Archive for category Science
How do churches care well for scientists? That’s the focus of an article I’m writing for our denominational magazine (The Banner). How have congregations helped or hindered those involved in the sciences to pursue their vocation and calling as a distinctly Christian calling? How can churches be (or become) hospitable places for scientists to be a follower of Jesus and pursue excellence within their scientific field/discipline?
But I need your help. All those involved in the sciences (or if you know someone involved in the sciences forward them this post), can you help me out by commenting your feedback on the questions below (or let me know if you’d rather me email you directly):
- What tensions have you experienced as a scientist and follower of Christ in your congregational experience? Any events/stories that illustrate that tension/struggle?
- What have congregations done well to embrace and affirm your calling as a scientist and a Christian? How have they helped you in your ministry within the world of science?
- What would you have liked to see your congregation do to better understand or equip you as a scientist?
Thanks, in advance, for your help.
It was a gorgeous late summer evening last night – crystal clear night sky, nearly full moon, cool but comfortable temperatures. Betty and I were lounging on the back deck with a glass of wine when the night sky came alive. The aurora borealis, aka. northern lights, made a rare appearance. This is maybe the third or fourth time I’ve seen them in my years in Calgary so I badly wanted to wake Owen and Lily up to see them – but it was after 11:00 p.m.
The northern lights are a wonder, these swaying, sashaying curtains of light, endlessly changing form. They are caused by collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. What was so remarkable was the strength of the northern lights on a full-moon evening in a major urban center with all sorts of light pollution.
I couldn’t help but clamber on top of the roof of our house to catch a few shots.
If you were to build a perfect society, how would you build it? What you would include in it would be telling. But perhaps more revealing would be what you might exclude from your perfect world.
McGill ethicist Margaret Somerville wrote this week in a Globe and Mail column about a move in Denmark to make the nation a “Down syndrome-free perfect society” (actually a headline from a Danish newspaper). Apparently the Danes want to encourage the abortion of fetuses with Down syndrome so their society would be free of anyone with Down syndrome by 2030. This is the vision of a good society, the absence of apparent blemish and defect.
But I can’t help wonder how defective this concept of perfection is. Tonight I enjoyed dinner with a group a people and one of them was a quiet, beautiful boy with Down syndrome. His loving cuddles with his dad and quiet cleaning up after dinner were a sweet part of the evening. I cannot understand the mind that would name his absence as a more perfect world.
Journalist Ian Brown wrote a searingly beautiful book, The Boy In the Moon, about his son Walker who suffers from a rare and severe disability (CFC). It’s an unflinching introduction into the pain of Walker’s disability and yet Brown wonders about the mystery of his son’s disability, what it teaches the rest of us, how people like Walker might make the rest of us better (for example, growing our sense of compassion and sympathy).
Dutch priest Henri Nouwen, author and professor at Notre Dame, Harvard, and Yale and author, gave up his acadamic career to work at L’Arche and serve a severely disabled man named Adam. When someone suggested that Nouwen should delegate these menial responsibilities and focus on writing or speaking, Nouwen quickly responded, “It is I, not Adam, who gets the main benefit from our friendship.”
Nouwen shows us how God reveals himself through the reality of disability. Without trying to romanticize the complexity and hardship of any disability, he writes that Adam taught him
a lot about God’s love in a very concrete way. First of all, he taught me that being is more important than doing, that God wants me to be with God and not to do all sorts of things to prove that I’m valuable … then he taught me something else. He taught me that the heart is more important than the mind … Adam didn’t think. Adam had a heart, a real human heart. I suddenly realized that what makes a human being human is the heart with which he can give and receive love … I suddenly realized that Adam was not just a disabled person, less human than me or other people. He was a fully human being, so fully human that God even chose him to become the instrument of His love. He was so vulnerable, so weak, so empty, that he became just heart, the heart where God wanted to dwell, where He wanted to stay and where He wanted to speak to those who came close to His vulnerable heart. Adam was a full human being, not half human or less human … He wanted to dwell in his broken person so that He could speak from that vulnerability into the world of strength, and call people to become vulnerable.”
What if our quest for “perfection” is, in reality, deeply defective, our drivenness to achieve a disability? What if God is showing us his heart, his vulnerable love through the life of a disabled person? What if we need the artless grace and love of a person with Down syndrome more than they need our care-giving attention?
I can’t help but think that the Danes are avoiding a mirror that people with disability gift the rest of society – namely, that all of us are disabled. Some in visible, diagnosable ways but for others our disability is easily masked, socially accepted and undiagnosed. Denmark, and any society, will be severely impoverished and vastly less than perfect without the presence and blessing of people with disability among them.
In keeping with this blog’s mashed-up name (Squinch = square inch), I got to wondering what might fill one square inch of …
Soil – go plunge your hands into the dirt as you garden – do you know what you’re getting into? In one square inch of soil live over 4 billion organisms, including one-celled bacteria, algae, fungi, and protozoa, to the more complex nematodes and micro-arthropods.
Night sky: looking from earth at a pin-prick sized dot of black night sky, the Hubble telescope found over 3,000 spinning, twinkling, colourfully dazzling objects; 4 of them were stars and the rest galaxies – yes, galaxies! All in one tiny pin-head speck of night sky that appears like empty black space to the human eye. Read Psalm 8 with an image of Hubble Deep Field in your hand to get a sense of your small and lofty nature.
Skin: 65 hairs, 9,500,000 cells, 4 meters of blood vessels, 95 sebaceous glands, 650 sweat glands, 5 meters of nerves, and over 1000 nerve endings to record pain. No wonder you’re so touchy!
Tongue: sitting on one square inch of what is considered the strongest muscle in the body is anywhere from 11 – 1,100 taste buds, each a cluster of cells resembling a flower bud under the microscope. That’s one mighty taster perched in your mouth.
Blood: a cubic inch of healthy blood has 75 million red blood cells, those lovely doughnut-like cells, 108,000 white blood cells, and 4.3 million platelets suspended in plasma fluid with various disolved proteins, mineral ions, and glucose.
Water – most of you is made up of water (60%, in fact, and 70% of the earth’s surface is covered by water). So what is it that makes most of you up and covers most of earth’s crust? A graceful set of elements, oxygen and hydrogen, paired in a beautiful, simple v-shape of 104.5 degrees (exactly), which allows for the elegant hexagonal shape of snowflakes. In one sip (a cubic inch) of water is approximately 5.48 x 1023 molecules of H2O.
Air – one square inch of air, the stuff you unthinkingly breathe, the environment you scarcely notice, weighs 14.7 lbs. at sea level. Now this square inch column of air is 50 miles high, pretty much the outer limit of earth’s atmosphere. Who would’ve imagined that air would weigh even that?
Kitchen sink dish cloth – yes, this is disgusting so change out that dirty rag already. There are around 134,000 bacteria per square inch wriggling, swimming and clambering all over that dish cloth you keep using to wipe down counter-tops and kids faces.
Coffee – one cubic inch of coffee is simply not enough.
Silence – one square inch of silence is full of the voice of God and so much more – but you’ll never know until you gear down and actually find silent spaces. Check out the fascinating “One Square Inch of Silence” project, dedicated to preserving natural soundscapes by locating the “quietest place in the United States” in the Olympic National Park, WA.
Every now and then life serves up moments brimming with so much glory you can’t help but cry out with Elizabeth Barrett Browning: “Earth’s crammed with heaven.” Last week was one of those times, a week piled high with goodness on top of grace (and yet there was a shadow of regret that Betty wasn’t there to share it all).
I was sequestered – gladly and gratefully – on Galiano Island, hosted by Loren and Mary-Ruth Wilkinson, all courtesy of Regent College’s Pastoral Science project (and thank you Templeton Foundation). The purpose of the week was to gather pastors together to better explore and understand the interface of science and theology, aiming to build the church’s faith through sound theology and sound science.
The intellectual stimulation, one part of the feast, was hefty and satisfying. We were invited into the wonderful world of molecular genetics, thought big thoughts on the philosophy of science, entered deeply into the biblical text, and explored ways to further the faith-building integration of God’s two books.
The company was rich and deep. As one new friend, Richard Dahlstrom, noted, it’s like a I found a family I never knew I had. This sense of welcome, of being at home, is the way Christian community is meant to function – that wonderful sense of stumbling upon friends amongst complete strangers, all because of the gospel.
The food was ample and delectable, each meal a delight of local (we enjoyed nettles in a delicious spanakopita), organic, home-made fare – my favourite had to be the breakfast pasta (seriously!). Who knew pasta would make for a superb morning starter.
And, of course, there was the venue, nestled along the BC Coast, picture-perfect weather and teeming with life (if you look closely on the photo below you’ll see the tail of a whale, perhaps a grey whale, just about to disappear under the surf). Simply savouring and enjoying creation was a vital part of the week and the project itself because, in the end, both science and theology arise from a common experience – the humbled and astonished wonder before the one voice of God spoken through his two books.
