“Similarly matched in strength, both straddling the same foundation of awestruck inquiry…”

July 22, 2009 at 1:35 pm (By Amba)

That’s Anchoress’s beautiful description of the striving between science and religion.  It’s all about wonder, as I also tried to say in my Hubble piece, currently hosted in a temporary safe place while Natural History changes servers (I know, most of you have read it, but I’m awfully fond of it, not least because I sweated blood for it in that way that only happens when a piece of writing matters to you, and then makes it matter more).  Anchoress describes the long intimacy (and sometimes lovers’ quarrel) between science and religion in many of the greatest minds; in another NH blog post I described my realization that science actually started out as a branch of religion.

But I didn’t mean to make this a “me, me, me” — more of an excited “Me too, me too!”  Please read and savor Anchoress’s post.  What a marvelous, generous writer!



  1. Donna B. said,

    Personally I don’t see the need to try to correlate the account of creation in Genesis with current scientific understanding. Whether one is religious or not, can’t we all agree that whoever wrote Genesis explained it to best of their understanding at the time?

    I suspect the book discussed in the article will probably turn out to promote theories that are unacceptable to scientists, the religious, atheists, agnostics, mystics, etc.

  2. amba12 said,

    Neat idea about the creation of eyes, though — if a stretch.

    I wrote in Hubble piece, “The atoms of our bodies were made in furnaces like those; we’re looking at a show of the forces that formed us. The eyes and brain to see it all are among its most improbable creations.”

  3. karen said,

    Hmmmm, reminds me of a recent NPR story about a woman novelist writing about her experiences of being a new Mom. She waid something so funny– that: ~i actually had something w/eyes inside of me, how cool.~ That’s my memory of her words, anyway.

    Creation and eyes, indeed.

  4. michael reynolds said,

    Nice writing. And complete nonsense.

  5. Donna B. said,

    michael, that’s what I was trying to say! But I was trying to be sweet about it.

  6. Ennui said,

    I have to agree with Michael and DonnaB vis-a-vis drawing any strict, literal correlation between the scientific account of creation and Genesis. If I recall correctly, Augustine, looking at the same apparent contradiction that this guy addresses with the “eye theory”, concluded that the “light” of creation was of a spiritual quality. I find such a reading much more believable.

    If the author (or collator) of Genesis was a human being and if human beings always associated the sun with the coming of day, he would have had to have seen the contradiction. Wouldn’t he? To have left it so means that, for some reason, there wasn’t a contradiction. (Even assuming a coterie of scribes assembled by a King to right a foundation for his reign – the most crude imagining of the authorship of the Bible – someone in charge had to say “Leave it that way” for one reason or another).

    If, on the other hand, the author of Genesis was the creator of the universe, well, obviously, all bets are off. But my hunch is, if the creator had meant for Genesis (or any other book of the Bible) to be validated by science as it developed, he would have dropped in some non-intuitive mathmetical relations or the like. Thinking of that Laird piece I linked to, I conclude that the Bible aims to operate in the realm of truth, not in the realm of reality. Which are somehow different. That’s my guess, anyway.

  7. Ennui said,

    um, “right” should be “write” in this context. Although “right” sort of works, too.

  8. amba said,

    Yes. It does. :)

    I go with “explained it to the best of their ability at the time.” That’s why finding out so much more can be so disorienting. The whole scene just fascinates me — some rejecting science and holding on to the Biblical account of creation, some trying to reconcile the Biblical God with the shattering new cosmos, some holding with new faith to the belief that it’s all a miracle generated by the grinding together of mindless matter, and some just plain flabbergasted (that’s me).

  9. Ennui said,

    I go with “explained it to the best of their ability at the time.”

    Does this reduce, say, Genesis to bad science (pre-science)? I mean for you personally? What I’m trying to get at is whether there is a sense in which a thing can be true without corresponding to reality (if there is such a thing).

    Think of Socrates in the Phaedrus. At the outset of the dialogue he waves off questions concerning the truth of a certain myth, holding that gaining knowledge of his own soul occupied all his time. Later, however, after having rewritten Lysias’ (Phaedrus’) speech, he wishes to purge himself of his own error (pardon the indifferent translation, Jowett I guess):

    And I bethink me of an ancient purgation of mythological error which was devised, not by Homer, for he never had the wit to discover why he was blind, but by Stesichorus, who was a philosopher and knew the reason why; and therefore, when he lost his eyes, for that was the penalty which was inflicted upon him for reviling the lovely Helen, he at once purged himself. And the purgation was a recantation, which began thus,-

    False is that word of mine-the truth is that thou didst not embark in ships, nor ever go to the walls of Troy; and when he had completed his poem, which is called “the recantation,” immediately his sight returned to him. Now I will be wiser than either Stesichorus or Homer, in that I am going to make my recantation for reviling love before I suffer; and this I will attempt, not as before, veiled and ashamed, but with forehead bold and bare.

