Science and religion ("Mind and brain")

Author: Luis Alonso
Published in: "Mente y cerebro", 12/2005, pp. 93-95.
Publication date: 12/2005

Nature, Human Nature, and God, by Ian G. Barbour. Fortress Press; Minneapolis, 2002.

How to Relate Science and Religion, by Mikael Stenmark. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Grand Rapids, 2004.

When Science and Christianity Meet. Edited by David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers. The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Gott und der Urknall. Physikalische Kosmologie und Schöpfungsglaube. Edited by Eeberhard Schockenhoff and Max G. Huber. Verlag Karl Alber; Freiburg, 2004.

Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About, by Donald E. Knuth. CSLI Publications; California, 2001.

It seems incontrovertible that science and theological reflection have gone through moments of tension. Based on this fact, there is a widespread idea that empirical science is advancing as it takes over domains hitherto reserved for theology. To such an extent has this belief taken hold in certain academic circles, the media speech and society in general, that very few end up discovering that it is a hoax launched a little over a century ago. In its elaborated form, Freud's thesis on the progressive dethronement of man is extended to the psychoanalytic revolution that placed the subconscious at its centre. In his image, it is repeated, theology would recede, first, with the advent of Copernican heliocentrism, which replaced geocentrism; then, with the Darwinian theory of the evolution of species through natural selection, which would undermine the conception of the individual creation of each species ab initio, including man; later, the eternity of the world (through an iterated process of original explosion, final implosion, new great explosion, etc.) which would destroy the idea of a finite universe in its origin and its termination; and, finally, the dissolution of the self, of consciousness, into neuronal correlates. To attribute to theology a rejection of the theory of evolution, of the theory of the big bang or of the neurological instructions of consciousness is simply false.

For some thirty years now, seminars and congresses have been held on the relationship between science and faith. In some cases, general questions are raised, ranging from the consideration of both as social phenomena to the contents of both, the purpose that governs them or the methods they use in their respective work (demarcation of one and the other, mutual autonomy). This is the case of Ian G. Barbour's Nature, Human Nature, and God, and Mikael Stenmark's How to Relate Science and Religion. At other times, the relations are limited to different periods in the history of thought, as in the episodes in When Science and Christianity Meet. Occasionally, specific points are addressed (quantum mechanics, determinism and divine action, for example); see, for example, sample, Gott und der Urknall. Physikalische Kosmologie und Schöpfungsglaube. Also the theological reflections (infinity, free will) that open up in the deepening of the subject where one is researcher recognised, if not creator of the subject: Knuth in Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About.

Institutions have been set up for the study of historical questions or of concepts that are today on the frontiers. Examples include the Centre for Theology and Empirical Science (CTNS) at Berkeley or the European Society for the Study of Science and Theology (ESSAT). There are specialised journals, such as Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, which has been published since 1966, or the younger Theology and Science, which was launched in April 2003. This interest, which has always been maintained in the journals of research theology, is gradually making its way into the camp of the professional cultivators of science. "Where theology matters" was the title of the first publishing house in the journal Nature of 9 December 2004, which underlined the wisdom of Thomas Aquinas at purpose on the relationship between science and faith (800 years ago).

We are, it is true, in a phase of appeasement, except in the suburbs of radicalism. Take cosmology, for example. Astrophysical theory describes the big bang as a singularity in a continuous space-time closed in on itself. The current theological reflection on the biblical "fiat", without limiting itself to this hypothesis, now takes this as its starting point. Another debated question: the anthropic principle. A mere convergence of factors for physicists, it is also, for theologians, a manifestation of God's idea of life and man. The subject of magnitudes to which the anthropic principle refers includes several constants. Among them is G, which determines the gravitational force between any two masses. According to agreement with the anthropic principle, if the intensity of gravity were slightly greater or slightly less than its actual value, life (at least life based on carbon Chemistry ) could not have developed. With a slightly higher value of G, only red dwarf stars could exist, which are too cold to allow life-supporting planets in their neighbourhood. Similarly, if G were slightly lower, all stars would be blue giants and would persist for too short a time interval for life to appear. There are other constants "finely tuned" to allow our presence in the cosmos.

