The purification of representations in the dialogue between science and faith

Author: Javier Sánchez-Cañizares
Published in: programs of study Filosóficos LXXII (2023) 49-65.
Publication date: 2023.

The dialogue between science and faith takes place in different spheres of knowledge, ranging from informal chats between educated people to in-depth dialogue between scientific experts, believers and non-believers. This multivariate form of exchanges, which often requires many initial clarifications, finds a point of agreement in the need to specify the conception of the types of causality present in the world, as well as their adequate articulation. In this partnership, inspired by a commentary of Benedict XVI in the book Last Conversations, I argue that progress in the articulation of the different types of causality should lead to a purification, in the case of both believers and non-believers, of the representations of God's action in the world. In particular, I will focus on the issues that, in my opinion, most urgently require an improvement of such representations. Specifically, the relationship between the big bang theory and the doctrine of creation, the appearance of the human being through evolution and the creation of the soul directly and immediately by God, as well as its subsistence after death and its "journey" to heaven.


1. The relevance of the dialogue between science and religion for evangelization.
2. Different areas of dialogue
3. The articulation of causality
4. The problem of representations
5. Representations of divine action in the world.
5.1 The big bang theory and the doctrine of creation
5.2 Origin of the human being and creation of the soul
5.3 The subsistence of the human soul after death and its "journey" to heaven
6. The problem of the representation of creation
7. Conclusions
8. Notes

1. The relevance of the dialogue between science and religion for evangelization.

Throughout history, the relationship between science and religion has resisted to be framed within a specific model . In spite of the various attempts made to date, the relationship between science and religion11 , perhaps the best characterization of these relations is that of John Hedley Brooke's classic book, Science and Religion: Historical Perspectives 2. Above all, it is becoming increasingly evident that resource to the important methodological differences between the two disciplines cannot be an excuse to avoid dialogue. Indeed, we are faced with a profound formal heterogeneity between science and religion, or between science and faith.33 But dialogue is supported by two characteristics that, in my opinion, cannot be renounced. On the one hand, although they cannot be reduced to it alone, both religion and faith claim a certain subject from knowledge. On the other hand, both science and faith or religion claim a knowledge of the world that has to do with its totality. Although with different nuances, each of these disciplines is interested in everything that really exists and aims to obtain a true knowledge of this reality. If, moreover, we take into account the recent importance given to the social impact of the disciplines, it seems evident that science and faith are called to dialogue in an ever-increasing proportion, even in a globalized world where academic isolation makes less and less sense.

However, perhaps the main reason that makes the dialogue between science and faith an extremely urgent task today has to do with the evangelizing process of the Church at the present time. At the risk of oversimplification, I believe that, until relatively recently, the perspective of the Christian speaking to another person about God and Jesus Christ gave less importance to the traditional preambula fidei than to the action of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the listener. Now, without questioning this distribution of importance, I believe that we find ourselves more and more in the status to which reference letter referred in the encyclical Fides et ratio when recalling the primitive evangelizing action of Christians among non-Jews: "The first Christians, in order to make themselves understood by the pagans, could not refer only to 'Moses and the prophets'; they also had to rely on the natural knowledge of God and on the voice of the moral conscience of each man."4. 4 It is not a question of downplaying the importance or prominence of God's initiative in the conversion of hearts. It is a matter of understanding that, as the old theological adage states that grace presupposes nature, the eventual efficacious action of the Holy Spirit in souls requires that they understand what is being proposed to them. This is an indispensable condition without which evangelization is impossible, at least according to the ordinary channels of the Spirit.

We are, therefore, facing a serious problem that concerns the subject of shared language to establish communication. In my opinion, this difficulty has not fully penetrated the mentality of a good part of the evangelizing agents who would come to think that the kerygma is always effective and, therefore, there is no need to worry. Certainly it would be desirable to frame the evangelical advertisement in a more general rational framework , shared or shareable for the majority. But that would ultimately be a subtlety that most people do not care about and, above all, would not affect the grace of God acting in the soul of each person. In spite of the great part of truth (and there is a lot of it) in this subject of argumentation, I think there is a very dangerous lack of perspective in it. To put it in the most direct way: there are many people (almost all non-believers) for whom the advertisement of faith must be, a priori, necessarily false because it does not fit with the perspective of the world offered by science. Simplifying a lot, but staying with the substance, it is a perspective starred by natural processes that only entail an impersonal causality.5. For a majority of non-believers, it is not possible to understand the language of faith because, quite simply, if it had any internal coherence subject , the language of science would ultimately be false. And, logically, the non-believer's bets are with the latter and not the former.

