its history and nature, a description that is consonant with scientific findings and 
that orients human beings within the cosmos. She intends this, further, to be an description 
with the power to motivate humility, joy, and ethical behavior toward and within the cosmos. 
John Darling demonstrates the emotive and motivational power of metaphors used by con- 
temporary scientists when they present the results of their research to a general audience. 
Maurice Lee examines selected biological and theological accounts of language, its devel- 
opment and function. 

Cultured context of faith and science interaction 

Five essays are historical studies of the cultural context of science-religion interactions. 
Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad advocates for attitudes of moderation toward market economy, the 
environment, and technology, in keeping with teachings in the Quran, the prophetic tradi- 
tion and Islamic law. Bruce Babbitt describes how his personal search for a non-utilitarian 
religious stance toward the environment led him to a new paradigm for administering envi- 
ronmental policy. In light of the failure of contemporary physicists to teach the general 
public in the United States about the excitement and importance of their research, Margaret 

The Boston Theological Institute vii 

Doris analyzes some recent developments in the straggle for adequate science education in 
public schools. Arthur Peacocke engages in some "plain speaking" about traditional reli- 
gious claims that must be reworked to apply to a scientific worldview, lest they make the 
Christian message appear to be hopelessly wedded to some bygone era. And Matthew 
Stanley shows that the appropriation of the classical arguments of Paley and Whewell for 
contemporary natural theology is problematic, because of the change in historical context 
from Enlightenment and pre-Reform England. 

Theological studies 

Four authors analyze the work of some prominent theologians, sometimes offering al- 
ternative ways for considering various topics. Craig Brammer, a psychologist, looks at 
Barbour's treatment of the mind-body problem and finds it incomplete and partially in error. 
Ann Bersky critiques aspects of the thought of Peacocke, Polkinghome, and Murphy, regard- 
ing divine action in the world. Richard Honeycutt regrets the bias distorting many of the 
science-and-religion dialogues, a bias against those modes of knowing not valued by science 
but traditionally important to religion — namely, the intuitive and the emotional. Noemi 
Perez, a biologist, examines some the work of Teilhard, Rahner, Schmitz-Moormann, and 
Ellis that explores how the Creator interacts with the evolving Creation. 

Philosophical studies 

Four essays delve into metaphysical concepts, with a sweep across several centuries. 
Chris Doran compares the way in which knowledge is categorized by Thomas Aquinas and 
by Francis Bacon, and pays special attention to Bacon's ideas concerning metaphysics. Elora 
Weringer and Joseph Cassidy also visit the metaphysics of Bacon, allowing him to engage 
in an imaginary Socratic dialogue with Whewell, Whitehead, Newton. Newman, and John 
Paul II. John Maxwell Kerr looks at concepts of time and at God's relationship to time- 
bound creation, and considers time's settling and unsettling effects upon those who experi- 
ence it with awareness. Jean Kim looks at the first biblical creation story under the light of 
results from new branches of physics, as well as the light of non-Christian philosophical 
views of nature. 


And finally, Gregory Maslowe surveys the thought of Wilson, Mayr, and Margulis — 
three contemporary evolutionary biologists — concerning the evolution of ethics. In an ef- 
fort to avoid the erroneous idea of a split between culture and biology, he begins to develop 
an evolutionary humanism. 

We expect the trend toward the recognition of the subtleties of interaction between the 
sciences and the religions to increase, and we look forward to publishing next year's Volume 
IV, with essays that reflect this trend. As we have done successfully for the past two years, 
the Editorial Board continues in its commitment to use this Journal as a catalyst for helping 
to move progressive thinkers into leadership in the religious life of this country and abroad. 

viii Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1999 

In Breakable Glasses: 
Toward a Naturalist Orientation al Cosmology 

Marylu Bunting 

Division of Religious and Theological Studies 
Boston University 

The author develops the formula, "that process that gives rise to all that exists," as a 
specification of the cosmos within which human life may find meaningful, ethical orienta- 
tion. Her position intends to be consonant with the natural sciences and conversant with 
traditional orientational cosmologies of the world religions. After analyzing each of the key 
terms in this central formula, she provisionally proposes three ethical stances (humility, 
responsibility, and celebration) that might follow from orientation to the cosmos seen as 
"that process that gives rise to all that exists." 


Human existence is a question in search 
of an answer. From the first moment of self- 
consciousness, my existence has pushed me 
to ask the questions: Why do I exist? 1 and 
how can I make my existence meaningful? 
There are no obvious answers to these two 
questions. Human beings participate in 
many religions, which provide various an- 
swers, usually commensurate with, or react- 
ing against, their originary cultural context. 
In the highly scientific cultural context of 
end-of-the-twentieth-century America, the 
answers of the religions no longer seem plau- 
sible, at least to me; and I am left searching 
by myself for an orientation to existence. 
What I seek is an account of my existence 
that would provide meaningful orientation 
for my own life within the context of the im- 
mense cosmos, the living earth, and the di- 
versity of human societies. Such meaning- 
ful orientation would include ethical stances 
that would fruitfully relate me to other hu- 
man beings and the natural world. I am 
searching, then, for an account of existence 
consonant with the natural sciences and ap- 
preciative of the natural world. I am search- 
ing for a naturalist orientational cosmology. 2 

In this essay, I attempt to develop just such 
a cosmology by specifying what I take to be 
the context of ultimate significance to be "that 
process that gives rise to all that exists." 3 I 
view this process scientifically and naturalis- 
tically. My argument will proceed through 
four interrelated sections that examine the ex- 
pression, that process that gives rise to all that 
exists, from its beginning to its end. In these 
four sections, I undertake a close investiga- 
tion and explication of the individual elements 
of this expression. In the fifth and final sec- 
tion, I return to the question of existence and 
its meaning and indicate what I see as one po- 
tential ethical framework provided by an ori- 
entation to this process. 

The goal is to begin to develop a natu- 
ralist orientational cosmology that is open 
enough to be thoroughly integrated with the 
natural sciences, and evocative enough to 
provide for meaningful human orientation 
and ethical reflection. At many points, I will 
be able to give only the briefest and most 
general outlines of what a cosmology in its 
final form would look like. Nevertheless, I 
hope to begin the types of reflection that will 
bring me closer to its formulation, adequate 
not only for myself but also for all those who 

The Boston Theological Institute 

find the question of existence most plausi- 
bly addressed via a naturalist perspective. 

"That process..." 

The first thing I specify concerning the 
"frame of ultimate significance" for human 
life is its location in a process. One might 
rightly ask why I have chosen to call this 
frame a process and what I mean by it. Cer- 
tainly alternative formulations could be 
used — such as the contention of the 
Abrahamic traditions that ultimate signifi- 
cance is found within the Kingdom of God 
or the chosen people, or the contention of 
certain schools of Buddhism that it is found 
within nirvana, or the contention of certain 
schools of Hinduism that the "frame of ulti- 
mate significance" is Brahman. In this sec- 
tion, therefore, I will address the questions 
"Why process?" and "What process?". In 
response to the first, I will defend my choice 
of the word process as both concrete and 
vague and therefore suitable to describe the 
cosmos which the natural sciences represent. 
In response to the second, I will indicate what 
I take to be the natural content and rationally 
intelligible nature of the process. 

Why process? 

As a naturalist, I am searching for a term 
denoting the "frame of ultimate signifi- 
cance." I want a term that can capture what 
I take to be the development of the natural 
world as the natural sciences approximate 
this development. Because of the content 
and nature of the natural sciences them- 
selves, I need a term that is concrete and 
vague. It must be concrete in the sense of 
being temporal, historical, and denoting a 
unitary process constituted by plurality. It 
must be vague in the sense of allowing for 
change and amendment in the natural sci- 
ences themselves. In this section. I will ar- 
gue that process is just such a concrete and 
vague term. 

In regard to the concrete, process can 
have the sense of temporality, historicity, 
and unity encompassing plurality. I need 
a term implying temporality and historic- 

ity, because science reveals a spatiotem- 
poral cosmos whose currently observed 
character is a result of historical interac- 
tions and development. Process is a good 
candidate because it can imply temporal 
phenomena as seen in the derivative words 
procession and proceed. One element fol- 
lows another temporally in a process or in 
a procession, like the bride and her brides- 
maids in procession down the aisle at a 
wedding, or like a mother duck and her 
ducklings in their procession from their 
nest to the pond or stream, or as a reaction 
proceeds after the combination of two 

Moreover, process can imply historical 
phenomena in the sense that anything that 
proceeds temporally can be said to have both 
a past and future without which it would not 
be what it is. A recombinant gene therapy 
to aid in glycolysis would not arise without 
the historical process of experimentation as 
part of its development. Similarly the oxy- 
gen and nitrogen mainstays of Earth's atmo- 
sphere would not have arisen without some 
historical proceeding of a series of reactions 
to bond the requisite particles together. In 
this sense, saying that process is a term im- 
plying temporality is also to say that it im- 
plies historicity. 

Process can also imply unity in the con- 
text of plurality. I need a term denoting 
"unity in the context of plurality," because 
the natural sciences have come to understand, 
and attempts to approximate in its develop- 
ing understandings, a cosmos that issues from 
the singularity of the Big Bang. The cosmos 
is unitary in that sense; at the same time, it is 
plural in that many different, though related, 
entities — from subatomic particles to super- 
novae — have arisen as a result of the Big 
Bang. 4 The cosmos arising from the Big 
Bang is composed of many entities and pro- 
cesses, but one can ultimately refer it, in its 
entirety, back to the one process of expan- 
sion and cooling arising from the Big Bang. 

This phenomenon of unity in the con- 
text of plurality may be seen at other levels 

Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1999 

of the cosmic process as well. In biology, 
for example, in Margulis' account of evolu- 
tion, 5 increased complexity in organisms 
can arise both as a result of the combina- 
tion of less complex organisms, and also as 
a result of the prolonged separation of 
equally complex organisms. While evolu- 
tion denotes the entire stretch of such com- 
bination and divergence, it also denotes the 
pluriform occasions of combination and 
divergence without which evolution would 
not arise. Moreover, this example illustrates 
that a unitary process can be constituted 
with regard both to a plurality of entities 
and to a plurality of processes — all within 
the one unitary process. 

Since it can bear the meaning of all of 
these senses of unity in the context of plu- 
rality, as well as of temporality and historic- 
ity, process is a good candidate for the term 
denoting the "frame of ultimate signifi- 

While attempting to understand and 
orient oneself within this natural and 
rationally intelligible process, one is 
oneself always already both natural and 
rational, and always already within the 
very process that one seeks to under- 
stand and orient oneself within. 

tegrate yet more information. The case is 
the same throughout the sciences. The ac- 
count of nature put forward by the natural 
sciences has also undergone, and contin- 
ues to undergo, amendment as a result of 
more adequate or different metaphorical 

My central denoting term thus needs to 
be similarly open to new information and 
amendment. Process can bear this burden 
because it does not depend on any specific 
interpretation that the natural sciences pro- 
pose, but rather it relies on the overall flow 
of the sciences' representation of the cosmos. 
The choice of process, therefore, is not 
founded so much on the individual details, 
as on the consensus of the natural sciences 
that the cosmos is a spatiotemporal phenom- 
enon that changes as it expands spatially and 
temporally. Process is. therefore, both spe- 
cific enough and open enough to be heuristi- 
cally valuable with regard 
to human meaning and eth- 
ics, as I argue below. 7 

cance." It can take on the concrete dimen- 
sions of the cosmos that scientific experi- 
ment and approximation represent. 

Nevertheless, in their own develop- 
ment, the sciences also suggest the need for 
a term that is open to new information and 
amendment. Big Bang theory and evolu- 
tionary biology are just two examples of 
areas in which scientists have significantly 
developed and changed their views, as 
growing quantities of data emerged after 
the introduction of the theory/' Scientists 
continue to amend both theories as they in- 

What process? 

If I am talking about a 
process that is suggested 
and studied in the natural 
sciences, then I am talking 
about a process that is natu- 
ral in content and rationally 
intelligible in character. 
This section is an ex- 
ploration of what it means 
to say that the process is natural and ratio- 
nally intelligible, so as to specify further this 
key orientational term. 

The content of the process is natural in 
the most obvious sense of implying no su- 
pernatural entity that exists external to the 
process and intervenes in the flow of the pro- 
cess. Yet this is not a positive statement 
about what is natural. Rather, I take the term 
natural positively to include all those enti- 
ties and processes, animate and inanimate, 
material and emergent from material, that 
represent potential subjects of study in all 

The Boston Theological Institute 

the natural sciences, or that are the products 
(such as human culture or art) of entities and 
processes included among those studied in 
the sciences. To say that the content of the 
process is natural is to use a shorthand for 
all of these entities, processes, and their prod- 
ucts. By saying that the process is natural, I 
do not mean to say at any point that there is 
a process separate from these natural enti- 
ties and processes. There is not a reified or 
hypostatized process here — no elan vital, but 
simply a heuristic term for denoting the en- 
tirety of the natural entities and processes 
without which we could not and would not 
be speaking about a natural process. There 
is no natural process without the natural en- 
tities and processes that constitute it. 

Since it is natural, the process is also, 
in principle, rationally intelligible. If the en- 
tities and processes exhibiting the regulari- 
ties that the sciences discern constitute the 
entirety of the process, then none should, in 
principle, be beyond human rationality. The 
process is rationally intelligible only in prin- 
ciple, though, since human rationality faces 
the dual limits of human perception and of 
the character of the phenomena observed. 
A good example is the current status of Su- 
per String Theory. 8 It proposes to explain 
the fundamental quantum compositional el- 
ements of the universe via "strings" of 
Planck length ( 10" 33 centimeters) that vibrate 
at various frequencies and thus give elemen- 
tary particle/waves their character. Since the 
human ability to perceive entities is limited 
to sizes much larger than Planck length, the 
theory cannot be tested directly. The limits 
of human perception impose corresponding 
limits on rational understanding — at least as 
we would want it to be rigorously verified 
through observation. Even if humans could 
perceive Planck-length entities, however, the 
nature of these entities as both very small 
and very fast (as quantum mechanics shows) 
would mean that scientists could not simul- 
taneously give both the position and the ve- 
locity of these entities and, therefore, could 
not have the full knowledge necessary to 

predict future events. Quantum mechanics 
could thus only provide an account of the 
probability of a string existing at a certain 
position and velocity. (I return to this topic 

So while the process is, in principle, ra- 
tionally intelligible, there may be practical 
limits to the human ability to know it com- 
pletely. Still, these limitations come at the 
very boundaries of knowledge and not in the 
understanding of the broad outlines of the 
process that are important when seeking ori- 
entation for human lives. Moreover, it must 
always be borne in mind that while attempt- 
ing to understand and orient oneself within 
this natural and rationally intelligible pro- 
cess, one is oneself always already both natu- 
ral and rational, and always already within 
the very process that one seeks to understand 
and orient oneself within. 1 ' 

"That gives rise to..." 

Saying that one finds oneself within a 
natural and rationally intelligible process is 
not, however, to say what occurs within that 
process — although certainly in specifying it 
as natural and rationally intelligible, one in- 
dicates something of what is included in the 
form of Big Bang cosmology and evolution- 
ary theory. In this section, I will further 
specify the process as "giving rise to" all that 
exists. I will argue for this formulation both 
negatively with regard to what I see as the 
weaknesses of alternative formulations, and 
positively with regard to the strengths of my 
proposed formulation, gives rise to. 

Alternative formulations 

In the Western Christian tradition in 
which I grew up, that process that gives rise 
to all that e.xists is usually described in the 
language of creation and creativity, entail- 
ing agency and purpose. Such descriptions 
often make an analogy between human acts 
of creativity and the initial act of creativity 
that results in the grand cosmic creation. Al- 
ternatively, and with even more emphasis on 
puiposive agency, some descriptions draw 
out the analogy of human designing to the 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange , 1999 

notion of a designer of cosmic clockwork. 
In my naturalist perspective, these formula- 
tions present several difficulties, specifically, 
their emphasis on puiposive agency, their 
implicitly static view, and their anthropomor- 
phism. The question is whether such at- 
tributes as puiposive agency, the unfolding 
of a static (once for all time) design or cre- 
ation, and human-like activities are appro- 
priate to the natural and rationally intelligible 
process within which I am attempting to for- 
mulate a meaningful and ethically orienta- 
tional cosmology. 

Formulations implying a unitary purpo- 
sive agency that creates or designs the pro- 
cess present me with particular difficulty. 
Within my naturalist perspective grounded 
in the natural sciences, the first difficulty is 
that they violate the chain of relationality and 
causality either in a proposed non-temporal 
initial act of the agent, or in the proposed 
continual action of the agent. This violation 
then results in a violation in the intelligibil- 
ity of the process, for if supernatural causa- 
tion prevails, it need not be intelligible to 
human rationality. Indeed, the claim that the 
ways of the world are inscrutable and incom- 
prehensible often accompanies the assertion 
of a unitary agency and the formulation of 
the existence of the cosmos as a creation. 
Such claims are usually not made in the case 
of a formulation of the cosmos as design. 
But causal regularity and intelligibility are 
not the only factors that make these agential 
formulations difficult to support from a natu- 
ralist perspective. 

The character of the process itself raises 
difficulties for creation or design metaphors. 
While some descriptions view the cosmos 
as a creation or design with a puiposive in- 
tent, usually for the benefit of humankind, 
from all that the natural sciences seem to 
suggest, the cosmos does not itself display a 
unified purpose, let alone one that favors 
human beings. That the process is purpo- 
sive is simply not borne out by scientific un- 
derstanding. Human beings, for all the in- 
terest they hold as a self-aware and agential 

species, are not specially valued by the cos- 
mos as the "crown" of the process. Rather, 
in the account the natural sciences give, hu- 
man beings are one more part of the process 
(which is, after all, not separate from its 
parts). Moreover, for a naturalist perspec- 
tive, to predicate of the process a preference 
for individual entities within it seems unten- 
able without reifying the process itself and 
predicating a puipose of the process that the 
sciences do not support. 

A second difficulty with creation and 
design formulations is the relatively static 
view that they present of the cosmos. If the 
cosmos is either created or designed, it is a 
once-for-all-time kind of operation. One can 
go in two directions with creation and de- 
sign, yet both turn out with a fairly static 
view. On the one hand, one can say that the 
creator or designer created or designed ev- 
erything as it currently is. All that is, is as it 
is, by the intention and the single creative 
action of the creator. Most have abandoned 
this claim, however, given that both Big Bang 
cosmology and evolutionary theory suggest 
temporal development and change. On the 
other hand, one can say that the creator or 
designer created or designed the cosmos via 
these natural operations so that it would turn 
out exactly as it has. This view, however, 
seems to deny meaningful development by 
turning the process into a more gradual ver- 
sion of the first contention, that all exists as 
it is by the intention and creative action of 
the Creator. While this second option is not 
falsifiable, its heuristic usefulness is ques- 
tionable. If the emergence of all that exists 
can be understood via a scientific framework, 
why add another hypothesis that carries with 
it the additional difficulties of positing a su- 
pernatural agential being? '" 

A third set of difficulties arises from 
formulations relying on creation and design 
metaphors; these relate to anthropomor- 
phism. A certain amount of anthropomor- 
phism may be unavoidable, because we try 
to understand the cosmos via what we know 
best: ourselves. The question is whether 

The Boston Theological Institute 

some forms of anthropomorphism are more 
appropriate than others, given the character 
of nature that the sciences represent in their 
best approximations. Certainly, given the 
two previous arguments, unified agency and 
creativity or design toward a purpose seem 
to be inappropriate forms of anthropomor- 
phism. Similarly, other forms of anthropo- 
morphism that often accompany creation and 
design metaphors, such as the attribution of 
gender, emotive expression, and independent 
rational intelligence to the creator or de- 
signer, seem inappropriate as predicates of 
the process when viewed naturally. 

