Handbook of the Fellowship of Scientists

Readings 81-90


Meticulously created, created abundantly, extravagantly, and in fine...

Van Gogh, you remember, called the world a study that didn't come off. Whether it "came off" is a difficult question. The chloroplasts do stream in the leaf as if propelled by a mighty, invisible breath; but on the other hand, a certain sorrow arises, welling up in Shadow Creek, and from those lonely banks it appears that all our intricate fringes, however beautiful, are really the striations of a universal and undeserved flaying. But, Van Gogh: a study it is not. This is the truth of the pervading intricacy of the world's detail: the creation is not a study, a roughed-in sketch; it is supremely, meticulously created, created abundantly, extravagantly, and in fine.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, pg. 137


To God the things that are God's

So they watched him and sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him by what he said, so as to hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor. So they asked him, "Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" But he perceived their craftiness and said to them, "Show me a denarius. Whose head and whose title does it bear?" They said, "The emperor's." He said to them, "Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's."

Luke 20:20-25


Praise the Lord from the Heavens

Praise the LORD!

Praise the LORD from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!

Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his host!

Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!

Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.

He established them forever and ever;
he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

Praise the LORD from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps,

fire and hail, snow and frost,
stormy wind fulfilling his command!

Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!

Wild animals and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds!

Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!

Young men and women alike,
old and young together!

Let them praise the name of the LORD,
for his name alone is exalted;
his glory is above earth and heaven.

Psalm 148:1-13


An openness to new possibility

It is time to sum up. The clockwork universe is dead. The future is not just the tautologous spelling-out of what was already present in the past. Physics shows an openness to new possibility at all levels, from the microscopic (where quantum theory is important) to the macroscopic (where it is not). In that sense, physics describes a world of which we can conceive ourselves as being inhabitants. The division - quite as sharp as the Aristotelian division between celestial permanence and sub-lunar decay - which seemed to exist between the exterior world of inexorable process and the interior world of willed choice, is beginning to break down. We must not exaggerate the extent to which the two worlds are yet successfully integrated in our understanding. Many puzzles remain but there is a hopeful direction in which to look for their eventual reconciliation. The picture beginning to form encourages the thought of man as a psychosomatic unity, with the material and mental as complementary poles of his nature. In that way he is able to participate in a noetic world of ideas and purposes, as well as being able to act within the physical world. Such a view seeks to avoid an incomprehensible Cartesian dualism by its appeal to the complementary linkage of the material and mental as aspects of the world in different degrees of organizational complexity and flexibility. Here seems to be a promising location for the causal joints by which both we and God interact with the universe.

Speculative as all this is, remember that it appeals to the basic human experience of willed action, an ability which it interprets as arising from the open flexibility of the process of our bodies. Since there is also open flexibility within the general process of the world, it seems consistent to suppose that there is scope for action there also. In particular, it seems conceivable that this is the means by which God's purposive will may be exercised within his creation. Both we and God exercise the holistic power to influence, respectively, our bodies and the world by means of causal joints hidden within the unpredictability of process. Yet there are differences between human and divine participation in the world, that go beyond the contrast of scale between the limited and the Unlimited. The most important is that we are constituted by our physical bodies and so are in thrall to them. Their decay is our dissolution, though not without the Christian hope of a destiny beyond that dissolution through God's act of resurrection, reconstituting us in a new environment of his choosing. God, on the other hand, is not constituted by the cosmos, even in part of his nature, and so he is never in thrall to it. The expected eventual decay of this physical world will no more affect him than did its non-existence, if it was not there previous to the big bang. Though God interacts with the world it is not proper to speak of his being embodied in it.

It might be feared that this account is a return to the God of the gaps. In the pejorative sense of that term I do not think that this is the case. In the argument we have been at pains to exclude any appeal to God as just a physical agent among other agencies. He is not an alternative source of energetic causation, competing with the effects of physical principles from time to time and overriding them. Rather we have tried to give those principles, as far as we know them, all due weight in the description of physical process, whilst recognizing that by themselves they do not constitute so tight a prescription of what happens that all scope for genuine becoming is removed from cosmic history. There is a sense in which all free action, ours or God's, depends upon "gaps", the inherent incompletenesses which make openness possible, just as the resultant flexibilities require for their lasting significance that they be exercised within a generally reliable environment.

Science and Providence, pp. 33-34.


Crucified Messiah

What Paul says about his preaching in Corinth and Galatia seems to have been true of his preaching in general; it was above all the proclamation of "Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2; Gal 3:1b; see also 1 Cor 1:23; Gal 6:14). It is therefore no change in subject when, after a reference to "the gospel" (1 Cor 1: 17), he proceeds to comment on "the word of the cross" (1 Cor 1:1 8, author's translation). This is confirmed by the parallelism of Rom 1:16 and 1 Cor 1:18: in Romans the gospel is described as "the power of God for salvation," and in 1 Corinthians the word of the cross is described as "the power of God" for "those who are being saved." Thus, on occasion he refers to "the cross" where he might just as well have written, "the gospel" (Gal 5:1 1; 6:12; Phil 3:18].

