Reconciling Science and Religion
I think that in this year when Charles Darwin will get a hunk of press for the dual celebrations of the bicentennial of his birth and the sesquicentennial of the first edition of his book, the question of the conflicts between science and religion will be discussed by a great many thinkers and writers, including me.
In Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Daniel Dennet explained that while Darwin’s theory of natural selection was not completely original his approach to the question of the role of science in explaining origins was the beginning of referring to our origins without pulling in the need for a Creator. He was not original even to that, but he layed out a process that completely explains the diversity of all life with no appeal to the supernatural.
Dennet is correct in stating that there had now been a gauntlet laid at the feet of religion in 1859, which had heretofore rained supreme in explaining the existence of the human race. The prior assumption, untestable yet undefeatable had been that we were in fact a “special creation.”
And here is where the real conflict lies, I think. In early catechism I had been taught that God the Father had existed in eternity (with or without Logos, I am still unclear on this,) and created the universe because he was lonely for companionship and need us for our love and worship. Adam and Eve, having been given free will and a warning, sinned at their first opportunity naively thinking that they could have the same knowledge as God. In His anger, God declared that they would forever bear the burden of their sin unto all generations. He also cursed the animals, who had until this time never known death nor suffering. The lions had been laying peaceably with the lambs, the foxes with the rabbits and the parasites with the hosts. It was always win-win for the animals, if not for the plants.
Theistic evolution, at least as practiced and preached by Ken Miller, needs to have an interventionist God or else it sinks into the quandary of deism and pantheism. With deism and pantheism, there is no original sin and then from that there is no need for the grace of Jesus’ salvation. So, the way Miller understands God is as a tinkerer with evolution, a non-“Designer” who nevertheless placed careful modifications to evolution at the level of quantum mechanics so that evolution would still work and lead to the ascent of Man. We would, God knew, eventually arise to fill our ecological “niche.”
So this is good for Miller, but where does it leave the possibility for reconciliation between religion and science? It creates a new level of Creationism, in effect. While Miller, as a crack biologist would bristle at being lumped with Creationism, it is a shoe that fits even it is not a color of his choosing.
Miller carefully avoids all of the fallacies and faults of Intelligent Design, but at the end his finely-tuned universe and his interventionist evolution both point back to his God, the Inventor.
So, I honestly think that there is a quandary for practicing scientists in evolutionary biology who are also religious (whether Christian or some other religion.)
The inspiration for Darwin’s theory of natural selection is largely based on Darwin’s reading of Malthus’ discussion of economics and scarcity. There is only room for so much life. Those forms of life which successfully proceed to the next generations succeed long enough to face extinction, in the meantime branching out into populations with common ancestors who may or may not survive.
Natural selection depends on extinction, starvation and suffering. It is an unpleasant fact. New species can’t move in if the old ones don’t “move out.” And so nature has ways of dealing with overpopulation; hunger, the need to replicate and the need to survive better than your competitors for the limited resources.
All of this was taking place long before man, and long before Man could have committed the First Sin for which we all need redemption. The 19th-century scientists who realized this argued that the fossils they were finding represented a separate epoch of Creation, and that it wasn’t until 6000 years ago that God embarked on his final creation; the one that included Us.
With the concept of Theistic Evolution, one would need to accept that the tender, minute touches of intervention are placed by the same being who saw the need to create a cruel world. It is a world of beauty, yes, but perhaps beauty is all the more precious to us because we know that in large part we will all die and so will all of our fellow life.
This solves one of Epicurus’ riddles, doesn’t it?
“Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. If God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?”
There is, for the theistic evolutionist, evil in the world because life demands it. Augustine answered to Epicurus by saying that Epicurus had ignored the benefits of suffering in the world. Indeed, Augustine’s answer is crucial to Catholic theology; it is the idea that one must die in some symbolic way (perhaps to materialism,) in order to be “reborn in Christ.” That’s not the precise wording of Augustine, but it was the thrust of several of the youth “Teens Encounter Christ” retreats I joined when I was in my teens. It’s also illustrative of the myth of Jesus’ death and reincarnation. He died to give us the chance for new life in him. Rather than dying cruelly to be reborn, we only need to accept his sacrifice; like the grain of wheat that must “die” and be buried in order to give life to a new wheat stalk. (John 12:24.)
I have been reading a new article by Jerry Coyne in The New Republic, which is a dual book review. In the best tradition of literary criticism Coyne does far more than give a thumbs up or thumbs down of the books he has read. He is also approaching his understanding of the concepts of the books. In this case he reviews these books (c -and p because I am getting exhausted and don’t want to create footnotes:)
Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution
By Karl W. Giberson
(HarperOne, 248 pp., $24.95)
Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul
By Kenneth R. Miller
(Viking, 244 pp., $25.95)
Coyne says that both books miss the mark on Science-Religion and looks to Gould for help, but even the Non-Overlapping Magisteria are not helpful becaue the NOMA only says that each science and religion should ignore each other.
As Alden said in response to Anastasia’s post , “..because, for Theists, there are no purely secular events.” Perhaps for theists, there can be no secular science.
The observable world makes so much more sense without using God as any explanation. Coyne relates the story of Napoleon and LaPlace:
Scientists do indeed rely on materialistic explanations of nature, but it is important to understand that this is not an a priori philosophical commitment. It is, rather, the best research strategy that has evolved from our long-standing experience with nature. There was a time when God was a part of science. Newton thought that his research on physics helped clarify God’s celestial plan. So did Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who devised our current scheme for organizing species. But over centuries of research we have learned that the idea “God did it” has never advanced our understanding of nature an iota, and that is why we abandoned it. In the early 1800s, the French mathematician Laplace presented Napoleon with a copy of his great five-volume work on the solar system, the Mechanique Celeste. Aware that the books contained no mention of God, Napoleon taunted him, “Monsieur Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.” Laplace answered, famously and brusquely: “Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothese-la,” “I have had no need of that hypothesis.” And scientists have not needed it since.
Certain dispensers of modernism would do well to remember that science does not exist to displace the need for an active creator. It just happens to work out that way.
This is, after all, a finely-tuned universe.