What is space?

What is space?

I came across a great post today and wanted to let me readers in on the discussion. The author is the amazingly accomplished Dr. Emily Thomas, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Durham University. In this post, she asks the question, “what is space?

Mountains. Whales. The distant stars. All these things exist in space, and so do we. Our bodies take up a certain amount of space. When we walk to work, we are moving through space. But what is space? Is it even an actual, physical entity?

In answering this question, she mentions a little known debate, fostered by  Caroline of Ansbach (1683-1737), between the German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz and the English philosopher Samuel Clarke. The two men had very different answers to the question of space: the relationist vs. the absolutist.

Is there space between the stars? The relationist Leibniz argued that space is the spatial relations between things. Australia is “south of” Singapore. The tree is “three meters left of” the bush. Sean Spicer is “behind” the bush. That means space would not exist independently of the things it connects. For Leibniz, if nothing existed, there couldn’t be any spatial relations. If our universe were destroyed, space would not exist.

Then there was Clarke:

In contrast, the absolutist Clarke argued that space is a sort of substance that is everywhere. Space is a giant container, containing all the things in the universe: stars, planets, us. Space allows us to make sense of how things move from one place to another, of how our entire material universe could move through space. What’s more, Clarke argued that space is divine: space is God’s presence in the world. In a way, space is God. For Clarke, if our universe were destroyed, space would be left behind. Just as you can’t delete God, you can’t delete space.

Dr. Thomas goes in to quite a bit more detail in her blog, so I encourage everyone interested in this topic to visit The Conversation and check out this article along with some of her other work on space and time.

The Debate Papers

A Collection of Papers, Which passed between the late Learned Mr. Leibnitz, and Dr. Clarke, In the Years 1715 and 1716 (London: 1717)

Author: Samuel Clarke

Source: Samuel Clarke, A Collection of Papers, Which passed between the late Learned Mr. Leibnitz, and Dr. Clarke, In the Years 1715 and 1716 (London: 1717).

Max Planck on Ethics & the Need for Scientific Realism

Max Planck on Ethics & the Need for Scientific Realism

My introduction to the legendary physicist Max Planck was decades ago during my undergraduate studies in thermodynamics. Through his work across the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Planck deduced a universal constant ‘h’ for the distribution of  energy emitted from a blackbody. What came to be known as Planck’s constant forever changed scientific perceptions of the natural world. His work was a foundational precursor to modern quantum theory and marked the “end of the mechanical age in science, and the opening of a new era.”[1]

Today, in my study of science and religion, I am discovering that what made Planck such a great physicist was also his understanding of philosophy. In his 1932 book, Where is Science Going?, Planck laments the crisis of history that he observed overwhelming every branch of “spiritual and material civilization” and corrupting“the general attitude towards fundamental values in personal and social life.”[2] Some people saw this change as positive progress while others believed it marked the end of civilization. This skepticism, Planck notes, first took root in religious fields—eroding the moral systems of society—and evenly burrowed its way into the sciences such that, “There is scarcely a scientific axiom that is not nowadays denied by somebody. And at the same time almost any nonsensical theory that may be put forward in the name of science would be almost sure to find believers and disciples somewhere or other.”[3]

More than 70 years later, Planck’s lament rings familiar as many wonder, as he did then, if “there is any rock of truth left on which we can take our stand and feel sure that it is unassailable and that it will hold firm against the storm of skepticism raging around it”[4] Every generation has its share dystopian acolytes, yet Planck’s concern seems keenly prophetic in depicting the state of the modern mind.

Planck’s chief concern in science was the trend among respectable institutions to reject the principle of causality which was, prior to his time, universally accepted and a foundational assumption for research. Specifically, Planck opposed scientific positivism which denied the reality of the outside world. Planck shared common ground with positivists in seeing the individual’s sense-perception of the outside world as the starting point for all scientific knowledge .[5] Einstien in his intoruction to the book summarizes this idea well:

Thus the supreme task of the physicist is the discovery of the most general elementary laws from which the world-picture can be deduced logically. But there is no logical way to the discovery of these elemental laws. There is only the way of intuition, which is helped by a feeling for the order lying behind the appearance and this Einfuehlung is developed by experience.[6]

Recognizing this shared epistemolgical starting point, but the positivist was not willing to go any further. Planck rightly saw the danger in the positivist’s rejection of a reality outside one’s own personal experience. The following is the example he used to illustrate the dilemma:

