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God, notion of

Date: 
2010
DOI: 
10.17421/2037-2329-2010-GT-1

I. The Notion of God and the Problem of God 1. The Notion of God and Ultimate Questions 2. God as the Object of Religion, Philosophy, and Revelation 3. Thinking Philosophically about the Absolute and “Ways” of Demonstrating a Natural Knowledge of God - II. The Question of God in the Context of the Natural Sciences 1. Contexts in which Contemporary Science Refers to God 2. Scientific Thought as a Field of Historical Conflict between the Affirmation and Negation of God - III. The Possibility of Speaking of God in a Way Meaningful to Scientific Rationality 1. The Epistemological Meaning of a Discourse on God 2. Scientists’ Faith in God: A Statistical Outlook - IV. The Image of God as Revealed in Jesus Christ: Its Relationship to the Questions Raised by Philosophy and the Sciences Regarding God 1. The Existence of God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, Can be Known Starting from Created Realities. 2. The Biblical Image of the God of Israel Revealed by his Son Made Man 3. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is Also the God of Philosophers and Scientists

I. The Notion of God and the Problem of God

1. The Notion of God and Ultimate Questions. In the course of the development of human cultures, two crucial issues have surfaced and appealed to human reason: the very existence of the world, and the emergence of human beings on planet Earth. Philosophical and scholarly reflections on these two questions have generated what we call the cosmological problem and the anthropological problem. The first inquires whether the world has a cause that transcends it, and what this cause might be, while the second inquires whether human life has any meaning and bears any purposive plan. These questions are also called ultimate questions, since they seek the ultimate meaning and reason of all things. Despite the fact that they have acquired new connotations over time, such questions have actually remained very much the same in their substance throughout the centuries (the Roman Catholic Magisterium offers summaries of these ultimate questions in Gaudium et Spes, 10; Nostra Aetate, 1; and Fides et Ratio, 1-4, 26-27). These two problems lead to a third problem, the problem of God.

In the present article we will focus on how and why the notion of "God" comes to be the object of philosophy, theology and, under some specific aspects, also of the work of scientists. In the article on Natural Knowledge of God, we will discuss in more detail the philosophical paths that lead to the Absolute, and which relationship they have with God as known by Judaeo-Christian Revelation.  

Philological and semantic analyses of the words “God,” “divine,” and “divinity” do not provide us with any special insights, since these are common nouns, whereas cultures and religions have principally used proper names for God. The etymon for the Greek word Theós is not well known. Some feeble clues indicate that the Latin for God, Deus, divinus, derives from the Indo-European root dyeuh (“daylight” or “sky,” as evident in the Latin word dies), while God or Gott seem to be connected to hud (“to worship”). Although the notion of God is associated with the search for an answer to ultimate questions, it does not belong to speculative knowledge, or theoretical philosophy, only. Indeed, the notion of God is found within a kind of knowledge that is based on simple existential experiences (i.e., practical philosophy, or religion). In any case, reference to God, and to the divine, is present throughout the development of human cultures, making it a fundamental anthropologic constant. Any philosophical or theological reflection about God always entails a certain “pre-comprehension” of the idea of God; it seems as if the idea of God is a notion towards which human thought is naturally drawn. Without discussing its foundation, Thomas Aquinas seems to hint to this very general understanding, taking it for granted that everyone knows what God is. In expounding upon his “five ways to God,” Aquinas affirms that “All men speak of God as” intelligunt (the first way), nominant (the second way), and dicunt or dicimus Deum (the third, fourth, and fifth ways) (cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q. 2, a. 3 e a. 2, ad 2um).

At a religious and existential level, the notion of God appears together with a perception of moral awareness, the experience of limitedness, and a sense of dependence; at a philosophical level, we can access this notion through the exercise of rational thought. At the former level, it provides a concept that allows human beings to address themselves towards a supreme and personal Being, while at the philosophical level the study of how reason can approach such a notion presents greater difficulties. Religion addresses the idea of God through the categories of sacredness, transcendence, and mystery (the realm of knowledge and of a higher life), through the search for answers to profound questions, and through the hope for a remunerative justice. Philosophy approaches the notion of God through categories such as the Absolute, the Unconditioned, the First Cause, the rational order of the world, etc. It attempts to address paramount questions such as the beginning and the end of all things, the cause of the “whole” and the foundation of reality, and, finally, it reflects on the source of human freedom and the responsibility related to it. The result is a variety of coexisting “images of God” that do not necessarily contradict one another. However, in light of the interdisciplinary dialogue with scientific thought, it is necessary to choose and discern among these images, since over the years the use of one image of God, as opposed to others, has affected the outcome of this dialogue.

2. God as the Object of Religion, Philosophy, and Revelation. Both at a religious and a philosophical level, the idea of the divine comes from the experience of astonishment and wonder (cf. Plato, Theætetus, 155d; Aristotle, Metaphysics, I, 2), which stimulates philosophical learning and leads one into the mysterium tremendum et fascinans of religious experience. Thus, any question about God is philosophical and religious at the same time. At Plato’s Academy, philosophical seeking for the truth was always joined to the religious practice of justice and goodness. Religious thought came de facto before philosophical thought and continuously nourished it with its categories and gave it impetus. The philosophical category of transcendence, for instance, stems from a typical religious experience. Without such an experience of transcendence, philosophy would not even be capable of conceptualizing it. The ultimate questions that philosophy deals with critically are all questions that religion has sought to give an answer to as well. The name of God is not just the object of theoretical speculation; it is also the addressee of an invocation. The name of God expresses a “link” (Lat. re-ligo) between humankind and that Foundation sought out as an answer to our existential questions. Access to the Absolute, therefore, involves all dimensions of a human being, not only his or her intellect, but also his or her freedom, responsibility, ethical behavior, and psychological and moral attitudes. When the problem of God arises within the context of a philosophical reflection on scientific knowledge, in order for it to be understood coherently, it should be considered in terms of all of these dimensions.

In Classical Greece, the religious dimension associated with the practice of philosophy was not the same as that found in the practice of popular religiosity, although they both made use of nearly the same language. The religious dimension of philosophy expressed its “relationship” to the divine, often indicated as the Logos, through the search for truth and a higher moral law. In popular religion, the connection to the sphere of the divine took place within the domain of immediate existential needs, such as everyday life and feelings. One of the novelties introduced by Christianity was that the image of God as revealed by Jesus Christ corresponded to both truth and life (cf. Ratzinger, 1990). Once it encountered the Greco-Roman world, Christianity made use of philosophy’s access to the divine rather than adopting the polytheist approach of popular religiosity. In fact, the philosophical approach gave a stronger guarantee of universality, and it referred to a cosmos everybody could see (cf. Acts 14:8-18; Acts 17:22-31); these were two requirements that the Christian message considered necessary in order for reason to be adequately appealed to by faith. Actually, as explained by St. Augustine in The City of God, Christianity found already present in the Greco-Roman culture three way of speaking of God (cf. The City of God, VI, 5,1 - VI, 6,1). They were the God of natural philosophy (whose proper context was the cosmos), the God of civil and political life (who had the role of guaranteeing the social order and the State’s power, and whose proper context was the polis, that is, the city), and, finally, the God of poets and polytheistic religiosity (whose proper place was the theater). From the very beginning, that is, from the Gospel of John, Christian authors embraced the first way of speaking about God, that of natural philosophers viewing the cosmos as a main place for reflection (for a commentary on St. Augustine’s remarks, see J. Ratzinger's Lecture The Truth of Christianity, 1999, in Ratzinger, 2000). It is worthwhile to note that, to make a comparison with contemporary times, this choice would be somewhat comparable to our embracing the way in which scientists speak of God (!), preferring it to the vague spiritual or subjective contexts in which the word god is used in today’s general culture.

Like philosophy and religion, theology, which according to its original Platonic sense means “discourse on God or the divine” (Gr. theo-logos), has its own language for God. As a specific source of its knowledge, it has a unique content, i.e., the personal self-communication of God to humankind. In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, this communication is in the form of historical revelation, which is also a source for original religious and philosophical categories. From the very start, the Judaeo-Christian tradition was characterized by the economy of a word pronounced by God and addressed to humanity. It begins with a revelation through a cosmic word (cf. Gn 1:3, 6, 9; Ps 33:6, 9), followed by a covenant word offered to an elected people (cf. Dt 4:7-40) whose historical memory was entrusted to the ministry of the prophets, and, finally, fulfilled by the entrance of the Word itself into history, in the Incarnation of the eternal Son of God. Though we shall speak more extensively of this in the last section of this article (see below, IV), we must first of all point out that the language with which Revelation and theology speak of God requires a notion of God that humankind has previously acquired through religious experience and philosophical reflection (cf. Fides et Ratio, nn. 36, 43, 73, 77). Otherwise, the comprehension of a divinely revealed word would be vague and imprecise, and even non-intelligible. In general terms, the historical revelation of the God of Israel, which reached its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, presupposes a knowledge of God (either via spontaneous or speculative knowledge) drawn from natural knowledge. The historical word of the covenant and salvation presupposes and requires a cosmic word, or at least is understood in relation to it.

