The conflict between science and religion reached its apex during the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925. That trial pitted the State of Tennessee against a high school teacher named John Scopes. It accused him of violating the Butler Act, which made it illegal “to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.“
The case was a sensation and made a household word of the name John Scopes. It pitted two of the greatest legal minds of the time, Williams Jennings Bryan, Congressman and former Secretary of State, for the prosecution, against Clarence Darrow the most prominent defense attorney of the time. The trial inspired a 1955 stage play, “Inherit the Wind” that was quickly followed in 1960 by a movie of the same name starring Spencer Tracy and Fredrick March. Three television movies followed.
The Scopes Monkey Trial put a spark to the conflict that had long been simmering between scientists and theologians. Instantly, evolution erupted into the mainstream dialogue and people everywhere began to openly discuss things which had heretofore been mostly taboo or spoken only in whispers. “Did God make the world or did we come from pond slim?” This became the issue of the day. The Scopes trial broke down the last remaining barrier to the free and open discussion of any scientific evidence which might seem to contradict Biblical teachings. In many ways it was the catalyst that once and for all defined the practical separation of Church and State. Good or bad, things changed after the Scope Monkey Trial.
This issue though, ‘did we come from God or did we come from Monkeys?’ started off on the wrong foot from the beginning. It arose as much from well intentioned but perhaps overzealous theological idealists as it did from a scientific community a bit too anxious to shed the shackles of dogmatic tradition and religious constraint. Scientists had always felt crowded by the oversight exerted by priests and ministers. In many countries still today, one religion is the official religion of the country and as such exercises tremendous control over the curricula taught in the schools. Scientists thought it would be better to explore and investigate in an environment free from external persuasion and influence. “Just let pure science find its way, free from bias and preconception,” was their cry. At least that sounded noble and honest.
In truth science (or religion for that matter) has never operated in a vacuum, free from outside influence or bias. As example, I only have to point right now to the absolute hysteria generated by the pseudo-religious movement of the Global Warming community. It seems that Global Warming is such a cash cow for a community that lives by the credo “Publish or Perish” that ANY voice expressing a cautionary warning to go slow before sticking one’s foot in ones mouth is quickly quashed and banished from the hallowed halls of scientific temples. Many great researchers have lost their positions almost instantly for questioning globaal warming or raising the wrong issues and asking the wrong questions (The list is too long to post here but if you really must challenge this blog I will be happy to provide the research for you). We all know that Al Gore is making a boatload of money from his crusade against Global Warming, not to mention an Academy Award and a Nobel Prize. But how many of us know that 10 of his 11 experts cited in “An inconvenient Truth” have since recanted their opinions? That just doesn’t seem to make the news. By the way, if we called it Global Warming Business then we could say that Al Gore has been fighting G.W.B. Hum? Maybe that’s the real incentive, (Let it go man, you lost).
Anyway, I digress.
Creation! We all know it happened somehow. I mean, the Earth is here and people and other living things are on it. We had to come from somewhere so it is a worthy question –Where did we come from?
The real issue is, does God, if He exists, operate outside of the established rules that govern the Universe, and if so, doesn’t that make him an Anarchist? For some reason (yes, I know what that reason is) scientists think that to believe in God means necessarily abandoning any sense of reason and ignoring the more than obvious evidences that the world puts in front of us. Their assumption is that the very definition of religion is “the abandonment of reality for a more comfortable and accommodating fantasy” (this is nuts on sooo many levels). Many religious people, on the other hand, think that scientists are all Godless infidels who will burn eternally in hell for their blasphemies (again, WRONG). There are many scientists who have managed to put a personal belief system in place in their lives while still pursuing truth through research and inquiry.
So, what is the problem? Well, it’s this; Zealots say God went ‘Poof” and there they were, Adam and Eve, (or, if you prefer, Adam and Lilith first). Science says, “That just doesn’t make sense nor does it fit the pattern we think we see in everything else!” fair enough.
Let’s take the “God is an anarchist” argument first. In what Bible, or any other book of Scripture, does it say that God ignores rules and laws? Huh? Anyone? Anyone? This whole idea sprang from the silly notion that being God means not being bound by anything. The idea that God is all powerful somehow came to be interpreted as meaning that nothing could limit God, ergo; God was not bound by any convention or universal law. The simple fact is that the Bible does not say that anywhere. Oh, it may say that God’s dominion is boundless or His knowledge is boundless or his power is infinite but that is not the same as saying that God does not operate within a system. In fact, just the opposite is true. The scriptures are full of pacts and covenants made between God and Man. The use of pacts and covenants is very telling. You see, a dictator or a King doesn’t need to make a covenant with his people. He simply declares something to be so and it is so. A covenant, on the other hand, is a contract, a two way agreement, legally binding, that obligates both parties concerned. It says that the party of the first part agrees to do something desired by the party of the second part in exchange for a service or action of value provided by the party of the second part on behalf of the party of the first part. It BINDS both parties to an agreed upon goal. If God enters into covenants with people that sure sounds to me like a restriction on Him! Additionally, the scriptures say that God’s house is a house of order. Order and chaos are not mutually compatible. Order denotes structure. Structure denotes bounds and limits. But then, who says structure or limits are ungodly?