At final, it seems that many believers have forgotten that one must understand the message in order to believe. One cannot believe what one does not understand-certainly at a more basic level, but an inalienable one. And it must be recognized that many non-believers do well to initially turn away from this danger when they perceive the contradictions that threaten the supposed harmony between science and faith that believers defend. The outline that I have just outlined here is more widespread than one might think, and it seems to me that we believers have not yet developed sufficient sensitivity to understand and deal with it. This is not the place to delve into why this is so, as it would require going into the psychological content mostly shared by believers, with its dose of fears, superstitions, intellectual laziness and emphasis on the tangible and not the intangible. The point I am trying to make in these pages is that the dialogue between science and religion is not an optional extra, a luxury article available only to scholars or a tool of the pro version of the faith kit in the 21st century. Despite the fact that some believers still naively think that there is no problem of communication and that the only problem is the conversion of non-believers, the dialogue between science and faith is a must today, because if it is not now it simply will not be in the future, due to the failure of one of the terms of the relationship.

2. Different areas of dialogue

A simple way to classify the areas of dialogue between science and religion is to follow the division that the group CRYF makes of its activities in research, teaching and knowledge dissemination. Of course, we are dealing with different fields, but they are more connected than it might seem at first sight. This classification can be applied to almost any academic discipline and, therefore, the dialogue between science and religion can also benefit from it. Let us not forget that knowledge dissemination can be assimilated to the social impact of a discipline; and this is something that affects today every project of research, which is asked to provide a certain social return, given that it will surely count on resources that come from the society in which it is going to be carried out. And, by the way, such a social return allows us to remember that scientific activity is a human activity that is always carried out in connection with other activities, both at the cognitive and practical levels.

But the dialogue between science and religion also needs to be raised at the level of professor, as a way of favoring a unified and complementary vision of reality among those who receive diverse teachings that are crystallizing in this relatively recent field. It is worth noting the great variety of introductions to science and religion that we are beginning to enjoy, both in Anglo-Saxon and Latin America.66 , and which provide those interested with information on various modes of interaction or approach in the dialogue, in addition to the contributions of the most relevant figures throughout history and at present. Perhaps it is the field of the teaching the one that is having more development in the last decades, due to the social demand of many believers, both in the field of the teaching secondary and university.7

However, it is no secret that the breakthrough in any discipline comes from the field of research. And, possibly, it is here that experience in the field of science and religion is scarcest. Perhaps in good part due to the relative newness of the field and, above all, the inherent methodological difficulty involved. If multidisciplinarity has its own problems between related subjects, these problems multiply exponentially between natural and humanistic disciplines and become almost insoluble in the most extreme case, in my opinion, of the arc of university subjects: science and religion. But what does it mean to do research in science and religion? And, above all, how should it be done? The answer is not simple. The group CRYF, to which I belong, has opted for philosophical mediation as the defining characteristic of its methodological contribution to the problem. With it, we also wish to pay tribute to the founder of group, Professor Mariano Artigas, who was a pioneer in the dialogue between science and religion in Spain>.8. Philosophical mediation can serve - and to a certain extent it is essential - to address the problem of causality in this dialogue and to purify the inevitable representations that human beings make of it when we get to know it. The treatment in sections 3 and 4 attempts to confront that question, leading to a critique of the most common representations of the action of God and the soul in section 5, and pointing to the common root of the problem in section 6.

3. The articulation of causality

How to articulate the causality referred to by religion and the causality referred to by the sciences? The different epistemic realms should not make us forget that reality is one. A unitary vision is required and for this we need better articulations of causality. Traditionally, the Christian Philosophy has resorted to the fundamental distinction between the first causality, exclusive of God, and the second causalities, all those that occur in the creation of agreement with the natural capacities and potentialities of the different creatures, according to the diverse processes and levels of participation of God's being. The articulation between first causality and second causalities is a common place in the reflection on the mystery of God's action in the world, which can reach sublime heights in the case of the synergy between grace and freedom in rational beings.

