Examination of the Environmental Crisis
Chapter 4: Comprehending the Origins of the Tensions in the History of the Conflict Between Science and Theology
To reiterate the tensions proposed in chapter three-
1) Tension between intrinsic value defined as subjective (anthropogenic and
instrumental) and objective (independent existence implying a condition of agency).
2) Between proposals of moral consideration through the extension of a theory of rights or a revolution in ecological relationships through an enlightenment of human understanding.
3) Between cognition and emotion, particularly within the Kantian framework of the earlier environmental rights movements
4) Between individualistic and holistic models.
5) Between egalitarian distribution of universally equal levels of intrinsic worth and a
heirarchical model of diminishing value.
6) Between biological and spiritual models of relationship.
7) Tension in that most models implicitly or explicitly posit a telos or overall purpose to
nature and evolution, yet this is done in a modern positivistic scientific framework
that assumes this is not possible.
8) The assumption by many engaged in the discussion of ecological philosophy that
religion, and more specifically theology, is essentially incompatible with such an
It is proposed that the tensions aforementioned, and particularly the last one, can be better understood and resolved by examining the causes of the bifurcation of reality and the imposition of a radical duality upon our culture which occurred generally speaking, between the enlightenment period and the present. As the Bahá'í model itself is theocentric, this examination is also helpful towards illustrating the potential integrity, consistency and harmony of a complementary and even integrated relationship between science, philosophy and theology.
The restoration of ecological relationships is completely dependent upon the vision which governs the restructuring of our global civilization.
When we consider what religion is for mankind, and what science is, it is no exaggeration to say that the future course of history depends upon the decision of this generation as to the relations between them.
This is not an attempt at a sort of Grand Unification Theory that will unite all philosophies, but rather an attempt to appreciate diversity and also the integrity of reality, without lapsing into ethical relativism. This section will propose that these tensions are representative of a kind of neurosis of the spirit which finds its foundations in the above-mentioned bifurcation of reality.
Ever since the Enlightenment, theology on one side and empirical science and philosophy, on the other, have existed in an uneasy relationship. This section seeks to examine the historical nature of this problem with specific reference to a number of causational, yet erroneous philosophical presuppositions.
For the purposes of this thesis, the "Enlightenment" is representative as the initial developmental period of certain world?views. A full account of the relationship between science, theology and philosophy from that period to the modern day would require an enormous volume of historical discussion. However, this section will be limited in its first half to a discussion of the more significant world?views that are associated with the Enlightenment movement; significant in their implications for the "uneasy relationship" between such disciplines. Once the way is cleared, the following chapter will discuss the emerging evidence of a convergence between the paths of knowledge.
The Enlightenment has often been presented as the time when the superstitions and dogmas of religion were vanquished by the empirical razor of reason with the development of science. And religion has often been characterized as the complete antithesis of science. The Bible, Church traditions and even the core belief in a Creator were all seen as essentially in conflict with the emergent discoveries of science.
The Enlightenment did helpfully challenge a number of tyrannical forms of authoritative and superstitious epistemology and encouraged more individualistic epistemological freedom. However, this common portrayal of the scientist vs. the church is a false antithesis, symptomatic of a simplified caricature.
The following reasons are suggested as the primary causes for such misunderstandings:
I. The objectification of the central figures in the Enlightenment as "scientists" (with all the inappropriate modern conceptions that goes with the word "scientist"). Disregarding the complexity of each individual as a person with a variety of influences, and deeply affected by the context of their own culture who often held the opinion that their scientific investigation was not only compatible, but was necessitated out of their deep personal faith in God.
II. A number of immature philosophical pressupositions about the nature of reality within the newly developing scientific community in the enlightenment; coupled with
III. immature religious apologetics from the Catholic side which included clinging to outdated "scientific" traditions as essentially representative of theology, and from the Protestant side in choosing to claim essential association with newly developed scientific theories in order to provide resources against both atheism and Catholicism, which would eventually prove to be a two edged sword.
IV. Specific social and political elements of the particular and unfortunate historical context in which the newly emergent relationship between theology and professional science became defined.
V. Exaggeration of the antithetical nature of the conflict by the "press". Contrast makes more interesting reading, and dysfunctional religious structures make convenient scapegoats for social malaise.
It is proposed that the radical separation of these disciplines has occurred through diverse processes, both historical and philosophical. There were numerous, purely historical, considerations that were particularly significant as they provided the context in which the modern relationship between science, philosophy and theology developed. These include the weariness of western culture with religious strife and the 30 year war between Catholicism and Protestantism; the stubborn clinging of religious institutions to traditional interpretations of reality that would prove false and thereby discredit theology by association; and struggles of class structure, particularly in England, between pastoral scientists and professional scientists.
However, it is proposed that this was primarily due to a number of immature theological, scientific, and philosophical assumptions of reality. These are too numerous to list but include: Newton's reduction of reality to mechanical determinism; Descartes dualistic hyper-materialistic division of subject and object, value and fact, faith and reason, spirit and matter; Monod and Darwin's vision of an evolution which is a process of random chance without purpose; Kant's reduction of the value of the natural world and moral concern for it to a disinterested, instrumental extension of reason; Marx's reduction of moral values to primarily materialistic economic relations (which is effected equally by the individualistic capitalism of the West); Nietzche, Sarte, and Freud's proposition of God as a human construct which imposed the tyrannical removal of freedom and self-determination from humanity and nature; and finally the reactionary deconstruction of Descartes vision of reason as pure, impersonal, and self-sufficient through the absolute relativization of value through postmodernism and the deconstruction of value found in Derrida.
