Dark Christianity
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May 2008
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Liberal theologian makes peace with science

LJ-SEC: (ORIGINALLY POSTED BY [info]vanar_en_daeor)

Rehabilitated by Vatican, Hans Küng reflects on laws of nature and God

Hans Küng is not a man afraid of challenging authority. The liberal Swiss priest has confronted the Vatican so often that he was barred from teaching Catholic theology in 1979 and was long a “persona non grata” in Rome.

He also has clear ideas about where theologians should not tread. The row about evolution and intelligent design, a major issue in the United States, is a case where he says believers should not claim to know more science than the scientists.

As a man of faith, Küng sees God reflected in creation, but says this does not mean the Almighty tinkers with the laws of nature or creates life forms so complex they could not have evolved.

Supporters of the intelligent design theory, which they say offers scientific proof a higher power designed life on Earth, suffered a setback in December when a Pennsylvania court ruled they could not teach their views as science in public schools.

“There’s no use casting doubt on (scientific) results with some little problems, as the intelligent-design people or the creationists do,” Küng told Reuters in a telephone interview from his office at Tübingen University in Germany. “What’s there is there. A theologian should not cast doubt on a scientific consensus, but see how he can deal with it.”

This debate has been dominated mostly by evangelical Protestants. Conservative Catholics such as Pope Benedict and Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schönborn have joined in but not openly embraced intelligent design.

A rare liberal thinker in the discussion, Küng recently published a book in Germany on evolution called “Der Anfang aller Dinge” ("The Beginning of All Things") that tries to reconcile theology with the latest scientific insights.

Science and other faiths
At times it reads like a science textbook as it summarizes views from cosmology, quantum mechanics, neuroscience and other fields to shed light on man and his universe. It also cites critics of religion and reviews creation stories in many faiths.

Küng accepts established science as fact, but shows where the boundaries of science lie and where theology or philosophy start. “Along with all scientists, I reject the idea that God could intervene against the laws of nature,” he explained.

“For science, God is not a valid category because God is by definition a reality beyond time and space and therefore does not belong to the world of our scientific experience.

“But there are questions that science cannot answer,” he added. “The fundamental question of philosophy, according to Gottfried Leibnitz, is ’why is there anything at all and not simply nothing?’ Science can’t answer that.”

Beyond the Big Bang
Issues beyond science’s grasp include what happened before the Big Bang, the explosion scientists say produced the universe 13.7 billion years ago.

The same goes for what Küng calls the constants of nature.

“Take the speed of light,” he said. “Why has it been there from the start? You have to ask where it came from.”

After years of discussions with scientists, Küng is wary about answering such questions too quickly. “As soon as you try to intellectually force scientists to recognize God, you’re on the wrong track. That can only provoke reactions,” he said.

But he says these questions lead to the conclusion there is a fundamental cause behind the world. After letting science have its say, Küng makes what he calls a statement not of rational proof but of reasonable trust: “The fundamental cause is God.”

Papal support
Pope Benedict has encouraged both the liberal Küng, once a colleague at Tübingen University, and the conservative Schönborn — once one of the pope’s students — to join the evolution debate. Küng discussed this with Benedict when the pope unexpectedly invited him to meet in August, ending a quarter of a century during which he was kept at a distance in Rome.

“We agreed that the reason of the natural sciences can enter into a discussion with the reasonableness of faith,” he said. “The pope does not represent an irrational faith.”

Unfortunately, he said, the public debate about evolution is dominated by fundamentalist Christians who ignore science and agnostic scientists who refuse to talk about God.

When faced with the complex mysteries of life, he said, “wonder and reflection is a much better reaction than a dumb ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t want to know’.”

“People naturally assume that physics is very complicated,” he remarked. “But who says theology has to be very simple?”


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