Our daily habits of speech make it rather difficult for us to observe the strict positivist rule. In ordinary life when we speak of an outer object—a table, for instance—we mean something that is different from the table as actually observed by physical science. We can see the table and we can touch it and we can try its firmness by leaning on it and its hardness and if we give it a thump with our knuckles we shall feel a hurt. In the light of positivist science the table is nothing more than a complex of these sensory perceptions and we have merely got into the habit of associating them with the word table. Remove these sensory perceptions and absolutely nothing remains. In the positivist theory we must entirely ignore everything beyond what is registered by the senses and therefore we are impregnable in this clearly defined realm. For the positivist, to ask what a table in reality is has no meaning whatsoever; and this is so with our other physical concepts.[7]

The ultimate danger of positivism was its denial of scientific realism and of any objective reality outside experience. If this is true, Planck argues, then the entire scientific revolution is rendered meaningless because both Ptolemy’s earth-centered universe and Copernicus’ heliocentrism are equally valid. “They are merely two different ways of making a mental construction out of sensory reactions to some outer phenomena; but they have no more right to be looked upon as scientifically significant than the mental construction which the mystic or poet may make out of his sensory impressions when face to face with nature.”[8] Thus, the positivist is left with no way to meaningfully observe nature and must consequently reject any esthetic or ethical standard.[9]

The positivist philosophy is impotent to make sense of everyday experiences. For example, when a stick is placed into a glass half filled with water, what do we observe? The length submerged appears bent. But is any trained observer tricked by their eyes into thinking the stick is truly bent? No. They recognize the law of refraction is at work and the appearance of a bent stick is a deception of the eye. Experience then is falsifiable. Reality exists outside experience if we only have a way to determine that reality. However, the positivist is not so lucky. “The positivist will not allow us to conclude anything. We have a sensory impression of the part of the stick that is in water and a contiguous sensory impression of the part that is in air; but we have no right to say anything about the stick itself.”[10]

Planck’s illustration reminds me of the old scientific riddle, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” As a trained acoustician, my first response is to answer “the tree does make a noise, but does not make a sound.” But this is a purely materialistic interpretation of this question. A noise is the production of energy waves when the tree strikes the ground, but only becomes sound if there is someone to hear it. But there is a deeper metaphysical truth exposed by this question I had not considered prior to reading Planck. The question really asks, “does anything exist outside of observational experience?” “Can the sound exist for me, but not for you?” How a person answers this question exposes them as either a scientific positivist or scientific realist. In denying any external reality, the positivist has no way to discern any truth outside of personal sense experience. Even more destructive, the positivist is left in isolation with no way to share in the experience of others.

When we come from the animal world to the world of human beings we find the positivist scientists making a clear distinction between one’s own impressions and the impressions of others. One’s own impressions are the sole reality and they are realities only for oneself… But, in the strict positivist view, we have no reliable knowledge whatsoever of other people’s impressions. Because they are not a direct sensory perception, they do not furnish a basis for the certainty of our knowledge.[11]

Positivist logic has continued to creep its way into the foundation of Western culture and today we can observe the deleterious consequence in our isolationist—even narcissistic—ethics as predicted by Planck. The everyday positivist of our time concludes:

  • If I can feel only my pain, then only my pain exists.
  • If I self-identify as female, then no one can deny my feeling because there is no biological reality to constrain me.
  • If I feel like aborting my baby, then the feelings of others do not exist in my reality and any choice I make is justified.
  • If I am offended by your actions, your feelings or intentions do not matter because only my feelings can determine my truth.
  • If my heart tells me something is good, then there is no external reality to contradict my feelings or tell me my actions are bad.
  • If a man is not a woman, then he cannot speak to a “woman’s issue” because he cannot “know” her experience.

Positivism leaves us stranded on our own island of reality; impotent to exchange ideas or speak to the experience of others because there is no common reality outside of us to govern that exchange. Given this challenge, how then must we respond? Planck makes the choice for scientists clear:

So we are faced with the alternative of either renouncing the idea of a comprehensive science, which will hardly be agreed to even by the most extreme positivist, or to admit a compromise and allow the experiences of others to enter into the groundwork of scientific knowledge. But we should thereby, strictly speaking, give up our original standpoint, namely, that only primary data constituted a reliable basis of scientific truth.[12]

So then, if we accept all sense perception as absolute we cannot deny the validity of any scientific experiment. To every researcher, their own experience is truth and theoretical physics is excluded from knowledge. If science rests solely on the foundation of isolated experience, then the dependability of science is lost. But, if we choose to accept the reports of others as knowledge (scientific data) we break the chain of logic in scientific positivism.

