When the answers do not come easy

When the answers do not come easy

Credit: airpix, cc via Flickr)

Looking for evidence-supported answers only to find more questions may be frustrating, but this search is by no means a useless endeavor when it comes to faith and science.

Many beginning the religion-and-science journey start out with something to prove. Sometimes it is for validation of the faith they grew up with, and other times it is about a branch of science that is being challenged in the public square. What one often ends up with is a series of questions asking about the fundamental notions of reality.

These are questions worth pursuing through the lens of faith and science, certainly, but is there an end point? Can we answer definitively via a new theological or scientific discovery something in relation to our faith? Or can it be boiled down to a series of clever bullet points to ensure all people of faith are on the same page? For instance, while it may be tempting to try and explain the cosmos in a few equations, obviously it cannot be done. The nature of life, what makes us human and how we find God in our everyday human experience, is very complicated.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson recently attempted to simplify the questions surrounding faith and science. In a newspaper article published in Sydney, he specifically spoke of public surveys on science and faith.

He said; “The question is not ‘Do we have science or religion?’. It is ‘If you’re religious, do you think your scriptures serve as a science text book?’”

While that may be one way of dividing the world into “believers” and “non-believers” so to speak, it really does little to tackle the difficult questions we face today.

For instance, even if I know that that the Bible is not a science textbook, should I expect science to impact my faith? Should I ignore science completely? Do I seek mathematical patterns in the universe and point to that as proof God ordering the world? Reality is much more fluid than any one branch of science or one’s own of knowledge set. That alone may indicate God’s presence in this modern fast-paced world.

We often like to think that keeping science and religion separate keeps both safe from scrutiny when the opposite is true. Separating one from another they may stoke conflict. You may dodge mathematical equations in your everyday life because you do not understand them, but that is not to say you do not believe in their validity and ability to change the world. I live in a world that depends on math every day and so do you — does that need to be a separate reality from one’s faith?

The faith-and-science journey often seems like tangled web of knowledge with varying levels of complexity. Taking on this challenge of untangling this web and understanding it more clearly one may argue is imperative in order to have an honest look at one’s faith with fresh eyes.

We all need to be actively discovering the worlds of science and technology. We should be thinking how they may underpin our lives and our faith. This of course takes work. Many of us may not take the time to ask these questions in our busy modern world of emails, texts, and the power of our smart phones — things which are supposed to make our lives easier and save time!

As we move forward with changing technology, healthcare alternatives, new insights on our universe, or concerns over our planet’s future, the religion-and-science dialogue becomes ever more relevant. These trends and our faith impact all our lives in a variety of ways — from whom we vote for to how we spend our money and more importantly in how we spend our time day to day.

These questions of religion and science are worth taking the time to ask, even if we do not feel that we have the “proof” of what we think is the answer.

What are you most curious about? Search our website and the answers may get you started on a path that leads you to ever more pertinent questions.

Climate change, the church and created co-creators

Climate change, the church and created co-creators

NASA heat map combining historical measurements with data from climate simulations using the best available computer models to provide forecasts of how global temperature and precipitation might change up to 2100 under different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. (Credit: NASA/public domain)

Climate change denial has never had a higher profile supporter than today’s White House.  Weighing the economic costs against the benefits of the Paris accord, the U.S. government has decided to pull out of the accord citing unfairness with the deal, specifically with other countries who stand to benefit from Americans losing jobs.

According to President Donald Trump’s announcement of his decision, it is less about the climate than other countries getting an economic advantage over the United States. Quoting the Wall Street Journal, rather than scientists, he described the Paris Agreement as a “self-inflicted major economic wound.”

For many Americans, the logic seems sound, as jobs are always in demand and seemingly fleeting in many places across the country today. Despite that reality, we need to re-think eco-justice initiatives to offer our scientists in the pews a leading role because of what they know in thoughtful reflection of where we are headed.

Leading up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015, the Vatican made headlines with Pope Francis’ Encyclical letter on “Care for Our Common Home.” There were a number of events at Catholic universities where students, professors and theologians gathered to discuss the contents of the letter fully. The Pope’s letter’s title, “Laudato si,” is taken from a canticle from Saint Francis that is translated as “Praise be to you, my Lord.” The letter is clear on humanity’s role in climate change.

Pope Francis writes: “We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”

But how do Christians respond fully to the White House’s notion that pocket books come before the planet? Let’s begin by speaking out. Did you know that within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America there are a treasure trove of theologians and scientists who are already speaking out about climate change and its harmful effects on humanity and the planet?

Also there is an ELCA social statement, “Caring for Creation,” that was adopted in 1993. It clearly states the church’s role in speaking out on ecological concerns.

It reads: “We of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are deeply concerned about the environment, locally and globally, as members of this church and as members of society. Even as we join the political, economic, and scientific discussion, we know care for the earth to be a profoundly spiritual matter.”

