This is a day of double significance for me. First, as it is Boy Scout Sunday, it marks day that I was confirmed in the church. It is, if you will, my Christian Birthday, and it sounds a lot better to say that I am 47 than 61.
Second, this is also the anniversary weekend of Charles Darwin’s birth. As such, there are a number of pastors and lay speakers participating in Evolution Weekend events. I happen to be one of those participating. This is an outgrowth of the Clergy Letter Project which is an endeavor that demonstrates that science and religion are compatible and is designed to elevate the quality of debate on this topic.
To quote from “The Clergy Letter Project” web page,
Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. One important goal is to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic – to move beyond sound bites. A second critical goal is to demonstrate that religious people from many faiths and locations understand that evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith. Finally, as with The Clergy Letters themselves, which have now been signed by more than 13,000 members of the clergy in the United States, Evolution Weekend makes it clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy.
As it happens, I come from a chemistry background, and as I have said on a number of occasions, I could easily avoid the debate. My areas of interest and research are in the nature of introductory and freshman chemistry and far from the realm of biology. But my doctorate is in science education and I am concerned, both from a professional standpoint and as a parent and a grandparent, that our science education process is threatened when we purposefully dictate the nature of science instruction in this country.
I am not alone in this thought. Many years ago, when I was teaching chemistry in a high school in Missouri, the Missouri state legislature was thinking of passing a bill mandating the teaching of intelligent design in the biology classroom (legislation similar to what was recently passed by the Indiana state legislature). Now, as a chemistry teacher, I was not affected directly by this proposed legislation. But it was legislation that was designed to circumvent restrictions in place that prevented the introduction of religious topics into the science classroom under the disguise of scientific theory. Intelligent design is not a scientific theory though its proponents would have you think that it is.
Early on in my education and my professional career I had to make a decision. Shall I accept the physical evidence about the world in which I live or shall I accept the notion that the earth was created in seven days? Did God not create me in His image and does that not mean that I look at the world around me with open eyes? I have come to the conclusion that God is demanding that I seek an explanation that matches the evidence that is laid out before me.
Now, to underscore all of this, let me state without hesitation and very clearly, that I do believe that God did create this universe. But the evidence concerning the age of the universe tells me that He did it some 14 billion years ago. What does it say when others say that God made it seem like the world is very old. Is the God that cares for me a liar and a trickster?
I wrote back in 2010,
As Dr. Watke pointed out, if we deny the reality of the physical world, we are denying the truth of God in this world and that ultimately means that we deny truth and we deny God.
If you believe as I do, you can see the Hand of God in the fossil records and the cosmology of the universe. The complexity of such geological history and the wonder of the stars demands an explanation, an explanation that goes beyond an equation where two protons are forced together under intense pressure and extremely high temperatures to form a helium atom and release an extremely large amount of energy. It is more than simply an explanation of the physical processes; it is an explanation of why we are here as well. What I see is a world in which God has challenged us to find Him and understand what He has done and is doing.
It seems to me that those who oppose the teaching of evolution do so out of fear. They fear that open thinking will lead to a loss of control, of being able to dictate what people can think and say. We have been created in God’s image; yet, it strikes me that those who seek to continue to control what is taught have made God in their image.
If we are to understand God and how we fit within the scheme of things, we must explore this world and this universe. We must ask questions, even if we are afraid of the answers. If we do not use our abilities to their fullest, as God would have us do, then we fail ourselves and God. (The World “Out There”
In April, 1997, Dr. Sheldon Gottlieb noted that
. . . when fundamentalist creationists claim that fossils were placed on earth by God to test man’s faith, they are denying a major principle of science, the principle of causality. And they do so without a shred of evidence to substantiate their claim.
If humans cannot trust the evidence provided by the universe, then all science becomes futile; the search for objective knowledge becomes futile; and no scientific knowledge gathered to date can be true.
This religious stance that certain natural phenomena are distorted to give false clues to test human faith is the ultimate denial of science. As Einstein once said, “God does not play dice with the universe.”
