God Loves To Do New Things

In this blog Ilia Delio shares some of her current reading, and offers her reflections on the ever-changing nature of God.  Ilia suggests that “…if we can get religion out of the sixteenth century and into the 21st century, we might discover a whole new God and a new world in relation to God, and truthfully the next 10,000 years may quite exciting for the future of religion.” (Also refer to our recent post, THE IMAGE OF THE UNSEEN GOD, for a book overview and audio interview with Thomas E. Hosinski.)

One of my early Christmas presents this year is the book by MIT physicist Max Tegman entitled, Life 3.0. If you have not read the latest on artificial intelligence (AI), transhumanism and posthumanism, this is the book for you.  Tegman explores how we can create a benevolent future civilization, as we merge our biological thinking with an even greater intelligence. One of his chapters is “Aftermath:  The Next 10,000 Years.”  Who is thinking about life in 10,000 years?  Tegman is and he speculates on what artificial intelligence may bring about in the millennia to come.  I am fascinated by Tegman’s book because AI technology is rapidly evolving us today and we are almost completely unaware of what we are becoming.  One computer scientist quipped, biology was never our destiny, chips are our destiny!  With computing power potentially shrinking to the size of a red blood cell and eventually implanted in clothing and/or skin, the singularity may indeed be near, as futurist Ray Kurzweil proclaimed in his book The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.

Yet, there is a deep irony in our modern age. We are lured by scientific discoveries and technological inventions such as iPhones, iPads, computers, and robots (all now neatly wrapped as Christmas gifts!)—we are the prime consumers of these products. However, we are reluctant to change when it comes to religion and the things of God, as if the stone tablets Moses carried down from the mountain really were hard, inert stone tablets carved with indelible words.  My students sometimes say, science is progress, but religion seems as old as Moses.  Recently, the Vatican launched a social media accelerator to enhance innovative technology for climate change and mission outreach. How modern! But do we realize that the science behind artificial intelligence was long in the making and often conflictual in the scientific community? The underlying physics of artificial intelligence is based on the novelty of quantum physics, and quantum physics emerged amidst much conflict. When Einstein turned Newton on his head and rejected absolute space and time not everyone bought into his ideas. When Niels Bohr claimed that quantum physics is ambiguous, Einstein himself had problems lamenting, “God does not play dice.”  But scientists kept ploughing new terrain in the twentieth century because the quest for true knowledge and the lure of new insights outweighed the internal battles of the scientific community. Changes that have brought about the comforts of modern life did not drop down from heaven.  Rather, they emerged from insights, commitment, trust, patience, and perseverance through trial and error. Can we say the same for religion? I doubt it.  In the world of religion, (and theology as a formal discipline of study) change is considered suspicious, if not heretical.  Culturally we are drawn to change; religiously we resist change.  We live in the tension between change and resistance; integral to this tension is the strained relationship between science and religion.

The separation of religion and science is a modern phenomenon.  In the Middle Ages, to know the natural world [science] was to know God [theology] and it was precisely the consonance between nature and scripture that gave rise to the great summas or cosmological-theological worldviews.  The divorce between science and religion is less than two centuries old and is based on the distortion of facts that include Galileo’s confirmation of heliocentrism and the discoveries of Columbus and Darwin.  In the twentieth century, scholars such as Teilhard de Chardin and Alfred North Whitehead realized that the reconciliation of science and religion may be the most important task of the modern era for the welfare of the planet.  In his seminal work The Human Phenomenon Teilhard wrote that “religion and science are the two conjugated faces or phases of one and the same act of complete knowledge.”  Separate them or split them apart and one can never really arrive at true knowledge—either in religion or science.

I hear many people say today that science is a reliable path of knowledge while religion is outdated.  In some ways, I agree.  There is a reluctance to explore the mystery of God—as if we might already know all there is to know about God or that God may get upset with us if we step outside the established boundaries of “God-talk” (as my students say, seriously dude!)  Do we really think God will get angry if we think about God in radically new ways?  If so, then we probably should not identify ourselves as Christian, for the person of Jesus Christ was a mutational figure who turned the Jewish God upside down and inside out. The God of Jesus Christ would be quite at home with artificial intelligence because God loves to do new things (for example, Christmas!) Novelty and creativity are at the heart of Christian faith. God is creative love which means God makes things to make themselves.  Self-making is written into the heart of nature.

The mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead was keenly aware of modern science and the essential role of creativity at the heart of all reality. Like Teilhard de Chardin, Whitehead sought a new philosophy consonant with a world of change and complexity.  He is known as the father of “process philosophy” in which reality is thought of in terms of change, relationships, and systems rather than static, fixed individual entities.  Father Tom Hosinski is a process theologian (there are a few around but not enough!) whose new book The Unseen God:  Catholicity, Science and Our Evolving Understanding of God provides a liberating evolutionary view of God that is deeply reflective of Christian faith.  Following Whitehead, Father Hosinksi explores a God who is creativity thus eternally in relation to the world as lure and promise.  God empowers the world to do new things through a constant field of infinite possibilities.  Not only is God inviting us to new possibilities at every moment but each choice in some way affects the life of God.  Hence, not only are we becoming something new, but God is becoming new as well!  This insight is deeply consonant with an incarnational perspective where the meaning of Jesus Christ is not simply to overcome sin but to overcome all those obstacles which stand in the way of God’s creative love. Father Hosinksi provides a deep and rich understanding of God in an evolutionary world through the lens of process thought and I shall leave it to you read the book.   All I can say is, if we can get religion out of the sixteenth century and into the 21st century, we might discover a whole new God and a new world in relation to God, and truthfully the next 10,000 years may quite exciting for the future of religion.

