God and Science

Posted on: July 8th, 2015 by Rockway Mennonite Church No Comments

Earlier this spring we had a short series at church on the topic of God and Science.   The topic is sometimes framed as “Faith and Science” which I purposely avoided. The title “Faith and Science” implies that science does not involve faith. It carries the popular and false impression that science is just about facts and religion is just about faith — without concern for evidence.

John Brubacher reminded us that there is a lot of ambiguity in science. Observing reality is one thing and interpreting what we see is another. Owen Gingerich, acclaimed Harvard astrophysicist (and practising Mennonite), in his book, God’s Universe, states that “Scientists work with physics, but (perhaps unwittingly) they also have a broader system of beliefs, metaphysics, a term that literally means beyond physics.”[1] Scientists operate with their own implicit belief systems in positing hypotheses for how natural phenomena should be understood. As limited human beings, some sort of faith is always part of the equation.

One helpful model for integrating Science and God is outlined in a book by Ken Wilber entitled, The Marriage of Sense and Soul.[2] Wilber begins by describing the great chain of being, which was generally shared by all major wisdom traditions prior to the rise of empirical science in the West. The great chain is basically the idea that life consists of an enveloping hierarchy encompassed by spirit. Wilber pictures it as a nest of concentric circles radiating out from inanimate matter to body, mind, soul and spirit. It is an evolutionary understanding, where each new level transcends but also incorporates elements of previous levels. The movement is toward higher levels of complexity and spiritual awareness — a movement toward fullness in God.
JohnB-Figure1Wilber is proposing a model that will take seriously the realm of Spirit as well as the realm of things. He plots the individual and collective experiences of life together with the interior and exterior dimensions for a comprehensive map of reality (see Figure 1).

 

His point is that we need to strive for a deep integration of all four quadrants. With the rise of science in the modern period, the exterior realm of It (right side) has seriously undermined the interior dimensions of I and We (left side). The left-hand quadrants are much harder to measure and test in an empirical sense. He is proposing a model of epistemological pluralism. Wilber is just as interested in the spiritual experience of saints and mystics as he is in the latest discoveries of quantum physics. All data and experience must be taken seriously. In addition to the four quadrants, there are also lines of development that move outward from the centre in a diagonal direction.

Each quadrant has its own path of development. Just as evolutionary biology has demonstrated the deepening complexity of physical organisms over time, so too the interior quadrants show a deepening spiritual maturity and awareness. As we grow as individuals and communities, we move from a me-centred outlook, to an us-centred approach and ultimately to a world-centred approach. In the bottom left quadrant, for example, the line of development of religion (a cultural, collective, inter-subjective phenomenon) would move from magical animism, to mythical belief structures, to rationalism, pluralism and finally to an integral experience and understanding.

Wilber’s model would seem to fit in a certain way with the Christian vision of the kingdom of God. Jesus is leading us forward to a time where war, for example, will no longer be a viable option. Fear and domination are meant to eventually give way to interdependence and peace. Entering the “kingdom” would mean intentionally offering oneself to the evolutionary process of the spirit which is underway in all of life. Sin is resisting the Spirit’s will for greater integration and complexity. Repentance is turning from our own stubborn egotism and surrendering to the greater movement of God within all sectors of the universe.

There are certain conflicts to consider with this model and Christian theology, but it may provide a good foothold for exploring the place of Christian faith in relation to science.  Scott Brubaker-Zehr

[1] Owen Gingerich, God’s Universe (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006), 6.

[2] Ken Wilber, The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion (New York: Random House, 1998).

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