This engaging book is a collection of previously published essays on a variety of topics that Michael Heller has put together here as a way to make a statement about the relationship of science and religion. Heller is a professor of philosophy at the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Krakow, Poland and is a co-founder (in the 1970s with Joseph Zycinski and with the support of the then Cardinal Wojtyla) of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies at the Academy.
The book is divided into four parts, the first (chapters 1-4) dealing with methodological issues, the second (chapters 5-8) looking to the history of science for exemplars. The third section (chapters 9-11) comes from Heller's own work in cosmology. Heller does an excellent job of describing this work for the non-cosmologist and explaining subjects like pointless space, non-commutative geometry, and their implications for our understandings of time and causality (thereby justifying Heller's suspicions regarding Process thought). The last section (chapters 12-14) situates this scientific work in the context of transcendence and advances what Heller describes throughout the book as a "theology of science." It is striking how well these essays cohere around the topic of the relationship of science and religion given their diverse origins.
Heller's concern at one level is to argue against an abuse of cosmology that amounts to a variation of the God of the gaps strategy for relating science and religion. Heller advocates "neutrality" as the best position for theologians to adopt regarding scientific theories, a position Heller illustrates in his own work by distinguishing clearly between the "exegesis" of the mathematical structure of a theory and the "interpretation" of this theory theologically. Chapter 8 offers a historical example of this respect for the proper domains of science and theology in the person of Georges Lemaitre who was embarrassed by papal and other theological attempts to engage science at what to Lemaitre and Heller is the wrong level, that is, the level of the scientific theory itself: "there is no Christian way of doing science" (71). Disciplinary integrity is sacrosanct here despite the tension entailed by the total commitments demanded by both science and religion as intellectual and personal pursuits, a tension incorporated in Lemaitre.
Science and religion touch at what Heller describes as a "horizon" of "mystery," that is, at the limits of scientific rationality. These limits are apparent in the "illicit jumps" science makes in connecting to the world, and they fall into three classes: ontological, or why there is something rather than nothing (the old Principle of Sufficient Reason); epistemological, or the Einsteinian wonder that the abstract mathematical structure of science should correspond to reality; and moral/axiological, or the concern with the meaning and value of what exists evident in the commitment to scientific reason (science deals with facts, religion with values, it seems). Heller believes it possible to respect the methodological integrity of science while situating scientific reason in the broader rational context of Christian Logos.
This is where troubles arise, despite Heller's persuasiveness. It feels like what Heller really desires is the kind of medieval synthesis of science and religion achieved by someone like Thomas Aquinas. Heller realizes this is impossible if one accepts the shift in scientific reasoning from logic to mathematics, the key change in the modern scientific revolution (41). He is stuck with the book's title, a "creative tension" between science and religion, or he writes of their "symbiosis" (xi), but he can't help repeatedly using the word "synthesis."
This approach to relating science and religion does not take seriously enough the need to re-think reason in light of, for example, the revolutionary history of science. Thomas Kuhn, revolutions, and crises are all mentioned here, but Heller is convinced, "Methodological anarchy solves nothing" (54). Science defines reason, and religion provides the context in which this reason works (ontologically, epistemologically, and morally). But isn't religion also concerned at the historical and political level with what it means to think?