Consonance

Consonance, as a middle path between independence and integration, is argued for by Drees (1990), Gilkey (1970) and McMullin (1981). A broadly similar view of the relation of science to theology can be discerned in such works. It denies any irresolvable clash either in claim or method between science and theology. It affirms the necessity for theological symbols to have implications for our understanding of nature as well as humankind, and the possibility of a fruitful dialogue between science and theology. However, it denies that theological notions provide explanations of facts that are continuous with those provided by science, or that Christian thought is committed to the truth of particular, detailed scientific cosmologies. Consonance and integration both demand an intellectual endeavour to keep scientific and religious teaching free of conflict, while yet mutually relevant. But consonance does not require a single cosmology to arise out of the fusion of science and theology, in part because it affirms that theological doctrines and symbols are to a degree different in their function and mode of meaning to those of science. Such differences as exist between the integrationist and the consonance views of the theology/science relation can be brought out by considering what they say about the relation between the methods of science and of theology.

It is characteristic both of conflict and independence accounts of the relationship to assert a sharp opposition between methods of discovery and justification in science and theology. The difference between these accounts lies only in that the former asserts the paradigm status of science's use of reason, condemning all those disciplines that exhibit different modes of thought, while the latter is prepared to allow unconnected, but equally valid, methods in different areas of discourse. Both of these types of view can paradoxically unite in accepting a positivist account of scientific truth and method. This will give a deductivist portrayal of the goals of science, centring these on the ideal of a theory as a series of general statements whose job is to unify and predict observational reports which constitute their independent anchorage and source of meaning. Since doctrinal systems and symbols do not amount to theories related to observations in this way, the road is open to acknowledging the fundamental distinction between modes of meaning and truth in science and theology.

Both consonance and integrationist views wish to deny this positivistic, deductivist ideal for science and thus both can allow for points of contact between methods in theology and science. In this questioning of positivistic deductivism they are at one with the critique found in much recent philosophy of science. In this critique two strands of argument against the earlier models of scientific reason stand out: questioning of the anchorage of science in observation and rejection of the deductivist account of a theory. On the anchorage of theory in experience, harmonizers of science and theology make common ground with epistemologists and philosophers of science who assert that there are no pure observations by reference to which scientific theories may be confirmed or disconfirmed. All observations are to a degree theory-laden. There is no way in which a single component of a theory can be confirmed or disconfirmed in isolation by experience. Hypotheses are not laid against reality singly but in groups, so discrepancy between hypothesis and reality does not tell us which particular hypotheses are false. There is always room for judgement in determining which scientific ideas are well grounded and which not. The deductivist ideal of theory is held to be questionable because it ignores the role of theory in giving us a picture of the generative mechanisms in nature that account for observed phenomena. The aim of science is not simply to unify and predict observation reports, but to provide understanding of the workings of the universe. In this case, models are essential parts of theories. Theories are not merely deductively organized systems of hypotheses but 'statement-picture complexes' (Harre 1970:101).

Two points arising out of this critique of deductivist/positivist portrayals of science need highlighting. One is that a sharp contrast between scientific beliefs as anchored in experience and theological beliefs as 'metaphysical' becomes hard to sustain. Rather, we have a difference in degreeā€”in the amount of interpretation given to facts of experience and in the freedom belief-systems show in building upon experience in theory construction. The second point worth stressing is that the claimed indispensability of models in scientific theorizing shows that it cannot ultimately present a portrayal of reality free from metaphor. Its reliance on analogical, metaphorical forms of understanding indicates that there must remain a degree of tentativeness and openness in even the most well-confirmed theory. None captures reality 'neat' and in an unrevisable form. All remain products of imaginative understanding and retain the mark of the human imagination upon them. These two points can be used to plead once more the continuity between theological and scientific modes of understanding (see Barbour 1974). Reflection on these ideas leads to the conclusion that it is impossible to sustain the claim in Wiebe's study The Irony of Theology and the Nature of Religious Thought (1991)

that academic theology is necessarily destructive of faith and of religion as practised. Wiebe's contention is that religious thinking is 'mytho-poeic' in contrast to philosophical, scientific thinking which is 'critical-rational'. The two cannot mix and the result of trying to do 'scientific', critical theology in universities has been and will be to undermine the pre-critical thought on which the life of religion is based. But if it is the case that scientific thought is essentially tied to the employment of metaphorical modes of understanding, the contrasts on which this general argument rests are neither absolute nor unquestionable.

