Have you wondered about why matter exists at all? In fact, why do we exist? Scientists, philosophers and theologians before them have had to deal with such questions. How did they originate? (scientific question) Why did they originate? (philosophical question) Who intended for it to be so? (theological question) These three questions of origins continue to tease our curiosity. In my series of lectures here in New York, we consider the state of understanding for cosmogony, biogenesis and anthropogenesis. The effort of philosophers, scientists and theologians working is splendid isolation from each other yields more questions than answers. Perhaps the time is ripe for these different fields of inquiry employing different reasoning strategies but drawing from a common resource of rationality, to seek a convergence of understanding while maintaining their disciplinary integrities.
What is the relationship between scientific inference and theological reflection with regard to the question of origins? Science infers what we believe to be true by observation and testing. Theology reflects what we believe to be true by divine revelation. A comprehensive view of reality must draw from both fields of inquiry, in which God’s revelation includes disclosure awaiting divine discovery. The scientific task echoes that of Adam, who named created nature, while the theological task echoes the scientist in reflecting on the meaning of divine disclosure. From a theological perspective, science is the discovery of divine disclosure (DDD).
Some of the most important and enduring questions are “Why is there stuff (universe), life (reproducers), and us (humans) rather than not?” Their existence point to the possibility of meaning and with the natural sciences, we may be able to describe the teleological explanations of theology.
The questions of origins concern the first existence of events – how, when and why did they happen.
There are three types of events: (a) reproducible, (b) unpredictable, and (c) singular. A reproducible event can be repeated. An unpredictable event can be statistically tabulated for scientific study. A singular event however, such as the origins of the universe, life, humans or mind, can only be subject to legal inquiry – which can only be answered by personal knowledge of what actually happened. Science has no competence to answer any question of origins because it is the very object of inquiry (e.g., universe, life, humans) that gives rise to the scientific methods in the first place – the human mind is needed to perceive and interpret data obtained by artifacts called tools.
1. COSMOGONY: ORIGIN OF THE UNIVERSE
Scientific investigation is premised on methodological naturalism and serves as a powerful tool to infer what happened in the past. Investigating any singular historical event demands a logical rather than a statistical inquiry and unverifiable assumptions are unavoidable. With classical and quantum physics, scientists probe the origin of the universe. Available scientific models are shaped by philosophical commitments and inevitably tread on theology. The Christian doctrine of creation includes the natural world (universe) and the non-natural realm (supernatural refers only to God). Can inferences from the sciences be reconciled with a theological explanation of a creatio originalis ex nihilo, which undergoes creatio continua, and anticipates a final creatio nova?
2. BIOGENESIS: ORIGIN OF LIFE
When Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution in The Origin of Species in 1859, he deliberately left out how life came about. Today, this remains a mystery in science, forcing the collaboration of many disciplines. While life may be described in terms of its constituents, this cannot explain the cause that makes a pile of organic stuff sense, react, reproduce, and die. The Christian doctrine of creation teaches that reproductive matter emerged from an intentional (teleological) exercise of divine will. Life is not accidental and its purpose has been declared. The origin of life lies in a creatio continua that anticipates a final creatio nova.
3. ANTHROPOGENESIS: ORIGIN OF HUMANS
Are Homo sapiens sapiens unique in the living world? The similitude of our DNA with other life forms fails to explain our unique ability, e.g., grammatical speech. The ‘symbolic species’ is able to pass on information through time (by writing), possess insight (to guess how things work), and contemplate the future (with imagination). The Christian doctrine of creation describes us as made in the image of God (imago Dei). This does not rest merely in our capacities or physiology, but in our relationality with God. Although we share a biological continuity with the rest of nature, the origin of our humanity calls us into fellowship with our creator as ‘the praying animal’. We are self-reflective, morally conscious beings who worship and live in expectation of the creatio nova.