Last Sunday we gathered under a big tent for a real dialogue about racial reconciliation. What occurred there ago seems more relevant and significant given what followed days later in Tulsa and Charlotte. But I like that image of a big tent. I like it because truth is much bigger than our self-absorbed and tribal ways of knowing, which are limited. Truth is by nature expansive, requiring tall ceilings and broad horizons to fire our imagination.
Last January we gathered in the Parish Hall for a conversation so we could learn the truth about Islam, about which we know too little. Folks were so hungry to learn the truth about Islam 75 people showed up on a blustery winter weekend with not much publicity.
Last night at Council, we spoke in excited tones about what event might come next. When the theme of science and religion was mentioned as a possibility, it elicited oohs and ahs, including from me. Epistemology (how we come to know and believe) has long been a hobby of mine, right along there with grilling, auto restoration, and hockey.
Call me crazy, but futile arguments pitting science against religion seem advanced by scientists and believers unable to let the parameters of truth exceed their tiny little tents. Take, for example, the story of how we came to be in this universe, the story of creation. Whether our approach is scientific or religious depends upon the question we’re asking.
Do we want to know what happened and when it happened? I am going with science, carbon dating, and the evolution of species as helpful constructs to enlighten me. Do we want to know why it happened, who was behind it and who we are? Then flip to Genesis with me, where two accounts tell of a loving God living in a lonely, empty void. This God couldn’t be who this God most deeply was without living in relationship with life, and most especially, with humans. (Scientists dismiss the two accounts as contradictory.)
So which is better, science or religion? It depends which questions we ask. Why do scientists sneer at faith and rigid believers ridicule empirical thought as idle speculation? Because both sides want to claim the final word as ultimately right when truth is a bigger tent than they live in. Fundamentalism attempts to make religion into a pseudo-science by proof-texting and insisting on the replication of phenomena, that is, your conversion experience must be exactly like mine, or the results are dubbed invalid. Science that is hostile to religion refuses to admit that meaning matters as a legitimate form of inquiry.
The late Stephen Jay Gould, a paleontologist and agnostic Jew, advanced the notion of science and religion as “non-overlapping magisteria” or NOMA. That means that both science and religion are essential, coherent, and authoritative systems of teaching that do not overlap in their take on the world, my case above. Kierkegaard wrote powerfully on this 180 years ago, talking about objective truths of science and the subjective truths religion treats. Of course, in Kierkegaard’s day “subjective truth” was not a pejorative form of dismissal. It was as real, vital and meaningful as saying, “My mother loves me.”
Anyway, I couldn’t resist the urge to prime the pump for what I hope we’ll eventually do.