Faith, Metaphysics, and the Sciences (photocopy)

Introduction: Faith, Metaphysics, and the Sciences

Adrian J. Walker

In his 1999 encyclical Fides et Ratio, Pope John Paul II affirms that "the human being can come to a unified and organic vision of knowledge" (FR, 85). The present issue of Communio explores two themes that, while at first sight seemingly unrelated, in fact converge in providing an opportunity to reflect on the nature of the unity that John Paul II insists human knowing can, indeed, must, attain in order to overcome the "fragmentation" that threatens the "interior unity" of the person (ibid).

The title of the first of our themes, "Faith, Metaphysics, and the Sciences," suggests a somewhat unaccustomed approach to the much-debated question of Christian faith and modern science. "Modern science," before being an inquiry into physical nature, is a paradigm of knowledge that is present to one degree or another in all of the academic disciplines. The judgments about reality as a whole that this paradigm carries offer an objective basis for grasping the intrinsic unity between theology and science, while resolutely avoiding facile concordisms and premature reductions.

In "Trinity, Creation, and the Order of Intelligence in the Modern Academy," David L. Schindler argues that "the integrated transofmration of the creaturely subject implied by the call to holiness and the liturgical destiny of the world comprehends the dimensions of order and intelligence, via an intrinsic analogy taking its bearings from the trinitarian christocentrism indicated in Gaudium et Spes 22." On this basis, Schindler offers an account of the "secularization of the intelligence," which translates into a critique of the academy insofar as its paradigm of knowing is shaped by that secularization. The retrieval of holiness as "a matter not only of (subjective) will but also of (objective) intelligence," far from diminishing the integrity of the academic disciplines, promises their liberation from the dis-integrity of the dualism between a mechanistic intelligence and an arbitrary freedom that, Schindler argues, is at the very core of the secularization he describes.

Adrian Walker's "Christ and Cosmology: Methodological Reflections for Catholic Educators" advances a similar claim, arguing for the possibility of an affirmation of Jesus Christ's intrinsic pertinence to cosmology that has real consequences for the self-understanding of the natural sciences while ensuring due respect for their "legitimate autonomy" (GS, 36). In this context, Walker shows the "neutrality" vis-à-vis ultimates often claimed for the sciences actually conceals a substantive judgment about ultimacy. It is acceptance of the intrinsic pertinence of faith in Christ to the doing of science, not a "neutrality" claim (which, Walker argues, is finally self-contradictory), that best embodies the openness of reason to the real at the heart of the authentic autonomy of the knower, including the scientific knower.


The next three articles enter more fully into the specifics of the relation between Christian faith and the natural sciences. In "Faith in God the Creator and Scientific Cosmology," Wolfhart Pannenberg, noting the apparent "consonance" between Big Bang cosmology and the doctrine of creation, explores what any such "consanance" should entail for a theology of creation called to "use the science of its own day, as did the Biblical account itself, in order to explain with its help the affirmation that the universe was created by the God of the Bible." Presupposing a correlation between the unity of the Creator and the unity of the world, Pannenberg proposes a rethinking of creation as an ongoing production of novelty that assures "law" its due place, while avoiding reductive understandings of whatever purpose might underlie nomological order. God is "spirit," but spirit is not much so bodiless reason as "a movement . . . that permeates everything and by its tension contains the entire cosmos." God's creative activity is personal, but not anthropomorphic; the divine immensity and eternity are themselves the "origin and basis of our created space-time," present to temporal existents "through the future, which continually gives rise to new events, but also holds out the promise of a possible wholeness."

W. Norris Clarke's "Metaphysics as Mediator Between Revelation and the Natural Sciences" complements Pannenberg's argument by dwelling upon the role of metaphysics as "the most basic and indispensable mediator between the realm of revealed knowledge . . . and that of all other natural knowledge, in particular the natural sciences." Metaphysics' mediatorial function is twofold. It monitors "conclusions proposed by scientists . . . purportedly arising from their scientific work" that would block any integration with higher Christian wisdom," but it also reflects man's role as "microcosm" who mediates "the return of the material world" to God, not only from the top down, but also from the bottom up. Clarke concludes with examples of an "applied metaphysics" that critically unfolds the implications of scientific discoveries, opening a deeper appreciation of hitherto underdeveloped aspects of the theological and metaphysical traditions.

In "New Sins: Technology and the Frontiers of Catholic Social Teaching," Stratford Caldecott highlights the role of the "discernment of spirits" in this critical unfolding. Writing, not in the name of Luddism, but of a "regenerate science," Caldecott argues that—lest they collude with the "culture of death"—Catholics need to examine critically the philosophical and theological assumptions underlying technology and the science that inspires it, a task, he insists, that must now move to the forefront of the Church's social teaching.

Metaphysics' relation to theology implies a distinctive, but ample understanding of the unity that figures in Fides et Ratio. In "Knowledge, the Transcendentals, and Communion," Juan Sara, developing the "meta-anthropology" of Ferdinard Ulrich and Hans Urs von Balthasar, sees the fundamental figure of being as a "circumincessive idenity consisting in the mutual exchange of self." Thanks to circumincession, held together in Christ, the unfolding of being in the transcendentals (beauty, goodness, truth, and unity) is the locus of the mutual opening of the Trinitarian unity, on the one hand, and the cosmos recapitulated in man, on the other—a transparence in which "[t]he Son's incarnate readiness vis-à-vis the Father and the world harbors the mysterious center of each" transcendental, "that is to say, the obedience of love."

