Darwin and Dread

A few days ago the Owl ventured some remarks about that old bugaboo, Science and Religion. By now, one would think there is nothing fresh left to say on the subject. In spite of that we ask the reader to indulge us on an even more seductive canard, the authority of Charles Darwin, that flies in the teeth of the creation stories in Genesis. Sophomores like to point out there are two narratives on the subject in Genesis; the Biblical account is contradictory on its face.

Actually, there are at least four accounts of creation in the Bible—one in the eighth chapter of Proverbs, and another in God’s reply to Job. This is not the place for elaborate exegesis; only to address the obvious: that one can’t talk long about science and religion without Darwin’s name coming up. The fact is, there is a definite conflict between Christian faith and what is called Darwinism, but it has nothing to do with Genesis.

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Science and Religion

In From Dawn to Decadence (2000), Jacques Barzun discusses the scientific revolution that occurred between the seventeenth century and the present. In his description, this is not just a matter of learning to observe natural phenomena. Our medieval forebears were meticulous observers of their world—it takes only a look at their exquisite engravings of plants to convince oneself of this. But until a certain intellectual shift they could not derive general laws from what they saw. We moderns do this every day, rising from raw observation to abstraction. Then we treat the abstractions as things in their own right. Note the word rise.

Scientific language is equipped to treat of geometry, physics, chemistry, biology, and more. Finding meaning in the world is another matter. That belongs to poetry, morality, belief, and faith. Its operant language is not merely descriptive, but constitutive of reality. The two things do not operate wholly independently, which is why we have a postmodern debate about how much of science, especially the studies of human being, is comprised of social constructs. However that may be, when western culture developed a scientific world view, we found ourselves in a world divorced from many of its previous meanings.

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