Culture at the Crossroads
Maker of Heaven and Earth
Of all the Christian beliefs about God, the one that has taken the most beating in the modern-postmodern eras is the doctrine of Creation. This is a paradox that suggests to me two salient points:
- Modern fundamentalist theology has supplanted Catholic theology as predominant in the popular mind.
- It is imperative in the information age to recover a robust notion of creation that takes seriously both scientific methodology and orthodox faith.
These points become clear when one considers history. There is a long list of distinguished cleric-scientists in every discipline, from Copernicus to Roger Bacon to Gregor Mendel. In the modern era, the person who proposed the Big Bang theory was a Catholic priest, Georges Lemaitre (Ph.D. Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1920; ordination to the priesthood in 1923). Many distinguished Jesuit physicists and cosmologists staffed the Vatican Observatory (founded two years before the U.S. Declaration of Independence was signed), and thirty-five of them have craters on the moon named after them.
The work of two modern scientists suggests a way forward in considering how we think about God as the author of all creation. The first is the Jesuit priest-paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), who took part in the discovery of Peking Man. He developed a cosmic vision of the work of God that got him into trouble with his religious superiors, but interestingly his work was later praised by Pope Benedict XVI. Before his election to the papacy, Joseph Ratzinger was critical of Teilhard's vision of the cosmos, even as he recognized that it was an attempt to reconcile the evidence of science with an evolving understanding of creation:
He [Teilhard] described the cosmos as a process of upward development, as a journey of unification. From the very simple, this journey leads to ever greater and more complex units in which multiplicity is not cancelled out but integrated into a growing synthesis, culminating in the Noosphere, where spirit and its understanding comprehend the whole, and everything is integrated into a kind of living organism. Based on Ephesians and Colossians, Teilhard envisages Christ as the energy that drives towards the Noosphere, an energy that finally incorporates everything into its fullness....
The second figure is Father Michael Heller, winner of the $1.6 million Templeton Prize in 2010 for his pioneering research in the problem of singularity in general relativity, and the relationship between quantum mechanics and general relativity. Writes Heller:
I always wanted to do the most important things, and what can be more important than science and religion? Science gives us knowledge, and religion gives us meaning. Both are prerequisites of the decent existence.