Scientific Theories as Stepping Stones to God

Light of truth

Joseph Mathew, O.F.M. Cap.

Nietzsche who proclaimed the death of God has said “Gods are parables of poets.” Are you saying that Gods are beautiful theories of scientists? Still Gods are some sort of stories, may be of Moses or Georges Lemaître?
Nietzsche was first and foremost a literary man rather than a philosopher in the classical sense. His world view rejected the Platonic metaphysics of a transcendent world of ideas and Christian belief in God. His passion was the radical affirmation of man whose finest qualities, he thought, were projected onto a transcendent God by traditional metaphysics and Christianity. With the rejection of God, Nietzsche can only say parables about his poetic gods.

The contexts of scientific theories and of ‘stories’ of Moses and of Lemaître are different from that of Nietzsche. There is no scientific theory about God just because the methods of science such as experimentation/observation and the use of mathematical framework cannot be applied to the reality of God. However, we can interpret theories at the frontiers of science, especially those of physics and cosmology as pointers towards God. “We follow the pointers of beauty and mathematical logic from theory to theory, deeper into the mysteries of the universe, with the hope that if we follow far enough we’ll come eventually to an idea behind everything, whose beauty will far surpass, we’ve encountered before” (Kitty Ferguson, The Fire in the Equations, p. 62). George Lemaître’s Big Bang hypothesis is a theory about the origin of universe, but it is not a story about God. The implications of this theory can be interpreted as signals of the concept of God. The case of Moses is different too. Moses’ God revealed Himself in ‘history,’ that is, salvation history. Judeo-Christian faith and traditions are centred on God who is active in history. Here God is an ‘Object’ of faith and surrender. Of course, parables and stories can be, and are, told about the Judeo-Christian God. Religions abound in poetry and myths that tell stories about God.

“Et hoc dicimus Deum,” (This we call God) wrote Aquinas in Summa of theologiae, so God is a name we use. What is the content our foundation of that name?
It is important to note the philosophical background of the statement of St Thomas Aquinas. He was a great Christian philosopher and a theologian; certainly, he had an idea of God as the statement implies. Every religious person has an idea of God, which in many cases s/he obtains from his/her religious activities, especially from the context of worship. Thus for instance, St Anselm got his concept of God as id quo majus cogitari nequit (something greater than which cannot be thought) from his experience of the worship of God. The foundation of the concept of God in many instances is worship and faith-experience.

The statement, “Et hoc dicimus Deum” – (This we call God) appears at the end of each of the five ways (arguments) of St Thomas for God’s existence. The first way takes us to First Unmoved Mover, the second to First Efficient Cause, the third to Necessary Being, the fourth to Most Perfect Being and the fifth to Cosmic Designer. In order to complete the five arguments, St Thomas identifies these appellations with God saying, “Et hoc dicimus Deum.” Thus for instance, “This (First Unmoved Mover) we call God.” Here we may presume that St Thomas knew Anselm’s concept of God as id quo majus cogitari nequit. In fact, this is the content of the concept of ‘God’ that is religiously and philosophically acceptable.

Derrida thinks that world is a desert, deserted by God, we have the desire which is wound crying in us. You are saying that God is present in the world, how?
Jaques Derrida’s understanding of the world as deserted by God refers in fact to the cultural experience of the contemporary Western man. As a matter of fact, it is not God who deserted the world; rather it is the other way round: man has deserted God. In the radically secularized, de-christianized cultural milieu prevailing in the West, God is absent and has no place in the lives of the people. John Randall remarks about man’s pathetic condition without God: “Gone is the wise and loving Father, to whom man can appeal in prayer; irretrievably gone is the great Friend behind the world who cares” (The Making of the Modern Mind, p. 225). Indeed, it is “the cry of the wound in man.”