Now, having poisoned the roots of scientific positivism, Planck moves into the realm of the metaphysical. If sense-perception is a starting point, but not the end of science, we must have a way to determine the validity of experience outside our own. That is, we must accept a scientific realism that exists outside of individual perceptions, feelings, and emotions. The two pillars of realism he outlines are: “(1) There is a real outer world which exists independently of our act of knowing) and, (2) The real outer world is not directly knowable.”

On the surface, these two statements appear in contradiction. But together they make the case that scientific knowledge is only partial and corrigible and it must interact with other disciplines, such as philosophy and theology, to make any sense of the real world. Every new scientific discovery only unveils a new realm to be discovered. The goal of science is unobtainable as it can never reach the metaphysical.

How will you determine the truth that exists outside you own experience?

That is the question Planck evokes in the mind of the reader. For me, the answer lies in the warranted true belief in the external reality of God who speaks to us through his word: the Christian Bible, the Holy Spirit, the living Christ and the manifest church. In humility, I accept scientific realism and through my faith seek to find a way to engage with others and learn from their experiences. To that end, I leave you with this poem by Planck.

“Was Du gefflueckt, was ich gefflueckt

Das wollen wir verbinden

Und weil sich eins zum andern schickt

Den schoensten Kranz draus winden.”[13]


[1] Max Planck, Where is science going?, trans. James Vincent Murphy, First ed. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1932), 17.

[2] Ibid., 64.

[3] Ibid., 65.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 66.

[6] Ibid., 10.

[7] Ibid., 69.

[8] Ibid., 71.

[9] Ibid., 73.

[10] Ibid., 74.

[11] Ibid., 76.

[12] Ibid., 77.

[13] Ibid., 36.



Science and Religion: An Introduction to John Polkinghorne

Science and Religion: An Introduction to John Polkinghorne

The late 20th century saw renewed interest in the interaction between science and religion.[1] Galileo and Newton believed religion mattered to their scientific exploration of God’s two great books: nature and scripture. The works of Ian Barbour and Anthony Peacocke have advanced a framework for meaningful cross-discipline dialogue in the fields of philosophy, creation and natural theology. While progress has been made to resolve complex difficulties, there remain unsettled challenges in need of intellectual engagement from practitioners of both scientific and religious studies. Physicist turned Anglican priest, John Polkinghorne, laments the invasive role the media and populist science have played in promoting the “myth of the light of pure scientific truth confronting the darkness of obstructionist religious error.[2]” In point of fact, science and theology have more in common than popular sentiment will allow. To counter these superficial notions, there is a need for thoughtful scientists and theologians to eschew common hostility and pursue intellectual discourse. The scientist must rise above reductionist philosophy and the Christian must avoid fideism.[3]

What follows is a quick introduction to the thoughts of Polkinghorne on how science and religion can interact in a meaningful way. According to Plkinghorne, here are some things to consider as the dialogue unfolds.

  1. Prioritize the recent thoughts of modern science.[4]
  2. Avoid the “semantic danger of transferring terms across disciplines.”[5]
  3. Tolerance, acceptance, dialogic engagement with those who venture outside their expertise to undertake the risk of interdisciplinary study.[6]
  4. A mutual understanding of methodical preferences expressed in semantics; the common “Bottomup” language of scientists (vis-à-vis, analogia entis) vs. the common “Topdown” language of the theologian (vis-à-vis, analogia fidei).[7]
  5. Understanding, for the scientist, increases with time and ultimately supplants past achievements.[8] Understanding, for the theologian, grows only as it remains grounded in the past; advancing terminology, but maintaining the substance of historic [9]
  6. Science is fundamentally concerned with the ‘how’ and theology with the ‘why,’ yet share a critical realist approach to knowledge.[10]
  7. The increasing role of holistic thought in science has a direct corollary to the insight of theology.[11] Therefore, theology can work in concert with scientific insight.[12]

