How We Think
Two interesting stories in the special “Mind & Body” issue of Time (February 23rd) raise significant questions—as I suppose they should—about how we think in contemporary America. First, Jeffrey Kluger’s cover story, “How Faith Can Heal”, explores the growing evidence for the healing power of our own “spirituality”, and the growing evidence that our spiritual inclinations are reflected in various aspects of brain development.
Or vice versa, of course. That is, our spiritual inclinations presumably reflect something of how we’re “put together”. In any case, the article inevitably skirts the question of whether or not our spiritual inclinations (and the corresponding design and development of our brains) actually point to a spiritual reality outside ourselves. The author does not appear hostile to this truth-question; rather, the point of his article—and apparently his own general assumption as well—is that it is best to prescind from that question so that doctors and pastors can get on with the business of collaborating effectively on what matters: healing.
This preference, in a major news magazine, may not reveal a great deal about how most Americans think, but it does reveal something about how our cultural elites think such questions ought to be addressed. In fact, one would have had to grow up in a vacuum tube not to be already well aware of the social desirability of prescinding from the question of truth when discussing spirituality. We have all been carefully taught to maintain the polite fiction that what is important about spirituality is our own feelings, and not any external reality. And this surely tells us something important about how we think, or perhaps how we’re afraid to think.
The second story, Carl Zimmer’s “Evolving Darwin”, covers discoveries since Darwin’s day, including DNA, which most scientists see as generally corroborating the broad outlines of Darwin’s theory while at the same time leading to significant alterations of that theory. The article is—remarkably—free from any foray into “spirituality”. It does not suggest that evolutionary theory reflects negatively on ideas about God; nor that God-fearing souls ought to be wary of evolutionary theory. Granted, this may be so only because Zimmer assumes that “science” has long since won the strange quarrel over evolution between itself and “religion”. Still, there are no silly pot shots taken, and none received.
That’s a very good thing, because people on all sides of the evolution debate need to get it through their heads that evolutionary theory tells us absolutely nothing about the existence of God. God creates out of nothing and sustains all that He creates. Whatever He creates has within it the potential to develop according to whatever His intentions are in creating and sustaining it. There is no question of God having somehow “botched” creation so that it sort of works but He has to intervene now and then to make adjustments. He creates and sustains out of nothing in a single act. Without God no natural thing could exist even for a split-second. In other words, God and creation are completely prior to questions about how nature works.
Therefore, while our study of the wonders of nature surely ought to lead us to praise the wisdom and power of the Creator, just as St. Paul affirms in the first chapter of Romans, there is no sense whatsoever in arguments that one theory of natural processes “proves” there is no such thing as God while another “proves” that only God could have bridged some gap between two aspects of nature. Apart from gaps in our knowledge, there are no “gaps” in God’s creation, which functions exactly as He has created and sustained it to do. God does not create as we do, out of pre-existing parts, imperfectly, and with constant corrections required; God creates and sustains instantaneously and perfectly out of nothing at all.
All of nature testifies to God’s creative power, not because of this or that theory of how things work, but simply because contingent existence is impossible without God. For this reason, the relevance of the second article to the first ought to be obvious. Whether or not we recognize this connection will also tell us something about how we think. Or how we ought to.
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