The problem with this articulation is that, so to speak, it needs to navigate between two extremes - Scylla and Charybdis - whose pitfalls are not easy to avoid, threatening to bring the whole articulation to ruin. On the one hand, restricting first causality to the exclusive sphere of being as the ultimate act of all that exists and, therefore, the exclusive work of God, runs the risk of undoing the traditional metaphysical articulation of essence and act of being - the apple of the eye of Thomistic metaphysics - and, as a consequence, assimilating God to the watchmaker god, the efficient cause of deism, who no longer needs at all to "mix" with his creation. On the other hand, to bring God down to the level of second causalities, although it could favor the description of the continuous presence of God in creation, runs the risk of placing him at the level of created causality, leading without solution of continuity to the perspective of the "god of the holes" so criticized by philosophers, believers and non-believers. The question is: are there other alternatives?

In my opinion, the way out is not easy because the essence/act of being articulation is far from being understood by theology and Christian Philosophy from the scientific worldview of today's world and, as result, far from being understandable and relevant to the activity of scientists.9 let alone non-experts. In my view, the problem has a theological background related to a defective understanding of the mystery of creation, which has failed to overcome the difficulty of articulating God's eternity with his activity manifested in time. I will return to this in the last section before addressing the conclusions. What I want to emphasize here, however, is that we are not dealing with a mere technical issue, for the problem of the articulation of causality affects our representations of a divine action in the world not only compatible with the scientific account and representations of natural activity10but foundational, as budget, of the same.

4. The problem of representations

To make what I mean a little more concrete11Let me use some words of Benedict XVI in response to a truly radical question from the interviewer, Peter Seewald, in his book Last Conversations:

Seewald: "There is a question that occupies us incessantly: where is in reality this God of whom we speak, of whom we hope financial aid? How and where can he be located? (...) Nowhere is there anything that one can imagine as the heaven in which God supposedly has his throne".

-BenedictXVI: "Indeed, because such a thing does not exist: a place where he has his throne. God himself is the place above all places. If you contemplate the world, you do not see heaven, but everywhere you perceive traces of God. In the structure of the subject, in all the rationality of reality. And also when you look at men, you also find divine traces (...). It is necessary to detach oneself entirely from these old spatial notions, which are no longer useful, if only for the fact that the universe, although not infinite in the strict sense, is so great that we men can qualify it as infinite. And God cannot be somewhere, inside or outside, but his presence is of a different nature. It is really important that we renew our thinking in many aspects, that we completely eliminate these spatial notions and understand things in a new way (...). It is above all theology that must work more deeply on these questions in order to provide people with representative possibilities. On this point, the translation of theology and faith into today's language still presents enormous deficiencies; it is necessary to create schemes of representation that help people to understand today that they should not look for God in a specific place. Here there is much to be done."12.

As can be guessed, these words of the Pope Emeritus recall the inadequacy of our language, accustomed to spatio-temporal and anthropomorphic representations, to describe the mystery of the presence and action of God in his creation. The problem is that, if we do not pay attention to this inadequacy and do not try to find better representations, it is very difficult in the long run to reach a perspective of compatibility, harmony and synergy between the religious worldview and the scientific worldview. One can always protest against the somewhat caricatured visions of God that some adults who abandon their faith or some scientists who misuse science to attack the representations they formed in their adolescence and youth. But if nothing is done to address the problem, the representations that are transmitted in religion classes or on the religious catechesis will continue to create problems.

5. Representations of divine action in the world.

As sample of what I argued at the end of the previous section , I wish in this section to focus on several examples that show the misunderstandings and misunderstandings that have been occurring in some of the central questions about the relationship between the world, man and God.

5.1. The big bang theory and the creation doctrine

It is worth remembering that the perspective on the universe has been changing throughout the history of humanity and, especially, that the vision of the universe with the arrival of modern science, especially with the absolute conception of space and time sponsored by Newton and his followers, and theorized by Kant, has corresponded to that of an infinite and immutable environment, the scene of the dynamics of a material reality that, in a certain way, would be alien to the theater where it takes place. Evidently, the theory of relativity, especially general relativity, will begin to change this conception and will allow the scientific study of the universe as a whole -something unthinkable in the centuries of Modernity. Undoubtedly, the big bang theory of the Belgian priest Georges Lemaître, which remains the basis of the standard cosmological model (ΛCDM) to this day, was a turning point in the scientific representation of the universe, which went from being a static whole in its spatio-temporal dimension to a dynamic whole, in solidarity with the subject-energy that composes it.

Thus, it is not surprising that, after some centuries in which the religious doctrine on creation and the scientific understanding of the universe were at odds, the arrival of the big bang theory was perceived as an external support to the Christian vision of a finite and created universe, with a beginning of time: "Indeed, it seems that today's science, leaping back millions of centuries, has managed to witness that primordial Fiat Lux, when, out of nothing, there sprang forth beside the subject a sea of light and radiation, while the particles of the chemical elements splintered and gathered into millions of galaxies."13. As is well known, these words of Pius XII, pronounced barely twenty years after the formulation of the big bang theory, did not arouse Lemaître's enthusiasm. The scientist and priest was well aware of the risk of identifying God's action with a certain scientific model .

However, the temptation for believers to benefit for once from science was too strong. Thirty years later, in a rather similar context, another pope affirmed that: "Every scientific hypothesis about the origin of the world, such as that of a primitive atom from which the whole of the physical universe would come, leaves open the problem concerning the beginning of the universe. Science alone cannot resolve this question: what is needed is that knowledge of man which rises above physics and astrophysics and which goes by the name of metaphysics; what is needed, above all, is the knowledge which comes from the revelation of God".14. So far so good, even if some clarifications on the meaning of the term "beginning" in this speech would be more than welcome. But the said speech was extended by quoting that of Pius XII in 1951, referring to "the work of the creative Omnipotence, whose virtue, aroused by the powerful 'fiat' pronounced billions of years ago by the creative Spirit, unfolded within the universe, calling into existence, in a gesture of generous love, the subject overflowing with energy."15.

That such a essay could disturb even the most brilliant minds became clear when one of the most renowned scientists at the time, the now deceased Stephen Hawking - present at the speech of St. John Paul II - replied with an interpretation of the pope's words in which he saw a frontal attack on his research of the moment:

"At the end of the lecture, we participants were granted an audience with the Pope. He told us that it was fine to study the evolution of the universe after the big bang, but that we should not inquire into the big bang itself, because it was about the moment of creation and therefore the work of God. I was glad then that he did not know the topic of the talk I had just given on the lecture: the possibility that space-time was finite, but had no boundary, which would mean that there was no beginning, no moment of creation. I had no desire to share the fate of Galileo, with whom I feel strongly identified in part by the coincidence of having been born exactly 300 years after his death!"16.

Hawking was referring to his cosmological theory at the time, developed at partnership with James Hartle, called no boundary condition, where the employment of an imaginary time supposedly smooths out the big bang singularity until it is completely eliminated. This theory had its own technical problems, due to the resource to an imaginary time by what is known as a Wick rotation, but as a scientific theory it could and should run its course. The underlying problem is that the big bang is just a theory that tells us nothing about the singularity from which the universe supposedly arises. One needs to know more physics, specifically to possess a theory of quantum gravity, to go beyond the big bang. But the temptation to identify God's creative act with the singularity of the big bang is extremely great, exposing the former to confrontation with the new cosmological theories that seek to circumvent the singularity: for example, the various theories of the multiverse or Roger Penrose's conformal cyclic cosmology. The problem seems to lie in the fact that the Christian representation of creation still relies heavily on a God who "sets the universe in motion". Such a dominant image forgets that "creation" primarily means a fundamental relationship of creatures to God that extends throughout the history of the universe17. Therefore, and this is a fundamental idea still not well explained in religious instruction, creation does not occur in time.

Certainly, some theology may still object that, even if the universe had existed from infinite time, it would not be equivalent to the eternity of God, for to exist from infinite time would simply entail the infinite succession of events of a created time. Nevertheless, it would be a common opinion of theologians that the absolute principle of time is implicit in the Scriptural passages on creation, once they are understood in the light of the whole biblical content, as taught from the first centuries of the Christian era and later emphasized by the Church's magisterium.18. However, it should be noted that, although it continues to cite the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius of the First Vatican Council - which refers to God who 'from the beginning of time made out of nothing the two orders of creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal', going back to the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) - the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in its issue 293, refrains from supporting the theological opinion that embraces an absolute origin of time. In short, the medieval controversy about the creation ab aeterno is still latent in all this discussion.19. Paying attention to this controversy should lead us to improve our representations of creation, using, for example, the relationship of the different elements and protagonists of the story that unfolds in a book to its author.