Often, the story of this group is not so much about what these individuals believed, but how subsequent thinkers and wider society interpreted and perceived them in justifying the fragmentation of reality. Often these interpretations were not faithful to the complete vision and context of each person. However, from a perspective from the "end of history," some of these unfortunate misrepresentations, rather than what these individuals really believed, moved the forces of history to where it is.
What is the popular account of some of these personalities? We learn in school that Galileo stood against the Church in proclaiming that we were not at the centre of the Universe, but peripheral; that Newton showed it was not God who caused the glory of waterfalls but elementary laws of nature which obey mathematical principles; and that Darwin dealt the death blow, by showing that a creator did not make us in "His" image 6000 years ago, but that we developed from apes millions of years ago, and that we originally began not in the hand of God but in primordial slime.
However, if we examine these persons more closely we find significant reasons for a reassessment of such a simplified story of the "war" between science and religion, characterizing them as on the "science" side. Surprisingly enough, to varying degrees, each and all of these "scientists" at one time or another, considered that "a synthesis between theology and science was necessary and was taken for granted from the outset."
Before turning to these personalities, it is important to understand something of their historical context particularly those features of the landscape which are significant for facilitating the "fragmentation of reality". It is beyond the capacity of this thesis to
discuss the complex nature of the reformational critique or the complex theological differences of its participants, such as Luther and Calvin. Nor is it possible to discuss the nature of the response of reform within Catholicism.
What is important for this thesis, is to understand some of the social and religious factors that contributed to the tensions within the spirit of the European person. These tensions, between the simple faith of the average person and the dissonance experienced by his faculty of reason as a result of religious corruption and conflict, would largely contribute to the multiple divisions and disunity within the religious community of Europe. These tensions would also represent a significant inner experience that would be mirrored in the larger scope of the newly forming relationship between science and theology.
It has frequently been argued that in many ways Christianity prepared the western mind for the development of science. It is undoubtedly true that, by the end of the Middle Ages, immediately preceding the enlightenment period, Christian theology had developed a number of methodologies and models that were in principle, not only compatible with the future scientific movement, but also largely responsible for it. Numerous works have been written which illustrate the evidence for this view. A great variety of factors have been considered as responsible for this belief, but only the briefest summary of some of the more significant ones is possible.
1.) The development of universities in Europe at the end of the eleventh century with courses in geometry, music, arithmetic, astronomy, logic and natural philosophy.
2.) A typical university would have four faculties: the faculty of arts, and the three "higher faculties" of medicine, law, and theology." The recovery of Aristotle's works on natural sciences implemented a new growth in Christian thought.
Within a few decades, they had become the standard fare for Arts students in all the universities, notably in the two most renowned, Oxford and Paris. In scope and detail, these works had no rival. Plato's Timaeus, which had been the handbook for so long, was pushed aside. By the mid-1200's the natural science taught in the universities to all students, including theology students, was that of Aristotle.
3.) Within this context of newly developing universities, a new breed of Christian theologians developed, such as Robert Grosseteste, Nicolas Oresme, Henry of Langenstein, and most significantly Thomas Aquinas. For these scholars, in the fusion of their theology, and Greek, often Aristotelian philosophy, there was an assumption of harmony in the relationship between their faith and the assumption of the intelligibility and subsequent investigation of the natural world.
4.) A feature which often receives little attention in the standard historical introduction into the Christian contribution to the development of science, is that the renaissance within the European Christian context would not have occurred but for the transfer of an already developed scientific philosophy from Islam.
While this fourth point is not directly related to this thesis, it is important to mention, as it is a very important principle that is directly related to a secondary principle of this thesis, the unity of science and theology. As well, it has been almost completely repressed either through ignorance, or a conscious or unconscious form of western imperialism infecting scholarship in this area. A brief digression from the main theme of this thesis is therefore necessary.
It is proposed that there are three levels of "backgrounding" or "denied dependency" in most historical accounts of the relationship between Islam and Christianity.
Backgrounding or denied dependency is one aspect of feminist critique that focuses upon hierarchical forms of oppressive relationships. Although not originally formulated for the Christian/Islamic relationship, it is nonetheless directly applicable.
Backgrounding is a complex feature which results from the irresoluble conflicts the relationship of domination creates for the master, for he attempts both to make use of the other, organising, relying on and benefiting from the others services, and to deny the dependency which this creates...Common ways to deny dependency are through making the other inessential, denying the importance of the other's contribution or even his or her reality, and through mechanisms of focus and attention...But this dependency is also hated and feared by the master, for it subtly challenges his dominance, and is denied in a variety of indirect and direct ways, with all the consequences of repression. The real role and contribution of the other is obscured in culture, and the economic relation is denied, mystified, or presented in paternalistic terms.
This denial of dependency is meant to apply to the dualist structures of western thought such as the human/nature and male/female dichotomy, but it is just as applicable to the relationships between Christianity and Islam, particularly in rereading a history that has been filtered through the lens of a victorious western Christianity.
The three levels of denied dependency begin at the most superficial and descend to the most essential. They are:
1) Of dependence on translations of Greek philosophy and textual commentaries provided by Islamic scholarship.