The goal of interdisciplinary dialogue is not a scientific takeover of religion or a religious takeover of science. Each discipline must interact and resist the inclination to suborn the authority of the other. Polkinghorne concludes that the theologian must pursue the path of consonance which seeks to espouse a theology informed by science, but which reserves the right, along with the scientist, to “retain those categories which its experience has determined that it shall use, however counterintuitive they may be.[13]” Only with this approach can science and theology work together to “tackle the moral problems posed by the growth of science.[14]

The ethical snare for the scientist is to get so caught up in the excitement of research that there is never time to ask where it is going and to what end. Not everything that can be done should be done. The technological imperative must be tempered by the moral imperative. All new discoveries are ”falls upward,” the enlarged powers thus obtained containing the potential both for good and for ill.[15]

Both science and theology share a critical realistic approach of intellectual inquiry that tries to make sense of experience in the search for truth.[16] For the scientist, asserts Polkinghorne, there is a recognition that the search for truth is both partial and corrigible. The results of scientific exploration provide a probable but not absolute answer.[17] This understanding stands at the core of Polkinghorne’s critical realist approach to ontology. To be certain, philosophers employ second-order reflections that question the ability of science to expose reality through first-order experimentation. Recognizing these delimiters, With an eye toward continuing interdisciplinary dialogue, Polkinghorne outlines the epistemological character of the scientific method.

  1. Individuals can remain amenable on some localized ideas without the expectation that everything within a proposed as right or acceptable.[18]
  2. There is no universal scientific method, but a variety of methodologies that rely on nonempirical methodologies and therefore must remain open to correction.[19]
  3. Theoretical prediction and experimental fact are inextricably linked in the scientific method such that all facts are interpreted facts.[20]
  4. As illustrated in the Heisenberg principle of uncertainty, there is no uniform epistemology.[21]
  5. Social factors may impact the pace of scientific pursuit, but will not ultimately change the character of the knowledge discovered.[22]
  6. Scientific realism “is a contingent fact about the relation between our epistemological power and the ontology of our world” and provides the best approach for doing science without imposing any metaphysical necessity on all possible worlds.[23]

Polkinghorne’s scientific realism is a direct corollary to his theological realism that seeks clarity of knowledge but understands the limitations of a finite mind exploring an infinite God.

While the resolute sceptic can never be defeated in logical argument, neither can the epistemologically optimistic who decline to despair of gaining verisimilitudinous knowledge of reality. It is the instinct of a scientist to encourage a trusting attitude towards those insights that afford a satisfying basis for understanding what is going on… As a passionate believer in the ultimate integrity and unity of all knowledge, I wish to extend my realist stance beyond science to encompass, among many other fields of enquiry theological reflection on our encounter with the divine. I take as my motto for that endeavour the remarkable words of Bernard Longergan: “God is the unrestricted act of understanding, the eternal rapture, glimpsed in every Archimedean cry of Eureka.”8 The search for truth through and through is ultimately the search for God.

Ultimately, science and religion are fundamentally similar in kind but differ only in their “degree of power of empirical interrogation which these various investigations enjoy.[24]” There is a shared circularity of reason accompanied by the paradox of direct encounter that will never lead to anything more than a partial understanding of an ineffable truth. The image of God in man is the source for our drive for scientific exploration. Therefore, we can have a hope that both science and theology, within their unique domains, can achieve a knowledge that is partial but reflects an ontological reality that is understandable through reasoned dialogue.

Recommended Reading

If you are new to Polkinghorne and want to learn more, here are some suggested books to get you started.

Belief in God in an Age of Science


John Polkinghorne is a major figure in today’s debates over the compatibility of science and religion. Internationally known as both a theoretical physicist and a theologian—the only ordained member of the Royal Society—Polkinghorne brings unique qualifications to his inquiry into the possibilities of believing in God in an age of science. In this thought-provoking book, the author focuses on the collegiality between science and theology, contending that these “intellectual cousins” are both concerned with interpreted experience and with the quest for truth about reality. He argues eloquently that scientific and theological inquiries are parallel.

The book begins with a discussion of what belief in God can mean in our times. Polkinghorne explores a new natural theology and emphasizes the importance of moral and aesthetic experience and the human intuition of value and hope. In other chapters, he compares science’s struggle to understand the nature of light with Christian theology’s struggle to understand the nature of Christ. He addresses the question, Does God act in the physical world? And he extends his ideas about the role of chaos theory, surveys the prospects for future dialogue between scientific and theological thinkers, and defends a critical realist understanding of the activities of both disciplines. Polkinghorne concludes with a consideration of the nature of mathematical truths and the links between the complementary realities of physical and mental experience.

