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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 5


A more hopeful view of the relationship of science and
theology is afforded by "border conversationalists" who
are
attempting to interpret the two worlds and provide a new
language of mutual understanding. "Sea and Sky 11" by
M. C. Escher, with its interplay of foreground and back-
ground, succeeds in intermingling two worlds and destroying
the interface between. (Courtesy of the Escher Foundation,
Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague.)
disciplines-Schilling, Barbour, Pollard.
  A cameo instance of such a border conversation
was a recent theological convention held in Chicago
at which the first speaker was not a theologian or a
parish minister but a biochemist. By means of slides
and lecture, Dr. Clifford Matthews, a biochemist at
the University of Illinois, drew together the history of
modern biochemical research, from its brave begin-
nings in Pasteur's classic experiments to the constant-
ly advancing research on the nature of living matter
now being carried forward in genetics, physiology,
and biochemistry. Regardless of the particular stance
any of these sciences may take regarding the details
of evolutionary process, the general direction is one
of growth toward complexity and of continuous
change whose final outcome is in the future and un-
known. The working parish minister, whose stock in
trade is the Edenic myth, the rainbow, and the empty
tomb, looked at the weird geography of the electron
microscope's world and at the reaches of the cosmos
seen by telescope and immeasurably stretched by
space exploration. I cannot believe that the next time
he spoke the words, "The earth is the Lord's, and the
fullness thereof," "The spirit of God moved upon the
face of the waters," or "The Word became flesh and
dwelt among us" those familiar phrases had not taken
on new dimensions.
  It would be a dull person indeed who is not moved
to some sort of philosophic speculation by such a
view of mankind: the most complex and sentient of
the biological mechanisms, but probably only a link
in the great chain whose next member is yet unknown,
living on a planet whose surface temperature, barring
atomic holocaust or environmental catastrophe, will,
by natural processes and within four billion years,
be 4000 degrees.
   For me, the compression of these two understand-
ings into a single hour's presentation struck with
peculiar force. My awe was compounded when I
realized that the first speaker, Dr. Matthews, was
there at the invitation of the second, Dr. Joseph Sittler.
Sittler, one of America's most eminent theologians,
began to speculate on the significance of modern
scientific findings for theological understanding of
such traditional doctrines as resurrection, incarna-
tion, the Trinity, and the Holy Spirit. Unavoidably,
his final words spoke of the "collective fate of man-
kind" as we know it. I came to realize that the theo-
logian's quest for understanding the true nature of
God and his dealings with men is irrevocably linked
to what can be learned from the scientist about our
biological being and our fading cosmos. These ques-
tions, whether they bear conventional religious tags
or not, must occur to biochemists just as they do to
philosophers, or they would find no reasons to get up
in the morning, face another day, or bring children
into the world.
   If some Dali-esque artist were to draw a cross
section of modern society's collective brain and the
mind stuff which fills it, the temptation would be to
paint a circle cut neatly down the middle by a thick
wall. One half of the circle would be filled with scien-
tists, engineers, and their tools-a telescope, a space
ship, a computer, a microscope, the genetic code; the
other half would be filled with lovers, sufferers, philos-
ophers, artists, heroes, martyrs, with poems, music,
painting, crosses, spires, thrones, and hermits' caves.
I cannot believe that modern man must be resigned to
using only one half of that circle at a time or that its
central partition is so impenetrable that sounds can-
not cross from one half to the other. The border con-
versationalists are trying to replace the thick wall of
partition with a semipermeable membrane where dif-
fusion between the two worlds can begin to take place.
   I am also convinced that Alice in Wonderland,
 like all great children's books, was really written for
 adults. Alice's most important discovery as she
 shrank and grew in her wonderland, was that she
 could eventually manage, by careful alternation of
 cakes and drink, to make herself of proper size to fit
 her world. Her first clue came when, through a
 keyhole, she caught a one-eyed glimpse of the garden.
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