Other human characteristics, such as 
emergence, relationality, and finitude, 

In the end, metaphors of creation and 
design entangle me in too many forms of 
anthropomorphism that seem inappro- 
priate for me to deem these formulations 
as the most heuristically useful in ori- 
enting myself to the process. 

might be appropriate predicates for at least 
parts of the process, and relationality might 
be appropriate for the process as whole. In 
the case of emergence, relationality, and 
finitude, however, I have to wonder 
whether their applicability stems from the 
fact that humans are parts of the process, 
rather than from the fact that the process 
exhibits human-like characteristics. In the 
end, metaphors of creation and design en- 
tangle me in too many forms of anthropo- 
morphism that seem inappropriate for me 
to deem these formulations as the most heu- 
ristically useful in orienting myself to the 

Strengths of "gives rise to. . ." 

In contrast to these difficulties with 
agential, static, and inappropriately anthro- 
pomorphic formulations, the formulation of 

the "frame of ultimate significance" as that 
process that gives rise to all that exists has 
notable virtues — most especially in avoid- 
ing the very difficulties into which creation 
and design metaphors fall. First, gives rise 
to does not imply a unitary purposive agent 
such as a creator or a designer, but rather 
allows one to take into account the plural- 
ity of causal relationships within the pro- 
cess. It is this plurality that constitutes the 
process itself. There is no process sepa- 
rate from the plurality. Indeed, even such 
things as the non-local influences hypoth- 
esized in some versions of quantum me- 
chanics can be considered as potentially ef- 
ficacious in that process giving rise to all 
that exists. In this re- 
gard, like process, 
gives rise to can be 
both concrete in its 
acknowledgment of 
natural causal rela- 
tionships, and also 
sufficiently vague to 
allow for the devel- 
opment and refine- 
ment of human 

Secondly, gives 
rise to has the virtue of conveying the kind 
of temporal dynamism that the natural sci- 
ences observe in the cosmos. The process 
qua process continually gives rise to all that 
exists, and the flip side is that the process 
also includes the constant passing away of 
entities. Also within the framework of dy- 
namism, gives rise to can convey a sense 
of continuity and interrelationship between 
past, present, and future events. Such con- 
tinuity and interrelationship is fundamen- 
tal to the pictures that the natural sciences 
give of the cosmos in which nothing exists 
that is not related to other entities in all tem- 
poral modes. 

Thirdly, gives rise to is not immedi- 
ately anthropomorphic but can be consid- 
ered as "nature-morphic." It is precisely 
the character of natural phenomena, I would 

Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1999 

argue, that they arise as a result of other 
phenomena, and that they give rise to still 
other phenomena through their existence. 
As chaos theory and Bell's theorem sug- 
gest, every existent entity is influencing the 
existence of other existent entities at every 
possible moment. Chaos theory shows that 
one cannot predict how influences will 
combine to affect the future. 12 And Bell's 
theorem shows that a quantum entity can- 
not be completely isolated from influences 
extraneous to those imposed in a labora- 
tory experiment. 13 

In light, then, of both the difficulties of 
traditional formulations, such as creation 
and design, and the considerable strengths 
of gives rise to, naturalistically viewed, I 
conclude that gives rise to is the more ad- 
equate descriptor of what occurs within the 
process that I propose as the "frame of ulti- 
mate significance" for human orientational 
meaning and ethical systems. It is non-agen- 
tial and non-purposive, allows for the com- 
plexity of natural causation and expresses 
the dynamism and change of the natural 
world. Moreover, gives rise to, like pro- 
cess, is open to changes and amendments 
that may occur subsequently in the natural 


From what I have argued so far, an en- 
tire section on the definition of all might 
seem odd; but in the context of previous 
human meaning and ethical systems, such 
as the world religions, the question of 
whether the process gives rise to all that ex- 
ists becomes a pressing issue. Some previ- 
ous religious orientational systems have pos- 
ited separate origins for different aspects of 
the cosmos 14 — such as the famous 
Manichean formulation of a strict dualism 
of matter and spirit, evil and good; or the 
Greek formulation of the One and the 
Demiurge, the first identified with the Good 
and the second identified with the creation 
of the natural world and the root of evil 
therein. I will argue both negatively and 

positively for my contention that the process 
gives rise to all that exists. In the first part, 
I will address alternative formulations; and 
in the second I will argue for the strengths 
of my own proposal. 

Alternatives to" all" 

Dichotomies arise in the Western tradi- 
tion 15 especially when philosophers and 
theologians address the question of evil and 
the question of human uniqueness. In the 
case of the former, some have proposed two 
different sets of originary processes, one for 
good and one for evil. In the latter case, some 
have proposed a graduated scale of existence 
in which the immaterial has a greater exist- 
ence than the material. These graduated 
scales interpret the material as having less 
being and goodness than the immaterial. In 
this section, I will look at the difficulties of 
these two formulations in the context of my 
naturalist orientation. 

The question of evil presents a particu- 
larly difficult human problem, especially for 
Western religious traditions, which view the 
deity as the good Creator of humankind. If 
the Creator is good, some in these traditions 
have argued that the deity cannot then be the 
source of the evil in the world. There must 
therefore be two sources: God and the devil, 
or God and a demiurge that creates matter. 
With such formulations in place, the reli- 
gious objective becomes a flight from the 
material world with an escape to the imma- 
terial good deity. The on-going activities of 
the world become a battleground for the two 
hypothesized warring deities or forces. 

My naturalist perspective has obvious 
difficulties with such formulations, not only 
because of their positing of agents exter- 
nal to the process (as discussed above), but 
also because they fragment the cosmos into 
two separate and clashing processes. Given 
that the natural sciences represent the cos- 
mos as a unified process, such dichotomies 
seem to have no place in a naturalist per- 
spective. Just the same, because of their 
prominence, I feel I must stipulate that the 

The Boston Theological Institute 

process gives rise to all that exists and ad- 
dress the difficulty that produces the di- 
chotomy in the first place. In the next sec- 
tion, I will argue for a naturalist account of 
evil in the context of the all to which the 
process gives rise. 

The belief in human uniqueness has 
also been the occasion for a fragmented 
view of the cosmos. When considering hu- 
man uniqueness, the divide between mat- 
ter and spirit is usually at the root of the 

There is no need to introduce a 
dichotomy or fragmentation into 
the description of the cosmos to 
account for the human perception 
of evil; rather, evil as a concept can 
be referred back to human beings 
and their values, and both can be 
seen as arising within the process. 

fragmentation in the Western tradition. 
Many authors propose that it is the imma- 
terial soul that separates humans from ev- 
erything else that exists. Following the idea 
of the imago dei in the book of Genesis, 
they identify the soul or consciousness with 
God's image in humankind, who must then 
turn away from the lesser things of the ma- 
terial world and toward the more thoroughly 
good things of the immaterial, spiritual 

This position again presents several 
difficulties to my naturalist perspective. 
Foremost among these is its separation of 
the world into material and spiritual, with 
the spiritual being closer to the source of 
the world and the material being either a 
degraded creation of the deity or a creation 
of another god or demiurge. As a natural- 
ist, I view what some religions have called 
the human soul (consciousness or mind) as 
emergent from the body and inseparable 

from it. Moreover, there is no reason in 
evolutionary theory to view the human spe- 
cies as particularly unique, regarding spe- 
cial valuation or goodness, but rather only 
as different, in respect to all the character- 
istics that distinguish it from the other spe- 
cies. This difference does not place hu- 
mankind outside material processes or 
above other material entities; rather, in the 
emergence of consciousness from matter, 
evolutionary theory places humans 
li squarely within the natural 
world as a product of billions 
of years of the development 
of life-forms prior to the evo- 
lution of Homo sapiens. 
Moreover, biologist Ernst 
Mayr has argued that humans 
cannot claim consciousness 
uniquely, since "traces of con- 
sciousness are found even 
among invertebrates and per- 
haps protozoans." 16 In the 
next section, I will provide 
what I see as the beginning of 
ii a naturalist understanding of 
human difference and its inclusion in all to 
which the process gives rise. 

"All" in relation to evil and human 

When I say that the process gives rise 
to all that exists, I truly mean all from what- 
ever perspective or scale one wants to look 
at the cosmos — from quanta, chemicals, and 
minerals, to bacteria, plants, and multicel- 
lular animals, to planets, supernovae, and 
dark matter — and also including things that 
humans have not yet discovered — and may 
never discover. Moreover, that each of these 
is part of the process is the relational fact 
that allows for continuity between and 
among these entities and the various sciences 
that study them. As a naturalist, I hold that 
all scales of existence are meaningfully re- 
lated, while at the same time I admit that 
philosophers and scientists have not yet thor- 
oughly formulated the details of this rela- 

tion. 17 Since I am not only speculating about 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1999 

the nature of the process that gives rise to 
the cosmos but also hope to provide for hu- 
man meaning and ethics, I will at this junc- 
ture provide a summary of what I take to be 
an naturalist account of evil and human 

From my naturalist perspective, the con- 
cept of evil is just this: a human concept 
relating to the humanly perceived deleteri- 
ous effects that human actions and other 
natural phenomenon have on human lives 
and on the rest of the natural world. There 
is no independent force of evil, nor is there 
any entity that is evil. Rather, there are hu- 
man actions and other natural phenomena 
that negatively impact — in the sense of in- 
hibiting the flourishing of — human beings 
and the rest of the natural world. IX Since the 
human species arose via evolution within the 
process, human values can be seen as inter- 
nal to the process. The key distinction is 
that these are values that human beings pro- 
duce and overlay on other phenomena. It is 
not the phenomena that have or possess these 
values intrinsically. In this sense, there is 
no need to introduce a dichotomy or frag- 
mentation into the description of the cosmos 
to account for the human perception of evil; 
rather, evil as a concept can be referred back 
to human beings and their values, and both 
can be seen as arising within the process. 

The case with regard to human unique- 
ness is similar. Human beings are only 
unique in the sense that they are different 
from other natural entities. This species is 
just as natural, just as existent, and just as 
much a part of the process as other natural 
entities. Just as human values (including 
the concept of evil) arose within the pro- 
cess via evolution, so too do the differences 
between human and other natural entities. 
Moreover, consciousness, that human fea- 
ture usually singled out as unique, is one 
more of the features that arise within the 
process, and not something provided by an 
external deity or world spirit. As Mayr 
writes, "The human mind seems to have 
been the ultimate product of a concatena- 

tion of numerous miniemergences, in both 
our primate and hominid ancestors." ll) 
While the natural sciences do not yet fully 
understand the emergence of human con- 
sciousness, they do not cast doubt on this 
emergence, but continue to provide good 
evidence for the naturalist belief that even 
something like consciousness that seems 
immaterial is in fact an emergent property 
of complex material systems. 20 

Thus, while some human orienting sys- 
tems have found it necessary to fragment the 
cosmos in order to give accounts of evil or 
human uniqueness, the unity of the cosmos 
can be maintained, and evil and human 
uniqueness can continue to be accounted for 
within a naturalist framework. The all to 
which the process gives rise includes even 
these seeming intangibles of human creation, 
since humans themselves are among those 
entities comprising the all to which the pro- 
cess gives rise. 

"That exists..." 

I have arrived at this point in explicat- 
ing my proposal that the "frame of ultimate 
significance" is the process that gives rise 
to all that exists, assuming the actual exist- 
ence of the process, the all, and its arising. 
Many debates rage — both those internal to 
the sciences in the philosophy of science, 
and those external to the sciences in phi- 
losophy and religion in general — about how 
existence is to be understood. In this sec- 
tion, I will explore what I take exist to mean 
in light of philosophical and scientific con- 

Philosophical considerations 

Along with many in the sciences, I con- 
sider critical realism the most plausible 
stance toward the question of what it means 
to exist and to have knowledge of things that 
exist. This philosophy was developed in re- 
sponse to the epistemological questions of 
science, such as, Does science really pro- 
duce knowledge about the world, or does it 
simply construct internally coherent linguis- 
tic systems that have the pragmatic value of 

The Boston Theological Institute 

producing repeatable phenomenon? Accord- 
ing to Delaney, critical realism holds 

that the primary object of knowledge 
is the independent physical world, and 
that what is immediately present to 
consciousness is not the physical 
object as such, but some correspond- 
ing mental state broadly construed. 21 

Critical realism thus assumes the existence 
of the physical world beyond human percep- 
tion of it and takes on the challenge of find- 
ing and testing ways of representing this 
world to human consciousness. 

In recognizing that the physical is rep- 
resented in consciousness and not directly 
present to it, critical realism recognizes the 
place of the observer in all statements about 
what exists. Perhaps it simply draws on 
Descartes' argument that established the 
doubting individual and moved outward to 
affirm the world, but it goes beyond Decartes 
to say that the way in which the observer 
perceives the world in his or her representa- 
tion will change how he or she understands 
the world to exist. Still, these representa- 
tions can be tested, and in that way a better, 
more closely approximate, representation can 
be found. The fitness of approximations can 
be judged by whether they provide a neces- 
sary framework not only for repeatable and 
successful 22 experiments, but also for predic- 
tion in future experiments and for the pro- 
duction of these experiments and research 
regimes themselves. Philosophically, then, 
critical realism predicates existence of both 
the observer and the physical world observed. 

Scientific considerations: scale, duration, 
and quanta 

Yet the question remains as to how to 
construe the existence of individuals within 
the process, and how to differentiate these 
individuals qua individuals. With regard to 
scientific considerations of the question of 
existence, I will break the question of exist- 
ence down into the questions arising in the 
context of scale, duration, and quantum me- 
chanics — since in a spatiotemporal process 
these are the key dimensions that determine 

whether the question of an entity's existence 
can be considered concretely. (The exist- 
ence of non-spatiotemporal entities can be 
considered, but only in the abstract logic that 
explains why the hypothesis of an agential 
God external to the spatiotemporal universe 
is a non-falsifiable hypothesis.) 

With regard to scale, the question of an 
individual's existence is particularly compli- 
cated, because one can view any object of 
human perception from many different 
scales, from the subatomic level to the level 
of organism. If one knows every molecule 
that makes up a person, does one know the 
person? Not entirely. If one knows that 
water is made up of two hydrogen molecules 
and one of oxygen, does one know that wa- 
ter exists in three phases? No. Conversely, 
if one has just slipped and fallen on a patch 
of ice, does knowing the molecular struc- 
ture of water give any relevant knowledge 
about the cause of one's newly broken ankle? 
No. Each level of scale tells something, 
while none is exhaustive of the whole. The 
key thing is to determine which is the rel- 
evant level of scale, given the operation of 
understanding with which one is concerned. 

At the same time, I would submit that 
there are unifying levels, primarily levels of 
organization, that can help to identify the 
existence of individuals. Subsidiary parts 
of an entity may change, but as long as the 
organizational structure remains, the indi- 
vidual — whether it be a molecule or an el- 
ephant — can be said to exist. For example, 
the existence of my body can be investigated 
at numerous levels, including molecular, 
cellular, psychological, medical, and even 
artistic; yet what makes it my body is the 
particular organization of its many elements 
and systems, together in a particular place. 

In stipulating this, however, immediately 
the question of duration arises. To say I ex- 
ist at a particular place is to say I exist at a 
particular time — I am a spacetime entity. 
Moreover, I have a supervening organization. 
My organization continues in both space and 
time. No other individual can occupy the 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1999 

exact "placetime" (that is, place and time in 
spacetime) that I inhabit, although some in- 
dividuals, such as bacteria inside and on the 
surface of my body, do inhabit places within 
and on me. Moreover, with regard to exist- 
ence as endurance, there are two perspectives 
that are important to take into account: the 
proximate and the ultimate. 

Proximately, certain entities endure with 
certain organizations, even though some com- 
ponents change or pass « 
away. The existence of 
the individual is not 
contingent on any one of 
its component, but on 
the organization; and the 
entity no longer exists 
when the organization 
breaks down. Ulti- 
mately though, given 
the connection of all 
spacetime to the Big Bang, it could be said 
that everything has existed since the Big Bang, 
though in changing organizational make-up. 
Every entity that can be distinguished proxi- 
mately by its organization is also ultimately 
made up of components that comprise the 
larger organizational framework, spacetime. 
Some thinkers draw on just this analysis when 
they say that each person is made up of star 
dust. This is a statement about the ultimate 
level of composition in which all that exists 
can be traced back to the Big Bang. 

This statement brings to the fore the two 
key problematics of existence found within 
science: quantum indeterminacy and quan- 
tum non-locality. The problem of quantum 
indeterminacy finds its systematic expres- 
sion in the theory of Werner Heisenberg. He 
showed that a particle's position and momen- 
tum (or velocity) are related, such that the 
product of the uncertainty of the position, 
Ax, and the uncertainty of the momentum, 
Ap, is greater than the Planck constant, h: 

Ax Ap > h. 

This means that one cannot make a precise 
measurement of position and momentum 

simultaneously. 23 The more precisely one 
measures the position at a given time, the 
less precisely one can measure the velocity, 
and vise versa. One can, therefore, only pro- 
duce a probability of any particular particle 
occurring at a particular position with a par- 
ticular momentum (or velocity). 

In itself, some do not find this principle 
disturbing. Indeed, many scientists do not 
find it disturbing at all but see it simply as a 

Consciousness, that human feature usu- 
ally singled out as unique, is one more of 
the features that arise within the process, 
and not something provided by an exter- 
nal deity or world spirit. 

feature of small, fast, and brief entities, as 
well as of the observational techniques. Oth- 
ers, however, feel that this uncertainty en- 
tails a fundamentally worrying instability in 
the natural world, since at a quantum level 
entities seem to remain probable rather than 
actual until they are observed. As Herbert 

Running parallel to the quantum facts, 
quantum theory represents unmeasured 
quons as waves and measured quons 
as particles. Furthermore it regards 
these unmeasured waves not as real 
waves but merely as waves of 
probability. 24 

So, on the one hand, one could see the 
uncertainty principle as describing simply a 
state of experimental affairs, while, on the 
other hand, one could say that the principle 
implies that existence is in some sense de- 
pendent upon observation itself. As a criti- 
cal realist, I tend to believe that the former 
is more the case than the latter: but that is 
not to say that either is the more plausibly 
held. Certainly there is something pecu- 
liar about observation. At least it is true to 
say that, when a scientist measures the po- 
sition of a particle, it exists relative to him 

The Boston Theological Institute 


or her only in that position (since special rela- 
tivity shows that position is always with ref- 
erence to the position of something or some- 
one else); but whether it is true that the par- 
ticle only exists if measured is debatable. 

Since even the best informed scientists 
have not reached a consensus about the im- 
plications, either epistemological or onto- 
logical, of quantum uncertainty, as a non- 
scientist I want only to note them and to say 
that a full and scientifically rigorous orien- 
tational cosmology would want to take full 
account of them. Moreover, one implica- 
tion that can surely be drawn, one that is 
particularly relevant for my orientational 
cosmology, is that the entities that make up 
the world on the quantum level and at greater 
levels of scale are intimately and inextrica- 
bly interrelated. This is the case whether 
one takes Heisenberg's principle as episte- 
mological, ontological, or both. 

Quantum non-locality is similar in na- 
ture to quantum indeterminacy. Its implica- 
tions can be regarded as epistemological, on- 
tological, or both; regardless, in the end it 
suggests an intimate relationality. Quantum 
non-locality, as I understand it, basically re- 
fers to the fact that no matter how one at- 
tempts to isolate a quantum particle/wave, 
it always displays a certain amount of dis- 
turbance resulting from forces that one can- 
not fully specify. Moreover, it says that 
these forces are non-local, and that "no lo- 
cal reality can explain the type of world we 
live in." 25 Some physicists, among them 
David Bohm and Erwin Schrodinger, argue 
that all quanta are inextricably related be- 
yond the speed of light via previous "phase 
entanglement" during their close proximity 
at or near the Big Bang. Their conclusion, 
as Herbert writes, is: 

Bell's theorem shows that the holistic 
grammar of quantum formalism 
reflects the inseparable nature of 
reality itself. Beneath phenomena, the 
world is a seamless whole. 2h 

Others argue that non-locality is an episte- 
mological issue relating, as does 

Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, to the 
very nature of quanta as very small, very 
brief, and very fast — and therefore more sus- 
ceptible to perturbation than are gross enti- 
ties of ordinary human perception, such as 
rocks or hippopotami. 

As a non-scientist, I am certainly not 
going to resolve this debate. Still, like quan- 
tum uncertainty, in either inteipretation, quan- 
tum non-locality says something important 
about the cosmos to which I seek to be re- 
lated: the cosmos is, on a fundamental level, 
highly relational. No entity can be fully speci- 
fied without describing its relation to other 
entities: and thus all existent entities, to one 
degree or another, play a crucial role in con- 
stituting (either definitionally or ontologically 
or both) the existence of other entities. 

In summary, then, within the context of 
scientific considerations, exist means several 
things. In the first place, from a critical real- 
ist position exist means that the physical 
world is, with or without human perception, 
but that human beings are able to have knowl- 
edge of its representation in their conscious- 
ness through scientific and philosophical ap- 
proximations. Secondly, with regard to scale, 
exist means that an entity can be viewed from 
many perspectives. I argue, however, that one 
can discern an organizational level that dis- 
tinguishes one entity from another. A third 
understanding of exist may be found in the 
context of duration, because the organiza- 
tional level of the individual supervenes pre- 
cisely because it endures, while all of the sub- 
sidiary elements may change. When the or- 
ganization breaks down, the entity no longer 
exists, and the elements that once comprised 
the entity will be incorporated into the orga- 
nizational structures of other composite enti- 
ties. In this sense, the elements of the pro- 
cess exist both proximately as individuals, 
and ultimately as parts of the overall process 
arising from the Big Bang. Finally, at the 
quantum level two different features of quanta 
problematize the notion of existence. Quan- 
tum indeterminacy may indicate an intrinsic 
relation between existence and observation: 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1999 

it may indicate an extrinsic (to existence) but 
unavoidable influence of the observer on the 
observed. Either way, quantum mechanics 
represents an intimately relational cosmos in 
which every phenomenon impacts other phe- 
nomena. Quantum non-locality likewise sug- 
gests that the elements of the cosmos are, at 
a fundamental level, intricately intercon- 
nected, even if the question remains open as 
to whether or not this relationality is 
ontologically superluminal and non-local. 

Conclusion, by way of possible 
implications for meaning and ethics 

Where am I left, then, once I have con- 
cluded that I can indeed view the develop- 
ment of the cosmos — including the Earth, 
which includes me — as the process that gives 
rise to all that exists'? I am left within the 
process as I began, but with the difference 
that, having specified at least some of the 
character of the process via the natural sci- 
ences, I can formulate some possible impli- 
cations for human meaning and ethical sys- 
tems. In this section, I will begin this for- 
mulation in a preliminary and general way, 
in what 1 hope will provide the outlines of a 
project for further development. First of all, 
I address the question of meaning, specifi- 
cally, Why meaning? Next, I address the 
question of ethics, specifically, What ethics? 

Why meaning? 

One might rightly ask why human be- 
ings have such a need to make meaning in 
the first place. Why does the question of the 
meaning of existence follow most assuredly 
on the heels of the admission of existence? 
Sociologist Peter Berger sees these questions 
as arising fundamentally out of the fear of 
chaos and, ultimately, of death. 27 Through 
meaning systems, human beings seek to avoid 
the reality of both by imposing a vision of 
order on the world, where order may other- 
wise not exist. While it is certainly the case 
that the fact of death imposes, at least on me, 
an urgency that life be lived in a worthwhile 
manner, I do not think, by accepting a natu- 
ralist, scientific account of the world, that I 

am necessarily imposing order where it might 
not exist. Still, I recognize that I am engag- 
ing in the age-old process of considering the 
world beyond human beings to be of ultimate 
significant to them. As Berger writes, 

Every society is engaged in the never 
completed enterprise of building a 
humanly meaningful world. Cosmiza- 
tion implies the identification of this 
humanly meaningful world with the 
world as such, the former now being 
grounded in the latter, reflecting it or 
being derived from it in its fundamental 
structures. 28 

In fully admitting that I am creating meaning, 
in a sense I believe that there is no other way 
to function. For even if one says that there is 
no meaning to human life in the cosmos, one 
is still making a judgment about what is and 
is not humanly meaningful, by constructing 
meaning precisely out of meaninglessness. 

I would argue, however, that if one is 
bound to create meaning, then one might as 
well do it against the backdrop of the best 
possible information about the cosmos. This 
is why it has been so important to me to 
specify the "frame of ultimate significance" 
to be that process that gives rise to all that 
exists. In this way, I have been able to pro- 
vide a potential basis upon which one could 
give a naturalist and scientifically informed 
account of human existence. From and to 
this account, then, I can be answerable with 
regard to a critical reception and interpreta- 
tion of new scientific understanding of the 
process. This accountability should keep my 
meaning constructions from becoming ob- 
viously inappropriate projections of human 
desires and wishes onto nature, and from be- 
coming obviously inappropriate projections 
of human grandeur within the process. 

This accountability is efficacious on sev- 
eral levels. At one level, meaning systems 
must remain open and flexible, given that the 
natural sciences are constantly changing and 
refining their approximations of nature. At an- 
other level, meaning systems must be evoca- 
tive enough to allow for continuity in the for- 
mulation of meaningful relationships between 

The Boston Theological Institute 


human beings and with the rest of the natural 
world. These evocative constructions (even 
my own, that process that gives rise to all that 
exists) must be constantly scrutinized so that 
they do not become reified or isolated from 
their status as constructions always account- 
able to expanding scientific approximations. 
Finally, we are always already within the cos- 
mos, within the process. At the same time that 
we create meaning by orienting ourselves to 
the process, that process gives rise to us (and 
perhaps other intelligent entities) as meaning- 
creating beings. Somehow our meaning sys- 
tems must acknowledge this fact, along with 
the concomitant fact that we do not stand out- 
side the process. 

So why meaning? In the negative, be- 
cause it is unavoidable. And in the positive 
sense, consonant with the natural sciences, 
because it is — at least in principle and poten- 
tially — better informed and more accountable. 

What ethics? 

If it is accepted that meaning-making is 
a practically unavoidable human endeavor, 
and, moreover, if it is desirable to keep mean- 
ing systems accountable by making them 
consonant with the natural sciences, then 
what are some of the concrete values that 
might be formulated? What implications 

/ would argue, however, that if one is 
bound to create meaning, then one 
might as well do it against the backdrop 
of the best possible information about 
the cosmos. 

does it have for action in the world if people 
orient themselves to that process that gives 
rise to all that exists'? I have three prelimi- 
nary suggestions of stances that seem con- 
sonant with the processes that I have detailed 
above. I put them forward in this conclu- 
sion, knowing that there are other interpre- 
tations of both the process and its implica- 

tions, but also seeking finally to begin the 
process of constructing a personally mean- 
ingful framework for action. 

Humility is the first stance I would sug- 
gest. Human beings are within a process 
some 1 3 to 20 billion years old, as far as we 
can tell (at least within the current expan- 
sion-and-contraction cycle of the cosmos). 
Meanwhile, our species has been on the cos- 
mic scene for only a tiny fraction of this time. 
Temporally, humility seems appropriate. 
Additionally, and consequent to the nature 
of spacetime, humility seems appropriate 
given our minute scale in comparison with 
the universe. Spatiotemporally, we are 
blinks in the process of cosmic arising. Like- 
wise, evolutionarily speaking, we are blinks 
in the arising of life on planet Earth. Bil- 
lions of years and many epochs of geologi- 
cal formation separate us from the arising 
of the first life on Earth. Thus, closer to 
home, humility also seems requisite. Who 
are we, after all, to claim to understand the 
cosmos or to take responsibility for the 
Earth? We are doing pretty well, but we have 
a long way to go; and no matter how far we 
go toward these goals, the Earth and the pro- 
cess in which it arises as a pan will continue 
long after all humankind has passed away. I 
start with humility because it chastens me 
to take account of my real 

situation and thrusts me 
l . . 

once again into account- 
ability to the natural sci- 

Secondly, as humans 
are conscious agential 
beings, a stance of re- 
sponsibility seems appro- 
is priate. With proper hu- 
mility about our status in the immense spa- 
tiotemporal span of both the cosmos and the 
earth, we can more fully see the aspects of 
our lives in which we can really take respon- 
sibility. Moreover, taking into account quan- 
tum mechanics, we can more fully compre- 
hend the deeply relational nature of reality 
and, from that, see that it is crucial to act as 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1999 

responsibly as we can, even if we can never 
know with full certainty that our actions will 
achieve their intended results. We are alive 
within an amazing, intricately relational pro- 
cess; and just this fact alone, I would argue, 
ought make us feel the responsibility to do 
what we can to formulate appropriate actions 
within the context of the natural world. As 
conscious beings, we can at least take respon- 
sibility for our own actions and, in this light, 
begin from a naturalist perspective to address 
the complexly interrelated issues of ecologi- 
cal destruction, human overpopulation, and 
human poverty. 

Thirdly, I would argue that humble and 
responsible cognizance of the process that 
gives rise to all that exists should also include 
a stance of celebration. Our life is short. We 
have arisen on a small planet in a peripheral 
section of an unexceptional galaxy. We arose 
recently in the evolution of life on Earth — and 
we are still arising. We arise, moreover, as 
conscious and intelligent. As such, we are able 
to contemplate the process of our arising in 
the first place. To be properly oriented to all 
of these facts, I would argue, we must celebrate 
the first fact, that that process that gives rise 
to all that exists exists at all, and that we arise 
as existing within it. As Brian Greene writes, 

It is truly inspiring that beings 
confined to one planet orbiting a run- 
of-the-mill star in the far edges of a 
fairly ordinary galaxy have been able, 
through thought and experiment, to 
ascertain and comprehend some of the 
most mysterious characteristics of the 
physical universe. 2 " 

We must celebrate both our existence and its 
intelligibility. This celebration should then 
push us back into a greater understanding of 
exactly what the nature of the process is, and 
to humility and responsibility all over again. 
Celebration returns us to humility and 
responsibility, since it forces us to see that not 
everyone can celebrate. Some have humility 
imposed on them through poverty, disease, and 
lack. They can neither define their humility 
nor take responsibility with reference to the 
process; rather, they have incommensurate 

humility and an inability, due to unjust circum- 
stances, to take responsibility. Full celebra- 
tion in this sense is contingent on working in 
humility and responsibility for the alleviation 
of conditions that cause poverty, disease and 
lack — both in the human realm and in the rest 
of the natural world. In this sense, celebra- 
tion is always provisional and anticipatory. It 
is a call to more adequate understanding and 
enactment of human relationships to other 
humans and to the rest of the natural world. It 
is a call to an understanding of the process that 
has given rise to us and the rest of the cosmos, 
and that allows oppression and destruction, 
freedom and flourishing, both in the human 
realm and in the rest of nature. 

The process that gives rise to all that ex- 
ists, to which we are oriented, gives rise to a 
new day in which we may be appropriately 
humble, responsible, and joyous. We are 
alive. Many questions remain unanswered, 
but the day arises to allow for continued in- 
vestigation. Ignorance must not be an ex- 
cuse for inaction, for fear of unintended con- 
sequences. If life is to have meaning, we 
must make it. in as full a consciousness and 
understanding of the process as possible, so 
that at the end of our lives we may say with 
Maria Eugenia Baz Ferreira: 

To all that is brief and fragile 
superficial, unstable. 
To all that lacks foundation 
argument or principles; 
To all that is light, 
fleeting, changing, finite 

To all that is light in weight 

for itinerants 

on this transient earth 

Somber, raving, 

with transitory words 

and vaporous bubbly wines 

I toast 

in breakable glasses. . . . 30 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Works cited: 


Berger, Peter L. The Sacred Canopy: 

Elements of a Sociology of Religion. 

New York: Anchor Books, 1967; reprint, 

New York: Anchor Books, 1990. 
Delaney, C. F. "Critical Realism." In The 

Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. 

Ed. Robert Audi. Cambridge: Cam- 
bridge University Press, 1995. 
Greene, Brian. The Elegant Universe: 

Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and 

the Question for the Ultimate Theory. 

New York: W. W. Norton, 1999. 
Hawley, John F., and (Catherine Holcolb. 

Foundations of Modern Cosmology. 

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. 
Hayles, N. Katherine. Chaos Bound: 

Orderly Disorder in Contemporary 

Literature and Science. Ithaca: Cornell 

University Press, 1990. 
Herbert, Nick. Quantum Reality: Beyond 

the New Physics. New York: 

Doubleday, 1985. 
Margulis, Lynn. Symbiotic Planet: A New 

Look at Evolution. New York: Basic 

Books, 1998. 
Mayr. Ernst. This Is Biology. Paperback 

ed. Cambridge: Harvard University 

Press, 1998. 
Ruse, Michael. Mystery of Mysteries: Is 

Evolution a Social Construction? 

Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 

Wilson, Edward O. Consilience: The 

Unity of Knowledge. New York: 

Random House/Vintage Books, 1998. 

1. The definition of existence will find 
its proper place and fuller expression 
below . For now, let me signal that I will 
treat the question of what it means to exist 
with reference to the spatiotemporal frame 
in which existing means being related to 
other existent entities; and I will treat the 
question of the existence of an entity with 
reference to its endurance with an internal, 
relational, organizational structure. Both 
of these formulations will then, in due 
course, find problematization in the 
context of quantum uncertainty and non- 

2. Naturalist orientational cosmology: 
each of these terms demands some 
explanation. By naturalist, I mean that the 
ultimate context of human life is the world 
specified in the natural sciences and that 
this world operates in the regular and 
intelligible ways discerned by the natural 
sciences. This meaning is in contrast to 
those who argue that the ultimate context 
of human life is supernatural, and that the 
world's regularity and intelligibility is 
violated by a supernatural being or force. 
My naturalist account is fully integrated 
with scientific ways of knowing and also 
acknowledges the necessity of philosophi- 
cal ways of knowing concerning questions 
of epistemology and ontology in the 
natural sciences. I also see the importance 
of metaphorical ways of expressing the 
knowledge both of these provisionally 
produce. Finally, I recognize that scien- 
tific, philosophical, and metaphorical 
proposals are always provisional approxi- 
mations of our best knowledge, rather than 
timeless propositional truths; but I seek to 
construct a system that can remain always 
open and critically receptive to new 
approximations. By orientational, I mean 
that my proposal seeks to address human 
questions of meaning and ethics and to 
provide open and provisional systems in 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1999 

which individuals can address these 
questions. By calling my proposal a 
cosmology and in keeping with my 
naturalist orientational perspective. I mean 
to sa) that one studies the cosmos for 
naturalist orientation. It is in relation to the 
cosmos as a whole and in relation to all 
that exists therein (including human 
societies) that one seeks to orient one's life. 
In this, I am making a distinction between 
myself and not only those theologians who 
would see the supernatural as the ultimate 
frame of reference, but also those human- 
ists who would see human society by itself 
as the ultimate frame of reference. At the 
same time, neither do I want my proposal 
to be seen as a-theist nor as anti-humanist. 
Regarding a deity, the proposal is neutral 
toward this hypothesis, which for this 
proposal is unfalsifiable and unnecessary. 
Regarding humanism, the proposal is 
supportive, but with the aspiration of 
expanding the frame of reference in which 
those concerned with human meaning and 
ethics construct their systems. 

3. At one stage in its development, I 
assigned the word "God" to this process; 
but I now believe that the "baggage" of 
this term is too great for such an assigna- 
tion to prove heuristically valuable. While 
I would not mean a supernatural or 
independently existing entity by the 
expression, that process that gives rise to 
all that exists, were I to denote it by the 
word "God," many people would interpret 
it as just such a supernatural and hyposta- 
tized proposal. At the same time, since I 
hope to construct a proposal that has the 
potential to provide, at once, both a system 
of meaning and of ethics, it will be 
necessary at some junctures to make my 
argument with reference to previous 
explicitly theological proposals — as 
theology is traditionally the realm within 
which such arguments are made and such 
orienting systems sought. However, I seek 
to develop a naturalist orientational 
cosmology, and not a theology. 

4. Considerable rebate remains about 
whether the Big Bang can really be said to 
be a singularity, and ideologies cloud the 
conclusion from many sides. However, 
almost no one doubts in general outline 
that the Big Bang is the ultimate source of 
all of the phenomena that currently exist 
and that humans perceive. Whether the 
Big Bang we know is the first or one 
among many in an infinite series of bangs 
and crunches does not fundamentally 
change the human orientational need for a 
heuristic term that encompasses unity and 
plurality. My understanding of Big Bang 
cosmology comes primarily from The 
Elegant Universe by Brian Greene, and 
Foundations of Modern Cosmology, by 
Hawley and Holcolb. 

5. See Margulis. 

6. This process, as it took place in 
evolutionary biology, is well illustrated by 
Ruse, who explores how evolutionary 
biology became more and more precise in 
its understanding of the natural world as 
its scientific proponents gathered, and 
emphasized the gathering of, more 
evidence through the years. 

7. The contention that an ethical system 
can be developed from a consonance with 
the natural sciences might cause consider- 
able unease for some people. Earlier in 
the development of the natural sciences, 
perhaps one could not have proposed the 
type of orientational cosmology that I am 
proposing. Indeed, those who did are now 
seen to have been mistaken — for example, 
those who saw the regularities of nature to 
indicate that the different species and 
phyla were each the result of a static 
creation and individual design. Currently, 
however, at least the general trends of the 
natural world towards expansion of the 
cosmos and biological development of 
planet Earth are well enough established 
that one is likely to be correct in working 
from them. At the same time, the natural- 
ist orientational cosmologist, no less than 
the scientist, should always be ready to 

The Boston Theological Institute 


amend her proposed cosmology in light of 
new data, metaphors, or interpretations. 
The burden of making a proposal is always 
that one may be wrong; yet the possibility 
of error cannot prohibit the beginning of 
an endeavor, or no progress whatsoever 
can be hoped for. 

8. See Greene. 

9. An interesting question, and one that I 
leave unanswered for the moment, is how 
to account for the intelligibility of the 
process. Why is it that the cosmos is open 
to human understanding? One possible 
answer arises from the fact that the human 
brain is among those entities to which the 
process gives rise. The brain is — by its 
nature as a pan of the process — fit to 
understand the process. It would take a 
stronger argument than that, though, to 
convince me, at least. Many creatures, for 
example, the non-humanoid higher 
primates, have large brains that, according 
to our best knowledge, are not capable or 
intrinsically employed in seeking out 
understandings of the process. Another 
related question is how to account for the 
status of mathematics. Why is it that math 
is so well suited to use in understanding 
the natural world? Is there some intrinsic 
relationship between math and reality? 
Many mathematicians themselves refuse to 
answer this question. Much in mathemat- 
ics seems to have no direct bearing on the 
natural world. However, could it not be 
the case (as it was with Einstein's use of 
Riemannian geometry) that mathematics 
proceeds ahead of the sciences and that 
eventually, perhaps many centuries from 
now, the sciences may discover exactly 
how the math actually relates to the natural 
world? I do not have an answer to any of 
these questions, but it seems that a fully 
adequate orientational cosmology that is 
also philosophically rigorous would want 
eventually to account for the fact that the 
universe is intelligiblevia mathematics and 
other human forms of cognition. 

10. One answer to this question is that, 
while science can explain all that arises, it 
cannot account for the "beginning" of this 
arising. This answer is a serious one and is 
deserving of some reflection. One should 
realize, however, that in giving the answer 
one assumes a beginning, a matter that the 
sciences are by no means decided on in the 
sense of t = 0. String Theory suggests that 
the cosmos does not reach t = 0, but rather 
that the cosmos finds its smallest unit at 
Planck length (10 " cm). At the same time, 
different scientists have different motiva- 
tions for concluding either for a beginning 
at t = 0, or for an infinite process of 
crunches and bangs that always exists, 
never beginning or ending. At first glance, 
those that conclude on the side of the t = 
position seem more reasonable; yet as I 
have studied the world religions, I have 
come to believe that neither position is 
essentially more reasonable; for example, 
one could look to the vision of an eternal, 
cyclical cosmos in some schools of 
Hinduism. Rather, the ideological and 
metaphysical frameworks that one brings to 
the question can have both conscious and 
subconscious influences on what one 
decides. Whatever the case may be, the 
hypothesis of t = is both an empirical 
question remaining to be solved and, as the 
Buddha said, "a question that tends not to 
edification" (at least at the present time). 

