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1 Time for all ages.

Long ago, there were no people. Even longer before that there were no trees. Even longer before that, there was no earth and no sun. Even longer before that, there was no galaxy and no stars.

Everything that we see, everything around us started then. The universe started very small. (Hold hands in a ball). It grew rapidly. But the universe was very different. The matter in the universe was only hydrogen, lithium and helium. (Hold up a glass of water) The water in this glass is made of hydrogen and oxygen. Some of the hydrogen in the water has been in the universe for longer than there have been stars.

The whole universe was a giant cloud of gas. Gravity, the same force that pulls us to the floor, pulled together the galaxies and then started stars. When the gas was pulled together with high enough pressure, the hydrogen and helium started to burn by joining together into heavier atoms. Some of the stars were big enough that when they got old, they exploded. The atoms in those stars were spread thru the galaxy. (Hold up glass of water again) The oxygen in the water was all made inside of stars. (Hold up salt) The clorine and sodium that make up salt all came from stars. When you hold salt, you are holding star dust.

Some of the star dust was pulled together again by gravity into our own sun and this planet Earth that we live on. We haven’t figured out how life started, but somewhere on Earth, a cell started. This cell divided, and divided again into new cells. Some of the cells lived, and some died. The ones that lived divided again. The child cells were not always the same as the originial cell. Thru this gradual change, some of the cells eventually became plants. Some became animals. Some of the animals became apes. Some of the apes became people, us.

2 Sermon

There is a joke, that goes like this: The Unitarian Universalists will be having a bible study class this Wednesday. Bring a bible and a pair of scissors. Kurt Wise, a christian geologist actually tried the same thing. Let me read you some of his words on this. Kurt Wise writes:

“Finally, one day in my sophomore year of high school, when I thought I could stand it no longer, I determined to resolve the issue. After lights were out, under my covers with flashlight in hand I took a newly purchased Bible and a pair of scissors and set to work. Beginning at Genesis 1:1, I determined to cut out every verse in the Bible which would have to be taken out to believe in evolution. ...

In this fashion, night after night, for weeks and months, I set about the task of systematically going through the entire Bible from cover to cover. ...

As much as my life was wrapped up in nature at age eight and in science in eighth grade, it was even more wrapped up in science and nature at this point in my life. All that I loved to do was involved with some aspect of science. At the same time, evolution was part of that science and many times was taught as an indispensable part of science. That is exactly what I thought–that science couldn’t be without evolution. For me to reject evolution would be for me to reject all of science and to reject everything I loved and dreamed of doing. ... The day came when I took the scissors to the very last verse–nearly the very last verse of the Bible. It was Revelation 22:19: “If any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” It was with trembling hands that I cut out this verse, I can assure you! With the task complete, I was now forced to make the decision I had dreaded for so long.

With the cover of the Bible taken off, I attempted to physically lift the Bible from the bed between two fingers. Yet, try as I might, and even with the benefit of intact margins throughout the pages of Scripture, I found it impossible to pick up the Bible without it being rent in two. I had to make a decision between evolution and Scripture. Either the Scripture was true and evolution was wrong or evolution was true and I must toss out the Bible. However, at that moment I thought back to seven or so years before when a Bible was pushed to a position in front of me and I had come to know Jesus Christ. I had in those years come to know Him. I had become familiar with His love and His concern for me. He had become a real friend to me. He was the reason I was even alive both physically and spiritually. I could not reject Him. Yet, I had come to know Him through His Word. I could not reject that either. It was there that night that I accepted the Word of God and rejected all that would ever counter it, including evolution. With that, in great sorrow, I tossed into the fire all my dreams and hopes in science.”

wrote Kurt Wise.

Christianity is not the only religion with texts that are contradicted by science. In the book The Universe in a Single Atom the fourteenth Dalai Lama writes:

“By the age of twenty, when I began my systematic study of the texts that discuss Abhidharma cosmology, I knew that the world was round, had looked at photographic images of volcanic craters on the surface of the moon in magazines, and had some inkling of the orbital rotation of earth and moon around the sun. So I must admit, when I was studying Vasubandhu’s classic presentation of Abhidharma cosmological system, it did not much appeal to me.

