Science and Theology

When we ask, as some of us occasionally do, whether it is possible to discover or establish a true consonance between the modern sciences and theology, we are asking a question prompted first of all by nostalgia.

We are casting a perhaps somewhat forlorn glance back, on the one hand, to a period four or five centuries ago, before any estrangement had begun to take shape between “natural philosophy” and theology, and before mechanistic models of the physical order had begun to evolve into a metaphysical naturalism (the firm philosophical conviction, that is to say, that there can be no reality beyond the closed continuum of physical exchanges of matter and energy); but also, and much more essentially, we are looking back to an almost timeless moment of innocence, at once immemorial and yet intimately known to each of us, when we were as yet unaware of any distinctions between different spheres of inquiry, let alone any dissonances among them. We all remember, without being able quite to recall it with any immediacy, the first dawn of wonder within us: that instant when the infinitely open question of everything posed itself to us all at once, but when it had not yet become a specific question about anything as such.

Every attempt to know the truth of the world in later life—empirical, theoretical, hermeneutical, critical, speculative, spiritual—begins for all of us in an instant of naïve surprise before the mystery of being, an unanticipated experience of the sheer fortuity and givenness of the world, a sudden fleeting moment of limpid awareness when one knows simultaneously the utter strangeness of everything familiar and the utter contingency of everything presumed. This is that existential amazement that, as Plato and Aristotle both affirmed, first awakens us to the love of wisdom: an aboriginal summons to which, so long as we recall even the faintest shimmering trace of its uncanniness, we must remain faithful all our lives.

And, at first, this primordial vocation is the same for everyone, as are the first stirrings of a response; no alienations are yet possible. But the initial moment passes: boundless possibility contracts into a multitude of finite and divergent actual paths; habits of thought and decisions of the will make the luminous simplicity of the original experience ever more difficult to recollect; and at last, the mystery is lost somewhere amid the tangles of our methods and our prejudices. The day is long; the light of dawn soon fades from memory.

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