3. Thinking Philosophically about the Absolute and the “Ways” of Demonstrating a Natural Knowledge of God. Beginning with reflections aroused by cosmological and anthropological problems, philosophical thought formulated several arguments known as “proofs for the existence of God.” Those proofs that deal with the cosmological problem usually begin with the necessity of postulating a foundation for causal chains (the origin of movement, the passage from potency to act, etc.) which avoids a regressum ad infinitum. They might also begin by trying to solve the problem of contingency (by seeking a necessary foundation for something that is not in itself necessary); or, finally, they might attempt to explain the origin of the order and finality observed in nature. The other proofs, dealing with the anthropological problem, begin by considering personal self-awareness and freedom, which imply moral imperatives whose ultimate origin transcends human beings. They might also begin with the experience of human self-transcendence, which requires an explanation once human behavior is compared to other living beings; or, they might begin by seeking after a moral guarantee in the absence of justice and truth. Lastly, they may begin as an attempt not to succumb to the scandal of evil, by resorting to a Superior logic or Good that is capable of giving meaning to suffering, pain, or death. Since this is not the place to develop and evaluate these proofs critically (they are presented, for example, in Alfaro, 1989; Fabro, 1989; Gonzalez, 1985), I simply want to hint at some of the relationships they have with the world of science.

One of the reasons why scientific rationality exhibits some perplexity with regard to these proofs is due to the use of the word “proof” itself, a word that science reserves for logical and formal proofs based on experimental facts. This has often been a cause of misunderstanding between philosophy and science. By their very nature, these have to be considered (and have always been presented as) “ways,” “arguments,” or “issues.” These “proofs” differ from what proofs mean in the experimental or mathematical sciences, first, because they resort to philosophical abstraction and require access to a form of knowledge that transcends empirical facts, and second, because of the object itself that is sought as the end of the argumentation, which is God. Failing to grasp the passage from sense experience (usually through causal effects) to some foundation that transcends experience (a passage that nearly all these “ways” requires) leads to misunderstanding their meaning. In confining certainty of knowledge only to the sphere of pure reason, Kant himself believed it was not possible for experience to lead to something that transcends it.

For example, it would be a mistake, to interpret the first and the second of the five ways proposed by Thomas Aquinas (cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q. 2, a. 3), which appeal to the origin of movement and efficient causality as expounded by Aristotle (Metaphysics, XII, 6), in terms of experimental scientific categories, as if they were mere physical or mechanical movement and causality. The origin of material movement would then involve a source of energy, and in turn the geometry of space-time it comes from, making the causal chain behind it hard to describe and understand. For a scientific mind to grasp how and where the passage to transcendence takes place, going beyond experimental causality, it is necessary to consider how a chain of efficient causes eventually flows into an unyielding quest for a formal cause; that is, it involves the question of “why” the properties of time and space, or of the energy associated with them, are the way they are and not otherwise. The supremacy of the act underlined by Aquinas (something that must be in act in order to give existence to a chain of beings and causes) is on the scientific level understandable in terms of the supremacy of some given form. Formal causality lies at the foundation of the empirical world, but at the same time, it is not demonstrable within it.

The third way suggested by Aquinas starts from contingency, and it requires a passage to transcendence as well. In this case, though, rather than leading to the question “why are things in act,” or “why things are this way and not otherwise” (a question regarding formal causality), it simply leads to “why things  do exist, since they might not” (a question regarding contingency). This passage presents no difficulty when compared with scientific thought, since it identifies a sphere of reflection that does not interfere with the scope of empirical analysis. The question of the world’s contingency is indeed present, and acknowledged as significant, in the reflection of many scientists (cf. Wittgenstein Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 6.44). Without by any means making use of a metaphysical approach, Stephen Hawking poses the question: “What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? [...] Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?” (A Brief History of Time [New York: 1988], p. 174). Aquinas’ fifth way, which starts from observing the order and finality of the cosmos, does require further analysis. The fifth way is an example of a broader vision of the physical and teleological arguments that even Kant, who was critical towards all other proofs, regarded with respect. Within today’s vision of a universe in continuous physical and biological evolution, where order and coordination are the result of the natural development of forms, the value of this proof could seem weakened. However, though the action of physical or biological laws, constructive or selective as they may be, may give an explanation for this order, they nonetheless do so only from a phenomenological and descriptive point of view. They cannot confirm or deny the kind of finality found at a higher level of abstraction, that is, intentional finality, as the ultimate meaning of order and finality in nature. Finalism is a tricky concept, having different levels of understanding. At the level of physical analysis, we can only see rationality, numerical coherence, the effect of a gradient, or the fruit of a symmetry. At the level of biological investigation, finality may appear as the result of functional coordination or adaptability. Only at the philosophical level can finality be recognized as the effect of a final causality, that is, as due to personal intentionality. The theological level allows for a further step, since final causality is connected with the quest for answers regarding the ultimate meaning and sense of all things, which can only be the meaning conceived by a Creator God.

In general, a criticism of the philosophical-cosmological proofs for the existence of an Absolute is not possible using scientific experimental methods. Nevertheless, these proofs do not seem contradicted by, or senseless when seen from the perspective of, experimental methods, since the existence of an order of knowledge going beyond empirical data, by analogy, abstraction, or transcendence, is certainly compatible with the analysis of science (see below, III.1). With regard to the anthropological proofs, they do not stir up specific problems within the field of the natural sciences. According to Wittgenstein: “We feel than even when all the possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched” (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 6.52). Criticizing the soundness of the anthropological problem, and its correspondent access to God, is only possible within a framework of philosophical reductionism. In the reductionist vision, all the aspects of human beings that are open to transcendence, from human freedom to the human conscience, from the necessity of finding an ultimate meaning to uneasiness in the face of moral evil, are not just “described”; they are also “reduced” to the phenomenological bounds of physiology or neurobiology. This last reduction, however, is not engaged in by science, which, on the contrary, does perceive how the experience of the mind cannot be reduced to the physiology of the body or, at least, it considers the question of the Mind-Body Relationship an open problem. Denying access to God through the anthropological problem can only be done by invoking a philosophy that denies the transcendent nature of humankind, a course of thought that easily ends by endorsing nihilism. Such an approach would therefore need to be compared critically against other philosophical perspectives, rather than against science.

Using philosophical ways to God does not mean one has obtained a philosophical argument that “determines” the nature or essence of the Absolute. The best philosophy faces the Absolute with humility and an openness to listening, which characterizes any perception of mystery. To know what or who God is, remains a necessary, but unsolvable, problem for philosophy. Seeking to understand the Absolute often leads to the idea of God becoming limited by human customs, misconceptions, or prejudices. Attempts made by the pre-Socratic philosophers identified the divine principle of every existing thing in water, in air, in the four elements together (earth, water, air, and fire), or in numbers. Anaxagoras, but especially Plato and Aristotle, tried to conceptualize God as intelligence, the supreme good, or the ultimate spiritual life. In modern philosophical systems, we meet Spinoza’s absolute Substance, or Hegel’s absolute Spirit. Those who wish to deny God all face the problem in a similar manner: Philosophies that do not remain open to the novelty of reality or to the possibility of mystery end up introducing, or conceptualizing, other absolutes, such as “chance,” “matter” (see Materialism), “nothing,” “life,” or “death.” In so doing, philosophy gives way to ideology, that is, to the temptation to place a human idea at the peak of the inquiry into the world’s existence and meaning. The task of true philosophy is to distinguish between true mystery and that which is not. In its “discourse on God,” Christian theology has maintained a special relationship with metaphysics in its Platonic and Aristotelian sense. The proper object of metaphysics—being in so far as it is being, and the ultimate causes of being—enables it to remain open to reality, without “determining” the Being of God but simply indicating it. In encountering the Greek culture, the first Christian writers recovered the attempts made by the best philosophies to say something about God and were capable of reading them as “attributes” of God’s Being, without reducing His transcendent image to them, or ending in dissolving the mystery: “[For the One] is without form and name. And if we name it, we do not do so properly, terming it either the One, or the Good, or Mind, or Absolute Being, or Father, or God, or Creator, or Lord. We speak not as supplying His name; but for want, we use good names, in order that the mind may have these as points of support, so as not to err in other aspects. For each one by itself does not express God; but all together are indicative of the power of the Omnipotent” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, V, 12, 82).

With regard to its relationship with faith, natural knowledge of God does help reason to understand Who or what the Christian Revelation is talking about when it speaks of God. Yet, by itself, any natural knowledge of God remains insufficient to generate the act of faith, which comes from a freely given love for the personal being of God. Such a choice comes from welcoming Revelation as the personal word of God, recognizing it as significant for reason and for one’s personal existential experience. The insufficiency of a natural knowledge of God based on some kind of philosophical proof is a constitutive insufficiency; it is also incomplete for a believer. It is a knowledge of God that is necessary, but insufficient.

II. The Question of God in the Context of the Natural Sciences

1. Contexts in which Contemporary Science Refers to God. The question of God has never been completely foreign to science. In response to Richard Bentley (who wanted to find in the mechanics of gravitation systematized by Newton’s Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (1687) useful hints for his conferences on science and religion), Isaac Newton himself wrote: “When I wrote my Treatise about our System, I had an eye upon such principles as might work with considering men for the belief of a Deity, and nothing can rejoice me more than to find it useful for that purpose” (Newton's Papers and Letters on Natural Philosophy, ed. I. Cohen [Cambridge: 1958], p. 280). Beginning with the foundation of the scientific method, and throughout modern times, the natural sciences have examined many of the questions regarding God, offering issues for philosophical debate. Even in contemporary times, which like any age has its own language and terms proper to its vision of the world, there are ways in which the sciences continue to appeal, at least indirectly, to the notion of God: “Through my scientific work,” we read in a page by Paul Davies, “I have come to believe more and more strongly that the physical universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as a brute fact. There must, it seems to me, be a deeper level of explanation. Whether one wishes to call that deeper level ‘God’ is a matter of taste and definition” (Davies, 1992, p. 16).

