Saturday, November 10, 2007
The More Things Change
When last we left Neal C. Gillespie's book, Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation, the completion of the change to the positivist episteme, begun in earnest by Copernicus and culminating in the collapse of the creationist episteme in its last great bastion, biology, was already under way when Darwin delivered the coup de grâce. But just as science was changing, religion, at least among those who wanted to practice both, also had to change:
The dilemma of the theist who practiced science within the new episteme was not the least of the various and complex changes that promoted a religion of faith which paralleled the acceptance of a positive science. Just as science shifted from a theological ground to a positive one, so religion -- at least among many scientists and laymen influenced by science -- shifted from religion as knowledge to religion as faith. The attempts to defend science from the charge of irreligion, which were so common among this group, necessarily required real, if subtle, redefinitions of religion and especially of Christianity.In short, science increasingly usurped the function of delivering human understanding of the material world. And, as science out-competed religion in that arena, religion had to adapt in order to make its way in a new and changing environment or face extinction. But as we've seen, the change in epistemes had happened over time and religion proved itself as flexible as the organisms that carry it out:
This, of course, involved no novel approach to either theology or the Scriptures. Prescient theologians had prepared the way well beforehand. The Bible as history had gone the way of the Bible as science and had given way to the Bible as myth. Myth was thought of, not as error, but as symbolic theological truth. Ethics replaced ritual purity and behavioral conformity as the center of concern. Christianity became hard to distinguish from theism and theism from a vague belief in some sort of spiritual dimension in life. The influence of scientists in weaning a large portion of the public away from biblical literalism and changing the nature of that public's understanding of Christianity should not be underrated ...If nothing else, the lesson of history is that those who hope to stamp out religion with science have a more formidable foe than they might wish.
Labels: Gillespie: Darwin and Creation