Marilynne Robinson is a Christian and a deep thinker (this very conjunction may shock some). She is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist (Gilead, Home) and leader in that great thrumming Midwestern engine of the American fiction scene: the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. She has taken to heart the traditional Christian insistence that we have been given minds, the faculty of reason, as God’s highest gift, and that we must thus steward them well–see this post, point #6. Now she is training her focus on the mind itself, against certain reductionistic genetic approaches (she calls these “parascientific.”) I link here a recent article in Commonweal, which is taken from her new book, Absence of Mind (which is now Amazon’s #3 “religious nonfiction” book).
A mentor sent me this same link, saying in his email “If you set out to read this, disconnect the phone, sit up straight, and lock the door.” Indeed. She traverses rocky philosophical terrain in engaging the “parascientists.” But she does it with tremendous beauty and potency. Though I have a PhD (granted it’s in one of those fuzzy-headed humanistic disciplines), I had to “blip” through parts of this, as one of Charles Schulz’s characters once said he had to with the Russian names in a Dostoevsky novel. But it was worth the extra time and thought.
A few tastes of the essay follow, but I recommend you simply disconnect the phone, etc., and then click the link above and read the whole thing for yourself:
The strangeness of reality consistently exceeds the expectations of science, and the assumptions of science, however tried and rational, are inclined to encourage false expectations. Continue reading
The “fathers of modern science”–that is, men (very few women) in the 17th century who launched the specialized fields of study within the hard sciences–were almost all Christians who studied science to “think God’s thoughts after him.” I’ll post again listing their names and fields. But one of the most fascinating cases of the NON-conflict between science and Christian faith was the monk Gregor Mendel, whose researches helped found the modern science of genetics. I dug up some info on Mendel for a Christian History e-newsletter. As with many of these posts from my Christian History days, you’ll probably find that the links are out-of-date and possibly non-functional. But the story is still a fascinating one, I think:
The Christian DNA of Modern Genetics
Though open to frightening ethical abuse, genetics has been a Christian vocation since Gregor Mendel did his famous pea-plant experiments in the mid-nineteenth century.
If canonization as a saint were—as some observers fuzzily imagine—a sort of Rotarian medal for service to humankind, the nineteenth-century monk-scientist Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) would have gained the honor long ago.
Of course, these days, not everyone may be so happy about placing a halo over the man who shows up in school science texts as the father of modern genetics. Recently, a few bad apples have been threatening to spoil the whole harvest of genetic science with wild claims about human cloning‘s potential benefits. If we bought the theories of some biological determinists, we would need only to get our hands on Saint Gregor’s relics—just a cheek cell or two would do—and we could create a whole army of scientific geniuses. Continue reading
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Tagged Augustinians, cloning, DNA, faith and reason, friars, genetics, Gregor Mendel, monasticism, monks, Order of Augustinian Canons, science