In the transition from the second to the third millennium the question of God, or at least some reference to a notion of God, has continued to intersect with several branches of science. Debates concerning bioethics hosted in biology and medicine involve specific visions of human life, one of which poses in a Creator God the very reason for the respect due to the nature of human creatures. When discussing the problem of the Mind-Body relationship (note that in terms of the bibliography and researchers involved, the interdisciplinary literature on this issue is comparable only to that on cosmology) an indirect reference to God seems to arise whenever an allusion is made to the idea of the “soul.” More generally, this occurs when the discussion on personal identity and the transcendence of the individual being over matter is understood in relation to Someone who is in front of the Self as a You. Also, the issue of evolution has been a traditional field of debate between scientific thought and religion, the latter being supposed by many to invoke God’s creation where science only finds the results of evolution. Originally associated with the origin of life and of the human being in biology and paleoanthropology, the debate about evolution has now reached cosmology, which presents the evolution of the whole cosmos within a new, even more totalizing, vision (cf. Holder, 2004). Due to their stronger genetic connection to philosophy and the analysis of language, logic and mathematics are also scientific disciplines which address reflections on the Absolute, generally dealing with the problem of their foundations (think, for instance, of the “proof” for the existence of God developed by Kurt Gödel in the context of logic; cf. Sobel, 2004). In the first half of the 20th century, quantum mechanics initiated a debate with the metaphysical and religious vision of the world by discussing to what extent the principles of causality and indetermination should be applied. Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, some authors are sympathetic to quantum mechanics, thinking that it provides new ways of understanding God’s action in nature; other authors also endorse the idea that non-equilibrium thermodynamics and the sciences of complexity bring about new philosophical views of the relationship between God and nature.

In the area of physics, especially in physical cosmology, comments on the possible role of a Creator God arise with the greatest insistence. A simple look at the amount of popular science books published in the last decades easily shows how reflections on nature and the question of God are tied together. Numerous scientists have published popular works or undertaken studies on philosophy and science with titles explicitly addressing that connection: God and the New Physics (P. Davies [London: 1983]), The Mind of God (P. Davies [London: 1992]), Beyond the Big Bang: Quantum Cosmologies and God (W. Drees [La Salle: 1990]), Fearful Symmetry: Is God a Geometer? (I. Stewart, M. Golubitsky [Oxford: 1992]), The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead (F. Tipler [New York: 1994]), The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question? (L. Lederman, D. Teresi [New York: 1993]), etc. It is very likely that the use of such titles is part of the reason they have sold so well; however, it also testifies to the existence of a new sensitivity, which is the implicit reason for such a specific market. In many works, the word “God” may not be present in the title, yet is found in the Index of Concepts, finding an unexpected place between “Geometry” and “Grand Unified Theories.”

Cosmology and physics seem to imply questions regarding God in three main, intertwining themes. The first refers to the problem of the origin (of the universe), that we could also call the “boundary condition problem.” Allusion to the possible role of God the Creator (whose image is often reductive and misunderstood when compared to the images of God provided by philosophy or religion) is made in order to give a foundation to the primeval expansion of space-time. Furthermore, the role of God is debated in order to assign the correct values to the constants of nature and provide proper boundary conditions to the equations that describe the overall development of the cosmos. In different ways, the notion of God seems to deal with problems of logical or ontological “incompleteness.” From an epistemological point of view, if this approach has the advantage of shedding light on the impossibility of any empirical science proposing itself as a complete “science of the whole” (that is, it recognizes that we need someone or something from the “outside”), it very often overlooks and misunderstands the theological concept of creation and its manifold implications at a philosophical level. In addition, it runs the risk of “mythologizing” the problem of the origin, giving it the burden of explaining, or even revealing, the meaning of the whole of history.

The second theme refers to what is called the Anthropic Principle and the interdisciplinary discussion deriving from it. A few interpretations of this Principle try to support a return to the famous Argument from Design, well known in philosophy, claiming experimental results at a cosmic level. The presence of many physical and mathematical coincidences that have enabled a calibrated evolution of the cosmos and its fine tuning on parameters that later produced the proper chemical abundances necessary for life in environments where its development was possible, could give evidence in favor of the existence of a God who was “planning” or “programming” the world. Presented in a coherent and fashionable form in the influential book The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (1986) by John Barrow and Frank Tipler (which summarized and organized all the previous thought and evidence on this subject), the debate regarding the Anthropic Principle and its possible employment to back a Teleological Argument in favor of the existence of God has accompanied interdisciplinary literature up until now (cf. Manson, 2003; Barrow et al., 2008; McGrath, 2009). Though the Anthropic Principle contains interesting seeds for the revision of the presently reigning ideas regarding the evolution of the cosmos, it engages in leaps between different levels of abstraction when it is in dialogue with philosophy and theology. In demonstrating how the constants and the physical properties suitable for life are original and congenital properties, the Anthropic Principle has caused a change in the vision of humankind’s place within the universe. The paradigm of an evolution that used to consider the progressive, blind game of chance, plus a sufficiently long period of time, as mainly responsible for the appearance of life, has revealed its limits. What actually happened in the first 10-6 seconds from the beginning of the expansion of the universe was much more decisive in creating a chemical niche for human biology than all subsequent happenings in the rest of the cosmic evolutionary process. It must be noted, however, that the label “Principle” is not adequate in its weak formulation. While in its strong formulation it is a philosophical (and somewhat a priori) principle that can be used as a deductive key for understanding and foreseeing properties of our human-inhabited universe, the weak Anthropic Principle simply indicates events and numerical results as read in terms of coordination and coherence. The observations and results on which the Anthropic Principle are based do not constitute a scientific experimental proof for the existence of a cosmic plan aimed at giving rise to life, or of the existence of a Creator: They simply reveal a “consonance” with this hypothesis. This is, firstly, because the delicate physical and biological conditions of life are actually necessary, but far from sufficient conditions for the appearance of life as such. Secondly, because empirical analysis, equipped with the sole methods of science, cannot reveal the existence of a purposeful final causality, and even less of a Creator God. In the same way, a chess-player’s strategy (an intentional, creative plan) may be understood only by ascending to a higher degree of abstraction than the one identified by the rules of the game (anthropic conditions), whereas empirical analysis may shed light only on the lawfulness or coherence of the chess-player’s moves.

The third theme of scientific research where authors appeal to some notion of God regards the intelligibility of the universe. In the debate regarding the ontological status of natural laws, one line of thought more inclined to realism has progressively underlined the objectiveness of such laws as something external to the knowing subject. The question regarding the rationality of the cosmos and nature’s “mathematical interpretability”—a rationality that cannot be taken for granted (Maxwell, Einstein, Wigner)—has been re-opened. The issue of intelligibility is posed occasionally through different questions such as why the elementary “blocks” of the material universe (elementary particles, strings, coupling constants in fundamental laws, etc.) do have formal specificities; why unification criteria in physics act so successfully; or, also, why elementary particles and the constants of nature are rigorously identical on a cosmic scale. According to some authors, intelligibility could be considered the banal result of a necessary tuning of cosmic laws and the laws regulating the human mind, since they were both forged by means of the same evolutionary process (including the effectiveness of its selection mechanisms). However, we know that human cultural development started when its biological evolution terminated. We could also ask why we interpret nature in terms of differential equations (and nature is capable of being interpreted in this way, accordingly) if differential equations are not so crucial for our survival. Reductive interpretations of the enigma of the intelligibility of nature seem to be less frequent today, and the issue is acknowledged to be meaningful (cf. T. Torrance, Divine and Contingent Order [Oxford: 1981]; J. Barrow, Pi in the Sky [Oxford:1992]; P. Davies, The Mind of God [London: 1992]). Explanations resorting to the postulation of meta-mathematical and meta-physical levels usually involve an occasional indirect reference to the notion of Logos, or universal rationality; empirical analysis, of course, does not possess the instruments necessary to discern if such a rationality is imminent within the cosmos or transcendent to it.

The reason why cosmology and physics give rise to references to the notion of God derives from the fact that today these disciplines are capable of placing us in front of the universe in its entirety. The discovery of the Hubble flow and cosmic background radiation, success in applying the nucleosynthesis of chemical elements to explain the evolution of the stars, the high degree of coherence between microphysical and astrophysical scenarios, and current theories of a great unification and its experimental successes of those energies now accessible to our particle accelerators, all provide sufficient ground to treat the universe as a strongly unified picture, as a unique, intelligible object, ordered by the same logic on a large scale. We know it has one history, capable of connecting the past with the future, of associating what happens at a local level with that which happens, or has already happened, at a cosmic level. This state of things allows the scientist to spontaneously (and often unconsciously) pass from the level of efficient causality, typical of the natural sciences, to the level of final causality (the problem “of the whole,” in macrophysics) or formal causality (the problem of specificity and fundaments, in microphysics), which are typical of metaphysics, a discipline studying the ultimate, foundational causes of being. The fact that the natural sciences are not methodologically equipped to conceptualize passages from efficient to formal and final causal ascents to transcendence, that is, to transcend the empirical level, does not prevent scientists from facing these higher level questions from within their research domains, and then speaking about them. It therefore is not surprising if an astronomer states that, “cosmology is nothing more than the search for the meaning of our existence and of our destiny” (P. Benvenuti, in Corriere della Sera, 10 April 1990, p. 23).

