Science and Religion

From Fr. Richard Rohr:


An Evolving Cosmology

We're living in a truly amazing time. The ever broader shape of the cosmos is becoming an ever broader shape for theology itself. [1] Our sun is nothing more than a minor star in one small part of a single galaxy. We used to believe our universe was static, but it is still expanding outward. When I was growing up, the common perception was that science and religion were definitely at odds. Now that we are coming to understand the magnificent nature of the cosmos, we're finding that many of the intuitions of the mystics of all religions are being paralleled by scientific theories and explanations. If truth is one (which it has to somehow be, if it is truth), then all disciplines are just approaching that truth from different angles and levels and questions. [2]

When, as a young man, Francis of Assisi was looking at the stars in his backyard, he exclaimed, "If these are the creatures, what must the creator be like?" [3] Some think this moment of wonder was the beginning of Francis' spiritual curiosity and search. Thomas Aquinas also intuited the same when he said, "Any mistake we make about creation will also be a mistake about God." Somehow they both knew that inner and outer reality had to mirror one another.

At a recent CAC conference, Ilia Delio, a Franciscan sister and scientist, shared how our view of the universe and God has been evolving. During the Middle Ages, when most of our Christian theology was developed, the universe was thought to be centered around humans and the earth. Scientists saw the universe as anthropocentric, unchanging, mechanistic, orderly, predictable, and hierarchical. Christians viewed God, the "Prime Mover," in much the same way, with the same static and predictable characteristics--omnipotent and omniscient, but not really loving. God was "out there" somewhere, separate from us and the universe. The unique and central message of the Christian religion--incarnation--was not really taken seriously by most Christians. In fact, our whole salvation plan was largely about getting away from this earth!

Today, we know that the universe is old, large, dynamic, and interconnected. It is about 13.8 billion years old, and some scientists think it could still exist for 100 trillion years. The universe has been expanding since its birth. Our home planet, Earth, far from being the center of the universe, revolves around the Sun, a medium sized star in a medium sized galaxy, the Milky Way, which contains about 200 billion stars. The Milky Way is about 100,000 light years in diameter. Furthermore, it is one of 100 billion galaxies in the universe. We do not appear to be the center of anything. And yet our faith tells us that we still are. This cosmic shock is still trying to sink into our psyches.

During the next two weeks of Daily Meditations, we will be contemplating this cosmos in some small way. The findings of modern science are an exciting and evolving part of my lineage. Science can now join with religion to the benefit of all creation and all creatures. We can be good partners. This is what Pope Francis promotes in his timely encyclical, Laudato Si'. As Ilia Delio says, "We're reaching a fork in the road; two paths are diverging on planet earth, and the one we choose will make all the difference for the life of the planet. Shall we continue our medieval religious practices in a medieval paradigm and mechanistic culture and undergo extinction? Or shall we wake up to this dynamic, evolutionary universe and the rise of consciousness toward an integral wholeness?" [4] This is the paradigm shift that is being asked of our generation.

Gateway to Silence

Evolving toward love