Thick and Thin

To be an inhabitant of twenty-first century postmodern West is to be well-acquainted with at least some expression of the cultural battle between science and faith.  Whether it is a university classroom or the cacophony of (often incoherent) noise produced on the Internet, it is a subject that tends to generate a good deal of heat, and, more often than not, a paucity of light.  I was recently talking to a friend (who just happens to regularly teach an apologetics course, where such controversies are part of the fare) about evolution, the perceived battle between science and faith, etc.  He said something that I thought was very interesting:

After all of my reading on this, it seems like the strongest arguments are not in defense of the “compatibility” of evolution with Christianity; it’s of the incompatibility of materialistic Darwinism with almost every aspect of human existence.

In other words, there is more than one way to come at questions of the adequacy or inadequacy of this or that worldview, more than one way of addressing the relationship between science and faith.  We could approach the question in the familiar way: Here is what we know (or think we know) about the universe.  Does it line up with the Christian story or the Bible (as we interpret it)? This is a common enough approach, from either side of the theist/atheist divide.  On this approach, achieving harmony between evolution and faith will be among the goals.


But the question doesn’t have to be approached that way—at least not exclusively.  We could also approach it this way: Here is what we know about what human beings are like, here are some of the things they care most deeply about, here are some of the rock-bottom existential realities that are observable across time and space, here some of the things that we know to be necessary for a life of flourishing.  Do they line up with a purely materialistic account of who we are and how we got here?  Can a purely naturalistic account not only tell a story about how such human features may have arrived on the scene, but also give us a compelling reason to nourish and preserve them and in a way that doesn’t reduce them to mere by-products of a grinding struggle for survival?

On this approach, it is not Christian faith (or any other faith) that must brought before thewoman eating nutella tribunal of science (and survive) the examination of a sovereign reductionistic rationality; rather, it is Darwinian naturalism that must pass the test of human experience.  The first approach starts with the material world, the second with how it feels to be human.  Both approaches get at important elements of the issue and need to be factored into how we think about these questions.

I think that John Polkinghorne is getting at these ideas in his book, Beyond Science: The Wider Human Context:

Our scientific, aesthetic, moral and spiritual powers greatly exceed what can convincingly be claimed to be needed in the struggle for survival, and to regard them as merely a fortunate but fortuitous by-product of that struggle in not to treat the mystery of their existence with adequate seriousness.

We are entitled to require a consistency between what people write in their studies and the way in which they live their lives. I submit that no-one lives as if science were enough. Our account of the world must be rich enough—have a thick enough texture and a sufficiently generous rationality—to contain the total spectrum of human meeting with reality. The procrustean oversimplification of a fundamentalist reductionism will not begin to suffice…. The deliverances of science constrain our metaphysical understandings but they do not determine them. There is much else that must also be taken into account.

No one lives as if science were enough.  No one can, it seems to me.  It’s too thin an approach for creatures like us who need something thicker, and who keep stubbornly sneaking in things like beauty, truth, virtue, and hope whenever and wherever we can.

Ryan Dueck


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