In a manner different from those mentioned previously, there is a way in which some sectors of contemporary science demonstrate their openness to interpretations of reality in which a kind of spiritual or divine dimension seems to find a place: This is the “mysticism” of physics. The main source in approaching this subject remains Fritjof Capra’s work (The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism, 1975) and the movement initiated at Princeton (cf. R. Ruyer, La gnose de Princeton. Des savants à la recherche d'une religion, 1974). The new mystic vision of science arose from the desire to understand a number of paradoxes in particle physics and quantum mechanics by resorting to Eastern religious philosophies, chiefly Hinduism and Buddhism, whose visions of the world provide useful logical forms, which seem not to be found in Western thought. The core of these religious visions of the cosmos is then assumed as the ultimate key to understanding the relationship between humankind and nature. This path from science to the realm of the spirit, however, shows signs of ambiguity. True contemplation—which the study of nature certainly gives rise to—is reduced to a mere sensation. The “Otherness” of the Absolute (this “Otherness” being necessary to that which is the foundation of the logic and the ontology of the world) is practically denied, since the Absolute or the Spirit is nothing other than nature, which ends in endorsing a philosophical vision known as pantheism. New Age philosophies often link themselves to the “mysticism of physics.” There has also been a very broad movement born in the U.S. in the last decades of the 20th century that has been active in rediscovering the spiritual dimension of science (cf. for example the magazine Science and Spirit, Concord, New Hampshire, or the research program Science and Spiritual Quest sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation). Without endorsing any specific religion, the movement acts as a spokesperson for the attempt to overcome scientism and reductionism, and it aims to open up science and scientists to the dimensions of the Spirit, however generically this may be interpreted. Among the new interpretative paradigms proposed by the mysticism of physics, there are some that have enjoyed growing success due to their explicative capability regarding certain problems left open by science. These are, for instance, the behavior of the universe as the subject-object of global interaction, a general holistic view of the cosmos and life, the existence of non-conflictive composition between apparently opposite properties of reality, and the metaphor of the “cosmic dance,” a replacement for mechanism and vitalism (cf. Del Re, 2000). Some of these newly proposed paradigms, such as the complementarity, or the coincidence, of opposed poles, were already present in Christian thought (think, for instance, of the mystery of the Incarnate Word), but they have not been recognized, probably because they require theological insight, whereas the philosophical views imported from the far East seemed to be easier to adopt.

2. Scientific Thought as a Field of Historical Conflict between the Affirmation and Negation of God. From the beginning of modernity, first of all with Humanism, but above all after the methodological foundation of the natural sciences, the study of nature became a field for critical reflection on the question of God, viewed either as a special realm that affirmed God’s existence or, conversely, a realm that supported the negation of God’s existence. The passage from the geocentric to the heliocentric system gave rise to an inevitable conflict between the image of the cosmology offered by the theological and cultural establishment and the new image of the cosmos. Due to the success of new scientific discoveries, the Enlightenment sought out the empirical sciences as a privileged interlocutor and gradually put forth an idea of nature where reference to God might be still present (as occurred in deism) but which was different from the idea of nature found in the revealed religions. The natural sciences soon became the field where the forms of non-belief typical of modernity arose, such as rationalism, positivism, and later materialism; however, at the same time, the natural sciences were also the field in which attempts to affirm the existence of God starting from the order of the cosmos found new strength.

With regard to this last approach, a movement called “Physico-Theology,” born in an Anglican environment at the end of the 17th century, must be mentioned. Its endeavor was to prove the existence of a design in the works of creation (the “Argument from Design”). The physiology of human beings, the biology of living beings, and the order of the universe as a whole, were all used as a starting point to establish the existence of a divine Intelligence, an Architect of the world. This philosophical and scientific trend influenced the work of great scientists, including Newton. The books published at the time bear titles that elucidate the intentions of their authors. Among them are: A Disquisition about the Final Causes of Natural Things (1688), by Robert Boyle; The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of Creation (1691) and Three Physico-Theological Discourses (1693), by John Ray; Astro-Theology: Or, a Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God from a Survey of the Heavens (1715), by William Derham; Natural Theology: Or, Evidences of the Existence and the Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature (1802), by William Paley.

From an historical point of view, in depth study is in order to discern what relationship the notion of God supplied by these authors may have had with that later notion referred to as the God of the gaps. The use of this latter expression refers in particular to some remarks present in the works of Newton. Criticized by Leibniz, Newton does indeed mention God as a cause intervening in the mechanics of the planets in certain places where there was no way to interpret some aspects of their motion by means of natural causes only. Nevertheless, the approach followed by the exponents of the Physico-Theology movement was not necessarily the same as that of Newton. They believed that if the world was the work of an Intelligent Cause, this Cause must have visible effects on creatures. The natural sciences, therefore, ought to be a source of knowledge of God. In this regard, despite their ingenuousness, they represented an interesting attempt to use the results of science in philosophy and theology. Today it is not the case, but at the time, their way of arguing was quite common and easily accepted: In the 18th century, science, and philosophical reflection on science, were both branches of a single discipline labeled “natural philosophy.” The proofs given by the physico-theologians for the existence of a divine Artificer were tainted, however, by a degree of naiveté in excessively insisting on details of organization, harmony, and coordination, especially in the structure of living beings, details that could not be ascribed to the mere action of the forces of nature. Some of their arguments, such as the marvelous complexity of the human eye, were destined to survive for a long time within 19th-century apologetics. As the empirical and metaphysical levels of their arguments were not properly distinguished or satisfactorily explained, the physico-theological approach certainly did support the eventual idea of a God of the gaps. Philosophical insight about the transcendence of a final causality that remains non-accessible at the empirical level (athough some of its effects certainly intersect the world of nature) was not provided. As a result, once a natural justification, and a complete experimental description, of many of those physical or biological well-organized structures was made available, the progress of science was considered to have superseded and removed the Architect or Clock-maker God.

Again from an historical point of view, among the consequences of Physico-Theology, two repercussions are of great importance in relation to the question of God within a scientific context. First, the debate between theism and atheism gradually became restricted within the kind of rationality associated only with empirical analysis, dramatically denying the capacity of other important areas of human reason to access God (cf. Buckley, 1987). Second, a Darwinian evolutionary interpretation of the forms of living beings ended by assuming a precise anti-religious character; it soon clashed with the religious, intellectual, and even linguistic, context that was guided by the argument from design, by wiping out any design and the Designer with the rules of natural selection and adaptability to the environment. In a different philosophical and theological context, had the question of God been associated with other arguments, or had the distinct degree of philosophical abstraction involved in different levels of finalism been better explained, the theory of evolution would not have caused such a huge fracture. In such a scenario, theology would have found a better philosophical climate in which to comprehend the theory of evolution in the light of those seeds already contained in its biblical, patristic, and medieval sources.

One example of how the natural sciences played a major role in the historical debate affirming or negating God is represented by 19th-century mechanism. In a philosophical climate in which deterministic and rational laws of nature were considered the effect of an intelligence, and the source of all determination for the entire cosmos, theology was unwittingly led to think of, and present, mechanism as an image of harmony and order existing in the will of God. The permanence of laws and permanence of the Creator were to stand or fall together. When the dependence of such laws on nature was progressively emphasized, while at the same time any philosophical question about their origins or formal specificity (this question would have required a higher degree of abstraction, unavailable to many scientists at the time) was ignored, mechanism became a position opposed to God’s existence. Once it was clear that the world could work quite well thanks to its own autonomy, the hypothesis of God became superfluous, a statement that has been inscribed in history by the well-known answer given by Laplace to Napoleon. Moreover, the idea that science could successfully make use of notions such as transformation, development, or evolution, easily shattered the idea of God as a dator formarum (“Giver of Forms”) who was responsible for the multiplicity and harmony of the forms existing in nature, in the inorganic world as well as in the world of living beings. In an atmosphere that lacked an adequate theology of creation and a correct image of God, the discovery of the intrinsic dynamisms of nature, which explained the origin of properties and forms both in chemistry and in biology, did favor the vision of a world with no God.

In the 20th century, scientific circles continued to engage in important philosophical debates regarding the “question of God” and, to a certain extent, they determined its later evolution. The attempt to eradicate the question of God through the Marxist endeavor described in Dialectics of Nature (F. Engels, 1875, published in 1925) appealed, for instance, to “scientific” materialism. Psychoanalysis, as well, attempted to interpret religion from a scientific, namely pathological, point of view (though it partially belongs to the field of human sciences, psychoanalysis chose to categorize itself as empirically grounded knowledge). In mathematics and logic, by restricting the value of knowledge to what is empirically verifiable and expressible within the formal language of science, Neo-Positivism tried to deny the notion of God had any meaning. It was also Neo-Positivism’s agenda to promote the systematic reduction of all science to logical empiricism, as set forth by the International Encyclopaedia of Unified Science (1938), edited by Neurath, Carnap, and Dewey. These philosophical visions, whose implications for metaphysics and theology were clear at the outset, were later overcome by criticisms that originated within the world of science, rather than from philosophy.

The issue that, without a doubt, dominated the debate in the second half of the 20th century was the relationship between chance and finality, a paradigm capable of incorporating aspects of many different areas and disciplines. The issue reached the public primarily in the biological theses expounded by Jacques Monod (Chance and Necessity, 1971) and Richard Dawkins (The Blind Watchmaker, 1986), although there have also been a few well-known thinkers in the areas of physics and cosmology (e.g. S. Weinberg, The First Three Minutes, 1977; P. Atkins, The Creation, 1981). At the beginning of the 21st century, the chance-finality paradigm has been reductively captured by the debate for and against the “Intelligent Design Movement,” to which much literature has been devoted in recent years (cf. Behe, 2002; Dembski, 2004; Shanks, 2004; Brockman, 2006; Ayala, 2007). Nevertheless, despite the significant philosophical tradition found within natural theology and the search for Arguments from Design, the contemporary Intelligent Design debate seems poorly equipped to evaluate the pertinence of science’s reference to God. In fact, many exponents of this Movement maintain that their rejection of Darwinism makes no allusion to God (their adversaries affirm exactly the opposite); moreover, the debate contains (probably on both sides) some ideological aspects, which make it difficult to evaluate correctly its philosophical import.

