“Ways of Knowing”

Worship Script 4 for August



Worship Script (4 of 4)

The Two Realms of Science and Religion

 

OPENING WORDS

By Lindsey Bates

 

Come, let us worship together.

Let us open our minds to the challenge of reason,
open our hearts to the healing of love,
open our lives to the calling of conscience,
open our souls to the comfort of joy.

Astonished by the miracle of life,
grateful for the gift of fellowship,
confident in the power of living faith,
we are here gathered:

Come, let us worship together.

 

HYMN #360 Here We Have Gathered

 

FIRST READING  
Quote by Carl Sagan

“Science is more than a body of knowledge. It is a way of thinking; a way of skeptically interrogating the universe with a fine understanding of human fallibility.If we are not able to ask skeptical questions, to interrogate those who tell us that something is true, to be skeptical of those in authority, then, we are up for grabs for the next charlatan (political or religious) who comes rambling along.”

 

SECOND READING
Excerpts from Paul Bloom’s Atlantic Article, “Scientific Faith is Different from Religious Faith”

 

If you want to annoy a scientist, say that science isn’t so different from religion. When Ben Carson was challenged about his claim that Darwin was encouraged by the devil, he replied, “I’m not going to denigrate you because of your faith, and you shouldn’t denigrate me for mine.” When the literary theorist Stanley Fish chastised atheists such as Richard Dawkins, he wrote, “Science requires faith too before it can have reasons,” and described those who don't accept evolution as belonging to “a different faith community.”

Scientists are annoyed by these statements because they suggest that science and religion share a certain epistemological status. And, indeed, many humanists and theologians insist that there are multiple ways of knowing, and that religious narratives exist alongside scientific ones, and can even supersede them.

It is true that scientists take certain things on faith. It is also true that religious narratives might speak to human needs that scientific theories can’t hope to satisfy.

And yet, scientific practices—observation and experiment; the development of falsifiable hypotheses; the relentless questioning of established views—have proven uniquely powerful in revealing the surprising, underlying structure of the world we live in, including subatomic particles, the role of germs in the spread of disease, and the neural basis of mental life.


 

HYMN #287 Faith of Larger Liberty

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES
The Scientific Method and the Unitarian Universalist Method by Emily DeTar Birt.

I want to talk to you about the main steps of the scientific method. How many of you might have heard about the scientific method?  Well, the scientific method is a series of steps that are used to test out whether something is true. So you might want to find out what the best soil is to grow your garden? You can find that out using the scientific method!

First you would do research. What different kinds of soil are there? Which ones do people claim are the best? Then you would make a guess, or create a hypothesis. You might think soil with a lot of clay is best for your garden. Then you would design a test or an experiment, that would show if your hypothesis worked. Maybe you would plant different plants in different types of soil and see which ones grew better than others. After running your experiment, you would make a number of observations and create an analysis of all you have observed. After looking at everything you wrote, you would reach some sort of conclusion on which soil worked better.

This method can be used for so many different things, but what makes the scientific method so great is that it works with what we can observe and know. You see the garden growing, and make notes about how it grows.

We Unitarian Universalists encourage people to use a similar method when it comes to things we can’t observe, like bigger questions about what it means to be a human being, or whether or not God exists.

We encourage people to do research, find out about different faiths and religions and all the kinds of ways of thinking there can be.

Then we ask people to make their best guess as to what they think and feel about God or the universe.

We encourage people to test these ideas in communities like this, alongside people who don’t believe in the same things.

However, unlike science, the questions we have are about things we can’t directly observe or have answers to, and are usually questions we go on asking for the rest of our lives. The Scientific Method tests what we see and observe in our day to day world. Our Unitarian Universalist Method tests what is on our hearts and minds. We understand that while we may never have certain observable proof about the bigger questions we ask, testing our beliefs about unobservable things helps us make meaning of our world.

 

MEDITATION

Breath Meditation by Samuel A Trumbore

Let us turn inward now
Feel the rhythm of the breath.
In and out, In and out,
Find the peace of just being with the flow of the breath.
Letting go of yesterday and tomorrow.
Feel the restorative power of the peace of this moment.
A peace, large enough to open
to the concerns and sorrows that trouble us.
A stillness, quiet enough to respond
to the joys and celebrations that enliven us.
There is safety here in the rhythm of the breath.
The ebb and flow of life is enacted with each one.
Taking in oxygen sustenance,
Letting go of carbon dioxide waste.
Taking in the fullness of experience
Letting go of the residue that wants to cling to us.
Cultivate inner peace and inner safety in this sanctuary
dedicated to cultivating the Spirit of Life
dedicated to being a beacon of love for all beings.

