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.