by Ilia Delio
In this blog Ilia Delio shares some of her current reading, and offers her reflections on the ever-changing nature of God. Ilia suggests that “…if we can get religion out of the sixteenth century and into the 21st century, we might discover a whole new God and a new world in relation to God, and truthfully the next 10,000 years may quite exciting for the future of religion.” (Also refer to our recent post, THE IMAGE OF THE UNSEEN GOD, for a book overview and audio interview with Thomas E. Hosinski.)
One of my early Christmas presents this year is the book by MIT physicist Max Tegman entitled, Life 3.0. If you have not read the latest on artificial intelligence (AI), transhumanism and posthumanism, this is the book for you. Tegman explores how we can create a benevolent future civilization, as we merge our biological thinking with an even greater intelligence. One of his chapters is “Aftermath: The Next 10,000 Years.” Who is thinking about life in 10,000 years? Tegman is and he speculates on what artificial intelligence may bring about in the millennia to come. I am fascinated by Tegman’s book because AI technology is rapidly evolving us today and we are almost completely unaware of what we are becoming. One computer scientist quipped, biology was never our destiny, chips are our destiny! With computing power potentially shrinking to the size of a red blood cell and eventually implanted in clothing and/or skin, the singularity may indeed be near, as futurist Ray Kurzweil proclaimed in his book The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.
Yet, there is a deep irony in our modern age. We are lured by scientific discoveries and technological inventions such as iPhones, iPads, computers, and robots (all now neatly wrapped as Christmas gifts!)—we are the prime consumers of these products. However, we are reluctant to change when it comes to religion and the things of God, as if the stone tablets Moses carried down from the mountain really were hard, inert stone tablets carved with indelible words. My students sometimes say, science is progress, but religion seems as old as Moses. Recently, the Vatican launched a social media accelerator to enhance innovative technology for climate change and mission outreach. How modern! But do we realize that the science behind artificial intelligence was long in the making and often conflictual in the scientific community? The underlying physics of artificial intelligence is based on the novelty of quantum physics, and quantum physics emerged amidst much conflict. When Einstein turned Newton on his head and rejected absolute space and time not everyone bought into his ideas. When Niels Bohr claimed that quantum physics is ambiguous, Einstein himself had problems lamenting, “God does not play dice.” But scientists kept ploughing new terrain in the twentieth century because the quest for true knowledge and the lure of new insights outweighed the internal battles of the scientific community. Changes that have brought about the comforts of modern life did not drop down from heaven. Rather, they emerged from insights, commitment, trust, patience, and perseverance through trial and error. Can we say the same for religion? I doubt it. In the world of religion, (and theology as a formal discipline of study) change is considered suspicious, if not heretical. Culturally we are drawn to change; religiously we resist change. We live in the tension between change and resistance; integral to this tension is the strained relationship between science and religion.
Changes that have brought about the comforts of modern life did not drop down from heaven.
The separation of religion and science is a modern phenomenon. In the Middle Ages, to know the natural world [science] was to know God [theology] and it was precisely the consonance between nature and scripture that gave rise to the great summas or cosmological-theological worldviews. The divorce between science and religion is less than two centuries old and is based on the distortion of facts that include Galileo’s confirmation of heliocentrism and the discoveries of Columbus and Darwin. In the twentieth century, scholars such as Teilhard de Chardin and Alfred North Whitehead realized that the reconciliation of science and religion may be the most important task of the modern era for the welfare of the planet. In his seminal work The Human Phenomenon Teilhard wrote that “religion and science are the two conjugated faces or phases of one and the same act of complete knowledge.” Separate them or split them apart and one can never really arrive at true knowledge—either in religion or science.
I hear many people say today that science is a reliable path of knowledge while religion is outdated. In some ways, I agree. There is a reluctance to explore the mystery of God—as if we might already know all there is to know about God or that God may get upset with us if we step outside the established boundaries of “God-talk” (as my students say, seriously dude!) Do we really think God will get angry if we think about God in radically new ways? If so, then we probably should not identify ourselves as Christian, for the person of Jesus Christ was a mutational figure who turned the Jewish God upside down and inside out. The God of Jesus Christ would be quite at home with artificial intelligence because God loves to do new things (for example, Christmas!) Novelty and creativity are at the heart of Christian faith. God is creative love which means God makes things to make themselves. Self-making is written into the heart of nature.
Not only is God inviting us to new possibilities at every moment but each choice in some way affects the life of God.
The mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead was keenly aware of modern science and the essential role of creativity at the heart of all reality. Like Teilhard de Chardin, Whitehead sought a new philosophy consonant with a world of change and complexity. He is known as the father of “process philosophy” in which reality is thought of in terms of change, relationships, and systems rather than static, fixed individual entities. Father Tom Hosinski is a process theologian (there are a few around but not enough!) whose new book The Unseen God: Catholicity, Science and Our Evolving Understanding of God provides a liberating evolutionary view of God that is deeply reflective of Christian faith. Following Whitehead, Father Hosinksi explores a God who is creativity thus eternally in relation to the world as lure and promise. God empowers the world to do new things through a constant field of infinite possibilities. Not only is God inviting us to new possibilities at every moment but each choice in some way affects the life of God. Hence, not only are we becoming something new, but God is becoming new as well! This insight is deeply consonant with an incarnational perspective where the meaning of Jesus Christ is not simply to overcome sin but to overcome all those obstacles which stand in the way of God’s creative love. Father Hosinksi provides a deep and rich understanding of God in an evolutionary world through the lens of process thought and I shall leave it to you read the book. All I can say is, if we can get religion out of the sixteenth century and into the 21st century, we might discover a whole new God and a new world in relation to God, and truthfully the next 10,000 years may quite exciting for the future of religion.
Ilia Delio, OSF is the inspiration behind the Omega Center website, a Franciscan Sister of Washington DC and American theologian specializing in the area of science and religion, with particular interests in evolution, physics, and neuroscience and the import of these for theology. Please see our page dedicated to sharing Ilia’s background and expansive volume of work HERE.
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Reading for an evolutionary age
As you engage with the Omega Center content we encourage you to review Ilia Delio’s instruction: READING FOR AN EVOLUTIONARY AGE: OMEGA LECTIO DIVINA.
Start an Omega discussion group
Ilia Delio offers her suggestions for gathering together in groups of two or more to reflect upon topics explored on this website. An outline for starting a discussion group, whether local and in-person or using a virtual format, can be found HERE.