Mystery, Morals, and Reason

May 12, 2007

I have, for some time, thought that the mystery of faith and the rationality of science may not be as distant as we think that they are.

I believe in an active and imminent God, working in our midst.

I also believe that we can connect with that God, working through the Spirit, alive within each of us.

How that works will someday be explained by science, at least partially.  What we don’t know we call mystery.  I am not threatened that science helps us to explain the “hows” while faith and religion helps us to explain the “whys”.  Where the two intersect sometimes gets mirky as we try to sort out the difference between the “how” and the “why,” as sometimes we traditionally have a “why” that has been a “how” (e.g. Creationism has always been a “how” but with science and history, we now know that the two separate and distinct Creation myths of the Bible have deeper truths than the “how” of creation– more importantly than how the universe was put together, they tell us something else about the nature of God and of creation itself– the “why”).

The Wall Street Journal ran this article on the link between the brain and moral reasoning yesterday.  Here is my favorite paragraph:

Usually, the human brain is of two minds when it comes to morality — selfish but self-sacrificing, survivalist yet altruistic, calculating but also compassionate. Many dilemmas force a choice between the lesser of two evils, invoking a clash of competing neural networks, said Harvard neuroscientist Joshua Greene. Intuition tempers rational deliberation, especially when our actions to help some people will harm others.

That doesn’t really sum up the article, but rather highlights the tension I think is present not only of the brain but of faith itself– the tensions that we have spent centuries trying to define and resolve, but which are unresolvable because they require living in question rather than finding absolute answers.

The article focuses not on these tensions, but on how the brain may be hard-wired to help us resolve some basic moral conundrums:  the researcher “gathered data from thousands of people in hundreds of countries, all of whom display a remarkable unanimity in their basic moral choices.  A shared innate capacity for morality may be responsible, he concluded.”

I have spent a lot of time on this blog talking about the human condition, and how Jesus’ primary example in the incarnation is one of an exalted view of humanity (rather than a singularly divine Jesus who came primarily to judge a broken people).  Calling us to live up to our full potential as humans, we can strive for what it means to be created in God’s image, and why God called the creation good in the first Biblical account of creation.  Perhaps being hard-wired for such an image is part of that plan, I don’t know.

It’s food for thought, though, and certainly helps me to realize and stay connected to my human family to realize that we all have some kind of common human morality, what this researcher calls a “shared innate capacity for morality” that allows us to have that common potential.  The rest of our differences that make us unique and diverse in God’s creation allow us to explore the fullness of humanity and what it means to be fully human.  By living, growing, and learning to find Christ in those who aren’t completely like us, we are transformed and in so doing transform others to achieve Jesus’ vision of changing the human race into the human family.



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