by Susan Barreto, editor
Exploring universal questions require an even larger dose of curiosity and patience
Whether it is the relation of faith to evolution, to origins of the universe or to technology and medicine, there is always more to ponder than meets the eye.
Broadly, the big universal questions are multi-layered and require some working knowledge of the scientific method and scientific theories in order to approach deep theological insight appropriately. These questions include: Why is there something rather than nothing? And where do we come from? And what happens after we die? This is why the rare set of individuals who have in interest in both science and theology can deepen our view of the universe and ourselves so greatly.
Some of this work has been done this month by physicist Robert Mann, who writes about the complex matters involving the concept of the "multiverse." He ends up asking the novel question of: “Why is there something rather than everything?” The multiverse theory is the idea that there is, either logically or actually, a set of multiple possible universes (including ours) that together make up everything that exists and that can exist. The multiverse includes all of space and time in addition to the constants and physical laws that describe the universe we know.
The multiverse is indeed a powerful idea. Mann skillfully illustrates the general ideas behind this idea and it’s impact on theological precepts. The term ‘multiverse’ was first coined in 1895 by American philosopher and psychologist William James. Since then science fiction authors, scientists and theologians have all chimed in on what it really means to believe in a multiverse.
John Polkinghorne, whose epistemology will be discussed at the public forum (see Calendar) for the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences in Berkeley, California, made a career of blending his faith and knowledge as a physicist. “I’m a very passionate believer in the unity of knowledge,” he is quoted as saying. “There is one world of reality – one world of our experience that we’re seeking to describe.”
Part of that description is of our origins. The Epic of Creation course (see Calendar) at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago will once again tell the story of creation from the viewpoints of scientists, theologians and philosophers. This is indeed a powerful combination of storytellers. These same professionals are also coming together at various congregations across the US to give congregations a glimpse of the religion and science dialogue in events organized through the Scientists in the Congregation grants funded by the John Templeton Foundation (see News).
The foundation has been instrumental in funding conferences, books and research into a number of key areas where science and faith overlap. The most recent project on immortality (see News) has more supernatural and philosophical overtones, but in the end provides a set of questions that are often in the background of the bigger questions posed by scientists and those of faith looking for meaning beyond biology, physics or chemistry.
Some may think that answering the bigger questions is an impossible task and even a waste of time. Immortality, for instance, does not seem like a reasonable experiment for a science lab. But looking scientifically into what impact these beliefs have on society may provide greater insight on the role of religious belief in the world community. It is only by taking the research process seriously that both theology and science are able to carve out a space in the public domain that is larger than any one single idea that could be proposed by either.
This is the role those with courage to ask questions many ponder. But alongside this courage we require patience to know that some questions may have more than one applicable answer. Philosophers are generally more comfortable with multiple answers to a single question, but theologians and scientists are coming together in greater numbers to provide more intriguing insight on how our universe and sentient life are truly unique.
Covalence, September 2012