2023 Faith and Science weekend
6th Sunday after the Epiphany
The following is my contribution to 2023 Faith and Science weekend, sponsored by the Clergy Letter Project.
The lectionary readings for this Sunday are Deuteronomy 30: 15 – 20, 1 Corinthians 3: 1 – 15, and Matthew 5:21-37.
As you know, I am a chemist who chose to teach. I am also a former lay speaker/minister. For the better part of my career, I was engaged in both vocations.
Now, there were and are some who suggest that one cannot be both a chemist or scientist and a lay speaker/minister; you can be one but not both. But such a combination is not unique for I know of two other individuals in the New York/Connecticut Annual Conference who are both chemists and lay speakers or ministers. (And don’t forget that Pope Francis has a science degree in addition to his theology studies.)
In writing “A Dialogue of Science and Faith” (https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2009/12/31/a-dialogue-of-science-and-faith/) I discovered that Robert Boyle, founder of chemistry, Joseph Priestley, co-discoverer of oxygen, and Isaac Newton were men of science and faith who wanted to know more about how God had created this world in which we live.
Hannah Birky noted that,
We as Christians cannot claim that the world belongs to God and at the same time distrust the systematic study of it. How Science Led Me to A Deeper Faith – Personal Story – BioLogos (https://biologos.org/personal-stories/how-science-led-me-to-a-deeper-faith)
Could we live in this world if it were not for Georges Lemaitre, who first postulated the Big Bang, or Gregor Mendel, who first postulated the mechanisms of genetics? Probably, but our knowledge of this world would be somewhat limited. Both were Catholic priests, yet both were willing to look beyond the written word to see what God had done. (“Removing the Veil” | Thoughts from The Heart on The Left (wordpress.com) – https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/removing-the-veil/)
Yolanda Pierce wrote,
Everything that I learn about science fills me with spiritual wonder at the Creator who set a universe into motion. Everything I learn about the Creator fills me with spiritual longing to know more and to love more. These quests—the sacred and the scientific—are intertwined, not at odds with each other. To be able to peer through the Hubble telescope and to see across time and space is to experience the magnificence of a God who was there at the beginning, is now present with us, and forever more shall be. To think about DNA and the building blocks of life is to be reminded that of one blood we have all been created in God’s image and likeness. To ponder the sun, moon, and stars in their courses above is to be witness to the greatness of God’s faithfulness. Wonders upon wonders. Believing in the future | The Christian Century – https://www.christiancentury.org/article/voices/believing-future?fbclid=IwAR3GxEbJiwmcvNQKjOZC-JWVAHX0DK2d1r3L1eZZNhrRlJsOrKjfyZMdrtQ
It is entirely possible that I could or would have come to Christ without having been a Boy Scout but that is clearly a question for another time and place. Besides finding a path to God through the God and Country award, I also began to develop an appreciation for the world around us. One cannot help but see the work of God when the foothills of the Rocky Mountains serve as the backdrop for the first worship services you organize.
I concluded early on in my life that there was a Creator and that I should use the skills that God gave me and begin to work out the mysteries of the universe, from the moment of the Big Bang to the present day and perhaps far into the future? (“Removing the Veil” | Thoughts from The Heart on The Left (wordpress.com) – https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/removing-the-veil/).
And how can we sing “for the beauty of the earth” or “when I in awesome wonder consider all the works thy hand is made” if there were not a Creator?
Last month I asked what you saw when you looked at the world around you (“What Do You See?” | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com) – https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2023/01/17/what-do-you-see-4/).
What did you see?
Did you not see the beauty of the world?
Did you not look in awe and wonder at the beauty and complexity of the stars in pictures from the Hubble and Webb telescopes?
Do you remember how you felt when you first looked through the lens of a microscope at drops of water taken from a nearby pond or stream?
Do you remember the feeling of watching the trees change color during the fall?
Did you see the hope and possibility of the future?
Or was your vision of the future clouded by what is happening in the world today? We see, feel, and hear about the effects of climate change. We worry about the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink. We hear and are taught that all people are equal but see society divided by race, gender, and economic status and see individuals who work against equality.
As we look at the world, surely, we must ask ourselves how God can create a world that is one of beauty and hope and at the same time a world of destruction and despair. Why would God allow evil to exist in a world of good?
Was your vision the same vision that John the Seer had when he envisioned the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death) and wonder where God might be in all of this?
But as we read in Deuteronomy, what we see is God talking to us.
I call Heaven and Earth to witness against you today: I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Choose life so that you and your children will live (Deuteronomy 30: 19).
Today we stand at the crossroads (Jeremiah 6: 16) and must decide which path to take. And this is a most difficult task, for we cannot see beyond the horizon. Until we choose, the future is unknown.
Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, author of The Orthodox Way, wrote,
. . . it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as is the cause of our wonder –
Ard Louis theoretical physicist and associate of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, noted that,
…science — as powerful, as beautiful, as amazing as it is — cannot tell me most of the answers to most of the important questions of life…
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote,
Or, to put it another way, you are God’s house. Using the gift God gave me as a good architect, I designed blueprints; Apollos is putting up the walls. Let each carpenter who comes on the job take care to build on the foundation! Remember, there is only one foundation, the one already laid: Jesus Christ. Take particular care in picking out your building materials. Eventually there is going to be an inspection. If you use cheap or inferior materials, you’ll be found out. The inspection will be thorough and rigorous. You won’t get by with a thing. If your work passes inspection, fine; if it doesn’t, your part of the building will be torn out and started over. But you won’t be torn out; you’ll survive—but just barely. (1 Corinthians 3: 9 – 15)
We can choose to do nothing but then, as Paul writes, we will barely survive. If we are not willing to give our best, then that will be the outcome. Or we can choose the other path, to use the skills and abilities that God, Our Creator, has given us to make this a better world.
In his speech at American University on June 10, 1963 (affiliated, by the way, with the United Methodist Church), President John Kennedy noted that,
“Our problems are manmade–therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable–and we believe they can do it again.”
Science developed when we began to look at the world around us, the world that God created, and began to wonder. And in our wonder, we began to ask “why?” and “how?” And as we found the answers to these problems, we began to better understand ourselves.
In his speech to the Irish Parliament on June 28, 1963, President John Kennedy said,
George Bernard Shaw, speaking as an Irishman, summed up an approach to life: Other people, he said, “see things and . . . say ‘Why?’ . . . But I dream things that never were– and I say: ‘Why not?'”
We see the world of today for we cannot see beyond the horizon. We look at the world today and see God’s creation. Shall we do nothing and leave desolation and destruction in its many forms as our legacy for the future?
Or shall we use the sense of wonder and awe, shall we seek to find answers to the questions that we are asking to leave a brighter future and a greater legacy for those who follow us on the path we have chosen?
Clergy Letter Project Resources – Mystery and Awe – https://mysteryandawe.com/clergy-letter-project-resources/
Can science answer all of life’s questions? • Sharon Dirckx • OCCA (theocca.org) – https://www.theocca.org/resources/can-science-answer-all-of-lifes-questions/
The 20 big questions in science | Science | The Guardian – https://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/sep/01/20-big-questions-in-science