Angels, Ecology, & Virtual Reality Nature and Culture, Intelligence and Gender

Cosmology and Cricket (Oh and Evolution Too)

Print Version August 26th, 2005

The game of cricket has been a consuming topic in the last few days–not least because one of our visiting retreat givers is a fanatic and another is from the US and rather bemused by it all. We end our midday meal with a brief prayer and today the person leading it began with a carefully confusing account of the rules of cricket–all about being in and being out, etc. After the expected mirth had died down he went on to pray about the presence of God in all the strange customs and cultures of the world and for our ability to find God in all things.
Now… ‘finding God in all things’ is a central Ignatian maxim but–really!–the rules of cricket? You can tell I’m not fond of the game but I doubt that’s the reason the question has been buzzing around for an hour or two now. It touches something more fundamental for me: a matter of cosmology. Where is God to be found in the world? In the natural world? In the worlds of culture? In all of each or only in parts? And how would we tell?
It has been arguedBy David Tracy among others that there is a fundamental parting of the ways between Catholics and Protestants over just this issue. The Catholic imagination–wildly oversimplifying–tends to value the ways the creation can reflect, embody, and reveal God while the Protestant imagination tends to see God as sitting in judgement of just such practises. The Incarnation, then, gets viewed from very different angles either as grounding the capacity of human culture to mediate God or as the way God comes to challenge the idols culture erects. The one is sacramental, the other iconoclastic. I suspect the situation is far more complex than that but there’s a grain of truth there. Compare Karl Rahner for example with Karl Barth.
Perhaps more to the point would be to compare two figures within 20th century Catholicism, Karl Rahner and Hans Urs von Balthasar, himself heavily influenced by Barth. I doubt a close reading of either of them would uphold the polarity some commentators construct between them but the construction is interesting in itself. Rahner, they say, was over-optimistic about the human beings ability to know God and human culture’s capacity to carry God, perhaps most extravagantly manifest in his notion of the ‘anonymous Christian’ . A good Rahnerian could make an anonymous Christian even out of a cricketer. Just being human is being bound for God. The good Balthasarian–and they seem to be in the ascendance right now–thinks that is all too vague and merely baptizes philosophy to look like theology. Christ impresses himself onto the human world and reveals his glory in very particular forms.
The consequences of of this kind of polar construction are very much in evidence in the Catholic Church these days. Was Vatican II a weakening of Catholic identity that now needs to be corrected by a return to our distinctive marks? Or are we still waiting for Vatican II’s vision of a Church open to the world to be implemented and bear its fruit. How should the Church see itself vis-a-vis modern European culture? Are we salt, leaven, and light or are we a separate society offering a counter witness to secularism’s evils? Do we inculturate into our culture, affirming the good we find as a vehicle for the gospel, or do we stand outside and speak an uncomfortable truth?
I could go on but I promise just one more: where do we stand on evolution and design? Cardinal Schönborn’s editorial in the New York Times gets close to setting up science and religion as sparring partners offering conflicting accounts of matters of fact. George Coyne’s response keeps them in separate compartments.’Science is completely neutral with respect to philosophical or theological implications that may be drawn from its conclusions.’ It’s been a while since Ian Barbour explored other ways for science and religion to relate besides conflict and compartmentalisationThere is an extensive treatment here. Once we take a deep breath and deconstruct the dichotomies of which the media are so fond we find that so much of the debate is at cross purposes. The myth of the independence of science and theology has been a safe haven for most theologians. Since science delivers matters of fact with which we can’t argue we can at least satisfy ourselves that we have something to say on matters of value. Running for cover, though, does put you at a disadvantage. Both science and religion(s) offer a cosmology–a view of the whole–that can’t be carved up into pieces: fact and value. Science does us all a disservice when it too runs for cover and claims it is a disinterested pursuit of truth. The atom bomb is not neutral. It isn’t the case that science just produces the facts and others have to decide how to use them. Science offers a view of reality that systematically excludes value. That has been its genius and its deceit. I love science, always have, but I know it lies when it says it is offers a complete vision of reality. It is the very value-neutral ideology of the scientific enterprise which is under attack from the proponents of Intelligent Design. They take the war into the enemies camp proposing purposes and reasons to challenge matters of fact on their own ground. My own belief is that the project is misguided.And guided by the kind of politics I abhor. ID isn’t a scientific theory to be judged by scientific criteria or taught alongside science in schools. It offers no scientific heuristic only metaphysical challenge. But neither are science and religion apples and oranges. Both make cosmological claims–claims about the fullness of what is real–and on that contested territory something interesting might be built to challenge both science and theology.
Bloody cricket!!

Entry Filed under: Thoughts

10 Comments

  • 1. Crystal  |  August 26th, 2005 at 8:36 pm

    Cricket and Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, K. Rather & K. Barth, catholicism vs protestantism, science and religion, politics … you forgot the kitchen sink 🙂

    Wish I understood all of this well enough to respond intelligently. You said … ..Where is God to be found in the world? In the natural world? In the worlds of culture? In all of each or only in parts? And how would we tell?
    ….. I don’t know the answer but I have a feeling about it – that God can’t be kept out of anything, can’t be exclusive, can’t be so particular that he can’t easily be found where ever someone needs to look for him. That probably makes no sense 🙂

  • 2. Fran  |  August 27th, 2005 at 3:32 am

    I’m probably not theologically correct, but the questions you pose are those deep ones that we stayed up all night discussing in college. I agree with Crystal. I believe God (whoever that is) is in ALL things. That’s why I’m considered a heretic.

