As I surf the web and skim through a myriad of podcasts, conferences and ecological forums, I am reminded of the Great Shift we are in. We long for a new world, a healthier world, a sustainable earth, an equitable planet, a world of justice and peace. The path forward, however, seems to be cruciform in nature, with tremendous suffering, death, setbacks, disappointments, failures and every roadblock one could possibly imagine. Yet, we plod on, undeterred, striving to imagine, create and transcend our present moment. There is something within this great process of life that pulls us forward, inspires us to get up from our falls, empowers us to do more and to become more. This power is the breath of life, the fire that kindles from within, the unimaginable beauty that draws us onward; that is, the power of the living God.
The world is jittery, however, like a fine piece of china rattling with the tremors of a minor earthquake. Global warming disturbs our quest for peace; racism belies it. If the world is like a living cell, the nucleus is not functioning properly. The genetic material is malformed, and the cell is slowly dying. We could look to science to fix the problem but that is exactly the problem. Science gives the illusion of problem-solving but for every problem science resolves, a new problem emerges—and this is the problem. Science is incomplete because it does not have a grasp of the whole. We need other tools of knowledge if we are to successfully navigate our way into the future. If science is the breadth of expansive knowledge, religion is the depth of knowledge, and only together can the breadth and depth of knowledge enliven the whole. Yet, science and religion are not on the same page; indeed, they seem to reflect different books of nature, one modern, the other, medieval. This void between science and religion has given rise to our jittery earth. Our hyper-anxious cosmos lacks any real identity; in philosophical terms, we lack a credible metaphysics.
We are metaphysically a mess today, sort of a metaphysical vegetable soup. Here is an example of what I mean. Recently, a very good book by John Haught on Teilhard’s theology was published. After reading the book and claiming to grasp the main points, one reviewer wrote, “Ultimately, I find Haught’s approach metaphysically and ontologically unsatisfying. . . for me, Aristotle’s notion of movement from potency to act is a satisfying explanation of a lot of things.” Huh? This is like saying, I appreciate my car but prefer to travel by donkey, or general anesthesia works for major surgery, but I prefer a rag with ether. Aristotle and Teilhard are like apples and oranges, both were scientists (just a apples and oranges are both fruit) but one lived in a static, fixed cosmos (Aristotle) and the other in an evolutionary universe (Teilhard) and the difference between them is infinite, primarily because matter was rediscovered in the 20th century.
No one really talks about metaphysics. Philosophers have dismissed it and theologians are tied to ancient Greek principles of metaphysics; modern culture on the whole is metaphysically dumb. If you ask a scientist about metaphysics, they might chuckle and ask, what is that? If you ask a theologian about metaphysics, they will likely recount Thomas Aquinas’ understanding of being, or also chuckle because they haven’t thought about metaphysics since college philosophy. Without a viable metaphysics, we are epistemologically bankrupt; knowledge is like a Jasper Johns painting or a Rorschach inkblot test. Basically, the viewer determines the view which is, of course, is a point common to quantum physics. However, while reality depends on the viewer, there is still the fundamental experience of the whole, which is the basis of metaphysics. I may see things differently from you, but we both experience the whole of what we interpret. The metaphysical question is, what makes the “whole?”
The most learned minds today in theology are sometimes the most resistant to accept the implications of modern science as the basis of philosophical reflection. As a result, we have theological patches of cloth but nothing that forms a quilt. Discussions in ecological theology or divine action and cosmology often defend the Thomistic notion of participation or primary and secondary causality. The essays often make complete sense because, theologically, we are still in the thirteenth century. Today modern spiritual ideas are like modern recipes, with a little bit of this and a little bit of that; a good dose of Thomas Aquinas, a dash of Plato and stuffed with Sufism and quantum physics. Everything and everyone is now thrown into the mix and, as a result, we have some novel ideas and theories that appeal to some people and dismissed by others in a culture of “whatever” or “yada, yada, yada.” Metaphysical bankruptcy is behind the pastiche of the post-postmodern milieu. One is attracted to whatever makes one feel good (the emphasis is on “feeling good”): the ocean sunrise, oreo cookies and the feminine divine. It is amazing that we are still here in one piece. And yet, it is precisely the ongoing unity of our experience that tells us something else is going on, beneath the cultural mishmash of endless experiences.
Thinkers such as Alfred North Whitehead and Teilhard de Chardin saw that science and religion must be unified, if metaphysics is to be resurrected in a universe struggling for new life. Whitehead was a mathematician and Teilhard was an evolutionary biologist. Both thinkers spoke of reality as an ongoing process of relatedness and becoming. Whitehead sought to elucidate a philosophy of organism by expounding a metaphysics of becoming. While Aristotle thought that metaphysics concerns the study of being as being, Whitehead said that quantum physics has transformed being into events. The key to this transformation lies in general relativity; time is part of space and spacetime shapes the matter-energy field. Time, not space, is integral to evolution.
We can no longer afford to treat science and religion as two separate disciplines of knowledge or read about one and disregard the other. The success or failure of the Great Shift now depends on the integration of science and religion. Alfred North Whitehead said that “religion will not regain its old power unless it can face change in the same spirit as science.” Quite honestly, science will not regain its place in the whole unless it can face the depth dimension of life in the same spirit as religion. Teilhard wrote that “religion and science are the two conjugated faces or phases of one and the same complete act of knowledge.” This one world has many dimensions and thus no one discipline can claim total knowledge. Knowing the whole requires understanding the whole, and understanding the whole requires a collaboration between science and religion.
Each year, we at the Center for Christogenesis draw together speakers and topics in a way that we can begin to see the scientific breadth and religious depth of the world unfolding in and through our lives.This coming weekend we will begin our annual conference online. The theme of this year’s conference is “Healing God, Healing Self and Healing the Earth: The Power of Divine Love in an Evolving Universe.” I hope you will slow down, check your metaphysics and join us.