“All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
Whose body Nature is, and God the soul.”
Alexander Pope, in his famous, Essay on Man, put this philosophical-theological truth in poetic form: each of us is part of something larger than we can imagine; we’re part of Nature, the natural world.
He uses the word stupendous, whose synonyms include words like: amazing, astounding, astonishing, miraculous, surpassing belief, wondrous, wonderful, staggering, breath-taking, indescribable, ineffable.
The word stupendous shares the etymology of the word stupid; (Lat. stupere, to be stunned). My American Heritage defines stupid as ‘slow to learn or understand; tending to make poor decisions; marked by lack of intelligence.’
Will Rogers said, “We’re all ignorant but on different subjects.”
Einstein, easily the top candidate to represent the world of science and the life of the mind, said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”
He said, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
The name Albert Einstein is synonymous with science. Another name that would be included in the science pantheon is Charles Darwin.
Darwin’s discovery of the evolution of life on the planet—his work on natural selection, which is sometimes referred to in the unfortunate phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ upset the religious community—or that portion of the religious community that believed the Biblical story of creation in a literal sense.
Just as life on the planet evolves over eons, so does it take a long time to change collective belief systems. It takes time for the individual to change—to grow, to evolve.
One of the latest indications of the resistance to change is the argument referred to asintelligent design.
The problem is that intelligent design is being sold as science—as an argument in opposition to evolution and natural selection.
Putting on his religion hat, Einstein wrote in his autobiography: “Something deeply hidden had to be behind things.” Some choose to call that ‘something’ God.
A 19th century Anglican priest, William Paley, used the argument for believing in God that says ‘if you find a pocket watch you can assume there’s a watchmaker.’
The folks who are trying to insert religion into the science classrooms in this country like to quote this Paley’s metaphor. So let’s look at it a little more carefully.
In Paley’s argument, we are the watch.
The intelligent-design folks are saying that the God who created us designed us ‘in his own image,’ as the Bible says.
Those who take those words in a literal sense, think of a god who has all the attributes and characteristics of humans: Their god creates and destroys intentionally; their god made a decision to create—makes decisions to destroy; their god can be influenced to do certain things the way a defense attorney tries to influence a judge or jury. Their god can see andhear…their god walks and talks, as the stories in Genesis say he did.
In other words, their Supreme Being is a super person.
The definition of the word anthropomorphism is: “To ascribe of human characteristics and feelings to things not human.”
We tell our children stories like the three pigs, each of whom decides how to build his house—one with straw, another with sticks and the third with bricks. The big bad wolf blows in the first two but can huff and puff all he wants but can’t blow in the brick house.
No one would go searching for the old brick house the way they do for Noah’s ark, or even for the Garden of Eden, as if those Biblical stories were historically accurate.
Let’s look again at the watchmaker argument for god: if you find a watch you must assume there’s a watchmaker.
We are the watch. The Supreme Being, who made us in his own image, is a sort of person, very similar to us, with all of our characteristics, but certainly with a higher IQ.
In a literal sense, the watchmaker argument put forth by the intelligent design folks, is like a Timex watch that looks at itself and assumes it was created by a Rolex!
Now, if I find a watch, which I did, in fact do at a rest stop in Maine last year, the first thing I assumed was that someone lost it. It was sitting on the ground in front of a port-a-potty. I had to decide what to do with it—now that’s a religious question—it’s about ethics. It never occurred to me that I should worship the watchmaker.
The people who are using this ‘watch equals watchmaker ‘are promoting a peculiar theology—a god who is a big, highly intelligent (omniscient) extremely powerful (omnipotent) god. This god, as I see it, was created in the image of man.
“In the beginning there was a Rolex and he said, ‘Let there be time, and there was time; and now let there be little Timex watches. So he made the watch in his own image, but a lot less expensive.”
There are people on the streets of Manhattan that will sell you a Rolex for $10. They’ll sell you the Brooklyn Bridge, too.
Intelligent Design is religion–it’s not science. It has no place in our public schools; it doesn’t belong in biology classes. It belongs in a religion class. Yet, our president says it should be taught in our public schools alongside Darwin. He said we should ‘Teach the controversy.’ Karl Rove knows how to sell those phony $10 Rolex watches.
Intelligent design is a Trojan Horse. They’re trying to bring religion into our classrooms dressed up in science costumes. They want to use intelligent design to gain access to young minds and to undermine the separation of church and state.
And who are they?
They are not bad people. In some senses they mean well; they believe that the world would be a better place if everyone thought the way they think. There’s nothing new about that. There’s an extent to which we’d like our own ideas, beliefs and attitudes to be accepted by everybody else. That’s human nature. We have a tendency to try to impose our own beliefs.