5.2. Origin of the human being and creation of the soul

Both in phylogeny and ontogeny, the question of the origin of the human being raises passionate debates. In the context of natural history, many Christians seem to have made peace with science through a Solomonic judgment: admitting evolution "insofar as it seeks the origin of the human body in a pre-existing living subject - but the Catholic faith commands to defend that souls are created immediately by God."20. However, such a partition satisfies few or, worse, leads to a blatant dualism, which was soon underlined by many theologians, including Joseph Ratzinger21:

"Attempts have been made to evade this problem by asserting that the body of the human being may be a product of evolution, but not, under any circumstances, the spirit; the latter, it is said, was created directly by God, for it is not possible for the spirit to arise from the subject. But this answer, which seems to have in its favor the fact that the spirit cannot be approached with the same natural-scientific method with which the history of organisms is studied, is at best satisfactory at first sight. We are immediately forced to ask ourselves: can man really be divided between theologians and scientists in this way: the soul for some, the body for others? Will this solution not be intolerable for one as well as for the other? The scientist believes he sees the progressive development of the whole entity we call man; he even finds a psychic transition zone in which human behavior emerges step by step from animal behavior, without it being possible to draw a well-defined limit (...). Conversely, also for the theologian who is convinced that the spirit is what shapes even the body - to which he imprints from part to part the character of the human body, so that man is only spirit as body and is only body as spirit and in spirit - this partition is completely meaningless."22.

Once again we come up against the question of how to understand creation, but this time in such a concrete and delicate topic as the origin of the human being. Now, since it is not easy to separate the creation of individual human beings and evolution, the representation according to which God breathes the soul at the moment of conception of each human being becomes equally problematic.23. The dualistic flavor of such a representation-why would the Creator not insufflate a human soul into another material configuration-is further aggravated by implicitly introducing the image of a God engaged in directly creating human souls throughout history and intervening in nature whenever human reproduction requires it. The autonomy of creation advocated by the Second Vatican Council24 seems less reliable here. Once again, the problem seems to have to do with a faulty conception of (direct) creation that ends up damaging the representations of believers.

Certainly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing precisely the encyclical Humani generis, recalls in n. 366 that "every spiritual soul is directly created by God". Now, what is to be understood by "direct" creation? The Catechism, in the same issue, seems to point out that which is incompatible with direct creation, namely, that the soul was "produced" by the parents or that it was mortal, without the possibility of being united to the body in the final resurrection. However, if we try to avoid the representation of creation as an event that takes place in time and use, for example, the enriched framework of the fundamental relationality of all creatures with respect to God, the doctrine on the direct and immediate creation of spiritual souls will emphasize, mainly, the direct and immediate relationship of their bearers, that is, angels and human beings, with God. In this scenario, new theological and catechetical paths could be opened that contemplate evolution as framework of reference letter privileged, offering at the same time the possibility of a belief in the soul and its Creator compatible with our contemporary understanding of the universe.25.

Of course, giving a framework of reference letter does not mean giving a complete explanation and, for the moment, no one seems to be able to go into all the details that would eventually lead to the causal explanation of the appearance of man and spirituality on Earth. Thus, for example, the resource to genetic variations is necessary, but not sufficient, as explanans of the explanandum symbolic language, the latter exclusively human activity. Evidently, science has not yet deciphered all the enigmas and we do not know what it can offer us in the future: perhaps a broader epistemic framework than the one we attribute to science alone may be required, or perhaps we need more coherent anthropologies to understand the continuity and discontinuity of the human person with respect to natural processes, from agreement with the evolutionary perspective.26.

5.3. The subsistence of the human soul after death and its "journey" to heaven

Controversial representations of the creation and the breathing in of the soul extend their problematics to the afterlife and, more specifically, to how to explain the subsistence of the soul when it does not inform the human body. Very often, artistic compositions, theological writings or, simply, preaching and catechesis represent the human soul traveling "upwards", in the direction of heaven, at the end of human existence. According to the traditional Philosophy , death implies the separation of soul and body, with the slow but inexorable decomposition of the latter. However, although no longer the substantial form of a body, the soul still possesses its own act of being, and continues to exist in itself. However, no one can then explain why the soul, which naturally and substantially informs a human body, communicating to it its own act of being, cannot continue to inform that body at the moment of death.