Until the present stage of truce, prejudices had to be overcome and the errors contained in the writings of the Americans John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White and the Briton John Tyndall had to be uncovered. Professor at Chemistry in New York, Draper published an incendiary History of the Conflict between Religion and Science in 1874. Two years later it was translated from French into English under the title degree scroll Los conflictos entre la ciencia y la religión. In 1876 the translation "direct from English" by Augusto T. Arcimis also appeared, with a prologue by Nicolás Salmerón. professor of history at the University of Michigan and later President of Cornell University, White published The Warfare of Science in 1876 and, in 1897, A History of the Warfare of Science and Theology in Christendom, the latter translated into Spanish by José de Caso with the degree scroll Historia de la lucha entre la ciencia y la teología. The alluded text by John Tyndall corresponded to his presidential speech before the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Belfast on 19 August 1874. It was published in Nature magazine's issue the following day.

With different intensity they reflect the positivist (Draper and White) and materialist (Tyndall) thinking that flourished in the sixties and seventies of a nineteenth century that found in the Darwinian theory of evolution by natural selection the coup de grace against "obscurantist and reactionary" thinking. The opinions of those who then opposed his thesis did not have the same echo. Not even when the answer to Tyndall came from the most renowned scientist of the century, James Clerck Maxwell. The father of electromagnetism resorts to irony to ruin the thesis antagonism between science and faith, while warning against falling into easy concordism.

After a few decades, status took on a profile that was claimed to be more rigorous. Alongside the neo-positivist anti-metaphysical creed, solid expositions of the contribution of theology to science appeared in the 1920s. Of particular significance are E. A. Burtt's Metaphysical Foundations of Physical Science (1924), which sees a theological theoretical framework at the basis of modern science, and, above all, Alfred North Whitehead's Science and the Modern World (1925), co-author with Bertrand Russell of the Principia Mathematica, the structure of modern formal logic. Whitehead recognised a close link between modern science and medieval theology with its emphasis on the rationality of the universe (Russell, however, remained refractory to any theological thinking).

With historical rigour, Herbert Butterfield unveiled in The Whig Interpretation of History (1931) the biased view, very widespread in the enlightened West, of a supposedly closed Catholicism, as opposed to the innovation represented by Protestantism. Despite this and other efforts, the concept of the antagonistic polarisation between science and faith remained firm. Also in 1931, Science and Religion appeared, the conference proceedings of a symposium between Anglican scientists and theologians, held in 1930, with the participation of Julian Huxley, John S. Haldane, Bronislaw Malinowski and Arthur Eddington, among the former, and Ernest W. Barnes, Burnett H. Streeter and William R. Inge, among the representatives of the Church of England. For the most part they advocated peaceful coexistence, provided science and theology were confined to their own domains.

The Scientific Revolution was soon to receive particular attention. For a powerful reason: those who brought it about intended to put science at the service of understanding God's work, to eradicate ignorance and superstition. In his most influential writing, Origins of Modern Science (1949), Butterfield attributed this cut to the mechanistic worldview privileged by Christianity. Charles Raven had, four years earlier, in Science, Religion, and the Future, pointed out the militant faith, the clerical status even, of many promoters of the Scientific Revolution. In a more vehement tone, Arnold Lund, in The Revolt against Reason, strung together a string of scientific achievements linked to recognised Catholics: modern astronomy is Copernican; the calendar, Gregorian; iron is galvanised; electricity is measured in ampere, volt and coulomb; animal breeding is Mendelian; milk is pasteurised; doctors apply the Röntgen rays; and Marconi provided the possibility of putting those who claim that the Church is the enemy of science on speech .

Since the early 1940s, Alexandre Koyré sought to unravel the network interconnections between theology and Galilean physics. He set out the result of his research in From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe (1957). In his view, Philosophy, theology and science constituted the three dimensions of the conceptual space of the Scientific Revolution, dimensions that coexisted in the work of Johannes Kepler, René Descartes, Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. In 1957, Kuhn gave equal epistemological value to the religious, philosophical and scientific views of the aforementioned authors in The Copernican Revolution: Planetary Astronomy in the Development of Western Thought, although he excluded philosophical and religious views later in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962).

