In the recent discussion on the “opposition” between religion and scientific Mr Sandefur at Positive Liberty finishes the little debate engaged in over the course of few posts. Implicit in their discussion is that religion and science are at odds, which is may be an idea which is confirmed by beliefs in popular culture but isn’t part of my religion or at least my understanding of Christanity. This is, as I imply in my title, a frontal assault on a straw fortress. There is an implicit assumption that religious tradition and scientific enquiry are at odds. That assumption is wrong. I wrote briefly about this here.
There, against my argument, I note that there has been a modern luddite/anti-intellectual movement in modern evangelical Christianity, but this First Things some time ago pointed out is in a reversal. In a recent article (which I’m having trouble locating but it was I think in 2004-5) Mark Noll, author of Scandal of the Evangalical Mind noted that of late there have been signs of a reversal of the anti-intellectual roots of the early 20th century American Evangelical movement. My usual response to this straw man argument, ie., that science and religion are a loggerheads, I oft quote Augustine in the Confessions. Today I chanced upon another. A lesser known, but still influential early Christian Father (especially in the Eastern tradition) Evagrius Ponticus. In a translation of Ad Monachos the translater tells us that Evagrius taught that the mind (of man) was meant for knowledge. Of knowledge the highest form of knowing is understanding of the Trinity (bear with me). But the physicki (Greek fonts aren’t going to happen today sorry) lies just under that. Physicki is the contemplation of created things. It is useful to note that this is not observation or enjoyment of the wonders of nature (though it does not exclude that) but primarily is reasons (logoi) with which the Logos has constructed the world, that is Physics. So with Evagrius we find have a 4th century desert monastic writing and teaching that scientific endeavor is among the highest things which one might perform. And Evagrius wasn’t thinking this in a vaccum, he was part of a strong Hellenistic Christian 4th century tradition.
For example, in Jason Kuznicki’s prior essay he takes to task the Genesis creation account. He, it seems, feels that evolution and the science behind it means a “retreat” for religion specifically those religions based on Gensis, I’d imagine. Only, if you are of a paritcular subset of interpretation of that. As Karl Barth famously said, “I don’t care if the serpent spoke, what’s I’m interested in is what he said”. The Genesis 1 creation account is a recasting of (then) current/state-of-the-art Babylonian creation science to make a number of theological points, e.g., God is the Creator, God is not in or of Nature (for example not “the sun”), and there is a moral/ethical dstinction/heirarchy of those things within creation, and finally that creation is “good” (what that entails is way beyond the scope of this little essay). The point is that it would be a fairly straightforward exercise to recast a Darwinian/Inflationary cosmological/evolutionary telling of the “story” that science tells today as a morality tale which when read closely could tell the same underlying philosophical/theological points that the author of Genesis 1 was trying to teach and in doing so no science would be affronted … today. There are two reasons not to engage in this exercise. First, three millenia hence the science today will be as likely just as outdated and obviously flawed as our perception of “days” of creation are today. Secondly, the straightforwardness of this exercise is a little exaggerated. The author of Gensis was no shallow thinker, there are depths to plumb in those scant poetic verses. Writing works like that are inspired, and you make take that literally (inspired = Spirit filled) or not as your particular belief system requires, but genius should be given its due. To rewrite modern cosmology and evolution would require someone versed in science and particulary gifted at theological and philosophical writing (and a touch of the poet). That writer in this age of specialization is going to be a rare bird indeed. The salient point I’m trying to make here is that Genesis as originally written was not a fact claim on how God created the Universe, but that God created the universe and a moral tale about how it is ordered. There has been no “retreat” before an “advance” of science at least in this regard from a evolution of ideas point of view.