“Science does not seek to “prove” that there is or is not a God - that falls into the realm of theology. But those who do believe are not looking for proof, only for images that more accurately reflect reality so that we can live in greater fidelity to what we already know to be true. At the same time, science does not contradict what our faith teaches. While the discoveries may be new, the truths that we will reflect upon are timeless, found in the depths of Christian tradition and its spiritual practice.”
These words by Judy Cannato from her recent book “Radical Amazement: Contemplative Lessons from Black Holes, Supernovas, and Other Wonders of the Universe”, are reflective of opinions offered in a variety of current books by experts as diverse as the Dalai Lama, Michael Novak and John Polkinghorne. Each of these authors points to a remarkable convergence emerging from the many threads of modern science in which mirrors the truths taught in Judeo-Christian scriptures.
This is not a conclusion that the proponents of a ‘science only’ approach to investigation of creation expected to reach. It is proving difficult for many in the scientific community to believe that evolution and modern physics are revealing truths that have already been ‘discovered’ by the discipline of theology. They are not alone. Proponents of both disciplines have been challenged by these new advances in science. Biblical literalists experience recent scientific and mathematical discoveries as challenging what they deem to be ‘gospel truth'. They refuse to acknowledge that ‘gospel’ and ‘truth’ are not always synonymous terms even if they are never in absolute conflict. While their fidelity and evangelistic zeal are to be admired by all Christians, their literal scriptural interpretations hardly reflects a majority opinion of believers today. Yet they may be convinced by recent discoveries of archeologists now seems to explain our existence as a species using a narrative that is startlingly close to the Genesis account of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden. Nevertheless it is an axiom of science and theology to follow where the evidence leads. Whether it supports one or the other paradigm or not, it's unsettling to all.
However, now is hardly the first (or last) time that such a redefining of our cosmology was necessary to assert, even at the cost of one’s life. From Socrates to the recent Christian martyrs, advocates from both sides of these essential debates about “who or what we are”, have paid the ultimate price for their convictions. And yet, certain truths continue to be affirmed amidst the changing of the cosmos, reflecting both constancy and change in our evolving paradigm of understanding the truths of creation. Cannato offers this anecdote, taken from the life of Albert Einstein, as evidence of how difficult it can be for adherents of either group when confronting such a paradigm shift.
“Steeped in Newtonian physics, Einstein operated out of the world view that the cosmos were fixed, much like a machine. But while doing the mathematical computations that led him to propose the Special Theory of Relativity, he began to see the sweeping implications of his work. If his calculations were correct - and we know that they are - the universe rather than being fixed, was expanding in all directions. Implied in this insight was the idea that the expansion was away from a single point from which all matter emanates. Einstein, stunned by the implications of his work and reluctant to offer information that would so radically alter what for centuries had been held as truth, fudged his number equations! He changed the numbers in order to maintain a static, fixed universe. It took another mathematician, Russian Alexander Friedmann, to call Einstein on his ‘mistake’. Later, in 1931. Edwin Hubble invited Einstein to view the cosmos from is observatory on Mount Wilson, enabling him to see with his own eyes that the implication of his theory was true, that the universe was indeed expanding.”
It not easy to shake up the consensus of one's peers, even for geniuses like Einstein, Copericus or Thomas Aquinas - but each in his own way sent deep tremors through the consensual understanding of creation of their time. Today we are presented with a plethora of voices, each speaking from the perspective of their particular discipline, who are positing that humanity as a species is approaching such a transformational moment again; a moment that will provide a potential rapprochement of the cosmologies of faith, ethics and science.
Thomistic philosophy, Aquinas’ gift to Catholic theology, provides a system which is mirrored by recent discoveries in the field of Special Relativity. For example, Thomism teaches that everything that exists possesses the ‘accidents’ of its distinct existence, but essentially everything that is, is composed of one ‘substance’ which he labeled ‘Prime Matter’. Physics now teaches that all matter is simply a different frequency of light or radiation that emanated from the flash of the Big Band; light that has evolved into matter. Matter which itself then evolved into life and ultimately (at least as far as we are concerned as humans) to a point where sentience and self-awareness emerged. It is not hard to see the parallel nature of these two explanations.
Archeology provides similar evidence that points to parallels with the Genesis account of how we came to exist as a species. We now know that our progenitors like ‘Lucy’ were steps in our genetic progress that introduced the various components of what we now call homo sapiens, distant cousins from our history who possessed some but not all the capacities that we do. We have discovered that humans actually sprung from a single source in Central Africa. So, whether we hold to evolution or not, ontologically we can declare a priori that there existed a ‘first’ man and woman from whom we all sprang. This is the same narrative contained in Genesis. This is another strand of the emerging convergence which is obliterating the wall that divides the wisdoms of science and Judeo-Christian theology.
In fact, various branches of the physical and social sciences proffer similar discoveries and advancements from their specific disciplines that are adding to our understanding of mysteries of the universe. Answers that seem to confirm the intuitions and teachings of Christianity.
Is science revealing the 'face of God'? If so, it would a 'radical amazement' for many today.