    On the face of it, then, the facts behind the myth are relatively unimportant (but they seem important, don’t they?) whereas its effect on the soul is crucial. Crucial enough to utter “it is not true that tale…” even if the tale is true (that damned Schlieman).

    So, one question is whether science, taken as another myth, opens the soul or slams the doors shut. A few have made the case for the former (John Dewey jumps to mind) and many have made the case for the latter (pick your nihilist).

    The other question is, of course, whether the Socratic test is on point at all. Whether we must, like Nietzsche says, take our historical sitation as it is and watch ourselves either morph into something new in order to accept the new (anti)truths, or devolve in heartless, soulless consumers.

    Is that shot of the Crab Nebulae (or that shot of penicillin, for that matter) worth the twentieth century?

    I’m inclined to think yes. I don’t like the sense of sticking my head in the sand. But what if the scientific mythos (not the practice of science but the mythos that tells us where we came from and where we’re going) really is toxic to the spirit? That is to say, what if a 14th century peasant felt things that it is literally impossible for us to feel? As though we’d been blinded.

  10. Donna B. said,

    What if we’re trying to make Genesis something it is not? What if it the story of a certain tribe’s (family’s?) beginning and not the story of the beginning of the universe?

    What if there were a tribe whose leaders possessed some special knowledge, or had at least convinced their followers they did. Say Eve found out the “secret” of their special knowledge and told Adam.

    It’s pretty likely they’d be expelled from the tribal homeland (Eden) is it not? They’d be on their own and experience great hardship. Perhaps the rest is the story of this amazing couple’s descendants.

    “And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever”

    Adam, Eve, and all their offspring were condemned to be farmers, unless I misread. Except Abel… is a shepherd and Cain, the farmer kills him? How did Abel become a shepherd if he was supposed to be condemned to farming? hmm…

    I’m not really bright enough or well-versed in the Bible to go further, but it’s something I’ve wondered about since I first read the Bible as a teenager. I used to ask questions about it to “elders” in the community, but learned quickly not to do THAT!

  11. amba12 said,

    If Dawkins owns the mythos of science, one might fear that (responding to Ennui now). We have a reductive notion of matter, and the Dawkinsites hold it as an article of faith that enough atoms blindly colliding for enough billions of years can explain all that we can now see going on in the cell and in deep space.

    My own guess is that the truth as it unfolds is going to make our conceptions of both God and matter seem primitive in the extreme. I very much doubt that the nanotechnology of gene expression, epigenetics, and protein assembly that we see in the cell nucleus, or the plasticity and intricacy of lifeforms on the phenotypic scale, will turn out to be explainable without some form of associated intelligence and even consciousness. Whether that bears any resemblance to the God of our myths, and whether it is One in any sense or has any ultimate, culminating intentions, is another question. I just think it’s all up for grabs. I wouldn’t rule out any help the old tools of religion might provide (especially in terms of direct, subjective experience), at the very least for keeping people on an even keel during this disorienting knowledge explosion — if not also for providing some accurate intuitions — any more than the newer tools of science; both sets of tools can be used to close doors as well as open them.

  12. Donna B. said,

    “…without some form of associated intelligence…”

    Perhaps chaos is a form of intelligence that we don’t understand. Perhaps intelligence does not have to have a being behind it.

    Intelligence, as we understand it, seems quite incapable of coming up with something so mysteriously capable, yet seemingly “backwards” as the eye. Or the brain.

  13. amba12 said,

    Oh, the intelligence that runs our intelligence is so far beyond it.

  14. Donna B. said,

    Or perhaps chaos is an intelligent system we just don’t understand yet. Either idea gets us to the same place:

    We haven’t a frickin’ clue!

  15. amba12 said,

    My sentiments exackly.

  16. karen said,

    ~We haven’t a frickin’ clue!~

    Why should we even try? If we do, and it isn’t plausible to some– it’s bullshit.

    It makes me want to shut up. So, i will.

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