In 1958, in Science and Religion in Seventeenth-Century England, Westfall reviewed an excellent gallery of portraits, figures for whom the science they cultivated was nothing more than a requirement of their professed faith. Focusing on another controversial source , the Genesis account of creation and the advances in geology, Charles Gillispie wrote his doctoral dissertation, Genesis and Geology. A Study of Scientific Thought, Natural Theology, and Social Opinion in Great Britain, 1790-1850. Reprinted in 1996, it appeared with a new foreword by Nicolaas A. Rupke and a new preface by the author, in which he highlighted the weakness of the dichotomous approach to the history of science and religion in the confrontation between the different theories on the Earth's training (Neptunists, Plutonists) and Charles Lyell's defence of the gradualist thesis and its civil service examination to evolutionary postulates. purpose In The Death of Adam: Evolution and Its Impact on Western Thought, Greene, at the end of the 1950s, also highlighted the religious background of those who combined their faith in divine providence and their adherence to Darwin's theory, such as the American botanist Asa Gray.

It was around this time that submission went to press with Natural Law and Divine Miracle: The Principle of Uniformity in Geology, Biology, and Theology (1959), one of those who would later excel in the field of research of the relationship between science and religion, Reijer Hooykaas. He would later defend the Calvinist origin of science, and argue that nature, identified with creation, was the work of God which it was man's task to know, tame and transform. From the Catholic side, Stanley Jaki will string together a long series of works on the history of the relationship between science and faith, taking as guide Pierre Duhem, physicist and historian of physics who brought to light the medieval roots of modern mechanics.

1986 was a turning point in historiography. The repeated errors of Draper, White and Tyndall were refuted. In a work without counter-rejoinder and coordinated by historians David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers, God and Nature. Historical Essays on the Encounter between Christianity and Science, the subtitle itself frames the approach to be considered. Its chapters cover the relationship between theology and science from the early church to the 20th century. It will be a decade and a half before a similar work appears (The History of Science and Religion in the Western Tradition: An Encyclopaedia, edited by Gary B. Ferngren, Edward J. Larson, Darrel W. Amundsen and Anne-Marie E. Nakhla). In the meantime, however, the work of Ian Barbour, a reference point for current approaches, matured.

Barbour burst onto the scene in 1966, with a first historical-methodological text on the a priori assumptions in the epistemology of science and faith: Issues in Science and Religion. But it was not until 1988 that he introduced the four approaches that had been followed throughout history to deal with the relations between science and theology, a typology that has become canonical, with variants, modifications and even apparent discrepancies. These four positions are conflict, independence, dialogue and integration. He reworked this classification on several occasions until he arrived at the classification set out in Nature, Human Nature, and God. Here he also recapitulates his theological views on evolution, Genetics, neuroscience, the nature of God and bioethics.

According to Barbour, faith and science are seen as antagonistic by proponents of the literal interpretation of the Genesis account (fundamentalist creationists, a movement restricted to the United States) and advocates of scientific materialism who declare the incompatibility of evolution and faith. Those who confine religion and science to separate, distinct and complementary watertight compartments advocate the thesis of independence. Science would be concerned with how things in the world work and would rely on objective and public data , while religion would be confined to the realm of values and the meaning of life staff. There is no conflict, but neither is there a constructive interaction between the two domains; each has its own methods and its own genuine language. This thesis has been disseminated among us by the palaeontologist S. J. Gould with his theory of the two magisteria. Dialogue between science and religion is sought when investigating areas of convergence in themes (border issues), methods (use of analogy) and concepts (demonstration), without renouncing their genuine differential peculiarities. Finally, integration has been understood in the sense of a natural theology, which finds in science a test (or at least a suggestive hint) of the existence of God, or in the sense of a flexible compatibility of contents. Integration could be assimilated to what others call interaction.