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Jayati Dasgupta

Basic Truths and Universal Existence

On Job Kozhamthadam (ed.): Contemporary Science and Religion in Dialogue. Challenges and Opportunities

»There can be no tension between truth and truth«

Job Kozhamthadam (ed.):
Contemporary Science and Religion in Dialogue. Challenges and Opportunities.
Pune: ASSR, 2002.
xix, 239 pages
ISBN 0-9709782-1-9
book cover
ASSR Publications:
external linkWebsite
1 Many think that science and religion cannot possibly tread any common ground being radically different and must perforce remain poles apart. Although it superficially appears to be so, a closer look reveals that the twain do have something in common – both deal with the basic truths of human and universal existence albeit completely differing in their approaches. Neither do the two have to be opposed to each other as »there can be no tension between truth and truth« to quote one of the essayists of this volume. Comparing the vast stores of knowledge related to these two disciplines can help in furthering human understanding and a dialogue between the two can encourage creative thinking. It is commendable that the Association of Science, Society and Religion (ASSR), an interdisciplinary venture of Jnanadeepa Vidyapeeth of Pune, India, have taken up the task of publishing books such as the one under review as part of their effort of ensuring that science and religion can pool together their rich resources to build a better tomorrow. Science and religion are arguably the two most powerful influences in our world today, as editor Job Kozhamthadam says in his introduction to this volume, and to see them coming together is a rare treat and indeed an enriching experience.
2 The articles in this book are classified according to their contents. Part I contains papers related to developments in the Physical Sciences, the essays in Part II are based on the Biological Sciences and those in Part III pertain to the discipline of Psychology. The first essay of the book titled "Science and Religion – Past Estrangement and Present Possible Engagement" by the editor himself, provides an overview of the situation and a historical backdrop for the rest of the articles. An account of the initial differences in worldview between Christianity and developing Western Science and the contribution of the Jesuits to the latter precedes a discussion of the Mechanical Philosophy of Nature (MPN). Under the domination of Newtonian Mechanics it was assumed that just a few fundamental concepts and laws could account for everything in the universe. The reader is taken on a journey through the era in which Reductionism reigned supreme and all the way through to its decline and re-emergence as Logical Positivism. The views of various thinkers, from Leibniz to Popper are discussed and the reader is left at the doorstep of that science which is ready to accommodate the role of the observer in experimentation and takes a much wider view of what is possible. After following the various facts and arguments one cannot but agree with the writer's remark that a constructive engagement between religion and science is not just an option but an obligation.

Contemporary developments in the Physical Sciences

»A constructive engagement between religion and science is not just an option but an obligation.«

Job Kozhamthadam
3 William R. Stoeger discusses "Development of Contemporary Cosmology", providing relevant facts and figures of mind-blowing dimensions. This awe-inspiring account of cosmological development is followed by the concept of God as the creator of such a cosmos. Just as the intricately designed structure and evolution of the universe are matters of great complexity so is the idea of its creation. The reader is provided with a many-faceted yet lucid exposition relating all these.
4 The article "Quantum Mechanics and Religion – A New Interface" by K. Babu Joseph is a comprehensive account of the astounding world of Quantum Mechanics which has dominated the physical sciences in the twentieth century and on the whole has had very far-reaching effects. Many of the conclusions arrived at during the development of this branch of Physics seem very strange indeed and appear to defy commonsense. Nevertheless, Quantum Mechanics has scored victories all the way through and has firmly established itself. The reader is informed here that Quantum Mechanics appears to suggest that the entire universe is connected and created as a single object by its creator. The essay ends with glimpses into the different interpretations of Quantum Mechanics and what according to them is the meaning of the Absolute.
5 Kuruvilla Pandikattu in the last article of Part I, "Science and Religion in Interaction" deals with the challenge of physical immortality to religious consciousness. Just as mortality is an integral fact of human existence, so is the ardent wish to do away with the phenomenon of death. Here the reader is introduced to the latest scientific developments especially in the field of Cryonics (the freezing and preservation of the terminally ill to await revival when a cure is found for whatever ailed them). The writer further discusses the implications of the attempts of transcending physical death in the religious context and the roles of both science and religion in the fostering of life. Pandikattu effectively presents the idea that the mere extending of life may not be all that wonderful but that it would be delightful to be able to prolong life meaningfully and with dignity and spirituality.

