Dialogue between Religion/Theology and Science as the Imperative of Time

Dialogue between Religion/Theology and Science as the Imperative of Time

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To believe in God means to see that the facts of the world are not the end
of the matter. To believe in God means to see that life has a meaning.1

ν οδα τι οδν οδα hen oÌda hoti oudÈn oÌdaI
(I know that I know nothing!2) – Socrates


I open the reflections on this subject with the citation: The intellectual nature of the human person is perfected by wisdom and needs to be, for wisdom gently attracts the mind of man to quest and love for what is true and good. Steeped in wisdom man passes through visible realities to those which are unseen. Our era needs such wisdom more then bygone ages if the discoveries made by man are to be further humanized.3

We live in society where one epoch-making historical turn has occurred: scientification of entire culture. During the last few centuries our civilization was witness of fast and unmeasured development of science, starting from quantum mechanics and theory of relativity and its cosmological implications, as from the development of theory of evolution. The science had so rapid development that today it more and more difficult acknowledges own limits. It springs that science and scientific researches do not know limits and that nothing exist out of limits of scientific observations.

On the threshold of 21st century science has captured the position of irrefutable cognitive authority, which manifest itself in its ability to proclaim the own ways of procedure and opinions as the norm of rationality and objectiveness, and to present own conclusions as cognitive superior, necessary and universally valid. Science obtrudes herself not only as the factor which describes the facts, results and methods, but also as the interpreter of meaning, incentives and entire reality. For many people science became the magic word, symbol of progress, civilization and independent opened society. In a word: science pervades all parts of human life, all interpersonal relationships, as the relations toward other creatures, and also the mere things of everyday and the ways of deliberations and solving of daily problems.

The science is no more marginal activity carried on by small groups of enthusiasts and today is big social, economic and political project located in basic social institutions – in corporations, military, state institutes and universities. Today it has decisive influence on human life and on state of nature, because consequences of its researches are often problematical and hazardous and therefore place in front of humankind series of delicate questions on which science inherently can not, and is forbidden, to give the answers.

The man is not ready to accept from intellectual, moral, political and social-institutional point of view the scientific discoveries, its possible and actual applications and technical innovations.


The 21st century science no more speaks about God but about diversity of phenomenon in nature which are investigated by science. Today’s scientist is very often faithful to Kant’s idea that in human cognition is only as much science as it contains mathematics. Therefore today’s civilization is scientific and mathematised civilization. The truth is not more correspondence with eternal Logos and not correspondence between reason and reality as the God’s creation, than truth is only correspondence of judgments inside certain system. The man created a new, artificial world technicized, or unnatural, nature in which the functional purposefulness has created the state of imperiled just for the man, respectively the state of imperiled of dignity regarding his personality. Werner Heisenberg said: Purposefulness can lead into chaos, if sole purposes are not understood as the parts …. of some higher order!4 These orders ought to be understood, says Heisenberg, as the parts of one bigger reference, which was in times past marked as God’s order.

Today’s man has raised to much the price of science and has neglected the importance of spirit and wisdom. For this reason it is not strange why the anxiety and concern have become dominant mood. Expansion of science (and technology!), and with this linked intensification of man’s power, besides that caused the deep changes in nature, has become on some way an appeal for the change of man’s conscience and his basic points of view towards the world, future and own responsibility. The man ought to justify his behavior in the sense of integration in one broader meaningful horizon.

As the conclusion one can say that today’s culture is marked with science as the model of contemporary knowledge. This fact was observed, for example, by Second Vatican Council: Today’s spiritual agitation and the changing conditions of life are part of a broader and deeper revolution. As a result of the latter, intellectual formation is ever increasingly based on the mathematical and natural sciences and on those dealing with man himself, while in the practical order the technology which stems from these sciences takes on mounting importance. This scientific spirit has a new kind of impact on the cultural sphere and on modes of thought.5

