Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Science and Theology

Mark Shea has been keeping us informed of news related to Bob Sungenis' geocentric views. It's been interesting to follow, if for no reason other than being a curious oddity. I don't intend to wade into the discussion as I don't have the needed physics and mathemetics knowledge to evaluate Sungenis' conclusions on some experiments and their implications for quantum and relativity theory. (A long time ago, I thought I would be a physics and math major. Explains why my transcript reveals I tortured myself with honors courses in both those subjects before I realized that economics and psychology was more my cup of tea.) Unfortunately, I suspect Sungenis doesn't either.

All of this brought back to mind old questions of the interplay between science and theology. I've always thought it a shame that there aren't more people schooled in both disciplines. (To me, a sign of a large problem of how are current university structure compartmentalizes and professionalizes areas of knowledge. Okay, okay. I won't get off on an educational theory tangent. I can't help it sometimes, though. My alma mater is the Residential College of the University of Michigan.) This has also been a more personal question to me as my brother subscribes to a scientific view of the world (but not scientism). I've wondered how to address that aspect of how my brother interacts with the world, which for him has led to a fairly cultural Catholic status. Several years ago, I found a book by John Polkinghorne -- an Anglican priest and a physicist -- in a bookstore near Downtown Crossing in Boston. It's called Science & Theology: An Introduction and I only now have gotten around to reading it. I'm only a quarter of the way through it (so don't send me email about any particular theological views he might take in later chapters), but I think it is worth people's attention. So far, it has approached the topic honestly and even-handedly and with a clear sense that people need to lay some foundation before they can really think through the interaction of science and theology. Two interesting quotes so far:

"The occasional occurrence of radical revision in scientific theory-making means that one cannot claim the achievement of science to be that of the attainment of absolute truth. However, we have seen that there is sufficient continuity of understanding across the boundaries of paradigm shifts to be able to interpret science's development as resulting in a tightening grasp of physical reality, the making of better and better maps of the physical world. In a word, science can claim verisimilitude, the attainment of increasingly closer approximations to the truth about physical process."

"Part of the difficulty in discerning the divine presence is that no creature has ever experienced divine absence."
Discuss among yourselves.

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