Friday, April 24, 2009

Fr. Benedict Ashley on Science and the Fall

I just returned from a talk given by Fr. Benedict Ashley, OP. It focused on science as an avenue leading us to a greater knowledge and understanding of God and the Trinity. The talk was pretty good, interesting if nothing else. However, I wish to focus on a brief comment he made in a Q&A session following the lecture.

He was asked to discuss the physical (as opposed to moral) evil of death and the like as it relates to the fall, and how that entrance of suffering into human life at the fall can be reconciled with evolution. Fr. Ashley explained that science now shows us that human life began in eastern Africa, in a garden-like place. He posited that had we not fallen, perhaps the intimacy of our relation to God would have enabled us to develop technology at an incredibly accelerated pace, sparing us from physical evils such as toil, painful childbirth, possibly even death (?), by cultivating the surrounding desert with technology for our use.

Thus he stated: science can help us overcome some of the effects of the fall.

I ask you, faithful readership (all 4 of you), could science have made the advances it has without the Incarnation? We know the important role Christian thinkers have had in the development of philosophy, anthropology, psychology, etc. Is it possible that only redeemed man, participating in He who is Truth, could have brought together all the various truths of the ancient world to develop the worldview(s) which have enabled us to build up to the modern depth and breadth of scientific thought ?


Henry Karlson said...

I, like Balthasar and Tolkien, would be weary of seeing science as providing utopia. We have human nature with its motivations, and so science would only be a perverted imitation of the reversal, like Sauron and the ring. This is also the criticism people give to Fedorov, whose project, though interesting, and I would suggest a 19th century liberation theology from Russia, who believed science could be/should be used to create "resurrection science."

JB said...


Fr. Ashley also expressed that science/technology cannot provide a utopia. His initial point, if I am understanding him correctly, was that hypothetically, if there had been no Original Sin, through our Original Holiness and relation to God we would have been able to develop the technology necessary to spare us from physical evils which accompany bodily life.

He later expanded to say that even now, science/technology, when used in accord with divine will, wisdom, etc. can minimize or protect us from some physical evils.

He event went so far as to boldly (considering the location of the talk), but also half-jokingly place a bit of blame on Louisiana/New Orleans for the aftermath of Katrina. If we had been better living in accord with God the hurricane would have still come, but we would made it more of a priority to build up the levees. [Note: he said this quickly and in one brief sentence. I am reading into a bit and trying to get at what he was implying.]

I will post again in the next few days on his thoughts on ETI's. I'd be interesting in your critiques/comments.


V said...

Is technology really the cure for man's sinfulness? Without the fall, would man have died?

I dont know JJ, i think plenty of "heathens" do good science.

i think my simple answer to your question is "no"

JB said...


Thanks for your response. I don't think I completely disagree with you. Biblically, it seems we can say that death (physical and spiritual) entire human existence with the fall. Man with a physical nature is naturally open to the possibility of suffering. So, if man had not fallen would God have miraculously and supernaturally spared him from suffering or death or would have God given man the capacity, via inspiration for example, to spare himself from such physical evil as there would have been no moral evil to speak of?

I think I am more inclined to the supernatural, but it's all speculation.

In terms of heathen doubt there have been many exceptional ones, and perhaps the wording of my post led to that aspect of your response. Let me attempt a rephrasing:
Our faith recognizes original man, historical man, and eschatalogical man. JPII subdivides historical man into fallen man and redeemed man. Is it possible that without the redemption won for us in Jesus' incarnation and paschal mystery that we would have been incapable of advancing to our current levels scientific achievement?