Preface

The idea for this book began to germinate in the fall of 1991. We had just participated in a conference at the Vatican Observatory on quantum cosmology, the Anthropic Principle, and theology. At conference end, our thoughts turned to our respective political situations at home—the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and the build-up to the Gulf War in the United States—and we asked one another what, if anything, the work of the conference had to do with these life-and-death issues.

In the following months we began to see connections between scientific cosmology (and particularly the anthropic issue), theology; and ethics; the latter discipline, in our view, is too often omitted from the usual theology—. and-science discussions. We were eventually able to arrive, at least in outline, at a broad synthesis of these themes; this book presents that synthesis.

Our thesis in brief The (apparent) fine-tuning of the cosmological constants to produce a life-bearing universe (the anthropic issue) seems to call for explanation. A theistic explanation allows for a more coherent account of reality—as we know it from the perspective of both natural and human sciences, and from other spheres of experience such as the moral sphere—than does a non-theistic account. However, not all accounts of the divine nature are consistent with the patterns of divine action we seem to perceive in the natural world. God appears to work in concert with nature, never overriding or violating the very processes that God has created. This account of the character of divine action as refusal to do violence to creation, whatever the cost to God, has direct implications for human morality; it implies a "keno— tic" or self-renunciatory ethic, according to which one must renounce self— interest for the sake of the other, no matter what the cost to oneself. Such an ethic, however, is very much at variance with ethical presuppositions embedded in current social science. Hence, new research programs are called for in these fields, exploring the possibilities for human sociality in the light of a vision modeled on God's own self-sacrificing love.

So this book is an attempt to synthesize knowledge from a variety of disparate fields, as well as to provide a program for future research. As such, it is necessarily schematic; each chapter deserves to be expanded at least to book length. However, we hope to repay our readers' patience with the inadequacy of our treatment of some issues by providing not only a coherent view of divine purposes displayed in the natural and human worlds, but also a basis for approaching pressing moral and political issues of our day.

Much of the book is a synthesis and development of the work of others. We employ the philosophy of science and epistemology of Carl Hempel, Imre Lakatos, and Alasdair Maclntyre to understand the forms of reasoning that we need in order to justify our claims. Arthur Peacocke has developed a model for relating theology and the sciences that employs the idea of a "hierarchy of sciences"; he suggests that theology be understood .as the science at the top of the hierarchy. What is new in our synthesis is, first, the proposal that the hierarchy be split at the higher levels into natural— and human-science branches, and, second, that the human-science branch should have at its top the "science" of ethics. It is then possible to see theology as the discipline that completes both branches—answering "boundary questions," which arise in both cosmology and ethics, yet go beyond the scope of those disciplines alone. A single account of the divine purposes in creation, then, drawn largely from the work of John Howard Yoder, provides a bridge between the natural sciences and the human sciences.

Living on two continents, we would not have been able to write this book without opportunities to meet. We are grateful to the John Templeton Foundation for a generous travel grant. The Vatican Observatory and the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences in Berkeley, California, have sponsored conferences on theology and science to which we were both invited. Our participation and interaction with other colleagues who attended have played an important role in the development of our thought. In addition, CTNS appointed George Ellis to the J.K. Russell Fellowship in Berkeley in the Spring of 1993. Our sincere thanks to the directors of each institution: SirJohn Templeton, George Coyne, S.J., and Robert John Russell.

We also thank those who have read and commented on parts of our manuscript (we regret that we did not find it within our competence to incorporate all of their suggestions): Ian Barbour, Cohn Brown, Arthur Peacocke, William R. Stoeger, S.J., John Howard Yoder, John Gardner and his reading group at the University of Wisconsin, and our editor at Fortress Press, Michael West.

We are also grateful to heroic individuals who have effectively brought good out of evil by noncoercive means; thus, in our view, emulating the very character of God: Mohandas K. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and countless others. Most recently, Nelson Mandela has shown in a very dramatic way that an ethic based on the concept of kenosis is more than a utopian dream.

Finally, we thank our spouses, Mary Roberts and James Wm. McClendon, Jr., for help with the writing, but also for the inspiration their lives provide in seeking to enunciate an ethic of self-sacrifice. We dedicate this book to them.