Science and Religion in Quest of Truth


John Polkinghorne, an international figure known both for his contributions to the field of theoretical elementary particle physics and for his work as a theologian, has over the years filled a bookshelf with writings devoted to specific topics in science and religion. In this new book, he undertakes for the first time a survey of all the major issues at the intersection of science and religion, concentrating on what he considers the essential insights for each. Clearly and without assuming prior knowledge, he addresses causality, cosmology, evolution, consciousness, natural theology, divine providence, revelation, and scripture. Each chapter also provides references to his other books in which more detailed treatments of specific issues can be found.

For those who are new to what Polkinghorne calls “one of the most significant interdisciplinary interactions of our time,” this volume serves as an excellent introduction. For readers already familiar with John Polkinghorne’s books, this latest is a welcome reminder of the breadth of his thought and the subtlety of his approach in the quest for truthful understanding.


[1] Polkinghorne pinpoints 1966 and the publication of Ian Barbour’s “Issues in Science and Religion” as the demarcation of when this modern period of increased interaction began. J. C. Polkinghorne, Belief in God in an Age of Science (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), 76-77, Digital, WorldCat.org.

[2] Ibid., 77. Polkinghorne is here critical of what he characterizes as the “facile triumphalism” of Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett that has perverted the secular academy.

[3] Ibid., 80.

[4] Ibid., 81. Polkinghorne makes an interesting observation that Clerk Maxwell and Albert Einstein reflect the “last of the ancients” who do not reflect the insight of the modern scientific world.

[5] Ibid., 82.

[6] Ibid., 83.

[7] Ibid., 84-85. This difference in approach, however, does not mean the scientist and theologian cannot meet together with a common understanding. Pearcy and Thaxton’s research observe that pre-modern scientists used a Topdown approach in their conception of natural order. Early scientists held an a priori assumption of nature’s order based on God’s revealed nature, “The early scientists did not argue that the world was lawfully ordered, and therefore there must be a rational God. Instead, they argued that there was a rational God, and therefore the world must be lawfully ordered.” Nancy Pearcey and Charles B. Thaxton, The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy, Turning point Christian worldview series (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1994), 26-27.

[8] This tendency within science may be one reason modern scientists disclaim the role of Christian theology in many of its fundamental presuppositions. If so, then exposing this tendency may help open more paths of dialog.

[9] Polkinghorne, 87.

[10] Ibid., 99.

[11] Ibid., 98.

[12] J. C. Polkinghorne, Science and Theology: An Introduction (London: SPCK, 1998), 2.

[13] Polkinghorne, Belief in God in an Age of Science, 86.

[14] Ibid., 91.

[15] Ibid., 92.

[16] Ibid., 98.

[17] Ibid., 104. Polkinghorne makes special note of David Hume’s criticism of the method of induction.

[18] Ibid., 105.

[19] Ibid., 106.

[20] Ibid., 107.

[21] Ibid., 108.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid., 109.

[24] Ibid., 114.

[BOOK REVIEW] Creation out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration

[BOOK REVIEW] Creation out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration

Copan, Paul and William Lane Craig. Creation out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration. Logos ed. Leicester, England Grand Rapids, MI: Apollos; Baker Academic, 2004.

In this book, Copan and Craig bring to bear the most recent biblical scholarship, philosophy and scientific foundation for understanding what Genesis 1 teaches about creation. This view provides a counterpoint to the tradition of thinkers like Schleiermacher who argued for a detemproalized creation which has no connection to philosophy or science, but is only concerned with religious experience. Specifically, Copan and Craig endeavor to give reason to accept the idea that the God of the Hebrew scripture created the material world from nothing. This book is broken down into eight chapters. Chapters 1 through three provide the biblical and extrabiblical witness to creation ex nihilo, chapters 4 through 6 give a philosophical underpinning for the book’s thesis, and the final chapters 7 and 8 provide the scientific and naturalistic evidence for the thesis.

Chapter 1 makes the case that creation ex nihilo is the best interpretation of the teachings of the Old Testament. The chapter offers three lines of reasoning. First, the cosmology of Genesis is distinct from other Ancient Near Eastern mythology in its assertion of both monotheism and a contingent creation distinct from the creator. Second, the Hebrew word for creation, bārāʾ reinforces the cosmological idea that God created purely from his word and not from any existing material reality. Third, in a two-stage process, the Hebrew God created all matter and then organized it into the universe.