Lutherans Restoring Creation is an effort to encourage the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to incorporate care for creation into its full life and mission at all levels. The group is celebrating eco-Reformation, as we previously wrote about, and is also inviting ELCA members to become partners in these efforts at the congregational, synodical, and national church levels.

Perhaps more importantly, this group has organized a Speakers’ Bureau. These speakers have been gathered to represent a number of informed leaders in the ELCA capable of serving as conference speakers, panel participants, and workshop leaders for events sponsored by congregations, synods, seminaries, ministeriums, colleges, and other agencies of the church. A total of 19 speakers are available across the US to speak about the planetary degradation that is threatening all life on Earth and causing extensive disruption and dislocation in human communities, according to the group’s website.

ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton has spoken out, too. Prior to this latest setback with the pulling out of the Paris Accord, she said: “The present moment is a critical one, filled with both challenge and opportunity to act as faithful individuals and churches in solidarity with God’s good creation.”

She has since Tweeted, “Creation is God’s gift. We hold it in trust. Climate change is hardest on the most vulnerable. God stands with them. So do we.”

What can you do to help make the church’s views on climate change heard? How will we respond when our children ask us what we did when we learned of climate change and its effects on the planet? I hope we will be able to say that we all played a part as created co-creators in solving the problem rather than contributing to it.

As created co-creators all people have a call from God to do the right thing, even if that means a few missteps along the way. In taking action it is possible to yield new eco-friendly jobs and useful community efforts and there is help for all to thrive and live abundantly on this planet that we share. As Christians who are “prisoners of hope” we are enabled to move forward with a goal of healing the planet for the sake of future generations.

It may not come with a price tag, but in response to God’s call our actions are priceless, as they say.

We are marching …

We are marching ...

Credit: St. Andrews Lutheran Campus Center in Champaign, IL

We are marching in the light of God,
We are marching in the light of God.
(Repeat)
We are marching, marching,
We are marching, marching,
We are marching in the light of God.

— Siyahamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwenknos’ (We are marching in the light of God, a Zulu traditional song)

We are marching in the light of God and for a greater understanding of science is another play on the lyrics of that famous South African protest hymn against Apartheid. It is a catchy enough tune though that you might find yourself wanting to march FOR something rather than against an idea. The March for Science was overwhelmingly that kind of a march — a march FOR something bigger than any one participant. Collectively those in attendance were not anti-religion, as perhaps some may have thought, and many marchers even sought to promote a religion-and-science message of unity.

The March for Science, and the Climate Change March that followed, attracted scientists and concerned citizens including members of a variety of faith communities as well as from a variety of backgrounds.

Supporters of science have plenty of reasons to take to the streets as the Environmental Protection Agency has experienced significant budget cuts and recent termination of scientists on its advisory board.  In addition, the National Institutes of Health is also seeing a pull back on its funding. There were also reportedly efforts to save government scientific data as President Trump was inaugurated because some scientists feared that climate change data would be deleted from government webpages.

Mark Winters, pastor of a United Church of Christ congregation in Naperville, Illinois and participant in last month’s March, told the Chicago Tribune, “We both need each other. The science community gives us the facts, the faith community gives us a moral base.” The sign he held as he marched alongside his daughter in Chicago read “Religion and science are not enemies.”

“Many of the great scientists today are religious people,” Rob Baldwin, an associate professor in forestry and environment conservation at Clemson University, told a crowd at the March for Science in Greenville, South Carolina. Part of his speech may be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cj6QnG4DBCk.

Unity was the theme. Unity against science denial was part of the message, which made it through much of the media coverage. Perhaps even more importantly it was an opportunity for pastors, scientists and others to highlight that there is no basis for conflict between faith and science.

Astronomer Grace Wolf-Chase recently told a group of scientists, pastors and lay people about her time at Cornell University, and how she graduated with an uncertain feeling about her faith. She pointed out that the university was founded by Andrew Dickinson White, who was known to promote the necessity of the inherent conflict between religion and science. He elaborated his  conflict thesis of science with dogmatic theology in the 1869 two-volume A History of the Warfare of Science and Theology in Christendom. The warfare stigma has stuck.

Wolf-Chase eventually could more fully embrace her faith as she met scientists who were also Christians while in graduate school at Arizona State University. And often it is all about who you meet. Especially when you are marching for the same cause.

As was the case with South Africans during Apartheid they knew they were not marching alone! The title of this newsletter says it all, in that Covalence refers to the covalent bonds in chemistry, where both elements are stronger in their bonds rather than as individual elements. But there is a third element that also supports much of the work of those active in the faith/science dialogue.

As the song says…

We are moving in the power of God,
We are moving in the power of God,
(Repeat)
We are moving, moving,
We are moving, moving,
We are moving in the power of God.
(Repeat)

Amen.

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