11. In its vagueness, a supernatural 
element cannot be excluded by saying that 
the ultimate frame of reference for human 
meaning and ethics is the process that 
gives rise to all that exists. It can be said 
that this supernatural element appears 
unnecessary within a naturalist perspec- 
tive. At the same time, the process as 
giving rise to also leaves open the question 
of the beginning of the process — or lack 
thereof. I am comfortable with this 
ambiguity; and, with the Buddha, I am not 
sure that questions of an absolute begin- 
ning or of the eternality of the cosmic 
process are ultimately of edifying value. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1999 

For the type of orientation that I suggest in 
the concluding section, what is most 
important is an understanding of the 
human location within a thoroughly 
relational process, and not whether this 
process has an ultimate beginning or 
continues everlastingly. 

12. My understanding of chaos theory 
comes primarily from Hayles. 

13. My understanding of the conse- 
quences of Bell's theorem comes primarily 
from Herbert's explanation. 

14. 1 can provide only the briefest sketch 
of such fragmenting or dichotomous views. 
This sketch is bound to be a generalization; 
yet because the formulation of the all can 
only be understood in relation to such 
fragmenting proposals, for heuristic 
puiposes, I risk over-generalizing them. 

15. Dichotomies and even greater 
fragmentation also arise in many religions 
and traditions. I simply use the Western 
tradition, because it is the one most 
familiar to me, the one in which I was 
raised. More work could certainly be 
done, however, regarding the dichotomiza- 
tion and fragmentation of the cosmos in 
the various meaning and ethical systems of 
human histoiy. From a naturalist perspec- 
tive, as odd as it is not to think of the 
world as a whole or at least as constituting 
a unified process, I would hypothesize that 
the position of fragmentation certainly 
finds expression in at least as many 
traditions as the unified position. 

16. Mayr, p. 241. 

17. Wilson's Consilience may at least 
provide suggestive avenues for further 
understanding of their relation. 

18. The concept of negative impact is a 
human one and reflects human valuations 
of our own existence and the rest of the 
natural world. Sorting out negative impact 
is very complicated and requires a case by 
case analysis of costs and benefits of 
particular actions and events. While I 
mention "inhibiting flourishing" here as 

one standard for measuring negative 
impacts, there are certainly others, 
including "doing harming," "interfering 
with the natural course of things," and 
"abuse." Each of these standards of 
negative impact carries pluses and 
minuses, and none is clear-cut as an 
unequivocal standard. Were a naturalist 
orientational cosmology to be truly 
adequate, it would have to develop 
sophisticated ways of adjudicating 
competing claims, as well as of evaluating 
different standards of what constitutes 
both negative and positive impacts. By 
my brief comments in the body of the 
paper, I simply mean to indicate that it is 
possible to make such judgment within a 
naturalist framework and remain consis- 
tent within the rest of the system. 

19. Mayr, p. 241. 

20. Again, as is the case with human 
valuation of evil or deleterious effects, the 
natural sciences' understanding of con- 
sciousness and the human mind is very 
complicated. Moreover, much remains to 
be understood about the exact relationship 
of human beings to their primate ances- 
tors. What can be said, as Lynn Margulis 
has (in a lecture at Boston University, 19 
November 1999), is that humankind 
undoubtedly shares better than 98% of 
their DNA in common with the higher 

21. Delaney, p. 169. 

22. The success of an experiment is by 
no means unequivocal. What I mean here 
is that the experiment produces results that 
allow for further understanding and further 
theory formation. Moreover, not all of the 
sciences undertake experiments in the 
same way as they are in chemistry, 
genetics, or physics; but, as is the case in 
evolutionary biology, some have to collect 
and compare historical data, using the 
process of the cosmos as the experiment 
and, thus, having to deal with many more 
variables than laboratory scientists have to. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Construal of what it means to have a 
successful experiment or successful theory 
must, thus, be appropriate to the particular 
scientific discipline in question. With my 
discussion of experiments in the body of 
the paper, I simply mean to give an 
example of one possible way that a critical 
realist comes to an approximate under- 
standing of the cosmos that exists external 
to him- or herself. 

23. Herbert, pp. 68-69. 

24. Ibid., p. 69. 

25. Ibid., p. 245. 

26. Ibid., p. 242. 

27. Berger, p. 26. 

28. Ibid., p. 27. 

29. Greene, 117. 

30. "To all that is brief and fragile," by 
Maria Eugenia Baz Ferreira. In Earth 
Prayers from Around the World: 365 
Prayers, Poems and Invocations for 
Honoring the Earth. Ed. Elizabeth 
Roberts and Elias Amidon, 187. San 
Francisco: Haiper Collins, 1991. 

Marylu Bunting is a Ph.D. candidate in theology in the Division of Religious and 
Theological Studies at Boston University. Her research focuses on how scientific 
and religious cosmologies impact and provide resources for global ethics, espe- 
cially with regard for environmental and economic justice issues. She received her 
undergraduate education at Duke University, where she majored in art history, spe- 
cializing in the spiritual concerns of modern, abstract artists. Before entering doc- 
toral studies, she received her M.Div. degree from Boston University School of The- 

She was reared in a United Methodist Church "with a Whiteheadian bent, " and she 
currently identifies herself as a "nature mystic and global ethicist. " She particularly 
enjoys hiking in the woods of Vermont, Maine, and her native Colorado. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1999 

Language and Ideology: A role for scientific metaphor 

John Darling 

Division of Religious and Theological Studies 
Boston University 

A number of prominent popular science writers have recently argued for the active appro- 
priation of scientific language in the formulation of modern ideologies and ethical systems. A 
critical examination of scientific narratives in light of contemporary theories of metaphor and 
relevance suggests that scientific language indeed harbors the same emotive potential that is 
traditionally ascribed to religious language, and can exhibit potent transformative effects in 
shaping human thought. Also highlighted through this approach are the challenges of construct- 
ing scientific metaphors that are generally meaningful, accurate, and ethically responsible. 

The true evolutionary epic, retold as 
poetry, is as intrinsically ennobling as 
any religious epic. Material reality 
discovered by science already possesses 
more content and grandeur than all 
religious cosmologies combined.... 
Homo sapiens is far more than a 
congeries of tribes and races. We are a 
single gene pool from which individuals 
are drawn in each generation and into 
which they are dissolved the next 
generation, forever united as a species 
by heritage and a common future. Such 
are the conceptions, based on fact, from 
which new intimations of immortality 
can be drawn and a new mythos 
evolved. 1 

-Edward O. Wilson, 
Consilience [1998] 

Personal reverie and "grandeur" aside, 
E. O. Wilson has proposed here a rather strik- 
ing program for the intimate association of 
scientific "fact" and human ideology. And 
although he may be one of the most influen- 
tial and visible proponents of such a pro- 
gram, he is certainly not alone. A number 
of prominent science writers have recently 
added their voices to the argument for the 
value of scientific understanding in the for- 
mulation of worldviews and ethical systems. 2 
Their position suggests a growing convic- 
tion within the scientific community that 
scientific language might reasonably vie for 

a position alongside religious language (if 
not, as Wilson explicitly indicates, wholly 
replacing it) in the role of informing mod- 
ern ideologies. Clearly such claims hold 
important implications for the dialogue be- 
tween science and religion and for the popu- 
lar conception of the roles these two disci- 
plines assume in the shaping of human 

The role that religion plays in shaping 
ideologies and ethical systems has been 
widely explored and has been portrayed by 
some scholars as its primary function. In 
The Interpretation of Cultures, Clifford 
Geertz talks of religions as symbol systems 
that provide models of reality, as well as 
models for reality, by establishing "power- 
ful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and 
motivations." 3 Religious symbol systems 
not only tell adherents what reality is like, 
but also provide the structure by which they 
inform their activity within that reality. A 
number of detractors have claimed that 
Geertz' characterization of religion as a 
whole is insufficient; for the present pur- 
poses, however, it seems that Geertz offers, 
at the very least, a great deal of insight into 
the function of religious language in shap- 
ing human thought. The comparisons that 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Wilson invites between scientific and reli- 
gious language suggest that scientific lan- 
guage, too, might be profitably thought of 
in this light. Indeed, Wilson's arguments 
seem to imply that scientific language might 
serve the very function that Geertz outlines 
for religion. Certainly in the passage cited 
above Wilson appears to be suggesting that 
the facts of the evolutionary narrative might 
not only provide a framework for the under- 
standing of "material reality," but might also 
serve to establish such "moods and motiva- 
tions" that inform human activity in the 
world. Wilson ultimately applies this for- 
mulation to suggest explicitly that scientific 
fact can inform ethical systems — in other 
words, that scientific language not only 
serves the straightforward function of pro- 
viding a model o/the world, it also provides 
a model for the world. 

The complex interaction between reli- 
gious language and personal ideologies has, 
in more recent years, been the subject of a 
great deal of study, not least in theologian 

Can scientific language really hope to 
provide the kind of meaningful models 
for human attitudes toward the world 
that are traditionally ascribed to religious 
language? How can scientific "facts" be 
translated into language with positive 
transformative power? 

Sally McFague's seminal examinations of 
the role of religious metaphor. 4 Similarly, a 
number of texts have considered the role that 
scientific language plays in the development 
of scientific theories. 5 Although these latter 
works have reflected on the role of models 
and metaphors within science, the implica- 
tions of such language for popular ideology 
outside of science are largely not addressed. 
What is required is a critical assessment of 
such arguments as Wilson's. Can scientific 
language really hope to provide the kind of 

meaningful models for human attitudes to- 
ward the world (assuming that one of 
science's most widely accepted functions is 
to provide models of the world) that are tra- 
ditionally ascribed to religious language? 
If so, what responsibilities does science have 
in forwarding particular narratives as aspects 
of a "new mythos"? In particular, how can 
scientific "facts" be translated into language 
with positive transformative power? 

It is the aim my aim here to attempt to 
address such questions. The first section ex- 
amines both the extent to which scientific 
language is capable of informing ideology, 
and the active role that science must play in 
proffering scientifically informed world- 
views. Contemporary theories of metaphor 
and relevance will be employed in an attempt 
to evaluate accurately the potential efficacy 
of scientific metaphor in shaping popular 
thought. The second section explores these 
findings in the context of a case study, by 
considering the scientific theory of 
geophysiology (more popularly known as 
Gaia theory) and its 
ramifications for under- 
standing metaphor as a 
link between science 
and popular thought. 
By exploring these top- 
ics it may be possible to 
move the discussion of 
scientifically informed 
ideologies toward a 
more thorough under- 
standing of how science 
can positively play a role in the influence of 
contemporary worldviews. 

Scientific language in light of theories of 
metaphor and relevance. 

The importance of metaphor in the com- 
munication of theory within the scientific 
community is frequently noted, and many 
scholars have pointed to the futility of in- 
sisting that science make greater attempts to 
eschew figurative language. This futility is 
perhaps not surprising, given the ubiquity 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange , 1999 

of metaphor; as linguistic theorist Andrew 
Goatly writes, "metaphor is not something 
that can be easily confined, but is an indis- 
pensable basis of language and thought." 6 
More importantly, however, philosophers of 
science and linguists alike have also empha- 
sized that metaphor provides an essential 
function in scientific inquiry, contributing 
most obviously to the fertility of scientific 
theories. 7 Thus, it is to some extent the am- 
biguity and vagueness of scientific language 
that provides what Ian Barbour calls "a con- 
tinuing source of possible applications, ex- 
tensions, and modifications of theories." 8 

Similarly, metaphor must play a vital 
role in the communication of scientific un- 
derstanding beyond the boundaries of aca- 
demic science. Here also the necessity of 
metaphor is apparent. A recent survey of 
metaphor content in a variety of written and 
spoken language genres shows that in popu- 
lar science writing 1 8% of the total language 
can be characterized as active metaphor. 9 
(Compare this figure to values such as 28% 
for modern novels, 10% for conversation, 
and 4% for national news reports. ) But what 
is the function of such metaphors? Do they 
simply provide the best approximation of sci- 
entific theory that is accessible to a popular 
audience? Or can they, as Wilson suggests, 
actively inform popular attitudes toward the 

On one level, metaphor can simply be 
understood as "an invitation to make com- 
parisons." 10 The propositional form that the 
metaphor takes differs in some way from the 
referent of the metaphor, forcing an assump- 
tion on the part of the listener that these two 
things have some identifiable commonality." 
Thus, the proposition, "he flew from the 
room," invites an assumption that something 
about this individual leaving the room is 
similar to the act of (say, a bird ) flying. The 
interpreted thought (the individual leaving 
the room) differs in a concrete way from 
what is proposed in the structure of the meta- 
phor (the individual "flew"), but stimulates 
a comparison between the two forms. Spe- 

cifically, "the metaphorical meaning ['he 
flew'] does not belong to the target item's 
[the individual leaving the room] field of ex- 
perience, or domain." I2 

In light of this characterization of meta- 
phor, Wilson's statement that "we are a single 
gene pool" is seen not to be a literal obser- 
vation, but a metaphorical one. Clearly there 
are concrete differences (embodiment, cul- 
ture, society, to name a few) that exist be- 
tween the human species as a whole and the 
set of alleles that constitute its "gene pool." 
But Wilson's metaphor constructs a situa- 
tion in which the reader is forced to recog- 
nize that there are similarities between these 
two entities. (It is interesting to note that 
"gene pool" itself is a metaphorical construc- 
tion, one which Wilson plays off of elo- 
quently in his language of "drawing from" 
and "dissolving into.") The experience or 
domain of humanity does not include the ex- 
perience of being a "gene pool" (whatever 
that experience might be), any more than the 
experience of any single individual includes 
the experience of "flying" from a room. 

How is it, then, that metaphorical con- 
struction alters the meaning of the literal 
proposition? In one sense, the meaning of 
the metaphorical statement is increased by 
its intended implicit information content. 13 
In the previous example, the verb "flew" im- 
plicitly informs the listener's conception of 
how this individual left the room; thus "he 
flew from the room" might change the in- 
terpretation of the proposition from "he left 
the room" to "he left (swiftly) from the 
room." The most important aspect of this 
implicit information content, however, is that 
it produces an emotional effect in the listener 
that alters the meaning of the proposition. 14 
The proposition "he flew from the room" 
conveys emotional content that is lacking in 
the literal and emotionally neutral proposi- 
tion "he left the room." Such emotional con- 
tent may be ambiguous; in this particular 
context, it depends most obviously on 
whether the individual is flying from some- 
thing or flying to it. Nevertheless, the meta- 

The Boston Theological Institute 


phor possesses emotional information that 
is absent from the literal proposition. 

This discussion may provide some in- 
sight into what exactly is intended in 
Wilson's description of humanity as "a single 
gene pool." The metaphorical construction 
is calculated to provide implicit information 
with emotional content. Specifically, the lan- 
guage of the gene pool is meant to introduce 
content of inclusiveness and unity that Wil- 
son apparently sees lacking in other propo- 
sitional constructions of the form "human- 
ity is...." Individuality is lost in the "gene 
pool"; the comparisons are implicitly drawn 
between the human species and an entity in 
which the "individual" (the set of genes pos- 
sessed by a single human organism) is re- 
duced to a transient subset of the whole. The 
emotional content of the concept of such 
intimate unity (so intimate that the indi- 
vidual, in our common-sense definition, no 
longer exists) is central to Wilson's use of 
the metaphor. 

One further aspect of metaphor deserves 
consideration in the context of this discus- 
sion. Linguists have devoted a great deal of 
study to the pervasiveness of ideological 
metaphor in human communication. The 
emotive content of metaphor suggests that 
metaphorical constructions (and arguments 
from analogy in general) possess the capa- 
bility of influencing attitudes and informing 
human activity. They "seem to be embed- 
ded in the sphere of human activity in the 
world. They argue for doing something." 15 
This persuasive aspect of metaphorical lan- 
guage has been recognized not only in terms 
of literary metaphor," 1 but also in terms of 
common language and the emotive and con- 
structive (or destructive) power of "root 
analogies." I7 Such analogies are deeply em- 
bedded in human linguistic constructions, 
and powerfully inform human attitudes and 
activity. One striking example, cited by 
Goatly, 18 is that of the analogical equivalence 
of "first" and "important" (as evidenced in 
the common saying, "First things first") and 
the influence that such a root analogy has 

had on global politics in reference to the 
metaphor of "Third World countries." 

This emotive power of metaphor to 
shape attitudes and induce activity is at the 
root of Wilson's use of the "We are a single 
gene pool" metaphor. The implicit and emo- 
tive information content of the metaphor is 
not simply intended to convey the equiva- 
lence of humanity with Wilson's view of a 
unified, non-individualistic entity. It is, by 
extension, meant to induce people to act in 
response to this implicit information in a 
manner that reflects that unity. This is ulti- 
mately the intention of Wilson's adoption of 
such evolutionary metaphors; the "facts" of 
evolution, imparted with emotive power 
through metaphorical construction, are in- 
tended to inform an ethical system in which 
humans act in a manner consistent with their 
common genetic heritage and future. 

By now, however, it may appear ob- 
vious that some other considerations must 
be made in evaluating scientific metaphor. 
Specifically, although for Wilson the con- 
cept of the "gene pool" is connected emo- 
tionally with concepts of unity, heritage, 
and even "immortality," one might won- 
der just how much of this intended implicit 
information content is transferable to the 
reader of the text. Clearly, this all depends 
very much upon who that reader is. Rel- 
evance theory is an area of research de- 
signed to assess the theoretical interaction 
between information and its interpreters, 
and has been applied to the investigation 
of metaphor in the context of its ability to 
inform the reader or listener. At the most 
basic level, relevance theory states that in- 
formation gains relevance for an individual 
through interaction with that individual's 
personal thoughts and beliefs. 19 However, 
a good deal more sophistication enters into 
the calculus of just how such interaction 
occurs. Sperber and Wilson provide one 
of the most straightforward methods of as- 
sessing relevance in terms of two separable 
means in which information interacts with 
the specific individual's thoughts and be- 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1999 

liefs. 20 The first of these is described by 
the "contextual effect" of information. The 
greater the contextual effect, the greater the 
relevance. To provide a simplistic illus- 
tration, the statement, "The orchestra built 
a cathedral of sound," might provide a great 
deal of meaning to someone intimately fa- 
miliar with religious architecture; some- 
what less to an individual who has seen 
photographs of cathedrals but never been 
inside one; and virtually nothing to some- 
one who replies, "What's a cathedral?" In 
order to be relevant, the domain of the 
proposition must have some referent within 
the domain of the interpreter of the propo- 

The second influence on relevance is the 
"processing effort" required actually to un- 
derstand the proposition, which relates to the 
complexity of the proposition and that of the 
concepts embedded within it. The metaphor 
above ("cathedral of sound") requires rela- 
tively little processing effort, although it 
might be considered more difficult to process 

Although for Wilson the concept of the 
"gene pool" is connected emotionally 
with concepts of unity, heritage, and 
even "immortality" one might wonder 
just how much of this intended im- 
plicit information content is transfer- 
able to the reader of the text. 

than the previous example ("He flew from the 
room"), if only for the potential difficulty in 
digesting the concept of a "structure of sound." 
This processing effort relates in an inverse 
manner to the relevance of information: the 
greater the processing effort, the lower the rel- 
evance. Thus, relevance can be represented 
in total as proportional to the contextual ef- 
fect divided by the processing effort. 