Another example of a reductive interpretation of the question of God within a chance-finality paradigm is the alternative between two different kinds of universes. One is a universe born by chance from nothing, where dependence from time can be eliminated (S. Hawking, A Brief History of Time, 1988); the other is a universe born from a space-time singularity, whose definite boundary conditions would reveal a plan, and eventually a Creator. In the context of the Anthropic Principle, this general paradigm operates again, discriminating between a single universe oriented towards the appearance of life, versus an infinite ensemble of universes, each with parameters set by chance, among which only one had, again by chance, the right parameters to allow the birth of intelligent beings, and in this way evidencing an apparently finalistic orientation.

Just like the previous examples regarding the affirmation and negation of God, the debate about chance and finality also transposed philosophical categories to an empirical level. Words like chance, purpose, necessity, or freedom belong, de facto, to a philosophical dictionary, just as other notions such as probability, consistency, or coincidence, belong only to that of the physical and mathematical sciences. A debate often presented as coming from a scientific framework to decide whether a Creator exists or not is actually a debate between two different philosophies. One philosophy is open to a notion of knowledge capable of transcending the empirical order, while the other is a philosophy which confines human knowledge to the world of phenomena and appearance; one is open to a transcendent foundation of reality responsible for the meaning of all reality, while the other embraces a self-referential, immanent foundation. Behind the alternative between chance and finality, we can discern the everlasting philosophical struggle between realism and idealism. By performing science in an open way, where problems of descriptive or ontological incompleteness arise, the knowing subject may simply “listen to reality,” and refrain from saying any more than he or she possibly can in terms of science; or, alternatively, the subject may yield to the temptation to resolve incompleteness by resorting to a-priori frameworks, that often bear the character of “philosophies of chance.” As opposed to debates in the past, the novelty here arises from the fact that alternatives such as these, whose prior encounters with each other had always taken place within the field of philosophy, now originate within the natural sciences, from which they then move towards the field of philosophy, the only domain where an epistemologically meaningful dialogue may take place.

The idea that the world of science should be the chief field for proving or denying the existence of God, or that it is the best terrain for belief and unbelief to undergo reflection, is nothing but a very narrow and limited vision. The notion of God receives its full meaning by being pondered in many contexts, and God’s image must be evaluated and understood by integrating epistemology and anthropology, without merely reducing it to, or projecting it upon, the language of science. At the same time, theology cannot neglect the quest for understanding that comes from relating the discourse on the world and the discourse on God, even when this quest originates within the context of scientific knowledge. Theology is called to put such a search for unity on its correct epistemological track and acknowledge the philosophical soundness of many reflections arising from science. Theology is also definitely better situated to recognize the true cosmological contexts of its formulations and teachings. Some of them are certainly a heritage from the past, but the history of the relationship between the discourse on nature and the discourse on God could assist theology in reexamining these contexts, and even altering them in the light of a new physical image of the world. Doing so acknowledges the role the natural sciences have in the work of theologians; theology favors the contemporary intelligibility of its formulations, and better serves the dignity of their object.

III. The Possibility of Speaking of God in a Way Meaningful to Scientific Rationality

1. The Epistemological Meaning of a Discourse on God. In any encounter between theology and science, it is not enough to emphasize that the question of God is of everlasting relevance. We should also analyze what kind of discourse on God a culture mainly shaped by science and technology can deem significant (cf. Gaudium et spes, 5). Indeed, any discourse on God today is critically evaluated through categories belonging to science and rationality. The success of technology has a crucial role in this respect. In fact, the notion of a Creator God, Almighty and Provident, implies His dominion over the world and its visible, material effects, that is, over those same effects which technology demands be held under its increasingly sophisticated control. At a philosophical level the notion of God, in order to be relevant to the world of science, should include a meaningful semantic area of intelligibility that has been tested in the context of the scientific interpretation of the world and its language.

The idea that access to transcendence is impossible for any scientific enterprise, depriving the notion of God of any meaning, has its most influential starting point in Kant’s critical philosophy. Only pure reason, with its theoretical rationality nourished by the experience of the empirical sciences, brings about true knowledge. Within the realm of pure reason, to affirm or deny something transcendent to the empirical level is impossible: The idea of God is an antinomy, since it is not a possible object of experience. According to Kantian epistemology, the notion of God would make sense only in terms of practical reason, since it would become the object of a practical postulate (Ger. denken), rather than an object of knowledge (Ger. erkennen). God is something thinkable, presumable, or can even be an object of invocation, but God is not knowable. Kant’s position does not deny the notion of God has meaning, but it does determine that scientific reason is completely barred from it. At the same time, Kant’s intention in this was to eradicate any so-called “scientific proofs for atheism,” and leave an opening for faith, here intended as the room left open by scientific and philosophical reason. Nevertheless, the profound separation he posits between pure reason and practical reason prevents Kant from seeing science as a source of philosophical human questioning, connecting the world of experience to the problem of existence. Deriving from Kant’s vision is the view that any discourse on God makes sense only in the sphere of values and purposes, which today is often justified on a purely subjective basis. Since these discourses on God refer to non-communicable assertions, which lack any objective validity and are impossible to falsify, they are deemed neither true nor false. According to the more rigorous heritage of logical Neo-Positivism, such assertions would not make sense in any context at all, since there is no knowledge at all, except that which can be empirically verified.

It seems, however, that contemporary scientific thought provides new insights in overcoming both Kantian and Neo-Positivistic visions. Contemporary science does not deny that an area of meaning and intelligibility exists, one that is also important to scientific reason, a semantic area that the scientist grasps from within his or her own research activity. This is the semantic area that calls for a Foundation of the world, for the source of its rationality and intelligibility, for the ultimate reasons for why all things are the way they are and not otherwise. Here a logos of God becomes meaningful, one which entails sufficient guarantees of universality and meaning. I will try to illustrate this point in progressive arguments.

First of all, there is now a broad consensus denying that the only sensible assertions are those limited to the “facts” of natural sciences treated within formal language. Ludwig Wittgenstein took an important step in this direction. He was persuaded that it is not possible to deny the problem of meaning, even though it should be qualified formally as a pseudo-problem, since it is not expressible “within the world of facts.” If only we could distance ourselves from the logical world of facts belonging to science, while looking at this world “from the outside,” we would soon realize that the problem of meaning does exist. We cannot define it in terms of a formal language; the problem of the meaning of it all is something mystical. The philosophical path blazed by Wittgenstein overcomes the conclusions of Kantian pure reason, because the question of meaning and openness to the inexpressible both arise from an analysis coming from within scientific knowledge, rather than from outside it. In other words, the problem is meaningful within a wider meta-logic, but it cannot be expressed. The resort to a meta-language is then a necessity arising from the very limits of language as they are acknowledged by language itself. Wittgenstein’s step surpassed the neo-positivists as well. Just like them, Wittgenstein drew a line between what we can speak of and what we must remain silent about. The important difference is that the neo-positivists had nothing to keep silent about. Indeed, for the positivists only that which we can speak about is important in life. Wittgenstein, on the contrary, passionately believed that what is important in human life is that which, according to his vision, must be held in silence. Therefore, Wittgenstein’s thought constitutes both a point of arrival and a point of departure: It concludes the parable of logical empiricism and it lays the foundation for a philosophy capable of recovering a sense of the problem of God. It is a God we still cannot speak about, something or someone we can only show. Later, the theorems of incompleteness of Kurt Gödel and the philosophical implications of complexity made it clear that any attempt to confine a complete and coherent knowledge of reality within the limits of formal, logical assertions, related to sensible and measurable objects is no longer scientifically feasible. This would lead to a mounting conflict with two intrinsic problems: a) the logical incoherence of self-referentiality in a system open to the real world; and, b) the accomplished mathematical unfeasibility of many “facts” of the natural sciences.

Secondly, today it is easier to acknowledge that at the base of the world of facts, and beyond the language of science, there are some metaphysical requirements implicit in scientific knowledge, which are necessary for the work of science itself. Notions such as “being” and “nature,” and “essence” or “existence,” are all metaphysical concepts, preceding and founding any formal observable determination: They make science possible, but their justification lies outside the methods of science. A notion of God, here understood as the cause of being and the source of the formal specificities of all natural reality (that is, as the cause for why the world is as it is, and not otherwise) is prior to any scientific description of the world, through making the world intelligible. It is a metaphysical cause that gives reason to the world, without interfering with it. It is worthwhile to associate this metaphysical access to the notion of God with the “appeal to the mystical” suggested by Wittgenstein and Popper, here quoted one following the other: “There is indeed the inexpressible. This shows itself; it is the mystical—not how the world is, is the mystical, but that it is” (L. Wittgenstein, Tractatus logico-philosophicus, 6.522 and 6.44); “How the world is—that it has a structure, or that its vastly distant regions are all subject to the same structural laws—seems to be inexplicable in principle and thus ‘mystical,’ if we wish to use this term” (K. Popper, The Postscript to the Logic of Scientific Discovery [London: Hutchinson & Co., 1982], p. 151). To leave room for a logos of God, mystical and significant even in the context of science, is consistent with the evidence that the universe exists, and that it exists with properties science does not entirely deduce from its own methods, since it receives them and discovers them by means of induction.

