Thursday, November 19, 2009

Editorial: How Should Christians Think About Science?

One challenge of contemporary science, particularly quantum mechanics, to classical Christian theology is to describe reality in terms of probability rather than materiality. So, to know the rules that ‘govern’ the cosmos is not to know the nature of the cosmos itself but is only to know the predictability of the cosmos behaving in certain ways.

This is a considerable epistemological limitation, and it does indeed concern the ‘book of nature’ Augustine and later theologians claim as one means of revelation. The probabilistic nature of scientifically described reality may not necessarily spell the much looked-for end of metaphysics, but it certainly does comprise its thoroughgoing weird-ing.

No longer can the metaphysics of demonstrable reality claim to have captured the essence of the cosmos, because the nature of material reality itself is not certain, but only likely. Truth, then, is ultimately probable, contingent, and far from certain.

Here, one can sense the phenomenological tremors of an approaching theological tyrannosaurus: if the truth of the cosmos has any similarity to the truth of the creator, God would then exist, just as we do, not as the majesty of absolute being, but with the wiggling probability of existence itself. God would vacillate between being and non-being, presence and absence, momentary revelation and the vanishing secrecy of un-decidability. God would step inside Schrödinger’s box, displacing the famous cat as an object subject to and in some degree constituted by human apprehension.

One would hardly be alone in finding this approach disconcerting. Who could ever derive certainty from such a radically uncertain God? Who could possibly remain faithful to the God Who May Be? But, of course, such a theology only becomes necessary if one believe that the business of theology is, like the business of science, making descriptive truth claims which purport to correspond to the fundamental nature of reality.

By positing a theology-as-prayer, I have proposed an alternative approach. The theological task of such prayer would simply be to recall God to God’s disclosed promises of loving fidelity, to summon the Hebraic God Who Will Be, and who will be for us as God has promised to be. The essence of God’s being as metaphysical certainty or quantum un-decidability would ostensibly not matter, so long as God consequently comes.

The purpose of theology-as-liturgy would simply be to speak into the transcendent, silent roar of God. Like all the rest of creation, it would irretrievably remain analogy and would never equate itself with a metaphysical formula as something to be grasped. Thus emptied, theology-as-prayer might be able to listen to the language of probability coursing through existence. After all, if all language is metaphor, the most resounding claims of science cannot shake the tremor-producing numen of the Lord our God.

Theology-as-prayer, then, would construe scientific claims as what they ultimately must be: simply more poetry limning the created cosmos and, by corollary, suggesting the shape of the face of God-for-us. After all, what is the weight of a promise anyway, if not the likelihood, based on past experience, that it will be fulfilled? If the Trinity is the wager that God-for-us is the same as God-for-God, isn’t the language of Christian theism ultimately the grammar of probability anyway?

And if faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen, isn’t God for us always already in poor Schrödinger’s cubicle – hasn’t his always been the case?

And both the book of science and the book of faith would agree that God is not alone in there. Part of the wonder of the perichoresis, ultimately, is that God remains open to us, and, by extension, the possibility that we will not, that we will not love God. We are God’s quantum surprise. Our only hope is that God looks constantly inside the box of the universe, that God’s loving gaze will call us into being out of the depths of probability. Dare we assert that our gaze would perform something of the same for the advent of our God? “Wherever two or more are gathered…” but, of course, such a position lingers outside the scope of this essay.

But with the ongoing developments of extraordinary science, I do propose that theology should do that at which Christianity has long excelled and that which I have clumsily attempted here: using constant, creative, and subversive re-appropriation of the world’s own claims about itself to speak to the holiness of God.


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