 

CANDLES OF JOY AND CONCERN

Those who are so moved are now invited to come forward to light a candle, expressing a joy or concern in their lives.  As you do, you may briefly share what it is.  We ask that people coming forward speak for no more than a sentence or two, and speak from the heart about issues in their lives, rather than political issues, which we can take up at coffee hour or in the parking lot.

 

SERMON

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Charlotte County
"Four Ways of Knowing"
Rev. Samuel A. Trumbore

Today, across the 1000 Unitarian Universalist churches and fellowships throughout the United States and Canada, we are seeing a rising interest in spirituality. As younger people enter and join our congregations, they are asking for something different than they often find in congregations focused narrowly on a Sunday morning lecture followed by a discussion of the topic. They yearn for candles and bells, meditation, prayer, new styles of music, a message which touches the heart and makes the spirit soar, and they want to talk about God - sometimes in the plural and more often in the feminine. I know these people because I am one and this is part of the reason why I am a Unitarian Universalist minister. And I know the people who want to hear a lecture because I'm one of them too. I delight in an excellent speech full of ideas forcefully presented as often can be found on C-SPAN. One of my goals as a minister is to help these two camps learn to appreciate the wonderful gifts each has for the other. Alas, when these gifts are given, they are often not received with gratitude and appreciation.

Friction between the generations is hardly a new phenomenon. Each generation is happy to judge harshly the one before it and the one behind it. It seems each generation needs to rebel against the time honored truths of the last especially when it comes to religion, to the most intimate affairs of the heart

Many in this room will surely remember the turmoil in our congregations during the Vietnam war. This was a time when a number of our congregations were deeply divided about that war. At the same time our congregations struggled with the youth demanding greater freedom. Many young adults were experimenting with free love, open marriages, encounter groups and new forms of worship. Turning the clock a little further back some will remember the rise of Humanism in the 1930's, 40's and 50's within Unitarianism and Universalism which brought fierce resistance from the theists. Before that the theists had been having their own squabbles. Each generation had redefined Christianity to the consternation of the last since Unitarianism and Universalism were established.

We are hardly alone in this struggle. I hear stories from the Christian ministers here in Charlotte County of having special "contemporary" services for the younger generation of church goers and of the lack of appreciation by the older members of the music and style of worship the younger people want. When any group of people gets together, there will be disagreement. When a group such as ours gets together which has wide areas of agreement, the members will fight even harder about their differences.

Even though it may not always seem that way, we do have much more in common with each other than we do differences. And we do have very real differences which matter because they are differences in what we believe.

The person who most recently has brought this to my attention is the Reverend Fred Campbell in his adult education curriculum, Four Faiths: A Unitarian Universalist exploration of the diversity, roots and growth of religious belief systems which we will begin exploring next Sunday at 9:00am for eight weeks. I hope many of you will be interested in coming. The class will allow you to explore and better articulate your own beliefs as well as better understand those who are different from you.

Reverend Campbell has been a Unitarian Universalist minister for 30 years serving congregations all over the continent most recently as an interim minister. Through the years he has observed that most Unitarian Universalists fit into four faith categories which he labels: humanist, naturalist, theist and mystic.

Before I describe each of these different faiths in our midst, let me speak briefly about "faith". Whether you like it or not, every last one of us is a true believer. All of our ideas and opinions rest on the foundations of our faith. Every last one of us holds beliefs which we do not and cannot question, which cannot be verified true or false. From the purest form of mathematics and physics to the grandest theological speculation all rest on beliefs which are impossible to prove or deny. Every scientist depends on the belief that when experiments are repeated the laws of physics will remain the same. Although this may seem obviously true we just don't know for sure. Perhaps tomorrow the law of gravity will be repealed. Maybe tomorrow the boiling point of water will drop to 180 degrees. We must believe the laws of physics are constant to function at all.

And just how do we know God can't change these laws at whim? If God appears to me in a vision and has a conversation with me, I cannot absolutely know if it did or didn't happen objectively. My emotions may persuade me either way, my mind may analyze the situation but it will remain a mystery and only find satisfaction in my beliefs. This was my dilemma after playing a graceful game of chess 17 years ago which started me on the road toward ministry. The pieces seemed to know where they were supposed to go and I only served to move them. Was that the hand of God acting through me to awaken me to a reality greater than I had known before or was it just a fantasy of my ego. I cannot rationally know for sure which it was. The answer only comes in my faith, the answer in which I find the most meaning.

