It doesn’t have to be science vs. religion

The Perot Museum of Nature and Science has opened to rave reviews. Deservedly so. It’s a work of art that honors the Creative Mind behind it all.

Of course, creative minds designed and built the museum. Architects, builders, directors and donors: These all had a hand in the making of something that adds aesthetic and cultural value to the city. But when I say that it honors the Creative Mind behind it all, I mean something that people of science and faith both might challenge.

The museum doesn’t just exhibit, it teaches. It takes evolution as a working fact of how the world and human life developed. Which is the rub for many who see there a contest between religion and science.

It doesn’t need to be so, though. A tension, yes, but a contest, no.

Evolution says something similar to what Genesis says: There is a relationship between time and matter in how things have come to be. Genesis poetically uses a seven-day week to picture it, rather than the scientific estimate of 13.9 billion years since the universe burst into being. Evolution says also what Genesis says about how one thing builds upon another, about how all things hang together, and about how all things — including human life — are related. Even the iron in the blood of your veins was once a part of an exploding star. Marvelous.

Admittedly, evolution and Genesis, science and religion do not agree at all points, and they operate with different starting points. Yet each can increase our bank of knowledge.

Religious congregations offer perspectives that might enrich those in the world of science whose worldview is open enough to include things untestable. Science can say a lot about what things are and how things come to be, but it has little to say about why. The age-old philosophical question Why is there something and not nothing? can’t be answered in a laboratory.

Sometimes science itself gestures in the direction of faith. Harvard socio-biologist E. O. Wilson has coined the term eusociality to describe something rare in his study of evolutionary behavior. Eusociality involves ways of living that go beyond the red-claw instinct for self-preservation. Foundational characteristics of eusocial behavior are nest building, cross-generational communities, divisions of labor and altruistic actions — individuals working for the common good, defending the nest, even to the point of sacrificing one’s life. Love? Out of all the lines in the evolutionary tree that lead to modern humans, only one, homo sapiens, is eusocial. We are, evolutionarily speaking, rare birds.

Wilson traces the emergence of these behaviors and follows their development across eons and the vast realm of nature and helps us see that we are part of a grand evolutionary epic, one that few of us know much about. People of faith know something about this grand epic from other sources. Our biblical traditions point again and again to a story that is embedded in the fabric of the universe. It’s a story of self-sacrificing love that derives from a God deeply engaged in the essence of all things.

Compassion, self-sacrificing love, communities of support and encouragement: We have vital houses of worship all over Dallas that teach and practice these things. They form a wonderful complement to the wonderful new museum. You can join one of these, too, and frequent it often. It will prove eusocial.