Abhidharma cosmology describes a flat earth, around which celestial bodies like the sun and the moon revolve. According to this theory, our earth is one of the four “continents”–in fact, the southern continent–which lie in the four cardinal directions of a towering mountain called Mount Meru, at the center of the universe. Each of these continents is flanked by two smaller continents, while the gaps between them are filled with massive oceans. This entire world system is supported by a “ground”, which in turn remains suspended in empty space. The power of “air” keeps the base afloat in empty space. Vasubandhu gives a detailed description of the orbital passage of sun and moon, their sizes, and their distances from the earth.

These sizes, distances and so forth are flatly contradicted by the empirical evidence of modern astronomy.”

wrote the Dalai Lama.

I have my own story. When I was something like 12 years old, I was listening to KALS, the local Christian radio station. It had a broadcast with a fire and brimstone sermon that scared me. I had both read much of the Christian bible and read several books about astronomy. From the astronomy books, I knew about how they had measured the distance to nearby stars by measuring the angular change between different stars as the Earth went from one side of the sun to the other. This measurement allowed astronomers to discover that stars tended to follow certain brightness to spectrum patterns, such as blue stars are brightest, and red stars were dim. From the brightness of stars, I knew that astronomers had measured the distance to galaxies like Andromeda. The distance to the Andromeda galaxy is about 2 million light years away, which means that the light reaching Earth today left the Andromeda galaxy about 2 million years ago.

Now in the Christian bible, if you add up the lives of people from Adam to the start of Israel, you get a number that is something like a couple thousand years. This is a perfectly rational way to measure how long it takes between two events. For example, if you want to know how long two events are in the Roman empire, adding up the years of reigns of different rulers works quite nicely. So if the Bible is literally true, this is a good way to determine the age of the universe.

Now Genesis clearly states that the stars were created on the fourth day, and with the genealogy, this was only a few thousand years ago. Yet, the stars in Andromeda must have existed two million years ago, since the light from them is coming. One of them is wrong. Kurt Wise choose the bible. I choose science.

The ironic thing is, we both choose different worldviews because of emotion. I choose science because fear of hell, and Kurt choose the bible because his love of Jesus. As I see it, deep down, the difference between the worldview of a biblical literalist and a scientist is a choice that cannot be made rationally, but only emotionally.

Basically, I believe that a belief in Biblical literalness is incompatible with science. However, different Christian denominations have different views on Biblical literalness. For example, the Southern Baptist view on the Bible is:

“The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.”

Since the Southern Baptist’s believe that scripture is totally true, scientific theories that contradict the Bible are believed to be false. This includes evolution.

On the other hand the United Methodists have a different view on the Bible. I was raised United Methodist and I still think like one sometimes. For example, I find having alcohol at UU church functions very strange. Now, the United Methodists have a different view on Biblical literalness. These differences change their view on evolution, so the United Methodists have signed the clergy letter in support of evolution. In the United Methodist Church articles of religion it states:

United Methodist Church Articles of Religion V (excerpt):

“The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. ...”

states the article. In the United Methodist case, the Bible is for salvation. So it describes how to get to heaven, not how the heavens go. This is compatible with scientist Steven J Gourd’s view of non-overlapping magisteria. This view has that science and religion each have different magisterium, or domain of teaching authority. As Gourd states: “The net of science covers the empirical realm: what is the universe made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry.” wrote Gourd.

Religion beliefs vary in how much they overlap with science. As I already mentioned, the Southern Baptist view by believing in a literal bible overlaps greatly with science, but the United Methodist view overlaps much less with science.