That’s why Jefferson built a wall of separation between church and state—it’s one of the cornerstones in the democracy they created. Reinhold Niebhur said, “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”
Neither they, nor you and I, can quite put our minds around the realization that the universe is perhaps 14 billion years old, and the earth is about 4.5 billion, and the oldest evidence of humans on the planet is about 160,000 years old.
We get dizzy trying to think about terrestrial and cosmological time—no wonder they like to use the image of the watch and the watchmaker to intuit God.
Many of our founders, like Washington, were deists who said, “God wound up the clock, left it running, and withdrew, leaving us in charge.”
(“Deism is the belief, based on reason, in a God who created the universe and has since assumed no control over life, exerted no influence on nature, and given no supernatural revelation.”)
Western religion is saddled with an anthropomorphic image of God. It creates cognitive dissonance and sets science against religion; it causes many thoughtful persons to distance themselves from religion of any kind, and that’s the shame of it.
We can do better. We can have a religion that leaves room for the rational to live side-by-side with the mystical. We have a spiritual as well as rational nature; our religious nature is activated by joy and sorrow; it is apparent in the depth of our appreciation for life itself and our sense of wonder and awe at this huge mystery in which we live and breath and have our being.
There’s a direct correlation between mind and body. The physical body is directly affected by the life of the spirit; the life of the spirit is a function of the way we feel about ourselves and others.
The life of the spirit affects all of our relationships—the relationship we have with a spouse or lover, with our children or friends, with our parents, and even with those who have predeceased us—they continue to live in us, and the ongoing relationship we have with them in our minds and hearts has a direct bearing on our well-being.
Religion is a private matter, of course. The hope for each of us individually is that we grow a deeper faith—that our faith evolves, allowing us to leave things that are childish, as St. Paul said: “When I was a child I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child, when I became an adult I stopped being childish.” That doesn’t mean we have to leave religion, faith and the life of the spirit behind. Not at all. We have to work at our personal evolution. We must, in a sense, be ‘born again.’ And again and again!
Religion is private. Science is shared knowledge about the material world. No mainstream, credible scientist doubts the basic tenets and truths of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Arguments against it are not science—they’re religion.
“Teach the controversy” sounds reasonable. It sounds rational. But it’s an attempt to trick us into subverting the separation of church and state; it’s a way of promoting a particular brand of religion.
Intelligent Design is Creationism dressed up in a lab coat with a stethoscope around his neck.
There’s a letter is being circulated and signed by Christian clergy in response to the Intelligent Design argument. I was glad to add my name. It says:
“Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths fr-m generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order frm scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.
“We the undersigned, Christian clergy fr0m many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.”
Accepting Darwin’s findings about the way life has been evolving on the planet does not preclude a personal faith in God, but embracing intelligent design requires one to discard science.
We live in dangerous times—never was the rational mind more important.
One of the dangers is terrorism. Our president has unwittingly poured gasoline on the fires of terrorism, failing completely to get at its source.
There’s a theological component to this conflagration: the idea that God is on our side.
Osama bin Laden believes that God is on his side.
George Bush, who apparently holds the same theology, believes that God is on his side.
The task of religion in our time is to broaden our thinking so that we can conceive multiple images of God, leaving room for all of us—the 6 billion or so humans who occupy this fragile little planet.
A bit of encouraging news says there’s new evidence that the brain continues to evolve. It was thought that the brain stopped evolving 50,000 years ago.
“The scientists say that around 37,000 years ago a microcephalin gene variant emerged. It may be no coincidence that this period coincided with the appearance of art, music and man made tools and instruments.” (Another ) gene mutation appeared more recently, nearly 6,000 years ago (he ASPM gene.) Again, it was during this period that man started writing, farming and creating urban areas.”
On May 15th, 2003, David McCullough delivered a brilliant, brief lecture he called The Course of Human Events. Carlyn (my step-daughter) found it in Barnes and Noble on CD and gave it to me for my birthday. He says, in part:
“History demonstrates often in brutal fashion the evils of enforced ignorance and demagoguery.”
“History is filled with voices that reach out and lift the spirits, sometimes fr-m the distance of centuries.”
He refers to the founders of our nation as, “Those brave, high-minded people of earlier times gave us stars to steer by – a government of laws not of men, equal justice before the law, the importance of the individual, the idea of equality, freedom of religion, freedom of thought and expression and the love of learning.”
He acknowledges that, “The American experiment was frm its start an unfulfilled promise. There was much work to be done…there is still much work to be done, still much to learn.”
May we find ways to continue to grow—to evolve, in every aspect of life, including the life of the mind and the life of the spirit.
We can—we must—balance the rational mind with the intuitive. Intuition tells us that ‘we are but parts of one stupendous whole/whose body Nature is, and God the soul.’