Throughout my life, I’ve engaged in considerable thought about God. Admittedly, more thought than careful study. I have no formal theological preparation, unless you count 72 years as a baptized and confirmed, fairly regular church-attending member of several Episcopal Churches, having taught Sunday school and serving as senior warden of the vestry. With due humility, I don’t consider this life experience to be a formal preparation for any learned discussion of religion. I am no religious scholar, not even close.
Like many of my friends and family, I do delight in certain passages in the Bible, but if asked to quote them, I’d struggle to paraphrase, having never made much of an effort to commit them to memory. My offerings would spring from at least three different translations of the Good Book mixed with my own unencumbered interpretation. For this reason, I usually avoid quoting scripture.
In the Old Testament, I marvel at the wisdom in the Proverbs and the Psalms. Having been raised in a Christian home, the teachings of Jesus Christ provide an essential framework for my own faith and for my life. Here is my favorite lesson carefully copied word for word from the King James Version.
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Matthew 22:37-40.
It doesn’t matter what religion claims your allegiance, or if you don’t belong to any. It doesn’t even matter if you are an atheist who devoutly denies the existence of any divinity. This beautiful sentiment, expressing an infinite love and trust in a greater good combined with a deeply felt respect and love for every human being, including yourself, represents an inspired teaching we should all strive to follow. It further directs us to use all of our heart, soul, and mind. In other words to embrace new understanding, new knowledge, new discoveries, and greater wisdom.
Another favorite passage is also from Matthew as written in the King James Version.
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16.
We are told to let our light shine, in other words to seek greater wisdom and use it. Wisdom comes from greater knowledge and good works usually result from such enlightenment. I interpret this passage as our license to seek to understand the natural universe and to teach others what we have learned. I see this passage as divine authority for science and for lifelong learning. These passages are directing us, all of us regardless of our religious faith or tradition, to seek greater understanding of our natural universe, our humanity, our history, our technology, and even our ability to learn. I believe that God intends us to learn as we live our lives, and to pass on what we learn to succeeding generations. In this manner, humanity grows more enlightened and more prosperous.
My formal education focused on the sciences, although I would never consider myself a scientist. I am an educator, although now retired from that profession. Perhaps this website is proof that I’m still engaged in teaching and learning. My feathers ruffle whenever I detect unchallenged ignorance, especially when it is used maliciously or dishonestly. I’m profoundly embarrassed when I see it in a mirror, figuratively.
My love of God grows stronger, the more I learn about life and the cosmos. Early in my studies, I realized there was no end to knowledge. No matter how much we know, we are no closer to knowing everything. In truth, that false objective moves further away with each epiphany. Knowledge of our natural universe is an infinite realm, but with no restriction to its access but our curiosity and our imagination.
There is no conflict between God and science. God gives us free-will. With that comes inspiration and joy but also great dangers and even death. It is this gift of wisdom that helps us pursue the former and the courage to face the latter. We should never fear learning wherever our curiosity and our responsibilities lead us. Science is just one human endeavor that helps us better understand our existence. It is using all of our minds to allow our light to shine wherever it may enlighten us or others in our lives.
Those who attempt to use the methods of science or the knowledge gained from its practice to prove or even to disprove the existence of God are making a serious mistake. They place science above God. Natural laws appear to govern our physical reality, but where do they come from? What is beyond our universe? We have no idea! Our laws of nature and the universe do not apply in such a realm. Even such cosmological notions as the Big Bang prove this point. Our two great scientific frameworks come into irreconcilable conflict as this idea is conceived. In fact, time itself fails to exist at the instant we describe as the Big Bang. To ask what comes before it, is to ask what comes before time itself, a meaningless question.
What if God is life? What if God is Love? What if God is the perfect good? Or all of these and more? These questions exist in our minds, but they are not answered by scientific exploration. What if God is present in all times and in all places? Again, such an idea is beyond our comprehension, for we are not present in all times and in all places. I’m not saying that science should not try to understand life, love, and a perfect good, but Science is not capable of finding God by its limited methods. God’s realm is beyond the experience of mere mortals and of their science.
Truly religious people should not fear science, although they should remain wary of scientists who believe they are greater than God. And all of us should be equally concerned about religious people who refuse to learn or accept new knowledge, for they are not obeying the commandments of the God they say they love and trust.
As Americans, we believe we are endowed by our creator with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In my opinion, happiness is most enjoyed when we are learning, and when we are free to learn. This includes our pursuit of greater scientific understanding of our natural universe. Thank God for science and for our ability to comprehend its glorious discoveries.