Yesterday evening we had an unusual astronomical event. It was called by the
media “a supermoon”. How many of you went out to look at it? It was an amazing
verification of the power of science to predict an astronomical event. The moon was the
closest it can get to the earth at perigee. The size appeared to be 17% larger than usual
and the brightness was 30% brighter.
When I was a teenager I had some mystical experiences in which I understood
that God wanted me to do two things with my life. I was to be a research scientist and a
parish priest. I suspect that the idea of priest came from my first cousin who is Roman
Catholic and I had been attending morning mass with him. I had been interested in
science for quite a while.
I had no idea how to combine these two so I spoke with a neighbor chemist and
he advised me to major in a natural science first, such as physics. It is easier to learn
mathematics when young and one can learn history, religion and philosophy easily in
later life. I’m not sure he was correct but I took his advice and majored in physics.
At that time the Methodist church had a program where one could take courses by
correspondence, spend a couple of weeks on campus at a seminary and be ordained as a
deacon. I pursued this option at Wesley Seminary for six years and was ordained in the
Washington National Cathedral in 1975.
Today I want to preach about God’s Creation. It will be an attempt to give you
some information and ideas about the so-called dialog between science and religion.
Many people think that science and religion are at war with each other but I want
to show you where science and religion are compatible and in fact can support each
other. Both disciplines, I believe, are ways we humans attempt to discover who we are,
why we are here and what our purposes in life are. They are methods to discover truth.
Now as United Methodists we believe as Professor Albert Outler concluded after
examining carefully the sermons and writings of John Wesley how it is that we ascertain
Wesley argued that the first source is Scripture which gives us the record of how
people of faith understood God’s truth. Secondly, we rely upon tradition, which tells us
how persons of faith have used scripture over many centuries. Then we rely upon
experience; both personal experience of the Holy Sprit and the collective experience of
communities who have been guided by the Holy Spirit.
Finally, we rely upon one of the greatest gifts God has given us, that is, reason
and the ability to think.
We call these four approaches to truth the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, even though
John Wesley never used this term himself.
Science, on the other hand, examines the material universe and using our five
senses, makes measurements, experiments and theories to explain how creation works.
Thus science has a story beginning with a big bang in which space and time are
created. Then over time, according to well worked out theories and experiments, the
universe as we know it today has formed. Creation began as a small sphere which would
fit inside my hand and suddenly expanded to the enormous sizes we recognize now filled
with galaxies having hundreds of billions of stars within them.
One of the first items I want to draw your attention to in this scientific story is the
issue of time involved in creation. Science has it as about 13.57 billion years from the
beginning of space and time to the present. Billions of years were involved in the initial
creation of our universe. The Biblical story has God creating everything in six days, and
finding it very good.
Biblical apologists have argued that a day in Gods time may have been millions of
years and thus there is no serious conflict between the two stories.
However, in the nineteenth century discoveries of fossils of ancient creatures
began to be found. The newly begun science of geology began to tell us that the locations
of fossils were of millions and millions of years old. Not only that, but sequences of
development began to be traced from the fossil record. Most striking were those of
horses which were shown to have begun as small animals and gradually increased to
Similarly, fossils of numerous plants and animals were found which are now
extinct and were obviously precursors of what now exists. How could this be if God had
made all creatures perfect during the original six days?
Darwin proposed a theory of evolution by which change over eons produced our
current flora and fauna. God was seen in a new light in which God uses change over time
rather than an instantaneous creation. God turned out to much cleverer than the Biblical
authors had supposed.
Against this idea many argue that because of the complexity of living structures
that there must have been a “great watchmaker” who created in completed form complex
structures such as eyes, wings and brains. It was hard to believe that gradual change
could produce these. Thus, they argue, there is evidence for a creator God as described
in the Bible.
In the Biblical narrative humanity stands as a central being of importance.
Evolution theory reduced man’s singular position to a relative one within the framework
of all animals. Humanity did not seem to be as important as we once thought.
