Entre la Espada y la Pared

A somewhat whimsical title for a post on faith and science, it translates literally as “between the sword and the wall” – think “rock and hard place.”  However, I feel that it is an apt description for the place that many scientists who are also people of faith find themselves. In popular culture, the advocates of religion and science are often viewed as locked in a mortal battle.  Perhaps this is unsurprising, as in any discussion the shrillest voices are the ones most likely to be heard.  Among scientists, you have the distinctly anti-religious voices who often view science as a replacement for religion.  Among the earliest of such voices was Thomas Huxley.  In an essay on Darwin’s Origin of the Species Huxley wrote,

“Extinguished theologians lie about the cradle of every science as the strangled snakes of Hercules; and history records that whenever science and orthodoxy have been fairly opposed, the latter has been forced to retire from the lists, bleeding and crushed if not annihilated; scotched, if not slain.”

Thomas Huxley’s grandson, Julian Huxley, continued in this vein and writes,

“In evolutionary thinking there is no need or room for the supernatural. Man can no longer take refuge in the arms of a divinized father figure whom he has himself created. Nor can he escape from the responsibility of making decisions by sheltering under the umbrella of Divine Authority.”

“The truth will set us free. Evolutionary truth frees us from subservient fear of the unknown and supernatural, and exhorts us to face this new freedom. It shows us our destiny and our duty. The evolutionary vision is enabling us to discern the outline of the new religion that will arise to serve the needs of the coming era.”

Here we see not only a rejection of the compatibility of religion and science, but also a hint that in the future, he thinks science will take religion’s place.  On the side of religion, we see similarly  confrontational voices, such as that of Henry Morris, one of the founders of the young-earth creation movement, who says,

“There are only two basic world views: the God-centered world view and the man-centered world view, creation and evolution. There is no evidence whatsoever that evolution of one kind of organism into a more complex organism has ever occurred. There is no scientific evidence that the earth is old. Satan himself is the originator of the concept of evolution. Divine revelation from the Creator of the world states that He did it all in six days several thousand years ago. The Bible is a book of science! It contains all the basic principles upon which true science is built.”

The apparent dichotomy that has been espoused by such voices has had a number of negative consequences.  For believers, it may leave them wondering if they have to leave science behind in order to maintain their faith.  I believe that it has fostered an unhealthy distrust and distaste for science within the church.  For non-believers, this dichotomy is likely to push them further from faith.  If they believe they have to reject science in order to believe in a Creator, I think this makes them not only less likely to come to faith, but also less likely to take a person of faith seriously.  A scientist-believer finds himself stranded between these two worlds.  Each regarding him with suspicion, not fully at home in either.

I think it is fair to say that most scientists who are Christians do not feel that there need be a clash between faith and science.  There are many Christian scientists who take both their faith and their science seriously.  The scientists quoted above, and their modern cohorts, are making philosophical or even theological statements, not scientific ones.  It is not clear that these sorts of claims are backed by the science at all, and while they may be some of the loudest voices, they don’t necessarily represent the typical scientist.  On the other hand, the young-earth creationists are also promoting a fairly non-traditional interpretation of scripture, one that I see no need to accept (see e.g. James’s previous post).  In fact, there are strong textual and theological reasons why one might not want to interpret the creation story as 6 literal days.

This post is primarily a teaser, to get people thinking on this issue again (for our previous posts, see here). In the next series of posts, I plan to discuss many more of the details (hopefully with some help from James).  What are the difficult issues in reconciling Christianity and the creation story from science, particularly evolution?  Largely this is spurred by a number of conversations I’ve had lately with a variety of folks on these issues.  Additionally, however, I recently discovered a great web resource on this subject, the BioLogos Foundation website.  Tentatively, I plan on structuring these posts around a set of essays recently released as the product of a workshop they held this fall, which gathered evangelical scientists, pastors, and theologians to discuss many of these issues. It should provide interesting material for discussion.

After quoting some of the extreme voices on the relationship between religion and science, I’d like to close with a few other words for thought, to demonstrate that there is a strong middle ground in this discussion.

“Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wondrous universe, including man with his capacity of looking backwards and far into futurity, as a result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a theist.” -Charles Darwin, from his Autobiography

“I don’t think that there’s any conflict at all between science today and the Scriptures. The Bible is not a book of science. The Bible is a book of Redemption. I believe that God created man, and whether it came by an evolutionary process and at a certain point He took this person or being and made him a living soul or not, does not change the fact that God did create man. Whichever way God did it makes no difference as to what man is and man’s relationship to God.”  – Billy Graham, from Personal Thoughts of a Public Man.

C. S. Lewis also had no problem with origin via evolution.  In The Problem of Pain he writes,

“For long centuries, God perfected the animal from which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself. He gave it hands whose thumb could be applied to each of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all of the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated [. . .] Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say “I” and “me,” which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgments of truth, beauty and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past [. . .] We do not know how many of these creatures God made, nor how long they continued in the Paradisal state. But sooner or later they fell. Someone or something whispered that they could become as gods [. . . ] They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God, “This is our business, not yours.” But there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were, and eternally must be, mere adjectives. We have no idea in what particular act, or series of acts, the self-contradictory, impossible wish found expression. For all I can see, it might have concerned the literal eating of a fruit, but the question is of no consequence.” – C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

-Matt, the elder brother


4 Responses to Entre la Espada y la Pared

  1. Ann says:

    I am wondering if anyone is even checking your blog anymore, since it hasn’t been updated very often in the past year.

  2. David Morris says:

    Actually, I still check it. And this is providential timing! I’ve been trying to study this topic because it is also close to me too, and having been challenged on it, I need to understand it better. Looking forward to the rest of it!
    Your brother-in-law

  3. Hey Matt, I check your blog every now and again. My question to you is this: how do you define what you believe on the spiritual side of things? I’m amazed at how the scientific method keeps reclaiming history from prehistory every year.

    While it remains impossible to track down a story to its absolute source, as humanity gets better at organizing data, translating and reviving dead languages, finding and bringing ancient texts back into the historical record, and understanding the different mythologies and spiritual beliefs of different groups coming into contact with one another at different times, it has gotten easier to follow the path of these biblical stories (including the creation story in genesis) further back past “biblical times.”

    I’ve spent the last couple of weeks studying Zoroastrianism. It makes the times of Romans in Judea seem like last Thursday. Christianity IS Zoroastrianism, no study of Christianity would be complete without the study of Zoroastrianism, and then in a way Zoroastrianism is just a rebellion against an older religion.

    Why take up a sword? Anyone who would put down another person’s believe structure outside the observable (put down their religion past the point of what is observable) is just being rude.


  4. Matt says:

    Not sure exactly what you mean by your first question. In brief, my spiritual beliefs could be summed up as ‘evangelical Christianity.’ The origins of the stories and text themselves of the early Jewish scripture are far from my area of expertise, but I also don’t feel that it is particularly important in determining faith based on scripture as we have it now (not that you were necessarily making that claim). I actually wrote a paper in a history class in undergrad comparing Christianity and Zoroastrianism, and I’d have to strongly disagree. They have superficial similarities, but theologically and philosophically they are worlds apart.

    Take up a sword? I wasn’t suggesting that (maybe I don’t understand your comment here either). I was simply pointing out that because the relationship between religion and science is often depicted as a confrontational one, each of the two communities to some extent has a culture that holds the other community in suspicion – leaving the religious scientist somewhat ‘entre de la espada y la pared.’ Maybe you got this and are just criticizing the antagonism from the scientific community. I would also criticize the anti-science culture often found in today’s Christian churches (especially in the US).

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