Both Science and Religion
By Charles Rush
September 24, 2006
(mp3, 8.2Mb) ]
day, we embark on one of the many reasons, that I am a pastor in New Jersey and not Oxford, Mississippi. Three decades ago when I made that fateful decision to attend Divinity school rather than Law School, I knew that I would leave behind my ancestral homeland in the manner of Tomas Wolfe's Look homeward Angel, ‘you can never go home again.' It was mainly for intellectual reasons.
understand the motivations of the well meaning Christians around our country
that would like to see the teaching of Intelligent Design in our schools. They
believe, and they are not entirely wrong, that our country has gradually and
significantly become more and more secularized in our approach to education
that we are eroding the spiritual foundations upon which our country was built.
They see the teaching of evolution as implicitly contributing to this in its
axiom that our present state of evolutionary history could have been much
different but is what it is because a variety of specific conditions encouraged
the expression of genetic traits that ultimately mutated in symbiosis with
changing environmental conditions and in competition with adversaries,
producing what we see before us today. There is a radical openness implicit in
that axiom as well and our students would be forgiven for concluding that there
is also a randomness that would suggest that our world is an accident, a
Design offers an alternative view, supposedly of the same evidence, that sees
purpose and direction to the structure of the universe, opening the possibility
of understanding the role of God in the scientific study of our world.
college, you may remember this argument in from Philosophy 101, put forth most
eloquently by the Natural Theologian William Paley. Paley argued that if you
were to examine a collection of rocks in the field- and let us remember that he
made this argument in 1800 when our study of geology was not yet begun- that
you couldn't tell much about the creator. But if you were given a fine Swiss
watch with it's precise rotations and interlocking gears that produce a nearly
exact chronometer to measure the passing of time, you could infer quite a lot
about it's designer because you could extrapolate out exactly the kind of
rationality that it took to produce this instrument as well as something about
the rational structure of the universe itself implied in the sheer fact that
time is measurable in the way we measure it. Paley went on to suggest that this
is the way that we can know the Creator of the Universe, through the inference
of the rational design that is embedded in the created order and that this
suggests not random chaos or arbitrary happenstance, but a purposeful, logical
the advocates of Intelligent Design do not actually stop there because they
actually have a larger agenda and a good deal of that agenda is to show that
the Bible is true. What they mean by that is that when the bible makes
scientific or historical observations that these are accurate.
I saw a
bumper sticker a few years ago that said, "The Bible says it, I believe it, that
Settles it". I genuinely wish the world was that simple, but it
you would be surprised how much preaching down in Texas
is predicated on this basic approach to religion. When I am back visiting
relatives, I like to watch a lot of TV preaching- don't ask me why, it causes
me nothing but pain and incredulity like a bad addiction but I do it. I am
always amazed at the number of sermons that show that some obscure prophecy in
the Old Testament actually came true or that some odd little observation in the
bible has recently been shown by scholars to be actually true after millennia
of curiosity and speculation. The implication seems to be that if the Bible can
be trusted on these peripheral things, then it can be trusted with it's central
claims that through Jesus death and resurrection, the gates of salvation have
been opened to us all.
huge intellectual inadequacies in this approach that we usually carefully
unpack over an entire semester of the Introduction to the New Testament or the
Introduction to the Old Testament. They revolve around the type that accords
different forms of knowledge.
broadest terms, it is important to remember that when the Bible was written
many of our intellectual disciplines were not yet invented. History, all
scientific disciplines, economics… so that the way that they thought about the
world, the way that they interpreted what they saw, not only had much less
sheer knowledge than we do today, it lacked modern categories of understanding
and interpretation. We cannot just impose modern categories on the ancient
world, nor should we expect that they would be concerned about what we are
concerned about. For instance, we want to know who was Pharaoh when Moses
confronted the Pharaoh but the ancients were not particularly concerned about
that because they weren't recording history like we would record it. We want to
know if the town of Jericho was really
occupied when the Israelites surrounded it and had a so to speak miraculous
conquest when the walls came tumbling down, but the ancients give us very
little evidence to actually support the case one way or the other. It was a
pre-scientific age and a pre-historical age.
religious leaders in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all use arguments that
the Bible or the Koran, even though it wasn't scientific or historical,
nevertheless remarkably anticipated later advances in knowledge, and are accurate
on some issues nevertheless, like odd astral movements. Again, the assumption
is that the Bible or the Koran would be more true if veracity in unintended
areas were proven true.
question that must be posed in return is 'what kind of truth does the Bible
offer us?' What is the scope of the insight that it offers? What degree of
authority should it be accorded?
back to that in a moment… But the other broad observation is that the Bible
doesn't contain one type of literature but many types. We have letters that St.
Paul wrote to the church, the Gospels which give us the teaching of Jesus in
narrative form, we have psalms, which was the early Jewish hymnal, Proverbs and
Ecclesiastes that give us wisdom sayings like one would find in a fortune
cookie, the prophets which are an early form of social justice speaking truth
to power. The Bible even contains a play, the book of Job. Each of these speak
a different order of truth, but their primary purpose is not to accurately
record factual information. Their primary purpose deals more closely with the
insight of poetry, the nature of meaning, of developing significance.
