Kincardine O’Neil to Dess
A Scientist is “someone who is concerned either with a connected body of demonstrated truths or with observed facts systematically classified and more or less colligated by being brought under general laws and which includes trust worthy methods for the discovery of new truth within its own domain.” (OED). All of us are engaged in some science at times within our lives and so it follows that all of our congregations will include people with some knowledge and experience of science as an element in life. This only becomes an issue for Christians when it is suggested that current understanding of Science is in conflict with our understanding of Scripture and especially what we read in the Bible.
There is thus a challenge for Christians to link science and scripture but most of all to do this in a way that allows us to see just how our knowledge of scripture can help us in making some of the choices which we are faced with as a product of increased scientific understanding and to see how what we learn as a consequence of scientific understanding can help our engagement with scripture in a positive way.
Pilgrimage is an ancient activity in which a journey of discovery is undertaken and where the largest single gain is increased awareness of oneself and one’s relationship with others and with God’s creation.
Pilgrimage is thus an appropriate way in which we can explore the links between science and our understanding of scripture.
It is also an activity which can be undertaken by all ages and which can thus promote discussion within families as well as within the church community.
The Deeside Way already has established footpaths. It follows both a river and for some of its length a former railway line. It allows vistas of human activity especially farming, forestry and tourism and variation in vegetation and in geology.
It thus provides the setting for us to focus on God’s creation and to ask questions about the appropriateness of our use of that creation and about how our biblical and scientific understanding of creation interweave.
Walk one from Kincardine O’Neil
Cross Roads in Life; stewardship or rapaciousness.
We are privileged to live in a wonderful creation, something which God has entrusted to us. Genesis tells us “God created human beings in his own image; God blessed them and said to them be fruitful and increase, fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1 27-28). But Genesis also records “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till it and look after it” (Gen 2 15) .We have a very real challenge as to how we simultaneously care for creation and yet make use of the gifts which God has given us. We also struggle to identify the issues and to appreciate the context in which it is appropriate for us to work. The extracts which follow set out aspects of these challenges.
“Walking is a way. When I walk I touch the Earth and the Earth holds the mind of God. When I’m walking I have time, I am going slowly. And when I’m going slowly then I am looking around. I can sense the sacred all around me. Life is sacred. Honey bees are sacred. Trees are sacred. Life is sacrificing life to maintain life. That is what makes life sacred. If I am on horseback or worse in a car or a train or worst of all an aeroplane, I see little, I don’t connect. But when I am walking I am connected with the earth, with the air with the trees with the sunshine, with the flowers, with the fungi, with the birds. I am connected with the whole universe. There is no dualism. I am completely one with the universe. That is why pilgrims mostly go on foot. I am participating in the process of the sacred Universe, celebrating, delighting, being.”
Satish Kumar, Earth Pilgrim (2009)
“Why wait for science?
Sarcastic science, she would like to know, in her complacent ministry of fear, how we propose to get away from here when she has made things so we have to go or be wiped out.
Will she be asked to show us how by rocket we may hope to steer
To some star off there, say half a light year
Through temperature of absolute zero?
Why wait for science to supply the how when any amateur can tell it now?
The way to go away should be the same as fifty million years ago we came – if anyone remembers how that was.
I have a theory but it hardly does.”
Robert Frost, Steeple Bush (1947)
“Land in agricultural production produces economic goods and services and contributes to national gross product and to the economic wellbeing of rural areas. The increasing dependence of agriculture on inputs from outside the farm and the fact that most farm production is sold to the non-farm economy, mean that changes in farming impact not only on the associated infra-structure and on food processing and distribution industries but on the economy as a whole. Changes in the use of land to recreation, wildlife habitats and landscape will reduce the wealth creating capacity of the land. The potential loss of earnings will be the social cost of these benefits.”
John North, Bawden Memorial Lecture for 1986
“Like any designer of new consumer products the plant breeder has to maintain all of the positive attributes that characterise the old varieties while effecting improvements in the new ones. His task is like that of a juggler who strives to keep more and more balls in the air. Restraints on available field space limit the sizes of the plant populations that can be grown. Breeders are very interested in technology which can expand their capabilities. An increasing number of tools are under development. DNA probes provide a powerful means of genetic analysis.”
Peter R Day, Bawden Memorial Lecture for 1987
Gateways to understanding.
Doors and gateways are a feature of life. They can be physical or can represent stages in life in the form of choices which we need to make. Choices are not always the selection of right against wrong but what is most appropriate at the time or in those circumstances something which Robert Frost’s poem brings into focus.
“A tree’s leaves may be ever so good, so may its bark, so may its wood; but unless you put the right thing to its root it never will show much flower or fruit.
But I may be the one who does not care ever to have tree bloom or bear. Leaves for smooth and bark for rough, leaves and bark may be tree enough.
Some giant trees have bloom so small they might as well have none at all. Late in life I have come on fern; now lichens are due to have their turn.
I bade men tell me which in brief which is fairer flower or leaf. They did not have the wit to say leaves by night and flowers by day.
Leaves and bark, leaves and bark, to lean against and hear in the dark. Petals I have once pursued, leaves are all my darker mood.”
Robert Frost, A Further range (1936)
Man has modified the Earth in a way and to an extent which no other species has managed to do and yet there are things which we struggle to control and to influence however much we might wish to. The power and force of water is one of the very fundamental forces which keep reminding us of our limitations every time we find ourselves in flood conditions. The discussion between God and Job in the Book of Job ( Chapters 38-42) represents a third account of the Creation and emphasises that the ways in which God sees things may differ from how we see them and that there remains so much that we neither know or understand.
On what do its supporting pillars rest? Who set its cornerstone in place while the morning stars sang in chorus and the sons of god all shouted for joy?
Who supported the sea at its birth, when it burst in flood from the womb, when I wrapped it in a blanket of cloud and swaddled it in dense fog when I established its bounds, set its bared doors in place and said thus far you may come but no further here your surging waves must halt.
Who has cut channels for the downpour and cleared a path for the thunderbolt, for rain to fall on land devoid of people on the uninhabited wilderness clothing waste and derelict lands with green and making grass spring up on thirsty ground.”
Job, 38, 4-11, 25-27
“But consider the chief of beasts, the crocodile who devours cattle as if they were grass.
What strength is in his loins! What power in the muscles of his belly!
His tail is rigid as a cedar, the sinews of his flanks are tightly knit; his bones are like tubes of bronze, his limbs like iron bars.
He is the chief of God’s works, made to be a tyrant over his fellow creatures; for he takes the cattle of the hills for his prey and in his jaws he crunches all beasts of the wild.”
Job 40, 15 -20.
Humanity and the use of creation.
Humanity has made more use of Creation than perhaps any other species and our knowledge helps us both in using Creation and in caring for it. We are able to make use and to manage things as important as soil microbiology but this ability nevertheless poses choices as to how we use the Earth’s resources in ways which are both fair and sustainable.
“The soil micro-flora plays a direct and important part in the nutrition of higher plants. Endotrophic mycorrhizas resemble ordinary roots. The list of known mycorrhiza formers includes most tropical and sub tropical crop plants and grasses, potatoes, vine hops, clovers pea’s beans as well as many wild plants. Soil biologists have largely overlooked the general relationship of the soil micro-flora with normal plant growth. This fragmentation seems to be the curse of modern research. Whatever we study our tendency is to break it up into little bits, there by destroying the whole and then to study the effect or behaviour of the separate pieces as if they were independent instead of as they are interdependent.”
Eve Balfour, The Living Soil (1943)
“The study of environment is not the same as the study of ecology. Environment is what surrounds us, the humans. The word implies that humans are at the centre and what is around us is our environment. Environment is an anthropocentric concept whereas the word ecology is much more inclusive. The word implies relationships between all species, humans and other than humans. Economy is the management of home. Ecology is knowledge of home. Many of our economic and environmental problems are the consequence of our desire to show off, to impress, to glitter and be obsessed with our ego self. Thabo Mbeki spoke of his dreams of the new South Africa where everybody was able to own cars. However Satish Kumar questioned this because for all of the rest of the world to own things like people in the west will take the resources of three or four planets. President Mbeki responded ”We cannot turn the clock back to an egalitarian pastoral past; we are in the age of technology, progress and development. We cannot allow our people not to enjoy the same comforts and conveniences which Europeans and Americans take for granted. There are plenty of resources to go around.”
Satish Kumar, Earth Pilgrim (2009)