All posts tagged: science and religion

After Galileo: Modern Science Has Deep Parallels with Theology

Galileo is probably best known for his work The Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems, the book that triggered his ill-fated encounter with the Inquisition. However, when it comes to Galileo’s role in shaping our understanding of the modern scientific enterprise, it is his 1623 work The Assayer that has had a much larger impact. In one of the most quoted lines in the book, Galileo sums up his view of science, a view that has come to dominate our understanding of science ever since: Philosophy is written in this grand book the universe, which stands continually open to our gaze. But the book cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and to read the alphabet in which it is composed. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one wanders about in a dark labyrinth. Galileo saw, clearer than most, the uncanny ability of …

The Catechetical Political Theology of Joseph Ratzinger

Joseph Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity is a sort of catechism; it teaches, initiates, guides. Happily enough, this is clear in its title in both German and English: Einführung in das Christentum (“Ein,” meaning “into”[1] and “Führung,” “direction, steering, stewarding”),[2] Introduction to Christianity (“intro,” meaning “into,” “duco,” “to lead, to pull”).[3] According to Ignatius Press, this fondly-regarded text “is still very timely and crucial for the spiritual needs of modern man.”[4] In other words, Ratzinger’s book is a catechetical aid, it helps us bring our contemporaries into the thoughtful, rational, and wonderful world of Christian belief, and, thereby, into the serene discipline that is Catholic theology. I do not disagree with this, but, on a close reading of his sources and life, the book is far more: it betrays itself to be a kind of theological politics. Now Pope Emeritus Benedict has effectively admitted this in his most recent preface to the text. This is how it opens, how he introduces Introduction: Since this work was first published, more than thirty years have passed, in which …

Frankenstein’s Scientific Chaoskampf

Jason Josephson-Storm convincingly argues in his recent book The Myth of Disenchantment, that contrary to the popular narrative of us living in secular age in which the common imagination has no room for anything spiritual, magical, or mythological we still very much live in an enchanted age.[1] We never became disenchanted because the so-called disenchanters, the founders of the modern sciences, were themselves caught up in the esotericism and occultism common in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In short, magicians never went away they just put on lab coats. Of course the forgoing summary is crude and there is much more nuance to Josephson-Storm’s argument. However, the aim of the following is not to provide an analysis of his thesis. Instead, I would like to take this idea of Josephson-Storm’s that modernity, specifically modern science, is still rooted in myth and get at the founding myth of modern science’s progeny and master: modern technology. In so doing, I hope to call into question for both the lay person and the pastor the technophilia—the …

How Can Modern Science Purify Christianity from Error and Superstition?

John Paul II once wrote to Fr. George Coyne, S.J., the former director of the Vatican Observatory, that “Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish.” Setting aside the fascinating fact that the Vatican has its very own observatory, whose Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) is located on Mount Graham in southeastern Arizona, the statement itself issued by the former pontiff contains a potentially scandalizing assertion if given only a superficial reading. How could it be at all possible that science, especially a modern science in whose name the deposit of faith has been greatly assailed in recent history, can “purify religion,” particularly Christianity, “from error and superstition” without at the same time introducing a corruption of revelation and faith? Moreover, how can religion in general and Christianity in particular “purify science from idolatry and false absolutes” without forcing science to be at variance with its own particular method and …

If the Mother of the Maccabees Knew of Atoms

Social media shoves us all up in each other’s faces in unprecedented ways. Where national politics was once metered in through newspapers and the evening news, now people of all ages have access to global details of immeasurable variety. Through the internet, we can see what friends on other continents had for dinner. We have a finger incessantly on the pulse of global events, from terrorism to natural disasters to scandals in the Catholic Church we never wanted to admit happen. To whatever extent this data dump causes constant anxiety, and constant anxiety upsets brain chemical equilibrium, I have not quite figured out how this torrent of affairs will play out. When I manage to get my nose out of my screen and step away, however, I often think of the Jewish mother of the seven sons in Second Book of Maccabees. She looked upon a different world, but I feel a camaraderie with her. Her story goes back to about 168–166 years before the birth of Christ. Her people, the Maccabees, led a rebellion …

