A sermon in The Other Six Days series
Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center
September 6, 2009
Proverbs 25:2-3; Psalm 19:1-6; Mark 12:28-34
Proverbs 25:2-3 – It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out. Like the heavens for height, like the earth for depth, so the mind of kings is unsearchable.
Psalms 19:1-6 – The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.
Mark 12:28-34 – One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’–this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.”
I’m going to come right out and let you know now, just in case you aren’t already aware, that I am addicted to the TV show Lost. I warn you about this because what that means is that on Thursday mornings after the show has been on, I am one of the insufferable people who gather around the watercooler and dissect every episode for meaning. There are actually a lot of us here in the chapel who are addicted to that show and we’ve even started a listserv to bounce our observations back and forth. Yeah, we’re geeks.
Now, I bring this up because one of the ongoing tensions in the show was summed up with the title of an episode near the very beginning, describing two of the main characters: “Man of Science, Man of Faith.” Indeed, the two characters referenced have often been cast in dramatic opposition to one another, each calling to the group of survivors for allegiance to one way or the other.
It makes for great drama, but I sometimes lament the presentation of that dichotomy. Man of Science. Man of Faith. Is it not possible to be both?
II. THE RIFT
There’s a test in psychology that involves word association. The interviewer will say “Up” and the interviewee will respond with the first word that pops into their head, usually the opposite: “Down”. When they don’t respond with the opposite, that’s when the interviewer suspects a deeper connection. But, I wonder, how many people would pair “faith” and “science” as opposites in that experiment?
My guess is that surprisingly few would, though you get the impression these days that faith and science are opposite poles from one another.
A. The Scientists
Part of the blame, I suppose, can be assigned to scientists who assume that science demonstrates more than it does. Like the Soviet cosmonauts who upon orbiting the earth and looking into the depths of space confirmed with great satisfaction that they had not seen God at all. Or those who argue that evolution has eliminated the need for God in the process of life. Or the psychiatrists and psychologists who in an effort to understand the workings of the human psyche claim to have proved the non-existence of the “soul” and relegated most of our behavior, compassion, and even spiritual sense to specific processes within the brain. All conclusive evidence that religion’s claims are outmoded, that science has replaced them with superior understandings. And so on.
B. The Religious Folks
There is, likewise, a suspicion on behalf of scientifically minded folks that religious folks are not open to scientific truth. That we are closed-minded when it comes to anything other than what our sacred texts and traditions might tell us.
Georgia Harkness, the famous evangelical theologian from the early part of the Twentieth Century wrote: “The assumption that what we take on faith we take with closed minds, as if we had blinders on to shut out whatever light might creep in from other sources, lies at the root of the quarrel between religion and science.”
If we are to look to find where the larger share of the blame belongs for this understanding, it is so often with us in the Christian community itself.
Because we have a really bad track record when it comes to science. We persecuted Galileo for daring to claim that the world went around the sun (rather than the other way around). We denounced Darwin. We denounced the Big Bang. And even to this day, we denounce science or come up with bad science of our own. For example, apparently unable to completely deny the existence of dinosaurs (popular with children everywhere), which appear nowhere in scripture, some Christian fundamentalists have built Bible theme parks that show Adam and Eve riding around Eden on–you guessed it–dinosaurs.
When significant portions of the Christian community make assertions about the relative age of the earth, or the biological origins of humanity, or the earth’s climate, in clear contravention with accepted scientific evidence, it does seem like science and religion have nothing to do with one another. In fact, this particular view of Christian faith as being in opposition to science has colored the perception of Christians by outsiders. It is an attitude famously mocked on an episode of Family Guy, when Peter and Lois are fleeing from Mel Gibson after having stolen the only copy of “The Passion of the Christ 2: Crucify This”. At the climax of the confrontation with Mel Gibson, Peter tricks him into walking right off a cliff. Lois exclaims, “My God – he just walked right over the edge!” “Of course he did,” Peter responds. “Christians don’t believe in gravity.”