Integrationists build upon these ideas to present a close continuity between the scientific and the theological enterprises. But they are also compatible with significant differences of degree between science and theology in the reliance on metaphor and in the freedom with which ideas relate to observed reality. Such differences may suggest that something less than the integrationists' ideals may be all that can safely be pursued. For example, in discussing God as creator above I have suggested that appeal to this notion cannot provide a causal explanation of cosmological facts which is on a par with a scientific explanation. The element of mysteriousness at the heart of this notion suggests that it is part of an imaginative picture which explains why the cosmos exists by presenting that fact in the light of an analogy (maker to product) that forever defies precise explication. Causal questions are not thereby answered but searches for other forms of understanding (relating to finding a purpose and value in the cosmos) are given direction. A common experience of the contingency of all things is articulated. The overall imaginative picture must be consonant with science. It should not contradict any well-supported scientific theory about cosmic and human origins and it may imply limits on the range of detailed cosmologies that are compatible with it, but it does not complete the enquiries of science. This could be part of an approach which recognizes the overall force of the notion of the unity of reason as it operates in science and theology, but allows a looser, family-resemblance interpretation of that unity. There is consonance and some overlap in scientific reason and theological reason but also difference of an irreducible kind.

An argument for this irreducible difference, which also provides a way in which science still provides a challenge to theology, can be gleaned from thinking about what tells in favour of a realist interpretation of science. Scientific ideas come and go; so do those of theology. Scientific ideas are also to an extent influenced in their rise and fall by social and historical factors. So are those of theology. Yet we do find across the history of science a steady accumulation of reliable beliefs about every conceivable aspect of the natural world (Harre 1986:1). This is reflected in the justice with which we can say that an undergraduate physicist in 1992 knows vastly more about the physical universe than Newton. Accumulation suggests realism. It implies that, for all their imperfections and provisional character, a significant proportion of successive scientific theories have reached out, enabled their proponents to refer to realities independent of human cognition and added some truths about those realities to the stock of human knowledge. Such undeniable success also suggests that, within the social-cum-personal-cum-historic factors that have moved scientific belief, there has also been at work a morality concerned with truth and reason (Harre 1986:6).

Unlike science, but like other disciplines such as philosophy, theology has not shown this accumulation of reliable belief. This implies that either theology fails at the same kind of enterprise science is engaged in, or that it searches after a mode of understanding, which, though it may have continuities with that of science, is nonetheless different. The latter is obviously the preferable conclusion.

So despite the failure of a sharp contrast between scientific method and theological method (as found in positivism), the nature of scientific knowledge does provide a challenge to theology. In the first place that challenge demands an effort to show how theological reflection aims at and sometimes achieves understanding, without that understanding resulting in an increased stock of truths. The most likely account of theological understanding which might yield this result is one that stresses the likeness of theology to modes of practical enquiry and the similarity of the knowledge that it seeks to practical knowledge. The knowledge of God that theology needs is a knowledge of how individuals and communities are to discover meaning, and shape their lives in the light of the creative will of God. Consonance suggests that such knowledge must fit into the picture of the natural world that the best science of the day presents us with, but also that it cannot be offered as on a par with the knowledge provided by science.

The development of natural science in Western, Christian culture has finally yielded the picture (distinctive in the history of religions) of a religion trying to make its way in a thought-world whose cosmology is provided by a largely autonomous system of belief. That is one challenge that theology must face. Furthermore, theology must confront the example science presents of a cognitive community, which, though it has no shining, infallible path to incorrigible belief, preserves a markedly strong morality of inquiry which gets results.

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