TM01 Proposal: 20 February 2004.
Copyright © 2004 by Kevin Sharpe. All rights reserved.

10 Shirelake Close
Oxford, OX1 1SN
United Kingdom
kevin.sharpe@tui.edu
www.ksharpe.com

20 February 2004

Dear

Please find enclosed the proposal for my book, Science of God, which you requested in response to a query from me. I am sorry for the delay in preparing it for you.

If you wish, I can send the full manuscript for your perusal once I have completed it. I enclose a SASE and look forward to your response (there is no need to return the proposal, curriculum vitae, and sample chapter). However, because I travel a lot, email is the quickest way to reach me.

Thank you for your attention.

 

Kevin Sharpe

Encl.     Proposal
            Chapter Five
            Curriculum Vitae
            SASE


 

 

Proposal for

 

science of god

 

 

by

 

 

Kevin Sharpe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Approximately 80,000 words

10 Shirelake Close
Oxford, OX1 1SN
United Kingdom

UK Mobile/Cell Phone +44-(0)7711-519-243
Fax and VoiceMail +44-(0)870-130-8350 and +1-810-277-4039
kevin.sharpe@tui.edu


Science of God

Overview

To what is theology responsible? Tradition or new insight? Institutional church or humanity at large? Spiritual or everyday experience? Revelation or scientific findings? Science of God proposes a method for doing theology that doesn’t divorce it from science.

Two books, Discerning the Mystery by Andrew Louth and Axiomatics and Dogmatics by John Carnes, represent the majority of non-fundamentalist approaches to theology’s method in the light of science. For Louth, science does not define truth, and theology ought to follow a nonempirical method. For Carnes, theology should be empirical over spiritual experience and conform to the sciences over other domains. Both approaches fail because they separate theology from the scientific method or create a domain for theology exclusive of the sciences. Neither of these scenarios allows theology to speak directly to the majority of modern people and to the future we must build.

Theology, therefore, ought to be empirical both in terms of what it says about the world and in terms of what it says about God and God’s relationship with the world. This is the science of God.

I begin Science of God with the above challenge in the light of current work in science and theology, the development of Gordon Kaufman’s thinking, and the question of verificationism that Kai Nielsen raises. From there, I develop and apply an empirical method for theology.

My central argument is that science and theology can share the same empirical method. This approach differs from asserting that:

·        theology does follow a scientific method, end of matter;

·        theology is scientific in the sense of being rational, but is not verifiable or falsifiable; or

·        I have falsely characterized the scientific method.

Science and theology each attempts a description of reality according to its essential assumption or lens and then similarly uses its lens to develop knowledge. When applied to theology, this method assumes the existence of God and then seeks the nature of God using falsificatory-verificationary techniques on proposals. I ask that theologians:

·        examine their fundamental models for God and criticize them empirically when developing them into theologies; and

·        engineer the cognitive aspects of a theology, developing and bringing to the surface its testable parts, and then opening them to verification or falsification.

Though theology already follows this scientific method to some extent, theologians could become more aware and more consistent in what they do.

Theology’s adoption of the scientific method will result in new theologies based on ideas of God different from current ones. A coherent set of basic assumptions – one lens – will arise that, when worked out fully with the empirical method, would lead to both theology and science. Starting with a common root, the assumptions would develop in two interrelated and coherent branches, one person-oriented (theology) and the other object-oriented (science), differing from present theology and present science, but continuous with them.

The last chapter of Science of God attempts the start of such a theology. I seek an explanation of reality and peer through a God lens that assumes, for theology, a person-orientation, rather than an object one. Theology primarily addresses human meaning and purpose. One example of human meaning and purpose is the desire for greater happiness. Starting with the sciences that examine happiness and purpose particularly biology and genetics, psychology and social psychology I seek to understand our spiritual nature and, through it, the nature of God.