2) Of dependence on essential contributions of models of interpretation, methodology, epistemology which are responsible for the development of science, and an overall optimism in the creative capacity of science towards the advancement of civilization that was transferred from Islam to Christianity.
3) Of spiritual dependency on Islam.
It is undoubtedly true that the Christian community developed unique models that facilitated the Renaissance. However, the building blocks and a number of preconceived scientific methods and perspectives, upon which these models were built, came from the Islamic contribution. Usually, with Christian commentaries, the Islamic contribution is completely ignored, or at best marginally acknowledged as the preservation and transmission of Greek philosophy, which Christianity then uniquely interpreted to help facilitate the process of scientific enquiry. However this ignores more essential contributions of interpretation, methodology, epistemology and an overall optimism in the creative capacity of science towards the advancement of civilization that was transferred. From a Bahá'í perspective it is not just a matter of denied philosophical, theological and scientific dependency upon Islamic culture. It also represents a denial of spiritual relationship between Islam and Christianity. The revelation of Muhammad released the capacities required for the scientific revolution. That it continued on and developed more fully in the Christian community is only an indication of the universal nature of God's revelatory spiritual forces. The subsequent structural collapse of Islam serves as a useful distraction and tool for justifying the imperialistic assumptions of western Christian superiority.
This was facilitated in a number of ways. It began with cross-cultural exchange in Spain in the eleventh century, particularly marked by the capture of Toledo from the moors in 1085 and the introduction of Islamic works. Equally, if not of greater significance, the interpretation and philosophical application by the extensive Jewish community present in Spain, which provided a crucial cultural and theological bridge. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the subsequent massive shift of refugees and extensive collections of Arab translations of Greek manuscripts to the west marked the most comprehensive introduction. The intelligibility of the universe as worthy of scientific enquiry, or 'ilm', finds its origin in Islam. "From the outset, Islam was committed to ilm, or knowledge. Ilm is a fundamental value in the Quran, as indeed it must be, since the universe is God's creation. To understand it, therefore, is to understand the sings of God's creative act; the very word ayat refers to both the verses of the Quran and the evidence of God in creation – both are revelations, in their own way." It doesn't take a great stretch of imagination to realize that these fundamental assumptions in early Islam were mirrored in the models of philosophy which facilitated scientific development and the first natural theology to be based directly on the scripture itself.
To return to the main thesis, there is a general agreement that the Christian community facilitated models of thought which were not only in harmony with, but significantly facilitated the scientific revolution.
However, a less frequently argued position is the unfortunate historical feature of European Christianity in that it also facilitated an unnecessary split between that science, its object of study, and its associated methodological principles with those same features corresponding in theology.
Within Europe, in the14th and 15th centuries, religion, in the form of late medieval Catholicism, was in a crisis. There was a rise of a new sense of nationalism throughout Europe coupled with the disintegration of the Holy Roman Empire into loosely united petty kingdoms. In a desperate attempt at asserting papal authority, Pope Boniface VII (1294-1303), decreed in his famous bull, Unam Sanctum that "We declare, we say, we define and pronounce that to every creature it is absolutely necessary to salvation to be subject to the Roman Pontiff." In response, King Phillip of France declared the Pope a criminal and took him prisoner for a brief time. This eventually resulted in the "Great Schism". From 1305-1377 all the popes were French and under the control of King Phillip, and in reaction to this nationalistic puppetry, rival popes were also asserted (1378-1417). This condition only ceased in the first half of the fifteenth century by an act of international political and ecclesiastical will in the Councils of Constance and Basel.
With this, the classical sense of papal integrity, prestige and authority never returned. Coupled with this were a number of corrupt practices operating within the Church that tugged at the conscience of the average person. Among these were the sale of indulgences, obligatory confession and countless forms of papal taxation including fees to be paid for appointment to offices within the Church.
From a socio-economic view, the economic and cultural emancipation of the average middle-class person played no small part in the overall process. A variety of factors such as relocation of demographics towards rivers and coasts, the consequent increase in trade and commerce, and a change from barter-based to a more fluid money economy, resulted in increased economic freedom and leisure time for cultural growth. As David Noss sums up so well:
The spiritual fact was that at the very time when the layman began to feel his own competence most, the Church seemed to him most corrupt. The Church had become identified in his mind with a vast system of financial exactions, rapaciously draining gold from every corner of Europe to Rome, where luxury, materialism, irreverence, and even harlotry seemed to reign unchecked among the clergy. Not only was the Church in his eyes corrupt, it seemed also to be left behind in the onward sweep of progress. In a changing world it represented cramping institutionalism, conservatism, conformity from age to age of one inflexible law, one worship, one order of life for every individual. Worse still, a yawning gulf had opened between religion and life, and the disparity between the Church and man's need increased more and more, until the pious layman, just a little appalled anyway by the secularizing effects of capitalism and nationalism, began to wish for changes in the Church that would make it serve the needs of men better.
This discontent reached a watershed when Pope Leo X (1475-1521) increased the practice of the sale of indulgences as a fund raising technique in order to finance the renovations of St. Peter's cathedral in Rome. Representative of the troubled conscience of the wider society within Europe, Martin Luther (1483-1546) called for reform within the Church symbolized by his 95 theses, which he nailed to the castle church of Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. Ultimately the Catholic Church would not embrace this spirit of reform in the way that was hoped, and those reformers were forced to form there own communities, which swept through Germany with Luther, and through Switzerland with Urlich Zwingli (1484-1531) and John Calvin (1509-1564), eventually leading John Knox (1513-1572) to take Calvins vision from Geneva to Scotland. The Protestant movement grew in France with the Huguenots and their eventual emancipation with the Edict of Nantes (1598) precipitated by 5 years of bloody conflict.