Furthermore, the scientist is surprised by his or her capability to dialogue with physical reality. He or she knows that nature can be understood in terms of mathematics, that its behavior depends on stable laws in time and space, and that it is made of rigorously identical elementary particles and of compounds having physical and chemical properties following rigorous ordering structures; all of these things reveal a kind of “underlying foundation of rationality” that the researcher necessarily encounters. The perception that physical reality is a subject open to dialogue with the scientist is strong in not a few researchers. According to Heisenberg, scientists can become aware of the central order of the world with the same intensity as they can become aware of the “soul of another person” (cf. “Positivism, Metaphysics and Religion,” in Physics and Beyond [New York: Harper Collins, 1971]). Nature is recognized as worthy of being studied and having the capacity to motivate intellectual effort because it is capable of binding to a truth and beauty existing independently from the knowing subject. This is how Albert Einstein put it: “You find it strange that I consider the comprehensibility of the world [...] as a miracle (Wunder) or an eternal mystery (ewiges Geheimnis). Well, a priori, one should expect a chaotic world, which cannot be grasped by the mind in any way. One could (indeed one should) expect the world to be subjected to law only to the extent that we order it through our intelligence. Ordering of this kind would be like the alphabetical ordering of the words of a language. By contrast, the kind of order created by Newton’s theory of gravitation, for instance, is wholly different. Even if the axioms of the theory are proposed by man, the success of such a project presupposes a high degree of ordering of the objective world, and this could not be expected a priori. That is the ‘miracle’ which is being constantly reinforced as our knowledge expands. There lies the weakness of positivists and professional atheists who are elated because they feel that they have not only successfully rid the world of gods (entgöttert) but ‘bared the miracles’ (entwundert)” (A. Einstein, Letter to M. Solovine, March 30, 1952, English translation by Wade Baskin [New York: Philosophical Library, 1987], pp. 132-133). Paul Davies offered similar reflections, forty years later: “However successful our scientific explanations may be, they always have certain starting assumptions built in. For example, an explanation of some phenomenon in terms of physics presupposes the validity of the laws of physics, which are taken as given. But one can ask where these laws come from in the first place. One could even question the origin of the logic upon which all scientific reasoning is founded. Sooner or later we all have to accept something as given, whether it is God, or logic, or a set of laws, or some other foundation for existence” (Davies, 1992, p. 15).

In other words, we face here a kind of “experience of foundations,” or a “perception of the Being that is the ultimate foundation,” recognized as something that lies beyond scientific rationality, but that is pointed out by people reflecting within it. It is not science’s task to prove whether the intelligibility and coherence of the cosmos correspond to a design that encompasses the meaning of the world, because this proof would imply reference to a final, intentional causality, inaccessible to the analysis of empirical sciences. It is, however, highly significant that such questions arise by the extension of empirical analysis, and point to a semantic area of meaning, to a logos grasped in science but which is open to a logos of God. The possibility of a discourse on God that is also meaningful for scientific rationality is witnessed to by the openings to transcendence recorded in the personal reflections of several contemporary scientists. Many of them consider the endeavors of science a search for truth involving one’s whole being. Science reveals, but does not preclude, access to the Absolute or to a logos grasped as a realm of intelligibility and meaning. The scientist seems to perceive all physical reality as a coherent and objective otherness, characterized by formal specificity. The connection between this personal perception and the philosophical notion of the Absolute relies on two aspects of great importance in scientific activity: the “experience of foundations” and the “experience of the sacred.” “There is no doubt that science can lead its most profound and consistent practitioners to an experience that deserves to be termed a personal encounter with the absolute. Of course it is also possible for the scientist not to reach this experience. For the perception of God in scientifically known nature is the final flowering of a long search, the result of much patience and consistent engagement in response to the intelligibility of reality. What is in question here, in fact, is something that goes well beyond the ordinary scientific understanding of nature. It is a perception that the scientific mind can attain only through much reflective interiorization” (Cantore, 1977, p. 120).

The researcher’s attitude can then go as far as becoming an attitude of religious reverence. A scientist’s activity places him or her before a perception of the Absolute. That is why there are many scientists who compare scientific experiences to experiencing the sacred, and consider them capable of linking (re-ligo) and leading to the threshold of mystery (cf. Cantore, 1977, pp. 95-132; Pedersen, 1988, pp. 125-140). Similar to what Wittgenstein noted in the analysis of language, and Popper noted in the epistemology of science, physicists and astronomers may run into the mystical as well: “Sometimes, through a strong, compelling experience of mystical insight, a man knows beyond the shadow of doubt that he has been in touch with a reality that lies behind mere phenomena. He himself is completely convinced, but he cannot communicate the certainty. It is a private revelation” (E. Hubble, The Nature of Science and Other Lectures [San Marino, CA: 1954], quoted by Pedersen, 1988, p. 133). Here we encounter a vision of scientific activity that looks not only like a dialogue between the researcher and nature, but much like a dialogue between the researcher and the Absolute.

The image of the Absolute as perceived by scientific rationality, and in the way it is spoken of by scientists, is of course philosophically imprecise; the image of the Absolute is often mixed with ambiguity and, frequently, with a shade of pantheism. Einstein’s religiosity, for instance, was certainly far from the personal God of Sacred Scripture, which the father of the theory of relativity considered charged with anthropomorphism. At the same time, however, Einstein’s religiosity gives testimony to a perception of the sacred, one that is often connected to an experience of beauty and a mystery containing the hidden sense of the world. Epistemology here refers to an implicit metaphysics, open to reality and amenable to learning from nature and its laws. In the last analysis, to think that the influence of scientific rationality on philosophy and culture necessarily narrows down or banishes the discourse on God, does justice neither to the meaning, nor to the essence, of a true scientific mentality (cf. Tanzella-Nitti, 1996). A true scientific mentality is an activity involving the whole person, capable of stirring philosophical questions, even though it does not possess adequate instruments to find an answer to them within its own methods. Even in the context of today’s scientific rationality, the world continues to manifest itself as paradox and mystery, and it continues to be reasonable to ask oneself whether the world has an explanation. Any search for this explanation calls for a notion, and for a broader area of intelligibility, that cannot be considered nonsense and therefore opens up the possibility of a meaningful discourse on God.

2. Scientists’ Faith in God: a Statistical Outlook. Opportunities for a meaningful discourse on God in the scientific world have their existential side in scientists’ personal faith in God, which invites ways to bring what they know into dialogue with what they believe. From an historical perspective, it should be stressed that when scientists began to recognize the autonomy of the scientific method with respect to philosophy and theology, this did not imply any denial of God, a denial that neither scientists in the beginnings of modernity, nor their medieval predecessors, thought it necessary to make. Professing a religious faith and engaging in scientific activities coexisted without clashing within the lives of nearly all researchers, at least until the end of the 19th century. The gradual estrangement of a significant part, though not the majority, of scientists from God at the end of the 19th, and during most of the 20th, century, in my opinion, is due primarily to the process of secularization that took hold of Western societies rather than to any reasons inherent in science itself.

The percentage of scientists who played an institutional role in their Christian Churches, as secular members or clergy, for instance, has always been quite high. In the Dictionary of Scientific Biographies (ed. C. Gillispie, [New York: 1970-1980]), which contains about five thousand biographies of scientists, this percentage is as high as 10%, but until the beginning of the 19th century it was closer to 30%. The documentation offered in the Appendix of the Dictionary edited by I. Tagliaferri and E. Gentili (Scienza e Fede, I protagonisti [Novara: 1989]) catalogues about 150 Catholic priests and religious persons born after the 17th century whose scientific activity is deemed of international significance. In addition, in modern times, another 80 ecclesiastic mathematicians and famous researchers have given important contributions to science (cf. P. Pizzamiglio, “Religiosi matematici,” in L’insegnamento della matematica e delle scienze integrate 21 [1988], pp. 410-438). The presence of these ecclesiastical figures in the laboratories and in scientific training cannot be directly used for an analysis of scientists’ faith (faith, of course, is not confined to the clergy), but it does point out that there was a consolidated open-mindedness in the relations between believing thought and scientific activities.

According to the data provided by a survey among Italian researchers (cf. Ardigò and Garelli, 1989), about 55% of them said they believed in God, and 23% of those interviewed identified their faith with the explicit content of Catholic belief. Among all of them, however, that is, among both believers and non-believers, 60% believed that scientific activity and religious belief have no significant points in common. It is interesting to see how the majority of them (85%) thought that the growing scientific mentality and technological progress had modified the call for transcendence in society and culture; this reveals the influence that scientific rationality exerts on the common way of thinking. A similar survey in France, though on a more limited sample of people (cf. Magnin, 1993), showed how half the scientists professed themselves to be believers, while among the remaining 50%, the majority described themselves as “searching.” Quite a high number of them were convinced that science does not provide an exhaustive understanding of reality (80%), and more than 60% of them believed scientific activities at least provoke a question regarding the existence of God. Similar surveys in the United States, published in the past few decades, indicate on average that the percentage of scientists who declared themselves believers was about 40%, from the beginning to the end of the 20th century (cf. E. Larson, L. Witham, “Scientists are still keeping the faith,” in Nature 386 [1997], pp. 435-436; G. Easterbrook, “Science and God: a Warming Trend?” in Science 227 [1997], pp. 890-893). The percentage is even a bit higher in a recent survey carried out by Elaine Howard Ecklund (2010), according to whom about 50% declared themselves to be believers and only 30% presented themselves clearly as atheists. Numerous interesting anthologies of texts and biographies on this subject have been published in recent decades (cf. Margenau and Varghese, 1992; Kneller, 1995; Bersanelli and Gargantini, 2003; Harper, 2005; Frankenberry, 2008).

Aside from the differences that the data surveys quoted above may contain, the image of scientists’ today is not of a people entrenched in atheistic or anti-religious positions. Even when they are not explicitly believers, the majority of scientists are quite open to dialogue with extra-scientific dimensions of the world and life, as people who are conscious of the cultural weight of their scientific activity. I personally think that in many cases it is a deficiency of religious formation that prevents some scientists from thoroughly integrating their faith in God (or their search for Him) with the knowledge coming from their studies, or from arriving at an image of God adequate to accomplishing such an integration. This causes a sort of a gap between a scientist’s religion and ethical requirements, especially in the fields of medicine or biology, or between his or her religious view’s and doctrinal or theological beliefs associated with historical, revealed religions, such as the Judaeo-Christian Revelation. In any case, interest in religion has visibly reawakened in the increasing frequency of interdisciplinary activities among science, philosophy, and theology. Many associations now exist at an academic or university level expressly dedicated to the dialogue between science and theology. For the sake of interest, the most important ones in the sphere of the English language are: The John Templeton Foundation (West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania), The Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (Berkeley, California), The Institute on Religion in an Age of Science (Star Island, New Hampshire), The Zygon Center for Religion and Science (Chicago, Illinois), The American Scientific Affiliation (Ipswich, Massachusetts), and The European Society for the Study of Science and Theology. An updated list of Institutions that devote attention to the dialogue between science and religion is presented in a special section of this web Portal (see Science and Religion on the web). Even today, there is no lack of clergy working in scientific research. There are certainly less than there were in the 18th century, but their numbers are enough for The Society of Ordained Scientists, founded at Cambridge by Arthur Peacocke, to count more than three thousand members throughout the world.

Just like all other human beings, people of science believe that the God he or she has chosen to be faithful to is the God of everything and everybody. In order to preserve the notion of God in its full meaning, God’s image must adequately represent the Cause of the whole of reality. At the same time, in order to preserve the cognitive dimension of faith, the content of any specific religion, to which people adhere by faith (e.g., the content of Christian theology, for those who recognize this Revelation), must dialogue with the rest of the knowledge a person acquires, including scientific knowledge. Faith in God as the First Cause and ultimate explanation of humankind and the world helps the subject to acquire a kind of unity of knowledge. The search for this unity is certainly harder for people of science, due to the richness of the sources they have access to and the depth with which they explore reality. Nevertheless, for this very reason, their seeking becomes all the more necessary. The fact that scientific rationality has influenced our way of understanding transcendence, or that which is transcendent (a fact that scientists and non-scientists substantially agree upon) must not lead to a dialectical model of interaction between faith and science, or to the idea that progress in scientific knowledge increasingly undermines the content of faith. We need the courage to continuously read one in light of the other, again and again, just like every other process open to reality. This requires an effort of synthesis and unity, sought at the heart of the knowing person. Symbiosis and stratification are simply not enough.

IV. The Image of God as Revealed in Jesus Christ: Its Relationship to the Questions Raised by Philosophy and the Sciences Regarding God

A complete account of the content of the Judaeo-Christian Revelation, and of the nature of God’s biblical image, is the concern of the theological treatise on the Mystery of the One and Triune God (cf. Auer, 1978; Kasper, 1984; Courth, 1999). In this section, I shall synthesize only some of this biblical content that is relevant to the previous interdisciplinary remarks.

1. The Existence of God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, Can be Known Starting from Created Realities. The Judaeo-Christian Revelation often describes the possibility of asserting the existence of God, the Creator, by starting from his creatures, inferring the Cause from its effects (cf. Wis 13:1-8; Rom 1:18-20; Acts 14:16-17). The teachings of the Magisterium of the Church have often set forth this philosophical conclusion (cf. Dei Filius, DH 3004; cf. also DH 3475, 3538; Dei Verbum, 3 and 6; Donum Veritatis, 10; Fides et Ratio, 36, 53) without imposing any specific philosophical view. All the statements made by the Church’s Magisterium generally refer to a causal path, tamquam causam per effectus, presented in varying contexts. Aside from the theological discussion regarding how these teachings should be interpreted, it is important to note that they do convey the basic idea that the notion of God is a notion accessible to human knowledge. From a linguistic point of view, and according to what Aquinas affirmed in his “five ways” (see above, I.1), it should be noted that all these philosophical paths end by pointing to a philosophical image (the Absolute, the First Cause, etc.), whereas the term God is better associated with a religious and existential context. When the Bible speaks of a Creator as the cause of all that exists, it introduces a category known to reason, a concept that human intelligence may grasp starting from the reality of the world. If the revelation of God as Creator is associated with that of a Lord who is Savior of His people, it is because the former may help in understanding who is the subject of the latter.

From the perspective of faith, the teaching on the natural knowledge of God states that faith in God presupposes such a natural knowledge, one accessible to reason, and thereby guaranteeing an accord between the universality claimed by the God of faith and the universality of the philosophical quest for God. In discussing whether this knowledge truly is accessible to us, in our historical conditions, the moral attitude of the subject, and the wounds inflicted by sin (original and actual) upon human reason, must be taken into account. The biblical passages traditionally associated with the doctrine of the natural knowledge of God constantly refer to the “chiaroscuro” (light/darkness) of this knowledge, and even to a kind of historical failure in achieving it due to sin (cf. Wis 13:1; Rom 1:21; Acts 17:27). In their apologetic works, the Fathers of the Church clarified this point: humility, justice, and rectitude are necessary to understand the presence and the works of God in the world (cf. St. Augustine, Confessions, V, 3). The same idea is present in the Teachings of the Roman Catholic Church (cf. DH 3005).

From the perspective of reason, we have already dealt with the natural knowledge of God (see above, I.3). As we said, the recognition of God’s existence cannot correspond to what we know as a scientific, experimental proof. This is due not only to the fact that, obviously, scientific experimental proofs are valid for objects that are perceivable by one’s senses and formalized in quantitative terms, but also because knowledge of God calls for a much more explicit degree of involvement on the part of the subject, which is loaded with consequences at an existential level, a level different from that involved in exclusively experimental proofs. In a natural knowledge of God, reason abstracts from what is measurable and grasps the causes of the existence of things as the aim of a realist and ascending metaphysical path. “In speaking of the existence of God we should underline that we are not speaking of proofs in the sense implied by the experimental sciences. Scientific proofs in the modern sense of the word are valid only for things perceptible to the senses, since it is only on such things that scientific instruments of investigation can be used. To desire a scientific proof of God would be equivalent to lowering God to the level of the beings of our world, and we would therefore be mistaken methodologically in regard to what God is. [...] It can neither affirm nor deny his existence. From this, however, we must not draw the conclusion that scientists in their scientific studies are unable to find valid reasons for admitting the existence of God. If science as such cannot reach God, the scientist who has an intelligence, the object of which is not limited to things of sense perception, can discover in the world reasons for affirming a Being which surpasses it. Many scientists have made and are making this discovery” (John Paul II, General Audience, July 10, 1985, n. 1). Philosophical proofs, whether anthropological or cosmological, do not directly bring about faith; they simply have the capacity to prepare the subject to consider the content of Revelation as something intelligible and reasonable. They prepare the subject for a personal option for truth and to recognize the Face hidden in the mystery of Being. Only biblical Revelation can unveil the ultimate meaning of this personal option: the answer to a call, a free gift of a Person, the entrance into a communion of life.

2. The Biblical Image of the God of Israel Revealed by His Son Made Man. The image of God unveiled by Christian Revelation, although it is in philosophical continuity with the notion of God accessible from the observation of nature and from philosophical reflection, conveys a content that quite exceeds it. The image of Christian revelation places us before new categories; it overcomes the expectations of reason and somehow proves that they belong to an original, revealed thought, which does not come from the anthropological, hermeneutic, or linguistic arenas within which human words are usually confined (cf. Ratzinger, 1990; Gilson, 1961). We face a God whose role is not restricted to solving the “problem of the beginning,” but extends across the whole arc and meaning of all history. The Bible obliges us to move away from a God about which humankind speaks, to a God who speaks to humankind, from a God humankind wishes to interpret, to a God humankind may let itself be interpreted by.

Among the characteristics of the revealed image of God, the coexistence of the idea of “familiarity” and the concept of “cosmic breadth” is a novelty far exceeding any human expectation. The former is characterized, for instance, by the use of the name Father, by His desire to enter into a relationship with humankind (by revealing His name, and the offering of His Covenant, and through the Incarnation); the latter is related to God’s omnipotence, His “being in Heaven,” and to the fullness of His Being. The idea of familiarity, made clear by the visibility and the humanity of the Son, exists alongside the cosmic dimension the Word-Logos possesses as the Son who is completely equal to the invisible Father (cf. Jn 1:18; Jn 10:30). The accessibility of Jesus of Nazareth and the eternity of Christ—the Incarnate Word—belong to the same identical Person. God’s closeness to humankind, and God’s availability to enter into communion with human beings—reaching unprecedented levels in the New Testament, according to which we are called to become the adoptive children of God by means of our incorporation into the eternally generated Son and the co-possession of His same Spirit (cf. Gal 2:20; Rom 8:10-11)—does not diminish the universality, otherness, and transcendence associated with God. If scientific thought is attentive in preserving the cosmic characteristics of God when dealing with an Absolute that is understood as truth and foundation, it is likewise true that these characteristics are kept intact in the revealed image of the Christian God, in spite of his overwhelming proximity to humankind and history.

In the God of the Judaeo-Christian Revelation, transcendence and immanence cease being alternative notions and become correlative concepts. The novelty of this kind of relationship essentially depends on the novelty of the doctrine of creation ex nihilo sui et subiecti. The simultaneous transcendence and immanence of God in relating to the world is indeed implicit in the conception of a God who is, at the same time, Uncreated (and therefore transcendent) and a Creator (and therefore immanent, just like any cause is present in its effect). Greek philosophy was not capable of keeping these two properties together. It affirmed the eternity of a Being, its immutability, its being without a principle, but its relationship with creatures (and in creatures) was entrusted to a first-created Demiurge. The Fathers of the Church described the difference of the Christian God from the pagan gods, stating that the pagan gods could not comply with the condition of being uncreated and creators at the same time. Only a God transcending the world as an uncreated Creator can truly be immanent in all things. Only such a God will relate to things with the intimacy derived from being the founding reason for everything that exists: “Deus interior intimo meo et superior summo meo (‘Thou were more inward to me than my most inward part; and higher than my highest’)” (St. Augustine, Confessions, III, 6).

