Posted by: dacalu | 25 April 2019

Living Church, Living Science

Today’s post comes from a reflection I gave for the Society of Ordained Scientists TeleCompline. I have decided to set it forth twice: once as a secular essay for scientists, and once as a reflection for Christians. The previous post spoke about the essence of science and what it means to “March for Science.” This post continues with scripture, gospel, and mission. Whether you fall in one camp or both (or neither), I’d encourage you to read through both and see how the two cases relate to one another.

Today’s lectionary (Bible passages set aside to read for the day) influenced my thinking greatly. I encourage you to read them in full if you have the time: Ezekiel 37:1-14, the valley of the dry bones; John 15:12-27, “love one another.” Here are short sections to give you the idea.

Ezekiel 37:7-10

So, I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus, says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’ I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

John 15:12-17

[Jesus said,] ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

Lucas’ Commentary:

I study life. This passage from Ezekiel fascinates me because it so clearly sets forth an idea of human life. We are made of bone and sinew, flesh and skin. And yet, there is something additional. Breath stirs us.

This applies to all life, amoebae and archaebacteria, as well as humans. The tissues differ, but the principle remains. We have physical stuff, but life comes from the dynamic process of stuff interacting with the environment. Call it metabolism or circulation or breath or even natural selection – something moves.

Life happens in the context of matter that changes through time. Without the matter or without the time it looks very un-life-like. I won’t comment here on whether that is possible. My point is that life as we know it is not matter, but something that happens in matter (by matter and with matter and through matter).

This leads to a difficult question, easy to state but difficult to understand. What is the essence of life?

In today’s context, I want to talk about both “science” and “Christianity” as living things. Like organisms, they have components. Like organisms, their life comes from a dynamic process acting in those components.

I have come to think of science and the church as communities engaged in concrete practices. They involve processes that must be sustained for health and survival. They pursue ideals that can never be fully achieved, but if they stop running, they fall behind and pass away.

I care about science as the pursuit of truth about the world working through physical explanations. I think this process requires large groups of people making observations, analyzing them, and coming to conclusions, together. I think it must always make predictions and compare them to observations. I think it must aim for an impartiality that humans cannot have. It must be ever curious and ever humble before the evidence.

Similarly, I care about the Church as a means of reconciling the world to God and to one another. This requires large groups of people seeking and finding, drawing in and raising up, creating community. I think it must always seek Truth and compare it to lived experience. I think it must aim for a selflessness that humans cannot have. It must be ever curious and ever humble before the evidence: life beyond self, truth beyond knowledge, wisdom beyond experience.

I think the Church has an advantage in that God participates. God seeks and finds, draws in and raises up, and creates among us. Through Jesus, God is a member of the community.

Now that I mention it, science has a similar advantage. With Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton and many others, I think God helps us understand how perception can become real understanding. They explained the correlation between mental model and objective reality by linking our intelligence to divine intelligence (the logos of the cosmos). Of course, this is not necessary for science. Few scientists would make the connection. My point is that the grace I afford to the Church need not distinguish it from other human endeavors. I’m not talking miracle; I’m talking basic rules of reality.

The Church can be miraculous when moved by the spirit of love, the Spirit of Christ. Science can be miraculous when moved by impartial curiosity and clear thinking. Both only make sense (at this time and place), when we see them as fundamentally material, tangible, and made of human action. Both only make sense when focused on the concrete needs and aspirations of humanity. Both only make sense when they have unrealistic hope for more than human fallibility.

Breath shows up in the strangest places. It blows through the dry bones and makes them live. It turns dust into resurrection and humans into something divine.


  1. […] for scientists, and once as a reflection for Christians. This post carries the secular portion; the next relates it to scripture, gospel, and mission. Whether you fall in one camp or both (or neither), […]

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