A few weeks ago I posted several versions of an essay on Faith and Science, this is the start of another (which unlike the first has no “target” for publication). I may return and extend and refine it, but I have no definite plans to do so. In part that depends on whether this attempt engenders any response. In the spirituality class I am taking we read a number of St. Ephrem’s hymns “On Virginity” from the CWS collection. A few of these in the series concentrate not on virginity but St. Ephrem uses oil (olive) to indicate a “type” of Christ. In Syriac apparently oil, Messiah, and Anointing all come from the same root word, which is not the case with English (or Greek apparently). St. Ephrem also then lists a number of properties of oil, used in cooking, healing, for light and so on and illustrates how, because Christ does the same, that oil is a “type” reflecting and illuminating our understanding of Christ. This hymn thereby becomes a way in which common practice (contact with oil) in daily life can be uses to remind oneself, a trigger for reflections, and in general a way of connecting one’s daily life with one’s theological practice and belief. It can be noted that the common features and uses of oil come from the science and practices of the day.

So it might be an interesting project to do the same with modern science. Light was a common type of Christ in the days of St. Ephrem and the theological writers of late antiquity. Today, in late modernity, we can add to thse typological constructions. Today we might add things like the following:

  1. Light is simultaneously without confusing both particle and wave. Likewise, Christ was man and God.
  2. Light illuminating an atom can stimulates it to a higher state. Again Christ’s actions in a man’s heart can stimulate it to seek (and attain) for higher things.
  3. This same light, further illuminating a population of exited (previously stimulated) atoms can cause the creation of more light, i.e., lasers. Atoms acting in concert, a type of “communion” through Christ (the light) and by Christ in communion a type of Christ and the Eucharist.
  4. Light exists in a sort of timeless fashion, particles travelling on null or light cones in Minkowski spacetimes interact with things “in time” yet for the massless particle no time passes.
  5. Light through photosynthesis is the source from which oxygen and sugars comes into our world, that which we derive our very life depends. We similarly depend on Christ to “trample death by death” unlocking the gates of Hades.

That was the product of a just a few minutes reflection on light and modern scientific discoveries in a typological exercise. One could likely do similar exercises with our understanding of astrophysics, matter, the standard model and so on. So, here’s the question: Is science education so poor these days that these sorts of typological reflections are useless to the lay Christian? That is, in St. Ephrem’s day oil (of the olive) was in many ways akin to petroleum today, it was a linchpin of their economy. Olive oil then was used for light, food, health, lubrication and a myriad of other applications. It took no real specialized knowledge to understand this. People today have likely all heard of quantum mechanics (things have a wave/particle duality), that light excites atoms to higher states, that lasers exist, and even have heard via special relativity that time slows for fast moving objects and that via extrapolation coupled with remembering that nothing travels faster than light that perhaps time might essentially stop for objects travelling at the speed of light. So, there are two questions here. Is this sort of reflection (a) useful in helping people connect theological abstractions with things with which they are familiar and (b) perhaps have the further use of reducing what friction now exists between religion and science.

Filed under: ChristianityMark O.ReligionScience

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