catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 10 :: 2004.05.07 — 2004.05.20


Faith and science

Three scientists got together and decided that by using all of their knowledge, they could create a human being. So they approached God and told her that they could create a human being without any help from her at all. Then they asked if they could prove it. God was very skeptical, but finally said, “Sure, let’s see what you can do.” Excitedly, the scientists started running around collecting dirt and putting it in a pile. But after a few minutes, God said, “Hold on a minute. If you don’t want my help, you’re going to have to get your own dirt.”

There were no debates in my house about evolution vs. creation when I was growing up. My mother’s approach was one of simple faith. She believed God created the universe—and that God could do that anyway God chose.

And so I learned to see science and faith, not as competitors but as complements of each other. Science itself was borne out of a desire to understand the “mind” of God, and science-based theological reflections have never been that difficult for me to make. As Albert Einstein said, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

And yet in some places and in some hearts, battle lines between faith and science were drawn. The explosion of scientific knowledge, the accuracy of mathematical physics, and evolutionary science based on random variation resulted in intolerance as people painted themselves into either the corner of science that would seek to disprove the existence of God or the corner of Faith that would shut its eyes to the very wonder of scientific discovery.

What good can possibly come out of a state school board outlawing the teaching of evolution? How can anyone in such a system engage in the kind of dialogue that can open us up to new experiences of wonder and amazement and awe?

Pastor Mike Yaconelli writes in his book Dangerous Wonder, “The most critical issue facing Christians is not abortion, pornography, the disintegration of family, moral absolutes, MTV, drugs, racism, sexuality or school prayer. The critical issue today is dullness. We have lost our astonishment.” And Astronomer Fred Hoyle observes, “I have always thought it curious that, while scientists claim to eschew religion, it actually dominates their thoughts more than it does the clergy.”

One of the most “religious” books I have ever read was required reading for my MBA. It’s called Leadership and the New Science by Margaret Wheatley. It was in this book that I found a description of Quantum Physics that I could actually understand. And it was quantum physics that fundamentally shifted my view of God from an anthropomorphic, super-human being to something so much more.

The quantum world is a strange world. Its own theoreticians have been quoted to say, “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it” and “I don’t like it and I’m sorry I ever had anything to do with it.”

The quantum world is amazing. By observing life at the sub-atomic level, we find a place in which everything is connected to everything else. Scientists went looking for tiny, finite particles, and instead they found bizarre “things” that changed form and properties as they reacted to each another and even to the scientists who observed them.

In the quantum world, relationships are not just interesting; they are all there is to reality. And isn’t that true of you and I? None of us exists independent of our relationships with others. Different settings and different people draw out different qualities in us while leaving others dormant. In each of our relationships we are different in some way.

The latest understanding of the Universe to be suggested is that of Emergent Science. Rather than looking at reductionist explanations of the universe, this new science focuses on the “laws of becoming.” If the scientists are right, they will find fundamental laws concerning cosmic evolution and explanations as to how and why it has produced more and more complex things and behaviors.

What might this science tell us about the existence and nature of God? Traditional theology looks backward at God as the cause of all things. Emergent theology looks forward at God as the goal toward which all things are heading.

In the traditional model, God was in the beginning and God created the universe. In doing so, God set up deterministic laws in order to reach certain outcomes—what we commonly refer to as “God’s Plan.” But if this process didn’t produce an acceptable world or act according to plan, then God would have to intervene in the natural order of things, setting aside the original laws to bring about a different outcome. This divine action we would call a miracle, the breaking of the law. The world has fallen, so God’s nature and the laws of Nature become fundamentally opposed to one another.

That’s the traditional model. But according to the emergent model something much different is going on.

In this model, God sets in motion a process of ongoing creativity. The laws are not deterministic, but probabilistic. Exact outcomes are not determined in advance. In this model, God is no longer the cosmic lawgiver. Instead God guides creativity, and it is the work of God and creatures together that compose the world—without preordained outcomes. It is the work of God and creatures together that compose this world.

In this emergent model, God does not sit passively on the sidelines, or above it all, untouched and unchanged. Instead there is also emergence in God. God is affected by the pain of creatures, is genuinely responsive to our calls, and gains experience as a result of these interactions.

Theology Professor Phillip Clayton remarks, “Ultimately, is not such a picture of God closer to the biblical witness than the distant God-above-time of classical philosophical theism?”

His colleague Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, reflects on the Genesis story as one of exactly this kind of call and response. God calls, and the world responds by becoming itself. And in becoming itself, a trace of God becomes visible. God is the creator, and God’s creation contains an awesome fountain of possibilities.

As in quantum theory, this God exists in the creative response to relationships. The joys of creatures become the joys of God, and the sorrows of creatures become the sorrows of God. God is not just a passive onlooker in the life of the cosmos, nor is God a skillful puppeteer who maneuvers strings attached to dancing marionettes. Instead God is the creative lure of the whole process of existence. God is the creative lure of the whole process of existence. God is the creative lure of the whole process of existence.

God offers to us and to each element in the world a way that we might most creatively respond to the influences we receive. We and the world take that influence into ourselves, becoming as we will, and offering the result to the universe—and also back to God. God takes the results of the world’s becoming into God’s divine nature, values it, integrates it critically into the divine self, and then offers a possibility for the good back to us and to the world once again.

Wow. Maybe science and faith do not compliment each other after all. Maybe in the end we will find that we cannot distinguish between the two.

Instead of offering us a mechanical world in which there is no role for a god, science reveals a world filled with wonder and mystery. And many scientists find that their work inspires in them a strong sense of wonder. Yet how many Christians seem to lack a lively sense of awe and wonder in their faith and in their lives?

Many seem to approach their faith and their lives with a “been there, done that” attitude. The results are devastating. Without a sense of awe toward that which is greater than ourselves drawing us out of ourselves, our vision seldom goes much further than our own interests, experiences and struggles. Without a sense of awe and wonder, faith loses depth.

Our faith calls us to encounter the living God. This call is not to somehow try to capture or create a sense of awe, but to allow ourselves to be open to awe, to seek such encounters and respond to them so that rather than sitting in apathy—we might live standing in awe.

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