  • 3. Rob  |  August 27th, 2005 at 9:09 am

    Crystal and Fran, Thanks for your comments. I agree and i disagree. There are at least two senses to that phrase ‘find God in all things’. One which I would like to defend (with yourselves) is that God is not a priori excluded from any arena of experience or reality and, indeed, that when we engage with reality as we experience it God will always ‘show up’.
    On the other hand (there are two ‘other hands’!) the practice of discernment of spirits seems to show that any person’s experience is made up of various ‘movements’ some of which it is best to foster and some which it is best to discourage. In that sense God is not in all things equally and drawing close to God (and finding a way in the world) is helped by discovering where God is and staying there.
    The other ‘other hand’ concerns cosmology and what I believe about place and spirit of place. God is everywhere–who’d want to limit that–but finding God is often about finding God here in the moments and locations where spirit is thick on the ground.
    Oh God there’s another hand–I’m mutating! There’s the knotty problem of evil in this world. Ignatian spirituality tends to be enormously optimistic about the human heart. We believe that to discover your own deepest desires is to discover God’s desire for you. But Ignatius is also robustly realistic about God’s desire for the world and how that desire is ‘thwarted’ by evil. The world isn’t the way it is supposed to be. Finding God in all things is about discovering God’s attitudes and desires for any (and all) situations so we can align ourselves with them.

  • 4. Crystal  |  August 27th, 2005 at 10:41 am

    A question, Fr. Marsh …

    I don’t know why, but it’s hard to come to terms with the idea of evil, especially tangibly existing evil, rather than a metaphorical kind of evil. But if there is evil, isn’t it still a creation of God’s and is he not still in it, sort of? Is it a matter of degree … discerning between what Gos is in the most and the least? Argh! See why I need SD 🙂

  • 5. Rob  |  August 27th, 2005 at 10:57 am

    Crystal,

    Of course you are correct. A Christian understanding of God sees God as creator of everything. That’s why the presence if bad stuff in the world poses such a problem to us. If we were theological dualists we could see the world as fundamentally split between good and bad ‘gods’ at war with each other. Instead we believe even the worst atrocity or disaster in some sense depends on God but we resist saying that God is their cause. How can a good God desire bad? One ‘solution’ is to suggest that if we could only see things with the eyes of God things would look rosier–that its only our faulty understanding that makes the Holocaust so awful. That’s not a road I’d care to travel. I’m inclined to say instead that sometimes God doesn’t get what God wants–though I realise that too has its issues.

  • 6. Crystal  |  August 27th, 2005 at 8:09 pm

    Yes, that’s question encompasses the main problem I have with Jesus/God … when bad stuff happens, the facts seem to say that God must be responcible, if not for making the bad thing happen, at least for not fixing it. But my “feelings” say God is suffering along with me. I don’t know theology but if that’s true, it’s both wonderful and weird … I’m seriously not sure it’s enough.

  • 7. Steve Bogner  |  August 27th, 2005 at 11:42 pm

    A South African friend tried explaining cricket to me a while ago. After a while, all I could muster was a blank stare. It’s kind of that way for me with theology too.

    I suppose I’d rather take an optimistic view of the world than a pessimistic one; I’d rather stand in the world than outside it.

  • 8. Rob  |  August 28th, 2005 at 12:41 am

    Steve, I don’t think it’s as straightforward as being either optimistic or pessimistic about ‘the world’. I think both those stances are inadequate. One of the questions I’m interested in as a theologian is whether creation is a ‘cosmos’–in the original sense of being an integral whole, marked by order and even beauty (‘cosmos’ shares the same root as ‘cosmetic’). Those who use the problem of evil as an argument against theism clearly emphasise the world’s lack of order, goodness and beauty. They see more chaos than cosmos. Those who espouse Intelligent Design as an argument for some kind of theism point to the ‘design’ of the cosmos. I don’t think either argument holds because the world–in it’s present state–is only a partial cosmos. It is both beautiful and ugly. But that in-betweenness is what grounds our capacity to ‘discern spirits’ and so discover how God is at work in the world so that we might align ourselves with that work.

  • 9. Crystal  |  August 28th, 2005 at 7:35 am

    Fr. Marsh, can you expain more about theological cosmology. Is it different than the teleological argument? How does it realte to Ignatian discernment? Thanks.

  • 10. Steve Bogner  |  August 28th, 2005 at 2:52 pm

    To what extent is our perception of chaos simply a reflection of our lack of understanding? What appeared chaotic a hundred years ago may be fully understood today. In another hundred years… then what?

    So perhaps the in-betweenness you mention is not only a fact about the world but also a fact about our understanding of it?

    I’m not a theologian – I am a consultant. I get paid to solve problems for people. If I don’t really understand a problem, then I’m not very well equipped to go solve it. For me, ID is a cop out from admitting that we don’t yet fully understand some things about the world. Instead of admitting this lack of understanding and leaving it at that, we say that what we don’t understand, God must have designed. That puts God in the margins though; as we understand more of creation – of the cosmos – and I’m sure our understanding will advance, then God’s space in the margin shrinks.

    So that’s where I was coming from – in the absence of certainty, I will take the optimistic, in-the-world approach.


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