Bible even has forms of literature that no one creates any more. One of our
readings this morning falls in this category, Genesis 1. Genesis 1 is 'mythopeoic saga'. It is a genre form regularly used 4000
years ago but we don't use it anymore. It tells us of the meaning of creation,
namely that humans are the product of God's intentional design, that we have
moral and spiritual faculties that mirror the higher order of the universe so
we are 'created in the image of God', that men and women are meant to be
companions with each other and for each other, that we are stewards of the
earth and have to be environmentally responsible for the less rational animals
that are around us. These insights are told in a grand narrative that begins
with the sweeping observation. "In the beginning…" or "When God
probably noticed that at one point, in Genesis 1, God says, 'Let us make humans
in our image'. What is the 'our'? This story form is so old that it harkens
back to an earlier era still when we believed in a multiplicity of gods and
this the writers of the Bible decided to retain, despite the fact that they
believed that God was a single, unitary source of power for good by the time
the Bible was written. They were Monotheists.
longer use this genre form. Like legends and fables, they have been superceded
as a way of communicating meaning by philosophy and theology. Today, if we have
a discussion about the meaning of the universe and our place in it, we would be
much more likely to reflect on our common understanding of our scientific
world-view of the Big Bang, the evolution of our species, and the fragile
nature of our earth's future in light of human impact on it.
And one of
the principal mistakes that proponents of Intelligent Design make is that the
insist that we must read the Bible not according to it's literary genre, but as
though it were a simple text of history and science that is immediately
accessible to everyone. But the Bible is not a simple book like that.
Sometimes, when I listen to evangelical preachers in the heartland of our
country, it seems like they believe that the Bible has fallen to us like a
great computer manual which contains every answer that we need if only we could
just figure out how to dissect it and glean these truths for us. And that is
what these preachers do, for they have you flipping through your bible from this
verse in I Timothy to a verse in Deuteronomy to a verse in Revelation. And
suddenly it all comes clear.
Bible is not a computer manual and it was never meant to be read like that,
despite the fact that people still do. I occasionally have someone from an AA
meeting that will stop me and tell me, in all earnestness, that they needed a
word of inspiration for the day, so they closed their eyes, opened the pages of
the Bible and found this verse that was very, very helpful.
can happen, but this is 'in spite of' this method not 'because of. Can you
imagine your investment advisor needing some inspiration and opening the pages
of the latest Goldman Sachs economic forecasting newsletter and stabbing the
text? Indeed, my portfolio appears to have been invested using just such a
method… but I am not pleased.
So that is
one issue, that of biblical interpretation. Is it just immediately accessible
and immediately applicable or does it have to be read according to the rules
that dictate the literary forms that guide it. Is it a simple? Does it contain
verifiable history and should it be assessed authoritatively in that way? Or
does it raise questions of meaning and the issues of history and science are
not immediately relevant? I oppose the advocates of Intelligent Design most of
all right here. I believe that the Bible is much more sophisticated than they
would have us believe and that it is not immediately applicable to questions of
science and history. That is not the way you should read it.
But just as
obvious to me, is the necessity of reflecting spiritually on our whole world
and trying to make coherent sense out of it cosmologically. You may recall
Albert Einstein's reaction to Niels Bohr and Werner
Heisenberg new work on subatomic physics and the random character that was
implied in the structure of subatomic particles. Someone asked Einstein whether
that might suggest a random character to our macro-physical universe. Einstein
gave a gut reaction and said, 'God doesn't play dice with the universe'. He
thought that ultimately, the world cohered, that it was sensible, even if we
couldn't ourselves understand it entirely.
20's when Einstein made that remark, we have been searching for a unified field
theory which has proved elusive.
But, I want
to just make a single observation about evolution on the broadest level, an
observation that I first got from Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit priest who was also a
paleontologist. He discovered Peking Man, one of the missing links in the
evolution of hominids. When he did his work in the 50's, he reflected on the
nature of evolution and what that would mean for us spiritually, though at the
time, he was worried enough that his ideas might get him de-frocked from being
a priest, that he didn't publish them until he was dead.
Must evolution be a threat to religion? Teilhard
answered 'no'. And must our understanding of evolution necessarily be
atheistic. Again Teilhard answered 'no'.
speaking, theologically speaking, it is a profound insight contained in Genesis
1: "In the beginning God…" Also in the beginning of the Gospel of
John: "In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God and the
Word was God. All things were made through him and without Him was not anything
made that was made." The Greek word for
WORD is 'logos' and it is also the word for 'reason'. In the beginning, the
world unfolded through reason. It is coherent. It may be radically free, having
numerous possible outcomes, but it is also reasonable.
