“Build bridges, not walls,” said Pope Francis last year, when he was in my neighborhood (Ciudad Juarez/ El Paso). This is the fifth post following up on that thought.
Science vs. religion.
For several centuries, many have seen these two disciplines as locked in battle, with Charles Darwin’s thoughts on evolution being particularly definitive. The Scopes “monkey trial” of almost a century ago in Tennessee, with two great legal minds debating the issue, decided it, one way or another, for many Americans. When the first man launched in space in the 1950’s by the Soviets declared from beyond the clouds that he could see no God, that decided it for many others. Some school boards still wrestle with presenting a curriculum based on “scientific evolution” or on “Bible-based creation science,” and parents vote by deciding to home-school their children rather than expose them to the wrong view.
Perhaps the majority today would express it that science is about facts and religion is about belief. Facts are so obvious they must be believed, whereas religion is an optional exercise in believing what you choose in “spiritual” realms, not factual. Jesus, apparently, rose from the dead if you believe he did. The thought may be inane, but it is quite popular, as I can attest from hearing variations on it frequently. It can thrive only in a culture which maintains a wall between science and religion, secular and sacred.
That wall today stands very high in many neighborhoods. As with many of our current public discussions, it is built by ignorance on both sides, together with shallow clichés and misrepresentations. As is also common in our public discussions today, many do not want to discuss it further than that. The two protagonists in the Scopes trial were brilliant lawyers, but neither was a scientist nor a theologian. They were addressing a jury with even less erudition. Yet they were being asked to pass judgement about events which happened, even by the most conservative estimates, many thousands of years ago and before accessible history. Because this was a “show trial,” the whole nation weighed in and formed its opinion, one way or the other. The wall continues today.
The wall cuts down the middle of life for Christians. This is because the earth is the Lord’s. All science is conducted on his property, using his tools which have been made available. Nothing is secular if all is the Lord’s. Only bogus science and badly informed Christians can be content with an artificial wall pretending to divide the Lord from the facts of his creation.
Tear it down, because Christian fact is in the same arena as any other fact. My belief in the Resurrection is not qualitatively different from my belief that the sun will rise tomorrow. Both are my perception, shared and replicated by others, of the facts as they are available to me. Thus, those who would be true scientists must follow the scientific method, which explores our universe by noting observable facts which others can also note. That is the same as what I just stated about my beliefs.
Therein lies the problem. Nobody can absolutely verify what happened thousands, possibly millions, of years ago. Nor can anyone today verify by observation what happened two thousand years ago on Easter morning. Scientists can, and should, theorize about it, with ideas such as Darwin’s view of evolution. Modern physics, for example, has been helpful in clarifying the ways in which the Resurrection and post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus could have occurred. The problem is when scientific hypothesis and theory is set in concrete as scientific fact, or when facts insofar as we can perceive them are absolutized as being the final answer. When Yuri Gagarin’s announcement from beyond the clouds that he could see no God is spun to the conclusion that because he could not see God, there is no God, the scientific method is violated.
Similarly, when Christians wish to retro-read Genesis with contemporary concepts, they do violence to the extremely important concepts of Genesis. The purpose of the first several chapters of Genesis is to explain who created the universe and why, as well as the role of humans is to be, along with the explanation of the failure of humans to be faithful to God’s original plan. Its purpose is not to explain the physics of all this. Yet where it touches on physics, it more or less correlates with much contemporary scientific theory. According to Genesis, God began with an earth that was formless and in eternal darkness, in other words without space and time. Because there was no time, the question of how long is totally irrelevant. As for space, it is interesting that physics today postulates an expanding universe. If this is so, the earth as originally created might have been quite small and expanded to its present size. It has likewise been pointed out that the word used for “day” is not limited to the modern 24 hour day, but means a “period of time.” The Psalmist also comments that, for the Lord, a thousand years are like a day (Ps. 90:4). The six “days” of creation describe the evolution of the planet from a formless, timeless void to a condition that moderns would recognize, not an account of a busy week.
It is a temptation, therefore, to go further in showing how Genesis harmonizes with the theory of evolution. To be sure, it does not refute scientific evolution, even affirming it in many aspects. But the temptation should be resisted, because it is a distraction from what the Bible, including Genesis, wants to tell you. Although the Bible is an anthology of many writers, put together over a very long time, it has a unitary goal. It tells you the earth is the Lord’s. Our species also is the Lord’s, created to love him and to manage his earth. The Bible outlines the failure of mankind to do that in accordance with his plan, and most importantly, describes the history of salvation to restore the earth, including us, to the original plan. To misuse the Bible for other purposes, be it to teach moral behavior, justify various schemes, note its eloquence as great literature, or establish scientific fact is a distortion and distraction from the utterly crucial message it proclaims.
Likewise, when pseudo-scientists go beyond the principles of the scientific method and miss the point of Scripture regarding the history of salvation, seeing it only as a quaint backward book with wrongheaded notions about the world, they are also giving in to a temptation which lures them beyond the bounds of their discipline.
Christians cannot leave this alone. Theology used to be regarded as the “Queen of Sciences,” because it could pull together the many fields of knowledge to serve a common purpose. In accord with this endeavor, the Christian scientist can tear down the wall between the illusory “secular” existence and life on the Lord’s earth. The Christian in science need erect no barriers in searching for truth, in whatever corner of this marvelous universe, and should challenge his or her colleagues to do the same. In so doing, there is an enormous amount of material to be found, much of it already discovered, to expand the knowledge of the world and to find helpful and useful facts. This small post cannot even begin to enumerate all the possibilities. But it can encourage the exercise of genuine science, as a vocation in serving the Lord. They may not see God directly, flying above the clouds, but the wondrous creation certainly proclaims the Creator to those who would see sacrament “beneath the veil of the ordinary,” as Elizabeth Theokritoff puts it.
It is at that point, not in some stupid standoff about evolution, that Scripture can help, by showing how the pieces of creation fit together in the flow of God’s love marching ever towards the Day of the Lord, when we shall see the earth’s restoration and our own, in his plan of salvation for his beloved earth.