Thursday, January 31, 2019

How to Relate Science and Religion in America? A Short Meditation

This post represents an excerpt from the book I'm currently writing on science and religion in our country.

I learned from the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre that 
A “living tradition” is  “an historically extended, socially embodied argument, and an argument precisely in part about the goods which constitute that tradition.” Alasdair MacIntryre
With that in mind, it remains worth discussing the traditions that constitute America, and particularly how science and religion contribute to this living tradition and its argument. A fair reading of American history demonstrates that our county has been at its best when we bring together these two cultural forces of science and religion. 

I have used the phrase “cultural forces," but why? It strikes me, having pored over the recent book by John H. Evans, Morals Not Knowledge: Recasting the Contemporary U.S. Conflict between Religion and Science, that science and religion’s conflicts consist more often or morality than a “systematic knowledge conflict.” True enough. (This exists in contradiction to Stephen Jay Gould’s remarks, “Morality is a subject for philosophers, theologians, students of the humanities, indeed for all thinking people. The answers will not be read passively from nature; they do not, and cannot, arise from the data of science. The factual state of the world does not teach us how we, with our powers for good and evil, should alter or preserve it in the most ethical manner.”) 

And this ethical conflict rears its head in the notorious case of evolution. As Whitcomb and Morris assert in their vastly influential 1961 creationist text The Genesis Flood, 

The morality of evolution, which assumes progress and achievement and “good” come about through such action as benefits the individual himself or the group of which he is a part, to the detriment of others, is most obviously anti-Christian.

When we read this, the cover is ripped off of a warfare between “creation” and “evolution” as solely cognitive.

And yet I am stepping back even further. I believe we are addressing what I’ve come to
see as the “dream of America.” In other words, what is this experiment of America (or "the American experiment") and what are the goods implicit in our common good? Who will be included? I’ve also been inspired by Columbia humanities professor Andrew Delbanco’s brilliant (and to my mind, underappreciated) reflection on our country, The Real American Dream: A Meditation on Hope, in which he argues—as the subtitle suggests, that our search for hope has fueled the American Dream. Delbanco offers a three-part typology through the first two hundred years with the Puritans, who grounded their hope in a covenant with God, the nineteenth century (broadly speaking), where Nation became our guiding light, and in the ending of the twentieth century, which focused our attention on Self. (Delbanco wrote The Real American Dream in 1999.) He found the final stage of this search for hope in the Self insubstantial.
The specifics of Delbanco’s argument are brilliant and brilliantly articulated, but my interest does not lie there. Instead, I have learned from him the importance of hope and even more a story and vision for what makes the good life, for what constitutes the American Dream. My rephrasing of that search as the “dream of America” is intended to demonstrate that our country’s yearning extends beyond financial mobility (as important as that is for the lower economic strata), to a gleaming vision for America as a concept and inspiration. 

I’ve mentioned above that MacIntyre above, and so I pose some questions: How are science and religion involved in an argument over the common good of America yesterday, today, and tomorrow? What is the experiment of America, and what are the goods implicit in our common good? Who will be included? Will it be only the voices or religious leaders? Or scientists? 

I'm not sure any generation has presented definitive answers to these questions, but I believe some are better than others. And that they have significant cultural implications for our country.

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