It is not strange that it was in today’s civilization imposed the question about science as ideology in spite of fact that many believes that we are living in time after the dead of ideologies6. Of course, if one under the term „ideology“ includes implicitly dogmatism, intolerance, untrue conscience and irrefutability, then science can not be understood as ideology. What is more, the science is in this sense antidogmatic because takes into consideration different opinions and leaves the space for testing and refutatations of its hypothesis and theories. But the problem of science as ideology arises when one asserts that science as such has no limits and can offer the solution for every problem, and what is more, that science can explain ultimate meaning and purpose of world and man. The assertion that scientific cognition has no limits leads to scientism (scientific materialism)7 or in way which absolutizes scientific cognition. Many forms of materialism express reductionism. Epistemological reductionism claims that the laws and theories of all the sciences are in principle reducible to the laws of physics and chemistry. The materialists believe that all phenomena will be, eventually, explained in terms of the actions of material components, which are the only effective causes in the world.

Let us consider the assertion that the scientific method is the only reliable form of understanding. The science starts from reproducible public data. Theories are formulated and their implications are tested against experimental observations. Additional criteria of coherence, comprehensiveness, and fruitfulness influence choice among theories. The religious beliefs are not acceptable, in this view, because religion lacks such public data, such experimental testing, and such criteria of evaluation. The science alone is objective, open-minded, universal, cumulative, and progressive. Religious traditions, by contrast, are said to be subjective, closed-minded, parochial, uncritical, and resistant to change. Historians and philosophers of science have questioned this idealized portrayal of science, but many scientists accept it and think that it undermines the credibility of religious beliefs.

Among philosophers, logical positivism from the 1920s to the 1940s asserted that scientific discourse provides the norm for all meaningful language. It was said that the only meaningful statements (apart from abstract logical relations) are empirical propositions verifiable by sense data. Statements in ethics, metaphysics, and religion were said to be neither true nor false, but meaningless pseudo-statements, expressions of emotion or preference devoid of cognitive significance. Whole areas of human language and experience were thus eliminated from serious discussion because they were not subject to the verification that science was said to provide.

The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be8, are Carl Sagan’s words which echo the prologue to John’s gospel. He says that the universe is eternal or else its source is simply unknowable. Sagan attacks Christian ideas of God at a number of points, arguing that mystical and authoritarian claims threaten the ultimacy of the scientific method, which he says is universally applicable. Nature (which he capitalizes) replaces God as the object of reverence. He expresses great awe at the beauty, vastness, and interrelatedness of the cosmos. Sitting at the instrument panel from which he shows us the wonders of the universe, he is a new kind of high priest, not only revealing the mysteries to us but telling us how we should live.

Jacques Monod’s Chance and Necessity gives a lucid account of molecular biology, interspersed with a defense of scientific materialism. He claims that biology has proved that there is no purpose in nature. Man knows at last that he is alone in the universe’s unfeeling immensity, out of which he emerged only by chance.9 Chance alone is the source of all novelty, all creation, in the biosphere. Chance is blind and absolute because random mutations are unrelated to the needs of the organism; the causes of individual variations are completely independent of the environmental forces of natural selection. Monod espouses a thoroughgoing reductionism: Anything can be reduced to simple, obvious mechanical interactions. The cell is a machine. The animal is a machine. Man is a machine. Consciousness is an epiphenomenon that will eventually be explained biochemically.

As a last example, consider the explicit defense of scientific materialism by the sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson. His writings trace the genetic and evolutionary origins of social behavior in insects, animals, and humans. He asks how self-sacrificial behavior could arise and persist among social insects, such as ants, if their reproductive ability is thereby sacrificed. Wilson shows that such altruistic behavior enhances the survival of close relatives with similar genes (in an ant colony, for example); selective pressures would encourage such self-sacrifice. He believes that all human behavior can be reduced to and explained by its biological origins and present genetic structure. It may not be too much to say that sociology and the other social sciences, as well as the humanities, are the last branches of biology to be included in the Modern Synthesis.10 The mind will be explained as an epiphenomenon of the neural machinery of the brain.

Wilson holds that religious practices were a useful survival mechanism in humanity’s earlier history because they contributed to group cohesion. But he says that the power of religion will be gone forever when religion is explained as a product of evolution; it will be replaced by a philosophy of “scientific materialism”. One Croatian author declared the following about natural science (and technique): If not atheistic, then they are indifferent towards the divine being11.

Particular scientific concepts have been extended and extrapolated beyond their scientific use; they have been inflated into comprehensive naturalistic philosophies. Scientific concepts and theories have been taken to provide an exhaustive description of reality, and the abstractive and selective character of science has been ignored. The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead calls this the fallacy of misplaced concreteness12. It can also be described as making metaphysics out of a method. But because scientific materialism starts from scientific ideas, it carries considerable influence in an age that respects science The modern realist ideology of natural science even culminates in the claim that there is in principle a Theory of Everything, which would provide a conclusive answer to all perennial religious questions, by showing that there is no logical space left for realities beyond the natural world.

Scientism is the belief of only some scientists and very few philosophers. Nevertheless scientism, together with reductionism, often underlies, as all-pervading assumptions, statements made by a number of influential biologists and geneticists that penetrate into the public consciousness of the Western world.

It is obvious that scientism is, like other –isms, an ideology built upon the assumption that science provides all the knowledge and that religion provides only pseudo-knowledge, that is, false impressions about non-existent fictions. But science is the inquiry into conditions. It does not ask what something is, but rather what the conditions are under which it comes about. In the warfare between science and theology, scientism demands elimination of the enemy.


However, this what belongs to scientific thinking does not belong necessarily to the science as such, because cognitive limits exist by all means, and it is therefore reasonably to talk, not about science as ideology, but about idelogization of science in the sense of ideological abuse of science, that is about the use of science and scientific cognitions for the purposes which does not have nor epistemological neither methodological scientific status. Ideologization of science occurs most often when one overlooks the fact that science farther stays an imperfect and unfinished totality of knowledge. Still is valid De Bois Reymond’s wise saying: Ignoramus et ignorabimus, by means of which this physicist marks our limits regarding our cognition of nature. The truth and mere reality escape to the man and it looks that is under local anesthesia, as G¸nther Grass said, and is able to perceive only distorted pieces of what is really; he is unsure on all sides where is abandoned by exact science, and only thru measure of his confidence he perceives how small is, in spite of all, segment of reality in which him this science gives security13. We do not know, and we will not know, origin of matter, respectively origin of material cosmos, of life on Earth, of conscience, of self-reliance and reason. We do not know, and we will not know, to answer on essential questions which hit human existence. The sciences cannot bridge the gap between nothing (which includes no potentialities and no physical laws – absolutely nothing) and something – or even between God and nothing else and god and something else not God; and it is not clear that any branch of human knowledge can adequately address this fundamental issue14. We think we know sometimes, when we see the high peaks at dawn or when we hear certain chords and melodies. But we do not know even then. We ought not to act as if we knew this or that, even in an elementary way, when we are only guessing15.

Scientific cognitive pretensions have own limits and this limits are not arbitrary but are enrolled into very human nature, then into nature of world, just as contingent and so far not – necessary world, and finally, into very nature of human cognition. Consequently, starting point in which science as such has cognitive limits does not rest on arbitrary but on cognitive argument of cognitive nature. This not at all means that one can in advance decide upon outermost scientific limits in the sense of an end of science, which would announce impossibility whatever any new scientific cognition. The notion about cognitive limits includes implicitly fixing the boundaries between limited and unlimited cognition, and this then imposes logical question about fixing the boundaries between human, respectively natural or limited cognition, and unlimited or Divinely cognition. Therefore, the limits of scientific cognition are deduced from the cognition of very nature of human, world or cognition, whose inherent limitlessness does not mean without limits, but means unlimited possibilities of cognition as far as to cognition of very limitlessness, that is God. It is, therefore, correct opinion that scientific cognition as such can only form part of an „imperfect“, but not at the same time a „perfect“ totality, because ultimately cognitive perfection is not given on a limited scale, but only on boundlessly, namely in God. Therefore, the totality of science, or all scientific cognitions cumulatively gathered in a whole, again do not form part of „pure whole“ but only „cognitive whole“, that is a whole which raised as the result of different empirical – scientific descriptions of reality and not as result of cognition of „pure whole“. Although science justly hurries towards increase of „whole“ of scientific cognition, one can, however, to conclude that this „pure cognitive whole“ remains uncatchable to today’s understanding of science, not because that somebody this arbitrary wants, but because of nature of cognition, nature of cognitive subject and nature of cognitive object. This fact is important and ought to be pointed out in the context of discussion about scientism.

