A Meditation for 14 February 2016, the 1st Sunday in Lent (Year C). This is also “Evolution Weekend” and Boy Scout Sunday. The meditation is based on Deuteronomy 26: 1 – 11, Romans 10: 8 – 13, and Luke 4: 1 – 3
I was going to use what I thought was a quote from Lewis Carroll,
“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”
But, according to http://philosiblog.com/2011/07/13/if-you-dont-know-where-youre-going/, that is only a paraphrase of the actual conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat:
Alice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
The Cat: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,”
Alice: “I don’t much care where–”
The Cat: “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,”
“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
The Cat: “Oh, you’re sure to do that, if you only walk long enough.”
So where are we going? Are we going to wander aimlessly about until we get somewhere? Or should we stop and consider where it is that we would like to go? Today is the 1st Sunday in Lent, that season of the church year when we begin or renew our own personal journey of preparation and repentance. There is also some personal significance for this day for me.
It is Boy Scout Sunday. On this Sunday in 1965 I began my own personal journey with Christ. This is also Evolution Weekend, the celebration of Charles Darwin’s birth and the role that science and faith jointly play in our life. For me, these two events serve as markers in my professional and personal careers and the interaction in both the secular and sectarian world.
There are many today who feel that you cannot live in both worlds, that you must choose one over the other.
There was a discussion on Facebook recently about why it was that there was such a strong conflict between science and religion.
There are those who say that the battle between science and religion is as old as the Scriptures. Others say that you must choose between explanations based on divine intervention and explanations based on logic and reason.
There are those who see any idea of religion as mere superstition and outmoded, overtaken by the enlightenment of the ages. But there is still evil in this world and no degree of enlightenment or understanding of the natural world is going to explain or create ways to remove it.
Somehow, we must find a way to live in a world where science, which is very good at explaining how things work, and faith/religion, which offers an explanation of what it all means, not only co-exist but work together (http://www.rabbisacks.org/books/the-great-partnership-god-science-and-the-search-for-meaning/).
Why does it seem that so many people would rather “burn the bridges” that connect the two worlds than make sure that there is an open and available path between them?
Ian Barbour, 1999 Templeton Prize winner, offered the idea that there were four prevailing views concerning the relationship between science and religion:
- That they fundamentally conflict,
- That they are separate domains,
- That the complexity of science affirms divine guidance, and
- Finally — the approach he preferred — that science and religion should be viewed as being engaged in a constructive dialogue with each other.
Barbour would later write,
“This requires humility on both sides. Scientists have to acknowledge that science does not have all the answers, and theologians have to recognize the changing historical contexts of theological reflection” (Obituary of Ian Barbour, New York Times, January 13, 2014)
Albert Einstein offered a similar view that “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind” (“Science, Philosophy and Religion: a Symposium”, 1941).
We can begin by understanding that this conflict is not as old as the scriptures and that is driven by the need for individuals to control the lives of others. Advocates for a single point of view (be it secular or sectarian) are seeking one thing and that is the power, simple raw power, to control the lives of other people.
When Galileo was tried by the Catholic Church for heresy some four hundred years ago, the opposition to his ideas and the ideas of Copernicus and Kepler did not originate with the church. The opposition came from individuals within the academic establishment of that time. They were opposed to these new ideas because their reputation, status, and power were built on maintaining the Aristotelian view of an earth-centered universe. The church was brought into the argument because the academic establishment convinced members of the church establishment that the changes proposed by Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo would harm the church and threaten their status, reputation, and power.
It was an atheist who called the beginning moment of creation the “Big Bang” because he felt the idea of a beginning moment in time was too much like the opening words of Genesis. His terminology was meant to deride a point in time that he felt did not exist. Unfortunately, the name stuck and his ideas didn’t.
Similarly, opposition to Darwin’s ideas about evolution began in the late 19th century and solely because some in the church establishment saw his ideas as threats to their views. Those who opposed Darwin’s ideas felt that it was in their best interest to limit the information that the people received, probably understanding that the more information a person had, the more likely that they would begin to make decisions on their own. It should also be pointed out the Darwin never considered what he was writing to be an alternate view or replacement for the Creation story in the Bible. Rather, it was, as all theories are, an explanation for what he had observed.
When you look at the history of the church from its early days through the 18th century, you find something totally in opposition to the present attitude. Many in the early church saw the opening words of Genesis as an allegory, written to help the people understand it better (from “How was the Genesis account of creation interpreted before Darwin?”).
If there is to be a coherent and civil discussion about the nature of science into today’s society, be it on the topic of evolution and creation or any other topic (climate change, for example), it must be made with all of the facts and not just a select few. It must be done with an understanding both of the meaning of the Scriptures and the science that is involved.
It should be noted that the Devil has this tendency to only partially quote the Scriptures (or simply misconstrue or change the words of God, such as he did when he tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden). Now, it does not help things when people do the same thing, knowingly or unknowingly. If you do not understand the topic, then it becomes very difficult to talk about it.
The Devil, in whatever form he may take, takes advantage of our ignorance and uses our own ignorance to feed our fears. In the Old Testament reading for today, the people bring their gifts to place before God. Is not our ability to reason and think one of those gifts from God? Should we not be celebrating that gift, should we not nurture and support that gift? Surely, the ability to think, to reason, and to be creative is as important as any other gift we have been given?
Paul, in writing to the Romans, speaks of preparing to greet the Messiah and of the difficulty of living a righteous life through the law only. We must prepare to meet Christ as the Messiah so that we gain a total and complete freedom, a freedom to seek the unknown in the world around us, a freedom to begin making changes in this world that reflect the wonder and beauty of God.
We must begin to see science as a way to the truth of the natural world, knowing that each time we answer one question, we create two new questions. We must understand that our faith gives us the power to seek the unknown and that questioning the world around us does not destroy our faith but makes it stronger.
The prophet Jeremiah wrote of standing at the crossroads and having to make a decision, of deciding which way we are going to go. There are actually three roads at this intersection. One is the path wholly sectarian in nature, a path that leads to discoveries of all sorts. But this road has no understanding of good or evil and discoveries that could do wondrous things can also lead to disaster.
The second path is a secular path but it too is limited, just as it was when Jesus began His ministry in the Galilee two thousand years ago. Life is good because you don’t have to think, for there are those who will do the thinking for you. But such a life has no hope, no promise of anything better, for it is hard enough living with in the structure of a law.
And there is the third path, a path which contains all that we can be. It opens up to us when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, for it frees us from the chains of sin and death, it offers an opportunity to have and seek hope, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we become empowered to reach out and venture into the unknown.
As we began our journey through Lent and to Easter and the Resurrection, which path will you choose? Where are you going?