Thus, (a) belief system in which a God behaves according to whim and caprice means that we humans can only live in a world of perpetual ignorance. Fundamentalist religion, especially its derivative, creationism, is anti-intellectual, and it prefers that humans live in perpetual ignorance. (adapted from http://www.theharbinger.org/articles/rel_sci/gottlieb.html)
If we were, as it is written later in Genesis, created in God’s image then we have the ability to look at the world around us and ask questions about that world. I believe that those questions that lead to the writing of Genesis in the first place. If we are not asking questions about this world and our place in this world, then I truly believe that we are not living up to the standards that God has placed before us. (And when I read and hear some of the stuff in politics and just in general, I am convinced that we are not even close.)
Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally.
I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.
To me, Paul is saying that you have to give your best all the time. And while I may no longer be associated with the Boy Scouts, I still live by the oath that I took when I was a scout over forty years ago.
On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.
Everything in that oath echoes the sentiment that Paul expressed in his words to the Corinthians. To me, it means that I must go, if you will, beyond the walls of our present existence; we must think outside the box that we live in. We do not need to be scientists in the same way that I pursued a degree in chemistry but we do need to have an open and inquiring mind.
And that is what science is about, the pursuit of knowledge, to find answers to questions asked and unasked. It is about going into new territory, both physically and mentally. Yes, it can be frightening; yes, we may not like the answers that we gain in our search. But is our life better if we refuse to find the answers that we do not like?
In the Old Testament reading for today (2 Kings 5:1-14) we read of Naaman being diagnosed with leprosy. His response was, at first, probably anger because this disease can and is one of the most disfiguring diseases one could think of. And unless he could be cured, he was doomed to a life outside society, a society that feared the person as much as the disease.
And though he was told that there was a possible cure, his approach was one of intimidation and fear as if he could force the cure. He had no appreciation for God’s power or what might happen if he opened his mind to other possibilities.
We live in a world dominated by fear and ignorance. It is ignorance not only of the world around us but of our mind and what we can and cannot do.
We seem to think that we can achieve better results through intimidation. Our solution for so many problems today is the same solution that Naaman proposed. And, just like Naaman, we are often unwilling and unable to accept alternative solutions. We are quite willing to accept the actions of charlatans and false prophets as the truth because they cloak their actions in the name of God and often times what they say and do fit into what we think is the truth.
What was it that Jesus once said, “seek the truth and the truth will set you free”? When you are willing to live within the constraints of what society dictates; when you are willing to accept the pronouncements of others as the truth willingly and blindly, you are not free but enslaved. It is when you begin to question, when you begin to explore that one becomes free. Some may say that science is the enemy of religion; sometime it is when religion is based on falsehoods or demands for total obedience to an individual and not to God. But I also know or believe that you must have both science and religion together in order for the truth to set you free.
What made the leper come to Jesus that day described in today’s Gospel reading? Was it in desperation or was in full knowledge that there was hope? I would think he came because he knew what Jesus had done. Either he had heard or seen the results so he knew that his hope was in Jesus. Yes, it was his faith that brought him to Jesus and it was his faith that was the catalysis for his healing. But Jesus also required that he have the healing confirmed (which too many of today’s “faith healers” do not do). Science will not accept a discovery until it has been confirmed.
And while Jesus may not have wanted the healing announced to the world, what was the leper to do? His friends were sure to ask him how it was that he had been cured and he would have had to tell them. And the freedom that he felt and enjoyed would only make him want to tell others, just as the woman at the well told others what Jesus had done for her.
When I would go camping as Boy Scout, the leaders would always remind us to leave the campsite and the area a better place than what it was when we came. When we come to Christ, be it as a child or an adult, we find a new freedom. And like the leper in Mark, this new freedom cannot be hidden; it has to be told.
We have been a great opportunity this day, to use the skills and powers that God gave us, to tell the Good News of Jesus Christ, to leave this world a better place. It is a great challenge and a great opportunity. How will you respond this day?