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Batt, James R. (ed.) / Wisconsin Academy review
Volume 20, Number 4 (Fall 1974)

Holstein-Schoff, Gretchen
A one-eyed glimpse of the garden,   pp. 2-5


Page 4


   But as a teacher, a Christian, a wife, and a parent,
I found that I had to think about it. I found every
day too full of Alice-in-Wonderland strangeness, eat-
ing scientific cakes that made me grow so ungainly
my head bumped the ceiling, drinking from philo-
sophic and theological bottles that shrank me so
frighteningly I feared I might disappear entirely. I
lived in a world where two separate languages were
being spoken; but I could not believe that scientists
were all godless, nor that theologians and philoso-
phers were all so subjective that facts did not touch
them.
  The privilege of a year's sabbatical to study issues
in science and religion has led me into the study of a
whole new language unlike any I have encountered
before. I do not pretend to be either scientist or theo-
logian, nor do I wish to repeat the nineteenth century
battles of science and religion. I have read and listen-
ed to a remarkable collection of pioneers engaged for
the past several decades in the process of hammering
out a new lexicon to describe our world and our
place in it. While it is a handy device to think of the
scientist as involved in asking "How?" and of the
theologian in asking"Why?" this distinction no longer
serves to describe the border conversations in which
the participants must, above all, admit that their
existing languages are inadequate either to describe
the depths of their insights or the limits and bounda-
ries of their insights. A fundamental humility at the
direct confrontation with mystery is at last driving
theologians and scientists to discoveries of a mutual
language, which in all its new syntax is provisional,
dynamic, and in never-ending search for definition.
The language they seek to create is not an effort to
explain away Lazarus with descriptions of catatonic
states, or to plug in a god-of-the-gaps to explain
unsolved scientific riddles.
  The language of border conversation is still primi-
tive, a frail raft constructed with the lumber of con-
ventional disciplines but nailed together with explora-
tory analogy and metaphor, then set adrift in search
of companion passengers who find it seaworthy.
Philosopher and scientist both stare at the yet un-
plumbed depths of fundamental seas. What is the end
of something? Or its beginning? What does it mean
to say "I am"?
  The physicists were perhaps the first to discover the
language void. When their comfortable Newtonian
world pillars of space and time were swept away by
Einstein's relativity and Heisenberg's uncertainty
principle, the old questions of the nature of the mate-
rial world had to be expressed in new ways. Heisen-
berg, in his autobiography, reiterates ceaselessly the
idea that "atoms are not things." At the subatomic
level, electrons cannot be described by their location,
speed, energy, or size. If the propositions of theoreti-
cal physics now demand that we refer to probabilities
and possibilities rather than to facts, then causal
determinism is dead, not only in physics but in
metaphysics as well.
  Perceptive theologians began to realize that their
interpretive tasks were burdened by an unwieldy,
4
barnacle-encrusted vocabulary. It became increasing-
ly difficult to make congruent the natural philosophy
of Aquinas with the findings of modern science, to
explain how his clockwork universe keeps losing
parts and adding parts, ticking off eons as if they
were milliseconds.
   Stirrings of our mortal clay begun by Darwin
reached the bone-cracking stage in the now-famous
work of Urey and Miller. Their synthesis of the
primeval soup, their work on proteins and amino
acids, opened the door to modern research on the
genesis of living matter. Although biochemistry is
still in its relative infancy, its most sophisticated re-
searchers have already found themselves in the same
provisional language corner with the physicists. As
the biochemist sees all living matter caught in a web
of relationship, involved in a constant process of in-
creasing complexification, and as the astrophysicist
sees all living matter, as we know it, caught in the
solar system of a dying sun, all objective language
that uses words like "birth," "death,"
"ends,"
"begin-
nings," is thrown into confusion. Through the extend-
ed eyes of the telescope and microscope, scientists
peer at galactic and microscopic space. But looking
above the piles of data, they find that those data con-
tinually dispel particular ignorances, but only seem
to deepen the mystery of the whole. Put another way,
the scientific question of the "How?" remains forever
in the grasp of the larger "Why?"
   It is precisely at this intersection of the "How?"
and "Why?" that scientists are carrying on their
conversations with humanists.
  At the outset, it must be emphasized that persons
capable of, or even interested in, such border conver-
sations seem to share certain qualities. They are, first
of all, "fully baked"; they have worked in depth in
their specialized disciplines and are esteemed for their
competence by their peers. When the scientists speak,
they are cognizant of the methods of scientific inquiry,
of its usage of analogies and models in the creation
of scientific theory, and of the undeniable influence of
the observer upon the data. Lifetimes in laboratories
have shown them that scientific inquiry is not the
methodical quest generally supposed by the public;
that just as often it depends upon the happy accident,
the personal quirk of the scientist, or a keen eye for
some phenomenon so minute or so grossly obvious
that hundreds of others missed it. When the humanists
speak, they are aware of the more intrinsically sub-
jective nature of their inquiry-that the understanding
of the human condition, whether it be sociological,
historical, literary, or theological, uses symbolic lan-
guage based upon philosophic assumptions in the
observer. In short, those worth listening to, on either
hand, speak from the richness and discipline of a
particular tradition, and have moved into "border"
conversation when they found the language of their
tradition to be inadequate. This has been true of
Heisenberg, Whitehead, and Dobzhansky; of Heim,
Cobb, Sittler, and Pannenberg. To these must be
added the roster of others who have combined in
their formal educations both humanistic and scientific


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