I emphasize this point so strongly because each of these belief systems be it humanist, naturalist, theist or mystic are based on assumptions which cannot be proven true or false. Just as we cannot ultimately settle the questions we have about Jesus unless he comes back riding out of the clouds on a chariot ready to tell the whole story, so we cannot settle the nature of God's existence or non-existence. The best approach, I feel, is to speak out of our faith, listen, learn from and be changed by each other. The pluralism we embody as Unitarian Universalists is one fine way to grow in one's faith.

The humanist faith is probably the most familiar to many in this congregation. While it celebrates the power of the human intellect, it also recognizes the ease with which we can deceive ourselves. Humanists put their faith in the power of human reason and the scientific method to show us what is false and what is true. It is our objective knowledge discovered and repeated in every laboratory and verified in our common experience which gives us confidence in these truths. The tradition of scholarship, analysis and impartial review guides us best. The laws of physics hold without exception. The speed of light is a universal constant. Water runs downhill. A birds' flight conforms to aerodynamic principles. Miracles are either undiscovered physical phenomena or fraud. Everything we need to know about living a good life can potentially be discovered objectively. There are no special supernatural sources of truth on which we can support our faith outside the human realm of sensory experience.

The strength of humanism comes from the focus on the greatness of the human mind. Our ability to reason things out for ourselves has enabled great strides in our quality of living and ability to get along with each other in ever more complex social systems.

Like the humanist, the mystic also celebrates the greatness of the human mind. The mystic, however, believes that there is much more beyond the mind, an intuition which leads beyond the senses. Emerson was a strong proponent of paying attention to this kind of intuition. Direct individual experience opens the way for the mystic. The mystic faith is rooted in the belief that one's personal experience, carefully noted and observed, will lead beyond the experience of the senses to a truth beyond the individual self. That which is really real may not be accessible to the senses. The mystic seeks to penetrate the veil of sensory experience, sometimes with meditation, sometimes by self analysis, writing and reflection, sometimes with mind altering chemicals, sometimes with ecstatic dance and trance, and sometimes in the aesthetic of art and music, to step over the threshold of death and know what is true beyond the limitations of human sensory experience.

The strength of mysticism is the aid it gives people to transcend their daily experience and know what lies beyond it. In fact, in many mystical systems, there isn't just one plane beyond human sensory experience but a skyscraper of levels above our own. The mystic wants to know directly from his or her own experience what is real, yearning for a sense of union with what is beyond the limits of our skin.

The faith which sees divinity by looking at a flower, relaxing under a tree or witnessing the fury of a tornado is naturalism. Rather than reaching beyond the sensory world, the naturalist sees divinity fully expressed in nature. If we want to know ourselves and understand our place in the universe, take a walk on the beach and look. Nothing feeds the naturalist's spirit like an ongoing relationship with the natural world. Rather than running an experiment or studying a philosopher's writings or chanting "Aummm", the naturalist would rather be out sailing a boat, fishing from a dock, playing golf, watching for sea turtles sliding silently over the sand to lay their eggs, sitting motionless in a blind, binoculars ready, watching for migrating birds, and quietly weeding the garden while the first cool breeze of autumn brushes the cheek. They seek no transcendent God but know God face to face in the song of a mockingbird and the colorful transitory bloom of a hibiscus.

The faith of a naturalist is reminiscent of the humanist which studies the world in search of truth but the naturalist is less engaged than the humanist by abstractions. The naturalist seeks harmony with the natural world and has faith in the wisdom of nature before human centered wisdom.

Finally, but hardly forgotten, are the theists. These hardy souls have stayed with us as we have expanded our vision of divinity with the growth of humanism and naturalism. The theist who feels at home in our congregations believes in a benevolent, loving God who is not separate from us but can be found within us as well as beyond us. For many of our theists, the nature of God was expressed in Jesus of Nazareth, in Moses, in Abraham, in Mohammed, in Krishna and Kali, in the many saints and adepts who have graced this planet. Not only is the nature of God revealed in the lives of these great men and women but also in inspired writings. The Bible, the Talmud, the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, are all wisdom texts from which we can gain knowledge of the nature of God. Their faith is built upon the lives of great saints and teachers, the study of sacred text, prayer and living a life in harmony with scriptural directives.

Some of our theists believe in a God who created the universe but doesn't interfere in creation giving us the mixed blessing of free will. Other theists believe in a God who seeks to become involved in the world and responds to prayer and human need. And today we have a new class of theist who envisions God as expressed in many forms of pagan deities as well as in the Goddess.

Theistic faith bypasses the mystic's longing for direct experience of God and accepts the second hand revelation and messages as valid, useful and authoritative. Our theists are quite aware of the flaws in the translation and transmission of inspired writings but are willing to dig into them for the gems often hidden underneath the literal interpretations.

Each of these four faiths approaches Ultimate Reality differently. The theist conceptualizes it as a being which can be known through prophets, teachers and inspired text. The naturalist conceptualizes it as perfectly expressed in the scripture of nature. The mystic wants to experience Ultimate Reality personally and directly. The humanist's Ultimate Reality is gradually revealed by his mind which may or may not have anything to do with God.

Why we have not split up into four different kinds of Unitarian Universalist Associations is because the values which grow out of these four different belief systems have much in common.

Probably the most important value we all share is the importance of the mind in expressing our faith. We are very aware of the dangers of literalism to distort and misrepresent sacred texts. We know that we can deceive ourselves at times and fall under the spell of delusion. We see the imperfections and mistakes in the naturally generated evolutionary order. It is the discriminating power of the mind which we agree is vitally important in the pursuit of truth no matter what beliefs we begin with.

Through an appreciation which comes from attention to the past and the mistakes of history, we see that forced submission of the individual to the will of the collective can easily lead to injustice, cruelty and inequality. The power of the society must be balanced against the autonomy of the individual. Our faith grows best not by trying to conform our thinking to a preexisting system of beliefs. Our faith grows and blossoms best in the light of free inquiry guided from within. This may not be true for everyone. It is true for Unitarian Universalists.

All four of these faiths are non-dualistic. We do not believe the universe is divided up into competing good and evil forces in eternal combat with each other. We are more attracted to seeing the universe having a sense of unity of which we are learning to become attuned. It is when we are out of step with the dance of the universe, most often expressed in a contraction of consciousness or an affection for our separate self, that we stumble and fall. Evil is a product of this world imprisoned in time and not of what is free of time - the eternal.

All four of these faiths are active in the world and express a concern for justice, equality and compassion. Rather than trying to escape this life or this planet, we freely acknowledge our connection to it. We embrace the goodness of life and having a body. We seek to improve the conditions of existence for all human beings, even all species of life, so we are able to express our human potential more fully.

Finally our religious tradition is human centered. Before we care about appeasing the gods, balancing the ecosystem budget, or marching forward the progression of civilization, we care about people first. We are unwilling to drive a species into extinction on the way to getting into heaven. We will not limit our children's imaginations to make them conform to a revealed doctrine. We continue to celebrate the inherent worth of a boy or girl who wakes up to their sexual orientation being gay or lesbian. We honor the gifts of those with physical and mental limitations in our midst.

We can argue forever about the foundations of our beliefs since they cannot be proven or disproven. For me the proof of our beliefs are the values they generate. Our four faiths generate a valuing of the mind and the individual, of action and unity, and of human life. Jesus wisely taught that we shall know a good tree from a bad one by its fruits. Our values are the fruits of our beliefs. This is the firm ground we can use to appreciate each other's beliefs. Our values and beliefs become more powerful for us as we see them validated in other faith perspectives.

So as more young people come in these doors and want to change how things are done, as they will inevitably will do in the coming years, may we trust in our shared values to see us through the discomfort. We have so much to gain in growing a bigger heart and seeing how other's beliefs might also be true if we expand our perspective.

For it is in the moment of connection and appreciation that the holy is present.

Copyright (c) 1997 by Rev. Samuel A. Trumbore. All rights reserved.

 

HYMN #288  All Are Architects of Fate

 

BENEDICTION

Excerpts from “In Unitarian Universalist Community” by David R. Chapman

If you seek to understand, here you will be encouraged in your search. Wonderful pathways will be lit unto you, and wherever your journeys take you, you will know that you can always come home again to this place, made sacred by our love for you.

The collective wisdom of all humankind and our painful but glorious history are open to you here. Your heart and your mind need never struggle with one another in a Unitarian Universalist Church. We have no fear of science; we have no fear of knowledge here.

If someday you decide to join us, you may feel what I have felt, in the words of my favorite author, Dorothy Leigh Sayers:

"All my life I have been wandering in the dark—but now I have found your heart(s)—and am satisfied."

"And what do all the great words come to in the end, but that?—I love you—I am at rest with you—I have come home."