Gleanings: Readings at the Intersection of Culture and Faith: Pastoral Resources for the Debate over Darwin

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Gleanings: Readings at the Intersection of Culture and Faith Pastoral Resources for the Debate over Darwin

Books Discussed:

The Hand of God: Thoughts and Images Reflecting the Spirit of the Universe. Edited by Michael Reagan. Introduction by Sharon Begley. Kansas City, Mo.: Andrews McMeel Publishing; Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 1999. 160 pp. $24.95 (cloth); $15.95 (paper).

Inside the Mind of God: Images and Words of Inner Space. Edited by Michael Reagan. Introduction by Sharon Begley. Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 2002. 160 pp. $24.95; $19.95 (paper).

Reflections on the Nature of God. Edited by Michael Reagan. Introduction by Martin E. Marty. Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 2004. 160 pp. $19.95 (paper).

The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime. Compiled by Phyllis Tickle (New York: Doubleday, 2000). xvi + 651 pp. $29.95 (cloth).

The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime. Compiled by Phyllis Tickle (New York: Doubleday, 2001). xvi + 671 pp. $29.95 (cloth); $18.95 (paper).

The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime. Compiled by Phyllis Tickle (New York: Doubleday, 2000). xv + 647pp. $29.95 (cloth); $18.95 (paper, scheduled release May 2006).

Cultural controversy about Darwinian evolution has arisen in part because modern biology contradicts biblical literalism. Darwin elicits the same outrage as Copernicus or Galileo once did, But I suspect there's more to the controversy than that. Our day-to-day vision of reality is based upon a paradigm at whose heart one finds something like a simple metaphor. We have a picture in our heads of how the world works, how we relate to the world, and where God fits in. When scientific discoveries appear to disrupt this paradigm, some believers will refuse point-blank to consider the evidence that is offered-evidence that may, of course, demand more science literacy than they can muster.

In this case, the metaphor being disrupted is the simple but profound way in which the beauty and elegance of the natural world appear to the believer as emotionally convincing evidence for the reality of God-never mind the natural savagery of hurricanes or epidemics. I confess that when the magnolia outside my study window blooms each spring, I'm as convinced as if a choir of angels had landed on the roof singing "Alleluia." It affirms my intuition that the cosmos proclaims the glory of God. But that's not a scientific conclusion. They misunderstand both faith and biology who think it should be, or could be, otherwise. Natural beauty illustrates or illuminates my relationship with God but it doesn't prove a thing. Faith is not subject to proof.

The Asian tsunami in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina alike attest to the fatal flaw of "intelligent design" theories: why build in the potential for such disasters? Why build in the bugs that cause AIDS, plague, Ebola, malaria, meningitis, or influenza? The beauty of my magnolia in bloom offers no answer to the suffering such realities entail.

I'm baffled that anyone is drawn to such theories: the theological implications of "intelligent design" are not less appalling than the pseudoscience. But I suspect that "intelligent design" arises more from the culture wars than from either biology or theology. What fuels this particular culture-wars battle is the sad fact that literal-minded believers face grandiose sociobiologists variously proclaiming that science has in effect proved there is no God. Their assertions turn natural theology on its head.

In Freedom Evolves (New York: Viking, 2003), for instance-which is in many ways quite a thoughtful and interesting book-Daniel Dennett begins with a sarcastic dismissal that is typical of what one finds on his side of the issue:

One widespread tradition has it that we human beings are responsible agents, captains of our fate, because what we really are are souls, immaterial and immortal clumps of Godstuff that inhabit and control our material bodies rather like spectral puppeteers. …