The Dialogue of Science and Religion in the Theologies of Karl Barth and Wolfhart Pannenberg

We are living in exciting times for scientists and theologians alike. The last 150 years has presented us with meaningful scientific and technological advances that have contributed to a significant rearrangement of Western societies. These advances have influenced how we look at travel, communications, healthcare, and even understand our own existence in the cosmos. Some of the most important discoveries such as in the field of geology with Charles Darwin, and in physical cosmology with Albert Einstein and Peter Higgs, have altered the most essential narratives of our existence. What resulted from these discoveries was not only a new taxonomy of life, but also a redefinition of our own ontological understanding.

Such advances not only created a new epistemology through empiricism, but also brought forth a new language of meaning. In their role of producing a new language of meaning, many of these scientific discoveries were received with excitement, reservation or complete rejection by the different segments of Christianity. For the rational-liberal segment, who had already welcomed and applied Darwin’s evolutionary theory to biblical interpretation through scholars such as Friedrich Schleiermacher, such advances implied that the assumed doctrine of creation needed reformulation, if not be completely discarded. On the other end in the fundamentalist segments particularly in the United States, a reactionary push was launched by promoting fundamental beliefs that appealed towards Biblicism, thus seeking to preserve a literal 6-day view of creation. Caught in the middle was a new trend of evangelical thinking, who sought to maintain the value of Scripture, all the while staying sensitive to new empirical knowledge.         

What is meaningful is that both science and theology have become languages of meaning in the modern and postmodern world. They have done so through shared epistemologies, but also have sustained it through inherently different ones. It is in light of these recent developments that a dialogue between the two finds its significance for us today. Such is the premise of this post. What follows in the next few days is an attempt to present two inherently different approaches to the “problem” of science and theology in dialogue with creation. This “problem” can be summarized in two fronts. In the first are the proponents of the “non dialoguing” position. In this camp we find Karl Barth’s theology of creation. Barth was by no means a “Fundamentalist” as he did not seek to combat Darwinism in the manner Fundamentalists sought to do. But his high view of Scripture drew pejorative labels such as “neo-orthodox” by the liberal magisteria, which will be the subject of my next post. In the second front are the folks from the “fully dialoguing” position. In this camp is another great theologian who ironically was Barth’s pupil, his name is Wolfhart Pannenberg. I will also analyze his theology of creation and how he proposed a dialogue with science. Since the reason for this post is to promote a dialogue between science and religion, in my last post I will bring the relevant points of both positions whilst tracing a tentative way forward towards a fruitful dialogue between science and religion concerning the origin of all things.

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