Results and Outlook

What have we learned from this chapter? Was it much ado about nothing? Are the gains from understanding physical theories proportional to the effort involved? Is it not generally true that, within the context of the interdisciplinary dialogue, science speaks and theology more or less silently listens? Is it only theology that benefits from natural scientific knowledge, or could natural science also learn from insights gained by theology?

The answers lie on two levels. First, it is the task of theology to stay informed, because, like philosophy, it is an academic subject that deals with life as a whole. Precisely because it makes statements about life in general, it must also keep nonphilosophical and nontheological knowledge in mind in order to gain insights that satisfy both intellect and intuition. Seen from this perspective, theology is by nature interdisciplinary. Although a theologian can be criticized for being ignorant of relevant natural scientific facts, this does not apply conversely in exactly the same way to natural scientists with regard to theological insights.324 In this sense, the natural sciences may in fact have reasons to indulge in some self-satisfaction. Theological considerations may indeed do more harm than good in natural scientific research. Insights gained by theologians can nevertheless also make important contri butions to the understanding of natural scientific data and theses. The relative self-sufficiency of the natural sciences means that they cannot easily integrate external knowledge, even if this happens over and over again. Newton did it and it occurs today as well.325 Keeping alive the knowledge of their own limitations thus remains an important task of the natural sciences.

Second, the focal point of the exchange is the struggle for language. Precisely in the area of language, the boundaries between science and theology are much less explicit than is often assumed (see pp. 155—59). With regard to language, I completely agree with the physicist and theologian Robert J. Russell when he views theology and natural science "as the designations for two fields which, to some limited but irreducible degree, already include something of the discoveries, histories, visions, and commitments of one another, both intentionally and inadvertently."326

Both natural science and theology tell "stories of the world,"327 but the stories have been formed differently. While the paradigm of natural scientific knowledge is empirical observation, theological knowledge must make use of the attitude that Nicholas Lash has called "prayerfulness."328 On the one hand, the two modes of behavior differ completely from each other: "To put it very simply: there is a difference between listening to a waterfall and listening to another person, and in the natural scientist's world there are only waterfalls."329 On the other hand, the two attitudes meet, without relinquishing their respective identities, beyond the antitheses of the modern project in "new possibilities of 'pupilage.' "330 Now, in the light of twentieth-century physics, the difference between persons and waterfalls does not appear to be as radical as Lash seems to imagine. One cannot go back behind the critical questioning of the classical subject-object dichotomy, as it becomes clear especially with the reference to the role of the observer in the measuring processes of quantum physics. However, this does not at all mean that the gate to irrationality has been opened. Instead, more flexibility and more inclusiveness are made possible, which places demands on the rationality of the scientist that are at least as high as those required by the classical ideal of dichotomy.

Neither in the natural sciences nor in theology can one ignore the facts that, despite their relative difference, subject and object also constantly permeate each other and that theoretical knowledge and practical knowledge interact. Natural scientific discoveries tend to create their own ideologies, and in terms of their consequences, they strongly call for ethical reflection. Theological knowledge, by contrast, pushes toward the building of relationships between the content of faith, the worldview, and the organization of life. Because of these dynamics inherent to their disciplines, natural scientists and theologians are equally challenged to enter into a fruitful dialogue.

Luther said, Nihil divinitatis, ubi non fides331 (No divinity where there is no faith), and thus expressed the necessity of a practical, existential dimension of theological reflection. Such talk must seem highly suspicious to a scientific attitude that reckons with an unproblematic subject-object distinction. Whenever one takes seriously the subject-object relationship as it has been problematized precisely in physics, however, new opportunities open up for thinking in relationships and for integrating diverse dimensions of knowledge, without lowering the level of rationality of the scientific undertaking. Following Luther's words, where there is no faith there is no divinity, I wish to define the general viewpoint that results from these considerations with the words Nihil veritatis, ubi non relationes (No truth where there are no relations). Wherever relations move to center stage, human beings are conceived as participants, as co-players in a nature that is viewed as an event, so that one can overcome both an exclusively anthropocentric understanding of the world and a static conception of nature. From this perspective, a mutual enrichment of theology and natural science is not only desirable, but even likely to happen.

Third, in the dialogue with theology, the natural sciences can also deepen their understanding of themselves. From the example of physical theories of time, it became clear how theological reflections have acted as godparents in the development of theories and how physics, for its part, has also influenced theology. In numerous cases, an unshakable belief in the unity and harmony of nature has driven scientific research. This certainly applies to Einstein. His struggle with quantum theory is also evidence of how natural scientific thinking is related to transcendental experience and religiosity. Later portrayals of Einstein as a kind of sacred genius and high priest of natural science emphasize this dimension. Even in Newton, there was doubtless an interaction between theology and natural science, which continued in the work of his successors. The scientist and science journalist Margaret Wertheim, who vigorously emphasized the religious undertones in physics, considers it quite possible that precisely his personal experiences with the supernatural—and not least, his preoccupation with alchemy— brought Newton along his successful path. In a mechanistically shaped time, Newton dared to pursue the notion of an invisible and mysterious heavenly power that ultimately took him via the law of gravity to the formulation of the laws of motion.332 The enthusiasm for the clear structure of Newtonian science finally spread to many other scientists, who began to search for corresponding, uniform structures in completely different fields of knowledge.333 As later in the cases of Darwin and Einstein, as well as in the wake of quantum physics and chaos research, this results in a relatively strong formation of paradigms that attain significance and influence far beyond the original field. The prevailing theory at any given time can influence the hermeneutics of research processes of the most diverse branches of science; it can attain religious or quasi-religious status; it can become the pattern for the development of corresponding societal models. Science can become religion. The factors and processes that become effective in such developments require critical reflection. For this, natural sciences are also dependent upon theological expertise.