Author Biography

A New Zealander, I was born in 1950 on the west coast of the North Island. I completed a science honors degree in mathematics at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, and then a doctorate in Mathematics from La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia, specializing in topology. I am a trained scientist. My religious roots tie me to the Anglican Church. My Master of Divinity degree was completed at the Episcopal Divinity School, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I then returned to New Zealand in 1975 and was ordained an Anglican deacon and priest. For a decade, I served in parishes and as Maclaurin Chaplain to the University of Auckland. I moved again to the U.S. as a Fulbright Scholar to complete my second doctorate, this time in Religious Studies, from Boston University. In 1987, I became Core Professor in the Graduate College of the Union Institute and University, Cincinnati, a non-traditional learning-at-a-distance program where I supervise and advise doctoral students. I continue in that position. I relocated to Oxford, England, in 1997 and now divide my time between my position at Union, as a director of the Oxford Institute for Science and Spirituality, and as a member of the science and religion community through Harris Manchester College, Oxford University.

My chief interest lies in the relationship between spiritual thought and science. I have published three books (Sleuthing the Divine: The Nexus of Science and Spirit; David Bohm’s World: New Science and New Religion; and From Science to an Adequate Mythology), have edited several more, and written many articles and academic papers. Other books await publication: Love and Happiness: Spiritual Thought in the Light of Behavioral Genetics and Neurochemistry, Happier and Spiritual: Theology from the Behavioral Sciences, Dreaming Time, and Natural Morality: Reaping Our Innate Rewards. Further, I founded, published, and, for over a decade, edited the magazine, Science & Spirit and its predecessor and companion website ‘Science & Spirit Resources.’ I also established over a decade ago the Fortress Press book series, ‘Theology and the Sciences,’ which I continue to edit.

I am an expert on prehistoric line markings, especially those found in caves. At present, my research activity in this area focuses on the 12,000-20,000 year-old finger markings in Grotte de Rouffignac, France. This work delves into the minds and written expressions of our Paleolithic ancestors. I want to know how they thought and what they believed.

The Oxford Institute for Science and Spirit, which I founded and co-direct, begun operating in 2002 with a graduate Certificate Program that includes residential, online, and travel courses, many of which I teach. The Institute reaches a wide range of people, including many from new age, church, and science and religion networks.

The challenge of modernity and its science to spiritual understandings is devastating. Moderate religion continues to decline and many of its leaders fall into corruption and abuse of their power. Many of its most vocal spokespeople oppose modernity. It is vitally important for our society’s health to bring human wisdom to secular and technology-based culture in a way that doesn’t seek to impose itself and negate modernity, but rather explores how we might fully live and direct our futures. I try to facilitate this through my writing and teaching.

My web site www.ksharpe.com provides more details about me. I also enclose a full curriculum vitae.

Science of God

Table of Contents

Chapter One: The Failure of Science and Religion

Chapter Two: God the Outcast

Chapter Three: Challenges from an Extreme

Chapter Four: What We Have and What We Need

Chapter Five: A Scientific Theological Method

Chapter Six: Why Contemporary Scholars Fail

Chapter Seven: Refashioned Theology

Science of God

Chapter Descriptions

Chapter One: The Failure of Science and Religion

At a recent American Academy of Religion meeting, Holmes Rolston gave a presentation that typifies the problems in current science and religion. His well-planned attack on sociobiology conflated and corrupted the language of science to promote a strikingly anti-science, religiously conservative view. Sociobiology or, as its proponents now call it, evolutionary psychology says that many social and behavioral traits of humans derive from a biological and evolutionary base. Rolston dazzled the packed room with his use of the modern technology of LCD projection to present quotes from various sociobiologists out of context and, with them, humorously to critique their assumptions. He finally arrived at his triumphant opinion that atheism is inconsistent. The room burst into applause.

Being orthodox so orthodox as to approach a creationist point-of-view is in vogue. Theology frequently calls on science to defend tradition and a monoculture of mediocrity. Conferences and courses in science and religion spring up all over the world, but what do they teach? I notice that many promote the status quo of whatever theology the teachers hold, with science as its support. Few voices look at the science that challenges those beliefs, except to attack the science and those who draw implications from it.

Arthur Peacocke, one of the leading voices in the field and a recent winner of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, told me over a cup of coffee that he fears the subject has come to a dead end. With a smile, he lamented that there’s nothing new to do but dot a few i’s and cross a few t’s in current theories. I believe he is wrong; even with his own work, he has yet to apply a critical science-based voice to some of his most fundamental beliefs, especially those concerning the relationship between God and the universe.

This past summer, I assisted in coordinating the C. S. Lewis Foundation’s Oxbridge Conference, which organized much of its content around science and religion. What did I find? The dominant voices from the podium waxed on intelligent design, the theory which hands supposed gaps in evolutionary explanations to God’s intervention. The more liberal plenary speakers in science and religion were Bob Russell and John Polkinghorne. Russell wants scientists to direct their research to support a specific Christian interpretation of the end times and the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Polkinghorne founds his theology on the idea that God acts in the world by directly influencing chaotic systems with nudges so their outcomes fall in line with God’s purpose. In a review of my most recent book, Polkinghorne writes: ‘More orthodox ideas [than Sharpe’s] seem to me to have the toughness that a scientist might expect a truly fundamental understanding to display.’ He misses the point: it’s not toughness for the scientist that a theology needs to aim for, but communicability and truthfulness in this age of science. Both Polkinghorne and Russell end with a traditional theology and their methods fly in the face of science. They impossibly want a science that makes Jesus’ physical resurrection seem reasonable.

I challenge theology and the science-religion field to take seriously science and its method. Science may call all theological ideas and methods into question, but theology need not fear this challenge. It ought to believe that the truth of the ‘God of truth’ whom theologians believe they serve will triumph over impostors.

Chapter Two: God the Outcast

The book follows the development of my ideas about theological method. I lay out the questions in the historical context in which they came to me and I construct my answers in dialogue with the literature current at the time I developed them. The resultant proposal, however, I examine in the context of today’s discussion.

Chapter Two begins setting the stage for a deeper analysis of the problem. I present the development in Gordon Kaufman’s thinking from his neo-orthodoxy to his liberal functionalism, where he tries to answer the challenge of science and modernity. The issue is methodological: whether authority lies in science or in tradition and, if in science, or partly in science, how to allow room for the wisdom of tradition.

I was fortunate to study under Kaufman when he wrote his turn-around book, An Essay on Theological Method, and to participate in his small class intended to receive and critique his work. Kaufman started his theological journey in the neo-orthodox school with its traditional beliefs, a sense of the utmost transcendence of God, and the separation of theology from science. When he taught me, he had rejected the first but retained the others, the second especially shining through. The sense of the absolute transcendence of God not a regular type of transcendence where God somehow exceeds the universe, but an absolute one where we can know nothing at all of God pushes God completely out of reach. Not only does it constitute an inherent contradiction (to know that we can know nothing of God is, in fact, to know something of God), but it also wipes away the immediacy and relevance and spirituality of God, things necessary for the success of religion and the moral direction for everyday and our broader cultural lives. It too easily places absolute authority in the hands of those who claim to know God’s will. It doesn’t merely claim that we can never know everything about God as I can never know everything about you or, for that matter, as I can never know everything about myself but insists that we can know nothing at all about God.

Theologians and writers in science and religion commonly adopt this idea. Peacocke, for instance, advocates an otherness for God that radically separates God from the universe. I can’t accept this stance. True, we have yet to understand the relationship between God and the universe, but we need not give up on it.

Unlike the above positions of Kaufman and Peacocke, ideas of God must be fully responsible to the life we experience and to the world in which we experience it. That is the chief challenge behind developing a Science of God.

Chapter Three: Challenges from an Extreme

Chapter Three offers further historical background to the issue and responses to it, focusing largely on the work of Kai Nielsen.

Nielsen believes that theological claims try to say something truthful and factual about the world and that we ought to subject them to the tests we apply to other such claims. When we do, they fail. He writes:

Suppose two past friends, a believer and a skeptic, are standing together aboard ship on a starry night. The believer remarks to his friend, ‘How can you really deny that God made all this?’ The skeptic replies that awe-inspiring and vast as it is, he cannot see the hand of God in it. ‘From a human point of view,’ the skeptic continues, ‘there are perfections as well as imperfections and order as well as disorder in nature, but there is no reason to say God created or ordained it all.’ Whatever the believer points to as evidence for God’s creative activity, the skeptic interprets naturalistically. On closer observation, they seem to be using different terminology to describe the same phenomena. Finally, an observer of this discussion begins to wonder if there is anything more than a purely verbal and attitudinal difference between the believer and his skeptical friend.

