Monday, 13 November 2017

In yesterday's sermon I explored the often uneasy relationship between science and faith.  The Governor-General's recent remarks on this topic left me sad because she seemed to suggest that science and faith can't co-exist.  It was important to acknowledge the culpability of religious institutions in dismissing science -mostly in bygone centuries, but sadly in certain segments of Christianity to this day.  Only a person with their head in the sand can't see the important impact of science on human life; however; I am convinced that spiritual pursuits also had, and continue to have, important contributions to animating human life.  We need to recognize the metaphorical nature of ancient texts even while allowing that there may be embedded mysteries we don't understand - what we must not do, in my opinion, is dismiss them as irrelevant or outdated.  In the sermon I argue against a dualistic and oppositional view of science and spirituality and suggest a mutual respect in so much as they bless and enhance our lives and the life of the planet.

What are your thoughts about the relationship between science and faith?  I look forward to your comments.


  1. Another slant on this whole issue is to begin by looking at the different kinds of knowledge. First, there is knowledge by acquaintance (e.g., I know who Joshua Bell is). Second, there is knowing HOW (e.g., a craftsperson might know how to cast a statue in bronze), which speaks to having a certain skill or practical knowledge about how something is done, made or used. Then there is propositional knowledge – knowing THAT something is the case; e.g., Jones knows that ‘water boils at 100 C. at sea level’. (The part in quotation marks is the proposition that is claimed to be true.)
    While pure (theoretical) science is focused on the last of these, religions are typically centered on how best to live one’s life; and this matches best with Aristotle’s man of practical wisdom – the phronimos – who understands from experience the principles of the virtuous life; and this is a case of knowing how.
    Of course, this distinction cannot be decisive so long as religions make claims such as, “God is omnipotent” or “God is good” since these appear to not only refer to some actual being but to attribute a characteristic to that being; and thereby they look to be propositions that the speaker holds to be true, which raises certain epistemological issues (e.g., what would the evidence for such claims be?)

    1. Thanks for this thoughtful response. Indeed there are many ways of 'knowing' and religion/spirituality invites into one way of knowing which seems diminished in our culture. This may be a result of the rigid propositions of religions over time suggesting that knowledge is fixed rather than still evolving.

  2. I really liked the sermon Brian and I appreciated that you focused Sunday's worship around this hot issue. I have never thought of science and religion as being dichotomous - I guess I have the United Church to thank for that. I've struggled, to some extent, with the concept of one knowable truth (the positivist epistemology on which "pure" science stems"). Other ways of knowing and the relativistic nature of knowledge has had a hard slug to get any traction in academia (sometimes for good reason) but it has made ground in the past decade or so. That religion and science continue to be held up as mutually exclusive drives me crazy and the more I listened to the reaction to Payette the more frustrated and saddened I became. Although - Payette's might have been a bit more diplomatic in her approach but it sure inspired a flurry of talk. Again - thanks for the service on Wisdom and for your reflections during the sermon. Bette Brazier

  3. Thanks Bette - one hopes in a post-modern era that we would be more open to diverse ways of knowing but the church/religion has drawn fire over the centuries for its rigid assertions and results in it often having a discounted voice in modern discourse. One hopes that United Church (and others) theology believing that the "revelation of "God" is an ongoing and not fixed event might keep us in the conversation.