In addition to ignoring science, another thing that we do is come up with bogus science. Science that is not only bad science, it’s bad theology. So often, these pseudo-scientific theories are no more than “God of the gaps” theologies. That is, whenever you can’t figure out how something happened, you say, “God did that.” How does a light sensitive patch become an eye? God did that.
The problem with such “science” is that it cannot be tested, which undermines it as a real science and takes away any respectability for its claims. But the major part is, what happens if we discover later how something occurred? We have thus limited God and we retreat into a smaller and smaller territory. Okay, God didn’t do that, but God did this other thing we can’t understand. Until we understand that.
It comes off as intellectually dishonest, and on a more problematic level, theologically fearful. It’s the kind of belief that comes crashing down when presented with incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. How many people have lost their faith because it relied on propositions like that, that could not hold up under scrutiny? How many people outside our faith have come to think that Christians are intentionally blind to certain realities because of attitudes like that?
We have to take responsibility for the fact that the reason so many people think faith and science have nothing to do with one another is because people of faith have been so closed minded when it came to scientific reality.
And unnecessarily closed-minded.
III. LOVING GOD WITH OUR MINDS
The passage from Mark is one of my favorite passages in all of scripture. I am fond of this passage because of its simplicity and its rootedness in the Jewish tradition. One of the scribes asks Jesus “Which commandment is the first of all?” And Jesus responds by quoting the great confession of the faith of Israel, the Shema, saying ” Shema, Yisrael … Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The scribe enthusiastically agrees and restates the importance of love of God and neighbor above all else. To which Jesus responds, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” Beautiful and enigmatic. A powerful scene in the Gospel.
But what perhaps often goes unnoticed is the phrase “and with all your mind.” We are to love God not just with our hearts and souls and strength, but with our mind. Our intellect. Our reason.
That means that our intellects and our reason are an important part of not only loving God, but of our spirituality. We cannot be fully Christian if we are not wholly so. If we are not committed to our faith with every aspect of our being.
Last week I talked about the idea of Christian faith as a faith of action. But not just of doing the standard typical Christian social actions of mercy and justice, but of vesting everything we do with a sense of spirituality. Allowing all our work to be a hymn of praise to God, a celebration of our faith.
It is no less so with science.
Indeed, the pursuit of science is part of what I understand as loving God “with all your mind.”
IV. KNOWLEDGE OF THE CREATOR
Scientific inquiry and exploration are part of a life of faith.
Because in reality, the pursuit of science is a statement of faith. You perform experiments and insist that scientific statements be verifiable by experimentation, because of the commonly accepted principle that if something can be replicated by experimentation, it is trustworthy. That is, I expect someone to be able to demonstrate that their results are not a fluke, but happen every time. That is based on an expectation that the world operates according to rules. No one expects that when heat is applied to water it turns into ice. No one says, “Well, I know it turned into steam the last time, but this time, who knows?” No. We expect the world to follow rules. Laws, you might say.
So, it shouldn’t surprise us to learn that the first scientists were deeply religious people who believed that the world ran according to the rules of a benevolent and just God. They would never have even begun the scientific enterprise had they not believed the world was rationally governed.
In the same way, they would never have sought to use reason–experimentation, hypothesizing–had they not believed that reason was a good gift of God, and a means by which one could come closer to God.
Galileo himself said, “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” In fact, that was a longstanding belief of many in the Church. Dating as far back as Justin Martyr, the great Christian apologist of the second century, we see that Christians sought to engage God not just with their hearts, but with their minds. St. Augustine would make use of reason in his theology. St. Anselm would found an entire school of theological thought grounded in the rational philosophy of Aristotle. St. Thomas Aquinas would make some of the most brilliant uses of reason to talk about the existence of God. While Aquinas believed that reason was insufficient to get you to every Christian claim–he affirmed the need for revelation–he believed that reason and philosophy pointed you in the direction of God. That the use of reason, for us, science, helped you to come closer to God. Even, the late pope, John Paul II, would write that “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”
The writer of Proverbs notes:
It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out. Like the heavens for height, like the earth for depth, so the mind of kings is unsearchable.
It is the glory of God to conceal thing, but the glory of kings to search things out…
What better way to search things out than through science? Through peering into the mysteries of the universe in all its complexity? Einstein, who while not exactly a theist as we would understand it, nevertheless said that when he was exploring physics and unwrapping the mysteries of the universe, it was like glimpsing the “mind of God.”
Francis Collins, a committed Christian and former director of the Human Genome Project, has described the complex coding of our DNA, which he believes evolved over millions of years, as nothing less than the “language of God.”
So many have seen their pursuit of science as a way to learn more about the Creation, and thus, to learn more about the Creator.
V. FINDING AWE IN OUR SCIENCE
Georgia Harkness, whom I mentioned earlier, in her essay “The Reasonableness of Faith” wrote further that “Faith in God the Creator does not stand or fall with a particular belief about the processes of creation, as many can testify who without loss of faith have exchanged belief in a six-day creation for the larger vision of a God who through many millions of years has been fashioning his universe.” Harkness saw science as a way to grow one’s faith into that “larger vision.” Indeed, the more I learn about our world, the more I realize I don’t know about our world. And that fills me with awe.
The scriptures tell us time and time again to approach God with awe. It’s sometimes translated “fear” but the real meaning is “awe”.
The Psalmist we heard from tonight expresses this awe very well:
Psalms 19:1-6 – The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. … In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.
The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork…
The Psalmist didn’t know the half of it. For we do not imagine a flat earth with a dome of sky. We contemplate millions of galaxies, with trillions of stars. We contemplate nebulas and black holes, and quantum particles that flit in and out of existence. We behold stellar nurseries, pulsars, and quasars.
We look back at the earth and we explore the depth of the oceans. We explore the heights of the mountains. We look within and see a code written into us that we share with all life on earth. And we understand more fully than ever the claim of Genesis that we are formed “from the dust of the earth.” Indeed, we are united with our fellow creatures through blood and evolution in a unity that is… sacred.
We have more opportunity for wonder and awe of the universe we live in than the Psalmist would ever have dreamt of. What wonders our science has opened us up to? What ways we have been able to praise God with our minds not only our hearts? How wondrous is this Creation of which we are a part, of which we understand so little?
How blessed have we been… because of science?
We do not need to choose between “Man of Faith. Man of Science”, even if it makes for good drama. We are not an “either/or” people, we are a “both/and” people. Those Darwin and Jesus fish on people’s cars are not mortal enemies. In fact, they should be fast friends. Because as Aquinas said, “Truth does not oppose truth.”
One can believe in God as Creator, and still maintain that the Creation is billions of years old, not thousands.
We can maintain faith in a doctrine of Creation, but not limiting creation to eons past, but seeing it around us in the dynamic creativity found in evolution, in the expanding and unfolding universe. In us.
One can believe—as an article of faith—that the universe is intelligently designed, at the same time while maintaining that—as an article of science —we evolved from lower creatures through an evolutionary process of natural selection and adaptation.
One can still maintain belief in Christ as the savior of the world, and still explore the psychological roots of the behaviors we would call “sin”.
One can still maintain faith in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and writing of the Bible, and still understand the scriptures as the result of human authorship, in human language.
One can still believe in a God who has called us by name and has given our lives meaning, and affirm the paradoxical randomness of quantum physics.
One can believe in the Big Bang and affirm “in the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…”
We can peer into the tiniest reaches using the electron microscope. We can reconstruct our life code and our family tree from our DNA. We can gaze into the furthest reaches of the universe.
And as we do so, we have even more cause than ever to say, “The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.”