Science and Religion – FAITH mates
Good evening. My name is Perren Hayes, and I’m a retired priest in the diocese of New York. I live in Lewes and I attend St. Peter’s church; I am licensed by the Bishop of Delaware. Every once in a while Father Jeff asked me to do something that involves my 57 years of ordained background – and that fills me with joy. This is one of those occasions.
To me, Science and Religion are simply alternate ways of examining the same thing. Having said that, I have to say that preparing for this evening has been among the most difficult things I’ve done a long time.
Let me read to you a short passage from the book of the prophet Isaiah. This is from the 44th chapter.
“All those who make no-god idols don’t amount to a thing, and what they work so hard at making is nothing. Their little puppet-gods see nothing and know nothing – they’re total embarrassments! Who would bother making gods that can’t do anything, if it can’t “god”? Watch all the no-god worshipers hide their faces in shame. Watch the no-god makers slink off humiliated when their idols fail them. Get them out here in the open. Make them face God-reality. .
“The woodworker draws up plans for his no-god, traces it on a block of wood. He shapes it with chisels and planes it into human shape – a beautiful woman; a handsome man; ready to be placed in the chapel. He first cuts down a cedar or maybe picks out a pine or oak, and lets it grow strong in the forest, nourished by the rain. Then it can serve a double purpose: Part he uses for firewood for keeping warm and baking bread; from the other part he makes a god that he worships – carves it into a god-shape and prays before it. With half he makes a fire to warm himself, and barbecue his supper. He eats his fill and sits back satisfied with his stomach full and his feet warmed by the fire: “Ah, this is the life.” And he still has half left over for a god, made to his personal design – a handy, convenient no-god to worship whenever he is so inclined. Whenever the need strikes him he prays to it “Save me,” he says. “You’re my God!”
“Pretty stupid, wouldn’t you say? Don’t they have eyes in their heads? Are their brains working at all? Doesn’t it occur to them to say, “Half of this tree I use for firewood: I baked bread; roasted meat; and enjoyed a good meal. And now I’ve used the rest to make an abominable no-god. Here I am, praying to a stick of wood.”
“This lover of emptiness, of nothing, is so out of touch with Reality, so far gone, that he can’t even look at what he is doing, can’t even look at the no-god stick of wood in his hand and say, “This is crazy!”?”
Especially using this very contemporary translation of the Bible called “THE MESSAGE” this passage makes us smile, or grin, or maybe even laugh out loud! This guy, writing under the name of Isaiah, really had a good sense humor. He knew how to make fun of his neighbors. And we smile to ourselves and move on – never considering the possibility that this could have a contemporary meaning.
Last summer what turned out to be a true “miracle” happen to me. I was asked to Supply at another parish in this diocese. I was there from the middle July until last February. For me, in any case, this happened to come at the time when I was really trying to work through new methods of presenting the gospel to people. Here an opportunity was handed to me. Many of the reactions I have had to my time with them have made me think that they also found this to be a very important time. Anyway, . . . .
One Sunday, while I was beginning a sermon on the general subject “Your God is too small,” I began by describing the photographs I had seen that had been produced by Dr. Jim Mullaney, the NASA astronomer who gave the first of these summer addresses both last year and this year. I began by saying that the first picture that Dr. Mullaney presented to us was taken by the Hubble telescope. It showed an image of what the universe appeared to be 16 billion years ago. I remember at the time that I stared at that picture. And as I looked at it, I saw what only could be called a “chaos.” Gases, melangey colors, movement – but all this was really incoherent. Yes, it had a form, but the form indicated nothing. When Dr. Mullaney showed us another slide, only 12 billion years old, I was amazed! This image showed reasonable forms beginning to take place; reasonable colors refracting. There even appeared to be different kinds of relationships building. It looked like it was growing – and in growing – maturing!
Then – as we preachers often do – I made up some stuff of my own. I said that when the images get even closer now, galaxies begin to form. And within galaxies what could be solar systems begin to take shape. And I went on: “and as we came closer to our own time, the forms became clearer; more specific shapes took place; interactions and reactions could be seen as the various parts of the universe interacted with each other.” And then I said: “you know, the closer it gets to us to clearer the form is, the more important the interactions become, and this is fabulous. But, my friends, I then went on and said, “the closer it gets to our own time and greater it gets – and you know, looking at that magnificent sculpture in the universe, there, at this instant, today, was I – way back then – and now I am looking at me before there even was an earth!”
At that moment, I had a brief – but intense – insight, vision, Gestalt, possession. I suddenly knew more about God then I knew when I started the sermon. And then I knew how little I knew.
That made me think of something else – something that I have been saying most of my life. There is absolutely nothing that I or any other human being can know that is not inserted into my brain through the action of the five senses: see, hear, smell, taste, touch/feel. Now, that is important enough that I want to repeat it:. There is absolutely nothing that I or any other human being can know that is not inserted into my brain through the action of the five senses: see, hear, smell, taste, touch/feel.
Now, don’t forget that. We’re going to come back to it; so, just hang it up alongside you.
Now I want to tell you another story – may be a parable.
One day, a long time ago, a tribe of Nomads was at their camp at an oasis in the desert. They had been there for some time. The water level was diminishing; the grapes were gone; the wine was fermenting; most of the other edibles were being depleted. Things were, in fact, beginning to look bad – very bad.
And it was hot and dry.
Suddenly, one of them (maybe a maturing child) looked up and shouted: “Hey! Look! Over there!” And s/he pointed to the south west.
There – way over there – just where the blue sky touched the shining desert, there was a darkness – a cloud – connecting desert and sky. They all looked at it.
Slowly, the cloud moved. It grew larger. Inexorably, it grew larger. It came closer. It began to cover the sun. Darkness grew over the face of the earth.
Suddenly, along with the darkness, there was movement in the air. The wind arose. The tents began to dance. The increasing gusts grew stronger. The animals recognized it also, and they returned to the camp.
Crash! Boom! Thunder!
Flash! Sparkle! Bang! Boom!
The wind grew in intensity! Not only did it flutter the tents, it began to pick up the desert sand. Oh! That wind-borne sand! Sharp, cutting, blinding – all accompanied with the brilliant flashes of lightning; the powerful roar of the thunder; all this splendid energy! Destructive, frightening, painful, inescapable, encompassing everything – equally for all.
Frightened, they grasped each other for strength, for protection, for safety.
And then, just as suddenly, the intensity diminished.
The wind slowed its powerful gusts.
The sand ceased to be cutting.
The down pour of rain became a pleasant shower.
The darkness began to brighten.
Their oasis-world returned to its normalcy.
But – no!
It was different!
There was new life everywhere!
The oasis was filled with water again!
Everything was cleansed by the rain water:– fresh and new!
Even as the sun came out again, the vegetation was clean and green again – already to begin the process of new growth again!
And everything that happened, happened without ANY INPUT from them! They had absolutely no part to play in this force that had just visited them with its power and energy! They had been totally helpless before it!
Yet, it had given them what they needed: water and food. This power, this splendid energy, this had saved them – saved them from death.
And it happened without any input from them!
Somehow, that energy-power came and saved them!
Somehow, that energy-power was responsible for them!
Somehow, that energy-power in fact, cared for them and for their well being – and not only of them, but of their animals – indeed of the whole of the world around them on the desert became lovely!
It was this richness, this energy-power, this creativity, this constant renewal – this they defined as their God. And so they named their God “Reality” – Yahweh – they named their God. And their God was filled with energy-power, filled with creative energy – and they named that creative energy “Ruach.”
The People of the Desert never forgot their Desert Origins, even when they were among the great nations of the world when Solomon was King. (Read Psalm 18 for a reflection on this.)
“God,” you see, can be defined as the explanation for everything that humans perceive – and partially comprehend – but which they cannot fully explain. Even though their God was invisible, their God was REAL.
They KNEW that they lived in a world that seems to exist to provide for them, to care for them. These people, then, learn to share their lives even with their animals, and together they live and do their thing. That is, they live in peace and harmony, with justice and freedom, with care and concern for themselves and others. And they are grateful for the “Reality” presenting reality to them. There is an acknowledged agreement – or covenant – as to function, and all seem to understand it, and how it works for all and everything.
And as they continue to live in this manner, they learn the various ebbs and flows: life and death; food and drink; equality and inequality in the world into which they have been placed. In a manner that they cannot comprehend, using a means and a purpose they cannot control, “Reality” – the creation in which they live – in fact, provides for them, cares for them – and is affected by what they do, how they lived. And, eventually, they see, Reality is seen both to love them, as well has respond to them.
Their function is to use their own creativity to take care of that portion of the creation in which they live. To do this, they must apply their minds to their observations. So their senses - the famous five – see, hear, taste, smell, touch/feel – perceive.
In fact, absolutely nothing is perceived without the five senses.
In fact, absolutely nothing is perceived without the five senses.
In fact, absolutely nothing is perceived without the five senses.
But there is one thing more.
For perceptions of the five senses to be useful, there needs to be a common meaning, or interpretation, of the perceptions. Everyone needs to comprehend/discover the same things – as they perceive the same “Reality” — the same perceptions.
They do this – perhaps “discover” – by increasing their means of communication. Most especially they use the communication of language and music – but that is only a part of communication. Each of the five senses is deeply involved in this process. Each of the five senses affects a separate, but distinct, section of the human brain. When one of the five senses is stimulated, the wholeness of humanity receives an “alert.” In our own time we tend to call these alerts “emotions,” or “feelings,” or “preparations for action.” The most primitive response to these alerts is to seek for protection. Especially, individual protection – often, violent protection
But when a group of individuals begin to communicate with each other about their own understanding of specific alerts, they begin to see what could be called a commonality among their responses. When some of these alerts are repeated – repeated often – memory (which is a different section of the brain) recalls previous alerts. As the community begins to communicate individual understandings among and between its members about these alerts, then a definition is made. This happens, because the members of the community – individually – received what could be called a “sixth sense” alert. This “sixth sense” alert creates firmness, clarity, indeed – certainty. This sixth sense is perceived to be the Ultimate Reality – and is totally invisible – inscrutable.
The most ancient perception of the origin of this “sixth sense” seems to be exactly the same origin as the storm cloud. While it seems to come from nowhere – and is invisible – it has a real presence all its own. And so the Hebrews wrapped this “sixth sense” into their definition of “Reality” – their God.
My friends, this is the beginning of what we call Science (or description) and Religion (or meaning/purpose.) . Science – which is “knowledge” – and what we call Religion – which is purpose – both begin at this point.
They, in fact, are intimately related. Human perceptions are the study of the reality of the area, or locus, or place, where people live. And the reason for this study, is so that they may live together peacefully, joyfully, equally, with justice:– all this is sometimes called “LOVE.”
It took the Jewish people pretty close to 2000, 2500 years to develop this process in the way in which they in fact did develop it. They had moved from the uncertainty of the desert, through slavery in Egypt, through violent warfare to seize for themselves a land they could call their own. But even then they were not fully united group. Ten of the Twelve Tribes had a strongly different concept of interpersonal relationship and structure of government than did the other two tribes. In spite of the fact that we generally take pleasure in reading about the “doings” of the northern and southern kingdoms, the historical books of the Bible – first and second Samuel, first and second Kings – they are the story of the tragedy of the Hebrew people as they lost sight of the values they developed in their nomadic desert origins and in their development as a nation prior to Saul and David. But there just isn’t time to tell it all!
All I can say is, things went from bad to worse as history went on. The Jewish people allowed themselves to be ruled by tyrannical men. They wandered away from the knowledge of their God of love, justice, freedom, equality. The end result was that in 587 BC the last remnant of their nation appeared to be destroyed and sent in chains to Babylon. They learned a lot there – what we can’t even begin to touch upon it. Please, though, note the date – 587 BC, nearly 2000 years after the Hebrews appeared on the world stage.
This date marked a very significant time in the development of human nature all over the world. What we have come to call “religion” began to develop. What we call intellectual horizons began to affect people everywhere.
The Greeks, in 587 BC, were just beginning to develop philosophy, geometry, astronomy, rudimentary mathematics and what today we might call ethics and sociology. Please note JUST BEGINNING! At this same time in 587 BC, there was no city of Rome. The Wolf that nurtured Romulus and Remus had not yet been whelped. The Latin language was still grunts and groans; Greek on the other hand was reaching for its highest peak. The same kinds of things seem to have been happening in India and in China – at this same wondrous human growth period.
There isn’t time to tell you about Greek experiments in physics; astronomy without telescopes; in math including the invention of “Greek letter pi”. The Greek experiments in democracy laid the foundations for this nation. Greek military experiments laid the foundation for warfare until the early part of the 20th century A.D.
The one thing that I must say and underscore is this: in spite of the distances and linguistic difficulties, the huge Jewish gift to all world communities – there is and can be only ONE GOD – had been booked all around the Mediterranean sea during the first Jewish Diaspora following 587 BC. As Jews became “illegal immigrants” all around the Mediterranean sea, they brought their religion with them. And their religion instantly affected all other religions – monotheism did that. The Jewish religion after the Babylonian Captivity ended no longer depended upon the Temple. Instead, they read from a variety of texts that they had created while in captivity. Their new insights help them rewrite the ancient documents. They produced a coherent series of writings which we generally call the Old Testament. Using these writings, this religion of the Diaspora presented to the rest of the world the concepts of justice, freedom, caring, equality, basically – love! In other words “how to help human beings learn to live together with each other and still maintain both individuality, and uniqueness as they celebrated a life in community.”
At about the time that these Hebrew books were being translated into Greek – we call it the Septuagint – a great name appeared among the Greek philosophers.
Aristotle was selected to educate the son of the King of northwestern Greece. His name was Alexander. Alexander was an outstanding student. He learned from Aristotle the same things: justice, freedom, caring, equality, and – love. With these as the solid ground upon which the communities of people lived, humans could live together in peace – with fairness and sharing among all citizens. Aristotle was teaching the rudimentary principles of democracy. It absolutely set Alexander on fire! He was determined to bring this great wisdom to all the world.