What becomes immediately obvious is 
that scientific metaphor (at least in the con- 
text of extradisciplinary communication of 
information) most often concerns itself with 
inherently high processing effort. The lan- 
guage of much contemporary science is 
highly technical and highly specialized; for 
individuals unfamiliar with a particular sci- 
entific discipline, the effort required to pro- 
cess information from within that discipline 
is potentially enormous. Thus, it has been 
observed that the language of popular sci- 
ence (which is, by definition, communicat- 
ing outside the discipline) requires a con- 
certed effort on the part of the scientist ("ad- 
dresser time"), in order to provide meta- 
phorical constructions that require relatively 
little processing effort ("addressee time"). 21 
Considering the language of academic sci- 
entific journals, one would expect this im- 
balance to shift markedly to the other side, 
with a great deal more addressee time re- 
quired and a great deal less expenditure of 
addresser time to simplify the language in 
which the information is conveyed. 22 

This requirement for 
active reduction of process- 
ing time in popular scien- 
tific literature has led to an 
unusually high utilization of 
the particular form of meta- 
phorical construction 
known as the transfer meta- 
phor. 23 Transfer metaphor 
represents the greatest de- 
gree of dissimilarity be- 
tween the metaphoric 
proposition and its specific 
referent; it is a heuristic tool 
for transferring difficult-to-process informa- 
tion into an easily processed form. A typi- 
cal scientific transfer metaphor (familial - to 
anyone who has gone through a basic cell 
biology course) is the statement that "the mi- 
tochondrion is the power plant of the cell." 
There is virtually nothing at all that is simi- 
lar between a mitochondrion and a power 
plant, with the exception that, in both, raw 


The Boston Theological Institute 


materials are converted into usable energy 
forms. But this one similarity is the very 
point that the metaphor wishes to stress; and 
by executing the transfer, the complicated 
biochemical and cell biological entity, "mi- 
tochondrion," is made available in a form 
that is more accessible to the non-biochem- 
ist. Transfer metaphor, in general, is a highly 
utilized form of metaphor; in the survey of 
genres mentioned above, transfer metaphors 
represent on average 70% of all metaphori- 
cal language. In the case of popular scien- 
tific writing, however, this number skyrock- 
ets to 97%; virtually all metaphorical lan- 

From its inception, Gaia theory has 
not only played an important role in 
informing scientific research on plan- 
etary ecosystems and global homeo- 
stasis, but has also served as an un- 
usually complex model for the role of 
metaphor in scientific discourse. 

guage in this genre requires such radical 

All of these forces are at work in 
Wilson's constructive use of the "gene pool" 
metaphor. "Gene pool," as a scientific con- 
cept, represents a description of the set of 
alleles among the reproductive members of 
a given population (in the case of "human- 
ity," that population being the species, Homo 
sapiens). It is also intimately linked with an 
understanding of how allelic frequencies 
contribute to the genetic composition of that 
population. The introduction of the concepts 
of alleles assumes some sophistication in 
processing, requiring some understanding of 
how individuals contribute statistically to the 
overall allelic population. The metaphor of 
the "gene pool" does more than just simplify 
the language. The set of alleles concerned is 
not literally a "pool" any more than the money 
collected for a little intra-office gambling on 

the NCAA championships is literally a 
"pool." But in both cases, the metaphor en- 
courages the recognition of conceptual simi- 
larities that provide implicit meaning to the 
proposition. The "pool" is something into 
and out of which something tlows, whether 
it is money or the particular set of alleles that 
can be ascribed to one reproductive indi- 
vidual. It is this conceptual bridge that Wil- 
son seeks to build in utilizing the metaphor; 
and, thus, by transferring a relatively com- 
plex scientific concept into a relatively simple 
and easily processed metaphor ("pool"), he 
is able to increase greatly the relevance of 
his statement to the general 
reader. The implicit depiction 
of individuals flowing into and 
out of a more or less constant 
"pool" that is humanity is pow- 
erfully emotive, and designed 
to induce moods and attitudes 
appropriate to the feeling of 
unity and flow implied in the 

(The question of contex- 
tual effect, I think, remains 
more elusive. How does the 
metaphor of the "gene pool" interact con- 
textually with the thoughts and beliefs of the 
reader? The "pool" metaphor generally pos- 
sesses high contextual effect, even for a gen- 
eral audience. Nevertheless, for some indi- 
viduals (e.g., those with relatively little fa- 
miliarity with the concepts of evolutionary 
biology and unsure as to how humanity 
might relate to its gene pool), the metaphor 
may be less contextual, and may lack rel- 
evance, despite the efforts of Wilson to re- 
duce the processing effort. For others (e.g., 
individuals like Wilson himself, fluent in the 
language of evolution and possessing an in- 
tuitive understanding of these concepts), the 
contextual effect may be great. There may 
also be other factors, beside familiarity with 
scientific concepts, that determine the con- 
textual effect of the metaphor. It is interest- 
ing to note here that, even within the aca- 
demic study of science, a variety of differ- 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1999 

ent metaphors have been adopted to explain 
the same observations. The cultural influ- 
ences on the development of such metaphors 
in evolutionary biology have been noted, 24 
and it is not difficult to see that contextual 
effect has played the major role in determin- 
ing which metaphors have been adopted by 
which individuals (or groups of individuals), 
despite the arguable equivalence in the ef- 
fort required to process these metaphors. In 
any case, a great number of factors may con- 
tribute to the contextual effect of a given sci- 
entific metaphor, and the overall effect may, 
therefore, be difficult to predetermine. 

It appears that theory of metaphor and 
relevance can, initially at least, support 
Wilson's assertions regarding the possibil- 
ity of scientific language serving transfor- 
mative functions, providing that the lan- 
guage is actively metaphorical. This sup- 
port stems from the very nature of metaphor, 
which serves to provide emotionally laden, 
implicit information that is capable of gen- 
erating attitudes toward reality and, ulti- 
mately, of informing human activity. It is 
interesting that Wilson explicitly acknowl- 
edges the importance of metaphor in this 
respect, appealing to scientific concepts "re- 
told as poetry." This point must be stressed. 
It is not enough to say that scientific "fact" 
alone can serve the function that Wilson ad- 
vocates. Literal scientific language (or lit- 
eral language of any sort) does not neces- 
sarily possess the emotive (and, thus, ulti- 
mately transformative) power inherent in 

Assuming, then, that scientific meta- 
phor, just as religious metaphor, has the po- 
tential to inform ideology and ethics, the 
caveat that must be addressed is the rel- 
evance of scientific metaphor. How can sci- 
ence provide narratives that are relevant to 
a popular audience, relevant enough to ef- 
fect changes in attitudes and activity? A 
good deal of work has been done on maxi- 
mizing relevance of religious language. 
Feminist theologies, for instance, often 
ground themselves on the assertion that 

many traditional religious metaphors are 
rooted in a male-centered contextual frame- 
work and lack, therefore, the contextual ef- 
fect needed to make them maximally rel- 
evant to female believers. Discussions in 
religious circles concerning increasingly 
"inclusive language," thus, refers directly 
to attempts to increase the relevance of re- 
ligious metaphor through increasing con- 
textual effects. Similar questions must be 
posed in the scientific context. The diffi- 
culty of processing effort is intuitively noted 
among science writers, as evidenced in the 
extraordinarily high frequency of transfer 
metaphors. The issue of how scientific 
metaphor can maximize its relevance by ac- 
tively addressing contextual effects must 
also be taken into consideration, and it is 
here that the ultimate efficiency of scien- 
tific language in shaping ideologies may be 

How do scientists engage in this maxi- 
mization of relevance? I now present a case 
study of a particular scientific metaphor, to 
examine the different ways in which scien- 
tists have constructed language to inform a 
general audience, and the issues that these 
differences raise for the possibility of truly 
transformative scientific narratives and the 
responsibility of scientists in actively formu- 
lating such narratives. 

A case study: Gaia theory 

Gaia theory is the brainchild of James 
E. Lovelock, stemming initially from his 
work in the 1960s for NASA on the exami- 
nation of possibilities of life on other plan- 
ets in the solar system, particularly Mars. 25 
Through observations of atmospheric con- 
ditions on Earth and other planets, as well 
as through modeling of atmospheric condi- 
tions on a hypothetical Earth devoid of life, 
Lovelock came to the conclusion that the 
radically non-equilibrium composition of 
Earth's atmosphere could result only from 
active maintenance by living systems. By 
the late '60s, Lovelock had formulated the 
following hypothesis: 

The Boston Theological Institute 


The chemical composition of the 
atmosphere [of Earth | bears no relation to 
the expectations of steady-state chemical 
equilibrium. The presence of methane, 
nitrous oxide, and even nitrogen in our 
present oxidizing atmosphere represents 
violation of the rules of chemistry to be 
measured in tens of orders of magnitude. 
Disequilibria on this scale suggest that 
the atmosphere is not merely a biological 
product, but more probably a biological 
construction. 26 

Lovelock's vision was of an entity of 
planetary scale, one actively participating in 
a homeostatic process that provides for the 
maintenance of atmospheric conditions opti- 
mal for living systems. The unusually evoca- 
tive name for Lovelock's hypothetical super- 
system was provided by novelist William 
Golding, who recognized the metaphorical 
link between a unified planetary-scale en- 
tity and the ancient Greek conception of the 
Earth goddess. From its inception, then, 
Gaia theory has not only played an impor- 
tant role in informing scientific research on 
planetary ecosystems and global homeosta- 
sis, but has also served as an unusually com- 
plex model for the role of metaphor in sci- 
entific discourse. 

The utilization of Gaia is, perhaps, one 
of the most extraordinary examples of sci- 
entific transfer metaphor available. 
Lovelock originally defined Gaia as 

a complex entity involving the Earth's 
biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and soil; 
the totality constituting a feedback or 
cybernetic system which seeks an 
optimal physical and chemical environ- 
ment for life on this planet. 27 

This proposition differs so radically from the 
metaphorical proposition "the planet Earth 
is like the ancient Greek Earth goddess," that 
it is hard to imagine Lovelock's justification 
in choosing the metaphor. It is clear from 
his own descriptions of the early phases of 
the theory that Gaia was chosen both for its 
ability to reduce the processing effort asso- 
ciated with the complex scientific concepts 
embedded within his hypothesis, and also 
for the explicit contextual relevance pos- 
sessed by the concept of the Earth goddess. 

Lovelock's discussions of Gaia theory 
are replete with depictions of the Earth as an 
"organism," as the "living planet", or as "a 
total planetary being." 28 His personal inter- 
pretations of his own scientific observations 
suggest that the resemblance between, on the 
one hand, the complex integration of non- 
living and living systems on a global scale 
and, on the other hand, a single living organ- 
ism were sufficient to warrant the use of such 
transfer metaphors. It is, in part, this organ- 
ismic unity that is communicated in the uti- 
lization of the Gaia metaphor. In addition, 
the language of Gaia seems to argue not only 
for a planetary-scale identity, but also for a 
planetary-scale agency. The idea that the 
Earth participates actively and intentionally 
in the homeostatic regulation of its atmo- 
sphere in a way that is optimally conducive 
to the maintenance of life is another integral 
aspect of Lovelock's conception of Gaia. 
This idea of purposeful action is, in many 
ways, a teleological interpretation of the un- 
likelihood of attaining such optimal condi- 
tions without some sense of intentionality. 
The metaphor of Gaia thus implicitly con- 
veys the aspect of agency inherent in 
Lovelock's personal rendering of the scien- 
tific evidence for his theory. What becomes 
clear, then, is that Lovelock's adoption of the 
Gaia metaphor is intended to convey implicit 
information that is not inherent to the data — 
in other words, information that does not 
belong to the domain of the referent. 

In retrospect, Lovelock could not have 
chosen a more effective metaphor. Not only 
has Gaia stimulated a growing debate within 
the scientific community over the various 
aspects of homeostatic regulation on a plan- 
etary scale (including the organization of 
international conferences on the subject, the 
second of which was held in 1996 at Ox- 
ford), but it has also insinuated itself into 
the public consciousness to a degree that few 
other scientific metaphors have. Various 
groups dedicated to the kind of holistic on- 
tology represented in the Gaia hypothesis 
have actively appropriated the metaphor. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1999 

Most particularly, social action groups have 
employed Gaia to further environmental and 
ecological consciousness and to stress the 
importance of acting toward the Earth in a 
manner that is commensurate with its 
newfound identity as organism or even god- 
dess. The metaphor has further found itself 
adopted by a variety of "New Age" organi- 
zations, which see Gaia as scientific support 
for a spiritual and/or mystical association 
with the Earth; such personification has 
brought Gaia into intimate conversation with 
other aspects of New Age movements, spe- 
cifically goddess worship. In short, the 
Gaia metaphor has stimulated emotional re- 
sponses, attitude changes, and human activ- 
ity in an almost runaway fashion. 29 

The response of scientists to this mas- 
sive popular appropriation of Gaia has not 
been overwhelmingly positive. Lovelock 
himself has turned away from his original 
metaphor, now adopting the language of 

Many within the scientific community 
argue that Gaia is metaphor gone bad. 
So radical a transfer metaphor has 
imparted information that was never 
intended, and the subsequent distortions 
of the message have been so great that 
the popular conception of Gaia theory 
no longer bears any relation to the 
science it was meant to communicate. 

"geophysiology," a metaphor that maintains 
the association of the Earth with an organis- 
mic unity, but severs connections with the 
concepts of personality and spirituality that 
have become intimately tied to the popular 
conception of the Gaia metaphor. Lynn 
Margulis, one of the few early supporters of 
Lovelock's theory and an important contribu- 
tor in her own right, vehemently opposes the 

popular distortions of the scientific basis of 
Gaia theory by "anti-science and anti-intel- 
lectual folks." 3 " "Gaia is no vague, quaint 
notion of a mother Earth who nurtures us. 
The Gaia hypothesis is science." 31 Margulis 
sees it as important to stress the scientific 
basis of Gaia theory and the value of the 
theory in promoting a research program. She 
notes that the affinity of New Age groups 
for Gaia and the fact that the metaphor stimu- 
lates in the public consciousness direct as- 
sociations with mythic beliefs subject the 
theory to the criticism of being "unscien- 

Her fears are likely not unfounded. 
Lovelock and Margulis belong to a relatively 
small group of scientists who support what 
is known as "strong" Gaia theory, only one 
of many theories that fall under the rubric of 
Gaia theory as a whole. In its strong form, 
the theory suggests an active role of the liv- 
ing planetary supersystem in maintaining 
conditions optimal for life. 
Other forms range from 
"influential" Gaia, which 
accepts that living systems 
influence such abiotic plan- 
etary-scale functions as at- 
mospheric composition 
and temperature, a hypoth- 
esis that is widely accepted 
and described by Margulis 
as "old news": to "teleo- 
logical" and "optimizing" 
Gaia theories, which com- 
prise the "strong" Gaia sup- 
ported by Lovelock and 
Margulis. 32 It is perhaps 
not surprising that strong 
Gaia theory has encountered resistance from 
the scientific community, given that 
community's tendency to eschew language 
of teleology in explaining natural phenom- 
ena. The struggle for strong Gaia supporters 
within the scientific community appears to 
be difficult enough, without accusations that 
the theory lends itself to spiritual and mysti- 
cal interpretations of planetary systems. 33 

The Boston Theological Institute 


One thing that is clear is that scientific 
metaphor lies at the heart of this debate. How 
do the metaphors through which science is 
communicated to a general audience alter the 
science itself? When does the acceptable 
science of cybernetic homeostatic systems on 
a planetary scale cease to be science and start 
to become New Age spirituality or environ- 
mental rhetoric? On the ™ 
one hand, it is possible to 
argue that the Gaia hy- 
pothesis represents scien- 
tific metaphor at its very 
best. Within the scientific 
community, the ambigu- 
ities implicit in the asso- 
ciation of Lovelock's data 
with the Earth goddess 
have stimulated ferocious 
debate and encouraged a 
great deal of research de- 
signed to specify more convincingly the na- 
ture of the planetary homeostatic tendency. 
As far as a more general audience is con- 
cerned, Gaia demonstrates conclusively that 
Wilson is right — scientific language can (and 
does) possess the same kind of transforma- 
tive power that religious narrative can pro- 
vide. Gaia has altered human attitudes to- 
ward the planet at large and, in doing so, has 
stimulated human activity commensurate 
with those attitudes. 

On the other hand, however, many 
within the scientific community argue that 
Gaia is metaphor gone bad. So radical a 
transfer metaphor has imparted information 
that was, in fact, never intended; and the sub- 
sequent distortions of the message have been 
so great that the popular conception of Gaia 
theory no longer bears any relation to the 
science it was meant to communicate. 

In this new light, how are Wilson's claims 
to be read, that science "retold as poetry" can 
provide the foundations for narratives with 
transformative power? Certainly Lovelock's 
Gaia represents science retold as poetry. Is it 
just too poetic? Metaphor, through its implicit 
and emotional information content, may be 

seen intentionally to invite interpretation. 
The danger of metaphor is that it also in- 
vites ^//^interpretation, or as one linguist 
puts it, "surplus interpretation." 34 Effec- 
tive metaphor can convey in a relevant fash- 
ion the information present in the original, 
non-metaphoric proposition. But it also al- 
ways conveys more. To say that the mito- 

The ambiguity and imprecision of 
scientific metaphor is both the means 
to the construction of powerfully emo- 
tive scientific language and the means 
to the potential obfuscation of the 
concepts it is meant to convey. 

chondrion is the power plant of the cell con- 
veys, in a processing-friendly and contex- 
tually effective way, information regarding 
the role of the mitochondrion in cell me- 
tabolism. But it also provides implicit in- 
formation that potentially misinforms the 
interpreter regarding the nature of the mi- 
tochondrion. So with Gaia theory, and so 
also, potentially, with Wilson's metaphor of 
humanity as a gene pool. This ability to 
convey misinformation is an inescapable as- 
pect of metaphorical language, and its con- 
sideration has important implications for the 
possibility of formulating transformative 
scientific narratives. The ambiguity and im- 
precision of scientific metaphor is both the 
means to the construction of powerfully 
emotive scientific language, and the means 
to the potential obfuscation of the concepts 
it is meant to convey. 

The problem of constructing meaning- 
ful scientific narratives is, thus, a delicate 
balancing act, between providing contex- 
tually effective and understandable meta- 
phors on the one hand, and maintaining pre- 
cision and scientific rigor on the other. 
What the present understanding of meta- 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1999 

phorical language suggests is that science 
cannot forego the former if it is to provide 
language that is meaningful and potent, in 
the sense of establishing effective models 
for reality. This function of scientific lan- 
guage relies heavily on metaphor to con- 
vey implicit and emotive information con- 
tent to the interpreter. 

Lynn Margulis and other scientists who 
oppose the distortions of Gaia theory that 
accompany its appropriation by various en- 
vironmental and New Age groups present an 
important critique of scientific language, and 
in particular of Wilson's claims that it can 
stand beside religious language in molding 
human attitudes toward reality. Yes, it 
works; but what results can hardly be called 
science! If science wishes to play a role in 
shaping ideologies, however, its reaction 
must not be to insulate itself from a general 
audience or readership by limiting the ac- 
cessibility of its language. Only by an ac- 
tive participation in the discussion and re- 
evaluation of scientific metaphor, can sci- 
ence play such a role. It is not enough to 
chastise the "environmentalists and reli- 
giously-inclined people... [for] giving Gaia 
a distinctly nonscientific connotation." 35 
After all, if such people bring nonscientific. 
surplus meaning to scientific metaphor, they 
are doing only what the very nature of meta- 
phor invites them to do. It is necessary, 
rather, to enter directly into discussion with 
such people and actively establish new meta- 
phors that better reflect the scientific reality 
and yet retain the ability to motivate emo- 
tionally and to stimulate positive activity. If 
science is to enter into the game of contrib- 
uting to the construction of human ideolo- 
gies, then it must come ready to play. Meta- 
phor is science's most powerful tool in its 
attempts to shape human thought and action, 
but it is one that must be handled with care. 