Chapter 2 surveys key passages from John 1:3, Romans 4:17, Hebrews 11:3 and a series of other verse that reinforce the Old Testament concept of creation ex nihilo. These NT verses, according to Copan and Craig, mirror the explicit teaching of the Old Testament of a God who is both distinct from all he created and whose creation remains contingent on his being. One key argument is that “Either creatio ex nihilo is true, or God is not all-powerful. But God is truly all-powerful” therefore, creation ex nihilo is an indirect, yet clear, teaching of the NT.[1]

Chapter 3 provides insight from other non-biblical literature that supports the Hebraic concept of creation ex nihilo. The three main sources for the study are the Apocrypha, later Jewish sources such as Josephus, Philo, Gamaliel II, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Medieval Jewish exegetes and the Church Fathers. These early sources reinforce the Hebrew cosmological worldview that God is the uncreated beginning for all matter. These sources, including the Church Fathers, confirm that the biblical doctrine of ex nihilo makes the most sense of the biblical teachings of God’s sovereignty, freedom, eternality, and necessity.

Chapters 4, 5 and 6 provide a deeper philosophic understanding and foundation for creation ex nihilo. The Scripture makes a distinction between the concepts of God as creator and conserver which many scholars and philosophers tend to conflate. God as creator and patient preserver implies an A-theory of time and objective temporal becoming. Competing solutions to the problem of divine aseity are argued among Platonists and anti-Platonists. Copan and Craig concede they do not have an authoritative answer for theists looking to explain abstract objects but posit the most promising solution lies in a nominalist or conceptualist account. Considering there are a variety of plausible solutions, there is a valid reason to accept the concept of ex nihilo. Philosophic support for an uncreated creator and a created universe are supported two basic arguments:[2]

  1. An actual infinite cannot exist.
  2. An infinite temporal regress of events is an actual infinite.
  3. Therefore, an infinite temporal regress of events cannot exist.

And the second syllogism is similarly argued:[3]

  1. The series of events in time is a collection formed by successive addition.
  2. A collection formed by successive addition cannot be actually infinite.
  3. Therefore, the series of events in time cannot be actually infinite.

Both arguments form the logical foundation for belief in the aseity of God and creation ex nihilo.

The final two chapters 7 and 8 provide a scientific foundation for accepting creation ex nihilo. Here the authors argue that standard Big Bang cosmology of an expanding universe and the principles of thermodynamics demonstrates the universe must have a beginning. Therefore, the theistic assertion of creation from nothing by an uncreated creator cannot be contradicted by the best empirical evidence. The authors finally address three arguments against creation ex nihilo; a self-created universe, supernaturalistic and naturalistic alternatives. The authors conclude that these theories are not as straightforward as the ones posited in previous chapters nor are they supported by the best scientific evidence. Therefore, creation ex nihilo is the most plausible biblical, philosophic, and scientific answer to the cosmos.

I give Copan and Craig’s book Creation out of Nothing: book 5 stars for anyone interested in discovering the biblical, scientific and philosophic foundations for creatio ex nihilo.



[1] Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, Creation out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration, Logos ed. (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Apollos; Baker Academic, 2004), 91.

[2] Ibid., 200.

[3] Ibid., 211.

Natural Philosophy and Its Influence on Pre-Modern Theology

Natural Philosophy and Its Influence on Pre-Modern Theology

In 11th and 12th century Europe, urbanization led to the growth of schools and the intellectual culture. The new emphasis on reading the Latin classics led to the study of Plato and integration of his cosmology and the Demiurge.[1] This led to an emphasis on the study of secondary (natural) causes of observable phenomena established by the Creator, an Aristotelian inspired rationalism, and a desire to translate more Greek and Arabic works into Latin. The Platonism of the early Middle Ages that was more compatible with Christian theology was slowly replaced in the late Middle ages with the newly translated works from Aristotle and commentaries from Islamic scholars.[2] Most problematic to Christian theology were Aristotle’s eternal cosmos, monism, deterministic naturalism, and emphasis on reason and sense experience as the sole source testing truth claims. Albertus Magnus (1193– 1280 A.D.) and Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225– 1274 A.D.), in their attempt to mollify the advance of Aristotelian philosophy, ended up importing many new metaphysical concepts into Christianity including a philosophic dualism between nature and God.