At the end, obviousness regarding ideologization of science today is very clear presented in the different fields of applied science, which is technique and technology. Namely, reduction of science on technique has far-reaching consequences, first, for understanding of science generally, second, for the understanding of science as human activity and, third, for understanding of certain social sector which is inconceivable without application of certain scientific cognitions. Reduction of science to technique (technology) unavoidable has as a consequence specific ideologization of science and this by technical rationality which acknowledges only efficiency of value of criterion for formation of judgment in certain sector of its application. This, so called, criterial monism presents a new sort of ideology, this of technicism which by means of absolutization of a single criterion for formation of judgment – that is efficiency – excludes all other criterions and on such way it turns into one form of ideological thinking and activity. Such danger is not present only in medicine but in all sectors of social life whose existence is inconceivable without applied science.

In this sense very indicative is Heidegger’s thought: We are, however, exposed to technique on the worst way if we look on it as something neutral. This notion, which is today readily accepted by many, makes us blind for the essence of technique…. We don’t understand what technique is, because we don’t understand what technique is in its essence. We don’t understand that the essence of technology is nothing technical. We don’t understand that the essence of technology is not simply a doing by man, nor a means to an end16. We have become little more than objects of technique, incorporated into the very mechanism we have created. The essence of this technology is the methodical planning of the future. Planning operates on a world tailored conceptually at the outset to the exercise of human power. The reordering of experience around a plan does inadmissible violence to human beings and nature. Universal instrumentalization destroys the integrity of all that is. An “objectless” heap of functions replaces a world of “things” treated with respect for their own sake as the gathering places of our manifold engagements with “being.”

The scientific assertion and notions influence on social-culture values, direct social action, influence on points of view about social equality, on comprehension about human and physical nature, on cultural ideals about personal freedom and responsibility. Therefore the conception of science, as an autonomous and valuable neutral pursuit for truth, must be rejected. Approach, which affirms that science has epistemological privileged status of scientific cognition, exempts scientists from responsibility for the consequences of their researches and deprives the community from rights regarding carrying any judgment about social value, desirability and payable effects of certain scientific projects. Many scientists do not believe that in science exist significant ethical questions because the science is objective. By assertion that morality and ethics do not play any role in science, because science discovers objective truths,many scientists oppose to control of their work without regard to ethical consequences. But, physicist Max Born, Nobel Prize for physics (1954), declared that the sciences of nature have destroyed, perhaps forever, the ethical foundations of civilization17.

The science today has become to powerful and important and one can not leave over the judgments about social values of its particular projects only to scientific elites and its political and industrial allies. So, unavoidable is the dialogue between the scientists and many representatives not-expert public

The critic of actual scientific practice is not destructive for science and is connected only with some specific scientific applications and with use of some scientific achievements.


Dialogue between theology and natural sciences ought to be first of all conservation the man with man about his essential interests18. In critical inquiry of theological and natural sciences very important is dialogue in the sense of Plato’s dialectics. To realize the dialogue it is necessary to have a breadth of views which is a priori against reducibility of whole reality only to matter. Consequently, here is included a dialectic moment which in positive sense changes collocutors. It is dialogue in which topical understanding of theology of creation and new scientific contributions continually and always over again direct this dialogue in still unknown spheres. Sitting alone on one’s disciplinary island, one is likely to be drawn to one’s mates on neighbouring islands, and it is perhaps not so important who these disciplinary neighbours are.

Practically the only way of approaching to more and more complex questions, problems and social context of science is transdisciplinarity19, combination of disciplinary and undisciplinary, informal, uncodified tacit knowledge. The transdisciplinarity enables the interaction between science and society. It can be seen as a theoretical attempt to “transcend disciplines” and, by that, to react against superspecialization – a process leading to a dramatically growing fragmentation of knowledge – while at the same time maintaining the advantages of creativity and initiative peculiar to each specific field of knowledge20.

