Monday, February 06, 2006

My Time in the "No-Theology Zone" of Science Land

Well, I've returned from the conference, and while it was fun and stimulating, I'm frankly a little relieved to be back. These scientific meetings always make me feel like I'm living a secret double life, since they force me to eat, sleep, and socialize in a rigidly "no-God" environment. Theological discourse is strictly off-limits at scientific conferences, and the mere mention of God would be as awkward as passing gas. This situation is pervasive throughout the scientific community, which holds that religious scientists should keep their faith to themselves. Of course, this is never stated explicitly, but it is certainly implied in the norms and shared assumptions of the community. And while most of my colleagues would probably allow that religion and science are compatible to a degree, this fact is never acknowledged in practice, and most instinctively believe that serious faith is a betrayal of reason. Thus, a Christian like myself cannot help but feel that the "silence" about God at these conferences is not simply neutrality or agnosticism, but a form of collective atheism. God is not an appropriate topic of discussion, although during the social events we can freely talk about anything else (politics, travel, sports, sex, beer, etc.).

It's because of these issues that the writings of J.C. Polkinghorne, the priest/physicist, have been a great comfort to me. While I don't agree with everything he says, he's a great example of a Christian scientist who refused to live a double life. He understands that science and theology are intellectual cousins, both striving to understand the one reality created by the one God. If I had more courage, I would vigorously argue this point at scientific meetings, but I'm too afraid of being ridiculed and ostracized. So I keep my resentment to myself and pray that the future will bring a less arrogant and more accepting scientific community.

3 comments:

Andy said...

Polkinghorne is great. His argument for God having something like an "experience" of time has caused me to reassess (or at least stop curtly dimissing) process theology.

It's curious. In many Christian circles I feel like there's a similar pressure to not talk about science.

Thomas Adams said...

I agree that Christians are quite reluctant to engage with science. The historical conflicts between religion and science have left deep scars on the collective psyches of both communities, which they cope with by pretending that the other side doesn't exist. It seems to me that Christians in general, and theologians in particular, are genuinely afraid of science, probably because science has always emerged the victor in past struggles (think of Galileo, Darwin, cosmology versus literal creationism). Thus, theology and religious practice have isolated themselves from science with the hope that they can thereby survive the onslaught of modernity.

However, it is my firm belief that science and theology cannot ignore each other forever, as both activities are intrinsically human. Polkinghorne’s writings are a vital first step towards real rapprochement. Incidentally, I don’t think he considers himself a process theologian, although there are definite similarities. He has written that “I do not find the God of process theology to be an adequate ground of hope, and I believe hope to be central to an understanding of what is involved in a Christian view of God’s reality.”

Andy said...

Oh, I agree that Polkinghorne isn't a process theologian, but he questions some of the same assumptions they do, such as an eternally changeless God existing "outside" of time and space and, therefore, knowing all future outcomes.