Teilhard used to try to imagine our evolutionary world and
his speculations are helpful. One that is most arresting was the very earliest
form. There was a epoch in our early history that was defined by single-cell
organisms. Teilhard imagines that they replicated
themselves to the point that they became large seas, so to speak of
single-celled organisms. He speculates that they became concentrated,
super-saturated to the point that, in conjunction with other forces that we
have never been able to duplicate, they 'involuted'.
I love that
word. In this great concentrated mass, something happened that caused in a sea of single-celled organisms, for
their to become a multi-celled organism. After millennia upon millennia of
single-celled organisms, something happened that formed a multi-celled
organism. He says, 'they involuted.'
up the central observation that Teilhard made,
looking at the broadest possible spectrum of evolution and what it would mean.
He says that there is a direction to the scope of evolution. And as it moves,
it proceeds towards more sophisticated life forms, and these more sophisticate
life forms have a greater concentration of interiorization.
They have a more concentrated inner psychic life. They are more complex and
more spiritually interiorized at the same time.
of evolution proceeds from the inorganic to the organic. At its most
fundamental level from elements to bios- from chemicals to enzymes, viruses,
bacteria, to simple plants. Here there is a fantastic panoply of variety that
comprises our Earth.
point, there was another important jump from life to consciousness. The animal
kingdom that has awareness. With that came a profound spiritual interiorization. Animals are aware. They know. They
communicate. They read signals in each other.
past couple of years, I've been reading around on this body of research that
neurologist, psychiatrists and neurobiologist have been publishing on higher
mammals that illustrate how much we all share in common because our brains
share quite similar structure regarding our emotional life.
That is why
you communicate so well with your dog, with your cat. They can read your
emotional cues. Scientists call this 'lymbic
resonance'. It turns out that all higher mammals share the exact same facial
expressions for our basic emotions: fear, happiness, anger, sadness, joy,
facilitates a depth of communication with each other. It also is expressive of
an internal spiritual concentrated psyche. We have an internal emotional life,
not just responses to the ennviorment around us. We
can know love, depression and these internal conditions dramatically shape how
we interact with the external world.
with humans, we become self-conscious. We not only know, we know that we know.
We are named Homo Sapien Sapien.
What separates us from other higher mammals is the development of our rational
faculty. We understand time, history. At some point, we became Man the tool
maker Homo Faber. We make things and this production of artifacts gave rise to
a spiritual concentration or involution, our life of culture. We create
language and from that ideas, abstract concepts, and the collective ability to
develop dynasties across multiple generations.
could graph this spiritual sophisitication
individually and the progress towards sophisticated cultural civilization in
terms of the history of the universe, the curve would be quite steep.
generation, we have lived through a seemingly small change as we complete the
Genome project but from the point of view of the history of our universe, it is
a Promethean leap. For the first time, in a very short while, we will have the
ability to directly alter the course of our own evolution. We can shape our own
destiny. This is a god-like function that will require a 'divine-wide' moral
responsibility of all of us.
I only use
that as an example here, to remind us that the direction of evolution from
simple to more complex life forms, carries within it more sophisticated
spiritual concentration a more compound transcendence. So often in the past when we have thought
about God, we have thought of God as outside, as over against the universe. Today, I think we’re
more likely to understand God as the very energy of the universe itself. This energy concentrates itself, evolving
toward more sophisticated spiritual forms that are more self-directed, more transcendent,
more able to understand and plan for futures they will never live to see,
dedicating their life energies to a comprehensive group plan that is able to
accomplish geometrically more together
than they ever could alone.
moves in a direction towards the life of the spirit. And if for a moment we could imagine other
life forms in the universe that are more evolved than we are, we would have to
imagine something that is not only more powerful technologically, but is also
more spiritually interiorized and concentrated. And I would just make the observation here that our Sci-Fi people in Hollywood
have not yet been able to make that leap. Right?
think about it in the broadest terms, it’s not a question of science or
religion, but evolution with spiritual involution. It’s not ‘either…or’, but ‘both…and’. Science asks questions of ‘how’; spirituality
asks questions of meaning and purpose. And
in higher life forms, you have to have both. As it turns out, we cannot find fulfillment just creating a perfectly
comfortable physical environment. We
also have to have substantive spiritual meaning, or else we find ourselves like
Woody Allen, not able to find a reason to keep on living, despite the fact that
we are surrounded by these great creature comforts. We need both.
abundant life is not facts alone, it is also facts and meaning. Evolution might be a threat to certain
aspects of revealed religion, like that text we saw in Joshua, but it is not a
threat to spirituality. Spirituality is
not a threat to evolution. Without
spiritual concentration, we would never have been able to discover the elements
that make up the theory of evolution as we currently understand it.
Our present impasse between science
and religion of course is not helped by preachers who are hostile to science,
neither is it helped, I might add, by science faculties that are generally
indifferent or hostile toward spirituality. But I’m not too worried about this in the long run. A couple of centuries from now I believe
that this will be common sense to see their profound interrelation. So let’s look forward to that day. Amen.
See his book The Phenomenon of Man
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