The resort to bloodshed became the norm and from 1618-1648, (known as the Thirty Year War), the horrors of war ripped through Europe, with its primary scene of operations in Germany, while the evils of a newly centralized inquisition and an index of forbidden knowledge plagued those concerned with the reform of religious identity. This context served to foster a particular weariness of the general populace with religious conflict and a loss of faith in the ability of religion to transform society in a positive fashion.
This is essential to appreciate in order to understand the major contribution of historical context to the following conversations in the relationship between science and theology.
In May 1543 a work was published entitled de revolutionibus orbium coelestium ("on the revolution of the heavenly bodies"). In this Copernicus (1473-1543) proposed the first Heliocentric model within Western civilization. While Copernicus's theory did make an impact upon the Christian community, however that impact was not as substantial as one might assume. His assumed principle of uniform, circular orbits could not explain the apparent movement of the planets. Those movements had been explained within the Ptolemic model with increasingly sophisticated theories of epicycles until it had become a cumbersome model, yet Copernicus could not provide an alternative. It was not until after the detailed observations of Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) and the analyses of these observations by Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) that a sufficient model of elliptical orbits was produced that offered a simpler and more logical alternative to the Ptolemic model.
The controversy of this model did not come to a head until Galileo (1564-1642). Rather than just proposing a mathematical model, Galileo insisted that his observations reflected the nature of reality and the actual structure of the solar system. Galileo recognizing a conflict between tradition and more importantly biblical interpretation also asserted a doctrinal position of a non-literal approach to the Bible: "The Bible tells us how to go to Heaven; not how the heavens go."
The Catholic Church was "on the defensive" clinging to tradition ever tighter than before. Although having once condemned Aristotle for his materialism, the Church had come to believe that Aristotle
had spoken the final truth about everything. So the battle was really between obscurantist church authorities who defended Aristotle, and a rather arrogant Galileo, who preferred to trust his new?fangled telescope.
There is also a more significant and political motive for the Church's stubborn clinging to tradition. A central issue of the reformation, and exacerbated by the 30 year war occurring at the time of this incident, was whether Protestantism was an heretical innovation (Catholic view) or a renewal of the original Christian spirit (Protestant view). As such, the Catholic polemic included the unchanging theology of Catholicism in order to assert its claim to original and continuing authority. In such a context the Catholic Church was obliged to defend the traditions of both Aristotle and Claudius Ptolemy which were challenged by Galileo. Galileo proposed numerous changes such as a more mathematical, objective understanding of matter, towards the science of bodies in motion-dynamics, and began a new exploration of the concept of inertia. All of these ideas were to inspire Newton and others to continue refining and expanding these models.
This "fundamentalist" stance by the church lost face in the victory of well?established findings. Such a loss gave the first appearance of a victory of science over and against religion rather than what it really was; the victory of open?mindedness over narrow minded, corrupt authority.
Owen Gingerich has illustrated the popular exaggeration of this incident. For example, Gingerich has pointed out that the censorship of Galileo's works was concentrated around Rome, with relatively little censorship outside of Italy. This points to the parochial political nature of the conflict.
It is not argued that the conflict in the Galileo incident was purely historical. Galileo's scientific convictions did conflict with basic biblical world views interpreted in a literalistic fashion and eventually they challenged an anthropocentric understanding of humanity as the centre of the Universe. However, it is argued that neither of these two beliefs are representative of the Christian gospel, so are not in direct conflict with the Christian revelation. (However it may have appeared at the time)
Galileo saw no conflict between his Christian belief in God and the rational investigation of physical reality.
I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended to forego their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them. He would not require us to deny sense and reason in physical matters which are set before our eyes and minds by direct experience or necessary demonstrations.
Newtonianism represented a greater challenge to the already strained relationship between science and religion. Newton was very religious and considered his theological commentary on "Daniel" of equal or greater importance than his "Principia." It is interesting to note that Newton had twice as many books on theology and philosophy than on mathematics and physics. And while he may have considered his theological contribution to be more valuable, the apple falling on his head, rather than God justified, is how the future remembers him.
The important point to appreciate is that Newton was able to demonstrate that a vast range of observational data could be explained on the basis of a set of universal principles.
Newton claimed that he developed his laws of physics inspired by thinking of God as the "great mathematician." He believed that the implicit order and design of the natural world was evidence of God's operation in the contingent world.
And thus much concerning God: to discourse of whom from the appearance of things certainly does belong to Natural Philosophy.
Here Newton makes it clear that he believes that the study of the natural order, or "the appearance of things" concerns witnessing God's existence. Newton goes a step further and indicates that not only is the discourse of God related to the order of physical reality related to Natural Philosophy, but that the consideration of the beauty and sophistication of design in the physical order leads to belief in God's existence:
When I wrote my treatise about our Systeme, I had an eye upon such Principles as might work with considering men for the beliefe of a Deity: and nothing can rejoice me more than to find it used for that purpose.
In the context of having described a number of the features illustrating the grace, sophistication and beauty of the design implicit in the physical order, Newton indicates the proper spiritual response such observations should induce:
These and suchlike considerations, always have, and ever will prevail with mankind to believe that there is a Being 1) who made all things and 2) has all things in his power, and 3) who is therefore to be feared.