Notice though an interesting position of humanity within the scientific cosmic
story of sizes. Humans are between one and two meters tall. In the scientific story
moving out to galaxies from the size of humans there is a size change of about ten to the
23rdpower. Ten with twenty three zeros after it. Similarly going to smaller and smaller
dimensions to the Planck constant of ten to the minus thirty fourth power humanity
appears to be somewhere near the center of this enormous range of sizes. We seem to
have regained a position of importance from a scientific perspective. Humans seem to be
near the center of the enormous range of sizes form galaxies down to quarks.
Thus science restores us to a position of importance.
Another series of scientific discoveries within the last fifty or so years has lead to
the discovery of a large molecule, DNA, which exists within all living things on earth and
codes for our life and diversity. Science has discovered a basis for the Biblical
assumption that God breathed life into all creatures. Molecular biology has revealed that
we are, in fact, all related to each other. All life began at some distant time and we are
all a single unity of cousins who owe our existence to this creative event. As we look out
at a field of flowers it is hard to imagine that they are our cousins or if we go top a zoo
that all the animals we see are our cousins, but they are. Therefore there is scientific
support for the religious argument that all life is sacred.
To me this has an important lesson which arises from the ethics of the Biblical
story. Theologically it can be stated, all of creation is a gift from God. Importantly as
humans we have been given the power to be stewards over the care of creation and its
well being. From the Scripture text I read this morning Paul wrote we are all adopted
children of God and as such are heirs of all of creation.
We have a responsibility to care for this creation which God has placed us in.
Another question which may be asked of the scientific story by theologians,
Where in this enormous span of sizes is God at work? Process theology states that the
truth is that God must be at work everywhere. The maintenance of the universe is
assumed to be a result of God’s on-going providence and activity.
But an even more interesting question is the statement that God is not only
everywhere at work but is also at “everywhen”. The enormous time span of creation can
be illustrated by thinking of a series of volumes on your library shelves. Each volume is a
record of a billion years. We are now in the 13th volume about a third of the way
through. If we examine this volume carefully we discover that all of human history, 5-
8,000 years is simply a short phrase of a single word or two at the end of the last
paragraph. Humanity has been here only a thumb-snap of created time. We are truly
newcomers in creation. But God is simultaneously at work in all of time, past, present
Discovered scientific facts also lead to the conclusion that a number of physical
constants in creation are so precise that if they had been even slightly modified we
wouldn’t be here. It is a so called anthropic principle. The universe seems to be finely
tuned to anticipate our arrival from star dust. Not only that but the development of our
minds and consciousness seems to be required to fulfill the promise of creation. Creation
seems to have anticipated our arrival.
In addition we should frequently give thanks to the arrival of blue green algae. If
we look out at a framers pond and see the scum growing on the surface we think its bad.
But they, using the energy from sunlight, broke down water to get hydrogen atoms and
produced a waste product, oxygen. This waste product changed earth’s atmosphere so
that animals, and we humans could live on the dry land and breathe oxygen.
A few years ago the human genome, with its DNA code, was completely mapped.
One surprising finding is that even with identical twins, the DNA code is slightly
different. It turns out that all of us are flawed creatures. We all have mistakes and errors
in our DNA codes. They are a small percentage but nevertheless give support to the
Biblical notion that “all have fallen short of the glory of God.”
As Christians we believe that all are in need of a savior, Jesus the Christ, who
came in the incarnation as a human to teach us what God is really like; a god who loves
us and offers us salvation so that we may become forgiven and righteous. With God’s
help we can live out the commandment to love God and our neighbor’s as ourselves.
Religion is necessary for answering the why questions of who we are and why we
are here. Science answers the questions of how the universe works and how the material
world is connected.
My belief is that truth obtained in the spiritual world of mind and consciousness,
as well as truth obtained in the physical material world must be compatible. This is of
course a faith statement but I think it must be true. For me science and religion are
compatible and necessary for each other.
Finally I believe that we need both disciplines to help us understand and
appreciate the fantastic creation that we live in.
May it be so.
| “God’s Creation”
Presented by Walter Shropshire at Braddock Street UMC
June 23, 2013