Rosetta and the hazelnut

For four centuries science and religion have wrestled with one another. Galileo’s claim that the earth went round the sun was declared contrary to scripture in 1615. His condemnation has remained axiomatic in a war where the church felt faith was threatened by the ‘new learning’ while the advocates of science saw church authorities as obscurantist and hostile to enlightened thinking. It was not simply an intellectual debate but had political implications which came to divide pe

The heat has gone out of this struggle as believers no longer feel threatened by science. In fact, they feel energised by each new discovery. And the scientific community is far less confident today in the claims of its forerunners that science can answer all the questions of life. As they probe deeper into the workings of the brain and the depths of the universe they have become more humble in their claims and more open to what the church has long called ‘mystery.’

Such thoughts come as we ponder in amazement the 10-year, six billion kilometre voyage of the Rosetta space probe to comet 67P. Rosetta carries a craft that will land on the comet in a few weeks and, it is hoped, will provide hard information about the universe and our own planet. The tough and exciting work of science continues. We long to explore and understand. But our discoveries, we now realise, don’t have to ‘fit’ with what the bible says historically, geographically or scientifically. The bible reveals the covenant of God with his people. It cannot be relied on for much else.

Julian of Norwich (England) was a fourteenth century hermit, possibly Jewish, possibly physically disabled. In 1373 she received a series of ‘Showings of Love’ from God which she reflected on and wrote down. Early in her account she describes being shown ‘a little thing the quantity of a hazelnut in the palm of my hand. I thought, “What may this be?” And it was generally answered, “It is all that is made.” I marvelled how it might last for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nought for littleness. And I was answered … “It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it.”’

If Julian were alive today she would be thrilled by the Rosetta probe. But equally I suspect there are renowned scientists who would read her text with excitement. We live in a wonderful age where we can hold these two approaches to ‘all that is made’ together rejoicing in both the knowledge and the mystery.

There are passages in Scripture which describe the contrast between human thought and God’s thoughts (Is 55:8). The parable of the men who came to work at the eleventh hour (Matt 20:1-16), and received the same payment as those who had sweated all day, is another instance. We are invited to raise our awareness to enjoy the bigger picture.

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