Science and Faith, a Warning

I have been haunted all day by the article Darwinism Is Dead, Now What? Towards A Rational Spirituality. We seem to have a compare-and-contrast exercise between materialistic atheism – Dawkins style – and the kinds of Christianity we sometimes encounter that are reduced to the levels of ideology. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI wrote considerable volumes on faith and reason, both in their books and official teachings as bishops. It is time for these questions to be tackled, and I am myself fascinated by them. They are one of the dimensions of human thought and experience that brought me to the same Romanticism that pops up again and again as the challenges come in its way.

The author of this article, Luke Baier, knocks materialism (everything is dead matter and at best some magically-produced kind of consciousness from biological machines) for six. This is very encouraging in light of my presently reading Dr Rupert Sheldrake. Science hasn’t to be built on ideology or unproven assumptions, but rather on repeatable evidence. You can’t have “science” built on belief-based assumptions and then attack belief!

Darwinism, one of the foundations of atheistic materialism, is crumbling.

If Darwinism is wrong, which it is without a shred of a doubt, should we all go back to the bible? Should we ‘accept the Lord Jesus’?

If materialism falls, do we have to return to irrational faith and doctrine? Baier goes much further than I would ever go (which is a good thing since I am a priest!), by dismissing that vital distinction I learned at university – between what is above reason and what is against reason. What can materialist science say about love or loyalty, which are metaphysical categories, not “material things”? Many Christians feel challenged by atheism to answer the criticism on its own terms. This is the art of apologetics and the approach of the “modernist” Fr George Tyrrell. Scholastic theology has little to say in response to Darwin and Dawkins. The modern apologist has to have knowledge, an unconventional knowledge, of disciplines like quantum mechanics and the theories of knowledge and truth that began to emerge from Idealist Germany in the 1790’s.

I will not enter into any polemics concerning the credibility of mysteries of faith. They come under the category of mystical experience and imagination rather than pure reason in the Kantian understanding of that word. Christianity remains fair game for atheists until it shifts to a higher ground than seemingly irrational beliefs both in terms of rationality and spirituality. The interesting thing about this article is that it hammers atheism and materialism, like Sheldrake is doing – but leaves the challenge to Christian teaching and belief. Atheism can only be attacked on account of its irrational and unscientific basis, its hypocrisy. But, beware, Christians can be hypocrites too!

Perhaps we will overcome “bad” (relying on ideology more than free enquiry and prayer) Christianity in the same way as giving the coup de grâce to atheism. “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” – as Shakespeare famously wrote in Hamlet. There are more things in existence that what meets the eyes of the materialist or the Christian. Many things, presently hypotheses and possibilities, surpass the canonical Scriptures or the teachings of churches. One is the multiverse, the alternative reality that might contain an exact duplicate of each of us living a life according to different combinations of possibilities. There might be an infinity of such universes existing like radio wavelengths to which a radio can tune one at a time. Something suggests this possibility, dismissed by materialist scientists – the existence of para-psychological phenomena like guardian angels, demons, near-death experiences, communication with the dead through mediums, telepathy, prophecy, visions and so much more. Quantum physics studies sub-atomic particles that seem to be made of pure energy. Some experiments have shown such quanta of energy to be conscious – not simply subject to some outside deterministic law from an unknown source.

The science of the future is one that postulates a big likelihood of conscious life beyond bodily death. I often wonder if I might be “absorbed” by my “other me” in another universe – a prisoner languishing in a dungeon, a monk in a community of prayer, a sailor circumnavigating the globe, a doctor healing the sick, a country priest, doing and being what I would never do here. Perhaps… We are our own heaven, hell and purgatory. Would I go at light speed down a “wormhole” as portrayed in films like Stargate? That film was certainly based on some of these ideas of parallel universes and the possibility of existence outside time and space – thus the possibility of going “places” too far away for our present NASA technology. The imagination runs wild and the reason follows, trying to understand and distinguish true possibility from nonsense.

Our author seems to reject orthodox Christianity. I don’t, but I see it as only a skeleton to which so much more is added as it is discovered. The Roman Catholic Church in the person of Pope Pius X made so much ado about Revelation being frozen by the death of the last Apostle, presumably replaced by the authority of those who set out to “correct” the work of Christ in that wonderful pact with the Roman Empire. If believing in the possibility of this Revelation continuing to evolve in our consciousness makes me a Modernist – so be it. Times have moved. The Modernism that was so shocking in the 1900’s has taken on a whole new meaning to those who see the dissolution of Christianity in the minds of those who need more than milk-sops in their journey of faith and spirit. We are called to discover for ourselves and to take risks.

One way to make our journey is to become “open” as opposed to “closed”, cosmopolitan rather than nationalist or parochial. These ideas obsessed me as a child, even though I did not understand all the philosophical implications. I do think we need to seek wisdom wherever it is found. We can find many things in the Jewish Kabbala, esoteric Christianity – Gnosticism in particular, Sufi Islam, the gurus of India, the light from the Buddhist east. I don’t mean that all that has to be mixed up to produce a new religion but rather that we should be enriched by so many colours, traditions, ways of life and thinking.

We need to learn about freedom and how it will enrich us, rather than destroy those who are not ready for it. Our author gives practical advice about how we can evolve into better human beings on something along the lines of Jesus’s teachings in the Gospel and a fuller understanding of the old law and commandments. Above all, we need to cultivate our freedom to think and feel. No knowledge must be forbidden.

Our author seems to advocate an approach to religion like in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, making reason trump everything. That seems to be his limit. Mysteries cannot be denied simply because we don’t understand them completely. However, they can be questioned when they become tools of the rich, powerful and authoritarian.

I find this idea fascinating:

Our material world is constructed in a certain way. We can’t just teleport somewhere if we wish, and we can’t walk through walls. Similarly, maybe there is a higher world, in which our material world is embedded, that is also constructed in a certain way, although we usually can’t see it. Part of its fabric is of an ethical nature. If you transgress its laws, you may not physically feel it, but the effects – subtle as they are – are very real and can accumulate rapidly. This leads to a spiritual abyss from which it is hard to recover. Just think about all those people you know, or have heard of, who have sunk into a sorry state of self-pity, resentment and constant blaming of others; those poor souls who seem forever unable to lift themselves out of their self-created misery. As Jordan Peterson would say: hell can be very real here on earth. Navigating this elusive, yet very real world of objective morality, while constantly learning more about it, seems to be a major goal of, or meaning for, our existence.

This is the moral order, Karma, the law of cause and effect. We are responsible beings in our freedom to think and ask questions. No, not anything goes! We will find it more morally and spiritually challenging to make our own way of discovery than to obey an authority or an ideology. As we read in Berdyaev, the way of the Spirit is harder, but more real and true.

Indeed we are called to move ahead, to evolve

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1 Response to Science and Faith, a Warning

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I have been reading a wonderful little book of some short works by someone who seems to me very much in the line of Romanticism and who is very attentive to scientific and social developments and the challenges to – yet also opportunities for – Christianity in the circumstances, Bozena Komarkova (1903-97). Frustratingly, I cannot easily recommend it to English-speaking friends, as it is in Dutch translation, and very little of her work seems to have been translated from Czech into English. The only thing I have found referred to online so far is Human rights and the rise of the secular age (2003), and the WordCat entry says the nearest library copies known to it are in London, Oxford, Leipzig, Berlin, and Prague! (Nothing listed in French translation, either!)

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