Believers ought to specify or conceive of the difference between the truth and falsity of a claim about God. They need to do this, Nielsen writes, for the claim to be more than talk ‘about natural phenomena in a high-toned manner.’ If they can’t do it, the claim is probably ‘devoid of factual and cosmological significance.’

Nielsen raised a storm in the 1960s and 1970s by publishing innumerable articles, papers, and books that attacked theologies. He especially singled out positions that adhered to tradition or else tried to justify themselves in the face of the challenge.

In selecting Nielsen as the guide for this chapter, I place my confidence in an ardent atheist determined to do his best against religious language in as wide a range of questions as possible. I submit my ideas to one of the most critical attacks that anyone can raise against them.

Nielsen’s response to theology failed to satisfy theologians. He didn’t communicate his point because theologians felt it too extreme and because they found ways, they thought, to shield their foundational beliefs from the critique of modernity. Unfortunately, they also rendered their beliefs even more irrelevant to our social problems and ways of thinking.

Chapter Four: What We Have and What We Need

I can now lay out the challenge for this book and the resources to answer it.

The above chapters on Kaufman and Nielsen provide the question that this book addresses. The two thinkers face a similar challenge namely, the confrontation of religion by modernity but their responses are ineffective. We ought not, as Kaufman does, relegate the supposed reality God to something so far from our lives and possible experience that God becomes irrelevant to living and theology becomes a system of ideas that merely functions in particular ways. Neither ought we, as Nielsen does, only throw cold water on theological constructions without attempting to help reconstruct them adequately. We need to face the challenge head on with theological constructions that answer secularity’s challenge and that still center on the reality God. That is, we need to do theology fully scientifically without losing the wisdom from human experience over the past many millennia and the moral critique necessary to guide and admonish how we live: a difficult, but not impossible challenge.

Two resources help meet the above challenge.

1.      I justify the use of the scientific method for theology by establishing the need for a better functioning western society. Current social chaos and uncertainty largely derive from our use of technology and scientific knowledge. Our challenges include:

·        Overpopulation because of better health practices,

·        environmental degradation from industrial and consumer demand,

·        genetic engineering of plants or animals or humans, and

·        the rapid transmission of ideas through mass media.

All of these contribute to our plague of moral dilemmas. How might we best use our discoveries? What discoveries should we not use? How do we guide potentially dangerous research? On what basis ought society to allocate its resources in the face of such global and social threats? We lack a convincing morality. We need wisdom to help guide us. This used to come through religion, but religion has become either irrelevant to secular modernity or it has tried to build other but doomed backward-looking worlds in parallel to it. To help overcome this problem, to help make the world a better place for humans and our non-human kin, I propose that theology the system of understanding that emerges from religious wisdom embrace modernity and guide secularity’s latent spirituality. Developing a truly scientific method for itself offers theology a first step in this direction because science speaks with the voice of contemporary truth.

2.      The second ingredient for my proposed method for theology is an explication of the scientific method. I draw on Ian Barbour’s presentation of it. Much happened in the 1960s and 1970s to our understanding of the practice of science because of the revolution in the philosophy of science brought on in part by the work of Thomas Kuhn. It also left our understanding of science rather ambiguous because we cannot easily define scientific objectivity. Science involves both the subjective and the objective, wrapped in a helix so intertwined that we cannot separate them. Barbour’s portrayal of this compromise offers a balanced starting point.

Chapter Five: A Scientific Theological Method

This chapter presents a detailed response to the above challenge with the above resources, answering potential criticisms.

The picture of science I presented in Chapter Four draws on Barbour’s portrayal of science as comprised of metaphysical assumptions and research traditions, theories and models, and criteria for the evaluation of theories. I contend that theology can also comprise these same three elements. This chapter develops that proposal.

1.      Theology is to some or a large extent metaphysical because it thinks about the general nature of life and the world using ideas such as God. Much of theology lies at a high level (to parallel Barbour’s picture of science), containing more comprehensive theory, metaphysical assumptions, and paradigms than lower-level theories and laws.

The theos part of the word theology is the most fundamental theological assumption and the one that, to a large extent, defines theology as a discipline as distinct from, say, biology or sociology. The discipline theology centers on an idea of God (whatever we take that word to mean); a God idea centrally organizes and dominates any theology, the notion on which all other ideas depend and with which they fall in line.

We can say God exists, however, without implying what we mean by the word God; in fact, we can assume God exists and ask what sort of God exists. ‘It seems clearly possible to have good reasons for holding some things more tentatively...some things as more firmly established than others,’ comments H. D. Lewis. ‘[This does not apply to] the existence of God...everything else we know about God depends upon some kind of evidence.’ Perhaps some sorts of Gods do not exist. How do we find out what sorts of God exist? How can we know about God? Do our theologies with their ideas of God attempt to know or put into words God’s character, forms of existence, and behavior?

Theology knows about God as science knows about the physical world. Science describes reality. If science does not describe reality, what does? Theology similarly describes reality in that it attempts rationally to explain it both as a whole and also its content. Theology describes in the sense that the larger theological corpus arising from its fundamental metaphysical model sees all through the lens of this model. Science too looks at all through its particular lens of its fundamental model, the physical. Both science and theology describe reality through their respective lenses. By doing this, theology knows about God.

Theology aims to know about God; God is thus the object of theology. If God formed the subject matter of theology, suggests Wolfhart Pannenberg, we could not consider theology a science; because God does not sit there for us to describe like a physical object, we would have to know how to ‘distinguish God from the affirmations of theologians and already-committed believers.’ Something else must form the subject matter for theology and, through studying this, we discern the nature of God.

What comprises the subject matter of theology? It is the phenomena of the world:

  • ‘the daily round of experiences,’ as Don Wiebe phrases it, that makes up our lives; along with
  • the world in the sense of ‘the empirical world in its totality and the sum total of our personal experience’; plus
  • the type of experience that differs from ‘mere sensation’ and that some people call religious experience.

Thus, the subject matter of theology includes reality, as a whole and as people experience it, potentially all phenomena and all experience. Theology includes the subject matter of all other disciplines.

2.      Theologians first choose a God lens and these can vary. Moreover, the idea God can take many shades within the same school; for instance, Christian theology offers choices for models of God: deist, process, agent, theist, and many others from beneficent to fire-and-brimstone.

Having chosen an initial God key, a theologian develops models from it for God and for the world, and then develops these into a theory based on criteria I discuss later. This involves working out the models and their implications and relations, deciding on positive and negative analogies, comparing them with other theologies, and applying them to points of interest (including creation, Christology, politics, or anthropology).

Sources for theological models vary considerably because theology tries to encompass a wide swath of reality. Theologians look for models in phenomenology, history, hermeneutics, philosophy, politics, biology, social studies, and physics. Religious dogma, scripture, and experiences also offer models and elements for theology, but only potential models for they – like all other proposals – need evaluation before acceptance or rejection; traditional categories and ideas become suggestions for starting points, but may not determine or represent the outcomes.

3.      Once we create a theological theory, we need to evaluate it. Against what ought we to judge a theology? Barbour considers the list of criteria for scientific theories and then applies them to religious beliefs:

In any system of thought simplicity is desirable (e.g., minimum number of independent assumptions and conceptual categories); but it is seldom a major consideration in either science or religion. Coherence involves both internal consistence (the absence of contradictions) and systematic interrelatedness (the presence of connections and implications between statements). But supporting evidence is the most important criterion. Religious beliefs must give a faithful rendition of the areas of experience taken to be especially significant: religious and moral experience and key historical events. But they must also adequately interpret other events in our lives as active selves. Hence, extensibility of application (fruitfulness) can be listed as an additional criterion. Finally, comprehensiveness in the coherent ordering of diverse types of experience within a systematic metaphysics is desirable, though, in my opinion, secondary to other criteria.

A theology makes factual assertions beyond personal or communal, private or subjective experience. Frederick Ferré, in his enthusiastic review of the book by Barbour that forms the backbone of this chapter, remarks on Barbour’s compromise between naive realism and reductive instrumentalism:

Is some structural correspondence assumed or not between the model and the reality modeled? If so, then a type of literal picturing relation, however ‘tentative,’ is present; if not, then we are working with a conceptual instrument whose justification is in its usefulness in the widest possible sense – explanatory, unifying, heuristic – and whose ‘truth’ is to be assessed by its continued reliability in these respects in the long run.

By not adhering to an instrumentalism, we need more than usefulness as a criterion. Some type of ‘literal picturing relation’ exists: wherein lies this picturing? What are these factual statements?

Theology contains several types of cognitive statements besides the obvious ones pertaining to history, social, and personal experience. It can make statements, for instance about:

  • the socio-political sphere as the two-thirds world, minorities, or women experience it;
  • the nature and creation of the physical universe;
  • the structure of society;
  • human personality, or psychology;
  • experiences claimed as common to all people, or social psychology;
  • the coming of the end of the world at some given year;
  • people becoming wealthy and successful because of their good lives;
  • the evolutionary process causing a convergence toward an Omega Point; or
  • the omnipotent and omniscient God also loving everyone absolutely.

A theology can make cognitive claims for any part of its subject matter, which covers human experience and history, and the physical, biological, and social worlds in all their aspects. In fact, some aspect of the universe and our experience of it anchors any theological statement. Each of these facets falls within the domain of some discipline of knowledge and so theology’s statements impinge on the subject areas of other disciplines. Theology contains statements proper to other disciplines. We should evaluate each such statement within those disciplines. Their empirical methods and criteria (adaptations of Barbour’s list of criteria for general systems of thought) evaluate relevant theological claims.

I emphasize the commonalities in the methods of science and theology. They are not identical, but their differences represent variations in degree and not absolute distinctions.

Science and theology can share the same method and describe reality according to their respective assumption or lens. Science and theology share truth.

Chapter Six: Why Contemporary Scholars Fail

Chapter Six interacts my proposal with such modern writers on the subject of theological method as Barbour, Philip Clayton, Nancey Murphy, Peacocke, and Wentzel Van Huyssteen. I only consider those voices that draw on the modern understanding of the doing of science, that is, those after the insights associated with Kuhn.

Barbour is the grandfather of the current science-religion field and I refer to his ideas throughout the text, drawing heavily on his Myths, Models, and Paradigms: A Comparative Study in Science and Religion (HarperCollins, 1976). However, his works often end with an explication of process thought because he considers this the best theological approach available. Rather than seeking a more adequate theology, Barbour concludes his encyclopedic analyses with a position that rests on such cognitively questionable ideas as panpsychism.

Murphy’s most important book on theological method is Theology in the Age of Scientific Reasoning (Cornell University Press, 1996). She bases her ideas on Imre Lakatos’s understanding of the philosophy of science, and she analyses theologies as research traditions similar to certain research traditions in science. However, her work does not say how we ought to do theology. Rather, it is historically oriented, showing that previous theologies have used a method that is scientific in the way that Lakatos portrays it.

Peacocke has influenced my thought in science and theology a great deal. I concur a with the way he constructs a system of theological understanding (see his Theology for a Scientific Age: Being and Becoming – Natural, Divine, and Human (Fortress Press, 1993)) that tries to follow an empirical method to critique received theology and to understand our world and our place in it. His book, Intimations of Reality: Critical Realism in Science and Religion (University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), paradigmatically details critical realism for the science-religion scholar. It is essential, Peacocke says, that we aim toward an objective understanding such as the empirical method provides. At the same time, though, we need to recognize the subjectivities that inescapably enter into any form of knowing, including science and theology. Peacocke’s own system of theology, however, takes him only so far. He reaches a point with his downward-acting emergent holism where he posits a God quite distinct from the world. His doing this renders God ‘an outcast,’ as I describe in Chapter Two, and allows him to introduce as much traditionalism as he needs to feel comfortable. This stance terminates his empiricism.

Clayton in God and Contemporary Science (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998) follows Peacocke’s lead and looks to the philosophy of emergence and downward causality to power his thinking. As with Peacocke, Clayton’s approach allows him to introduce an absolute transcendence for God that excuses him to tradition. The approach thinks itself scientific, but it isn’t. It glues itself to a questionable form of holism and, through it, can import many notions not subject to cognitive testing. A modern form of the God-of-the-gaps argument, Clayton’s argument finds itself more and more isolated as science fills in the spaces it has yet to explain.

Van Huyssteen (in his The Shaping of Rationality: Toward Interdisciplinarity in Theology and Science (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999) and Theology and the Justification of Faith: Constructing Theories in Systematic Theology (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1989)) asks how and why some of us hang on to religious faith amidst the confusion of our age. How can we speak of the certainty of faith or of passionate commitments and deep convictions in a postmodern context that celebrates cultural and religious pluralism? Van Huyssteen explores how theological reflection might relate to other modes of intellectual inquiry, especially to scientific knowledge, which, he adds, often goes unchallenged as the ultimate paradigm of human rationality. Van Huyssteen calls for a theology and theological method that Science of God fulfills, but doesn’t answer the call.

In short, all major current voices in the area draw upon a version of contemporary philosophy of science but, if they develop their theologies, make significant and nonempirical leaps from which they can develop the theology with which they started. Their work is thus apologetical. To be genuinely open to what we can learn about God requires not making such leaps. It requires opening all beliefs to empirical examination and opening ourselves to learn from what science and other experience can teach us.

Chapter Seven: Refashioned Theology

How then might we do theology, the science of God, with the above methodological proposal? Drawing on happiness as an example, this chapter starts to develop a theology that uses this method.

Social psychological and neurochemical research report on what increases our happiness long-term. Because scientific research suggests how the universe, including ourselves, operates and comes to be, science can – and does – suggest how we might increase our happiness. These strategies have evolved into us. This is an aspect of God at work. Happiness strategies, therefore, say something about how we might live in tune with the work of God. That is, such scientific results inform our understanding of our spiritual natures and thus of God in relation to us.

Many drives compete within us, however. To gain greater happiness isn’t the only one. Choices allow us to balance happiness with its competitors (such as justice) and each of us can choose how to achieve that balance. Our self-awareness enables us to decide this, drawing from our memories about what our previous decisions lead to and from cultural wisdom about what others’ decisions suggest. The ‘best’ way to act emerges from a constant process of discovery: a discovery of who we are in relation to each of the inclinations that compete within us, and a discovery of what each inclination means for us.

Decision-making between inclinations is significant spiritually because we employ our free will to choose and achieve a balance between them. Our unique ability of free will equals, in more traditional terms, self-awareness at the core of God. Spirituality (traditionally, God’s way for us) asks our self-awareness to develop ourselves as best we can. To be spiritual means to take account of all the aspects of ourselves and to decide from among them what is best for us. To be spiritual means to ask what a balance between our inclinations and attributes means, and then to seek it. In particular, if we want spiritual happiness, we should answer what comprises the balance of happiness with the other demands on us (what is more important for us to choose) – including the fact that we seek justice – and try to achieve it.

Happiness is only one human quality that leads to theological insight through scientific research. Such investigations could launch all of theology. In ways like the above, theology can and ought to adopt the scientific method and use the results of scientific research. When they primarily research the nature of what it is to be a human being and a person, scientists are, in fact, modern-day theologians practicing the Science of God.

The usual stories that our culture teaches about the world and ourselves involve the evolution of the universe from the big bang to humans as biological beings. These accounts brand as primary both matter and the science that seeks to explain it. We also need, however, a story that makes human experience primary. I show in this chapter that to accept the inseparable intertwining of the spiritual and the physical can help elevate the human to sit alongside matter. Evolution becomes as much spiritual as biological or physical. Scientific research can generate knowledge of God and our spiritual selves. The universe that science explains leaves behind the image of cold and mechanical matter; matter involves endless depths and mystery. It ties intimately with human subjectivity. It is spiritual. We matter.

Sample Chapter

Accompanying this proposal is a preliminary version of Chapter Five to illustrate my writing style and approach.

Status

The book is approximately 80,000 words long and two thirds complete.

Audience

I intend this book for a theologically literate audience, but write in an easily understood style accessible for students and others interested in theology.

In the recent past, I was publisher of Science & Spirit magazine, which had a circulation of 80,000 readers. Many people read my philosophy and developed interest in my work. I serve on the Editorial Advisory Board for Zygon, am the past Executive Officer for The Institute on Religion in an Age of Science, and currently direct the only science and spirituality Graduate Certificate program in the world. My work receives review from Templeton Prize winners and in the major publications in the field. I am an educator with the Union Institute and University and the Oxford Institute and many of my learners, both past and present, are interested in my work. I present annually at international conferences where book sales are often brisk. Though I cannot guarantee that all who know me will all buy this book, my name carries strong recognition in the field of Science and Religion.

This work serves the growing market in science and religion, spurred in part by the money the John Templeton Foundation continues to invest in the field, and growing exponentially as people begin to see the interconnections between those two fields. Further, there is a growing public awareness of our spiritual needs in this age of science and in the face of the challenge of science and technology to traditional values and worldviews. Bookstore shelves hold few titles in the science-religion section, but many titles appear under science, alternative spirituality, psychology, and nature. Many people are seeking meaning from within our secular-scientific milieu and my book lays the ground for a viable way to do this.

Competition

Books by Barbour, Clayton, Murphy, Peacocke, and Wentzel Van Huyssteen offer the most direct competition. Their main works are analyzed briefly in the synopsis above of Chapter Six.

Mine asks questions that are more radical about theological method than do theirs. I am not interested in defending or building a platform for some received wisdom. As such, Science of God will interest, more than do the above, those seekers interested in a genuinely open approach to life’s meaning as opposed to those trying to justify doctrine that institutions preach. It will also interest those scholars who genuinely seek how to do theology openly with an eye on full relevance to today’s secular-scientific society and a trust that truth does not need defending with blindness.

Marketing

Given the audience outlined above, marketing will need directing at theologians, students in theology, those in the science-religion field, those people interested in my work, and, more generally, people interested in the confrontation of spiritual experience and wisdom by modern secular and scientific culture.

As an educator, writer, lecturer, and editor, I see many opportunities for promoting this book. First, I encourage capitalizing on my reputation in the science and religion field by advertising and reviewing in such publications as Zygon, Research News and Opportunities in Science and Theology, CrossCurrents, The Journal of the American Academy of Religion and Science & Spirit. Also in order is promotion through conferences such as the American Academy of Religion annual meeting and the many science-religion events, my speaking and teaching engagements (such as the Oxford Institute for Science and Spirit), list serves and organizational newsletters, and appropriate web sites, including my own. This work also will appeal to members of the philosophical and the theological communities, reachable through their usual journals, conferences, list serves, and magazines.

Beyond reviews and advertisements, I will promote the book in the courses and lectures I give through the Oxford Institute and Union Institute and University. On average, I speak at conferences between five and eight times a year and intend to increase that schedule in the coming year, offering workshops on topics in Science and Spirituality. I also have an extensive website from which I hope to attract readers. I belong to a number of list serves in my fields and will spread the word along those channels. 

In the public milieu, I am experienced at radio interviews and welcome the opportunity to share my ideas with a wider public through television.

As my work at the nexus of science and spirit is ongoing, I foresee a continuation of this work in future books that will continue to address finding an adequate theology for our current age. My books overall will provide a system of thought that, somewhat like Ken Wilber’s but with different starting points, offer the reader a well-grounded, highly relevant, and directional system of meaning for life in today’s world. Science of God places an important step in this system by providing the ground on which to develop this system. It follows From Science to an Adequate Mythology that poses the challenge this series of books will answer and Sleuthing the Divine: The Nexus of Science and Spirit which, building from David Bohm’s World: New Physics and New Religion, provides the basic model for God from which I develop my theology following the approach Science of God proposes.

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Science of God outlines views on the method of theology and critiques the current science-theology dialogue. Then it poses the challenge of science to theology’s method, and offers and applies an original answer, a way truer to the scientific and spiritual yearnings of practitioners, forwarding discussions in science and theology, theological method, and systematic theology.