Madeleine L’Engle: Is There Conflict Between Science and Faith?

In her nonfiction book Walking on Water, novelist Madeleine L’Engle recalls an exchange she had following a talk she gave at a college campus:

“During the question-and-answer period after a talk, a college student rose in the audience and commented with some surprise, ‘You don’t seem to feel any conflict between science and religion.’

“I tried to explain. Of course not. Why should there be a conflict? All that the new discoveries of science can do is to enlarge our knowledge of the magnitude and glory of God’s creation. We may, and often do, abuse our discoveries, use them for selfish and greedy purposes, but it is the abuse which causes the conflict, not the discoveries themselves. When they upset the religious establishment it is not because they have done anything to diminish God; they only diminish, or—even more frightening—change, the current establishment’s definition of God. We human beings tend to reject change, but a careful reading of Scripture reveals the slow and unwilling acceptance of change in the ancient Hebrews’ understanding of the Master of the Universe, and the Incarnation demanded more change than the establishment could bear. But our fear and our rejection does not take away from truth, and truth is what the Bible instructs us to know in order that we may be free.

“Neither our knowledge of God and his purposes for his creation, nor the discoveries of science are static. I must admit that the scientists are often easier for me to understand than the theologians, for many theologians say, ‘These are the final answers.’ Whereas the scientists—correction: the best of them—say, ‘This is how it appears now. If further evidence is to the contrary, we will see where it leads us.’

“And of course I’m being unfair to the theologians. The best of them, too, are open to this uncertainty, which is closer to the truth which will set us free than any closed system.”

MADELEINE L’ENGLE, Walking on Water (Grand Rapids: WaterBrook, 2001) 190-191.

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God Bless Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury passed away on Tuesday, June 5, 2012. I only met him once, in the spring of 2007, plus we exchanged a few letters and a phone call over the years. But his impact on my life was immense. I would probably not be a writer today if not for the influence of Ray Bradbury. I have spent countless hours, from my boyhood to the present day, reading his stories and exploring his imagination.

One of the themes of my life and my writing is that science and religion are fully compatible fields of inquiry. They are NOT (as Stephen Jay Gould has called them) “non-overlapping magisteria,” mutually exclusive domains. Science and religion should support and empower each other in the search for truth, knowledge, meaning, and an understanding of who we are, where we came from, and why we exist in this universe. Many of my favorite writers have written on this theme (from a wide variety of viewpoints), including C. S. Lewis, Walter M. Miller, Jr., James Blish, Madeleine L’Engle, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert J. Sawyer, David Brin—

And, of course, Ray Bradbury. Here’s a brief passage from my favorite Bradbury novel, The Martian Chronicles:

The captain nodded. “Tell me about [the Martian civilization],” he said, waving his hand at the mountain towns.

[Spender replied:] “They knew how to live with nature and get along with nature. They didn’t try too hard to be all men and no animal. That’s the mistake we made when Darwin showed up. We embraced him and Huxley and Freud, all smiles. And then we discovered that Darwin and our religions didn’t mix. Or at least we didn’t think they did. We were fools. We tried to budge Darwin and Huxley and Freud. They wouldn’t move very well. So, like idiots, we tried knocking down religion.

“We succeeded pretty well. We lost our faith and went around wondering what life was for. If art was no more than a frustrated outflinging of desire, if religion was no more than self-delusion, what good was life? Faith had always given us answers to all things. But it all went down the drain with Freud and Darwin. We were and still are a lost people.”

“And these Martians are a found people?” inquired the captain.

“Yes. They knew how to combine science and religion so the two worked side by side, neither denying the other, each enriching the other.”

Beautiful thoughts, profound insight. I agree with Ray’s Martians, of course. Here’s something else Ray Bradbury once said—and though I don’t know that he intended this particular interpretation, I take these words as Ray’s intuitive affirmation of the fine-tuning (anthropic) argument for the existence of God:

“We are an impossibility in an impossible universe.”

Yes we are. We live our impossible lives inside a universe that defies explanation. Every human life is a miracle of rare device—and Ray’s life was more miraculous than most. It’s going to be a lot harder living on this planet now that Ray Bradbury is no longer on it. A lot harder.

Thank you, Ray, and God bless you.

Quote

“Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary. Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.” —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.