Thesis Number: #3 (Page 6 of 10)
We now live in a world in which political choices are validated by reference to “the science”. And yet, despite a century’s worth of efforts to abolish poverty, smooth out trade cycles and diminish the rape of nature, we endure ever-deepening crises.
Mason Gaffney, a professor of economics at the University of California, has shown that, in the past, major advances in social policy were preceded by spiritual Great Awakenings (Gaffney 2010). Is a new engagement between the secular and the sacred possible in our age of extreme materialism? Efforts have been made to integrate faith and reason (see John Paul II’s encyclical Faith and Reason). They are resisted by atheist scientists (examples: Krauss  and Dawkins ). They seek to lock humanity into a natural universe devoid of meaning, which is an impossible state for human beings. Ours is a species that cannot follow exclusively the laws that confine existence to that experienced by shoals of fish, herds of elephants and flocks of parakeets.
The problem for those who wish to rely exclusively on the scientific paradigm is highlighted by the proposition that you cannot derive an “ought” from an “is”. Judgements based on moral precepts are disallowed by the secular method. Empiricism can measure deforestation or the extinction of species, and can propose logical strategies for preventing the damage. But it cannot logically choose between two conflicting options if the decision rests on judgements based on values. For example, Option A would yield the same outcome as Option B. But Option A entails revision to property rights to amend behaviour, while Option B entails taxation of the population to achieve the same result. If the choice rests on what is “fair”, science is silent. We have to fall back on moral precepts, which originated in the realm of the divine. If we have to qualify judgements of reason with values derived from moral sensibilities, we are confronted with an awkward situation: those sensibilities were schooled into our collective consciousness by our ancestors’ engagement with the realm of the divine.
So are we now free to progress a metaphysics that credibly synthesises the natural and spiritual worlds? Physics is yielding knowledge (and identifying yawning gaps in knowledge, voids of uncertainty) that may be the key to a new compact between theology and science. One approach is offered by an Irish priest based in London who is a member of the Sacred Heart Missionary Order. In his book Quantum Theology: Spiritual implications of the New Physics, Diarmuid O’Murchu sets out the principles for what he believes can be a fusing of the creative energy of the universe with the power of the human spirit to create a new way of engaging in the world. He stresses that biblical narratives are stories such as the parables of Jesus, which were not meant to be taken literally, but as ways of illuminating important truths. He writes: “The parables are transitional stories that are intended to disturb and challenge the hearers and motivate them to move into a radically new way of engaging with the world and the call of the times” (O’Murchu 2004: 121). His attempt at a new metaphysics is controversial both for physicists and theologians, but it demonstrates how the two disciplines can be made to cohere in a way which enables us to combine the best in both disciplines to address the seemingly intractable crises of the modern age. Consider, for example, the problem of who is entitled to possess the Holy Land.