Anglican Perspectives: Science and Faith, Class 5

Seeing the hand of God in the world: liturgy-assisted living

Some of the lessons we have learned:

  • Science itself can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God, nor does science tell us what is right or wrong, or how we ought to live. We have to go beyond science for these matters.
  • Many are awe-struck at the ordered reality that science points to.  The Universe is exquisitely fine-tuned to be able to support life.  It is surprisingly intelligible to us.
  • There are fundamental and essential personal and social components to all knowledge.  To be fruitful in science or Christian faith, we have to make a personal commitment (faith, trust) and participate in a community with normative practices.
  • Science and Christian doctrine are articulated in words, in language, appropriate to their subject, but “we know more than we can tell.” Language is subtle, both precise and open ended, and needs to be used with care.   Not all mystery can be captured in propositions.
  • Some key scriptural/theological words are chesed (God’s faithful love), kenosis (God’s self-emptying love), and logos (God’s “word”, the ground of the world’s intelligiblity).
  • Anglicans Alister McGrath and John Polkinghorne are making major contributions to the science/faith relationship, consistent with the work of theologian Thomas Torrance and scientist Michael Polanyi. 
  • The most fruitful path for the science/faith relationship to take is via a robust ,“thick,” Trinitarian theology, centered on Jesus Christ, fully God and fully human, revealing the “face of God.”

Most modern people live in an “immanent frame” focused primarily or entirely on the horizontal dimension of “this world,” devoid of transcendence or ultimate meaning. The “habits” or practices we put into place to guide our desires either serve to reinforce the “immanent” dimension, rendering us blind to the hand of God in the world, or to reinforce the unity of the immanent and transcendent dimensions that are integral to Scriptural, Incarnational Christianity. Science can be done within either framework: one closed by immanence or one open to the transcendent dimension of reality revealed in Christ.

Saint Basil the Great (4th Century) gave a series of sermons on Chapter 1 of Genesis, called the Hexameron.  He says

You will finally discover that the world was not conceived by chance and without reason, but for an useful end and for the great advantage of all beings, since it is really the school where reasonable souls exercise themselves, the training ground where they learn to know God; since by the sight of visible and sensible things the mind is led, as by a hand, to the contemplation of invisible things. “For,” as the Apostle says, “the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” (Rom. 1:20)

Pope Benedict XVI (as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in a set of 4 homilies on “Creation and Fall”) said: “We must not in our own day conceal our faith in creation.  We may not conceal it, for only if it is true that the universe comes from freedom, love, and reason, and that these are the real underlying powers, can we trust one another, go forward into the future, and live as human beings.  God is the Lord of all things because he is their creator, and only therefore can we pray to him.  For this means that freedom and love are not ineffectual ideas but rather they are sustaining forces of reality.” 

Psalm 19 puts together “science and faith” is a holistic way “The heavens declare the glory of God … Their voice goes out into all the earth  … The commands of the LORD are radiant … more precious than gold … By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”

John of Damascus (676-749 AD), in the context of the 8th Century conflict over the use of icons in worship, spoke of how we connect the worlds of matter and spirit:

How depict the invisible? How picture the inconceivable? How give expression to the limitless, the immeasurable, the invisible? How give a form to immensity? How paint immortality? How localize mystery? It is clear that when you contemplate God, who is a pure spirit, becoming man for your sake, you will be able to clothe Him with the human form. When the Invisible One becomes visible to flesh, you may then draw a likeness of His form …, and show it to anyone willing to contemplate it. Depict His ineffable condescension, His virginal birth, His baptism in the Jordan, His transfiguration on Tabor, His all-powerful sufferings, His death and miracles, the proofs of His Godhead, the deeds which He worked in the flesh through divine power, His saving Cross, His Sepulcher, and resurrection, and ascent into heaven. Give to it all the endurance of engraving and color.”  He goes on to say ““Do not despise matter, for it is not despicable. Nothing is that which God has made. This is the Manichean heresy. That alone is despicable which does not come from God, but is our own invention, the spontaneous choice of will to disregard the natural law–that is to say, sin.

Recall the words of Geoffery Rowell, Anglican, in a 1992 Sermon: “Of the churches of the Reformation, the Church of England alone gave great prominence to the doctrine of creation. …  The world is important, matter is important …  The world is sacramental, pointing beyond itself to God.  And the worship of the Church is inescapably sacramental, embodied.” 

Liturgy-assisted living and thinking: The “Church Fathers” loved and worshipped the Lord about whom they taught and whom they sought to know.   They worshiped and taught in a community of faith, the “Communion of Saints.”  All Christian thinking and living should take place in such a context.

Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple (1881-1944), defined worship as “the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of the mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His beauty; the opening of the Heart to His love; the surrender of the will to His purpose—and all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.

Anglicans value common prayer, praying with the Church.  The Book of Common Prayer, which can be used by individuals and families as well as churches, gives us: the forms for worship; prayers for all occasions; the Liturgical seasons and readings; the Daily Office for personal devotion, a daily plan of Scripture reading; and serves as a basis for an ordered, disciplined, communal, and personal life of faith.

The mission of Israel and the Church is the same:  “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD,“and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he.  Before me no god was formed, will there be one after me.  I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—I, and not some foreign god among you.  You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “that I am God.”  Jesus tells his disciples:you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”