The fact that science and theology are not only considered to be in harmony, in Newtons view, but that science is like a natural theology itself which indicates God's existence in itself. Indirectly anticipating the tension that Darwin would later experience, Newton wrote:
We know Him only by His most wise and excellent contrivances of things, and final causes; we admire Him for His perfections; but we reverence and adore Him on account of His dominion; for we adore Him as His servants; and a God without dominion, providence, and final causes, is nothing else but Fate and Nature. Blind metaphysical necessity, which is certainly the same always and everywhere, could produce no variety of things. All the diversity of natural things which we find, suited to different times and places, could arise from nothing but the ideas and will of a Being necessary existing.
There were a number of theologians, classicists, professional scientists and philsosophers who embraced Newton's apparent proof through design for the existence of God against the widely perceived mob of atheists growing in the heart of urban Europe. Roger Cotes embodies the optimism of the period in the great hope of Newton's refutation of Atheism:
Newton's distinguished work will be the safest protection against the attacks of atheists, and nowhere more surely than from this quiver can one draw forth missiles against the band of godless men.
This attachment to Newton's mechanistic and potentially universal explanation for the operation of the entire physical order, as proof against atheism, would prove to be a tragic flaw, in the same way that other God of the Gaps theories would prove to be in later scientific models.
These mechanical laws while consistent with Newton's belief in God, posed a greater problem to other Christians who wanted to see God as the "mysterious force" behind the operation of Creation. The problem being that if Newton's physics have the potential to explain completely the operation of things in the physical universe, then God is relegated to a superfluous role. Although Newton postulated God as the great Designer and the First Cause, ironically Newton's mechanistic laws of operation left God little role except as a possible Creator who "winds the clock and lets it go." Unfortunately, Newton's goal of facilitating Theism and the active, relational, providence of God in sustaining the world and witnessing God's immanence within it was thwarted. Rather his brilliance became used as a fundamental resource in the flourishing of Deism – a belief in a transcendent and removed Creator who once He created, made room between Himself and creation and "let it go on its way." Even this minimalist view of God lost credence with the combination of future scientific contribution and the interpretations surrounding it.
The person who unwittingly facilitated the next step in the divisions of reality was Descartes. To be fair, it is perhaps more due to the conclusions his naïve interpreters arrived at rather than his own attempts to develop a model that facilitated such a further division. However, Descartes, is of course, not without fault. While Newton saw science as an answer, and perhaps the answer to atheism, Descartes saw philosophy as the discipline exclusively appropriate for the defense of God:
I have always been of the opinion that two questions – those dealing with God and with the soul – were among the principal ones which should be demonstrated by philosophy rather than by theology.
Descartes believed theology to be inappropriate towards the endeavor of proving the reasonableness of either God or spiritual matters, because it relied on personal faith, which for Descartes is subjective and useless as a tool for the demonstration of coherence and intelligibility to those who themselves don't believe. Certainly once faith is granted, religion contains its own internal intrinsic principles of evidence, historical evidence, and logical methodologies; however the reasonableness of all of these are dependent on an apriori assumption of faith and therefore make it purely an internal activity. It is only philosophy, with its grounding in universal reason that can appeal to the reasonableness of all people.
I make bold as to say that never has faith been so strongly supported by human reasons, as it can be if my principles are followed.
Both Newton, in placing so much primacy on science and its ability to reveal the wonders of the natural order as proof of God's existence, and Descartes in placing exclusive capacity on philosophy and internal principles, inadvertently made it appear that theology had no capacity to demonstrate that its own models possessed integrity, reasonableness, consistency and due consideration as approximations of an objective reality.
The contrast with Newton here is total. In Newton, the world served as warrant for the existence of God. In Descartes, God served as warrant for the certain existence of the world. In Newton, a universal mechanics which would deal with all of the phenomena of nature could then incorporate the divine existence; in Descartes, metaphysics would have to establish the divine existence from the proportions given in cognition, and from that deduce the truth of God which would guarantee the existence of the world.
For Descartes metaphysics is entirely adequate and self-sufficient to demonstrate the existence of God. There is no need to posit God as active in relation with the physical world to demonstrate the reasonableness of God's existence. Descartes further reduced the mechanistic nature of physical reality by asserting a priority on internal principles. With the discovery of principles such as the law of the conservation of momentum, (which Descartes had adduced to a principle of pressure) physics began to achieve its own internal independence from theology.
The next step, that of the beginning of alienation and assumptions of conflict between science and theology occurred through others such as Joseph Lagrange and Pierre Simon de Laplace. The shift in popular perspective is characterized by the legend of the conversation between Laplace and Napoleon in 1802. In response to Napoleon's insinuation that God is the author of existence, "And who is the author of all of this?" Laplace replied that internal principles are sufficient explanation and "Je n'avais pas besoin de cette hypothese-la" ("I have no need of that hypothesis"). God had become merely a competing hypothesis among the infinite possibilities. To many, God became not only an unnecessary thesis, but also a deficient thesis at that.
These new thinkers saw that if physics is entirely independent from theology, then theology can only be assumed to be a burden in the pursuit of objective truth. To take in the considerations of religion or theology at all is a stumbling block to growth. Did not the reliance on religious tradition keep humanity in ignorance of the true operation of the solar system for its entire existence? Now that science was liberated from the oppressive tyranny of religion the capacity for discovery and the growth of human civilization seemed infinite. Humanity had become its own God, the only limitations on its capacity for omnipotence were its own efforts.