The spatio-temporal representations of heaven, in my opinion, have contributed for a long time to denaturalize this state of the separated souls. It seems as if the description of heaven finally adopted in the Catechism and the recent magisterium has not yet come to produce the necessary effects, intended to correct the habitual representations we mentioned in the previous paragraph: "This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity, this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed - it is called 'heaven'. Heaven is the ultimate end and the fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme happiness and final27". "Heaven is the blessed community of all those who are perfectly incorporated into Christ."28. More than a place, then, heaven is a "state of the soul where our deepest expectations will be superabundantly realized and our being, as creatures and as children of God, will come to full maturity."29. All these descriptions are from agreement in avoiding the spatio-temporal reference letter that would raise the image of the migration of the soul to heaven to be with God. Instead of speaking of a place, reference letter refers to a different subject of presence, a perfectly transparent and mutual indwelling between God and souls. What then would be the best representation for this mystery?

If heaven is a state and not a place, how are we to understand the bodily resurrection, in general, and the status of the glorious bodies of the risen Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary, in particular? Christian eschatology recognizes the transformation of creation into "a new heaven and a new earth"(Rev 21:1), so that "God will be all things to all people" (1 Cor 15:28). However, the concrete time and ways in which all things will be transformed remain unknown to us. Nevertheless, it would be worth remembering from a purely scientific point of view that the laws of nature can evolve in their concrete determination30New emerging laws may appear in the course of the future evolution of the cosmos. Specifically, there could be new laws of physical interactions not necessarily limited by the locality constraints normally experienced in the present state of the universe. A new heaven and a new earth, consistent with a different space-time emerging from more fundamental levels of reality for which our present bodies have no experience yet, could already be in operation. Of course, all reflection becomes highly speculative at this point, but making reference letter to it financial aid to glimpse how religious beliefs and the scientific knowledge can be made compatible within a more respectful account of both, while demanding the continued purification of our scientific and religious representations.

6. The problem of the representation of creation

After this brief journey with the intention of showing the difficulties inherent in the usual representations of the action of God in the world, of the soul and of heaven, I would like to dwell in this last section on the radical problem that, in my opinion, accompanies all these defective images. From a more philosophical point of view, we could say that all the representations end up by introducing an anthropomorphic dimension, which implies introducing the eternity of God (also of heaven, or the eviternity of the soul) and the eternity of the soul.31 of the soul and of the spirit), in a naive way, in the human spatio-temporal coordinates. However, let us say it clearly, we do not possess (and cannot possess) a model of God's action in the world. Although we can speak of the effects of God's action, and even of a greater or lesser "closeness" of God's presence in these effects, according to the intensity of the relationship that each of them has with God, God's action is forbidden to us for the simple reason that, in itself, it is not distinguished from creation in its active sense. We are, in short, before an eternal action with temporal effects.

From a more theological perspective, we could say that the problem comes, fundamentally, from a defective articulation of the mystery of creation, in its active sense, and history as the temporal modality in which it unfolds, in its passive sense. How then to articulate the relationship between eternity and time with an adequate image?32 Certainly, the articulation between the active and the passive sense of creation needs the relational sense. We are speaking, at final, of the mode of creatural relation to God, which seems to encompass innumerable possibilities, determining the articulation between first causality and second causalities. In my opinion, a theology of God's presence in creation that relies more on immanence than on divine transcendence has yet to be developed. Let me get this straight. God is transcendent and immanent to his creation, but it seems that our interpretations of divine action are still anchored in transcendence and pay little attention to divine immanence. Something similar happened to the philosopher Celsus when, in the second century, he accused Christians of saying that a son of God had never existed and would never exist, because the moment God intervened in creation, he would automatically cease to have the glory that is his due.33.

That the articulation between creation and God is at the heart of the problem of representations and their purification is also shown, in my opinion, by the growing theological disuse of the distinctions between general providence and special providence, or even of the natural/supernatural binomial. On the contrary, a theology of creation in Christ seems much more promising in offering those new representative possibilities of which Benedict XVI spoke. The challenge is to overcome the limits of knowledge and spontaneous human perception, which fluctuates between everything comes from God (in spirituality and preaching) and nothing comes from God (in scientific activity and daily life). Both extremes have to be purified in order to admit a wide range of articulations that combine a true action of God in the world and a true creatural causality.