Responsible scientific metaphor and 
contemporary ideologies 

It seems, then, that scientific language 
is in no way inherently incapable of provid- 

ing meaningful and transformative narra- 
tives. Despite the deeply technical and spe- 
cialized nature of much of today's science, 
and despite accusations from its detractors 
of coldness, detachment, or even nihilism, 
science has the capacity to spin tales that 
possess real meaning and ideological value. 
Perhaps the reason behind such impassioned 
statements against science is the misconcep- 
tion that science deals exclusively in facts. 
And facts, as we all know, are cold and hard. 
Facts alone are inert and unreactive. They 
lack the capacity to draw out the emotions, 
to make action imperative. Science, how- 
ever, does not trade in mere fact. Scientific 
facts are communicated in language, and (for 
the most part) the language of science is the 
same language used in any communication. 
It is part of the job of the scientist to effect 
such transformation of fact, to turn simple 
observations of the world into accounts of 
what our world is like. And in doing so, fact 
is potentially transformed, tlirough language, 
into narrative that is moving, engaging, and 
even, as Wilson puts it, "sacred." 

But this task of transformation is not one 
to be taken lightly. To suggest that scien- 
tific fact can form the basis of ideologies and 
ethical systems is not to say that it is a simple 
matter of observing the world and translat- 
ing those observations into parables that help 
us lead our lives. The construction of scien- 
tific metaphor is an active pursuit, and when 
one combines the emotive power of such 
metaphor with the fact that intentional mis- 
information is inherent in any metaphoric 
construct, the danger becomes readily ap- 
parent. It is one thing for a first year bio- 
chemistry student to have over-anthropomor- 
phized the mitochondrion, or even for a New 
Age mystic to claim 'scientific support 
overzealously for an Earth goddess. It seems 
quite another when one encounters such in- 
terpretations as the following: 

I wish very much that the wrong 
people could be prevented entirely 
from breeding; and when the evil 
nature of these people is sufficiently 

The Boston Theological Institute 


flagrant, this should be done. Crimi- 
nals should be sterilized and feeble- 
minded persons forbidden to leave 
offspring behind. The emphasis 
should be on getting desirable people 
to breed. 36 

It is tempting to ascribe such words to the mar- 
ginal eugenic fanatics of the world. These par- 
ticular words happen to come from Theodore 
Roosevelt. And the Presi- , m 
dent was not alone; many 
other prominent and well- 
respected individuals have 
provided the world with 
similarly spectacular state- 
ments. Linus Pauling, one 
of the greatest minds the 
field of biology has ever 
known, winner of not one, 
but two, Nobel Prizes (one 
for Peace), once remarked 
(apparently quite earnestly) 
that in the future all individuals should be 
branded with an encoded representation of 
their exact genotype, so that 

two young people carrying the same 
seriously defective gene in single dose 
would recognize the situation at first 
sight and would refrain from falling in 
love with one another. 37 

Is any more definitive evidence needed 
to support claims of the ideological potency 
of scientific language? What the above state- 
ments indicate more than anything else is 
the way in which the metaphor of "natural 
selection" has insinuated itself convincingly 
into popular thought, and its success in mo- 
tivating worldviews and ethical systems 
throughout the Western world. It is inter- 
esting to note that in Geertz' definition of 
religion, he considers that religious symbol 
systems establish conceptions about reality 
and proceed in 

clothing these conceptions with such an 
aura of factuality that the moods and 
motivations seem uniquely realistic. 38 

And this is precisely what has happened with 
"natural selection." This phrase is not fact; 
it is a metaphor adopted to communicate a 

diverse set of observations about the natural 
world in a manner that is relevant to a gen- 
eral audience. Most evolutionary biologists 
will rail regarding the inaccuracy of consid- 
ering "natural selection" as an intentional 
process, with nature acting as a conscious 
designer, weeding the bad out of the good, 
with a mind to ineluctable progress up the 

Science may have a great deal to 
learn from religion. Though reli- 
gious narrative demonstrably plays a 
powerful positive role in shaping 
human lives, it has also provided 
many striking examples of the poten- 
tial dangers of untamed metaphor, 

evolutionary ladder. Such conceptions are 
the motive behind a number of "intelligent 
design" formulations of the evolutionary 
process, which are frowned upon by the vast 
majority of biologists. And yet the primary 
metaphor for evolution is this one of "natu- 
ral selection," and it is not difficult to see 
how this metaphor conveys the implicit in- 
formation of intentionality. 

It is, furthermore, not difficult to see 
how this surplus interpretation of intention- 
ality has informed ideology. If nature can 
serve as the agent of evolutionary progress, 
then why can't we? Selection is a process 
with which humans are inherently familiar; 
it possesses great contextual effect. It draws 
out such emotionally laden concepts as 
choice between better and worse, and the 
possibility of active improvement. It invites 
human agency. And given such invitations, 
combined with the potency of the "natural 
selection" metaphor and its "aura of factu- 
ality" (stemming from its association with 
scientific "fact"), it is not at all surprising 
that humanbeings should have begun to take 
the process of selection upon themselves. 
And from here, it is only a matter of detail 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1999 

before we are potentially faced with human 
ideologies, strongly informed by scientific 
language, which confront us with pressing 
moral and ethical dilemmas. 

Scientific metaphor is, thus, subject to 
every criticism that has been directed at other 
traditionally recognized sources of ideology 
and ethics. In this sense, science may have 
a great deal to learn from religion. This older 
sibling of science, after all, has been in the 
business of shaping ideologies for some time 
now; and, though religious narrative demon- 
strably plays a powerful positive role in shap- 
ing human lives, it has also provided many 
striking examples of the potential dangers 
of untamed metaphor. What modern cri- 
tiques of religious language teach us can and 
must be equally applied to scientific lan- 
guage. Although the latter is capable of simi- 
larly contributing positive transformative 
narratives, it can also provide equally dam- 
aging worldviews, can offer metaphors that 
are equally exclusive and non-contextual for 
minority groups, and can provide equally 
powerful motivation for human activity that 
borders on inhumanity. The claim that sci- 
ence can form the basis of a positive new 
mythos is just as much a claim that science 
can form the basis of a negative one. 

The important realization, then, is that 
scientifically based ideologies are a function 
of scientific language, and not a function of 
scientific fact. Scientific language has the 
capacity to translate the concepts of science 
into a form that moves and motivates, that 
shapes human thought and encourages hu- 
man activity. But scientific fact itself 
underdetermines ideology — no unique 
worldview or ethical system can be gener- 
ated from the vast library of cold, hard facts. 
Those various worldviews and ethical sys- 
tems that are so generated must, therefore, 
be subject to the same scrutiny that any mod- 
em ideology is subject to; there is no exemp- 
tion granted for being derived from science. 
A detailed look at scientific language dem- 
onstrates convincingly that there is no rea- 
son to leave science out in the cold when it 

comes to the important task of shaping con- 
temporary ideologies and ethics. Science 
can become an integral participant in this 
conversation. But it must do so with a will- 
ingness to engage non-scientists actively in 
constructing metaphor that is scientifically 
accurate and generally relevant. And it must 
recognize also that a basis in scientific fact 
does not a good ethical system make. Sci- 
entific and religious narrative alike must be 
scrutinized in an effort to provide positive 
meaning and direction for our species now 
and into the future. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Works cited: 

Barbour, Ian G. Religion and Science: 
Historical and Contemporary Issues. San 
Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997. 

Brandt, Per Age. Morphologies of 
Meaning. Arhus, Denmark: Arhus 
University Press, 1995. 

Dawkins, Richard. Unweaving the Rain- 
bow. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. 

Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of 
Cultures: Selected Essays. New York: 
Basic Books, 1973. 

Goatly, Andrew. The Language of 
Metaphors. London: Routledge, 1997. 

Howard, Ted, and Jeremy Rifkin. Who 
Should Play God 9 The Artificial 
Creation of Life and What it Means for 
the Future of the Human Race. New 
York: Delacorte Press, 1977. 

Keller, Evelyn Fox. Refiguring Life: 
Metaphors of Twentieth-Century 
Biology. New York: Columbia Univer- 
sity Press, 1995. 

Kirchner, James W. "The Gaia Hypoth- 
eses: Are They Testable? Are They 
Useful?" In Scientists on Gaia, ed. by 
Stephen Henry Schneider and Penelope 
J. Boston, 38-46. Cambridge, Mass.: 
MIT Press, 1990. 

Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. 
Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: 
University of Chicago Press, 1980. 

Lovelock, James E. Gaia: A New Look at 
Life on Earth. Oxford: Oxford Univer- 
sity Press, 1979. 

. The Ages of Gaia: A Biography of 

Our Living Earth. New York: Norton, 

Margulis, Lynn. Symbiotic Planet: A New 
Look at Evolution. Amherst, Mass.: 
Basic Books, 1998. 

Mayr, Ernst. This Is Biology: The Science 
of the Living World. Cambridge, Mass.: 
Harvard University Press, Belknap 
Press, 1997. 

McFague, Sallie. Metaphorical Theology: 

Models of God in Religious Language. 

Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982. 
. Models of God: Theology for an 

Ecological, Nuclear Age. Philadelphia: 

Fortress Press, 1987. 
Ruse, Michael. Mystery of Mysteries: Is 

Evolution a Social Construction? 

Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University 

Press, 1999. 
Sperber, Dan, and Dierdre Wilson. 

Relevance: Communication and 

Cognition. Oxford: Blackwell, 1986. 
Steen, Gerard. Understanding Metaphor 

in Literature: An Empirical Approach. 

New York: Longman, 1994. 
Wilson, Edward O. Consilience: The 

Unity of Knowledge. New York: 

Vintage Books, 1998. 


1 . Wilson, p. 289. 

2. See Mayr; Dawkins. 

3. Geertz, p. 90. 

4. McFague, Models of God, and 
Metaphorical Theology. 

5. Ruse; Keller. 

6. Goatly, p. 1. 

7. Barbour; Ruse; Goatly. 

8. Barbour, p. 116. 

9. Goatly. 

10. Ibid., p. 107. 

1 1 . Sperber and Wilson. 

12. Brandt, p. 144. 

13. Ibid. 
14. Ibid. 

15. Goatly, p. 152. 

16. Steen. 

17. Goatly; Lakoff and Johnson. 

18. Goatly, p. 150. 

19. Ibid., p. 137. 

20. Ibid.; see also Sperber and Wilson. 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1999 


22. To my knowledge no such assess- 
ment of metaphoric content of academic 
science writing has ever been done. 

23. Goatly. 

24. Ruse. 

25. Lovelock, Gala. 

26. Ibid., p. 10. 

27. Ibid., p. 11. 

28. Ibid.; Lovelock, The Ages of Gain. 

29. Consult the website at URL, 
for an excellent resource on Gaia and 
Gaia-related topics, such as New Age 
appropriations of the metaphor. 

30. Margulis. p. 118. Information in the 
following discussion of Gaia theory are 
presented in the final chapter ("Gaia") of 
Margulis' book. 

31. Ibid., p. 123. 

32. Kirchner, p. 38. 

33. See Margulis for a more detailed 
discussion of the debate within the 
scientific community on various aspects of 
Gaia theory. 

34. Brandt, p. 123. 

35. Margulis. p. 118. 

36. Quoted in Howard and Rifkin, p. 45. 

37. Ibid., p. 81. 

38. Geertz, p. 90. 

John Darling was born and grew up in Tolland, Connecticut. He did his baccalaure- 
ate work in molecular biology and biochemistry at Wesleyan University, where his 
interest in the study of religion was also stimulated. For several years he was a 
competitive rower, and participated in the Royal English Henley Regatta with the 
Wesleyan Men's Crew Team. 

Dr. Darling received his Ph.D. in biology from the University of Pennsylvania, with 
thesis research on the molecular genetics and biochemistry of the protozoan para- 
site, Toxoplasma gondii. He worked for a year at Oregon Health Sciences Univer- 
sity, in Portland, before returning to the East Coast in 1999 to enter the Graduate 
Program in Science, Philosophy, and Religion at Boston University After complet- 
ing his work on his second doctoral degree, he plans to do research and to teach at 
the university level. 

He and his wife currently live with two cats in Somerville, Massachusetts. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Certificate Program 



The Schools of the Boston Theological Institute 

given through 

The BTI Science and Religion Advisory Committee 

in Three Tracks of Study: 

Religion and the Natural Sciences 
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Religion and Ecology 

The Certificate, given through the Boston Theological Institute, is 
awarded by the faculty of the consortium. It is not an academic de- 
gree; rather, the purpose of the Certificate in Science and Religion is 
to foster dialogue in these two languages of human understanding. 

For more information, please contact: 

Certificate Program in Science and Religion 

The Boston Theological Institute 

210 Herrick Road, Newton Centre, Massachusetts 02459 USA 

phone, 617-527-4880 fax, 617-527-1073 

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The Schools of the Boston Theological Institute 

Andover Newton Theological School • Boston College Department of Theology 

Boston University School of Theology • Episcopal Divinity School 

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary • Harvard Divinity School 

Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology • Saint John's Seminary 

Weston Jesuit School of Theology 

Evolution and Epiphany: Language in Biological 

and Theological Perspective 

Maurice Lee 

Fuller Theological Seminary and 
Yale University 

Brief sketches are given, on the one hand, of three "biological" accounts of human 
language that construe its function in terms of evolutionary adaptation, and, on the other 
hand, of three "theological" accounts of language that construe its function in terms of 
human relatedness to God. The theological accounts, when placed into conversation with 
the biological accounts, are allowed to raise specific critical questions and suggestions for 
further work, in an attempt to contribute methodologically and materially to the ongoing 
dialogue between science and religion. 

Language and Intellectual Life 

That human language — primarily in 
terms of its abstract structure, interpersonal 
dynamics, and sociopolitical implications — 
has been in this century a major focus of 
philosophical and theological speculation is 
an observation that hardly needs substantia- 
tion. 1 Similarly, language as biology — as a 
vividly developed and diversified aspect of 
the functioning of the human organism, 
embodied in its physical environment — has 
been much studied in this century by cul- 
tural anthropologists and psychologists and, 
more recently, neurophysiologists and cog- 
nitive scientists.- However, these vast realms 
of research on language — philosophy and 
theology (and related fields) on the one hand, 
anthropology and neurobiology (and related 
fields) on the other — have historically inter- 
acted relatively little. Philosophers do not 
often get involved in the "low-level" details 
of how language is actually implemented in 
"wet" human brains and varied cultural con- 
texts. And biologists are not notably con- 
cerned with arcane questions about the struc- 
ture of meaning, the nature of representa- 
tion, and the relation(s) between metaphor 
and truth. There may have been, and may 
still be, some good reasons for this "sepa- 

rate but equal" policy. But the idea of inter- 
disciplinary dialogue and exchange among 
scientists, philosophers, and theologians, as 
a fruitful way of sharpening conceptual and 
observational tools and results on all sides, 
seems increasingly worth considering and 
testing rigorously. 3 An experiment in this 
direction is my purpose in this paper. I will 
sketch the contours of a more-or-less cur- 
rent biological debate — on the role of natu- 
ral selection in the evolution of the human 
language capacity 4 — and inquire how a 
small sampling of more theologically in- 
clined theories of language might interpret, 
and in turn be interpreted by, the biological 

Biological Considerations 

The terms of the controversy are set out 
with clarity by Steven Pinker and Paul 

All modern students of language agree 
that at least some aspects of language 
are due to species-specific, task-specific 
biological abilities.... It would be 
natural, then, to expect everyone to 
agree that human language is the 
product of Darwinian natural selection. 
The only successful account of the 
origin of complex biological structure is 
the theory of natural selection, the view 
that the differential reproductive success 

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associated with heritable variation is the 
primary organizing force in the 
evolution of organisms. . .. But, 
surprisingly, this conclusion is contro- 
versial. Noam Chomsky, the world's 
best-known linguist, and Stephen Jay 
Gould, the world's best-known evolu- 
tionary theorist, have repeatedly 
suggested that language may not be the 
product of natural selection, but a side 
effect of other evolutionary forces such 
as an increase in overall brain size and 
constraints of as yet unknown laws of 
structure and growth.... 5 

Any plausible account of the evolution 
of human language must involve natural se- 
lection as the primary mechanism, assert 
Pinker and Bloom, because "natural selec- 
tion is the only scientific explanation of 

How is it that clumps of neurons and 
trains of action potentials came to be (if 
indeed they are) invested with the power 
of representation, such that stable, shared 
structures of association are somehow 
manifested among three "systems": 
world — brain — language ? 

adaptive complexity." 6 Language is adap- 
tive and complex in that it is a "system com- 
posed of many interacting parts" whose 
"structure and arrangement suggest design 
to fulfill some function" 7 — a function that 
has played a crucial role in the ability of the 
human species to propagate itself and thus, 
in turn, to ensure the continuing existence 
and development of the biological (neural 
and cultural) substrate of language. 8 

To be classified as an adaptation, that 
is, a product of natural selection, language 
must satisfy two conditions. There must be 
evidence that ( 1 ) "it has evolved (been modi- 
fied during its evolutionary history) in spe- 
cific ways to make it more effective in the 
performance of [a particular] task," and that 
(2) "the change has occurred due to the in- 
creased fitness that results." 9 In other words, 

if the capacity for language is due to natural 
selection, then it must serve (or subserve) a 
specific and recognizable task or function — 
a function from which it must be possible to 
draw implications concerning biological 
advantage, that is, increased chances of sur- 
vival and reproduction. But what is that 
function? This is the heart of the debate. 

Pinker and Bloom interpret Chomsky 
and Gould as saying that language is not an 
adaptation, because it has no "function" on 
which selection can operate; instead, it arises 
more or less epiphenomenally out of the 
sheer complexity and computational power 
of the human brain, which serves basically 
as a general-purpose learning device (Gould) 
i or — -whatever else it 
may be doing — as a 
theater for the as-yet 
poorly understood 
emergent properties 
that underlie lan- 
guage (Chomsky). 
Such proposals are 
vigorously opposed 
by Pinker and Bloom 
and many others, for 
whom the only rea- 
sonable perspective is 
to see language as one among many "spe- 
cialized biological systems, [all of which] 
evolved by natural selection." l0 

Yet the question of language's function 
is an exceedingly complex one, in the dis- 
cussion of which it seems impossible to iso- 
late "scientific" from "philosophical" aspects. 
The concept of "function" itself is by no 
means neutral. "Any functioning structure 
carries implicit information about the envi- 
ronment in which its function 'works.'" " 
This epistemological principle can be used 
in reverse: One's construal of the environ- 
ment in which a particular "function" works 
influences decisively one's estimate of the 
function itself, as will presently be seen. The 
issue is made no easier by the fact that al- 
most none of the neural underpinning for 
language is understood in any real detail: 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1999 

at this point, what might be an important 
constraint on speculation is simply a free 
variable. 12 

Why should it be that human beings 
speak to one another, intelligibly and inces- 
santly? What is language "used" for? The 
answer may depend in part on what kinds 
of "uses" seem important to the one answer- 
ing. Is this something that can be empiri- 
cally investigated? Some measure of the 
matter's depth may be taken by consider- 
ing some representative proposals (a few 
out of many) for the biological function of 

Language as communication 

Pinker and Bloom suggest, in what they 
take to be an "entirely uncontroversial" 
observation, that "language shows signs of 
design for the communication ofproposi- 
tional structures over a serial channel." I? 
By "prepositional structures" they mean 
groups of symbols that accomplish the iden- 
tification, classification, and contextualiza- 
tion of people (including beliefs, desires, 
and behavior), objects, events, and their re- 
lationships (including causation). Presum- 
ably these "structures" involve interacting 
references to multiple subjects and objects, 
with attendant modifiers and predicates, 
whose joint specification occurs in several 
degrees of freedom. It is not immediately 
obvious that these could effectively be 
transmitted through an essentially one-di- 
mensional ("serial") medium such as that 
of the voice (and its correlate, the sense of 
hearing). Yet this. Pinker and Bloom find, 
is precisely what happens in spoken lan- 
guage, and the design of language — in 
terms of the "universal grammar" that un- 
derlies all particular languages — shows 
signs of its adaptation for the communica- 
tion task subject to the given constraints. 
Categories, rules, and structural transforma- 
tions map the large parameter space with 
which propositions deal to linear sequences 
of symbols that are uttered and interpreted 
according to a shared code. The evolution- 

ary advantage of such communication is 

By tapping into the vast reservoir of 
knowledge accumulated by some other 
individual, one can avoid having to 
duplicate the possibly time-consuming 
and dangerous trial-and-error process 
that won that knowledge. 14 

Pinker and Bloom have come under 
criticism for their proposal's lack of con- 
creteness when it comes to the process by 
which language evolved. 15 They posit a 
history of (vaguely defined) "intermediate 
grammars," which were less complex or 
consistent than today's evolved results, but 
which provided the "bootstrapping" power 
necessary for the gradual selection of full 
human language. Bickerton requests de- 
tails on what such "intermediate grammars" 
would look like: which categories, rules, 
or transformations could be impaired or 
dropped from current grammars while leav- 
ing a viable system or sequence of systems. 
"Anything short of this is mere hand wav- 
ing." I6 In the end. Pinker and Bloom give 
impressive evidence for language's "com- 
plexity" but can only speculate, and cast 
doubt on rival ideas, on the matter of 
language's "adaptation." Their construal 
of language's function thus fails to contrib- 
ute materially to their claim that language 
arose by natural selection — and, con- 
versely, the evolutionary evidence pertain- 
ing to language provides an insufficient 
perspective by which to discern its evolu- 
tionary function. 