To return to a historical context, England had been spared the more extreme forms of conflict during the reformation. Compared to other European countries, physical conflict was less severe, say in comparison to the 30-year war. As well, its distance from Rome meant that although it was no doubt affected by such dramas, it was less caught up in the intrigues of the Papacy, such as the great schism, the inquisition, and the confrontations between national independence and assertions of papal authority.
With the moderation so characteristic of them, the English leaders nourished a desire to enjoy at least the degree of religious self-determination that the Refomation had brought to the continental Protestants, and yet they bowed to the forms of legality in their national life and patiently waited.
There is no doubt that England did have great religious tensions, such as the enforcement of the "Bloody Statute." It also experienced radical shifts of religious endorsement by the state with alternate communities being the source of persecution. This swayed between an anti-Catholic Henry VIII, a moderate Edward VI, the ardent Catholic Queen "Bloody" Mary and her intolerant husband, the later King Phillip the II, and finally back to England's current state of moderation with Queen Elizabeth and the Act of Uniformity in 1559.
The significance of this historical context rests in its moderating influence upon the "neurosis of spirit." The severe inner dissonance between faith and reason that occurred in "mainland" Europe, as discussed earlier, was in general, less intense in England. It was one of the last countries to experience a popular level of exclusively material and mechanistic metaphysical assumptions about science.
This perhaps may explain why, that as late as the early to mid-19th century in England, it was still possible to have an established class within society that pursued the harmony of science and religion; that of the "pastoral scientist." This stratum in society enjoyed a substantial position of merit and prestige. In fact the majority of scientists and most of the members of the British Association were also theologians. It is within this context that we examine Darwin.
Darwin's anti-theistic and anti-spiritual stance has been greatly exaggerated by his interpreters who have specific agenda. At the age of 22, Darwin graduated from Cambridge with a Bachelor of Arts in Theology and the Classics. He considered the joint life as clergyman/field scientist a very natural one and could imagine no better vocation. From this fact we see his early belief that discovering the beauty and sophistication of nature was a way of confirming the beauty and sophistication of the mind of God. Some might argue that this represented a "pre-Beagle" conversion experience. However, if Darwin did undergo a process in which God took less of an active role in evolution, it did not occur upon "discovering" his new theory. Confusion on this issue primarily results from modern interpreters erroneously associating his eventual rejection of organized religion with a rejection of God and design. Darwin speaks of his eventual rejection of organized religion. His rejection was of the
Old Testament from its manifestly false history of the world...and from its attributing to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant...I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation... Thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete.
Notice that he is not rejecting God or spiritual reality, merely a particular interpretation as seen in the Old Testament. This seems to be for two reasons. One, the inconsistent and conflicting views of Old Testament history, and two, a view of God as a revengeful tyrant.
Some also see his belief in the comprehensive ability of a single evolutionary model and his condemnation of the doctrine of special creation as a rejection of God or a spiritual nature in humanity. Yet,
Darwin himself was quite clear that his explanation of the biological evidence was not the only one which could be adduced. He did, however, believe that it possessed greater explanatory power than its rivals, such as the doctrine of special creation. 'Light has been shown on several facts, which on the theory of special creation are utterly obscure.'
A very rarely noticed event, and of no small significance, was the tragic suicide of Darwin's beloved father, later in life. Combine this personal loss and his frustration with unsuccessful appeals to the church regarding the doctrine of damnation that that suicide implied, and this had no small influence on him becoming cynical towards organized religion.
Increasingly, throughout his life, Darwin seemed to vacillate between purely random and purposeless understandings of the process of natural selection, and between the need to posit intention, purpose and design in such a process.
I am conscious that I am in an utterly hopeless muddle. I cannot think that
the world, as we see it, is the result of chance; and yet I cannot look at
each separate thing as the result of Design.
Perhaps this tension is also a reflection of Darwin actively wrestling with the apparent waste and suffering seen in the process of evolution:
We must regret that sentient beings should be exposed to so severe a struggle, but we should bear in mind that the survivors are the most vigorous and healthy and can most enjoy life: the struggle seldom recurs with full severity during each generation: in many cases it is the eggs, or the very young which perish.
Part of this tension is also due to his immersion in a scientific culture that encouraged reductionism and materialism and did not facilitate broader interdependent metaphysical visions of reality. This is reflected in his positing the principle 'survival of the fittest' as the primary selective criteria for successful species adaptation. Using a materialistic and reductionist metaphysics to filter this principle results in a 'survival of the fittest' that places emphasis on capacities for aggression, domination and competition. While in dialogue with the more interdisciplinary studies of modern environmental science, Darwin's vision may have tempered by our increased awareness of evolutions apparent propensity for sophisticated levels of interdependence between species and ecospheres. Seen in a broader vision, 'survival of the fittest' implies an organisms ability to more creatively participate in these sophisticated webs of interdependence. Some might even say to emulate attributes of cooperation and harmony as well as diversification.
