For years I have been inspired by Generative Anthropology, first reading René Girard’s work during my doctoral studies and then discovering and implementing Eric Gans’ signal contributions in my own work.
Of course, this interest has nothing to do with me being a Frenchman, nothing whatsoever…
Dr. Gans inspired me to write an article for an issue of Anthropoetics, on how theologians and anthropologists can help each other. I want to continue those musings, by giving some precision to terms in general use but that have special import to theologians: faith, belief, hypothesis, and knowledge. I am bold enough to offer this in hope that some precise technical definitions of these terms might be of some, in particular, scientists.
But before getting into the nitty-gritty, let us recall that science and theology have the same origin: the experience of wonder. Experience in the strict sense of the term is prior to the investigation, introspection, understanding, and definition of the experience. Think, if you will, of your own stirrings that eventually led you to become a scientist or wherever your path has taken you. In some way or another, something caused you to sense wonder, a feeling of desire, of being open and attracted by something you encountered that invited you to ask questions about being human.
This is what theologians and scientists have in common, an experience of wonder — one can even say that we share — about being human. You may think that theologians study God. That is what the word means, after all. But every human language has a word for “god”. So theology starts with the study of humans, because there is no other path to the divine — if there is one at all.
Physicists, biologists, neuroscientists, all begin their careers with an experience of wonder, but the wonder theologians and anthropologists in particular share is a feeling about human beings, that there is something extraordinary about our species. What inspires such feeling in part is what the Canadian economist, philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan called “the eros of the human spirit.” He defined it in two directions:
[It is] a single thrust, the eros of the human spirit. To know the good, it must know the real; to know the real, it must…