This approach can assemble all who think differently, that is represents different views on the world and faith. The transdisciplinarity can solve problems that could not be solved by isolated efforts. In other words, transdisciplinarity is first of all an integrating, although not a holistic concept. It resolves isolation on a higher methodological plane, but it does not attempt to construct a „unified” interpretation or explanatory matrix. The transdisciplinary approach has the role of mediator which “on the round table” asks from colluctors that what binds the men on the level of universally human. This is building up of a “basin of universally human” where meet each other humanistic and natural sciences 21. In other words, transdisciplinarity is first of all an integrating concept. It resolves isolation on higher methodological plane. It is, on some way, „dialectic majeutic“ what is the fundamental principle of human wisdom. Namely, dialectic majeutic becomes, as said one respected Croatian theologian and philosopher, Vjekoslav Bajsic (1924 – 1994), fundamental principle of our wisdom, because this principle extends to all who try to mutually communicate with the goal to find and to brighten the truth22.

The transdisciplinarity is the way towards fertile dialogue between theology and the world of natural science. It is based, as Thierry Ramadier said, on controlled conflict generated by paradoxes23. The goal is no longer the search for consensus but search for articulation. The transdisciplinarity generates new quality which is more then aritmetical sum particular disciplines. It opens the eyes and widens perspectives since, to improve understanding, it uses concepts not owned by a single discipline. This is an intellectual space where the nature of the manifold links among isolated issues can be explored and unveiled.

The “requests” for transdisciplinarity do not annul character of special sciences and scientific disciplines regarding cognition their objects of phenomenoms, but are significant as the epistemological-methodological attempts of critical considerations their cognitive scopes.

If the second half of the second millennium was characterized by exclusions, incomprehensions, divisions and conflicts of the different kinds of knowledge, among themselves and with respect to human culture, the new century that opens a new millennium may be characterized by its passionate search for inclusions, comprehensions, and reconciliations. Methods and instruments are not lacking. The climate seems more favorable to new interpretations of reality and to a calmer dialogue between science, epistemology, history of science, philosophy, ethics and theology. The elaboration a new culture is a significant and stimulating commitment for everyone: believers, non-believers, philosophers, theologians, and scientific and cultural operators. The elaboration of a techno-scientific, humanistic and mystical culture is a much greater commitment. It implies leading human beings to once again recognize their transcendence. It means teaching ourselves to return to the path that begins with intellectual and human experience and reaches up to the knowledge of the Creator, wisely using the best acquisitions of modern science, in the light of an honest reasoning and awareness that science alone cannot catch the essence of human experience, or the more intrinsic reality of things. Science never ceases to raise new and interesting problems about the universe, human beings, and their history. Since science alone cannot solve them, it must shift rely on philosophy, ethics, religion, and theology. All of these aspects are fundamental for a new dialogue between faith and scientific culture. This great challenge and demand of the third millennium will not become utopia if the protagonists of all disciplines and cultures will constructively confront, and loyally cooperate to a reciprocal and harmonious integration. To knowledge and cultures that look for their meaning and destiny in many directions, often without finding it, Christian Revelation, tempered by a plurimillennial comparison and dialogue with cultures, societies and knowledge of all times and places, offers hope, in the light of Wisdom and in the power of the Logos24.

The transdisciplinarity fosters the emergence of ways of knowing that are not merely limited to the realm of the intellect, but encompass intuition, imagination, feelings and the body. The use of transdisciplinary approach inevitably entails changes in the person using it and, depending on the extent to which is adopted, these changes can be very profound indeed. Lived transdisciplinarity can lead us not only to a change in the way we think but also in the ways that we behave25.


I will finish this meditation with the point of view expressed by Vjekoslav Bajsic, who has, by the way, very much obligated the Croatian philosophy and theological thought, and who, in his time, was between only few who entered in Croatia into theological contemplation about so called „border line questions between science and religion“: Maybe the most difficult, all in all, is the fact that it is just necessary to prepare the ground for such „dialogical philosophy“, which is nor compromise neither syncretism but looking for „natural“ system of thinking in the best sense of word just based on Socrates assumption that the human intellect is capable to conceive the truth and that it on natural plan can be found only here.26

Transdisciplinary approach contributes to brightening and to new understanding of philosophical, theological and scientific problems. It binds even such thoughtful and scientific worlds for which, on the first view, it seems that is not possible between them to reach any concordance and with this to new self-understanding and understanding of Other.