Unfortunately, Darwin found himself on the defensive, attacked by the majority of apparent theistic or spiritual proponents. Perhaps if he had encountered more intelligent harmonizers of spiritual and material principles such as Keith Ward he may have instead said:
The goal of the process is a fully conscious goal, formulated in the
mind of God. What God wills, and consequently what the process
will eventually produce, is not the triumph of the strong, but the
triumph of virtue, of beneficence, compassion and love. The
ultimate evolutionary victory, on the theistic hypothesis, does not
go to the most ruthless exterminators and most fecund
Naïve concepts of God, such as a vengeful or controlling God, which Darwin objected to, particularly in poorly constructed Old Testament interpretations that were all too common, are not conducive to such a vision. God is not determined to externally remove all waste and randomness like a stern parent, but is aware that love can only be chosen in freedom.
...the apparently random element is in fact the best way of
achieving a goal directed outcome, while leaving the process itself
non-determinstic. Thus, a space is left for the free actions of
intelligent beings, which will later be so important to the
development of the cosmos. The apparently wasteful extermination
of individuals and species is, in fact, the best way of achieving a
gradual improvement of organic life-forms, while not permitting
autocratic 'interferences' which miraculously effect improvements
from outside the system. Moreover, it seems virtually undeniable
that the process brings into existence states of very great value
(like the appreciation of beauty, moral action and rational
understanding), which could not otherwise exist in the same way.
Thus the process is purposive, in the important sense that it is an
elegant and efficient law-like system for realising states of great
So we have the internal tensions of dissatisfaction with organized religion, amplified in his experience of personal loss, his knowledge of the waste and suffering present in the process of evolution, and perhaps most significantly there is a third tension.
In reaction against the stranglehold which the doctrine of special creation had upon the human imagination, it may have been necessary to construct a secular science, free from all appeals to God.
Regarding this last concern, Darwin writes against the theory of special creation:
Do they really believe that at innumerable periods in the earth's history certain elemental atoms have been commanded suddenly to flash into living tissue?
and Darwin indicates that one who holds the view that "man is the work of a separate act of creation" is "like a savage".
However in spite of these layers of tensions, Darwin still consciously and unconsciously feels the need to incorporate strong elements of design, both explicitly and implicitly throughout his work. At the end of The Origin of Species, Darwin indicates that natural selection advances our understanding of both science and God:
To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator, that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes...There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved. 
Even considering Darwin's vacillations between chance and design, it is strange how such an explicit affirmation of design seems to be completely ignored by subsequent interpreters, particularly among the neo-darwinists.
The very centre of Darwin's theory of evolution, the model of "natural selection" clearly incorporates those very features which materialists wish to suggest Darwin's theory disprove. The metaphor of natural design clearly indicates the qualities of purposefulness, active choice, rational analysis, and intention and most importantly, an active consciousness as the source of this process.
In the first chapter of the Origin of Species Darwin discusses the processes involved in artificial selection, as used in horticulture and agriculture. Artificial selection is seen as a methodical process where the intent of the breeder is to select particular desired qualities and through successive generations, amplify those qualities in a particular group. He then transfers this model in an analogy to describe the same processes in nature.
It may metaphorically be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinizing, throughout the world, the slightest variations; rejecting those that are bad, preserving and adding up all that are good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being.
Remembering the tension and vacillation of Darwin between positing purpose and random chance to the process of natural selection, Darwin later in life, commenting in his third preface to The Origin of Species writes,
...it is difficult to avoid personifying the word Nature; but I mean by Nature, only the aggregate action and product of many natural laws, and by laws the sequence of events as ascertained by us.
It is proposed that this qualification is representational of Darwin's strong concern not to be misinterpreted as using a metaphor equivalent to a "God of the Gaps" method. This concern is evident when one remembers the "stranglehold of special creation," Darwin's intention to dispel such a myth, as well as his efforts to indicate that a comprehensive theory of evolution, possessing its own independent integrity is possible. This is particularly supported by his concern, (in polemic against special creation) that there is no need to allude to external supernatural principles.
Even the modern materialistic neo-Darwinists in seeking to avoid implications of purpose and design in nature are unable to use metaphors that avoid implications of purpose and design; the most common being a machine. Perhaps this model is used to avoid connotations of the world possessing a "soul" or any spiritual nature. Yet, a machine is created by an independent consciousness, obeys principles incorporated in its design, and is created for a specific purpose.
It may be argued that it is impossible to avoid using such models that imply these principles and still convey consistency and integrity in the structure of the model of evolutionary theory. It may represent the intuition of "faith" in the intelligibility of the created order that the reason for this is that these principles are so in-built into physical reality that only those models that allude to such principles can be considered to have authentic representational value. And that this is also in-built into structures of the human mind to recognize the purposeful Mind present in the ordering of our reality. However this is a subject for fuller discussion in the concluding section of this thesis.
Darwin admits a number of significant tensions in his model. He is unable to demonstrate the process of "speciation" in geological records, as no "intermediate" species have been found. This geological incongruency has still not been resolved. As well he has difficulty in explaining the "extreme perfection and complication of certain organs such as the eye". Darwin writes:
A crowd of difficulties will have occurred to the reader. Some of them are so grave that to this day I can never reflect on them without being staggered; but, to the best of my judgement, the greater number are only apparent, and those that are real are not, I think, fatal to my theory.
That Darwin would experience such a vacillation on the issue of design and chance, purpose and randomness, is representative of both his feeling that design and purpose must be present, counteracted by the strong tensions mentioned previously. That he never came to terms with resolving these tensions by managing to qualify the context of a theory of evolution in which design, purpose and Divine participation were in harmony, is a tragedy of history. Speaking of his inability to resolve this tension Darwin writes:
I am in a thick mud; the orthodox would say in a fetid abominable mud. I believe I am in much the same frame of mind as an old gorilla would be in if set to learn the first book of Euclid...yet I cannot keep out of the question.
