Thinking Anew: There is no clash between science and religion

‘Both investigate the wonder of the world and our place in it’

 

“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it” – the opening line of tomorrow’s appointed psalm 84. Non-believers dismiss the idea often claiming that science supports their views while ignoring the fact that many scientists are religious.

Dr Pamela Conrad, for example, is a leading research scientist at the Carnegie Institution of Science in Washington DC and a member of the operations team for the American Mars Perseverance rover mission. She works at Nasa’s jet propulsion laboratory in California, and at other scientific institutions.

She is also an Anglican priest serving in a parish in Maryland because, she insists, there is no clash between science and religion.

“Both investigate the wonder of the world and our place in it,” she says, questioning the view that science and the humanities, to say nothing of science and religion, are mutually incomprehensible domains that look at entirely different problems.

“That idea,” she maintains, “has been crumbling in recent years when academic specialisations have given way to interdisciplinary approaches”. Those who believe that “the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” are reminded in one of tomorrow’s Old Testament readings (Amos Ch 7) that that brings responsibilities. Amos was a shepherd from Tekoa, a village a few miles south of Jerusalem. In social and ecclesiastical terms, he was a nobody, yet he had the nerve to turn up at a major religious festival at Bethel, the Vatican of the time, in about 755BC and condemn the religious and ruling classes for their hypocrisy. Although religion prospered on the surface, greed and corruption was rampant among the ruling classes who were living double lives.

Amos, claiming to speak for God, bluntly told them: “I hate, I despise your feasts and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies . . .I will not accept them . . . but let justice roll down like waters.”

For Amos worship detached from truth and justice, was fraudulent no matter how beautiful or solemn. Although the priests and politicians were furious with Amos, he got off lightly. He was simply told to go and “never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary and it is a temple of the kingdom” – a quite different fate to that of poor John the Baptist who we are told in the gospel lost his head while Herod and his family, who were responsible for his death, partied.

Powerful interests, religious, economic and political, do not like prophets and see them as a threat but that did not deter Amos or John the Baptist from speaking out. And thankfully to this day people courageously expose corruption and the abuse of power, often at terrible personal cost as we see in the case of Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who was poisoned and then imprisoned.

Amos insisted that God was a god of justice, a conviction that was put to the test in a recent international colloquium on Zoom which had as its theme “Who is my neighbour in the age of Covid”. It included speakers from India, Africa and several European countries including Ireland. Canon Delene Mark from South Africa who works on outreach programmes to marginalised people challenged Christians in well-resourced countries: “We begin to understand our interconnectedness as a human family in that when one part of the body suffers, we all suffer. Wealth and power do not protect us from the virus. It has affected the rich and powerful as well as the poor and marginalised.”

Then this prophetic challenge: “It is time for us to acknowledge that now even more we need to focus on the equitable distribution of the vaccine to our neighbours . . . Wealthy countries should avoid importing multiple doses of the vaccine while poorer countries have none.” Amos would agree and so should we.

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