Instead of the usual Friday photos I’m posting a few Calvin and Hobbes cartoon strips. On a recent stop in Portland’s Powells Books, I added a few more volumes to my collection. Calvin and Hobbes is the simply the most brilliant, witty and visually beautiful comic strip published. Named after the theologian and philosopher, Calvin and Hobbes engages with hilariously astute observations on the human condition, theological/philosophical arguments in micro form, and the capacity to usher you into the wild and wonderful imagination of a child (Forget any of the parenting books on the market, Calvin and Hobbes is my choice for best authority for understanding my son, providing uncannily accurate front-line reports from inside the thinking and imagination a very precocious 6 year old).
Heading off to Regent College’s Pastor Science project, I’ve put a few strips of Calvin and Hobbes connected to science. There’s a playfulness and humour here that I’m pretty sure has to be part of both the scientific and theological project. I love the crazy conversations Calvin and his Dad have – as a scientific lay person, his Dad’s explanations work pretty well for me. My favourite line comes from Calvin in the first strip – “That’s the whole problem with science. You’ve got a bunch of empiricists trying to describe things of unimaginable wonder.”
Next week I’m off to Galiano Island (one of the southern Gulf Islands in the Strait of Georgia) at the invitation of Regent College. I’ll be a participant in the third cohort of Regent’s three year Pastoral Science program. The purpose is to engage evangelical Protestant pastors with the world of science, to better integrate sound science with sound theology. It’s a brilliant project and you can check out the Cosmos website here.
The backdrop for this project is the ongoing cultural conflict between faith and science, the polarized debate that has morphed into an exaggerated warfare model pitting scientific thought against belief in God and the bible.
While I think the conflict is more perceived, the warfare is real with actual casualties. I’ve talked with too many people who have accepted the “either-or” notion that you cannot hold to a biblically shaped worldview and retain a rational, scientific mind. I’ve had countless conversations with young adults who have grown up in cocooned Christian environments only to hit university and have the underpinnings of their faith taken out in the first two months on campus. Just recently I sat down with a young couple, one graduated in biological sciences the other finishing off his university career – their faith either left behind or hanging by slim threads. Why? For one thing, their traditional six day creation understanding of the Genesis creation account taken apart and undone by a thorough challenge of evolutionary science (one of many challenges they weren’t prepared for). Even my 8 year old son has already felt the pinch of the issue, wondering about how the facts of science line up with the tenets of faith (we do live in a dinosaur cemetery here in Western Canada, so his imagination runs wild wondering about how dinosaurs fit within the creation story).
I find this tension irritating since the intellectual project that birthed science comes from the instincts and impulses of Christianity – the goodness, wonder, rationality and design of creation, the beauty of human intellect that can know and understand the created world. These are the founding principles of science rooted in a biblical, Christian worldview. So where has science lost a sense of humility and where has Christianity traded in its sense of wonder for theological rectitude?
Which makes me very glad to be part of a faith tradition that affirms both the revelatory nature of scripture and creation. One of our confessions, Belgic Confession art. 2, says that we know God through two means: “First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: his eternal power and his divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20 … Second, he makes himself known to us more openly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for his glory and for the salvation of his own.”
Did you note which comes first? Creation. I don’t think we’ve honoured our scientists appropriately as men and women who help us know the majesty and wonder of our world and the Creator God. And further, this confession tells us that there is no basis for a conflictual relationship between science and faith. Any conflict between them is an antinomy, a perceived contradiction between the truth of science and the truth of scripture – but not a real one. If there is a conflict, if truth from one source of revelation seems to contradict or refute something from the other source of revelation, then either our understanding of scripture is flawed and needs adjustment or our understanding of creation is flawed and needs further research and observation.
The Pastor Science project’s tagline is “refaithing science.” Not bad but at times I think a more appropriate tagline would be “resciencing church,” because all too often branches of the church have been vigilant opponents to scientific discovery and thought (can anyone say Galileo). I wonder if the Christian faith might regain its place as a warm environment for scientific discovery and thought, a place where scientists are led towards worship because of the sometimes indescribable mysteries they encounter and observe, and for the church to be led deeper into awestruck wonder at the Creator’s handiwork.
So I’m privileged to be part of this Pastor Science Cohort and pray for its good goals, and probably will do more blogging about it. But I would love to hear your thoughts and stories. What’s your understanding of the relationship between science and faith? Does science threaten your faith or faith seem to stymie your curiosity or scientific knowledge? Where are the pressure points you experience? How do you understand the two working together? How might we imagine a collaborative relationship?