One of the bad things about war is that it is almost impossible to wage one without demonizing the opposition. This is true in actual wars where people get killed, and it’s true in wars of words where people just get insulted.
A fierce war of words has been raging in this country for over a century now between fundamentalist Christians and people of science. The main battleground has been evolution, but it has extended into other areas such as stem cell research and the origins of homosexuality.
With rare exception, most of the really hot rhetoric has issued from the Christian camp. Charges of “godless science,” or “perverse science,” or even “godless secular humanists” decorate much of the debate.
Scientists for the most part, avoid the fray. They seem content to work in their labs, run their experiments and then write articles in journals for other scientists. They haven’t been too visible in the culture war, even to defend themselves or their science.
But that may be about to change. Two prominent scientists have recently written books dealing with the conflict between faith and science—but from two entirely different directions.
Richard Dawkins, an Oxford University expert on Darwin’s theory of evolution, argues in his new book, The God Delusion, that all belief in the supernatural is based on a delusion, and a dangerous one at that.
He writes, “I am not going to bomb anybody, behead them, stone them, burn them at the stake, crucify them, or fly planes into their skyscrapers, just because of a theological disagreement.”
Dawkins believes that humanity can derive all the knowledge we need from the natural as opposed to the supernatural world.
The other book which seeks to counter the relentless criticisms of faith comes from Francis Collins, Director of National Human Genome Research Institute. In his book, The Language of God, Collins defends belief in God and even claims to offer proof of God’s existence. In the intricacies of our DNA Collins has found evidence of God.
The problem with both of these approaches is that science is left as the arbiter of all truth. For Dawkins truth is whatever science demonstrates is true. If it cannot be proven empirically, then it is not true.
Collins actually agrees with Dawkins, but is willing to include God in what can be empirically demonstrated. According to Collins, God has left teeny, tiny footprints in the human genome which demonstrate the reality of a divine creator.
But are those teeny, tiny footprints enough to build a robust liturgy? And to whom or what do we direct our praise—DNA, from which all blessings flow?
Both of these efforts are reactions to the relentless attacks from Christians who want to live in a world that corresponds to a literal reading of the Bible. Dawkins wants to dismiss them. Collins wants to mollify them.
A better approach would be to follow the wisdom of the famous evolutionary biologist, Stephen Jay Gould. Gould believed that there is not a conflict between faith and science because each discipline deals with different realities from different vantage points. The only time a clash occurs is when one discipline crosses over into the other’s domain.
This ongoing conflict between faith and science is artificial and unnecessary. Science tells us “how” the world came into being, and we should learn what it has to teach us. Faith offers an understanding of “why” the world came into being, and there are important lessons for us there as well. There is no reason we cannot do both at the same time.
James L. Evans, a syndicated columnist, also serves as pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.