Piero Coda's "Theological Knowledge from the Perspective of the Charism of Unity," reflecting upon the experience of the "Abba School" founded by Chiara Lubich to rethink the logic of the disciplines in light of the charism of the Focolare movement, argues that this "obedience of love," manifested in "Jesus forsaken," indicates a renewal of theology as participation in Jesus' "knowing God in God." The way of theology is a union which God and with all in God that, forged in the crucible of "Jesus forsaken," is not absorption, but sharing in God's way of being through not being: "'Jesus forsaken, because he is not, is. We are if we are not.'" This theology of unity "gives birth," Coda argues, "to a new ontology, a decisively new vision of being."

If unity-as-love is the key to the interrelation of "Faith, Metaphysics, and the Sciences," it is also the key to the problem of "Fundamentalism and the Word of God." Angelo Scola's "Which Foundation? Introductory Notes" opens the discussion of our second theme with a reflection on the notions of "foundation" that vindicates it against both the defamations of "post-modernity" and the totalizing claims of modernity. Starting from the "irrepressible given" that "something gives itself to someone," Scola argues that "unity attests itself with the force of an event that is absolutely irreducible to this polarity" in order to secure testimony as the bond between freedom and truth. Writing before the events of September 11th of this year, Scola offers a timely meditation on the difference between the martyr and the suicide bomber. Recalling the monks killed by terrorists in Algeria a few years ago, Scola explains that the martyr, taking upon himself the evil perpetrated by his attacker—in this case the murderers of the monks—frustrates evil's will to "unjustifiability," thus overcoming it through testimony to the absoluteness of love. "[F]undamentalism," then, "fails to see that . . . each man, and only he, decides about his humanity, because the foundation itself chooses the act of human freedom as the locus of its donation. In this sense, fundamentalism is always objectively a bearer of false witness."

Taking up Scola's concluding reflection on "inter-religious dialogue," with its intrinsic openness to martyrion, as "intrinsic and essential aspect of Christian faith itself," Roch Kereszty explores the possibilities of rapprochement among Christianity, Judaism, and Isalm in "The Word of God: A Catholic Perspective in Dialogue with Judaism and Islam." Avoiding both false irenicism and false polemic, Kereszty tries to make distinctively Christian beliefs about the Word of God more intelligble to Jewish and Muslim interlocutors, while stressing how dialogue with Jews and Muslims can enrich the Catholic understanding of the Word of God. Responses to Kereszty, together with Kereszty's reflection on the responses, will appear in an upcoming issue of Communio.

In "Fundamentalism in North America: A Modern Anti-Modernism," William L. Portier focuses on fundamentalism in the strict sense by tracing the historical fortunes of twentieth century American Protestant anti-modernism in order to highlight the paradox that "[f]undamentalists dwell in a pluralist North America as a partially unassimilable 'old time religion' that always wears a glossy new face." The complexity of this American Christian "modern anti-modernism" suggests the equal complexity of the "allegorization" of fundamentalism. "Even when they do not share" the theology that undergirds the Catholic Church's affirmation of religious freedom, "fundamentalists in the allegorical sense are noteworthy for their protest against a framework in which it can only be an ideology."

Peter Henrici sorts out an analogous complexity in answering the question "Is There Such a Thing as Catholic Fundamentalism?." Having clarified that "Protestant fundamentalism and Catholicism have very mcuh in common with regard to the content of the truths of faith," but that "they differ from each other methodologically in how they receive the sources of the faith, and therefore also in the way they interpret these sources," Henrici goes on to argue that there is a Catholic parallel to Protestant fundamentalism—but that the integral profession of Catholic faith is not, as some claim, ipso facto "fundamentalist." "The symptoms of fundamentalism in the Catholic Church . . . are indeed a cause for concern; but what is perhaps more troubling still is the undifferentiated use of the word even in 'enlightened' Catholic circles, since such a use betrays a misunderstanding of religion itself."

Retrieving the Tradition features an essay on "Thinking About Technology" by distinguished Canadian philosopher George Grant (1918–1988). Grant's essay complements and deepens the reflection on "Faith, Metaphysics, and the Sciences." Modern science, Grant argues, is essentially technological. Technology is not so much a repertory of neutral instruments as it is a conception of the relation between making and knowing, between means and ends, that inclines us to see technology precisely as a set of neutral tools to which purposes can be added in a second moment. Technology in this sense is so pervasively the form of our thinking that it conditions how we think about technology itself. "We have bought a package deal of far more fundamental novelness than simply a set of instruments under our control. It is a destiny which enfolds us in its own conceptions of instrumentality, neutrality, and purposiveness . . . technology is the ontology of the age."

In Notes and Comments, Konrad Repgen, noted historian of the Church's role during World War II, writing in the spirit of friendly dialogue indicated by Roch Kereszty, lays out the facts surrounding a recent debate about access to Vatican archives concerning Pius XII and the Jews in "New Background of a Controversy: The Breakdown of the Jewish-Catholic Historical Commission on the Role of Pius XII."