Earlier in this sermon I quoted the fourteenth Dalai Lama on how Tibetan Buddhist scriptures are contradicted by science. The rest of the quote from the Dalai Lama is even more interesting. He continues:

“There is a dictum in Buddhist philosophy that to uphold a tenet that contradict empirical evidence is a still greater fallacy. So it is hard to take the Abhidharma cosmology literally. Indeed, even without recourse to modern science, there is a sufficient range of contradictory models for cosmology within Buddhist thought for one to question the literal truth of any particular version. My own view is that Buddhism must abandon many aspects of the Abhidharma cosmology.”

Elsewhere the Dalai Lama discusses religion and science:

“I remember a disturbing conversation I had had only a few years earlier with an American lady who was married to a Tibetan. Having heard of my interest in science and my active engagement in dialog with scientists, she warned me of the danger science poses to the survival of Buddhism. She told me that history attests to the fact that science is “killer” of religion and advised me that it was not wise for the Dalai Lama to pursue friendships with those who represent this profession. By taking this personal journey into science, I suppose I have stuck my neck out. My confidence in venturing into science lies in my basic belief that as in science so in Buddhism, understanding the nature of reality is pursued by means of critical investigation: if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.”

wrote the Dalai Lama. Carl Sagan had a related conversation with the Dalai Lama. Carl Sagan writes:

“In theological discussion with religious leaders, I often ask what their response would be if a central tenet of their faith were disproved by science. When I put this question to the current, Fourteenth, Dalai Lama, he unhesitating replied as no conservative or fundamentalist religious leaders do: In such a case, he said, Tibetan Buddhism would have to change.

Even, I asked, if it’s a *really* central tenet, like (I search for an example) reincarnation?

Even then, he answered.

However–the Dalai Lama added with a twinkle–it’s going to be hard to disprove reincarnation.”

recorded Carl Sagan. Now strictly speaking, ideas like reincarnation and heaven and hell fall under the science domain, since they are about the universe, not about how the universe should be morally. Yet, as the Dalai Lama pointed out, it is very hard to disprove reincarnation. It would be similarly hard to disprove heaven or hell or the existence of a sufficiently subtle god.

As I see it, there is a large difference between believing in ideas contradicted by science, and believing in ideas that science cannot prove or disprove. For example, if I went thru and cut out everything that contradicted young earth creationism, I would be cutting out parts of my nuclear engineering books and plenty more. On the other hand, if I went thru and cut out everything that contradicted reincarnation, I don’t think I could find anything that would need cut out of my science books.

Yet, science requires habits of thought that if taken seriously, change how a scientist perceives the world and religion. A sense of this can be gotten from this quote from Charles Darwin’s autobiography:

“I had, also, during many years followed a golden rule, namely, that whenever a published fact, a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from the memory than favourable ones. Owing to this habit, very few objections were raised against my views which I had not at least noticed and attempted to answer.”

wrote Charles Darwin. Good science requires spending a lot of time thinking about how you are wrong. It is much easier to make a mistake in thinking, than figure out the truth. I’m going to finish this sermon by quoting physicist Richard Feynman describing how this careful thinking changes how scientists think about religion. Richard Feynman writes:

“I would start by presenting the panel with a problem: A young man, brought up in a religious family, studies a science, and as a result he comes to doubt and perhaps later to disbelieve in his father’s God. Now, this is not an isolated example; it happens time and time again. Although I have no statistics on this, I believe that many scientists in fact, I actually believe that more than half of the scientists really disbelieve in their father’s God; that is, they don’t believe in a God in a conventional sense. ... What happens, then, is that the young man begins to doubt everything because he cannot have it as absolute truth. So the question changes a little bit from “Is there a God?” to “How sure is it that there is a God?” This very subtle change is a great stroke and represents a parting of the ways between science and religion. I do not believe a real scientist can ever believe in the same way again. Although there are scientists who believe in God, I do not believe that they think of God in the same way as religious people do. If they are consistent with their science, I think that they say something like this to themselves: “I am almost certain there is a God. The doubt is very small.” That is quite different from saying, “I know that there is a God.” I do not believe that a scientist can ever obtain that view that really religious understanding, that real knowledge that there is a God that absolute certainty which religious people have.”