In 1925 in the small town of Dayton Tennessee the eyes of the country became rivited on a trial. This was no high society murder scandal. Rather it was a trial about an idea –evolution. A young teacher named John Scopes had violated a state law forbidding the teaching of evolution in schools and was facing a jury of his peers. He was defended by the great criminal lawyer Clarence Darrow while the case against evolution was led by William Jennings Bryan who felt called to defend the tenets of Christianity. That was almost 90 years ago yet the tension between religion and science continues.
Some of the conflict occurs between those who take the Bible as a literal document and those who view it more on a symbolic level. In my own case, though, science has enriched my spiritual journey.
Many seem to fear that science tries to make the concept of God obsolete. And perhaps some scientists do indeed adopt such a position. But for me the findings of science, including the theory of evolution, enrich my spirit.
Take neurotheology, for instance. This is the study of the neurological basis of spiritual experience. Some object to it, claiming that it is a secular effort to do away with God. For me, the opposite happens. The notion that we are hard-wired for spiritual experience encourages my belief. The complexity of the human brain to me is a celebration of God’s creation, not a refutation of it!
There is a play titled Inherit the Wind which is a fact-based fictional account of the Scopes trial. At one point defense attorney Henry Drummond (Darrow) is confronted by Matthew Harrison Brady (Bryan) as to whether Drummond considers anything “holy”. Drummond responds: “Yes..the individual mind .. In a child’s power to master the multiplication table there is more sanctity than all your shouted ‘Amens”, “Holy, holies” and “Hosannas”. An idea is a greater monument than a cathedral. And the advance of man’s knowledge is more of a miracle than any sticks turned into snakes, or the parting of waters.” (Random House, New York, 1955, p. 93).
Science and religion perhaps provide us with different pieces of the theolgical puzzle. As Chet Raymo writes “…religion without science is idolotrous and science without religion might be even more dangerous: amoral power without constraint, without wisdom, without love.” (Skeptics and True Believers, Walker and Co., Ny, 1998, p. 129)
I hope I am never deaf to the spiritual understandings that can be gleaned from both science and religion. At the end of Inherit the Wind, Drummond picks up both a copy of the Bible and a copy of Darwin. He weighs them in each hand then puts them both in his briefcase. Amen to that!
Further Reading: Raymo’s book, noted above
Any of the works of Loren Eiseley. especially The Starthrower
Further Viewing: There are several productions of Inherit the Wind written by jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. The most familiar is the movie with Spencer Tracy. My personal favorite, however, is the CBS production starring Jason Robards and Kirk Douglas, available on video.