Monday, May 26, 2008

Science and religion: the final post.



Once more, it may help to have read the preceding posts.

If we look at the development of spirituality or, perhaps, that sense of awe and wonder that is the precursor of spirituality, we need to ask whether there was a decisive moment when humanity had reached the developmental stage when it felt the need for God, or had an awareness of God. Archaeology seems to be able to offer some help here.

Some seventy thousand years ago, fifty thousand years after evolution into a recognisable human form, there is an explosion of human creativity. Cave paintings suggest a mythical world that represents ritual, theology and belief. Asking the sorts of questions associated with myth, ritual, theology and belief would seem to be a necessary stage on the route from animal to human. Was this point a take off of a necessary evolutionary step or a gift from God? Is this where the epistemic distance from the creation event ends? Is this the point of ensoulment?

Either way it was a turning point and a transformation as questions were posed that had not been articulated before. If you consider it, this is also a process which each of us goes through in miniature in our own personal journeys, although in our modern and increasingly frenetic world, the sense of awe and wonder is often drowned out.

Seventy thousand years ago the mind lifted away from the routines of survival and the coming to be of self-consciousness led to an explosion of religious activity. Consciousness had developed into the capacity to wonder and question. How through evolution has the random bumping of molecules made us beings which are more than the sum of our evolutionary parts unless we are talking of a guided process? It was Aquinas who gave us the First Cause Argument which, in modern summary, invited us to imaging a world in furious rewind: not cause and event, but event, cause, event, cause, event, cause and so on back until the first event. In essence God is the cause or trigger which sets the process of creation in motion. Christian scientists and theologians today argue that that process includes the Big Bang and Evolution: not as random but as guided events. This sounds dangerously like the Design Argument to me and yet for many conservative Christians the Design Argument of Newton and Paley does not include room for the Big Bang nor Evolution because they cross red lines of faith.

Jurgan Moltmann, the German theologian talked of his wartime experience in Hamburg during an air raid and its consequent firestorm. For the first time he asked “Where is God?” He said: “If you feel the absence of God, you also feel the dark night of your soul.” and it was this experience which was for him a conversion moment.

For Moltmann, God is much more the God of expectation than of Omnipotence or any of the other orthodox descriptors: all such terms, while helpful up to a point, are inadequate in the end as we deal with a God who so transcends our capacity to understand Him that every human descriptor diminishes Him.

Moltmann uses the parable of the Prodigal Son which he renames the parable of the Waiting Father, to illustrate his point. God is now as much the God of infinite patience as He is an intervening or immanent God.

There seems to be a growing awareness that everything in the world is neither binary, nor black and white and it seems to me that we need to learn to cope with the textures of grey. Questioning is an essential and needs to be a part of that process of growing beyond the mother’s milk of spirituality of which we hear in 1 Peter. How are we to be weaned into a true spiritual maturity unless we are prepared to question and learn? Without questioning our understanding never increases and we are like the medieval church, whistling in the dark and setting our faces against the onset of truth and knowledge.

My friend Dave, a Physics teacher, told me this joke: Heisenberg was stopped by a traffic policeman.

“Do you know how fast you were travelling sir?

“No, but I know exactly where I am.”

Heisenberg’s law says that there is no certainty, only restless potential between black and white. The world is shot through with uncertainty and ambiguity side by side with some certainties. The old certainties of religion seem out of place in a material world, but science doesn’t seem to fill the gap either. As I said earlier, Christianity has done itself a disservice, not so much for expecting belief without proof, but for expecting belief without question.