John Polkinghorne defends theology, like science, as being an “investigation of what is, the search for increasing verisimilitude in our understanding of reality.” In his book One World: The Interaction of Science and Theology, he explains that theological enquiry is based on scripture, tradition and reason. Polkinghorne is an eminent English theoretical physicist, theologian, writer and Anglican Priest, as well as a Fellow of the Royal Society. He defends the idea that science and theology both explore aspects of reality. It is just that they are concerned with different levels of meaning. Science, he points out, uses the quantitative language of maths, whilst religion uses the qualitative language of symbols; a theme incidentally also explored in some detail by Mehta who I wrote about a couple of days ago.
Science clearly expands knowledge, and contributes to a more compassionate world through its many positive discoveries and inventions. But as Paul Gilbert reminds us in The Compassionate Mind, it is not helpful for the majority of people on this planet if we use scientific knowledge “to demolish [their] belief systems, “leaving them with nothing other than the lives they have been born into.”
In 1999 Richard Dawkins said that it was his ‘suspicion...hunch...and hope’ that within the twenty first century the nature of the ‘mysterious substance called consciousness’, that ‘spiritual part of man regarded as surviving after death, the theory that there is something non-material about life, some non-physical vital principle...vital force…mysterious energy or...spirit,’ will be completely mastered by scientific explanation and the soul will be definitely dispatched once and for all. With the same reasoning he argues passionately that there can be no God. Quite apart from the muddled lumping together of consciousness, spirit, soul, vital force, energy, life after death, and more, with a flawed and possibly misplaced certainty that they all mean the same thing, this reductionist thinking does our world no favours. What is more, Dawkins’ hunch is fast losing its credibility. An increasing number of respected and eminent scientists and philosophers are challenging those who only see the human being in terms of physical body and brain. There really is something more to life than mere matter, something that is beyond the ability of scientists to prove or disprove empirically. God most certainly is not dead. But there are many who do not seem to realise this.
Science and theology are not incompatible. They are two different ways of exploring aspects of reality.
I'd love to hear your comments.
My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.
"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden