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©2002 The Society of
Archbishop Justus, Ltd


Hallo again to all.

We remember a throwaway scene in the 1973 Woody Allen movie Sleeper, in which two doctors were discussing the case of a person accidentally transported to the distant future:

'This morning for breakfast, uh, he requested something called wheat germ, organic honey, and tiger's milk.'

'Oh yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.'

'You mean there was no deep fat? No steak, or cream pies, or hot fudge?'

'Those were thought to be unhealthy. Precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.'

An illustration from P. H. Gosse, The British Sea-Anemones and Corals (1860).
An illustration from P. H. Gosse, The British Sea-Anemones and Corals (1860). Gosse tried valiantly to reconcile Adam and navels, in his Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot (1857).

Several news stories this week reminded us that science often changes its notion of truth, but Christianity never does. Consider:

• A team of researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the USA, a respected scientific institution, suggests that they might have achieved tabletop fusion. We remember the mountains of scorn that were heaped on the last group of scientists who made such claims.

• One of the most innovative mathematicians of our era, Stephen Wolfram, has published a huge book entitled A New Kind of Science, which, according to the New York Times, is about mathematical patterning as a basis for natural science. Without trying to summarise a thousand-page book in one sentence, we note that he is proposing a radical rethinking of the way that scientists understand nature.

• The BBC reports that the Very Reverend Andrew Furlong, former Dean of Clonmacnoise in Ireland, has resigned his post during a trial for heresy.

There's a fascinating duality in these stories, and we think about them in the light of the 'science and modernism' approach to religion that probably began with the 1860 publication of Essays and Reviews or perhaps with the 1830 publication of Principles of Geology by Charles Lyell.

The modernist movement has long been a part of our culture and, since its beginnings, many have presumed that science is grounded in inerrant fact and religion is based in unsupportable belief. Yet science must always question itself, and change what it considers to be facts when discovery, experimentation, and measurement so dictate. Science indeed is based in facts, but those facts can shift as our ability to measure and analyse improves. Our faith is also based in facts, but they are not facts that can be revisited, changed, or remeasured; they must be taken on faith—or not taken at all. And Luke 4:12 quotes Jesus saying: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test'.

We've never had any problem reconciling science and religion. For us it is a variation of what Jesus said in Mark 12:17, 'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.' We'd substitute Newton for Caesar here, but the principle is the same. Because science is based in facts, part of its duty—and its integrity—is to change those facts whenever the evidence compels. Part of the duty of religion is to stand unwavering, not changing the 'facts', but altering the way that we live because of them.

See you next week. That's a fact.

Cynthia McFarland's signature
Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 12 May 2002