Seeing Science Anew

Seeing Science Anew

‘What is truth?’
—John 18:38

This profound yet enigmatic question slips from Pilate’s lips at the end of his encounter with Jesus. Frustratingly, neither he nor Jesus provides an answer. This unanswered question has caused a history of consternation within the church and other communities of faith. From Augustine to Galileo to Descartes, Christian thinkers have created differing strategies to balance both science and faith. Within Christian circles, in particular, the rise of fundamentalism and biblical literalism in the early part of the 20th century was a direct result of one facet of the Christian community’s attempts to wrestle with truth. Fundamentalists determined that science and faith offered competing truths. As one area advanced, the other retreated. This rather combative posture expressed in fundamentalism’s stance toward science is categorized as a type of imperialism, i.e., this stance maintains that science and faith are competitors for the absolute allegiance of their adherents.
Yet, must science and faith be perpetually perceived as wholly oppositional? Are they always mutually exclusive options? Can someone be a person of faith and a person science? What is “truth” anyway? These are not only important questions but possibly the central questions of honest intellectual inquiry; they are at the very core of what it means to be a liberal arts college of the church. Other efforts to balance science and faith, e.g., perspectivalism, postmodern relativism, and critical realism, offer their own solutions. Providing greater or lesser degrees of continuity between science and faith, each stance, nevertheless, fails to provide an absolute solution. Yet, maybe, that is the solution. Maybe the very fact that we cannot completely reconcile those two parts of our brains is precisely the point. We might be looking for resolution where the struggle with mystery is meant to be the very (transformative) point.
In science, truth is probabilistic. That is, truth is only true as long as the observable data comports to that conclusion. If we discover other data that disproves a previous conclusion, then the understanding of truth shifts. Similarly, in faith, truth is always, primarily, a relational category. Emergent from the notion of “troth,” we know truth only when we are honestly and wholly willing to engage with what (or who) is True. Emblematic of this truthful engagement, the two sacraments of the church—baptism and communion: the two quintessentially relational moments of the faith—develop from a concept within Greek called mysterion. Mysterion, or mystery, is that moment of engagement with the Mystery that is God.
Our word “science” derives from a Latin word, scientia, meaning “having knowledge.” Scientia comes from another Latin root, scindere, meaning to split or cut off. For those familiar with Ockham’s Razor, such a definition of science seems most appropriate. In an almost identical way, the church has classified two ways to understand God: (1) kataphatic and (2) apophatic. Kataphatic is knowledge by analogy, i.e., by words. Apophatic is knowledge by negation, i.e., saying what cannot be said about God. Through negation, what is left unsaid is God. In this construction, God is the Mystery that we engage. In addition, as scientists remind us, simply discovering something does not lead to a sudden reduction of mystery but an expansion of mystery. Put another way, the answering of one question does not eliminate a question as much as produce countless additional questions.
This does not make God simply the “God of the gaps,” i.e., God becomes the default space filler for whatever we do not know. Rather, we come to realize that God is the very Reality, the Mystery, the Truth that we relate with in pursuing what we see as “reality” or “mystery” or “truth.” Science and faith are about “knowing” something or someone. Science and faith are not adversaries but cohorts. These disciplines, also, become more about intimate knowledge of a subject or, more accurately, a Subject. Both are activities that demand dedication, struggle, perseverance, passion, and love. They are disciplines not committed to accumulation of data but about the journey into the very heart of Mystery, as much interested in the questions as the answers.
Upon reflection, I think it is best that neither Pilate nor Jesus provided an answer to our original question. Such an answer would have carried the kind of absolute weight that seems completely antithetical to both science and faith. Such absolute claims demand simply our acknowledgement and not the kind of intimate knowing gained through passionate pursuit and honest intellectual inquiry. Such a knowledge and the journey necessary to acquire it is far more transformative and permanent than that found when simply being told what to believe.
This week in chapel, Paul Arnold will share his own unique perspective of faith as our “This I Believe” speaker. Come to support him and to journey deeper into the mystery of truth as we see how faith lets us see science anew.

Seeing Hope Anew

For this week’s iChapel, my intention was to offer a reflection on Martin Luther King’s life and work. To prepare for that reflection piece, I reread many of King’s speeches and written works. As I read, I found myself inspired by his words, his eloquent prose, and his sharp insight. Resultantly, I compiled a growing set of excerpts, ultimately leaving little if no room for my own reflections. The conclusion was obvious.

