Science and religion

Despite evidence of God's creation, the newest worldview may be closer to paganism than to the Bible

By Chris Stamper

What will be the next secular worldview? In the next millennium, after postmodern relativism has finished dismantling the tenets of Western civilization, what will be built on the rubble?

According to Gregg Easterbrook, postmodernism-today's assumption that there are no absolutes, that truth is a construction, and morality is relative-is running out of gas. Writing in The Los Angeles Times, Mr. Easterbrook, editor of The New Republic and the author of Beside Still Waters: Searching for Meaning in an Age of Doubt, argues that the next Big Idea will have to do with the synthesis of science and religion.

To be sure, there are many signs that science and religion, once implacable foes, are getting together. Recently, the $1.2 million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion-which has gone to religious luminaries from Mother Teresa to Chuck Colson-was given to Ian G. Barbour, an obscure academic from Minnesota who has pioneered the interdisciplinary study of religion and science. Magazines such as Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report have produced cover stories on the topic, and major universities such as Cambridge and Princeton have endowed chairs to promote research in the field.

Scientific evidence for the "Big Bang" becomes more and more theological. According to "cosmic inflation" cosmology, as Mr. Easterbrook explains it, "the entire universe popped out of a point with no content and no dimensions, essentially expanding instantaneously to cosmological size. Now being taught at Stanford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other top schools, this explanation of the beginning of the universe bears haunting similarity to the traditional theological notion of creation ex nihilo, 'out of nothing.'"

Mr. Easterbrook quotes one of the world's top astronomers, Allan Sandage of the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution, as saying that the Big Bang can only be understood as "a miracle." One might add that science and religion have in common a belief in objective truth, and thus are natural allies in the intellectual battle against the radical subjectivity of postmodernism.

Christians are confident that the truth of Scripture accords with every other truth and will appreciate how former contradictions between science and faith are dissolving. Nevertheless, the synthesis of science and religion is not necessarily taking a biblical direction.

Thus, Mr. Easterbrook says that one reason scientists will now talk to theologians is that "religion is getting real about evolution." That is to say, many mainline theologians have jettisoned the traditional belief in God's creation in favor of evolutionary explanations. Orthodox Christian "views about evolution have long made many of the religious seem, to scientists, simply not worth talking to," says Mr. Easterbrook. "Now that mainstream faith is beginning to accept evolution, dialogue between science and religion becomes possible."

Apparently, in this "dialogue," the scientific establishment sets the rules, the conditions, and the criteria for truth. Never mind that some of the most interesting developments in the field of science and religion have to do with evidence casting doubt on Darwin. The new "Design Theory"-pioneered by such thinkers and scientists as William Dembski and Michael Behe-shows how unlikely it is that the complexities of natural organisms could have come about by chance and how, contrary to evolutionists, there is evidence that the universe has been designed. Or, as Mr. Easterbrook himself explains it, citing a major reason why science now needs religion, "the prospect that structures as complex as the 6-billion-unit strand of human DNA could arise from chance alone seem[s] phenomenally improbable."

Creation, as opposed to evolution, is exactly the point at issue. The reason science needs to come to terms with religion is the new evidence science itself is discovering for creation. Attempts to "save the appearances" of evolution by spiritualizing the process will only undermine both the Bible and, ultimately, science itself.

Instead of returning to the biblical worldview, with its transcendent God creating and governing an objective universe, many of the spirituality and science projects are turning to other worldviews. God and Nature become one. Matter and spirit, God and the universe, are both manifestations of energy. The universe is an eternal cycle, ever recurring, with no beginning and no end. We are evolving to a higher spiritual plane.

This is to say, these supposedly advanced and sophisticated scientific ideas amount, in effect, to a revival of the old pagan nature religions. We are back, again, to the mantras of the New Age religions. Instead of turning to the biblical worldview, in terms of which science historically arose, many of today's theologians of science are embracing the worldview of Eastern mysticism, which has historically shown little interest in studying the "illusions" of the physical universe.

If the union of science and spirituality is laying the foundation for the next worldview to succeed postmodernism, Christians should not be complacent. This new secular ideology will likely still be hostile to Christianity. And, as the new nature religion takes hold, it will grow increasingly hostile to science.

Copyright 1999 World Magazine. Used by permission.