The syncretism of theology and natural-science continued such that by the beginning of the 17th century the Roman Catholic Church had fully adopted Aquinas’ 13th century Aristotelian philosophy. The Papal acceptance of the Integration Model of science and religion set the framework for the oft overstated conflict between Papal authority and the Copernican minority. The common acceptance of Aristotelian philosophy challenged the epistemological foundation of science and blurred the line of distinction held to in all the institutes of higher learning between the metaphysical study of astronomy through mathematics and the scientific study of physics:[3] Ultimately, the conflict between The Roman Catholic Church and Copernican theory espoused by Galileo was more about the neo-Platonic natural philosophy advancing against Aristotelianism than it was science vs. religion.

Over the centuries, it is undeniable that harm has been done in the name of religion, in the name of science, and by governments in their lust for power. One theological roadblock has been Aristotelian dualism, enshrined in the theology of Thomas Aquinas, which led to the “two worlds” mentality of Deism and allowed some Christians to abandon care for the natural world over eternal concerns.[4] In addition, this dualism limited the meaning of Divine revelation such God had no way to directly interact or make revelation of himself to humanity.[5] Any attempt to understand the history of science and religion must come to grips with these historic influences of natural philosophy.

[1] David C. Lindberg, “Medieval Science and Religion,” in Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction, ed. Gary B. Ferngren (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017), 63.

[2] Ibid., 65.

[3] Owen Gingerich, “Truth in Science: Proof, Persuasion, and the Galileo Affair,” Science & Christian Belief 16, no. 1 (2004): 15-16.

[4] Chris Doran, Hope in the Age of Climate Change: Creation Care This Side of the Resurrection (Eugene, OR: WIPF & Stock Publishers, 2017), 10-11. Doran lists here several contemporary theological roadblocks that prevent some Christians from engaging in discussions of climate change or environmental care.

[5] Thomas F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology: Consonance between Theology and Science, New ed., Ground and Grammar (Edinburgh; New York: T&T Clark Ltd., 2001), 30, Logos.

Science and Religion in Higher Education

Science and Religion in Higher Education

As America has become more pluralistic and secular, Marsden argues, Christian higher education has failed to make an appeal to this broader audience.[1]  The rise of specialists helped put an end to the generalist approach once held in high esteem and the place for theologian-scientist was marginalized.[2] This challenge is addressed by physicist turned Anglican priest John Polkinghorne argued the need to accept dialogic engagement from those who venture outside their expertise to undertake the risk of interdisciplinary study.[3] The Bible must be allowed by Christians to be confronted by science without fear of exposing evangelical theology to criticism.

A genuine integration of faith and science must eschew Presuppositionalism and superficial accommodation which treats science as simply a set of beliefs appended to a common statement of faith which is easily dismantled when science changes and comes into conflict with long-held beliefs.[4] This penchant for superficial accommodation was dominant in American Puritanism that accepted the findings of science but lacked a deep integration of its findings with their faith eventually led to two camps of pragmatism and positivism.[5] The superficial integration of science and religion in American can be seen in the embrace of Newtonian physics and the frenzied rejection of Darwinian philosophy; both rooted in the same basic mechanistic philosophy that was not properly considered by theologians. This eventually led to the marginalization of religion in general. The door to meaningful engagement was opened with the science of quantum mechanics. The cosmos was no longer a static machine, but a dynamic world once again open to new metaphysical realities explored through different methodologies. The new science has opened the door, but Christians must engage science with a thoughtful philosophy that understands the implications of various theorems and the undergirding presuppositions.

Consequently, the Dialogue Model is the ideal framework for understanding the historic relationship between science and religion and for advancing higher education. This approach allows both science and religion to maintain their unique approaches to epistemology while allowing them to interact in their common interest to describe reality.

[1] George Marsden, “The Collapse of American Evangelical Academia,” in Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God, ed. Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstoff (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame University Press, 1995), 220.

[2] Ibid., 221.

[3] J. C. Polkinghorne, Belief in God in an Age of Science, Belief in God (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), 83, Logos.

[4] Marsden,  in Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God, 223.

[5] James Ward Smith, “Religion and Science in American Philosophy,” in The Shaping of American Religion, ed. James Ward Smith and A. Leland Jamison (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961), 414.

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