International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Creative Tension: Essays on Science and Religion

by Michael Heller

Introductory Essay by Russell Stannard

Michael Heller is a professor of philosophy at the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Krakow, and a Roman Catholic priest. Being based in Poland, his contributions to the study of the relationships between science and religion were little recognised until he won the Templeton Prize in 2008. This book therefore comes as a welcome introduction to his scholarly thinking. It consists of a collection of 14 of his essays previously published in a variety of journals.

The overriding theme of the book is that religion and science are two human activities that each demand total commitment. Such complete dedication need not, however, lead to conflict. Rather, the tension can be channelled so as to creatively seek a harmonious synthesis.

The book is divided into four parts, each preceded by an introduction. The first part consists of four essays grouped around the theme of methodological issues, and in particular how one might formulate a theology of the scientific endeavour. This is followed by a section offering an historical perspective. Part 3, consists of three extended essays examining theological insights that might be gained from relativity, quantum theory, and probability theory. These draw heavily on the author’s own work in physics and cosmology. The final part is devoted to seeking signs of transcendence in contemporary science.

As with many such collections, there is a certain amount of overlap between the essays. Topics such as the mystery of the comprehensibility of the universe, the status of mathematics, and the need to make a distinction between the scientific description of Big Bang origins of the universe and the creation question of interest to theologians, are revisited several times. To readers new to the field of science and religion such reinforcement of these arguments could be valuable, but for those already familiar with the field, such repetition can be less than ideal.

When drawing inferences from the sciences, the author gives a certain amount of explanation of the science involved. However, it has to be said that, especially in Part 3, the readers most likely to benefit from these chapters are those who already have a good familiarity with the science. This is particularly so of Chapter 10 entitled Generalisations: from Quantum Mechanics to God. Here the uninitiated are likely to encounter the greatest difficulty in handling unfamiliar terms and ideas. That said, it should be emphasised that this is an exception. Most of the book is readily accessible to the general reader.

Heller argues against an abuse of cosmology that in effect amounts to a ‘God of the gaps’ strategy. He advocates that theologians should adopt a position of neutrality as regards the evaluation of the scientific theories themselves. They need to draw a clear distinction between the establishment of the scientific explanation of phenomena on the one hand, and the theological interpretation of those findings, on the other. Disciplinary integrity has to be respected.

All in all, this book makes for a valuable introduction to this important thinker’s contribution to the science/religion dialogue.