This is not necessarily a post for Transfiguration Sunday (11 February 2018) as much as it a post for Boy Scout Sunday and Evolution Weekend; “A Reminder” serves that purpose. Still it helps to realize that this weekend is a marker in my life.
On the 2nd Sunday in February 1965, I was confirmed and received into membership with the 1st Evangelical United Brethren Church of Aurora, Colorado (now 1st United Methodist Church of Aurora). A little over one year later, I was accepted in the High School Honors Program of Northeast Missouri State Teachers College (now Truman State University). In June of 1966, I choose to become a chemistry major. Each of those decisions defined the path that I would take over the coming years.
The simplest and easiest way to summarize my beliefs is found in what is commonly called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, “Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason (The United Methodist Church Book of Discipline). And since I see my faith in living and real terms, it is it is better to describe the relationship between the elements in a 3-dimensional tetrahedral – The Wesleyan Tetrahedron – rather than a 2-dimensional square (hey, I’m a chemist, remember!)
Perhaps I spent more time 50 years ago focusing on my education and I know that I certainly have spent several years wandering in the wilderness, as it were. But even if it were not a dominant part of my life, my faith has been as much a part of my life as have been my chemistry studies.
And that brings forth the questions, “Can one be both a scientist and a Christian? Can one both appreciate the beauty and wonder of creation and still ask how it all came into being?”
Today, there are those who see science as a threat to religion, and especially Christianity. And there are those who see religion, and especially Christianity, as nothing more than superstition and meaningless today. There is, I believe a comment on one of my early posts on this blog that questions the validity of my PhD. in Science Education considering my being, at the time, a lay pastor in the United Methodist Church. I can assure you, gentle reader, that my PhD. is a valid one and that I have done research in both chemistry and chemical education. Those interests are very much part of my life today.
But there was a point in my life when I was asked to provide long-term pulpit supply for a number of churches and it was a very valuable experience (see the notes with “Who Will Work For The Lord?”.)
After I left the pulpit, but did not give up lay speaking, I discovered that there was a connection between my chemistry and lay speaking ministry. In “A Dialogue Of Science And Faith” I discovered that Robert Boyle and Joseph Priestley, both chemists, were also heavily involved in matters of faith as they were in matters of science.
And while detractors today may say otherwise, scientists from Copernicus and Galileo to Boyle and Newton and onto this day have never sought to prove or disprove the existence of God, only to understand what He has done.
Perhaps the one defining characteristic of humankind is its curiosity. From the very beginning of our consciousness, we have looked at the world around us and wondered “why?” And our answer to this, at once the simplest and most complex of all questions, has lead us to seek beyond the horizon and to the stars and see answers in our soul, even if we are not sure what we were looking for or if we would know the answer.
And we would could not find the answer in the physical world, we often turned to the supernatural or spiritual world to find the answer. But just as easy as it easy to find the answer in the physical world, it is often just as hard to find the answer in the spiritual realm. And so, in our own way, we create simple spiritual answers to the most complicated of questions.
When the star that is called Sirius first appeared in the spring, we knew that river was going to flood, and it would be time to prepare. But instead of tying two physical occurrences, we saw it as a sign from the gods. When the rains didn’t come, we blamed the rain god. We knew that if the crops didn’t come in as expected, perhaps we needed to appease the god of crops. Of course, today we have scientific explanations for most, if not all, the physical phenomena that once was attributed to spiritual or supernatural forces. But even so, we still search for explanations for good and evil, truth and beauty, and the most important question of all times, why are we here in this time and place.
This search for the answers has lead us in many different paths. When the writer of Genesis wrote that Adam was given the task of naming all the plants and animals in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2: 19 – 20), Adam became, other things, the first biologists. And when Abraham was told to count all the stars (Genesis 15: 5), he took on one of the tasks of an astronomer.
Understand that the Bible is and should never be considered the same as a biology, chemistry, physics, or geology/earth science textbook. From the very day that the first writer put the words of Genesis on papyrus, it has been about our relationship with God.
The Psalmist looked the world around him and at the skies above him and saw the Glory of God,
I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous, your handmade sky-jewelry,
Moon and stars mounted in their settings. Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,
Why do you bother with us? Why take a second look our way?
Yet we’ve so narrowly missed being gods, bright with Eden’s dawn light.
You put us in charge of your handcrafted world, repeated to us your Genesis-charge,
Made us lords of sheep and cattle, even animals out in the wild,
Birds flying and fish swimming, whales singing in the ocean deeps.
God, brilliant Lord, your name echoes around the world. (Psalm 8: 3 – 9, The Message)
And how was it that Jesus could use the habits of foxes and birds or know how mustard seeds and grow in his parables if He had not studied science when he was growing up.
Science can give meaning to what we see in this world, but it cannot explain why it is here. Science can never explain there is good and evil or why there is suffering and pain in this world.
Science can never show you God; it can only show you, through nature, the works of God. Science has always been driven to know things about the world in which we live. Scientists from Copernicus through Newton and even into these days used the process of science to understand the works of God, not disprove the existence of God or displace God.
Science gives us the opportunity to know what is happening in this world; it is up to our faith to know why it is happening. It is our faith that will provide the guidance that we need to use what science shows us. It is through our faith that we can discern the path that we should take, to use our scientific discoveries for good.
Science can open avenues of research whose answers will help feed the people of this planet and cure sickness and disease, but science cannot eliminate injustice and oppression. For all that science can do, it cannot do all things. And for those things that science cannot do, you must have faith, faith in things unseen, faith that will lead you to find ways to use the knowledge that you gain from science.
We look at the world around us and wonder why and how. As we ask how things came to be, we find ourselves marveling at the works of God. And as we begin to understand the works of God, we began to understand ourselves just a little bit better.