British scholar and writer C. S. Lewis wrote nearly 50 years ago, "Faith and science form part of a whole. They are intimately related." It is no secret, though, that theologians and scientists have been anything but intimate. Since the trial of Galileo over his views of the cosmos, scientists and theologians have stood on distant shores, whether discussing the origin of life, the existence of God, or many other areas of mutual concern.

However, in a rare gathering that resembled more a family reunion than an academic mud fight, 400 astronomers, physicists, biologists, philosophers, and theologians joined writers and performing and visual artists at the third triennial C. S. Lewis Summer Institute to discuss just how their disciplines interrelate. Hosted by Queens' College in Cambridge, England, the July symposium included workshops, lectures, discussions, and artistic presentations around the theme "Cosmos and Creation: Chance or Dance?"

"Chance refers to the idea that the universe began out of some spontaneous confluction, an unplanned and unmediated occurrence," London astrophysicist Christopher Isham said. "The dance refers to a scene from Lewis's space trilogy, a beautiful and inspiring description of the biblical origin of the universe and the general meaning of things."


Isham's interpretation of the conference theme reflects a small but enthusiastic effort by Christian scholars to recognize the contributions of diverse disciplines to their own. The recent feature film Shadowlands, about Lewis's relationship with American poet Joy Gresham, has raised new interest in his works. Cambridge '94 provided a platform for discussion about a question Lewis loved to ask: What, if anything, do science, art, and theology have to offer each other? During the two-week event, lectures had such lofty titles as "The Christian as Creator," "Ways of Knowing: Science, Theology, Philosophy, and the Arts," "Darwin on Trial," and "The Big Bang or the Big Question: Accident or Design?"

Since the seventeenth century, the three disciplines have frequently ignored each other. Scientists historically have been suspect in the minds of many theologians because they typically ignore the possibility of a supernatural power in defining human existence. Likewise, theologians have warranted limited respect from many scientists because theology focuses on the spiritual realm, which cannot be quantified like phenomena in the natural world. And artists rarely, if ever, fit in with either because they examine the human condition from a creative, personal perspective.

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Nevertheless, Queens' College president and mathematical physicist John Polkinghorne believes science and religion are cousins. "Both search for truth, and for an understanding of the world and reality," Polkinghorne says. "I think they have much to say to each other." Harvard astronomer and author Owen Gingerich suggested that as science explores issues that overlap with theology and the arts, "a necessary convergence occurs."

To some, science is not the only means for defining human existence. "Many view modern science as a savior [or] think it's simply an accumulation of facts," said Cambridge theology lecturer Fraser Watts. "Of course, it's neither."

French theologian Henri Blocher, warning against the idolatry of science, admitted that "a critical response to reality is a scientific property as well as a biblical mandate." Polkinghorne said that science is to be valued and respected with absolute seriousness, but by itself "is not enough."

Still, Gingerich defended the central role of science in comprehending reality: "The incarnation is a part of what Christians understand, that God took nature so seriously that he would inject himself into nature, and Christians should too. Science doesn't work by proof but by coherence."


As many expected, the formation of planet Earth became a major focus at the interdisciplinary discussion. Steve Meyer of Whitworth College questioned in his lecture "Intelligent Design and the Origin of Life" why biologists have so steadfastly resisted the idea of purposeful intelligence or design of the origin of life. The problem, he believes, is more philosophical. Although biologists demand specific evidence for design, "There are many theories in science that include unobservable evidence from which we derive indirect inferences."

Without design theorists, Meyer said, "historical biology is impoverished."

"Hogwash," responded Arthur Peacocke of Exeter College at Oxford and a principal in the Society of Ordained Scientists. Peacocke argued against Meyer's position, questioning the cultural and historical meaning of the design concept. Scripture is clear, Peacocke said, about who is Earth's creator. "Design is really an American question," Peacocke said. "The doctrine of creation is not about what happened at a certain time or a certain event. It's about the explanation of the existence of anything at all."

While the intellectual discussion continued, artistic interludes helped maintain an emotional connection. As novelist Larry Woiwode described it, "Scientists are discovering what exists; writers [and artists] are translating it into metaphor." Daily poetry readings, theater performances, exhibits, and concerts stirred new insights about scientific and theological issues.

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Isham said, "It's a wonderful occasion where we have professionals arguing at the technical levels from a variety of disciplines, including the arts.

"The artists have given the whole debate a new dimension that is extremely helpful." Isham participated in a panel discussion between artists and scientists about the nature of their work. He confessed to a certain "terror" of the artist but admitted that his initial interest in physics was linked to a visual attraction to the shape of equations.

"There is something divine about human creativity," said Cambridge lecturer Barbara Reynolds. Her lecture on Dorothy L. Sayers, a Lewis contemporary, initiated the institute's subtheme of "Creature as Creator."

Such integration of art, science, and religion symbolizes an intriguing openness by contemporary Christian scholars to discuss subjects about which they often disagree. J. Stanley Mattson, president of the eight-year-old C. S. Lewis Foundation in California, believes, "If we can demonstrate among ourselves that we understand pluralism, then we might earn the right to return to our universities and be heard." The cooperative attempt also prompted a serious call, for Christians from Greek Orthodox bishop and Oxford scholar Kallistos Ware, to "take off our shoes, the dead leather of academic familiarity, and realize we stand on holy ground."

In coming years, Cambridge University will be a hotbed of debate between scientists and theologians. With a $1.5 million gift from popular novelist Susan Howatch, Cambridge has created a new academic chair for the study of science and theology. Although many theologians support the new chair, Richard Dawkins, a leading Oxford zoologist, has said theology "is a nonsubject, which should not in any sense be treated as an equal of science." Psychologist Fraser Watts, who will fill the new science-theology chair, has commented that he looks forward to challenging such scientific "bigotry."

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