Was Averroes right: do the activities of science and religion somehow ontologically resonate? In my last post I lightly explored what this might mean for the content of scientific theory and religious belief vis-à-vis each other. Therein I tentatively proposed a “quantum religion”, which solicited responses both positive and negative, including comparisons to Deepak Chopra and Roger Penrose. I’m taking a controversial stance for sure, but also a dangerous one.
I must confess being pleased by the comparison to Penrose. I was unaware that he had already ventured my teleological argument nearly twenty years ago, in the documentary A Brief History of Time:
There is a certain sense in which I would say the universe has a purpose. It’s not there just somehow by chance. Some people take the view that the universe is simply there and it runs along — it’s a bit as though it just sort of computes, and we happen by accident to find ourselves in this thing. I don’t think that’s a very fruitful or helpful way of looking at the universe, I think that there is something much deeper about it, about its existence, which we have very little inkling of at the moment.
As to Chopra, I find New Age syncretism abusive to both the principles of science and religion. This ideology pirates the concepts of both to justify its own tautological commercial agenda. I would like to go down as a thinker who is instead far more circumspect and nuanced about what it really means to be a scientist and a religious believer than Chopra et al.
Which leads me to the concern I would most like to address now, namely, if at the level of activity science and religion are indeed related, does means they should interact at the levels of practice and theory? I emphatically say “yes”: religion and science have a dual responsibility not to leave each other alone. As Abdul-Baha remarked,
Religion and science are the two wings upon which a man’s intelligence can soar into the heights, with which the human soul can progress. It is not possible to fly with one wing alone! Should a man try to fly with the wing of religion alone he would quickly fall into the quagmire of superstition, whilst on the other hand, with the wing of science alone he would also make no progress, but fall into the despairing slough of materialism.
Yet, the interaction between them must be carefully done. At this juncture, I tentatively suggest that in the least they may take inspiration from each other. I cite the example of Leuven’s own Monsignor Georges Lemaître, father of Big Bang theory and Catholic priest. His theory of the “primeval atom” was directly influenced by the Church Fathers’ arguments for creation ex nihilo.
Since Lemaître there have emerged many grounds theologically, logically, and cosmologically against Big Bang Theory, a good number of which have some antiquity. But that’s beside the point I’m trying to make right now, namely, that scientists and religious believers should be grateful that Lemaître had the courage to bridge scientific theory and religious belief, for in doing so, he strengthened both fields.
Of course, Lemaître may also be a tricky example, for he didn’t just cite scripture to justify his argument. Rather, he had to argue for his belief by the standards of science. Doctrine had to convert into the language of theory, and it had to do so in a coherent, consistent, and empirically verifiable way. That would suggest a persistent deep cleavage between science and religion.
However, I am reminded of Thomas Aquinas’ distinction between the mysteries and preambles of faith, namely, those tenets which are and are not provable by natural reason alone and must be taken simply on faith. Aquinas argued that whether there was once a day without a yesterday or one endless today was the latter. Yet, if he had the scientific means available to Lemaître centuries later, would he have thought otherwise?
The case of Lemaître demonstrates that as our scientific capabilities ever-increasing, the lines between the mysteries and the preambles of faith are blurring. And increasingly one also wonders: could there not then be as-yet unprovable mysteries in science, assumptions which scientists must necessarily take on faith?