8.02.2005

what I learned today

I met with Rev. Ernan McMullin. Wow. It's difficult to even attempt to describe what we talked about...or I should say what he talked about and I attempted to absorb. Have you ever been around someone who was so full of...I dunno...knowledge/wisdom/experience that you were just awed? That was me with Father McMullin. But the supercool part was that the "awed" I felt wasn't just the "wow-he's-important" like you might feel around the President or the "wow-he's-smart" like you feel around any given professor or scientist or philosopher. It was more than that. It might be something like you'd feel if you had met C.S. Lewis or Mother Theresa or Thomas Merton or Pope John Paul II; an awe that comes not out of their impressiveness or stature or persona or smarts but out of your lack. My description is inadequate...all I can say is that I was humbled. And, of course, I was drawn into discussion--though I didn't have much to contribute--about two of my favorite (somewhat unrelated) topics: Ireland and religion and science--logical topics to bring up if you're an Irish Catholic priest who studied physics in the 1950s, started the HPS program at ND, and lectures on these things all around the world. Currently irking Father McMullin is the controversy over a particular op-ed piece run in a recent New York Times (July 7th). Christoph Schönborn, an Austrian cardinal, published an article that purportedly "redefines" the Catholic Church's position on evolution. I put redefine in quotes because it contradicts an official papal statement made by Pope John Paul II in 1996--a statement that interestingly enough the Cardinal did not mention explicitly--which states,

In his encyclical "Humani Generis" (1950), my predecessor Pius XII had already stated that there was no opposition between evolution and the doctrine of the faith about man and his vocation, on condition that one did not lose sight of several indisputable points.

One of the main indisputable points John Paul was referring to is that, when understood in their fullness, the study of Scripture and the study of Nature (the "Two Books" idea) cannot contradict themselves, for they are both revelations given to people by God. That being the case, we are up against what appears to be a problem: doesn't materialist science embodied in evolution directly contradict Scripture? And if so, shouldn't the more recent of the two sources (science) be thrown out on this issue? As Father McMullin put it, the problem begins when science makes metaphysical claims--when science says "we can only see the natural/material, therefore that is all that exists." This is insufficient logic, however. We can say instead that science is limited and that there is something beyond science which gives us access to the "evidence of things not seen," as Paul said. But it would be a mistake, thinks Father McMullin and others, to scrap the theories of biology, geology, astronomy, and other "history based" disciplines (theory understood here to mean "well reasoned, empirically supported, epistemological claim about the observable world") while retaining those of physics and chemistry. Actually, Father McMullin went one better; it's not just that science and religion are non-contradictory: he thinks that it is a secularizing influence in American Christianity (including both Catholic and Protestant versions) that ties scientific evidence so closely with faith. In other words, it is only because we feel that we must have visual/empirical evidence in order to believe that American Christians fight so staunchly against the claims of evolutionary sciences. Up against our need for evidence we have the simple words of Jesus to Thomas (and us, by extension), "Blessed are those who have not seen and still believe!" BTW, for a different, and much less religiously focused rebuttal of Schonborn's claims, take a look at this.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Jeffrey said...

Recently sent to me on a forum.
St Thomas holds forth in the Upper Room. "I won't believe until I can place my fingers into the holes in His hands and His feet and thrust my hand into the wound in His side."

Just then the Risen Christ enters. "Tom," Jesus says, "the boys and I have been talking, and we're all afraid that you're becoming just a little too weird for our group."

Given the last statement of your blog this seemed funny to me. I appreciate the concept that science's claim to some kind of materialist empiricism need not preclude a "supernatural" worldview. It seems the development of scientific perspectives of falsification (a la Popper) would be more applicable, as in we cannot make conclusions (if even scientific hypotheses) about the non-material.

Another perspective might be a revisioning of deistic involvement in the world along panentheistic lines. Whiteheadian or Tillichian conceptions of the deity (even to some extent Teilhard de Chardin) posit a God not in the otherworldly sense that science canot touch but somehow intimately connected, even embodied, in what we would call the materialistic world. The difference is a movement away from the stricly materialistic doctrine of science to a more process oriented perspective.

I would be interested in your feelings or thoughts about non-extranatural conceptions of deity and how that might be influenced (especially in America) by Mcmullans hypothesis about growing secularization influencing christian conceptualization both of God and the world.

jeffrey
BTW- you probably don't remember me. I stayed at your house for an evening while your wife and kid were gone during "Recruitment weekend". I've read your posts a couple of times and just haven't had time to respond. I'll be coming to ND sometime this month IF OUR HOUSE EVER CLOSES!!!! (banging my head on the wall) would love to talk more sometime.

8/03/2005 2:13 PM  
Blogger e said...

Jeffrey--
I do remember you. Thanks for commenting! That is a great comment...and would likely take a whole new post to respond to. So forgive this very brief response. Let's keep talking about it!

1) "I appreciate the concept that science's claim to some kind of materialist empiricism need not preclude a "supernatural" worldview. It seems the development of scientific perspectives of falsification (a la Popper) would be more applicable, as in we cannot make conclusions (if even scientific hypotheses) about the non-material."

Yeah, this makes sense to me. Bas Van Fraasen's work (The Empirical Stance, especially) really hits this point hard: that a robust empiricism does not preclude a robust supernaturalism.

2) "Whiteheadian or Tillichian conceptions of the deity (even to some extent Teilhard de Chardin) posit a God not in the otherworldly sense that science canot touch but somehow intimately connected, even embodied, in what we would call the materialistic world. The difference is a movement away from the stricly materialistic doctrine of science to a more process oriented perspective."

I'm familiar with Whitehead's philosophy of science and have read some de Chardin, but I don't know anything about Tillich's theology. I'm not comfortable with some of process theology, but I definitely think that a theological move from God the Transcendant and unapproachable to God the Emminent and involved in everything--as long as the tension or paradox between these concepts of God is not lost--is useful and helps to balance out a drift toward traditional (19th c.) deism.

3) "...non-extranatural conceptions of deity and how that might be influenced (especially in America) by Mcmullans hypothesis about growing secularization influencing christian conceptualization both of God and the world."

Whoa, that is a mouthful of a phrase! And not being a theologian--not even having any formal theological training--I hesitate to take a stand on anything relating to "non-extra-natural conceptions of God." But I think I can see something of what you might be talking about in the work of famous dead guys like Adam Smith and his "invisible hand" controling the market--something that's extremely influential in America, right? And it's neither supernatural nor strictly natural (if by that we mean "material").

Yet, if I understand the history of science's interaction with religion (and vice versa), we don't want to fly to far toward Whiteheadian "monism"--where everything is entangled with the movement of an ever-present but impersonal god/force. Nor is the "watchmaker" God sufficient--God personal but only loosely engaged with his creation. Though I respect their dogged desire to identify God's Fingerprints in the natural world, the Intelligent Design people go too far in weaving the mechanism of biology with the intentions of the Maker.

Bottom line, we have to have both the God Who Made and the God Who Left Unmade--and he has to be the same God.

I have no idea if that makes sense, but that's the best I can do at the moment. :)

8/04/2005 10:53 PM  

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