Handbook of the Fellowship of Scientists

Readings 11-20


Natural theology in Acts

When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, "The gods have come down to us in human form!" Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice. When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, "Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good -giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy."

Acts 14:11-17


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


The whole world sparks and flames.

We don't know what's going on here. If these tremendous events are random combinations of matter run amok, the yield of millions of monkeys at millions of typewriters, then what is it in us, hammered out of those same typewriters, that they ignite? We don't know. Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle, curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what's going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.

At the time of Lewis and Clark, setting the prairies on fire was a well-known signal that meant, "Come down to the water." It was an extravagant gesture, but we can't do less. If the landscape reveals one certainty, it is that the extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation. After the one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with ever-fresh vigor. The whole show has been on fire from the word go. I come down to the water to cool my eyes. But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn't flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, pp. 9-10


What must I do?

"Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

Luke 10:25-37


The right use of natural reason

They are not to be blamed, or looked upon as neglecters of God's grace, or undervaluers of it, or to abate in the least, who vigorously and with all imaginable zeal call upon men to use, employ, and improve the principles of God's creation, and the telling men they shall meet with no discouragement from God forasmuch as He will not leave them, till they first leave Him. And indeed this is a very profitable work to call upon men, to answer the principles of their creation, to fulfil natural light, to answer natural conscience, to be throughout rational in what they do; for these things have a Divine foundation. The spirit in man is the candle of the Lord, lighted by God, and lighting men to God. It is from God by way of efficiency, and to God finally.

The Anglican Tradition, #271, 1751


The words of institution (1Cor. 11:23-26)

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said,

"This is my body that is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

1Cor. 11:23-26


The foundations of the earth

"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements -surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?

On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

"Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb?-
when I made the clouds its garment,
and thick darkness its swaddling band,

and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
and said, 'Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped'?

"Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?"

Job 34:4-13


The tree with the lights in it

When her doctor took her bandages off and led her into the garden, the girl who was no longer blind saw "the tree with the lights in it." It was for this tree I searched through the peach orchards of summer, in the forests of fall and down winter and spring for years. Then one day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. The flood of fire abated, but I'm still spending the power. Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells unflamed and disappeared. I was still ringing. I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck. I have since only very rarely seen the tree with the lights in it. The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment when the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, pg. 35


One body: many members

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

1Cor. 12:14-27


Cosmic Unity

Consider first the general orderliness of the universe. There are limitless ways in which the cosmos might have been totally chaotic. It might have had no laws at all, or laws that caused matter to behave in disorderly or unstable ways. One could also imagine a universe in which conditions changed from moment to moment in a complicated or random fashion, or even in which everything abruptly ceased to exist. There seems to be no logical obstacle to the idea of such unruly universes. But the real universe is not like this. It is highly ordered, and this order persists in a dependable manner. There exist well-defined physical laws and definite cause-effect relationships that we can rely upon.

The physical world is not arbitrarily regulated; it is ordered in a very particular way, poised between the twin extremes of simple regimented orderliness and random complexity: it is neither a crystal nor a random gas. The universe is undeniably complex, but its complexity is of an organized variety. Moreover, this organization was not built into the universe at its origin. It has emerged from primeval chaos in a sequence of self-organizing processes that have progressively enriched and complexified the evolving universe in a more or less unidirectional matter. lt is easy to imagine a world that, while ordered, nevertheless does not possess the right sort of forces or conditions for the emergence of complex organization. Some scientists have been so struck by the uncanny efficiency of self-organizing processes in nature that they have suggested the existence of a type of optimization principle, whereby the universe evolves to create maximum richness and diversity. The fact that this rich and complex variety emerges from the featureless inferno of the Big Bang, and does so as a consequence of laws of stunning simplicity and generality, indicates some sort of matching of means to ends that has a distinct teleological flavor to it.

-- + --

The very fact that we can even talk meaningfully about "the universe" as an all-embracing concept already indicates an underlying unity and coherence in nature. The physical world consists of a multiplicity of objects and systems, but they are structured in such a way that, taken together, they form a unified and consistent whole. For example, the various forces of nature are not just a haphazard conjunction of disparate influences. They dovetail together in a mutually supportive way that bestows upon nature a stability and harmony. Although this subtle coherence is hard to capture in a precise way, it is obvious to most practicing scientists. I like to compare doing science with completing a crossword puzzle. In conducting experiments, scientists enter into a dialogue with nature, from which they obtain clues to the underlying regularities. When these clues are "solved"-usually in the form of mathematical laws-it is like filling in a missing word. What we find is that the "words" gleaned from different branches of science form a coherent, interlocking matrix, and not just a "laundry list" of separate principles juxtaposed.

To elaborate this point, it is particularly striking, for example, how processes that occur on a microscopic scale - say in nuclear physics - seem to be fine-tuned to produce interesting and varied effects on a much larger scale, for example in astrophysics. Consider the death of stars in supernova explosions. Part of the explosive force is due to the action of the elusive subatomic particle called the neutrino. Neutrinos are almost entirely devoid of physical properties: the average cosmic neutrino could penetrate many light years of solid lead. Yet these ghostly entities can still, under the extreme conditions near the center of a dying massive star, pack enough punch to blast much of the stellar material into space. The resulting detritus is richly laced with heavy elements of the sort from which planet Earth is made. We can thus attribute the existence of terrestrial-like planets, with their special propensity to spawn complex material forms and systems, to the qualities of a subatomic particle so feeble in its effects that it might well have gone forever undetected.

Evidence of Purpose, pp. 45-46

previous set of readings
next set of readings
all readings at a glance

The Fellowship of Scientists
Form of Practice