The Origin of Consciousness: A Research Program for the Science-Theology Interaction

Share

Presented at The University of Arizona Center for Consciousness Studies, Tucson, Arizona on April 29.

ABSTRACT

First, I would like to set the stage for the science-theology interaction by beginning with a brief examination of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s (1881–1955) thought. Throughout his voluminous writings, Teilhard expounded what he understood as a scientific position to account for the universe’s possession of complexity and consciousness. I believe Teilhard’s research program should be more properly understood as a “scientific theology” since it is not strictly scientific. It is overall a theological construct informed by science, philosophy, and the hermeneutics of nature and personal experience. Whatever one’s thoughts are revolving around Teilhard’s program, he was the first major thinker to integrate evolutionary notions with Christian theology. Any meaningful theology of nature must make sense of these operative evolutionary principles throughout the universe’s history. Although science and technology have significantly advanced since the time of Teilhard, we must nonetheless acknowledge that Teilhard’s emphasis on cosmogenic development was one of the great fruits of his research program, which is highly relevant to the current trajectory of the field of science and theology. His law of complexity and consciousness, even if outdated, serves as a useful platform for critical methodological reflection and further development regarding evolution, complexity, and consciousness. A broad understanding of evolution in terms of development from simplicity to complexity and eventually consciousness is what seems to be the most plausible explanation at hand, regardless of the specific mechanisms involved in explaining such phenomena. This broad sense of evolution will serve as a starting point for this paper. Since the time of Teilhard, there have been various typologies of the science-theology interaction, including one belonging to the pioneer of such interactions, nuclear physicist/theologian Ian Barbour. Various other thinkers have proposed their own typologies. One that I seek to explore in greater depth is Robert John Russell’s (a physicist and theologian) ‘Creative Mutual Interaction’ (CMI). In this model, Russell proposes that not only does science speak to theology, but vice versa. What is also of great importance is the role that philosophy plays in mediating between these two great disciplines. Philosophy plays a vital role in the assumptions utilized in scientific theories. Science also raises fundamental philosophical questions, i.e., why is the universe intelligible and understandable through mathematics? Theology deals with religious experience, text (scripture), and tradition; from a philosophical standpoint, one can ask why these function as data for a theory or how they relate to knowledge. Russell provides 8 paths to this interaction: 5 pathways where science informs theology and 3 by which theology informs science. Russell has typically applied his ‘CMI’ to concepts in cosmology, eschatology, resurrection, and time. I seek to focus on the origins of consciousness. This paper will briefly sketch out the pathways through which theology can potentially inform science with respect to such an endeavour. Indeed, science and theology form a continuum that can inform one another bidirectionally rather than being opposed to one another.

Share