1 L.Wittgenstein, Tagebuch, Date 8. 6. 1916.

2 Plato, The Republic, Book I

3 Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution „Gaudium et Spes“ on the Church in the Modern World, n. 15

4 W. Heisenberg, Schritte ¸ber Grenzen, Piper Verlag, M¸nchen, 1971

5 Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution „Gaudium et Spes“ on the Church in the Modern World, n. 5

6 M. Rees, Il secolo finale. Perche l’umanita rischia di autodestruggersi nei prossimi cento anni, Armando Mondadori Editore, Milano; 2004.

7 Scientific materialism makes two assertions: (1) the scientific method is the only reliable path to knowledge; (2) matter (or matter and energy) is the fundamental reality in the universe. The first is an epistemological assertion about the characteristics of inquiry and knowledge. The second is a metaphysical or ontological assertion about the characteristics of reality. The two assertions are linked by the assumption that only the entities and causes with which science deals are real: only science can progressively disclose the nature of the real. A possible synonym to scientism is scientific expansionism. How exactly the boundaries of science should be expanded and what more precisely is to be included within science are issues on which there is disagreement. Scientism in one version or another has probably been around as long as science has existed. From about 1970 to 2000, however, a number of distinguished natural scientists, including Francis Crick, Richard Dawkins, and Edward O. Wilson, have advocated scientism in one form or another. Some promoters of scientism are more ambitious in their extension of the boundaries of science than others. Scientism is that its advocates, in their attempt to expand the boundaries of science, rely in their argument not merely on scientific but also on philosophical premises and that scientism therefore is not science proper.

8 Carl Sagan, Cosmos, Ballantine Books, New York, 1985

9 Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1971.

10 Edward O. Wilson, Sociobiology – The new synthesis, Belknap Press, 1975

11 Milan Galovic, Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (on Croatian), Croatian Philosophical Society, Zagreb, 1997

12 Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1925. New York: The Free Press, 1967.)

13 Joseph Ratzinger, Glaube und Zukunft, Kˆsel-Verlag, M¸nchen, 1971

14 William R. Stoeger, The laws of nature, the range of human knowledge and Divine action, 4th Coyne Lectures, BIBLOS, Tarnow, Poland

15 Karl Barth, God here and now, Routledge Classics, London, 2003

16 M. Heidegger, Pitanjeotehnici, Naprijed, Zagreb, 1996., str. 221.

17 M. Born, Erinnerung und Gedanken eines Physikers, “Universitas” 23, 1968

18 Vjekoslav Bajsić, Filozofija kao mjesto okupljanja u Filozofija u vremenu

19 OECD study Interdisciplinarity in Science and Technology (1998) defines transdisciplinary research as research in which a convergence between disciplines is pursued; it is accompanied by the mutual integration of disciplinary epistemologies. The difference between an interdisciplinary and a transdisciplinary approach is as follows: in the former, disciplines offer a parallel analysis of problems; in the latter, disciplines offer their .specific approaches and even basic assumptions, to a dialogue, in order to address complex issues together. In the case of transdisciplinarity, approaches and even methods are developed in a joint effort, something which is indeed difficult in complex societies, but very necessary. All definitions of transdisiplinarity have something in common: the search for unity in produced knowledge.

20 UNESCO, Transdisciplinarity – Stimulating Sinergies, Integrating Knowledge, UNESCO, Division of philosophy and ethics, 1998

21 As under 18

22 As under 18

23 Thierry Ramadier, Transdisciplinarity and its challenges: the case of urban studies, Futures, Volume 36, Issue 4, May 24, 2003

24 Gualberto Gismondi, Culture, Interdisciplinary Encyclopedia of Religion and Science, www.inters.org

25 Basarab Nicolescu, Manifesto, p. 142

26 As under 18