Reality Is Bigger Than the Human Mind

 In “God’s Omnipresence, God’s Body and Four Ideals of Science,” the masterful second chapter of Theology and the Scientific Imagination from the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Century (1986), the late Jewish historian and philosopher of science, Amos Funkenstein, delivered a blow to the believing intellect in his narrative of the unhappy transformation of theological reflection during the Scientific Revolution: The medieval sense of God’s symbolic presence in his creation, and the sense of a universe replete with transcendent meanings and hints, had to recede if not to give way totally . . . God’s relation to the world had to be given a concrete physical meaning . . . [Most] believed that the subjects of theology and science alike can be absolutely de-metaphorized and de-symbolized.[1] It is impossible to overemphasize the difference between such an anti-poetic approach and previous Christian reflection, at least in the Catholic tradition. To speak about God without metaphor or symbol—in other words, to speak of him univocally rather than analogically—was to mistake creature for Creator and to fall into …

An Appraisal of the Neuroscientific Revolution’s Promise of New Theological Horizons

Who are we as spirit and matter? Are we free? Is Christ present to us in time and space? Oliver Davies, in his work Theology of Transformation, traces the history of human self-understanding as embodied beings. Since the Scientific Revolution, a certain set of basic premises have ruled our view of reality. The material world is understood to be a landscape of determinism. Its inhabitants, no matter how complex, are subject to the same laws. To the extent that the human subject is of the world, she too is determined. To escape the reduction of the mental to the mechanical, a particular brand of dualism took root in our modern consciousness. The mind was conceived as a spectral machine that somehow interacts with the physical existence of the body.[1] In this model, human subjectivity was understood as the only possible locus of freedom, the only escape from determinism. Ultimately, this led to the modern turn to the subject—or our capacity for meaning-making—as the sole basis for rationalizing faith. Advances in modern science have upended the …

Unlearning Is the New Learning: A Neuroscientific and Theological Case for How and Why to See the World Differently

Learning, as it turns out, was the easy part. Anyone who has observed a young child mimic the behavior of others knows how naturally children learn from their environment. Unlearning, on the other hand, takes maturity, discipline, and equal parts courage and humility. Unlearning, as discussed here, requires conscious effort to reflect on past learning to create the possibility of new future learning that goes beyond our passively formulated, yet operative, mental constructs that undergird how we understand the world and the people around us. Unlearning is the imperative of a maturing mind which recognizes the perennial importance of seeing things rightly. If unlearning is the new learning, so to speak, how does one go about unlearning and what difference does it make? Bike riding offers a good illustration of the vexing mechanics of unlearning. The logic behind the commonplace phrase “it’s like riding a bike” suggests a resilience and durability to human learning, which can be a double-edged sword. It is relatively easy to learn—and then remember how—to ride a bike. That is good, …

Looking for the New Atheist Virgil

In the postmodern era, few topics are as heated and as interestingly pugnacious as that of religion versus science. Although a mission by no means invented by men such as Dawkins, Harris, Tyson, and Coyne, what might be called the “evangelical” atheists and scientists have proudly and publically wielded a two-edged sword in their scientific careers: to carefully explain and expound upon their understandings of scientific naturalism, and to refute the role and (ir)rationale of religion and the notion of an active deity involved in matters of physics and scientific law(s). To that end, Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible, by American professor and biologist Jerry A. Coyne, offers an enthusiastically clear and systematic argument against the syncretization of religious faith and science. Beginning with a robust, candid testimony of his motivation and goals for the book, Coyne throws his glove in the face of theists and accommodationists, stating, Although this book deals with the conflict between religion and science, I see this as only one battle in a wider war—a war …

Technology and the Mystical After Auschwitz

Introduction Technology has accompanied the evolution of human beings from time out of mind. The use of simple instruments to attain food or construct shelter can be considered as elementary forms of technology. Relatively more complex forms, such as a lifter or a shadoof, reflect the more articulate awareness of the importance of technology in the accomplishment of simple tasks. Technology has become ever more complex throughout the centuries, though the growth of complexity was not very obvious before the modern technological revolution in the 18th century. However, not only military equipment was developed nearly constantly before that time, not only construction technologies evolved in the entire known history of civilization, but, most importantly, a complicated technical knowledge was present even at the beginning of the human epoch. Such technology was probably kept as knowledge reserved for the few for a long time. This is clearly shown by the technological contrast we find between the popular work on machines written about by Hero of Alexandria in the 1st century CE on the one hand, and …