Unfortunately (that’s my opinion) Alexander used as his models Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and some of the other more local countries. To accomplish his goal, this great young man gathered around him a magnificent Army that was totally devoted to him. They set out to conquer the world as they knew it, and force people to love each other. Forced love – then as now – didn’t work. Alexander died in the 430s BC. But even as he tried to educate people using force, Alexander did accomplish a great and wondrous thing. The whole, what we call the Western world, learned to speak Greek. That meant no matter what their background, no matter what their own local language was, they still could communicate with people who were not native to their land. Greek was the Common Language of the Mediterranean basin and the near East until the fourth or fifth centuries A.D.
There are several reasons why science at this time began to separate itself out from religion. What we now call religion had begun to isolate itself from the ordinary circumstances of daily living. Worship – important as it really is – increasingly became formalized, and repetitious. Because sixth sense insights often involved very fundamental issues, they came to be accepted by new generations without any questions. And when that began to happen, then they often became mysteriously unquestionable. No distinction was made between the concept called “God” and the physical world around us. So the authority of God was added to the authority of five sense perceptions. Some things are beyond discussion!! Religion began to be associated with loyalty to the ruling authority – in most cases one person.
Science, on the other hand, seemed able to pursue its mission without appealing to a higher authority – that is the now “morphed” idea of God. The introduction of Arabic numerals, and the development of the concept of “zero” made possible the amazing development and mathematics and therefore all other sciences.
I have used the word “religion” without comment so far. Now I need to say something about it. Religion is in origin a Latin word that means “to tie together,” “bind up.” Thus the relationship with the Reality of the created world changed drastically. The sixth sense grew from the need to be free. And the thing that made this really happen, what is the freedom with which individuals each discussed their own understanding of their perceptions. When the community came together in agreement on an interpretation of perceptions, everyone was set free to act – based on that information. Everyone could trust it. That is to say: everyone had faith in it. Why? Because the community has come together to discuss, comment, interpret, and perceptions. What all perceived as a meaning was therefore accepted – on faith.
Science also does exactly the same thing. The different perceptions of different people observing specific things are discussed by the scientific community. In their discussions the scientific community comes to understand a specific interpretation. This is tested out – through personal experience and insight – just exactly as it is in the God based community. So, all perceived as a specific meaning, and had proved it by repeating it, was therefore accepted – on faith.
Faith then is the real basis of all human understanding. But it is faith that is based on freedom. The freedom to discuss the sixth sense perceptions that make reality Real. It is a community of faith that underlies all human existence. But for a community of faith to work, to be valid, requires two things. First, constant new input. What is called “blind faith” needs to be seen as a huge evil. Accepting something just because someone says you ought to believe it, without any question, is a denial of faith, and a lack of trust in the creation that surrounds you.
You know, I can continue but don’t think it will do any more good. I hope and trust what I have said has assisted you to understand that all knowledge – of any kind – has come into your mind by means of the five senses. Like the photographs of the universe 16 billion years ago, each individual has a task of examining it and putting a degree of faith into the result of that examination. When part of the testing of that faith includes another community, then that other community also needs to be examined as to where it’s faith is placed.
It is the function of people like you and me to learn as much as we can about the world in which we live. We need to have faith in the splendor of the system which we call “Universe” – because that’s all there is. Where it goes we do not know. How it gets there we do not know. What will happen when it arrives we do not know. The only thing we do know is that somehow, using our own faith, we are making a contribution to the ultimate conclusion – what ever it may be. We must never forget that is absolutely nothing we can do to change the past. (When we look at a Hubble image, we are looking at a very real past. There is absolutely nothing that we can ever do to change it.) The only place where we have a part to play is in the future – and our part is determined by our faith. Science helps us explain the things we can perceive through our five senses. What we call religion helps us develop a meaning or purpose for using these things that we can perceive through our five senses. Even though we do not know where it is going to go we do know that our part is meaningful, significant, and ultimately creative.
Those of us who believe these things need to energize ourselves to help those who do not believe these things. We spend tons of money learning how to destroy others. We use much ingenuity to collect as much money and other values – at the expense of others. When any township or state government discovers budget problems, the first thing to do is to cut education and art and methods of building interpersonal relationships. Justice, kindness, caring, sharing, feeding, clothing, housing, helping others develop their own faith – these are the reasons for people of faith, no matter who they are, or what faith they profess – LOVE – is in essence the basis on which our 16 billion year old universe is based.
Just go and look – and see -- at Dr. Mullaney’s pictures.