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Happel, Stephen. “Metaphors and Time Asymmetry: Cosmologies in Physics and Christian Meanings."

For Stephen Happel, the methodological bridge between theology and science comes through language - in particular, through metaphor. Happel argues that scientists, as well as theologians, use ordinary speech, constructed of metaphors, to originate, process and communicate their insights. By studying how scientists employ metaphors, theologians can discover an important role for cosmology in religious discourse. Similarly scientists can gain from understanding the hermeneutical framework they employ in their discourse.

Happel begins by studying the general reasons for focusing on metaphor in both fields, namely the conviction that science, like theology, is a hermeneutical venture. Next he focuses on the metaphors that adorn cosmology and the ways they narrate the story of the universe. Happel then argues that there is a basic relationship between the particular metaphors chosen by cosmologists and the actual temporal asymmetry of the universe. To support his claim, Happel critically evaluates four competing theories about the nature of metaphor. In the process he argues that in both science and religion metaphors communicate more than feelings: they indicate a state of affairs. Because of this, Happel is critical of Paul Ricoeur’s paradoxical “is/is not” view of metaphor and of theologians who appropriate it, preferring instead the moderate realism advanced by Mary Hesse and Bernard Lonergan.

Next Happel attempts to understand why some scientists hold an atemporal perspective on cosmology while others see the universe in terms of a temporal narrative such as the Big Bang. The difference is due less to physics or mathematics, Happel argues, than to the presuppositions one holds about metaphor. Atemporalists tend to have a Ricouerian view of metaphor as paradoxical, whereas temporalists tend toward a moderately realist theory of metaphor. Lonergan’s theory and its relation to emergent probability as the explanation of temporality provide just the needed ontological reference for the metaphors of time asymmetry.

Happel acknowledges that deconstructionists, drawing heavily on the writings of Jacques Derrida, propose an alternate theory in which the surplus of metaphors is sheer play without directionality or finality. He contrasts the teleological approach of scientists like John Barrow and Paul Davies, who treat cosmological metaphors as narrative, with the non-teleological approach of Stephen Hawking, who seems closer to Derrida and Ricoeur. Happel sees these approaches as parallel to the theological typologies of prophecy (narratives which stress the ethical imperative) and mystical communion (non-narrative descriptions of the atemporal identity with the divine). Both narrative and non-narrative languages are integrally intertwined in the doctrine of the Trinity. As a result, theologians might investigate how narrative and non-narrative interpretations of spacetime might be “equiprimordial, requiring a co-implicating dialectic.” Scientists, in turn, are encouraged to develop an approach which overcomes the symmetrical-asymmetrical arguments concerning temporality. Ultimately, whether the universe is seen in mystical or prophetic terms, God’s involvement is to be trusted, and God’s gift of time leads us to combine narrative and non-narrative language.

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