Wertheim believes that, to date, the agenda of physics has been filled with religious values. In the relevant literature, it is not unusual to proceed from parallels between the concept of the laws of nature and a monotheistic concept of God. In the words of the mathematician and physicist John Barrow:

The fact that such a unification [of all the laws of nature into a simple and single representation] is even sought tells us something important about our expectations regarding the Universe. These we must have derived from an amalgam of our previous experience of the world and our inherited beliefs about its ultimate Nature and significance. Our monotheistic traditions reinforce the assumption that the Universe is at root a unity, that it is not governed by different legislation in different places, neither the residue of some clash of Titans wrestling to impose their arbitrary wills upon the Nature of things, nor the compromise of some cosmic committee.334

Similarly, Wertheim recognizes a religious motif in the search for the TOE, the uniform theory of the natural forces: "The longing for one all-encompassing cosmic law is, I suggest, the scientific legacy of more than three millennia of faith in one all-encompassing principle known as God."335 It appears to be no accident that the idea of the unification of all forces was fed by a series of deeply religious men, such as the Jesuit priest Rudjer Boskovic (1711-1787) and the member of the small Christian Sande-manian sect, Michael Faraday (1791-1867). In view of the fact that the dream of the "world formula" preoccupies not only numerous clever minds, but also requires significant material resources in the form of particle accelerators, it seems justified to listen to Wertheim's critical questions concerning the real driving force behind this research.336 Is it an essentially hierarchically fixed image of the world that makes us believe that physics can explain God to us by discovering a unified theory? Do such high-reaching, quasi-religious ambitions distract us from more urgent problems, the solutions of which could actually improve the world? There must also be a discussion in and with physics about the kind of societal and ethical responsi bility required. Due to a common history and to the common tasks of the present, theology is an indispensable interlocutor in this discussion.337

Finally, what does physics contribute to the topic of "time"? It tells us that time is that which one measures with clocks. It also tells us that one second does not simply make up 1/86,400 of a day, but rather, 9,192,631,770 oscillations of a special caesium atom. It shows that time measurement functions even if we do not have a uniform theory and cannot say anything definitive about the beginning and the end of time. And, eventually, it also shows that the understanding of time has a fruitful history in the center of the formulation of scientific theory. More recent theories signal an openness in the understanding of what is generally called time. An adequate understanding of time cannot be satisfied with the analysis of individual elements; it must include structures and relations, being and becoming. It must also reckon with the fact that genuinely new things are possible. This openness encourages interpretations that go far beyond physics.

Have the expectations in this chapter thus been fulfilled? No, if we expected a definition package that needs "only" to be applied theologically. Yes, if we sought confirmation that time is a relational and multiple phenomenon. Yes, also, if we considered the fact that in physics, one is dealing with a description of functions that cannot be transferred directly to other areas.

In this third chapter of our study, it has been shown repeatedly that scientific theories and theological models do not exist in isolation from each other. The understanding of the theories of relativity in contrast to the absolute time in Newton is especially significant for the assessment of theological concepts of time. Newton's concept of absoluteness included theological assumptions, and Einstein was not the only one to be troubled by the consequences of quantum physics with regard to worldview and the understanding of God. For this reason, Dilthey's distinction between explanatory natural sciences, on the one hand, and the arts and humanities that are concerned with understanding, on the other hand, proves to be untenable.

The idea of the openness of time is meaningful from a theological perspective. Precisely at this point, however, physics has difficulties; discussion of an open future does not fall into its domain. This discussion belongs to the "central area from which we ourselves shape reality," which, however, "constitutes the infinitely remote singularity for the scientific language that indeed means something decisive for the ordering within the finite, but which can never be attained."338 In this sense, physics suffers from an escha-tological deficit. It must do so if it wishes to remain true to its nature.

At the end of this third chapter, the path to an adequate understanding of the concept of "time" therefore still appears to be a long way off.339 Nei ther Newton nor Einstein could explain time definitively. Quantum physics and chaos theory add greater meaning to the concepts of relation, dynamics, and openness without providing us with clear definitions. For better or for worse, we must reconcile ourselves to the fact that physics knows a great deal, but certainly not everything, about the phenomenon "time" that is so familiar to everyone, and yet so foreign.

The fourth chapter will consider the extent to which scientific development can be received theologically. For this, the illumination of the basic theoretical concepts of time in their proper contexts has created a necessary foundation. We shall see the extent to which such gains in knowledge can be attained for theology.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment