Yesterday I gave a lecture on science and religion, as part of a series on Reason and Religion. My part of these evening lectures is supposed to draw a conclusion from the three previous ones.
Because I didn’t have the time to read the other three lectures in detail – and I only had the power point presentations, not the full texts – I decided to start with a presentation of Barbour’s four models, followed by a few examples from the dialogue between evolutionary studies of religion and theology, to point to the limits of a dialogue that is still based on the assumption that differences are negative, nasty things. Instead of dialogue, I opt for Elisabeth Johnson’s alternative: practical cooperation. Religion and science should dialogue with each other not so much to learn from each other, or to re-establish one’s legitimate place in the public arena, but to better our world. If you read Laudato si, you know what I – or Johnson – mean. What it comes down to, is that theology listens to science in order to establish a state of affairs – causes and consequences, e.g. of ecological problems – and, then, turns to its tradition for insights on what is at stake here – in our example, damage to the global ecological system not only shows a problematic relation between humanity and nature, but shows that we do not take care for the weakest, be it human communities suffering from the effects of global warming or species threatened with extinction – and on how things could be. Especially the last bit is important, since it drives us beyond pragmatic arguments and opens more creative, ambitious visions of the future.
The narrative was well accepted, and the Q&A proved the audience had not fallen asleep during my talk. But one of the concluding questions of the organiser baffled me a bit. He wondered how we could translate all of this into our – the audience’s – occupation in pastoral care, catechesis, and education. It struck me that this was indeed why more than fifty people showed up to listen to an evening lecture about the relation between religion and science. They did not want to learn ‘how to defend faith’, and they did not have a purely intellectual interest, but they wanted to learn, from the dialogue between science and religion, a new language to talk about faith, to express faith. Maybe that’s a version of ‘practical cooperation’ I did not yet think of. But it’s certainly an interesting perspective, and it might imply that the interaction between theology and science is of more fundamental relevance to (religious) education than I previously thought. I’ll be thinking over the idea of a dialogue between theology and science as ‘practical cooperation’, aimed specifically at educationthe next few weeks. If you think of any good examples, feel free to share in the comments!