Scientific reason, too, has its difficulties in joining these two poles together, since it grasps the concepts of transcendence and immanence only at a cosmological level, that is, within the frame of space and time. In this light, transcendence can only mean detachment or separation, while immanence means a presence supporting from within. The first is likely associated with the idea of incommensurability, the second with the idea of permanence and stability. The two concepts, therefore, look quite irreconcilable, and the very notion of transcendence misunderstood. By understanding transcendence only as God’s distance from His creatures, one ends up placing the two terms—God and creation—within the same order in space and time. God’s transcendence, on the contrary, has a richer range of meanings. It does not only point to God’s separation and incommensurability. Rather, it is principally an indication of His moral holiness and of the inscrutability of His ways. This is a superiority “by essence,” and not a simple spatial transcendence. Divine immanence, on the other hand, is not limited to giving metaphysical support to all that exists. It involves the intimate knowledge of things, encompassing their most hidden intentions, as well as providence towards the smallest and apparently most insignificant among things. It is not a dimensional presence/immanence, it is the “loving eyes of God” fastened on every creature (cf. Ps 139).

Finally, the Christian God reveals Himself as fullness of Being and as a Communion of love. These two aspects coexist because His Being consists of an inter-personal communion, professed as the mystery of Trinitarian life. The cosmic dimension typical of the Absolute, and the relational dimension typical of a personal being subject to freedom, coexist together within the intimate core of divine life. From the point of view of the relationship that creatures establish with God, the existence of the true relations of Fatherhood and Sonship in God’s immanent life makes it possible for free rational creatures to call the Absolute “You” without impoverishing the transcendence of His image. Religion can therefore engage in a real “I-You” dialogue with God without falling into myth; this way of addressing God is possible by elevating the creature’s relationship with God through participation in a pre-existent immanent relationship, that already existing between God the Father and God the Son, in which creatures become “children of the Father through the Son.” Even the relationship between the Absolute and its creatures, which from an ontological point of view must be considered a simple “relationship of reason,” acquires new realism at a dialogical level. God addresses Himself to human beings in a way as real as a true dialogue of a father with his son. This movement is supported by a logic of love; it is not a mere expansion of God’s being towards something that He constituted outside Himself (ad extra) through the act of creation. God speaks to the world because of His love for His Son, because the Father eternally pronounces this Word within Himself (ad intra) and He possesses it through the love of His Spirit.

Aristotelian logic set forth that substance was the bearer of meaning and foundation, whereas relation was a mere accident. It is, therefore, quite a novelty to say that at the heart of God’s Being there is a dialogue, and that alongside substance there is relation. According to Platonic thought, perfection was associated with indivisible unity: Multiplicity meant deterioration, the fruit of the fragmentation of what used to be pure and simple. Conversely, according to Christian Revelation, dialogue is necessarily set beside the divine substance, and relation is intended as an original form of being. The mystery of Trinitarian life suggests that unity attained through mutual donation, through self-giving in the freedom of love, “is greater” than the unity of that which remains One undivided, incapable of relating to anyone or anything. In the intimate life of the Christian God, multiplicity does not impoverish unity, but founds it.

3. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is Also the God of Philosophers and Scientists. In examining the relation between the image of God offered by Revelation and the weak image of the Absolute or the “mystical” perceived by philosophy and the natural sciences, theology faces two opposing risks. On the one hand, in overemphasizing the novelty of the biblical message and its associated philosophical content, there is the risk of regarding the first image as if it had nothing to do with the second. Such a position would be in accord with a totally (and exclusively) apophatic approach to God, which understands philosophy as merely the “knowing of not knowing,” and the mystery of Being as the “impossible subject” of any statement. Such a God may only be invoked, in anticipation of a revelation that is unlikely to come; reason can say nothing about him, even about his mere existence. On the other hand, theology also runs the risk of considering reason’s weak determinations about the Absolute as rules for regulating and interpreting all that a divine revelation could reasonably say. This would, therefore, revive the rationalist program that reduces religion to within the limits of pure reason; or, it would revive the pretension (and illusion) of a branch of neo-scholastic theology that tried to transform the ineffability and inaccessibility of God’s Being into the accessibility of a Super Entity. It might even end up evaluating the meaningfulness of any discourse on God within the closed horizons of mere anthropology, as theology tried to do at one point when it instigated an “anthropological turn” in its methodological agenda. Considering its direct relationship with scientific thought, I believe theology should navigate between Scylla and Charybdis, avoiding the two risks described above. After making necessary epistemological clarifications, theology should courageously examine the question of God that arises from the context of scientific rationality and the weak image that reason may associate with the Absolute; this is because of the conviction that if the universe science studies is real, then it must necessarily be the same universe God created.

Though extremely demanding, this kind of navigation offers to theology a limited, but really important, link of intelligibility, so that its discourse on God—whose ultimate justification lies exclusively within Revelation—may be meaningful for the rationality of science as well. An indirect proof of the importance of not neglecting this connection is provided by the fracture that many scientists notice between the image of an unconventional God, which they seem to perceive in their reflections, and the image of the conventional God associated with traditional religions. When theology presents an image of God detached from that ascending path that starts from nature, which every search for truth incarnates and expresses, not only does it run the risk of becoming a new fideism, but it also pays the price of a new deism, since this remains the only way out left for reason. What I am trying to state without ambiguity is that the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” is also the “God of philosophers and scientists.” I do not mean to contradict Blaise Pascal’s aspiration who, using these same words, affirmed precisely the opposite. When this matter is approached correctly, we find that, arguing from a mystical rather than a theoretical level, Pascal spoke of the God des savants (of the “learned”). The interlocutor Pascal distrusted was the God of Descartes, and his purpose was to criticize the pride of reason. John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio seems to agree on the convenience of bringing together these two poles and embarking on such a demanding navigation: “The unity of truth is a fundamental premise of human reasoning, as the principle of non-contradiction makes clear. Revelation renders this unity certain, showing that the God of creation is also the God of salvation history. It is the one and the same God who establishes and guarantees the intelligibility and reasonableness of the natural order of things upon which scientists confidently depend, and who reveals himself as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Fides et Ratio, 34; cf. Tanzella-Nitti, 2009).

A notion of God grasped as “one who establishes and guarantees the intelligibility and reasonableness of the natural order” would operate on a metaphysical level, but not imprisoned within an onto-theology characterized by an image of Being as substance. It would remain open to discovery by progressively and constantly unveiling new levels of intelligibility and dynamic depth, in accordance with the limitless character of the analysis of natural truths. This notion would always make one think of nature as a gift, something that science receives as given, open to induction and discovery, not as a closed physis possessing in itself the ultimate reasons for its being. Likewise, the notion of the Absolute arising in science from the “perception of foundations” and from the “experience of the sacred” does not represent the concept of a God-of-the-gaps or of a Deus ex machina. Rather, it is linked to a realm of meaning that transcends scientific rationality, a logos that cannot be reduced to the sole traits of a ratio, since it also possesses those of a verbum, according to the twofold sense of the Greek word. So it is in the divine Logos, where the rational Word that sustains the world (logos ut ratio) is inseparable from the Word that reveals and summons (logos ut verbum). The appeal made by this logos arises from nature but culminates in human beings because it is capable of drawing forth, at least in principle, existential questions and intimate experiences (cf. Tanzella-Nitti, 2008, pp. 68-91).

Once accurate epistemological soundings have been taken, theology’s navigation may continue on a more properly dogmatic route until it finally flows into the ocean of the mystery of the Incarnate Word. This is the true verbum behind nature, the Logos, which involves and attracts every seeking after truth—whether it comes from science, from philosophy, or from theology. Since the world of scientific culture considers the canons of universality and generalization decisive, theology must also convincingly explain the relations between the Christian Logos and the universality of truth and between the discourse on the God of Jesus Christ and the discourse on God present in other religious traditions. This means unconditionally accepting the risks and the scandal of stating that this Logos on God and of God is fully visible and accessible through the human face of Jesus of Nazareth. It means accepting the risks and the scandal of saying that what is universal in God admits in Jesus of Nazareth a historical and personal concretum. It is the astonishing proclamation that the truth is a Person; it is the good news capable of definitively clarifying why we can speak of love as truth, and why truth, to be known, must be loved. “To evangelize is first of all to bear witness, in a simple and direct way, to God revealed by Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, to bear witness that in His Son God has loved the world—that in His Incarnate Word He has given being to all things and has called men to eternal life. Perhaps this attestation of God will be for many people the unknown God whom they adore without giving Him a name, or whom they seek by a secret call of the heart when they experience the emptiness of all idols” (Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, December 8, 1975, n. 26).

There is no doubt that without the hermeneutics that the paschal mystery offers us as the ultimate reason for why “God so loved the world,” we would never be able to reach a true understanding of the mystery of the world. In fact, the world is not an outcome that simply depends on a philosophical Absolute that provides a foundation for its existence and the key to its ultimate meaning; the world is also the expression of a filial gift. Since creation was desired and accomplished in the mystery of Christ (cf. Col 1:16-17), a full understanding of all that originates from creation is possible only through the action of the Spirit of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 2:1-14). However, the very correspondence in Christ of creation and salvation suggests that paschal hermeneutics, whose keys are exclusively possessed by the Spirit, would include the possibility of approaching the meaning of the world by seeking its natural foundations, by means of a scientific knowledge capable of remaining open to the mystery and to the logic of a gift.

Documents of the Catholic Church related to the subject: 
Bibliography: 

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