7. Conclusions

As concluding remarks, I would simply like to point out that, if we are looking for a real breakthrough in the dialogue between science and religion (and not simply a historical or epistemological approach), it is necessary to enter deeply into the articulation of causality. Such a program, far from being a curiosity restricted to the realm of scholars, is at the basis of the equivocal representations that damage the dialogue and lead to profound misunderstandings among non-believers, such as that of the clockmaker god, the god of the holes or the capricious god who acts only when he feels like it, performing miracles in response to the strange merits of those who fervently pray an endless number of prayers. If we want to purify the representations, we need to improve the articulation of causalities. As recommendations at the end of this article I would like to propose:

1. Greater scientific attention on the part of theology. Theology must also have recourse to images and representations in order to penetrate as far as possible into the mystery. However, this resource should not be done without the representations of the world that science offers us today. The argument that science is provisional, and what it is today may change tomorrow, is simply not serious and implies a profound ignorance of what scientific progress means. On the other hand, to argue that it is a matter of protecting the faith of the simple when it is decided to maintain equivocal images at all costs, is to do a disservice to all believers, who are interested in faith insofar as it is true, and not the other way around. The fides quarens intellectum must be a path accessible to all believers, whether they are simple, scientists, intellectuals or theologians.

2. One of the great peripheries of evangelization, where progress is slow and sometimes painful, is that of the natural sciences. It is no longer simply a matter of offering to those believers who dedicate themselves to this field representations adequate to their sensibility. It is a matter of recognizing the genuine interest of science in knowing everything that exists, insofar as it is possible to interact with it on a human scale. If this is so, there are great questions that, from science, can open the door to transcendence. Certainly, each person is free to open that door or not, but anyone can be intellectually honest enough not to deny its existence. It is a matter, at final, of saving scientific activity from its instrumental and technocratic bias and returning it to the realm of sapere aude motivated by wonder in the face of mystery. The purification of representations is thus a continuous process, which must be carried out in all areas of knowledge by those who defend the unity of intellectual life.


(1) Ian G. Barbour, Issues in Science and Religion, London, SCM Press, 1966; Philip Clayton (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science, Oxford, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008; Peter Harrison (ed.), The Cambridge companion to science and religion, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2010; John Haught, Science and Faith. A New Introduction, New York, Paulist Press, 2012; Claudia Vanney and Ignacio Silva, "Science and Religion," in Claudia E. Vanney, Ignacio Silva and Juan F. Franck (eds.), Austral Interdisciplinary Dictionary, 2019. URL=http://dia.austral.edu.ar/Ciencia_y_religión.

(2) John H. Brooke, Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2014.

(3) I will use here both terms indistinctly with the same meaning, as I focus on the more cognitive and objective aspects of religion or faith, especially Christian faith.

(4) John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Fides et ratio, 14-IX-1998, n. 36. The immediate context of this reference letter is speech in the Areopagus, in which we seem to guess a certain impossibility of resorting to the Law and the prophets when evangelizing the Gentiles. See: Javier Sánchez Cañizares, La revelación de Dios en la creación: las referencias patrísticas a Hch 17, 16-34, Rome, Edizioni Università della Santa Croce, 2006, p. 279.

(5) "[Evolution] is tough; stuff happens," Richard Dawkins quips to the mother who asks him for words of comfort at the passing of a son with cancer in Oxford's famous discussion with Rowan Williams, in 2012. https://youtu.be/zruhc7XqSxo.

(6) See, as an example, the first grade at the bottom of this document.

(7) Even at the risk of being captious, allow me here to mention the project Science and Religion in Spanish Schools, carried out in the 2018-2021 triennium by group CRYF with funding from the John Templeton Foundation(https://www.templeton.org/es/grant/science-and-religion-in-spanish-schools) and which is now being continued by the Spanish Section of the Society of Catholic Scientists. The project aimed to obtain a map of the most pressing pedagogical issues in the teaching of subjects where science and religion are intertwined. It is also worth mentioning, at degree scroll as an example, the subject "Dialogues of Science and Faith" which, under different names, has been taught for more than a decade at the University of Navarra. Other examples at the national level are the online course Science and Faith in Dialogue(https://www.scienceandfaithonline.com/), directed by Emili Marlés, and the various activities of the Chair Hana and Francisco José Ayala de Ciencia, Tecnología y Religión, at the Universidad Pontificia Comillas (https://www.comillas.edu/catedra-hana-francisco-jose-ayala-ctr).

(8) About his importance, see the volume directed by Santiago Collado (dir.), "10th anniversary of Mariano Artigas' death", in Scientia et Fides 4/2 (2016).

(9) It is worth highlighting here some of the efforts made by Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti, "Si può parlare di Dio nel contesto della scienza contemporanea?", in Scientia et Fides 4/1 (2016) 9-26.