It is tragic that Darwin failed to resolve this tension for himself, as it became a useful lever for those later interpreters who exclusively wished to focus on the chance and random process of evolution present in Darwin's theory, ignoring the aspects of design and purpose, and thereby distorting the potential harmony of theology and science.
Regarding the misappropriation of Darwin's theory of evolution towards support for aetheism and materialism, Abdu'l-Bahá writes:
Moses taught that the world was brought into existence in the six days of creation. This is an allegory, a symbolic form of the ancient truth that the world evolved gradually. Darwin can refer to Moses for his theory of evolution. God did not allow the world to come into existence all at once, rather the divine breath of life manifested itself in the commanding Word of God, Logos, which engendered and begot the world. We thus have a progressive process of creation, and not a one-time happening. Moses' days of creation represent time spans of millions of years. From Pythagoras to ibn-i-Sina (known as Avicenna) to the 'faithful brothers of Basra', through Darwin and to the blessed Manifestations of the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh, both scholars and Prophets have testified to the progressive creative action of the Logos (divine breath of life). The Darwinian and monistic theories of evolution and the origin of species are not materialistic, atheisitic ideas; they are religious truths which the godless and the deluded have unjustifiably used in their campaign against religion and the Bible.
As has been briefly illustrated, this misappropriation of ideas occurred through a complex process. Newton's success in explaining the operations of the universe through mechanistic principles, was often equated with seeing the physical order as a machine. Newton actually encouraged this metaphor in that it alluded to Divine intelligence behind the design. Later science would adopt the concept of universal principles and law explaining all physical relationships, but lose the idea of design and God. This was enabled as the "machine" gained the principle of independent internal momentum, through Descartes and others; and finally when the machine acquired a random, purposeless evolutionary force of its own, through Darwin. The machine, had once been a marvel of genius in its sophistication, elegance and universal intelligibility that alluded to an infinitely virtuous Creator. However through a distorted interpretation of both the processes themselves, and the intentions of their authors, it became a self-winding, self-operating, and self-designing machine, as it were. And yet, as has already been noted, there are still difficulties with viewing the metaphor of reality as a machine, and divorcing that model from the implicit connections of creation by an independent consciousness, intentional design and specific purpose.
There is no doubt that both humans and the structure of the universe have machinelike qualities, but to identify that abstraction of similarity to the extent that those qualities justify treating the entire phenomenon as a machine is the fallacy of identifying an abstraction as concrete. Alfred Whitehead discusses this process and called it the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.
The distortion of these potentially more united views also occurred through the actions of extremists on both sides of the relationship, acted out in great public dramas. The implications of these dramas would undoubtedly be exaggerated by the immediate historians: the news reporters. The exaggeration of the Galileo affair and the mythifcation of the Laplace-Napolean conversation have already been mentioned. Thomas Huxley, an interpreter of Darwin, and his epic public defeat of Bishop Wilberforce represents another simplification and mythifaction of the significance of Darwin for the separation of religion and science.
The Bishop rose, and in a light scoffing tone, florid and fluent, he assured us that there was nothing in the idea of evolution; rock pigeons were what rock pigeons had always been. Then, turning to his antagonist with a smiling insolence, he begged to know, was it through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed descent from a monkey?
It is alleged that Huxley responded,
I should feel it no shame to have risen from such an origin, but I should feel it a shame to have sprung from one who prostituted the gifts of culture and eloquence to the service of prejudice and falsehood.
The inaccuracy of this characterization does little justice to the sophistication of Wilberforce's critiques, as Darwin actually modified his discussion at several points in response to a written analysis by Wilberforce. However, even if Wilberforce had been justifiably lampooned by this confrontation, it would only be symbolic of a number of non-essential factors such as an individual, (possibly representative of a group of similar individuals) exhibiting the qualities of ignorance, fanaticism and a lack of debating skills. But it would not, through any direct association, be representational of a clash of essential truths discrediting any potential harmony between a theological and a scientific understanding of reality.
These same principles of exaggerated significance would apply to numerous other historical events such as the famous Scopes (or "Monkey Trial") trial of 1925, which is remembered for the defeat of ignorant fundamentalists and their uneducated, fanatical, anti-evolutionary position. It symbolizes the moment when the entire U.S. education system rejected special creation, and more importantly, and unnecessarily, by association, the rejection of any religious implications of design or purpose, and adopted the partial, narrow and distortional materialist interpretation of Darwin's theory of evolution as the standard curriculum.
This "war" between science and religion is still being raged in the courts of America, with the two fanatical sides, claiming as prosecution counsel in 1925 did, that this is a 'duel to the death'. The two fanatical sides being the fundamental special creationists on the one side, and the scientific materialists on the other. That these two sides are the most outspoken and therefore get the most press coverage, means that any true dialogue between moderates attempting to facilitate a process of mutual consultation, integration and the development of other models besides conflict is largely ignored as not news-worthy. And therefore the general public is constantly bombarded with the impression that the only possible relationship between science and theology is conflict. The next chapter seeks to deconstruct some of the myths in popular scientific materialism, illustrate the harmony of methodology and model building by both science and theology, and indicate the potential integrative relationship before turning to the final chapter. That of the potential contribution of Bahá'í theology towards what has been considered exclusively the domain of science – ecological relationships.