If you are tasked with wiring a house for electricity can you simply go in and staple a bunch of cable to the walls and put in switches? Well, yes you can but we all know that’s not going to work. Why, because the laws of electromagnetism are very precise and very unforgiving. Such simple concepts as the fact that all circuits must have a positive lead and a ground (Negative) are basic but when followed, lead to incredible things like lighting cities or watching cartoon characters on a box that glows and talks in your living room. It is expressly the understanding of, and following of, natural laws that empower us to enjoy the life we enjoy. We travel across oceans in airplanes that fly high over weather, not because they are not bound to the laws of Gravity but because they use the laws of Gravity to create lift and fly (yes, that’s right! Flight requires gravity. A weird concept I know, but it’s true nonetheless).
I posit that it is the existence of, and the knowledge of, laws that give us, and by extension, God, power. As scientists peel away the obscuring layers of ignorance and uncover the truths of the universe they are constantly moving more and more towards Godlike power. You think I blaspheme? Au contrere! A thousand years ago the only creatures who could fly through the air were birds and Angels (see Revelations). Now we do it for sport and for business. Why? Because we learned the secret of aerodynamics; a set of laws that had always existed but that had always elluded our grasp. A thousand years ago only God could speak and the whole world would hear it at one time. Recently, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden debated and 70 million people both saw and heard it on little glowing boxes that talk and show pictures right in our homes. I could go on but you get the picture (is that digital or film?).
So, what if theologians accepted the fact that God is God precisely because he works within a structure of natural laws the give him tremendous powers, rather than believing and teaching that he is God because he is not bound (and by implication, doesn’t know any natural laws?). I know this hurts for the ultra traditionalist but just what is so threatening about it? Really? Isn’t the Bible all about laws and edicts? Proscriptions against such and such behavior, and the implicit or explicit rewards doled out thereof is the staple of many of the prophetic warnings and urgings recorded therein.
And you, the scientific community, what is it about order and structure that you don’t like? If we could get theologians to universally embrace and teach that God is a god of order rather than a god of chaos, and the universe exists within some coherent structure, could we not also get scientists to then go looking for that structure and order?
Interestingly, the issue of intelligent design is at the forefront now. It looks like a clever attempt by religions to do an end run around the anti-creationist sentiment by renaming the cause, but actually, (and here I must admit, in the name of full disclosure, that I received a very well thought out and presented comment to an earlier post disputing me on this) it was a term embraced by astrophysicists (whether they created the term or not is immaterial) looking into the very first instant of the Big Bang. It is a term they were comfortable using because it acknowledged the inescapable conclusions their work was drawing them to, i.e. that there was some initiatory action to the Big Bang, without having to actually say the word ‘God’. That fundamentalists co-opted the word and took up the crusade anew was tragic because the narrow pathway that had opened up between science and religion on this subject was very quickly barricaded once more.
And don’t think for a minute that the scientists don’t have their hands full with problems concerning evolution! Far from being a clean and indisputable fact, there are still many hurdles to cleaning up the theory of evolution. No sane person will dispute what Charles Darwin really found on the Galapagos Islands; that species adapt to their environment. We see that all around us. We see it in skin color, and height, and longevity and visual acuity and so on and so on. Our bodies try to put on layers of insulating fat in cold climates and shed that same protection in warm climates. Adaptation is an amazing and wonderful ability of living creatures. However, there is a huge problem when we make the jump from adaptation to actually crossing Chromosomal boundaries. There is no good evidence – I repeat, there is no good evidence, or explanation for how it could happen – for the ability of an organism to add or subtract Chromosomes in the quest to become another type of creature. The best we can do is say, “it must be so, therefore we shall assume it is so!” This is O.K. as far as the scientific method goes – it is requisite that we make an assumption and try our best to prove it (actually, the correct method is to try to disprove it) and in fairness I grant to the scientific the time and effort to pursue these efforts. However, I believe there is now a growing sentiment to stick dogmatically to Chromosomal modification come hell or high water. “It must be so” cry the pragmatists, and I don’t totally disagree. After all we do seem to have an awful lot of critters roaming the earth! (Gosh, I hope no one knows about the Cambrian Explosion).
Perhaps there is another theory that would work, if only we weren’t beating the drum so loudly against the Bible, so that we could, instead, seek to find some common ground. And for those of us who accept that the Bible is authentic, just because we believe that God created the world and the things in it; just what does that mean? HOW did he create it? How did he form the world? When Donald Trump builds a tower does that mean that the man Donald Trump put in every nail and screw? Of course not! Hundreds of people work together to physically erect a concept envisioned and designed by one entity yet that entity gets the credit for ‘building’ the structure.
To say that God created the world does not necessarily mean that he came down with shovel and cement mixer to do it one load at a time. How absurd.
If we could accept a statement such as, “There is a God” or God created the world” and then step back and not jump to the most literal and most restrictive interpretation of that statement, we might find that there is much to be learned, about God, and about us, in the process. If scientists could stop their fight against individual religions who hold, perhaps, simplistic views and accept the premises more generally implied in the scriptures, perhaps they could show us how these things came about. Am I putting reason above faith? Maybe, maybe not.The scriptures exhort us to “seek and ye shall find” “ask and it shall be given.” Are these not invitations to investigate? Moses sought the Lord and asked how the earth came to be. His vision, recorded in Genesis, is merely his simple attempt to express what he saw in words that he understood. Forgive him for not being a Phd. or for not caring HOW it was done. His primary desire was to tell us WHAT was done. It did not matter to him how. Let’s cut him some slack, not parse his words so literally and avoid putting him in the position of someday saying to us, wait a minute, I never said that! You got it all wrong!
Moses, I am anxious to talk to you someday. Until then I think I’ll sit and ponder and trust what you said, and keep an open mind as to how the things you saw and reported actually happened.