Good morning. Blessed be God, in the name of the one holy trinity, through whom all things came into being, and in whom is the foundation of our knowledge, power and life.
I have a complaint.
No asks me about tachyon rays.
They don’t ask me about the theory of entanglement or about mitochondria or about plate tectonics. They rarely ask me about the big bang or newly discovered planets.
I’ve been noticing that people generally don’t ask me to fix their appliances, either. Sometimes computers, but that’s only because I’ve grown up in a computer generation.
It’s probably because I’m a priest and not an engineer or a doctor or a scientist. And I have a suspicion that people have decided that religion and science don’t mix.
I wonder if people think that religious people get uncomfortable around science. They avoid conversations about the big bang, Noah’s Ark, parting the Red Sea, evolution or how Jesus floated into the sky on the fortieth day. They don’t want to tell me that they don’t believe the world was created in six days, that Noah’s Ark was a myth, and that there’s no evidence for the Red Sea, and that evolution is true.
So people don’t talk a lot about science in my presence. They do the same around sex.
But there are some crucial places where science and the religious dovetail. Let’s begin with the separation of the days – with Genesis. There are two crucial actions that happened in the beginning. First, God separated day from night. To separate is to categorize. To separate is to discern. To separate is a part of logic, of math, of observation. God revealed himself as a scientist by this simple act.
The second action worth mentioning is the act of naming. Without naming, knowledge cannot be organized. Just as Adam named the animals, scientists name events, they identify elements, and they invent taxonomies. They have religious significance, also: separation is the root of holiness; and naming is how we bless, invoke the Word, establishes law, and cast out demons.
But religion and science often forget these shared impulses.
After all, science wants to encapsulate all knowledge. Religion resists this. And religion wants to monopolize meaning. And science has no time for this. So we’ve got two different personalities. And they tend to misunderstand each other.
I imagine that Religion is worried that science will keep building a bigger and bigger house, leaving religion no room. And science gets upset at the large house parties religion has, full of fervid, irrational dancing, speaking and passionate conversation. Science prefers things precise and measured. Science is, often, no fun.
Science has a very organized house. Each room has its own purpose, its own filing system, although religion is convinced its not as organized as it seems from the outside. Religion’s house is warm and cozy, but deeply unsettling. It seems cluttered and confusing with no obvious logic. When religion talks, its usually indirectly, with poetic language, old accents, and references to ancient stories that science just doesn't get.
Sometimes they wave at each other when they are walking by, and sometimes they get into little shouting matches.
But the real problem is the planning board.
Let me explain the planning board, because the planning board is politics.
Because if there is one thing both science and religion avoid, its politics. They don’t like the fact that both of them claim knowledge that contradicts the desires of those in political authority.
This is one of the reasons scientists don’t like religious authorities, because we really like to be involved with politics. We know the familiar stories of different scientists, discovering wonderful and interesting things, who upset the pieties of religious authorities. Our mistake, however, is to assume that these were all primarily issues about knowledge. In fact, they were usually about politics. The church was afraid – not simply about the new knowledge – but that their authority would be undermined. This was probably a sensible fear.
The Scopes trial, also, might have seemed as if it was about the role of science in small town America. But more closely, rural America was under siege from capitalist America, and there was a great fear in social Darwinism and what that would mean for Christian values. Now no scientist really affirms Social Darwinism. But the real issue in the Scopes trial had less to do with science than the role that science might play in every day relationships, in the communities that effectively understood this new knowledge as just one more way their way of life was being undermined, under seige by a new, industrialize, urban America.
Politics insists on reigning in science. Even recently we have, for example, a NASA scientist who was told by a government official not to speak to the press about climate change. What this should reveal to us is that the conflicts between religion and science are often not about religion and science, but about the political ideologies that manipulate these forms of intellectual authority for their own benefit.
Intelligent design, for example, should be understood in this light. It’s not really science. It’s a philosophy. And what is at stake in this philosophy is not really the status of science, or how good science is done, but who’s in charge of the knowledge bank.
There may be legitimate fears about the way scientific research is tone-deaf about meaning, society and personal authority. Some sorts of knowledge undermine the tenuous social contracts that society requires. So what we should admit is that science requires us to look at our values differently, but do so with greater confidence. When we look at Intelligent design in a political context, promoted by people who want political power, we can understand what is really at stake. People are scared about what happens when scientists have political authority.
Now this is a much bigger issue than I can handle in a sermon. All I wanted to point out was that there is one problem that scientists and religious people share: how to relate our ideas in a meaningful way to society at large. And I think there are some shared places for both of us. But there is one difference that we in the mainline churches should admit.
And that is the problem of certainty.
Now I don’t necessarily mean ideological certainty, although that’s part of the problem. But I can be certain, in a religious context, that Jesus is my savior in a fashion that can be ignored by scientists. They may not understand such a statement, for it requires an entirely different sort of verifiability that is not a part of the scientific method.
The problem is the belief that Jesus being salvific means that one’s entire knowledge is complete. A religious person who insists on political authority and refuses to engage the rules of verifiability and evaluation undermines the public and scientific bodies of knowledge.
A scientist then says, “complete about what?” The impulse to fanaticism, of affirming that there is no more knowledge that is interesting or necessary or worthy, lies at the root of the conflict between science and religion. Otherwise, the forms of knowledge, one deductive and the other empirical, need not contradict, and may, in fact, be mutually beneficial.
Now I do want to admit that science doesn't really have a place to conceptualize God's radical freedom. But this should give us religious pause also, because we don't understand this freedom either. The most we can do is claim that it exists.
Finally, there are two impulses that scientists and religious people can affirm. Anglicans affirm the Christian belief that “The Truth will Set You Free.” And there are two elements to this. The first is the truth; and the second is freedom. Augustine once wrote that all truth must be one; scripture and science could not contradict. And this impulse toward the truth, of accurately explaining the world, of getting the story right, or representing reality precisely, these are Christian impulses.
And the second element is freedom. Science can only advance with free inquiry, with individuals who have the liberty to ask questions that might upset the authorities. And as religious persons, we affirm that Jesus Christ was liberator, and that our life as Christians can hold, manage and live into freedom. The scientific and the religious can defend both truth and freedom.
Finally, scientists and religious people look at the earth in wonder and awe. We are impressed with creation. We find its intricacy fascinating and beautiful. We find it worthy to understand and explain. We should not be afraid of these impulses.
God is incarnate in the flesh. It is our tradition that God created the world, and that it is good. Religion and science, in their mutual search – one for meaning and the other for understanding – affirm each other’s project, comprehending the completeness of God’s incarnation, in the way he has entangled Himself in the world.
Glory be to God in his wondrous creation. May his Name, the name of Truth and Freedom, be praised forevermore.