Evolution and Religion: The Conflict between Science and Theology in Modern America

By Gail Kennedy | Go to book overview

it is tending, it is equally remote from the fundamentalism which identifies the Word of God with an ancient Book. For Niebubr (as indeed for Barth himself, with all his anti-modernism) the Word of God is something contemporaneous, or rather something eternal, which impinges upon our age through a human and fallible historic medium. Literal faith in the ipsissima verba of Scripture is a form of idolatry which God will punish as He will punish the idolatrous State-worship of our nationalistic contemporaries. But let the words of Scripture be taken as what Niebubr calls "myths" and Barth calls "tokens"--symbolic expressions of truths too transcendent for human science to grasp, on which nevertheless our human fate depends-and they will lead us back to a fresh appreciation of Christian orthodoxy.

In its great ages orthodoxy has not stifled intelligence or shackled the present to an archaic past. It has been a living tradition, perpetually reborn through reapplication to the needs and problems of each new generation, perpetually confirmed by the disasters which ensue when humanity departs from it. In G. K. Chesterton's famous figure, orthodoxy careens down the pathway of the centuries like a charioteer, reeling but erect, spilling out heretics and extremists to the right and left but managing by the grace of God to maintain its balance.

Reinhold Niebuhr:


THE TRUTH IN MYTHS

IN the lexicon of the average modern, particularly in America, a myth is a piece of fiction, usually inherited from the childhood of the race. The scientific outlook of our mature culture has supposedly invalidated the truth value of these primitive stories in which gods and devils, nymphs and satyrs, fairies and witches are portrayed in actions and attitudes which partly transcend and partly conform to human limitations. They are regarded as the opulent fruits of an infantile imagination which are bound to wither under the sober discipline of a developed intelligence. Science has displaced mythology. A careful observation of the detailed phenomena of life and history yields more credible explanations of life's mysteries than these fanciful accounts of the origin of life or the genesis of evil or these fantastic pictures of the universe. When we have the conception of evolution we do not need the story of creation, and when we see man's slow ascent toward the ideal we have no place for a mythical "fall" to account for the origin of evil in the world. The reign of law revealed by science invalidates the miracles which abound in all religions; and the insight into, and power over, his own future given to the modern man through his intelligence frees him of the need to seek salvation in the myths of religion. Such are the convictions which belong to the unquestioned certainties of the modern man.

Since mythical elements are irrevocably enshrined in the canons of all religions it has become the fashion of modern religion to defend itself against the

From Reinhold Niebuhret al., The Nature of Religious Experience: Essays in Honor of Clyde Macintosh ( New York, Harper and Brothers, 1937), pp. 117-123, 125-132, 133-135. Reprinted by permission.

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Evolution and Religion: The Conflict between Science and Theology in Modern America
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Introduction v
  • Contents xiii
  • The Clash of Issues xiv
  • The Christian Epic 1
  • The Coming of Darwinism 3
  • The Two Revelations 14
  • A Diary of Evolution 21
  • A Reply to Mr. Bryan in The Name of Religion 30
  • The Scopes Trial 35
  • Four Dialogues 52
  • The New Orthodoxy 70
  • The Truth in Myths 82
  • The New Failure of Nerve 88
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading 97
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