Revisiting, and Rehabilitating, Science and Religion from the Perspective of 2022

Once, science and religion were seen as being in intense conflict that required either reconciliation or the defeat of one by the other. Yet both are still here, and science now is very different from what it was a century ago. The novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson argues that the relationship between these “two major pillars of our civilization” deserves more attention. But at present, she writes, both of these pillars have suffered damage to their reputations, and need above all “rehabilitation.” Robinson seeks biblical answers about how to provide it. (Free registration required.)

The Ptolemaic universe was the dominant scientific model of the heavens for centuries, and it worked surprisingly well, especially considering that it was fundamentally in error. In any case, beautiful images and models were made of it. Dante put it to glorious use. Now we have a vastly more beautiful cosmos, within which we have found an endless wealth of variety and wonder. And our arts hardly respond to what we know. A related fact: our theologies hardly respond to what we know. The general public, insofar as it is aware of advances in science, puts them all aside as it does the more obscure reaches of theology.

Religion has sometimes tried to respond to the challenge of science by ceding to it the magisterium of the factual, the demonstrable, the measurable, while retaining for itself the magisterium of truth in the higher sense—human creativity, human values, which exist, of course, in profound reference to the actual, that is, the factual. This division was meant to stop the quarreling. But it is really not consistent with the ethos of either science or religion to cede territories of thought or inquiry. The God of the Abrahamic traditions is God the Creator. His nature has been taken to be inscribed in His works.

[Moreover], whether or not His existence is a factor in the nature of the world, there is a glory in creation to which the hyperbolic celebrations of Scripture are uniquely appropriate. The book of Job describes creation as the moment when “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” In the long final speech from the whirlwind, God names the beasts and the natural forces and luxuriates in their power and strangeness, in overwhelming reply to the questioning of His justice.

Granting that this is a difficult teaching to absorb, it can only mean that the world, the cosmos, in its infinite particularity, should be seen as a joy to God Himself. Let us say, therefore, that it is recommended to our attention. And it is not without meaning that we are richly capable of such attention, as the arts and the sciences have demonstrated.

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Read more at New York Review of Books

More about: Hebrew Bible, Nature, Science and Religion

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy