Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Stone Chapel, Proctor Academy, Andover, NH
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SCIENCE WITHOUT HUMANITY

Sermon given by Rev. Dick Dutton on 9/25/2011

at Kearsarge Uniterian Universalist Fellowship

Now I know that Unitarians are radically different from Baptists, at least some Baptists.  The religious community in which I grew up knew the names of all the Seven Deadly Sins, and some were engaged in testing the impact of several of them on their lives.   I’m quite sure that would not have been the case of UU young people.  But some of you may remember the names of the Seven Deadly Sins.  What about it?  Can you name them?  The basic universal ‘seven deadly sins’...?  Now, earlier this year we began a study together of Gandhi’s compilation of the “Seven Deadly Social Sins”...

                                                ‘Politics Without Principle’
                                                ‘Wealth Without Work’
                                                ‘Commerce Without Morality’
                                                ‘Pleasure Without Conscience’
                                                ‘Education Without Character’

In October,  the last of his list:   ‘Worship Without Sacrifice,’ and this morning, it’s ‘Science Without Humanity.’

The really exciting news for you is that I’m putting all these printed sermons into my next book that you will be able to purchase just in time for Christmas giving...  just kidding!  Who in your family would just love a new book of sermons!

I have to tell you that the preparation for this sermon on science has been unusually interesting and insightful.

Martha is the youngest of Nancy’s three sisters.  Martha’s husband John died about two and a half years ago.  Subsequently she has developed a wonderful growing relationship with Larry Price, a very intelligent and charming guy,  also a scientist.  More specifically,  Larry is a particle physicist engaged at the moment working with the large Hadron Collider on the France/Switzerland border. Deep underground where particles travel at incredible speeds in a  circular tunnel 17 miles in circumference --

2 studied by 10,000 scientists from 100 countries.  Larry is one of these.  More than that, I can’t tell you one thing.  I don’t even know enough about his field to ask one intelligent question. 

But,  about a month ago, I told Larry I was preaching about “Science Without Humanity” and I asked him, as a scientist and a man of faith, what he might want to say.  So Larry writes:

“Over a number of years, I have tried to make sense of the supernatural side of Christianity, while becoming ever more immersed in the scientific quest.   So I concluded...

  • Since there is no objective evidence for supernatural claims, certainly none that I could experience directly, it makes no sense for me to act on those ideas in daily life or in church.
  • Nevertheless, churches are useful and potentially important institutions because at their best, they promote discussion and contemplation of the human condition and values for living life that are not susceptible to objective scientific analysis.
  • Religion does focus on the idea of values though it is almost impossible to define objectively what set of values is best for all people, or even for one person.  When religion and science meet in the realm of creation, Genesis tries beautifully to explore the existence of the world, and its contents by making a Creator, without questioning that such beings exist.  Why the world or the universe exists is still a major mystery for science and possibly one that is unsolvable.
  • Larry writes... It would define faith for me, as an attitude toward life that encourages examination of what values are important, and accepts that there is much to learn from a joint search for meaning with other people.”

I would say in response to Larry’s comments... that we both feel very strongly that there is no real conflict between science and religion.. if one understands the parameters of science, and the parameters of religion.  For example, the Old and New Testament were never intended to portray scientific theory or scientific explanation.  The Bible deals with questions of ‘Why’... Science focuses on ‘How’.  Those accounts of Genesis... are terrific poetry, and imagery, and metaphor... they are not, and were never intended to be, a literal scientific description of the process of creating the Universe.

Listen to these incredibly beautiful, poetic lines from the first chapter of Genesis..

            “In the beginning God created the leaves and the earth
             And the earth was without form, and void, and darkness  covered the face of the deep
            And the Spirit of God swept over the face of the waters...”

Wow!  Glorious imaging and words... not a scientific thought in sight.  Nor a hint of a battle between science and religions.  A simple assertion within the religious community...

                                                            “In the beginning God... “

The first truism... there is no conflict between true science and true religion. 

The second truism... faith is not the absence of reason.  For too long many have said... ‘When it comes to religion, we have to leave reason at the door.’  Humbug, horsefeathers!  Faith is not the absence of reason.. faith is the ‘spouse’, the ‘partner’, the other twin of reason.  As Larry says...  “Faith for me is an attitude toward life that encourages an examination of what values are important... “and that totally invokes our reason!

You may remember the movie, Proof, written and directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse.  Prior to making the movie she had learned aboaut a blind photographer.  She writes:  “I wondered why a blind person would take photographs, and the answer haunted me.  I am fascinated by blindness and how blind people cope with not having visual knowledge.  I realized that blind people have to continuously place their trust in others.”  So Proof is a movie about a blind photographer asking different people to tell him what they see in his photographs.  And he has to decide... “Whose vision do I trust?”

You and I are partially blind, aren’t we?  We are blinded by prejudice, by tradition, by habit, by preconceptions of race, gender, ethnic background.  We are blinded by our religious and cultural and political perspectives.  We are blinded by our basic survival, our self-interest.  So the big life question is this... since we are all a little blind, Which values deserve my faith, my trust?

The third truism is that science has, as we knew, the capacity to either destroy humanity or to save humanity... to kill life or to heal life.  What a dangerous, and yet what a thrilling field... to build weapons of mass destruction or to develop medicines and tools and discoveries for healing.

Some of us saw the Northern Stage production several years ago of Copenhagen and the hard moral decisions about the development of the atomic bomb and the discussions by scientists with their feelings of guilt and pride, of pain and exhilaration, of angst or euphoria, the incredibly complex moral decisions for scientists and governments... first the assembling of the bomb, and then the deployment at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  And, of course, the world had not been the same since... as the nuclear age has arrived!

Science, with or without humanity, may not be the single most challenging moral dilemma of the 21st Century.  But fortunately we have mentors and ethical guidelines, and sacred texts, and communities of faith, where science can become the positive expression of our moral values, a creative extension of our humanity!

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner says that one of the happier parts of his job as the rabbi of a congregation was making guest appearances in the preschool.  One one particular occasion, he was giving the children a tour of the prayer hall.  He planned to open the floor-to-ceiling curtains at the front of the room that covered the ark -- the chamber containing the hand-written Torah scrolls.  But he ran out of time, so he told the children that next week he would show them what was behind the curtain.  In fact, a rather heated debate had followed.  Rabbi Kushner tells the story like this:

“One child, doubtless a budding nihilist, thought the ark would be empty.  Another, of a more traditional bent, guessed that it held a Jewish holy book or something.  A third, apparently already a devotee of American television consumer culture, opined that ‘behind that curtain was a brand new car!’  But one child, the teacher recounted, explained to the rest of the class, ‘You’re all wrong.  Next week when that rabbi man opens the curtain, there will be a giant mirror!’  Somehow that fourth little one intuited the great mystery of every sacred text:  It is holy because in its words we meet ourselves.”

A friend commenting on the story says, “I think he is right.  The stories in the Scriptures, the Torah, the Koran, are meaningful not because they are historically facttual, but because the are true.  After all, on occasion we all have found ourselves fleeing whatever tries to enslave us, only to run smack dab into the Red Sea.  We have found ourselves wandering in the wilderness, longing for a place to call home.  We have found ourselves rejoicing in the temple or sitting outside its gates begging to be healed.  We have found ourselves. . .  we have found ourselves.

Maybe that’s what “Science With Humanity” is all about; science as an expression of our values, our humanity, ourselves!

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