"This is the generation of the great LEVIATHAN, or rather, to speak more reverently of that mortal god, to which we own under the immortal God, our peace and defense." -Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan
I think one of the most fascinating things about the advancement of science is how it has actually enabled the revival of older theological issues once considered “settled” by theologians adopting the science of their time. Two prominent examples sticks out.
First, St Peter Damian’s bold assertion that God can simply alter the past has been subject to shrill derision by most theologians throughout the history of the church. But today, the rise of the new space-time physics has actually now given us a framework and the conceptual tools to engage Peter Damian’s contrarian claims, that is, through the idea of the possibility of time-travel. Of course if time-travel is actually possible in some philosophical sense, that there is no internal contradiction in the idea that we can actually travel back in time to “alter the past”, then obviously it must be possible for God to just annul and change the past in response to our prayers. Of course maybe in some empirical sense based on the limitations of our universe, it may not actually be possible for us physically to ever break the light barrier and go back into time, but the new physics has at least given us the conceptual tools to think through its possibility.
Secondly, in the Lutheran-Reformed debate about the “real presence” of the Lord’s Supper, the contention of the Reformed side was that it is impossible for Christ to be bodily present on the altars of millions of churches all over the world because it is the “nature” of a body to be confined to a place and that since Christ has ascended into heaven, Christ’s body can only be in one “location” and cannot be bodily present at the same time in billions of places. (Although I wonder why nobody raised the objection that if Christ’s body was “stuck” in one location, how on earth was he going to interact bodily with billions of his worshipers at the General Resurrection?)
But with the rise of quantum mechanics and the notion that particles are not “stuck” in one location but exists in probability clouds distributed throughout the universe, the notion of the “nature” of a body being stuck in one location can be called into question, and we do not really need a Lutheran fusing of Christ’s body with divine properties for Christ’s body to be omnipresent, but science itself has already revealed the possibility of the “multi-presence” of a body.
What’s the lesson to be learnt here? I think it is that theology should just honestly transcend scientific propositions and not concern itself with the findings of science or attempt to reconcile itself with science. St Peter Damian infamously denounced philosophy and logic in favour of pure faith in God and intoxicated with divine omnipotence, recklessly declared that God could just alter the past in defiant contradiction to the “logic” and “science” of his contemporaries. In the end, science itself has vindicated Peter Damian, and its absurdity isn’t all that obvious today. Luther in utter defiance to Aristotle and natural philosophy refused to allow any findings of reason or science to taint his conviction of the truth that “This is my Body”, he simply accepted God’s Word as it is and told science to go straight to hell before the will of God. And ironically, now science has vindicated Luther’s bold faith.
The thing is that science and reason will change and develop through time, it is simply folly for theology, which deals with eternal things, to attempt to entangle and taint their subject matter with mutable and changeable science. The problem was not that the medieval church was anti-science but it was *too* concerned with science, they stuck their hands into science, took sides in the Ptolemaic versus Copernicus system debate and threw its weight behind one scientific model over another, when theology should have nothing at all to do with such disputes. The business of science is the business of science and the business of theology is the business of theology, they don’t have anything to do with each other, and theology hurts itself when it attempts to incorporate the findings of mutable science into their science which deals with eternal things.