Genetics-related questions and challenges

Genetics calls forth the re-examination of moral values and the formulation of new ethical codes as it brings mankind face to face with situations and issues never encountered before. 6 Part II contains two articles, "New Human Genetics and Religious Vision" by Phillip R. Sloan and "The Challenge of Science and Technology to Christian Ethics" by George Therukattil. The first examines some options for the twenty-first century in the light of contemporary developments in human genetics and the huge complexities encountered in this context. Genetic Engineering is the field of focus of the latter and it seeks to explore the dynamics of the interaction between recent technological advances and lives of the human being as ›individuated essence‹. Genetics is a fast developing field which is bound to have far-reaching and pervasive effects on human lives and any such proliferation must be subjected to ethical evaluation. By the very nature of its functions, genetics calls forth the re-examination of moral values and the formulation of new ethical codes as it brings mankind face to face with situations and issues never encountered before. From different standpoints the two writers ably discuss the numerous and complex Genetics-related questions and challenges along with the possible avenues of their resolution.

Perspectives from Psychology

»Psychology and religion have tended to look at each other as not-so-welcome relatives in the past.«

Anthony da Silva
7 The third part follows up with three essays based on recent developments in Psychology. In the first of these, "Understanding Religion in the Light of Psychology" Anthony da Silva takes up the example of the significance of coping with stress. In his words »Psychology and religion have tended to look at each other as not-so-welcome relatives in the past«, but as he himself asserts, things have changed for the better. Though the two resort to different nomenclature the phenomena that they study are not all that different. For example, what psychology calls ›stress‹ is termed ›suffering‹ by religion and both use the study of it as an important tool in the search for significance. The writer elucidates in this connection the psychological implications of the Cross Schema and Holy Mass and establishes the connection between Confession and Catharsis.
8 Augustine Pamplany's "Science and Theology – Epistemological Foundations of Dialogue" aims at clarifying some fundamental epistemological issues and presuppositions so that unitary conceptual grounds and frameworks of interaction can be discovered. Setting up a dialogue between theology and science means treading delicate ground as it is, and if the practitioners of any of the disciplines claim supremacy, positive and beneficial consequences can be hard to come by. The writer seeks to bring out the fact that a totalistic view of reality helpful in transcending finite horizons is possible.
9 In the last article of this volume, Victor Ferraro asks "Duel or Duet?" While not discounting the fact that in the past religion and science have often crossed intellectual swords, he advocates truce through playing down of differences and creating an atmosphere of mutual respect. Harmony is the need of our times and as Ferraro points out and a melodious duet can very well take shape, empowering both science and religion and hence enriching humanity.
10 This sleek, well designed and printed volume of papers by learned contributors takes the reader on a rare intellectual journey that continues even after one is done with the reading. Though the contents may prove to be somewhat daunting for the uninitiated, those involved in religious and/or scientific study as well as all those who actively concern themselves with the future of the human race will find in this book an opportunity of widening the horizons of their minds. One cannot but eagerly await the publication of subsequent volumes and if these include view-points related to all major religions of the world it would be even better, as that would provide a more complete picture and make the intellectual experience even more well-rounded.
polylog: Forum for Intercultural Philosophy 4 (2003).
Online: http://www.polylog.org/lit/4/rdj-en.htm
ISSN 1616-2943
external linkSatya Nilayam. Chennai Journal for Intercultural Philosophy 3 (2003), 119-124.
Author: Jayati Dasgupta, Chennai (India)
© 2003 Author & polylog e.V.
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