Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Why is the sky blue? (It has nothing to do with wavelengths.)

"In our world," said Eustace, "a star is a huge ball of flaming gas."

"Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what a star is made of."
-Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis
I'm sure what I have to say here is a reiteration of what others have said hundreds of times if I cared to search through literature and what passes for it on the Internet, but perhaps it stands to be said once again anyway. There are a lot of people in the world these days who, whether they would state it this way or not, put science in the place of faith. I think this is a grave mistake, and a way of closing oneself off from truly glorious possibilities of experience in this life (not to mention the next) by being closed-minded.

Let me make something very clear, though. It is often such self-professed skeptics who hurl the accusation of closed-mindedness at those who do have faith. Hypocrisy? No, actually, because they can often be right. You see, the very point I wish to make here is that science and faith are not opposing sides such that one must choose one or the other, but two separate things that can and should coexist in harmony. Among those of us who have faith as a major aspect of our lives, there are more than a few who have taken a position wherein they have done the opposite of the skeptics, and put faith in the place of science. Given that faith tends to be a thing more rigid than science in general, a person in such a mindset might rightfully be said to be more closed-minded than a person of the opposing camp.

It came as a bit of a surprise to me, and it may to you, to find out that C.S. Lewis, arguably the most prominent Christian apologist of the 20th century, was a believer in evolution. Modern evangelicals love Lewis, but hate evolutionary theory; how many know of his views on this matter?

The thing is, recently I finally had a chance to read some of Lewis' science fiction. (I've been well-acquainted with his "Chronicles of Narnia" since I was about six. Prince Caspian is a book I fondly remember as being the first novel I managed to read within a 24-hour period, back when I was seven years old and I had just discovered that The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe was only the first book in a series of seven!) Perhaps not as deeply engaging and enchanting as his Narnia books, but still a pretty good read, Lewis had written a trilogy of books involving space travel and aliens. The thing that seems odd about them is the manner in which the main character of the stories discusses with sentient beings on other planets his attempt to grasp what forces of nature might have caused them to evolve into the forms that they have come to be, while at the same time, it is quite clear that this protagonist is a devoted Christian in the midst of a very Christian story. The power of Lewis' interplanetary theology drips from every page of the tale, and is a strong, positive message. Yet I suspect that if these stories were to be written today, no Christian publishing house would touch them for the science that doesn't fit in with the popular evangelical world-view.

It's a shame. No really, I mean that not in the "Oh, it's too bad," sense, but in the real sense of meaning that I'm embarrassed for fellow Christians who might miss a good message for the sake of fighting a world-view that need not be the enemy of the faith we live. After all, who can doubt the fervor and intensity of Lewis' faith? Yet he maintained that faith while being quite comfortable accepting the science of the 20th century right alongside his faith. Is it so impossible that Christians could do the same?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to advocate that we all embrace evolutionary theory. It has its merits, but the strength of science is in the allowance of skepticism. By all means, doubt evolution, question it! But don't reject it out-of-hand as though it were blasphemous just because you can't fit it easily into your world-view. And I give the same message to those whose religion has become science, whether you realize it or not. There are a lot of scientists who feel that the natural world is pointing to the idea of a higher power: science and religion can and do mix freely.

What is it that has failed in our culture that so many of us can't see this? I think it is a lack of understanding of the basic questions we ask in order to understand the universe. I thought I had shared this allegory with you before, and if you've heard it excuse me, but it's one of my favorites: There once was a community of mice who all lived inside of a piano. Every day, as the mice went about their business, beautiful music floated down from above them and filled their world. The mice had come to believe that there was a being who was larger and more intelligent than them who lived outside of the piano, and this person, the Great Musicmaker, made the music because of a love of beauty. Some mice decided one day to go and try to find the Great Musicmaker, so they climbed up the insides of the piano to see what they would see. Eventually, they came to a large cavern filled with strings and hammers. As they stood there wondering what they were seeing, the music began playing. They were shocked at what they saw, and they returned immediately to the rest of the mice. Once back, they reported, "There is no Great Musicmaker, only hammers striking strings!"

What's the point of this story? The point of this story, and all that I am writing here is that the question of HOW things come to be is a separate one from WHY things come to be. When the mice looked on the hammers and strings, they understood the HOW, and were somehow blinded to the WHY. Likewise, in our world, many people examine the world and find "There is no God, only space-time and matter and forces, and all can be explained by gravity and chemistry and quantum forces." I've said it many times; yes, all can be explained by those things, but only the HOW of those things.

But there is an extension to this allegory that perhaps fits to the modern world. Suppose the mice chose to continue to believe in the Great Musicmaker? Really, they would be right to do so, wouldn't they? Where they would be wrong is if they denounced those mice who claimed that the strings and hammers existed, and said that is was wrong to believe in the existence of strings and hammers. That would be putting so much emphasis on the WHY that there was no room for the HOW.

It is my belief that everything that exists, exists for a reason. It is also my belief that this reason is twofold: one aspect is WHY the thing exists, and one aspect is HOW it came to exist. Those two aspects may be and probably are strongly intertwined, so I see no reason why either one should be divorced completely from the picture.

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