This identification of the gospel with "the word of the cross" should not be taken for granted. For one thing, it is quite distinctively Pauline, found nowhere else in the New Testament. Moreover, the preaching of "Jesus Christ and him crucified" must have struck Paul's hearers as a very strange kind of "gospel." Crucifixion was recognized throughout the ancient world as an unusually cruel and painful method of execution. It had been adopted by the Romans from the Phoenicians and Persians, and was ordinarily employed only when the condemned was a slave or a foreigner. The Jewish historian, Josephus, called it "the most wretched of deaths." His judgment was shared even by Roman writers - like Tacitus, who termed it "disgraceful," and Cicero who described it as "savage." How, then, can Paul dare to be offering "good news," if he proclaims only a crucified Messiah?

......But there is more. According to Paul, as one dies to sin's rule one comes "alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Rom 6:11). Through Christ's death believers have been empowered to "walk in newness of life" (Rom 6:4). Having been set under the rule of grace, they are bound over to righteousness (Rom 6:11-18). With such affirmations we have arrived at the very heart of Paul's gospel, where we are confronted with a profound paradox. The "word of the cross" is the good news that Christ's death means life for those who are baptized into his death (Rom 6:1-11). It is the good news that to be crucified with Christ is to be alive with him to God (Gal 2:19-21). It is the good news that God's saving power is at work precisely in the weakness of the cross.

Furnish, Jesus according to Paul, pp. 74, 75


The vehicle of intricacy

In other words, even on the perfectly ordinary and clearly visible level, creation carries on with an intricacy unfathomable and apparently uncalled for. The lone ping into being of the first hydrogen atom ex nihilo was so unthinkably, violently radical, that surely it ought to have been enough, more than enough. But look what happens. You open the door and all heaven and hell break loose.

Evolution, of course, is the vehicle of intricacy. The stability of simple forms is the sturdy base from which more complex stable forms might arise, forming in turn more complex forms, and so on. The stratified nature of this stability, like a home built on rock on rock on rock, performs, in Jacob Bronowski's terms, as the "ratchet" that prevents the whole shebang from "slipping back." Bring a feather into the house, and a piano; put a sculpture on the roof, sure, and fly banners from the lintels-the house will hold.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, pg. 134


Wisdom is radiant and unfading

Therefore set your desire on my words;
long for them, and you will be instructed.

Wisdom is radiant and unfading,
and she is easily discerned by those who love her,
and is found by those who seek her.

She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her.
One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty,
for she will be found sitting at the gate.

To fix one's thought on her is perfect understanding,
and one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care,

because she goes about seeking those worthy of her,
and she graciously appears to them in their paths,
and meets them in every thought.

The beginning of wisdom is the most sincere desire for instruction,
and concern for instruction is love of her,

and love of her is the keeping of her laws,
and giving heed to her laws is assurance of immortality,

and immortality brings one near to God;
so the desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom.

Wis. 6:11-20


A sower went out to sow

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: "Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!"

Matt. 13:1-9


The Holy Spirit

The titles given to the Holy Spirit must surely stir the soul of anyone who hears them, and make him realize that they speak of nothing less than the supreme Being. Is he not called the Spirit of God, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, the steadfast Spirit, the guiding Spirit? But his principal and most personal title is the "Holy Spirit". To the Spirit all creatures turn in their need for sanctification; all living things seek him according to their ability. His breath empowers each to achieve its own natural end. The Spirit is the source of holiness, a spiritual light; and he offers his own light to every mind to help it in its search for truth.

By nature the Spirit is beyond the reach of our mind, but we can know Him by his goodness. The power of the Spirit fills the whole universe, but he gives himself only to those who are worthy, acting in each according to the measure of his faith. Simple in himself, the Spirit is manifold in his mighty works. The whole of his being is present to each individual; the whole of his being is preserved everywhere. Though shared in by many, he remains unchanged; his self-giving is no loss to himself. Like the sunshine, which permeates all the atmosphere, spreading over land and sea, and yet is enjoyed by each person as though it were for him alone, so the Spirit pours forth his grace in full measure, sufficient for all; and yet is present as though exclusively to everyone who can receive him.

To all creatures that share in him he gives a delight limited only by their own nature, not by his ability to give. The Spirit raises our hearts to heaven, guides the steps of the weak, and brings to perfection those who are making progress. He enlightens those who have been cleansed from every stain of sin and makes them spiritual by communion with himself. As clear, transparent substances become very bright when sunlight falls on them and shine with a new radiance, so also souls in whom the Spirit dwells, and who are enlightened by the Spirit, become spiritual themselves and a source of grace for others.

From the Spirit comes foreknowledge of the future, understanding of the mysteries of faith, insight into the hidden meaning of Scripture, and other special gifts. Through the Spirit we become citizens of heaven; we are admitted to the company of the angels; we enter into eternal happiness, and abide in God. Through the Spirit we acquire a likeness to God; indeed, we attain what is beyond our most sublime aspirations - we "become" God.

The Anglican Tradition, #26, 374-5


Fish as spirit

I am coming around to fish as spirit. The Greek acronym for some of the names of Christ yields ichthys, Christ as fish, and fish as Christ. The more I glimpse the fish in Tinker Creek, the more satisfying the coincidence becomes, the richer the symbol, not only for Christ but for the spirit as well. The people must live. Imagine for a Mediterranean people how much easier it is to haul up free, fed fish in nets than to pasture hungry herds on those bony hills and feed them through a winter. To say that holiness is a fish is a statement of the abundance of grace; it is the equivalent of affirming in a purely materialistic culture that money does indeed grow on trees. "Not as the world gives do I give to you"; these fish are spirit food. And revelation is a study in stalking: "Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find."

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, pg. 189

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