International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Nature, Reality and the Sacred: Nexus of Science and Religion

by Langdon Gilkey

Introductory Essay by Anne Kull

Langdon Gilkey presents in this book an erudite and complex examination of issues at the intersection of science, theology, and nature. Nature, Reality, and the Sacred starts from the conviction that, though both scientific understanding and religious apprehension tell us much about nature, neither alone can provide us with an exhaustive understanding of nature’s power, creativity, and mystery.

Part One is composed of a brief critical examination of both the Creationist and the scientific positivist views. Gilkey discusses issues of language and truth, knowing and power. Science is “dependent on extra-scientific modes of awareness and knowledge. Cosmos alone, without consciousness and ultimately without creation, is self-contradictory and therefore it can hardly be self-sufficient or self-perpetuating“ [16].

Gilkey is also interested in the points where both science and religion meet on a philosophical common ground, that is in questions of epistemology and metaphysics or ontology (understood in a Tillichean way).

Part Two continues these reflections by juxtaposing in a surprising and highly original way what modern science says about nature with what primal religion apprehended of nature. This juxtaposition is made possible by the interesting fact that for both science and early religion, nature discloses itself in or through the same four categories: nature as power, nature as life, nature as order, and nature as dialectical unity of life and death. Primordial religion was certainly the earliest and the longest-lasting of the various forms of human encounter and interpretation of nature. The parallels are telling and indicate that some problems are as old as the human species, possibly truly perennial mysteries (not problems to be solved once and for all). Our environmental thinking can be corrected by interpretations of and the implications drawn from archaic views.

Part Three asks; is the religious dimension of nature possible in our modern encounter with nature? Gilkey responds positively – the sacred is disclosed particularly in terms of “limit questions”, which are not answerable within a scientific understanding. Power, life, order, unity – these are puzzles which are raised by the sciences but are not answerable by the scientific disciplines. Any reflection on these topics uncovers in them signs or traces of something more within nature and perhaps also something beyond it.

The last chapter reflects on traces in nature which might point to the divine. Gilkey asserts that much is known of the divine through history’s unique events, communal and personal experience, and through revelations in religious traditions. But to have a wholesome knowledge of God, one has to take into account also that which is known of the divine in nature.

I recommend the book to all who are in search of ways to think about nature in our technoscientific world from a Christian perspective.