Notes on Evolution Weekend
This will be my contribution for the 2022 Evolution Weekend (11-13 February 2022).
Evolution Weekend is a celebration of Charles Darwin’s birthday and is sponsored by the Clergy Letter Project (https://www.theclergyletterproject.org/). I have been a participant in the project since 2006.
As stated on its website, “The Clergy Letter Project is an endeavor designed to demonstrate that religion and science can be compatible and to elevate the quality of the debate of this issue.”
Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. The ongoing goal has been to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic, and to show that religion and science are not adversaries. Rather, they look at the natural world from quite different perspectives and ask, and answer, different questions.
The theme for the 2022 Weekend is “The Pandemic, Climate Change and Evolution: How Religion and Science, Working Together, Can Advance Our Understanding.”
Notes on Boy Scout Sunday
The 2nd Sunday in February is also Boy Scout Sunday and marks the anniversary in 1965 of my becoming a member of the 1st Evangelical United Brethren Church (now the United Methodist Church). That year, I would complete my studies for the “God and Country Award.” In addition to being my contribution to the Clergy Letter Project, this also represents my continuance of the journey with Christ that I began that Sunday in 1965.
Lectionary Readings for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (Year C), 13 February 2022
Jeremiah 17: 5 – 10
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Luke 6: 17 – 26
Two Questions, Part 1
We are, by nature, curious creatures. We continually search for a better understanding of who we are, the world on which we live, and the universe through which we travel. We look around and wonder “why?” And then we ask “how?”
For many years, we had one answer to both questions. But the more we searched for the answers to these questions, the more we discovered that when we understood “why”, we did not know “how”. And we found that knowing “how” could not tell us “why”.
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) believed that there were three levels of living in the world: The physical, the intellectual, and the spiritual. He called them the realms of the body, mind, and heart.
We began calling the process of asking “how” science and the process of finding out “why” faith and/or religion.
We discovered that science and faith were open systems. It seemed as if the more we discovered, the more there was to discover.
At first, we tried to use the one to explain the other, but this didn’t always seem to work. It began to seem as if the answer for each question conflicted with each other. But these conflicts were not conflicts of knowledge or understanding what knowledge was true and what knowledge was not. Rather, this was a conflict of power, with each side declaring that their understanding was true and the other heretical or false.
But, as expressed in the Old Testament reading for this Sunday (Jeremiah 17: 5 – 10), we need both science and faith to completely understand the world around us. Note that in verse 10, the author of Jeremiah wrote “I, God, search the heart and examine the mind.
Albert Einstein offered the view that “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind” (“Science, Philosophy and Religion: a Symposium”, 1941).
In a 1959 sermon, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said,
“There may be a conflict between softminded religionists and toughminded scientists,” he said. “But not between science and religion. Their respective worlds are different, and their methods are dissimilar. Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary.”“A tough mind and a tender heart”
Dr. King would add,
“Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism,” he said. “Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.”Martin Luther King, Jr. On Science And Religion (forbes.com)
Ian Barbour, 1999 Templeton Prize winner, suggested that the relationship between science and religion was one of four possibilities:
- 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
We must realize that science and faith use language in different ways. The language of faith and its use of images, parables, and paradoxes is more that of poetry than of science. The language of faith should be seen as complimentary to the language of science (from Nobel-Winning Physicist Niels Bohr on Subjective vs. Objective Reality and the Uses of Religion in a Secular World – The Marginalian).
In his sermon entitled “Keep Moving From This Mountain,” King embraced this idea even further.
“Through our scientific genius we made of the world a neighborhood, but we failed through moral commitment to make of it a brotherhood, and so we’ve ended up with guided missiles and misguided men,” he said. “And the great challenge is to move out of the mountain of practical materialism and move on to another and higher mountain which recognizes somehow that we must live by and toward the basic ends of life. We must move on to that mountain which says in substance, ‘What doth it profit a man to gain the whole world of means — airplanes, televisions, electric lights — and lose the end: the soul?'”
That the views of science and faith ae complimentary views of the world should return us to the beginning when Adam was tasked with the care of God’s creation.
The name “Adam” has several meanings; it is the name of one individual but within the context of Genesis, it meant to represent the whole of humankind, in other words, our ancestors.
Two Questions, Part 2
What is God’s creation? Is it just this world on which we are temporary inhabitants? Or is it how we relate to those with whom we share this space?
Today, in 2022, we are in the 2nd year of a pandemic, we are seeing the effects of climate change, and battles in the classroom over the teaching of climate change and evolution. We have discovered that these are not merely academic topics but ones that affect all layers of society.
“I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation and we scientists don’t know how to do that…”Gus Speth, US Advisor on climate change and Yale professor (“Shared Planet: Religion and Nature, BBC Radio 4 (1 October 2013) https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b03bqws7)
How do we respond? My first response, as a former United Methodist lay speaker/pastor, is to say that we must radically reorient our priorities. For too long, we, as nations, societies, and as humans, have spent more on destruction than construction. We have taken Adam’s task to take care of God’s creation to mean that we could do whatever we wanted. It does no good to speak of the future if we are dedicated to the destruction of the present.
As a chemist and science educator, I would argue that we must have education systems in place that allow the development of new ideas. This will also be radical departure from the present system that teaches that all the problems have been solved and the answers are in the back of the book. We must realize that book of answers hasn’t been written yet.
In the end, the world which we see with two views is still one world.
The poet T. S. Elliott wrote,
We shall not cease from explorationT.S. Eliot, from “Little Gidding,” Four Quartets (Gardners Books; Main edition, April 30, 2001) Originally published 1943.”
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time
Two Questions, Part 3
When I began this manuscript, the two questions were “how?” and “why?”. Now, at the completion of this manuscript the two questions must be (with respects to Rabbi Hillel “if not now, when?” and “if not me, who?”,