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  1. astralstar17572 on April 8, 2023 at 8:12 am

    “Self I making is written into creation” because EVERYTHING has divinity. A piece of our Creator’s energy. Since the Beginning, early humans recognized this sacredness and celebrated the Wheel to which it belonged. Somehow, our lust for ” more”, always more, upset the delicate web of interconnected life as more trees, more land, more water, more air, were taken. We see and live with the millennia of year of compounded results.
    Theology and Science are not 2 competing disciplines. As they are, they are incomplete and wanting. Theology needs, no must have and recognize, the knowledge of the sciences in or to remain viable. As it is, the animism underlying Laudato si’ will never be understood. Science needs the cultural phenomenon of religion. The coming together of people who share common beliefs and practices. In this way, the new science of the unseen God will become mainstream and shared.
    Our consciousness may have allowed us to note a “problem” in the middle ages but our issues began long before we reached that point.

  2. Shirley Tamoria on December 29, 2017 at 12:09 pm

    Our neurological biology is still light years ahead of AI. We have heart-mind brains in every neuron , elaborate endocrine pathways, ingenious autonomic systems able to sync with pre conscious, conscious and unconscious images, imaginings and thoughts with energies instantaneously. Change is constant growth that pushes againstresistances as leverage for our life dance. Life responds to death in every moment generating newness sometimes making wonderful mistakes evolving patterns that make straight a new pathways. Our computer chips have no heart , robots are stiff, and cannot hear the surf or watch a sunrise with a sense of delight or pure joy! Their computational speed is programmed without intuitive mathematical genius or power to create new insights, aspire for inner space, freedom, movement, art, literature nor music . AI lacks wonder: virtual realities teach strategies to end conflict, war and human hunger through elimination.

    The people in darkness had seen a great light! All the ends of the earth rejoice, our God is permeating all time and space with an intelligent heart-mind, Word made flesh, fully alive. The real work is a force of love, simplicity, relationship with all creation for even the rocks sing, rivers laugh and multiverses ring with music in silence, birds and whales in the orchestra of life. The Anawim rise with all indigenous and gentrified peoples who savor the wonder of our natural world where trees bend, skies and water dance with light in rainbows and the sweetness of a kiss and child’s laughter brings growth every moment.

    We need to nourish consciousness and create spaces for our intelligence to be disciplined to make wise choices when collapsing wave patterns of infinite possibilities and understand connectivity and community that arises every moment in the superposition and entanglement of our natural world to encourage flow of chi unencumbered for we have unlimited possibilities for abundance new frontiers to discover in every moment and the multiverses are our new cloister where the Sacred and Profane are one .

  3. Seán Ward OFS on December 29, 2017 at 8:29 am

    “In the Middle Ages, to know the natural world [science] was to know God [theology] and it was precisely the consonance between nature and scripture that gave rise to the great summas or cosmological-theological worldviews. The divorce between science and religion is less than two centuries old and is based on the distortion of facts that include Galileo’s confirmation of heliocentrism and the discoveries of Columbus and Darwin.”

    I was struck by this comment in Sr. Ilia’s article as I have almost finished reading James Hannam’s book, “God’s Philosophers. How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science.” Hannam demonstrates, in a most entertaining way, just how much of the science and technology that we now take for granted has medieval origins.
    He writes:
    “The most famous remark made by Sir Isaac Newton (1642– 1727) was: ‘If I have seen a little further then it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’…Few people realise, however, that Newton’s aphorism was first coined in the twelfth century by the theologian Bernard of Chartres (who died around 1130).
    During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church actively supported a great deal of science, but it also decided that philosophical speculation should not impinge on theology. Ironically, by keeping philosophers focused on nature instead of metaphysics, the limitations set by the Church may even have benefited science in the long term. Furthermore and contrary to popular belief, the Church never supported the idea that the earth is flat, never banned human dissection, never banned zero and certainly never burnt anyone at the stake for scientific ideas. The most famous clash between science and religion was the trial of Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) in 1633. Academic historians are now convinced that this had as much to do with politics and the Pope’s self-esteem as it did with science.” In the end, of course, the Church had to accept the overwhelming scientific evidence that the earth isn’t at the centre of the Universe.

    Hannam describes the work of a number of medieval scholars including Roger Bacon (1214–92) the English Franciscan who investigated light; Richard of Wallingford (1292–1336) astronomer and abbot of the monastery of St Albans who invented new astronomical instruments and built a renowned clock. Andreas Vesalius, (1514–64) the anatomist from the Netherlands whose book “On the Fabric of the Human Body” tried to reform the work of Galen; his student Gabriele Fallopio, (1523–62) who first identified the fallopian tubes. Nicholas of Cusa (1400–64) theologian and mathematician who became a cardinal in 1449. He speculated on a limitless universe and life on other planets; Nicolaus Copernicus, (1473–1543) Polish priest who remodelled the universe with the sun instead of the earth at its centre. William Gilbert (1540–1603), a London doctor whose book “On the Magnet” is celebrated as a seminal work of experimental science; and, of course, Galileo.
    I was never much interested in the relationship between religion and science until I started to read Sr. Ilia’s books. Now I am very interested!

    • Margaret Petcher on December 30, 2017 at 11:19 am

      Well done on a brilliantly well-informed post Sean!


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