(10) On the importance of this question in the contemporary dialogue between science and religion, see Ignacio Silva, "Providence, Contingency, and the Perfection of the Universe," in Philosophy, Theology and the Sciences 2/2 (2015) 137-157.

(11) In what follows, I will employ much of the material also found in Javier Sánchez Cañizares, "Accepting Benedict XVI's challenge: Looking for new representations in religious teaching," in Dirk Evers, Michael Fuller and Anne Runehov (eds.), Studies in Science and Theology, Volume 18 (2021-2022): Creative Pluralism? Images and models in science and theology, Halle (Saale), Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg, 2022, pp. 115-124.

(12) Benedict XVI, Últimas Conversaciones, Bilbao, Mensajero, D.L., 2016, pp. 288-290.

(13) Pius XII, speech before the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, November 22, 1951 (own translation). https://www.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/it/speeches/1951/documents/hf_p-xii_spe_19511122_di-serena.html.

(14) St. John Paul II, speech to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, October 3, 1981. https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/es/speeches/1981/october/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_19811003_accademia-scienze.html.

(15) Ibid.

(16) Stephen W. Hawking, Historia del Tiempo; del Big Bang a los agujeros negros, Barcelona, RBA Editores, 1993, p. 156.

(17) Cf. Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti, "Creation", in Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti, Ivan Colagé and Alberto Strumia (eds.), INTERS - Interdisciplinary Encyclopedia of Religion and Science. https://inters.org/creation.

(18) Cf. Ibid.

(19) Cf. Josep-Ignasi Saranyana, "La creación 'ab aeterno'. Controversia de santo Tomás y Raimundo Martí con san Buenaventura", in Scripta Theologica 5/1 (1973) 127-174. https://hdl.handle.net/10171/12455.

(20) Pius XII, Encyclical Letter Humani generis, August 12, 1950, n. 29.

(21) Cf. Javier Novo, "The Theory of Evolution in the Writings of Joseph Ratzinger," in Scientia et Fides 8/2 (2020) 323-349. Doi: 10.12775/SetF.2020.024.

(22) Joseph Ratzinger, "Creation: faith in creation and the theory of evolution," in Holger Zaborowski and Alwin Letzkus (eds.), El Credo, hoy, Santander, Sal Terrae, 2012, p. 62.

(23) It goes without saying that I do not deny in any way the dignity of the human person due to the embryo. I fully embrace the defense and respect for all human life from its beginning to its natural end. However, I am presenting here the difficulties in determining the moment in which one can speak of a new human life through the representation of God insufflating the human soul when a sperm fertilizes the ovum: the most common image in the Christian conception.

(24) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, December 7, 1965, n. 36.

(25) Cf. Javier Novo, Evolución para creyentes y otros escépticos, Madrid, Rialp, 2019.

(26) Cf. Terrence P. Ehrman, "Anthropogenesis and the Soul," in Scientia et Fides, 8/2 (2020) 173-192. Doi: 10.12775/SetF.2020.018.

(27) Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1024.

(28) Ibid., n. 1026.

(29) Francis, General Audience, 26-XI-2014. https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/es/audiences/2014/documents/papa-francesco_20141126_udienza-generale.html.

(30) Cf. Roberto Mangabeira Unger and Lee Smolin, The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time: A Proposal in Natural Philosophy, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2014; Javier Novo, Rubén Pereda and Javier Sánchez Cañizares, Naturaleza creativa, Madrid, Rialp, 2018; Javier Sánchez Cañizares, Universo singular: apuntes desde la física para una Philosophy de la naturaleza, Madrid, publishing house UFV, 2019.

(31) With this term I refer to the temporality proper to the separate forms of the subject, which scholasticism defined as evo or eviternity.

(32) "We have to think of the present of creaturely events for God as also bridging time. On the level of its own creaturely reality, that which is present to God belongs to different times. But before God it is present. In this regard God's eternity needs no recollection or expectation, for it is itself simultaneous with all events in the strict sense. God does not need light to know things. Being omnipresent, he is with every creature as its own place": Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, vol. 2, London, New York, T&T Clark International, 2004, p. 92.

(33) Javier Sánchez Cañizares, "Philosophy griega y revelación cristiana. La recepción patrística del speech del Areópago", in Scripta Theologica 39/1 (2007), 185-201. Origen's answer has to do with the correct articulation of transcendence and divine immanence in creation.