The Dialogue between Science and Religion
and Its Significance for the Academy
Public Lecture Outline
13 November 2006
The primary purpose for a university is the increase and propagation of knowledge. Its structure expresses the fundamental unity of knowledge, finding its fullest expression in interdisciplinary interactions, such as that between science and religion.
The Academy needs to give attention both to the structure of the physical world (science) and to human claims of encounter with the dimension of the sacred (religion).
Science・s method is subtle, involving an inescapable circularity as theory interprets experiments confirm or disconfirm theories. The element of surprise in experimental exploration, and the element of long-term fruitfulness in theoretical explanation, combine to support the realist claim that science attains valid accounts of the nature of physical reality.
Science purchases its great success by the modesty of its ambition. It does not seek to ask and answer every question, confining itself to asking how things happen and bracketing out questions of meaning and purpose. It considers only objective and impersonal experience, but a full understanding of reality requires also considering the realm of personal experience. It is necessary, therefore, to look beyond science if we are to gain the comprehensive understanding which must be aim of the true university.
Science has discovered that the physical world is deeply intelligible, so that we can understand not only everyday processes, but also the subatomic world of quantum theory and the cosmic domain of curved spacetime. It is mathematical beauty which proves to be the guide to discovery in these counterintuitive regimes. Religion can understand these facts as the discovery of the divine Mind behind creation.
Religion is not based on belief merely held on the basis of unquestionable authority, but it is concerned with truth attained through motivated belief. This is the basis for the claim of theology to be a part of the Academy.
Science tells theology about the structure of the universe and what its history has been like. The physical fabric of the world had to take a very specific ．fine-tuned・ form to allow carbon-based life to be possible. The potentiality thus present has been brought to birth in actuality through evolutionary processes taking place ．at the edge of chaos・, where order and disorder intertwine.
Theology can interpret and understand these insights, which science by itself has to treat simply as brute facts. The deep intelligibility of the universe and its fine-tuned fruitfulness are signs that it is divine creation. The exploratory processes of evolution, by which creatures ．make themselves・, are divine gifts of a due freedom to creation. The necessity for these processes to operate at the edge of chaos offers theology some help as it wrestles with the perplexities of suffering and death.
The interaction between science and theology, properly hosted by the Academy, offers deeper understanding than could be attained through either discipline on its own.