Darwin's 200th, Faith, and Science

Charles Darwin’s 200th Birthday was last week, and it got me thinking again about the relationship between faith and science. Some of us fear that modern science has issued orders which, if we complied with them, would shutter the sanctuaries, empty the choir lofts, disassemble the pipe organs, suppress anthems of praise and silence hymns of gratitude. We fear that modern science means Rodney Dangerfield was right when he said: “When I hold a [sea]shell to my ear, I get a busy signal.” We have the impression that contemporary physics and biology have blown the whistle on God-talk and God-song, and ruled them out of bounds and against the rules.

And, headlines don’t help. The media frames the issues between science and religion the way the media frames every issue: as either/or. Either “secular” or “sacred”; “science” or “religion”; “evolution” or “creation”; and “Darwin” or “Genesis.” Like most, either-ors, these confuse more than they clarify, generate more heat than light, and give rise to strident sloganeering than to thoughtful conversation. Most scientists and most theologians think the oversimplifications of such either-or posturing are just plain silly. To be sure, there are some scientists who have, as John Haught puts it, leapt from “’Darwin got it right’ to ‘Darwin tells the whole story.’”

There are a few who have made that leap, but not most. Most know that, as Haught puts it, “Science cannot read in depth the full content of nature’s book” And, similarly, there are some theologians who have covered their eyes and stuck their fingers in their ears and refused to learn anything at all from modern science; they have insisted on a woodenly literal reading of Genesis and demanded that those who follow them believe that the earth was created about 6,000 years ago, in seven 24 hour days, complete with rocks and fossils that appear to be millions, even billions of years, older than their reading of the Bible allows them to be. Again, not many, but a few. And it is the few on both sides who scream at each other on camera and wrestle with each other over curriculum in the public schools.

Most theologians and most scientists know that know that all the screaming is not only useless but unnecessary. The fact that the universe has come to know itself in the consciousness of human beings; that the cosmos can be studied in the first place; that it reveals its secrets to the devoted research and careful thinking of scientists and mathematicians; that the mathematics by which physicists describe the universe is characterized not just by utility but by beauty; that conditions developed in the universe which allowed human life to emerge and flourish; and that that there are predictable patterns and reliable laws to nature all suggest that the Mind of God, and not merely random chance, is at play.

Physicist Stephen Hawking asked: “What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?” There is nothing in appropriately humble and adventurous science to keep the answer to Hawking’s question from being “God.” God breathes fire into the equations, as God breathes life into creation. God makes a universe for the equations to describe, just as God makes us to sing and shout praise in response.