Is Science Compatible with Your Faith? 2-12-17

Today is Charles Darwin’s birthday – born the exact same day as Abraham Lincoln – Feb. 12, 1809. It’s an excellent day to celebrate Evolution Sunday – which we have been doing for the last 10 years or so.

Some people might feel like it’s obvious and basic to note how our faith can be compatible with science. Others may feel it’s a bit edgy. I have found that I learn something about my faith every time we approach this topic.  Listen for the word of God for you in this poetic, non-scientific language from Romans 8.

Romans 8: 18- 25  That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens. 22-25 All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

February 12, 2017

Is Science Compatible with Your Faith?

On my way home from visiting my mother two weeks ago, I asked a Cincinnati friend to take me to the airport. He drives for Uber and Lyft, and he said that I-75 directly over the bridge had been backed up earlier in the morning, so he decided to take me on the bypass I-275 around town – through Indiana into Kentucky where the airport is. To my surprise this route took us past the Creation Museum. You have probably heard of the Creation Museum, right?

It’s a museum that celebrates the literal interpretation of the Bible and its account of the creation of the world. They contend that the universe is 6,000 years old instead of 13 billion years old and they actively dispute the theory of evolution, saying that it undermines people’s faith and the morality of the world. They know the Universe is so young because that’s how they read and understand Genesis. The motto of the Creation Museum is “Prepare to Believe.”

A few years before the Creation Museum opened in 2007, I, along with, at this point, 15,000 other clergy, signed something called “the Clergy Letter Project” which advocates for the teaching of evolution and claims that there is no contradiction between the Christian faith and the science of evolution. We began to have Evolution Weekends around the same time to promote this understanding in our churches. The national United Methodist Church and other denominations have endorsed this project in the years since.

I do not think this is a terribly controversial topic in our congregation. It is in my family though. I don’t talk about it with my youngest brother, who thinks the Creation Museum is really great. It is an important thing for us as a congregation to discuss though. I notice that I feel vaguely uneasy talking about it, because it feels a little as though what the creationists say has a certain logic to it – that accepting evolution challenges some of our basic faith beliefs.

The question is – do we need to hang on to all the ways Christians have thought for centuries, or do our beliefs adapt – evolve if you will – over time to modern thought in a way that will help us in our time and our world? Put another way, do we create high walls around our churches and defend our beliefs at all costs – or is our faith strong enough to survive even in a world that is full of oppression and corrupting influences?

You know that I am strongly in favor of our faith adapting. That happens whether we try to do it or not. At the same time, you know that there are questions that science can’t answer and questions that faith is better off leaving to science. Tussles over where the line between the two domains’ spheres of influence end have gone on for centuries.

Sometimes I think the line that we draw is too easy – the one that says science answers the ‘how’ questions and religion answers the ‘why’ questions. Science deals with facts and religion with meaning. That’s helpful, but sometimes too pat.

Look at our passage from Romans this morning for instance. Paul writes about the suffering of creation and the suffering of humanity. He compares the suffering to the pain of a pregnant woman – the birth pangs of creation. He is talking to Jewish Christians enduring terrible suffering, and urging them to be patient and have hope for a new world that is being born through God’s creative energy in Christ.

The modern understanding of evolution and the slow process of change as species evolve and adapt to their environment gives us a sense of how patient one might need to be for a new world being born. Evolution explains how the world works, how change happens, slowly, over time. That explanation may help us as people of faith to explore the meaning of our lives in our world – to have hope in the big picture of God’s creative process.

Evolution also helps us to understand how interdependent the whole of God’s creation actually is. Just as Paul talks about the birth pangs of all of creation, Darwin’s writing helps us to see that human suffering is not isolated – that we are connected to all other living things. “Like Copernicus and Galileo before him, Darwin challenged the self-centered idea that humanity was somehow special and other, separate from the natural world. Our relationship to other primates blows that view out of the water. We belong to the world. We had better care about the world.” [Roger Bertschausen, 2014 sermon from Clergy letter website]

We must use all the knowledge and understanding we have to be able to deal with the birth pangs and travails of our world, of all of creation. We can’t go back to the kind of limited understanding that the Creation Museum advocates. At the same time, we have to be careful not to fall into a trap of self-righteousness, imagining that we are so much more evolved than they are. We are all in this together and we have to look at that bigger picture of our inter-relatedness to do the slow work of moving all of us forward.

We will be talking at our spiritual retreat about a way of developing “non-dual consciousness” to challenge the polarization of our society and our own alienation from ourselves. During the retreat and during our Lenten series we will be exploring prayer as a way to realize our essential connectedness that Darwin pointed to so brilliantly, our essential connectedness to each other and to all of creation.

The science of evolution gives us new tools to use in the medical field as we learn about DNA and the histories of various species. Historical-Critical studies of the Bible gives us new understandings of it’s meaning and its origins.

Our faith gives us a place to celebrate the divine force which underlies all of these discoveries; our faith gives us a place for forgiveness for the ways in which we nonetheless constantly act as though we are the center of everything, or that we are better than that other group, that other tribe, that other species or whoever. Our faith gives us a place where we can express our awe at the beauty of it all, a place where we find grace and love for all of God’s creation, and hope for the waiting, the joyful anticipation of new creation which is being born.

This is God’s good news.


Responsive Hymn 2169 God, How Can We Forgive?