What about God’s presence in the world? If we believe, as many philosophies and religions do, that God is the Creator of the world, and also that He continuously cares for the world, then we have to speak of God’s presence in the world. However, God cannot be said to be present as a physical entity. Further, God’s presence cannot be static, but is dynamic in so far as He is present by His actions in the world. According to St Thomas Aquinas, God is present in the world as its efficient and final cause, directing and guiding all things to their appointed ends and finally to Himself. Scientist-theologians like Arthur Peacocke and John Polkinghorne employ the concept of ‘information’ in order to think about God’s dynamic presence in the world. Any natural body or man-made mechanism has as its basic constituents, energy and information. Thus, for instance cell multiplication in animals and man involves not only energy, but also the information contained in DNA code which guides the growth of the organism. Misinformation can have catastrophic consequences. God is present, and acts, in the world, not by energetic ‘push’ and ‘pull,’ but through ‘informational causality.’ He guides and directs the events in the world through this form of causation.

Levinas applauded Yuri Gagarin, the first man to travel to the outer space that he did not find a God there but he was “surrounded by nothing but sky,” don’t you think that today’s religious fundamentalism is God taking roots in space and in castes or tribes, a god who is deeply immanent becoming pagan?
Certainly, it is no wonder that Yuri Gagarin with his crude idea of God made this statement. In outer space, Gagarin would be “surrounded by nothing but the sky.” God is not to be thought of as a physical reality to be found in outer space. It is true that a fundamentalist concept of God and attitudes are ‘taking roots in space and castes and tribes.’ But still more dangerous is the fundamentalism that is casting its shadow in major religions such as Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. As an enlightened religion, Christianity respects other religions and proposes inter-religious dialogue as a method to foster openness towards them. However, in some religious practices such as charismatic movements, fundamentalism appears to take upper hand. Similarly, Hinduism and Islam adopt fundamentalist practices for political purposes. Fundamentalist conceptions of God are exclusive and pagan. These attitudes do not tolerate other religions and would be dangerous to humanity. True God is the Father of all men.

Modern science arose from a faith in reason, as far as you are concerned how is faith related to reason?
Truly, science arose from a faith in reason. The scientist explicitly or implicitly believes that reason can reveal to him/her the secrets of the physical world. Often this faith is implicit in his/her scientific practices; s/he may not even be aware of such a faith in reason. But the relation between ‘faith and reason’ is another matter. It is specifically a Christian problem. The question is, how is Christian faith related to reason? Many philosophers and theologians agree that the one is not opposed to the other. Further, there is a consonance between them. This would mean that if we faithfully follow the signals of reason, they would finally take us to the doorstep of faith in God.

The cosmos is full of happenings of truth, is this truth of God? For Augustine as well as for phenomenological thinking, truth is related with interiority of man, is truth subjective or objective?
Indeed, the cosmos is ‘full of happenings of truths’ in the sense that cosmological theories provide us insights into the mysteries of the universe. But these are not truths about God, but truths about physical reality such as the cosmos itself and the different structures contained therein. Many scientists now believe that at the frontiers of their disciplines, they are confronted by ultimate questions which point towards God. This means that these theories can be used as stepping stones to God.

St Augustine stressed interiority, and subjective aspect of truth, but in his theory of knowledge, he correlates subjective truth with objective reality; he attempts to give an objective foundation for truths in human mind. But for phenomenology, truth is subjective in so far as it makes its appearance in the human subject. In principle, phenomenology eschews truths of realities outside the mind. The object of phenomenology is the essential meaning immanent in human subjectivity. Hence, it employs techniques, such as epoché and eidetic reduction in order to apprehend the meanings of experienced phenomena. By the method of epoché, factual existence of objects is ‘bracketed.’ Eidetic reduction drops all references to particular and individual elements in the immediately given phenomena, thus retaining only their essential meanings. In this sense, for phenomenology truth or rather meaning is related to the interiority of man.

But an adequate theory of knowledge has to take into account both the subjective and objective aspects of truth. According to traditional theories, knowledge consists in the representation of reality in human mind. But Immanuel Kant has taught us that the knowing subject has a contribution to make in the acquisition of knowledge. This means that there are no bare facts out there, waiting to be known by man. Every fact is already interpreted. That is to say, “there are no uninterpreted facts.” (Barbour, Issues in Science and Religion, p.139). They are even called ‘interprefacts,’ that is interpreted facts. (Olford, “History, Theology, and Faith,” Theology Today 14, p. 20). We find such subjective and objective aspects of truth correlated in the use of models in sciences as well as in philosophy and theology.

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