Well, at least Edward O. Wilson is trying. In an op-ed Sunday morning in USA Today, Harvard's famed entomologist called for a ceasefire in the evolution wars: "American civilization was born of both religion and the science-based Enlightenment. Science will go on expanding its way, and religion will continue to evolve its way. Our culture is strong in civility and common sense. As always, we'll work things out."
The confidence of that last line isn't quite commensurate with the alarmism of the rest of the op-ed. Nor is the praised civility fully on display. Still, Wilson has an impulse that isn't silly. He seems to think the problem comes entirely from the religious side, but that may be merely a side effect of the fact that it is an audience of scientists, or perhaps pro-science journalists, he's trying to convince.
This claim of Wilson's, however, seems curious: "What then are we to do? Put the differences aside, I say. Meet on common ground where we can find it. An excellent example taking form is the cooperation between science and religion, the two most powerful forces in the world, to protect Earth's vanishing natural habitats and speciesin other words, the Creation, however we believe it came into existence."
The capitalized word "Creation" does rather suggest a Creator, but set that aside for a moment. Where does he find the grounds for this kind of ethical claim about the good of environmentalism? It's quite possibly true, but the whole point of his article is that science and religion are so utterly divided that they cannot touch. And Wilson's reason seems finally to be a fact/value distinction. Maybe religious types can get to an ethical claim out of that, but the science types surely can't. Unless, of course, it's not fact-laden science they hold, but something like "scienticism"a value-laden system that sometimes masquerades as science.
One of the most lively churches in Washington, D.C., is Capitol Hill Baptist. It's led by a Cambridge-educated pastor named Mark Dever, the author of Richard Sibbes, an interesting study of Calvinism in Elizabethan England, and, published just last month, The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept. A few years ago, I heard Mark preach the entirety of Jonathan Edwards' sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" to a stunned congregation, and there always seems to be something interesting going on at the church.
Last month, for instance, Claudia Anderson, a managing editor at the Weekly Standard, joined Capitol Hill Baptist's "Biblical Vision of Beauty" series to talk about "The Beauty of the Savior." She spoke of the moment in Pilgrim's Progress when Christian questions the men fleeing the Valley of the Shadow of Death:
"But what have you seen?" said Christian.
"Seen!" comes the reply, "Why the Valley itself, which is as dark as pitch: We also saw there the Hobgoblins, Satyrs, and Dragons of the Pit: We heard also in that Valley a continual howling and yelling, as of a people under unutterable misery, who there sat bound in affliction and irons: and over that Valley hang the discouraging clouds of Confusion: Death also doth always spread his wings over it. In a word, it is every whit dreadful, being utterly without order." What struck me in this description was not the more lurid bits, the hobgoblins and dragons of the pit, or the chained people howling in misery. No, it was possibly the least flashy partit was that ceiling of cloud that hangs over the valley, made up of the "discouraging clouds of confusion," with death also lurking there, spreading his wings over the whole place.
The relation of confusion to death seems so interesting, for it stands over against the relation of clarity to life: "One of the joys of coming to faith in Christ is realizing that all truth belongs to God. He, indeed is the author of Truth. He is the fountain of Truth at the heart of the universe. And over and over, the Bible defines heaven as seeing Godnot through a glass darkly, but meeting Truth face to face. All truth is God's truth2 and 2 are 4, no less than the 'deep things' of the faith."
And the testimonies of truth are strengthened by the testimonies of beauty: "Yet it is the truths of salvation that belong peculiarly to Christ. And these truths are beautiful in a most unusual way," Anderson argues. "The One who created all life, and who, as the psalm says, knit each one of us together in our mother's womb, and presided at our bodily birth, can give us spiritual life. In what Jonathan Edwards called a "sweet mutual consent," as we recoil from our lives of sin and need, he meets us with the holy gifts of repentance and faith and newness of life." Along the way, "we are buoyed by the sheer beauty of the promise of paradise. There, all our human confusions will finally fall away, and we will be united forever with the Truth"for "the Tree of Life will be therethe same Tree of Life from which Adam and Eve were separated when they were expelled from the garden for their disobedience."
In addition to which:
The question of what it means to be an evangelical takes some surprising turns in "Evangelicals and Others" by Timothy George. Along with much else in the February issue is Avery Cardinal Dulles on what Pope Benedict favors and disfavors in the documents of Vatican II, Richard John Neuhaus on the troubling reactions to the instruction on gays and the priesthood, and a critical appreciation of Stanley Hauerwas by Stephen Webb. To become a subscriber to FIRST THINGS, click here.