Understanding the Mysteries of Faith: Dialogue Between Reason and Theology, Between Science and Theology
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In this paper we will explore the role of reason in theology. This one uses faith and Scripture to understand the divine mysteries. However, reason and faith do not contradict each other. It is not rare to find people saying that theology rejects science because Scripture contradicts science. Just because theology is a discipline that uses faith as a guidance does not mean that faith and reason contradict each other.
Nevertheless, reason has an important role in theology. Theology searches for the truth, which is God. And it seeks to understand the divine mysteries which are sometimes difficult for human reason. Yet, as the entire universe has been created by God, every single bit of creation expresses a part of the Truth, of God. Science, seen from this perspective cannot contradict theology or faith, on the contrary, it should prove what we know by faith, and vice versa. It might be the case we cannot understand divine mysteries in all their depth, or that science is not providing complete evidence. We know many cases of scientific theories that were disproved by new researchers after a few years or decades. Other theories were rejected at a certain time, and then new scientists proved they were correct.
Those mysteries that were reached through scripture and faith can be comprehended in more depth with the help of reason. In our modern world, science provides more evidence because of technological advancements. We might find points of discussion, where science appears to be contradicting faith, and yet we know by faith that God is not wrong, and if He told us something through Scriptures, then it is a problem of theological interpretation, or science has not yet found the right answers, and hopefully in the future it will. But science and theology use different ways for reaching one same truth, thus they cannot contradict each other. If they do, it means something is wrong.
The starting point
Thomas Aquinas provided five ways to prove that God exists through reason. Aquinas is one of the most important theologians of all times and has provided so much evidence through reason only that God exists and of other divine mysteries (Thomas).
Aquinas argued that all things move from a potential state to an actual state, but there is always something that actualizes them. Thus, there should be one and the first engine that moves something first, and that has no other that moved it. This first principle is God. The second way to prove God’s existence is that the universe works through cause and effect. Every single thing that happens has a cause, and then there is an effect. Again, like in the movement evidence, there are causes for everything, but we cannot continue infinitely, so there must be a single cause that is the first cause, that is God. The third way refers to contingency. All things that exist stop to exist. Yet, there must be something that cannot cease to exist or else there would be nothing at all in the World, and this is God. The fourth argument refers to perfection. All things have, in some way or another a trait, a perfection of that particular thing. Thus, there must be an ultimate for of perfection from where all other properties come from, or they refer to. A supreme perfection defines the other limited perfections. This supreme perfection must be God. Finally, the way of purpose. All things have a purpose. They are all aligned towards an end. Aquinas thought that this drive, this orientation of all things towards something expresses supreme intelligence that has given all things that direction with intelligence towards their own end. God is this supreme intelligence. In a very simply way, these are the five ways of Aquinas to prove God’s existence using only reason (Thomas, I, 1-9). As we can see, theologians believe through faith that God exists, they read the Scriptures and God reveals himself and theologians begin their journey to understand the other divine mysteries through faith.
It is interesting to consider Perfection and Contingency to explore the role of science within theology. These two elements can bring much evidence with the help of science to understand better the divine mysteries.
An example found in the Old Testament is the famous revelation of God as One who Is: ‘I am who am’ (Ex 3:14). This is because applying a single description would limit God. Thus, He is. The ‘being’ of God, who is ‘supreme being’ with no limitation, can also be explained through contingency. God is perfect action, perfect being, the being itself with no limitation. Philosophy studies God only through reason. From this aspect we can move into science. All things that were not created by humans have internal intelligence that guides them. The different disciplines of science study this. Some study the universe, others biology in all its forms, others the human being specifically. Most interesting is the source of life and the cause of creation.
Faith and Reason
John Paul II (5) acknowledges that philosophy is necessary to help understand more deeply the divine mysteries. Because man yearns to find the ultimate truth, he has been developing different fields of knowledge, including anthropology, logic, natural sciences, etc., to understand the universe, the purpose of life, and get closer to the truth that transcends all creation. While sciences use natural reason, faith guides theology. This last one takes advantages of the scientific advancements and discoveries to understand the sacred texts and take significant steps towards the understanding of the divine mysteries. What John Paul II cites the Scriptures (Wis 13:5): ‘From the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator’, he wants to say that through creation as a starting point, science uses natural reason, to reach and understand God and the Divine Mysteries. Reason has a place in theology, and it must not be under nor overvalued. The discoveries done using reason have full meaning when placed in the horizon of faith.
Another concerning issue regarding faith and reason and the relationship began with the rise of universities. Theology and other scientific sciences came closer, it was necessary to separate. Each needed their own autonomy to thrive. Sciences and philosophy could not be guided by faith, and theology needed to be guided by faith only. But the result of this separation was that they each went to radical extremes. Theology rejected sciences and sciences rejected faith and religions. A divorce took place. And as we have seen so far, each one can take profit from the other, but each one on their own place. There should be of a collaboration without stepping onto each other.
John Paul II invites theologians to use the scientific results and apply them accordingly to understand or corroborate their theological understandings and knowledge, and vice versa.
The other issue was that sciences wanted to divorce from theology and every discovery that was not in line with religious views and doctrines meant that religions were against science. But as we mentioned already, even the Scriptures say that knowledge is wisdom, and creation (natural sciences) lead to the Creator. There should be a humble attitude on both theologians and scientific researchers to accept that they need each other and that it is more important to find the truth than to prove their own personal theories. Positive sciences progressed so much in the last years, that they despised theology and religion as fantasies and because faith guides them, they cannot prove epistemologically their beliefs. This scientific position made things worse difficult communication between these two.
Reason can provide valuable knowledge to theology, but it should not be the king but the servant of the truth. There should be a collaboration between reason and faith, between natural sciences and philosophy and theology. That does not mean that sciences can use faith to prove things, nor that theology should use reason to prove the Divine Mysteries. But they can collaborate and use the results that each other got to deeper their understandings. They can confront results, compare, contrast. Examples like archeological discoveries and contribution to theology and divine mysteries.
A good example of the ideal relationship and how reason can help theology is archaeology. There is a bridge between them and they contributed each other. Biblical theology provides information for archaeologists to research while these can provide their results to theologians so they can confirm or guide their own journey through faith. Biblical archeology intends to discover evidence and confront them to the testimony of the Old and New Testaments. In recent years with new scientific advancements, archeologists could find archeological evidence that proves many Biblical claims studied by theologians (Merrill, 670).
Yet the bottom line according to Merrill, is that the authority should be theology. Scientific discoveries should ultimately be informed by exegesis while also being rigorously objective (674).
The relationship between reason and faith, or science and religion goes from conflict and independence, to dialogue and integration (Barzaghi, and Corcó, 513). But ideally, it should be of dialogue. The fact they each have their own guiding light: science through reason and theology through faith, does not mean that they cannot dialogue and collaborate with each other. They have to remain autonomous but without conflict (Barzaghi and Corcó, 513).
If we look back through history, Catholic religious people, did most of the early scientific discoveries such as in fields of Cosmology and Biology. Furthermore, Pope Pius XII encouraged the Academy of Sciences to develop and continue growing in the knowledge of natural sciences (Barzaghi and Corcó, 514).
The debate of faith and reason, theology and science appears as a never ending. Probably because we live in an era where the material world is more important than the spiritual world. Since the divorce of science and religion it appears as if they became enemies and they cannot walk on the same road. Furthermore, with the new advancements of science, what cannot be proven epistemologically loses all authority. Thus, theology has no value for this world. But we must not forget that the Catholic Church founded the first universities and were the foundations of the Western World as we know it. The Church was never against science, yet she has it clear that the Word of God is sacred, and science will never contradict God’s revelation and doctrine, because as we mentioned earlier in this paper, it is through creation that we reach the Divine Mysteries, the Ultimate Truth. St Thomas Aquinas in his five ways showed us how we can agree that God exists by observing creation and using reason.
We have many examples that show how religion is not against science: the foundations of Universities, Hospitals, Academies of Science such as the Vatican Cosmological Academy, Archeology and other natural sciences. Yet, it appears as if from a theological perspective, all these sciences and philosophy can provide positive evidence of what theology already knows. Theology can enjoy scientific advancements by corroborating what the Scriptures say, and by doing this, understand more deeply the divine mysteries.
Natural Sciences and researchers on the contrary, believe that science is the king and not a theology that has no true and positive evidence. Here is the great conflict. Who is the boss? Theology or Science? Who can provide evidence? To this, scholars will say, they can. But Religions will say faith is enough. The debate can continue for a long time and in today’s world where the material world seems to be more real and most people lost the sense of the spiritual life, of God, and where religion is seen as the enemy, it is easier to just follow science.
We have the experience that scientist propose hypotheses for their research. They begin with basic evidence, and sometimes not valid evidence. But they are keen in proving their hypothesis is right. It is possible that scientists are keener in proving what they believe is right than to find the real truth. And it is easy to fall into biased research just to prove one’s position. Especially if there are corporations behind sponsoring a project that will benefit them. We know how scientists believed they were right about their theories and they a century or less after, another scientist proved wrong. A clear example is Einstein’s gravity force.
Another conflicting example is the theory of evolution. Without getting into details about what it stands for, if traditional evolutionists are right, then the traditional monotheists religions are wrong. Yet, it is possible that there are elements of that theory could be wrong. Biblical theology does not explain the scientific details of how God created the Earth, so it is scientifically valid and beneficial to theology to know the details. What cannot happen though is that they contradict each other. At least from a theological point of view. Theology and Natural Sciences are ultimately seeking for the same thing. Theology knows from revelation certain truths but might not fully understand them. It is reason’s job to provide some answers and light to understand those mysteries in more depth.
Science and reason should be at the service of the truth, not after their own made up-truth. If this is the case, then there should be no problem to adjust, accept potential errors, and also accept knowledge from theology to guide and readjust their research studies.
Faith and reason come from a long way back, and the debate continues as new scientific discoveries are made. Reason is a capacity all human beings have, and for that reason it has to be used. But it is time that men understand that just like reason cannot be touched and we use it every day, the spirit or soul of humans also exists and can and must be used. Accepting that we are spiritual beings we could begin to have a dialogue between faith and reason, between science and theology.
It is essential that even if they do not agree with each other, at least they can stop perceiving each other as enemies. We saw a long this paper how at least the Catholic Church encouraged scientific research and academic studies from the beginning of the Western World as we know it today. Religion is not the enemy of science. But science has to learn to serve the truth and not impose one to prove a particular theory that could be proven wrong in a few years. Especially today, when we experience technological advancements in such a short period, science must recognize that the knowledge they have is so small comparing with the greatness and magnificent of creation. And this creation that is so amazing, if created by a god, this god surpasses everything that man can imagine of him.
As a conclusion it could be said that there should be more humility within theology and natural sciences. They should be at the service of the ultimate truth that is more than what they each can find on their own. While remaining autonomous, they cannot continue fighting. Theology can claim that no matter what scientist say, they have the truth through Revelation, yet to our limited mind, Divine mysteries can be hard to be penetrated, and God gave men reason for a purpose. Theology can benefit greatly by reason.
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Merrill, Eugene. ‘Archeology And OT Theology: Their Interferance And Reciprocal Usefulness’. Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society, vol 58, no. 4, 2018, pp. 667-78., https://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/58/58-4/JETS_58-4_667-78_Merrill.pdf. Accessed 1 Nov 2018.
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