Even more fundamentally, the question 
of the evolution of the capacity for symbolic 
representation itself in any form, including 
that of speech, is left untouched by Pinker 
and Bloom. How is it that clumps of neu- 
rons and trains of action potentials came to 
be (if indeed they are) invested with the 
power of representation, such that stable, 
shared structures of association are some- 
how manifested among three "systems": 
world — brain — language? 17 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Language as power 

Is language uncontroversially a matter 
of "transmitting prepositional structures," 
that is, communicating knowledge? Con- 
troversy, or the lack of it, seems at least par- 
tially to be in the eye of the beholder. In his 
response to Pinker and Bloom, Charles 
Catania claims that scientists heretofore have 
been hampered in developing a convincing 
evolutionary (selectionist) account of lan- 
guage, because they "have not properly iden- 
tified the functions served by language" 18 — 
and, in particular, have failed to realize that 
the "communicative function did not shape 
language in the [human] species." He offers 
an alternative 

candidate for the primary function of 
language [that] is more fundamental 
than that of communication: Language 
is an efficient way to change another's 
behavior. 19 

Communication, according to Catania, is it- 
self simply the sign of a deeper process; it 
does indeed make an evolutionary differ- 
ence, but only in that it is used by individu- 
als to influence the behavior of other indi- 
viduals. Language, as a social phenomenon, 
"can emerge only in organisms whose be- 
haviors are already sensitive to social con- 
tingencies." 2U The key to the development 
of language is the evolutionary necessity for 
discrimination of behaviors (Can that ani- 
mal be safely ignored or is it about to eat 
me?). Discriminative capacities that en- 
hance survival by seeking to shape or be 
shaped by others' behavior in varying ways 
under varying circumstances will be selected 
for, and, Catania suggests, language is one 
of these. That words mean is not so impor- 
tant as — perhaps it is simply a by-product 
of the fact — that words do. 

Catania sketches a tentative evolution- 
ary scenario based on his thesis, involving 
at least two stages: ( 1 ) a leader of a group 
("probably a dominant male" 21 ) maintain- 
ing some sort of primitive verbal control over 
the group's behavior, thus keeping the group 
coordinated, giving it "a competitive edge," 

and so (assuming that the leader is repro- 
ductively successful!) selecting for in- 
creased verbal flexibility and complexity; 
and (2) the leader's capacity for verbal be- 
havior-shaping expression eventually being 
replicated in successors and listeners by fur- 
ther selection. 

But how is this sort of behavior-influ- 
encing behavior different from such things 
as bird songs, monkey screeches, and bee 
dances ? Or how, in this ancient population, 
did behavior modification by verbal control 
escape from the primitive "one-call/one-re- 
sponse" correlation characteristic of nonhu- 
man species? Here Catania makes a sheer 
conceptual jump: 

The increasing complexity of the 
vocabulary and its contexts must reach 
the point at which some calls occur in 
combination, and their several forms 
could then evolve further into verbs, 
nouns, and various modifiers. 22 

It seems, then, that increased grammatical 
complexity is to be explained not by envi- 
ronmental pressures — but by increased 
grammatical complexity! Catania provides 
no insight into how, if language is funda- 
mentally and simply a tool for influencing 
behavior, the uniquely and lushly developed, 
arbitrarily extensible structure and sheer 
range of cognitive and emotional and (not 
least) behavior-shaping powers of human 
language came about by means of natural 
selection. In this case, again, the proposal 
for language's function, while drawing at- 
tention to one of its important dimensions, 
falls short of illuminating its evolutionary 

Language as humanness 

Derek Bickerton insists that there are 
features of language that show clearly that 
it was not designed for effective communi- 
cation of propositions or exercise of power 
at all. For example, in English (and in other 
languages, particularly Creoles) the marker 
for the relative clause is often optional. This 
makes possible "garden path" sentences, 
which start out by seeming perfectly intel- 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1999 

ligible — and then become apparent non- 
sense. For example: The horse raced past 
the hari} fell. At first, the sentence's intui- 
tive meaning seems clear: raced is the main 
active verb. But when one gets to the word 
fell, this "garden path" turns out to be a dead 
end (assuming that the whole sentence is a 
well-formed one). With a relative clause 
marker, the intended meaning can be seen 
more clearly: The horse that was raced past 
the barn fell [down]. However, despite the 
possibility of misinterpretation, the marker 
is not mandatory: the hook I bought is as 
acceptable as the hook that I bought. Seem- 
ingly arbitrary and potentially difficult-to- 
parse features such as this, Bickerton 
claims, makes language "quite impossible 
to explain in terms of social, cultural, or 
communicative benefits." 23 Indeed, 
Bickerton's theory of language sees it not 
as what must be explained in terms of puta- 
tive "functional*' requirements and gradual 

The manifold ways in which linguisti- 
cally skilled brains interact with exter- 
nal objects — including other brains — 
as part of the story of evolution by 
natural selection are understood, if at 
all, only in coarse, and sometimes 
conflicting, outlines. 

evolution under various selective pressures, 
but as what explains other human abilities 
and generated new and powerful ways of 
adapting. A single mutation, he proposes, 
that created a previously nonexistent net- 
work between previously unrelated brain 
structures, gave rise to a "syntax machine" 
that converted — within several genera- 
tions — an ungrammatical, limited 
"protolanguage" into the "superb and infi- 
nitely flexible instrument that all of us con- 

trol today." 24 Language, thus "stumbled 
into," became the "single determining ca- 
pacity" M — the basis of further selection — 
that permitted the development of distinc- 
tively human intelligence, consciousness, 
behavior, and culture. It is language that 
defines humanness. 26 

This, of course, might be dismissed out 
of hand as the ultimate "just-so" story. (How 
did language come about? Just becauseY) 
But Bickerton has effectively disposed of 
the requirement of explaining language's 
function — in an evolutionary sense — by dis- 
carding the necessity of explaining 
language's adaptation. In his view, lan- 
guage has many "functions," 21 but the 
"need" for these functions arose from the 
preexisting capacity for language, not vice 
versa. Yet there is a prior problem. 
Bickerton's argument that language is not 
an adaptation for communication or social 
influence depends on its non-optimality — 
its lack of "good" design 
for the putative function(s). 
But, as Pinker and Bloom 
point out, evolutionary sce- 
narios are not always so re- 
ducible: "Tradeoffs among 
conflicting adaptive goals 
are a ubiquitous limitation 
on optimality in the design 
of organisms." 2S While 
they would preferably be 
spelled out more plausibly, 
it is still the case that there 
might be many (both re- 
peatable and non-repeat able) reasons that 
language got "stuck" in certain aspects — 
blind alleys, local minima — in the course 
of its development. As much as he rightly 
emphasizes the uniqueness of human lan- 
guage and underscores its importance in 
forming, framing, and furthering human 
thought, behavior, and potential, Bickerton 
has not convincingly demonstrated that the 
evolution of language cannot be accounted 
for in terms of function. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Theological Considerations 

The proposals just outlined, and their 
kin, however committed to remaining on the 
level of "biology," find themselves inevita- 
bly touching on aspects of the relation be- 
tween the organism and its environment — 
representation, communication, cooperation, 
competition, influence — on which it is still 
difficult (though not necessarily impossible) 
to get a purely biological handle. 29 The 
manifold ways in which linguistically skilled 
brains interact with external objects — in- 
cluding other brains — as part of the story of 
evolution by natural selection are under- 
stood, if at all, only in coarse, and sometimes 
conflicting, outlines. Evidently, the dis- 
agreements over language's "function" do 
not clearly lend themselves, at this point, to 
purely biological resolution. 

To take this line of thinking further, why 
should the "environment" to which a popu- 
lation of organisms (or one of their functional 
characteristics) is putatively "adapting" be 
limited to the physical world? 30 Often, of 
course, it is seen as methodologically sus- 
pect to invoke "supernatural," not to men- 
tion theistic, descriptions or explanations for 
phenomena that can 

presence — indeed, the unavoidably intrusive 
and conditioning presence— of God in and 
to the world can be assumed 32 and the im- 
plications of that assumption mined for their 
possible contributions to (not definitive reso- 
lutions of) ongoing debates on other levels. 
I will pursue the experiment, then, by sum- 
marizing tliree theologically motivated theo- 
ries of language — in a rough progression. 33 

Language as self-transcendence 

Few theologians whose interests in- 
clude anthropology have explicitly investi- 
gated the theological implications of human 
language as a biological phenomenon. One 
prominent exception is Wolfhart 
Pannenberg, who connects the development 
of human language (in terms both of its ac- 
quisition by individual children and of its 
evolution in the species) with the symbolic 
recognition and manipulation of objects 
characteristic of human play behavior 
(which opens the individual to the larger 
world and finds its most complex manifes- 
tation in myth and ritual) and, thereby, with 
"the religious consciousness." 34 By this he 
means the (usually unthematic) awareness 


be accounted for 
"perfectly well" on a 
materialist basis. 
And it is not to be 
supposed that, for 
example, "God," as 
an explanatory term, 
could simply settle 
the biological con- 
troversy. Yet ac- 
counts ot reality may 

be, to first order, complete in themselves and 
still be subject to placement in a "hierarchy" 
of "levels" — levels that are, in the final 
analysis, not isolatable from each other and, 
indeed, may influence one another pro- 
foundly. 31 And religious adherents, Chris- 
tians in particular, are not always in the po- 
sition of having laboriously to justify their 
belief in a reality beyond the visible. The 

The presence — indeed, the unavoidably 
intrusive and conditioning presence — of 
God in and to the world can be assumed 
and the implications of that assumption 
mined for their possible contributions to 
(not definitive resolutions of) ongoing de- 
bates on other levels. 

of "totality," the limitless ground against 
which we recognize and distinguish between 
finite things, and which for Pannenberg (as, 
in a different way, for Schleiermacher) func- 
tions as an intimation of the infinite God. 35 
Language, according to Pannenberg, con- 
sists in a symbolic apprehension and repre- 
sentation of things in the world whereby we 
"open" ourselves self-transcendingly to our 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1999 

surroundings, placing ourselves, and that 
which is not ourselves, in a "total" context. 
Words carve out particular concepts and 
objects that can only be understood against 
their background: 

Every statement about the meaning and 
nature of a present reality looks beyond 
what is presently at hand to its context, 
in which alone the particular thing 
acquires its due meaning. In this sense, 
every word that names the nature of a 
thing by assigning it its meaning gives 
expression to something "hidden." 36 

Moreover, language is used in conversa- 
tion, in speaking within some sort of com- 

Thus,for Pannenberg, language is more 
than a tool for communication or power; 
it manifests the shared human openness 
to a wider sphere that gives context and 
meaning to that of which we speak. 

jects — of the "world," then there must ex- 
ist a ground against which the representa- 
tional figures — in their diversified finite- 
ness — can be distinguished and identified. 
There are trenchant criticisms that can be 
directed against the idea of language as ex- 
clusively a system of representation. In- 
deed, Pannenberg recognizes that language 
is dynamic — that it is not a static system of 
fixed associations but "is bound up with 
'forms of life."' 39 And in that this dyna- 
mism, this life, characterizes not individual 
speakers and listeners, but the speaking and 
listening community, pointers may be seen 
m to the "whole" that al- 
! lows recognition and dif- 
ferentiation of the parts. 
Language mediates our 
openness to this "whole" 
in a way that invites re- 
flection on — and ulti- 
mately relation to — the 
widest sphere, the largest 
horizon, of all: the infi- 
nite and eternal God. 

munity; and in speaking to one another we 
find that conversations often have a di- 
rected and dynamic "life" of their own, 
transcending and encompassing the indi- 
vidual speakers and pointing ultimately to 
the "spirit of life as a totality," 37 the "field" 
which is actually prior to and makes pos- 
sible the existence of finite individual bear- 
ers of life. 38 

Thus, for Pannenberg, language is 
more than a tool for communication or 
power: it manifests the shared human open- 
ness to a wider sphere that gives context 
and meaning to that of which we speak. Of 
course, no attempt at a neurobiological or 
evolutionary account of the capacity for 
representation that constitutes that open- 
ness is being made here, only an unpack- 
ing of the presuppositions that underlie the 
concept of representation. If language in- 
volves symbolic representation — a "seg- 
mentation" into discrete concepts and ob- 

Language as co-creation 

In no normal usage, of course, does 
"God" denote anything like "infinite ground 
of meaning" or "eternal field of the fu- 
ture" — an implicit limitation of theological 
theories of language that involve only rep- 
resentation. Perhaps one can go further. Al- 
though Philip Hefner does not explicitly 
mention language (in biological terms), his 
treatment of culture and religion in the con- 
text of an evolutionary perspective on hu- 
man nature would seem to lend itself easily 
to an extension to language. Hefner's 
theory of the "created co-creator" attempts 
to bring the particular picture of the world 
drawn by modern science to bear on ques- 
tions of the created order's purpose and 
humanity's relation to, and responsibility 
for, the rest of creation. The theory sees 
human capacities (under the rubrics of 
"freedom," referring to conditioned deci- 
sions and their justifications, and of "cul- 

The Boston Theological Institute 


ture," referring to learned behaviors and 
their interpretations) as the "instrumental- 
ity" whereby God enables the whole cre- 
ation to participate in the divine purposes. 

Human beings, representing at their cur- 
rent point of evolution "a new stage of free- 
dom," have been assigned to play a critical 
role in bringing creation to its fulfillment — 
its own "emergence" into freedom. 40 Of 
course, humanity has already — certainly 
with ambiguous motives and results — ex- 
tended its influence into an impressively 
wide range of earthly environments. 41 The 
urgent task is now to modulate and grow 
that influence wisely — toward "wholesome- 
ness" 42 and "blessing." 43 Human cultural 
systems, with their attendant myths and ritu- 
als (now joined by scientific practice and 
knowledge), provide the information nec- 
essary to ensure productive congruence be- 
tween the behavior of human beings and 
their surroundings. 

What function might language have, 
given such an account of the world and 
humanity's role? Hefner's flexible use of 
the term "create" provides a clue. Certainly 
human beings do not create in the way that 
God does; but their status as "co-creators" 
emphasizes (proceeding on analogy from 
God's character as Creator) their free and 
intentional activity. If human beings are 
co-creators, then perhaps language is the 
way in which the creation is defined — a 
defining that does not arise automatically 
out of the creation's intrinsic nature but is 
given it on the basis of free decision, and a 
defining that is oriented toward, or cogni- 
zant of, its puiposes in the context of God's 

Nearly every element of the ecosystem 
is defined... by the uses the human 
sector has assigned to it. The very 
continuation of the ecosystem is 
significantly affected by Homo sapiens 
and that creature's definition of itself 
and of its world. 44 

Language, Hefner might say, is a way of es- 
tablishing the world, not in an ontological, 

ex nihilo sense, but as a sphere of respon- 
sible and directed human action. 

A precursor to this idea might be found 
in the Yahwistic account of creation (Gen- 
esis 2-3), in which God brings the animals 
to the man in order that they might be 

So out of the ground the Lord God 
formed every animal of the field and 
every bird of the air, and brought them 
to the man to see what he would call 
them; and whatever the man called 
every living creature, that was its name. 
The man gave names to all cattle, and 
to the birds of the air, and to every 
animal of the field; but for the man 
there was not found a helper as his 

(Gen. 2:19-20) 45 

In his commentary on Genesis, Claus 
Westermann writes of this passage: 

The meaning is not, as most 
interpreters think, that the man 
acquires power over the animals by 
naming them. ...[b]ut rather that the 
man gives the animals their names 
and thereby puts them into a place in 
the world. ... By naming the animals 
the man opens up, determines and 
orders his world and incorporates 
them into his life. The world 
becomes human only through 
language. 46 

Furthermore, the naming is purposeful: in 
naming the animals, the man is pursuing 
God's desire that he have a companion. 

God brings the animals to the man: this 
procession gives expression to the 
intention of God in making the animals; 
it implies that it is the man who finds 
out and decides what sort of helper 
corresponds to him. 47 

With such a concept of language, con- 
sideration shifts from that of humanity's rep- 
resentation of the world (and wider con- 
texts) to that of humanity's active (free and 
intentional) involvement with the world — and 
with God. Yet this account still leaves the 
link between naming and responsibility un- 
clear. Why should it be that, when the world 
has been "defined" by language, humanity's 
"involvement" with the world on the basis 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1999 

of language is meant to be oriented toward 
"wholesomeness" and "blessing" for all cre- 
ation — instead of simply toward competitive 
power and self-aggrandizement (as in the 
Tower of Babel story. Genesis 1 1 )? There is 
room for yet another step in seeking the theo- 
logical significance of human language. 

Language as moral engagement 

This third step is taken, in vigorous 
form, by Nicholas Wolterstorff. Taking his 
cue from the speech-act g 
theory initiated by J. L. 
Austin, Wolterstorff 
sees human speaking as 
a way of performing ac- 
tions — what Austin 
called illocutionary 
acts, among which are 
asking, answering, in- 
forming, assuring, 
warning, announcing, 
promising, and identifying. 48 The act of 
speaking, that is, of uttering words — a 
locutionary act — may count as one of these 
illocutionary acts. 