King’s works and words stand sufficiently on their own. I determined that the best reflection on King is simply to present one of his speeches in its entirety. Below are both text and audio versions of his “I Have a Dream” speech from 1963. I chose this speech because of its familiarity and its almost prophetic reach into our own time. On this holiday, we often hear the ending of this speech, but the beginning is as powerful and perceptive as the end is aspirational and hopeful.

Drawing upon King’s legacy, this week’s chapel service focuses on how faith allows us to see hope anew. Dr. Gerald Durley will offer the message. The entire campus is invited to come.

Here, in its entirety, is King’s August 28, 1963 speech:

(If you wish to listen to the speech while reading the text, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbUtL_0vAJk.)

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: “For Whites Only.” We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”¹ I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest — quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”2 This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.
And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

iResolve

I am no longer my own but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing: I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours.

–A prayer from the Wesley Covenant Service

From top songs of the year to most important newsmakers or influential citizens to efforts at identifying the year’s best athletes, recording artists, or actors, it is virtually impossible to avoid lists and discussions attempting to assess and quantify the past year. Equally, once the New Year has begun newscasts and newspapers, sermons and state governments not only review the past year but also imagine the possibilities for the year now underway. Often, these imagined possibilities include a cataloging of resolutions.
Among the countless other promises, we pledge to lose weight, to save more, to spend more time with our families, to volunteer, to finish those project perpetually left undone. Whatever the items crowding our personal and corporate “to do” lists, the start of a new year seems an appropriate time to construct such hopeful catalogues. Much like us, John Wesley was no different.
However, more than generally assessing what we did last year and what we must do in the year begun, Wesley was specifically interested in encouraging the members of his Methodist societies to identify those intentional actions done in the previous year that moved his people toward perfection—i.e., toward being and living like God would love—and in fostering an environment where members would find such a pursuit of perfection successful in the new year. One means Wesley contrived to facilitate this pursuit was the Covenant Service.
This idea of Covenant was basic to Wesley’s understanding of Christian discipleship. He saw the relationship with God in Covenant as being like a marriage between human beings (both as a community and as individuals) on the one side and God in Christ on the other. His original Covenant Prayer involved taking Christ as “my Head and Husband, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, for all times and conditions, to love, honour and obey thee before all others, and this to the death.” Wesley recognized that people needed not simply to accept but also to grow in relationship with God. He therefore emphasized that God’s grace and love constantly prompts and seeks to transform us, and so we should continually seek and pray to grow in holiness and love. Importantly, the Covenant is not a contract in which God and human beings agree to provide particular goods and services for each other. It is not something that we have to do to create a relationship with God. God has freely and graciously already made it possible. Rather, the Covenant is the means of grace by which we accept the relationship and then seek to sustain it.

Since, covenant is about connecting and choosing intentional acts that maintain that connection, the Covenant Service is recognition that God regularly chooses us. In light of this recognition, it is no accident that Wesley referred to the societies as the “Connexion.” The Connexion served as a material embodiment of our intended destiny to share life with God, each other, and all of creation.

This week, for Young Harris College, the need to remind us of our shared life and to affirm that shared life could not be greater. Not only is it a new year, but the very fabric of our community feels strained as we mourn the death of one of our own. Antonio Burke’s death last week makes the bond that holds us together appear to be unraveling, separating us from him and possibly even each other. Attempting to deal with his death, we might be inclined to try to manage solely in the solitude of our own hearts, struggling with questions, doubts, anger, and confusion. The timeliness of the Covenant Service serves as a counterweight to the inclination to retreat from community into ourselves when such tragedy strikes. Created to share life with each other, that shared life must be relied upon at this very moment. And, despite what might appear evidence to the contrary, death’s separating energy is not the ultimate force around us. Rather, the bonding power of God—so the faith reminds us—resists even the power of death, holding us to God, to each other, and to Antonio.

We will hold two services in the chapel this week, a memorial service for Antonio and a Covenant Service. The date for the memorial service has not been set but should be finalized by the end of the day. We will notify you once it is set. The date for the Covenant Service is Wednesday at 7pm. Together, these services will not only affirm life but the potency and import of life together. Seek a friend; pray for Antonio’s family, his friends, and his teammates; and be reminded that life together with God and each other defines who we are and how we must live in the best of times and the most difficult.

Peace, much peace.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
–Romans 8: 35, 38-39