Chapter One

Aim and Scope

I. DESCRIPTION OF THE PROJECT

This book is an essay in what we shall call cosmology in the broad sense, or Cosmology; to distinguish it from the narrower field of scientific cosmology; For a variety of reasons, the time has come to attempt the reconstruction of a unified worldview—one that relates human life to both the natural world and to nature's transcendent ground.1

We follow an impressive array of scholars who have made great strides in relating theology and the natural sciences. Equally pressing, however, is the need for an objective grounding for morality; we believe that this can be provided by discovering the proper relations between ethics and theology; on the one hand, and ethics and the sciences on the other. We aim to show that a particular moral vision (a "kenotic" ethic) is supported "from below" by evidence from the social and applied sciences, and "from above" by theology. This ethico-theological position has important implications, in turn, for understanding cosmology and other physical sciences.

1.1 The Separation of Ethics from Science and Theology

Ancient and medieval worldviews tended to provide links between theology, ethics, and natural philosophy—the precursor to modern science. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that for the ancients and medievals, the distinctions moderns have drawn among these disciplines were not yet in place. Stephen Toulmin describes a worldview such as our medieval predecessors had as a "cosmopolis": an overall harmony between the order of the heavens (the Cosmos) and the order of human affairs (the Pohis). The rise of modernity marked the end of the medieval cosmopolis. Toulmin reads the early modern poetry of John Donne as a lament for the disintegration of the synthesis that had been developed in medieval and renaissance thought:

'Tis all in pieces, all Cohaerance gone,
All just supply and all Relation.

The destruction of the political order of Europe in the Thirty Years War, the breakdown of the traditional family structure—all such signs of decay in the social order—corresponded to the decentering of the physical cosmos represented by the Copernican revolution.2

One of the most striking features of the modern period (ca. 1650—1950), viewed against this background, has been not only its failure to relate the affairs of the human world to those of the heavens and of the Heavens, but its positive insistence on maintaining a logical gulf between them. Immanuel Kant has been most influential in the modern bifurcation of the intellectual world, in fact arguing for a bifurcation in our very faculties of knowing. The natural world is known by experience and the faculty of pure reason, the moral world by intuition and practical reason.

The fragment of Heavenly reality that Kant was willing to countenance was known by means of practical reason. However, the modern tendency has been to separate religion and ethics as well. Jeffrey Stout describes the modern intellectual project as the "flight from authority;" that is, the concerted attempt to free ethics and political thought from entanglements with religious tradition, and to establish them afresh on a "reasonable" foundation.3

It takes time for the work of philosophers, theologians, and scientists to make its impact upon culture at large. But by 1959, C. P. Snow could remark on the phenomenon of the "two cultures:' scientific and religious, and their remarkable isolation from one another.4

A number of contemporary cultural phenomena express hunger for a new cosmopolis. The religious and quasi-religious speculations of scientists, and the great popularity of their books, suggest a hunger to relate our burgeoning knowledge of the cosmos to the pursuit of human meaning, both in the sense of meaningful, fulfilling ways of life (ethics and politics) and in the sense of the quest for an understanding of ultimate reality (religion). The New Age movement can be read as an attempt to find coherence, beginning from the spiritual and psychological side, but incorporating quasi-scientific paraphernalia and ideas:

    While church leaders have been occupying themselves with the world of secular politics, millions of people have begun to turn once again to religion. They are embarking on a spiritual quest: they want to find the source and meaning of their existence; to regain a sense of transcendent divinity; and to find a way to    integrate human beings with one another, with nature, and with the whole of reality…5

    At root the human potential movement is seeking a new cosmology, a new grounding for reality. The key to this new cosmology is the innate connection between self and world. It seeks to overcome the dualism of modern mind that separates subject and object, the humanities from the sciences.6

Against this historical background, our purpose is to return to the kind of synthesis that relates a conception of the natural order to a conception of the good life. The link between the two is provided by an account of the moral character of God and of God's purposes in creating both the Cosmos and the Polis.

1. See Stephen Toulmin, The Return to Cosmology: Postmodern Science and the Theology of Nature (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982).
2 See Cosmopolis The Hidden Agenda of Modernity (New York Free Press 1990) ,67—69
3 See The Flight from Authority: Religion Morality, and the Quest for Autonomy (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press
198 1).
4 See The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (Cambridge Cambridge University Press, 1961)
5. Ted Peters, The Cosmic Self:  A Penetrating Look at Today's New Age Movements (San Francisco, Calif.: Harper and Row, 1991), x.
6. Peters, 77w
Cosmic Self 69, summarizing a point by David Toolman, in Facing West from California Shores (New York: Crossroad, 1987).

 

     Add to Shopping Cart

Back to Product Detail Page