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Pastoral ponderings . . . .
The Resurrection of Our Lord is not a matter of science, logic, or reason. It’s not a matter of fact. It’s a matter of hope. It’s a matter of trusting God, and the promise God made in the empty tomb of Jesus. The resurrection of Christ is not something that can be known. It cannot be proven. It is a mystery. It is a matter of faith that we trust will only be revealed to us in the moment of our death.
And we remembered that we all have a place in God’s story, because all of us, just as we are, are part of God’s family: Peter the denier, Judas the betrayer, Thomas the doubter; Mary the mother, Magdalene the outsider, Paul the persecutor; every one of us is there, in the story of God’s people. By and large, this particular body of disciples at Mount Tabor is overwhelmingly made up of professional doubters. People of faith whose profession is among the natural sciences. Tabor is a community of seekers, doubters, and questioners,in the tradition of Martin Luther. And what fundamentally brings us here is a mystery that has somehow, some way, enfolded itself in our consciousness. A mystery that continues to invite us onward into greater mystery. A mystery that somehow continues to make more of who we are, and what our lives can possibly be. Maybe we should just go ahead and name our patron saint of Mount Tabor as St. Thomas the Doubter.
I believe that faith without doubt is certainty, and certainty is the fuel of fanaticism. Christian fanaticism is just as ugly as Muslim fanaticism. They both lead to fear and hatred, and death. Our Muslim cousins on Abraham and Sarah’s family tree remind us that the Prophet Muhammed (Peace be upon him) doubted his own sanity, when the Koran was first revealed to him. His first reaction was to throw himself off a cliff. He thought he had lost his mind. Muhammed’s profound experience of doubt was essential in the revelation of the faith of Islam. His was a profoundly human response to revelation. And I believe the Prophet would be appalled by the fanaticism of today.
Faith without doubt is not faith, it is certainty. And certainty leads to fanaticism. And fanaticism is not faith. Doubt is essential to faith. Without it, our faith becomes dead. What more would there be to discover? We already have all we need. But doubt draws us deeper. It spurs us onward. It keeps us asking “Why” and in the asking, we continue becoming. Doubt shoves aside certainty, and makes room for wonder and mystery in our lives. Doubt is essential to faith, and essential for science.
Somehow, the general public has forgotten the fallibility of science. Society has come to believe science can answer any question in a definitive way. It doesn’t matter what someone might claim. What matters, at least in popular culture, is what “scientists now say.” The new atheist movement today believes this: that objective, rational certainty and logical science is the key to human salvation and world peace.
But scientists of faith, have something to say about what I am calling the “super-elevation of science.” The former Episcopal Bishop W. Nicholas Knisely once wrote, “The idea that there is one correct answer and that science alone has the ability to determine what that answer is, comes I think, from the way most of us are exposed to the scientific method as students. Generally we are shown how to solve problems using specific tools and are expected to be as accurate as possible. It isn’t uncommon for a student to think that if an answer to three decimal places was good, then an answer to ten decimal places (the limit of the calculator used) was better! But the truth is that every answer in scientific research has an associated uncertainty. Every numeric measurement has an associated error. A good experiment is designed to minimize those errors as much as possible, but there’s a limit to what can be done. At best we are limited by the precision and accuracy of the instruments we are using to make a measurement. Because of that, there are a number of formal techniques to account for the various errors in a measurement, ways to accumulate them, and then graphically show them when data is presented. In some fields the “error bars” as they’re called, are small. In some fields, like astronomy, the errors can be huge: 200 or 300 percent of the measured quantity! Even if we could somehow magically minimize those sorts of extreme errors, there is, inherent in reality itself, a fundamental uncertainty at all levels. You may have heard of the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle. That principle is a consequence of the experimental observation that all particles have an associated wavelength and wave behavior. It means that it is impossible to ever know everything about even the simplest part of the universe.
An electron is a very small, unusually simple, mostly well-understood part of the universe, and yet, if you try to tell me exactly where it is, you forfeit the ability to tell me anything about its motion. The situation is worse for even slightly more complicated systems, and in terms of absolute knowledge, it’s unimaginably difficult for something massive. Truth, scientifically speaking, just isn’t the absolute we want it to be. The best any of us can do is an approximation, a best estimate, of the answer to a simple question. Keeping that in mind causes me to hold my truths lightly. And keep doubt close at hand in the life of faith.” This suggests to me that certainty is not a part of the natural world. That’s what the discovery of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle seems to tells us. Science is telling itself then, through its own discovery, that nothing is certain. Anything can happen. And when anyone tells us otherwise, we have reason to doubt.
The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle tells us it is just as likely that Christ rose from the dead, as it is that he did not. Doesn’t that make room for wonder? For mystery? For joy? Anything is possible.
Christ is risen. Alleluia! Pastor David
From our Lenten Artist Sharon Kessinger