And what is it, for one's performance of 
one action to count as one's performance 
of another? My own conviction is that 
there is no more fundamental question 
posed by human discourse than this. 
How can it be that by uttering the little 
word "Guilty," someone condemns 
another to be shot at dawn? 44 

Wolterstorff states explicitly that "speech 
actions are not, in their nature, a species of 
exerting influence over someone [pace 
Catania], nor a species of communicating or 
expressing one's inner states" 50 (pace Pinker 
and Bloom). Instead, he suggests, speak- 
ing — using language — is the taking of a po- 
sition, vis-a-vis one's fellow persons, in 
which one has acquired certain "rights and 
duties." To speak is "to take up a normative 
stance in the public domain." 51 The func- 
tion of language, for Wolterstorff, is intrin- 
sically bound up with issues of moral ac- 
countability — indeed, language is a way of 
establishing and defining moral accountabil- 

ity. A speech act, given normal circum- 
stances and all other things being equal, 
places the speaker under certain obliga- 
tions — to tell the truth, to keep the promise, 
and so on — and the hearer(s) under certain 
obligations as well — to answer the request, 
to heed the warning, and so on. Of course, 
illocutionary acts may in fact, for a variety 
of reasons and under a variety of circum- 
stances, fail or be undermined, so that the 

Moral subjectivity is formed in commu- 
nal and narrative mode, and Wolterstorff 
might agree with the thesis that the social 
dynamic of language is at least partly 
constitutive of the development of human 
identity in a moral environment. 

normative standings that would have other- 
wise been assigned do not "take." Still, 
Wolterstorff insists, the fundamental texture 
of human language, human speech action, is 
moral and ethical, and that texture qualifies 
our relation to the rest of creation: "By the 
acquisition of normative standings, we take 
up the material world into our service." 52 

Pannenberg criticizes speech-act theory, 
though not specifically Wolterstorff 's use of 
it, on the grounds that language has prima- 
rily to do with the representation of mean- 
ing and only secondarily with achieving 
ends — that is, with performing actions. In- 
deed, since the concept of "action" requires 
an acting subject, and since human subjec- 
tivity — in terms of the unity of the ego, the 
"I" — is only formed in time through the pro- 
cess of living, "it is presumptuous for indi- 
viduals to want to produce the whole of life 
by their own action." 53 As mentioned al- 
ready, Pannenberg maintains that such phe- 
nomena as conversations — which depend on 
"an object of shared interest that creates a 
common ground and therefore communica- 
tion" 54 and then go on to take "a life of [their] 

The Boston Theological Institute 


own" 55 — show that language, far from 
providing a basis on which we might be 
"sovereignly" acting subjects, lifts us out 
of ourselves into the unpredictable realm 
of the "spirit." This might be true, as far as 
it goes, but actually fails to come to grips 
with Wolterstorff 's particular use of the 
speech-act concept. For to take up a "nor- 
mative stance" in the public domain is not — 
as the words themselves might unfortu- 
nately suggest — to pit one's atomistically 
and previously defined subjectivity over 
against the world; rather, it is to accept an 
essentially intersubjective and historical 
construal of one's identity — as related to 
God and to others in the story of one's life. 
Moral subjectivity is formed in communal 
and narrative mode, and Wolterstorff might 
agree with the thesis that the social dynamic 
of language is at least partly constitutive of 
the development of human identity in a 
moral environment. 

Biological Language in a Theological 

What these various theological propos- 
als, building on one another, have in com- 
mon is the idea that M 
language reflects I 
shared human relat- 
edness not just with | 
conspecifics or the j 
natural order, but also 1 
and fundamentally 
with God — as the ul- \ 
timate ground of 
meaning, the para- 
digmatic creator and j 
definer, and the j 
source of moral ' 
norms. Under consideration here, undoubt- 
edly, are notions such as "representation" 
and "relation," that have been greatly ex- 
tended beyond their normal biological uses. 
Have they been stretched too far? Has biol- 
ogy simply been left behind? Is the appar- 
ent tension between seeing language as God- 
directed and language as an adaptive prod- 

uct of natural selection insurmountable? 
What possible relation could theological 
(Jerusalem) have with biological (Athens) 
theories of language? 

The findings to this point may be sum- 
marized, somewhat aphoristically. If lan- 
guage is adaptive communication (Pinker 
and Bloom), then the representation implicit 
in that communication points toward the 
shared world and beyond to an infinite basis 
of meaning (Pannenberg). If language is 
adaptive power (Catania), then the direction 
of linguistic influence toward specific tar- 
gets presupposes the intentional linguistic 
"creation" of a world in which targets ex- 
ist — a co-creation possible because of the 
original Creator (Hefner). If language is the 
basis of adaptive humanness (Bickerton), 
then "humanness" involves the moral 
agency — ultimately vis-a-vis God — estab- 
lished by language (Wolterstorff). Of course 
these statements, as they stand, are much too 
definitive. A great deal of elaboration would 
be required to establish the suggested con- 
nections on firmer ground. But even in 
rough form they may provide a suitable 

In order for a character to be an adapta- 
tion, its function must confer, or contribute 
to conferring, an increased probability of 
survival and reproduction. Does a relation 
to God increase the probability of survival 
and reproduction? The answer is by no 
means intuitively obvious. 

backdrop for some issues arising from this 
attempt at convergence between biological 
and theological theories of language. 

Questions about representation 

In the first place, it would seem that 
more sophistication is called for in the use 
of the idea of "representation." To repeat the 
basic question: How does the connection — 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1999 

fundamental to language— between an ob- 
ject or concept in the "world" (or an internal 
state!) and its "symbol" as a word or sen- 
tence arise? At first glance, it would seem 
straightforwardly unproblematic to construe 
language, as Pinker and Bloom do, as a mat- 
ter of symbolic representation. But this is a 
non-trivial biological question that, as has 
been noted, opens up important philosophi- 
cal and theological implications in multiple 
directions. On the one hand, it is not at all 
easy to state precisely — even in principle — 
how representation might be "done" in the 
brain and therefore how it might have "de- 
veloped" through natural selection. 56 More 
work needs to be done here. On the other 
hand, the very concept of linguistic repre- 
sentation — when pressed to its logical con- 
clusion — seems to lead to the threshold of a 
territory where theistic assumptions and 
"God-talk" no longer seem foreign, and 
where that which is represented is necessar- 
ily a dynamically social world that tran- 
scends and contextualizes the individual user 
of language. The "environment" in which 
"representation" is taking place may have 
dimensions as yet unexplored in standard 
evolutionary biology. 

Representation as an aspect of the func- 
tion of language can hardly be dispensed 
with. But, while the idea of representation 
is essential, it is not perforce the only way 
available of thinking about language. Thus, 
a further task: for a more adequate theory, 
the idea of representation must be integrated, 
biologically and theologically, with other 
means of construing language. 57 

Questions about adaptation 

Secondly, if the "function" of language 
involves human relatedness to God, then the 
concept of "adaptation" itself, at least in this 
connection, is open to challenge. In order 
for a character to be an adaptation, classi- 
cally considered, its function must confer. 
or contribute to conferring, an increased 
probability of survival and reproduction. 
Does a relation to God increase the prob- 

ability of survival and reproduction? The 
answer is by no means intuitively obvious — 
at least on the Christian account of God, 
which sees relatedness to the God of Jesus 
Christ as potentially involving commitments 
and behaviors that decidedly do not foster 
survival and reproduction. If, indeed, in lan- 
guage may be found — even from its evolu- 
tionary beginnings — human beings' self- 
transcending openness to God, their defini- 
tion of the world in accordance with God's 
purposes, and/or their acquisition of moral 
rights and duties before God and each other, 
as well as their capacity to communicate 
propositions or influence behavior or gen- 
erate culture, then the concept of evolution- 
ary adaptation could well be more complex 
and less unambiguous than might at first be 

Controversy remains over the primacy 
of adaptation as a driving force of evolution 
and of the adaptationist "stance" in evaluat- 
ing biological data from an evolutionary per- 
spective. 58 A wider context for this debate 
can yet be imagined. If the "struggle for sur- 
vival" is not the last word on earthly exist- 
ence, if the often painful and deadly contests 
among genes, organisms, and populations 
that seem endemic to the biological drama 
can validly be interpreted in the light of the 
assertion that "the creation waits with eager 
longing for the revealing of the children of 
God; for the creation was subjected to futil- 
ity, not of its own will but by the will of the 
one who subjected it. in hope that the cre- 
ation itself will be set free from its bondage 
to decay and will obtain the freedom of the 
glory of the children of God," 59 then the cen- 
trality of adaptation as a feature of the his- 
tory of life is dramatically relativized. After 
tracing part of the history of the debate over 
adaptation. Burian points out that 

the deep and complex biological issues 
that occasioned the debate remain: does 
selection operate at many levels, 
producing many levels of adaptations? 
If so. how does this affect the nature of 
adaptive processes and of adaptations? ftn 

The Boston Theological Institute 


The question can be recast in the light of the 
relationship to God manifested by language: 
What "processes" other than (and not always 
and necessarily opposed to) selection oper- 
ate at different levels, producing many lev- 
els of effects, including but decisively not 
limited to adaptation? 61 

Questions about ethics 

Thirdly, if language — even as an evo- 
lutionary phenomenon — reflects our stand- 
ing (and acting) as moral agents, then per- 
haps this is a sign that morality is an irre- 
ducible aspect of the nature of reality and 
must be taken into account, not simply by 
explaining it away in terms of evolutionary 
advantage and adaptation (for example) but 
as part and parcel of those concepts. 62 I will 
not repeat the symphony of arguments con- 
ducted by Murphy and Ellis, for example, 
against the possibility of "reducing" ethics 
to anything else. Instead, I will engage 
Dennett's claim that the only realistic and 
potentially productive account of morality 
is based not ultimately on the character of 
God and God's word, but on reason and na- 
ture — that is, on a picture of the world 
painted from a strictly evolutionary palette. 

As Darwinian thinking gets closer and 
close to home — where we live — 
tempers run higher, and the rhetoric 
tends to swamp the analysis. But 
sociobiologists, beginning with Hobbes 
and continuing through Nietzsche to 
the present day. have seen that only an 
evolutionary analysis of the origins — 
and transformations — of ethical norms 
could ever properly make sense of 
them. ... Ethical decision-making, 
examined from the perspective of 
Darwin's dangerous idea, holds out 
scant hope of our ever discovering a 
formula or an algorithm for doing right. 
But that is not an occasion for despair; 
we have the mind-tools we need to 
design and redesign ourselves, ever 
searching for better solutions to the 
problems we create for ourselves and 
others. 63 

Dennett scorns appeals to a nonexist- 
ent God, or the Bible, or other sacred texts 
or traditions, for morally authoritative judg- 

ments, and subsequently finds that his pre- 
ferred brand of evolutionary "realism" pro- 
vides a context for tracing the development 
and interrelationships of various ethical sys- 
tems — but no firm basis for moral authority 
of any kind, except, perhaps, that which can 
be expressed in terms of "solutions" to 
"problems" found by "mind-tools." Lan- 
guage, of course, is among the needed 
"mind-tools," whose emergence presented 
to human beings 

a technology that created a whole new 
class of objects-to-contemplate, 
verbally embodied surrogates that 
could be reviewed in any order at any 
pace. And this opened up a new 
dimension of self-improvement — all 
one had to do was learn to savor one's 
own mistakes. 64 

With the tool one can accomplish, or at- 
tempt to accomplish, the task — even if part 
of that task involves the use of "conversa- 
tion-stoppers," 65 arbitrary rules that squelch 
moral debate in favor of decisive action. 
But if language is itself a form of moral en- 
gagement, then the task has been started 
even before the tool has been picked up. If 
by speaking we posit and take normative 
stances in the public domain, then in so do- 
ing we are not, in the first place, defining 
or debating moral norms: we are submit- 
ting to preexisting norms and being our- 
selves directed, communally and authori- 
tatively, by them. Whence arise those 
norms (or standards or conventions)? It 
would be beyond the scope of this paper to 
demonstrate (if it were possible) that the 
most parsimonious "answer," with the most 
explanatory power, to that question is 
"God"; but persistent proposals to the con- 
trary still fail to convince. 

Language and Trinitarian Life 

The — however "adaptive" or otherwise — 
relatedness to human beings, to the rest of cre- 
ation, and to the Creator reflected in language 
finds much deeper resonance in the distinc- 
tively Christian vision of God. For the God 
worshipped by the followers of Jesus Christ 


Journal of Faith and Science Exchange, 1999 

is self-revealed as constituted by self-giving 
relatedness, 66 by the "mutual interiority" of the 
persons known to us as Father, Son, and 
Spirit." And in the Biblical testimonies the 
(economic, and by extension ontological) re- 
lationships among the Trinitarian persons are 
imaged in terms of their speaking with one 
another and with others. 68 God's unsurpass- 
able presence — indeed, indwelling — with hu- 
manity, in fulfillment of the ancient promises, 
is described, famously, as the Word. 69 

And, finally, the eschatological commu- 
nity is portrayed in terms of (inter alia) 
never-ending praise. 11 ' Might it not be com- 
pelling to take up the suggestion that human 
language provides a faint analog of the rich- 
ness of the divine life — or, more properly, 
that the divine life is imaged when human 
community is established through language? 

But now you must get rid of all such 
things — anger, wrath, malice, slander, 
and abusive language from your mouth. 
Do not lie to one another, seeing that 
you have stripped off the old self with 
its practices and have clothed yourselves 
with the new self, which is being 
renewed in knowledge according to the 
image of its creator. In that renewal 
there is no longer Greek and Jew, 
circumcised and uncircumcised, 
barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but 
Christ is all and in all! 

(Col. 3:8-11) 

To whatever extent evolutionary theory 
provides a faithful description of the history 
of life on Earth (or elsewhere), language is 
surely an element of that story, subject to 
the same constraints, instantiated in the same 
physical, chemical, and neural "wetware" 
that provides the substrate for other biologi- 
cal capacities and phenomena. But the 
"functionality" of language transcends its 
place in the biological framework, and would 
(whether the encounter be resisted, ignored, 
and derided, or welcomed and celebrated) 
take those who speak into the presence of 
the living God. 

The heavens are telling the glory of God; 
and the Firmament proclaims God's 

Day to day pours forth speech, 
and night to night declares 
There is no speech, nor are there words; 

their voice is not heard; 
yet their voice goes out through all the 
and their words to the end of the 

Let the words of my mouth and the 
meditation of my heart 
be acceptable to you, 
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. 
(Ps. 19:1-4, 14) 

The Boston Theological Institute 


Works Cited: 

Austin, J. L. How to Do Things with 
Words. 2nd ed. Ed. J. O. Urrnson and 
M. Sbisa. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard 
University Press, 1975. 

Bickerton, Derek. Language and Human 
Behavior. Seattle: University of 
Washington Press, 1995. 

The Bible. New Revised Standard 
Version, copyright 1989, Division of 
Christian Education of the National 
Council of Churches of Christ in the 
United States of America. 

Blackburn, Simon. Spreading the Word: 
Groundings in the Philosophy of 
Language. Oxford: Oxford University 
Press, 1984. 

Brown, Raymond. The Gospel According 
to John (i-.xii). The Anchor Bible, vol. 
29. New York: Doubleday, 1966. 

Burian, Richard M. "Adaptation: Histori- 
cal Perspectives." In Keywords in 
Evolutionary Biology, ed. by Evelyn Fox 
Keller and Elisabeth A. Lloyd, 7-12. 
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Catania, A. Charles. "What Good is Five 
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Dawkins, Richard. The Blind Watch- 
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Deacon, Terrence W. "Why a Brain 
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Dennett, Daniel C. Darwin's Dangerous 
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Hacker, Peter. "Languages, Minds and 
Brains." In Mindwaves: Thoughts on 
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ness, edited by C. Blakemore and S. 
Greenfield, 485-505. Oxford: Basil 
Blackwell, 1987. 

Hefner, Philip. The Human Factor: 
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Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993. 

Jackendoff, Ray. "What Would a Theory 
of Language Evolution Have to Look 
Like?" Behavioral and Brain Sciences 
13(1990), 737-738. 

Jaynes, Julian. The Origin of Conscious- 
ness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral 
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Jenson, Robert W. Visible Words: The 
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Jenson, Robert W. Essays in Theology of 
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Kanerva, Pentti. Sparse Distributed 
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Keller, Evelyn Fox, and Elisabeth A. 
Lloyd, eds. Keywords in Evolutionary 
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University Press, 1992. 

Moltmann, Jurgen. The Trinity and the 
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M. Kohl. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993. 

Murphy, Nancey. Beyond Liberalism and 
Fundamentalism: How Modern and 
Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theo- 
logical Agenda. Valley Forge, Pa.: 
Trinity, 1996. 

, and George F. W. Ellis. On the 

Moral Nature of the Universe: Theol- 
ogy, Cosmology, and Ethics. Minneapo- 
lis: Fortress, 1996. 

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Anthropology in 
Theological Perspective. Trans. M. J. 
O'Connell. Philadelphia: Westminster, 

. Systematic Theology, vol. 1. 

Trans. G. W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids: 
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Systematic Theology, vol. 2. 

Trans. G. W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids: 
Eerdmans, 1994. 

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Pinker, Steven. The Language Instinct. 
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Plantinga, Alvin. "Advice for Christian 
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Swinburne, Richard. The Existence of 
God. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 

Thiselton, Anthony C. The Two Horizons: 
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Philosophical Description. Grand 
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ville: Abingdon, 1996. 

Welker, Michael. God the Spirit. Trans. J. 
F. Hoffmeyer. Minneapolis: Fortress, 

West-Eberhard, Mary Jane. "Adaptation: 
Current Usages." In Keller and Lloyd. 
13-18. See Burian. 

Westermann, Claus. Genesis 1—11: A 
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1. Randomly: "In our time philosophy 
'has concerned itself with language as never 
before in its history'" (Pannenberg, Anthro- 
pology in Theological Perspective, p. 340, 
quoting E. Heintel). "Modem philosophy is 
dominated by a concern with language" 
(Blackburn, p. v). "One of the central con- 
cerns in contemporary theology and biblical 
studies has been the interest in linguistics 
and hermeneutics" (J. B. Torrance, in his 
foreword to Thiselton, p. xi). 

2. Enthusiastically: "The science of 
language... has seen spectacular advances 
in the years since [the birth of the field of 
cognitive science J. There are many 
phenomena of language that we are 
coming to understand nearly as well as we 
understand how a camera works or what 
the spleen is for" (Pinker, p. 17). The real 
story is somewhat more complicated, as I 
hope to make clear. 

3. See Peters; Murphy and Ellis. 

4. It should be noted that I am here 
presupposing neither commitment nor 
opposition to the proposal that natural 
selection is the explanatory principle of the 
history of life. The thesis has great 
strengths. But the eagerness with which 
some writers on evolution seize on the 
"power" of purely natural selection to 
"explain" complexity and (apparent) 
design — and thus exclude theistic view- 
points (Dawkins; Dennett) — is more than a 
little naive. The concept of "explanation" 
itself deserves a more nuanced and 
sophisticated treatment than it suffers at 
the hands of such authors (cf., e.g., 

5. Pinker and Bloom, p. 708. 

6. Ibid., p. 709; emphasis in the original. 

7. Ibid.; emphasis added. 

8. Whatever that substrate might be and 
however it might work, the details of 
which are by no means clear. 

The Boston Theological Institute 


9. West-Eberhard, p. 13, where 
"fitness" simply means a comparatively 
better ability to exist long enough to 

10. Pinker and Bloom, p. 726. 

11. Dennett, p. 197. Emphasis in the 

12. Pinker gives a popularly oriented 
(and at points optimistically speculative) 
summary of the neuroscience. And yet, 
concisely: "What is [still] pretty much a 
mystery at this point is how linguistic 
rules and representations are neurally 
instantiated — that is, how physical 
structure in the brain could make possible 
the combinatorial regularities discovered 
by linguistic research. In fact, other than 
certain aspects of low-level vision, I know 
of no success at relating systematicities of 
mental representation to the details of 
neural architecture" (Jackendoff, pp. 737- 
738). Actually, it is not clear how even 
exhaustive knowledge of the neurophysi- 
ology of language would affect an 
estimate of its function, biological or 

13. Pinker and Bloom, p. 712; emphasis 

14. Ibid. 

15. See the commentaries accompanying 
Pinker and Bloom. 

16. Bickerton, p. 73. 

17. Deacon provides a slightly more 
daring reading of the relation between 
biology and symbolic representation, 
suggesting that the representational 
power of language could only arise with 
the development of the prefrontal cortex, 
which goes beyond making direct 
correlations between external (environ- 
mental) stimuli and internal brain states 
to engage in "higher-order sequential or 
hierarchic associations" among brain 
areas (p. 665). But how do interactions 
between brain areas give rise to sym- 
bols? As indicated above, our ignorance 

about how things work makes our 
"stories" about how things got to be the 
way they are dangerously Kipling-like 
("just-so"). Some of the difficulties, 
often blithely ignored, associated with 
coming up with a plausible account of 
the evolution of representation are nicely 
summarized by Deacon (pp. 667-668). 
From a different direction, Hacker asks 
some salutary — though not insoluble — 
questions about the usually unmentioned 
subjects of the alleged "representations," 
"mappings," and "encodings" and 
"decodings" that are supposed to be 
going on inside the brain. Who or what 
is doing all this work — and according