Are we asking the right questions?

Religion / Science

Back when I was studying Physics one of my advisors used to say: “Physics is easy. It’s just a matter of asking the right question.” (I think he got the line from Richard Feynman, who was his advisor.)

Part of what is causing us to spin our ecclesiastical wheels at the moment is that we’ve yet to ask the “right question”.

I take as a given that the majority of us are trying to do what God wants us to do. The question of the moment involves discerning the Church’s proper stance on same-gender relationships. The problem is that we differ on what we think God‚Äôs wants us to do. (For those who claim that God‚Äôs law is unchanging, I think it‚Äôs pretty trivial to find examples of the people of God recognizing that either God‚Äôs expectation for them has changed ‚Äì or that their understanding of God‚Äôs wishes has been flawed and needs to be changed. I contend that both cases are isomorphic to each other.)

The issue is to decide who is truly speaking the Word of God to the Church. To do that, the Church is going to have to decide who is the true prophet and who is the false prophet. (“False prophet” has a connotation I dislike because I don’t believe people are willfully trying to frustrate God’s will – but it is the biblical term for people who claim to speak God’s truth in a error.)

So the question before us at the moment seems to be: “Who is the true Prophet?” We might call this the presenting question.

Bishop Paul Marshall has pointed out (as have others) that the Windsor Report does not really deal with the presenting question. The report’s suggested actions strengthen an institution rather than focusing on institutional discernment. He‚Äôs right. The Windsor Report is apparently answering a different question than the presenting question.

In physics one of the signs that a person is asking the wrong question is that the answer doesn’t seem to make sense. That seems to be what is happening here. There appears to a misunderstanding at a fundamental level.

I think we might ask a different question. Can we (should we) reduce the question of revisionism vs. reassertion to a “true/false” proposition?

Bishop Griswold speaks of pluriform truths. What I understand him to mean is that a statement can be true for some folk and false for some folk and both are correct and neither is mistaken. This has caused him to be derided by a number of voices in the church. I expect this has happened because when a person is thinking out of a Newtonian/Deterministic worldview then the idea of something being true and false at the same time is nonsense. The voices of derision are voices speaking out of a Newtonian paradigm.

But here‚Äôs the thing… There are many indications in modern physics that the Newtonian/Deterministic worldview is wrong. The primary demonstration of this is the violation of Bell‚Äôs Inequality by entangled states of simple quantum systems. (Hence the title for my blog page.) The immediate implication of this violation is that reality is fundamentally determined by the observer ‚Äì and that another observer could observe a different reality. (NB: This is similar though not logically related to the Postulate of Relativity which states that there is no way to make a unique observation of what is true.) This is a fundamental paradigm shift in our worldview both in science and in philosophy and it is not yet universally accepted. (But the Big Bang caused a great deal of consternation as well when it was first proposed.)

How would our discussion as a Communion be changed if we took as a given that sometimes ideas can be both apparently “true” and “false” at the same time? What if absolute truth can only be comprehended from within the Godhead – and not by creatures still in a pilgrimage journey of transformation? To paraphrase St. Paul, we see the truth dimly as if through a dark mirror. Once we are transformed then we shall fully know what we can now only partially understand

It seems to me that we as a Province of the Communion are asking for ourselves that we be allowed time for God’s will to be made more clear both internally and externally. We are also explicitly not saying that what is true for us is true for other provinces in the Communion. I don’t see that either of these statements are being considered by the Windsor report. I think that’s part of the problem. We’re not trying to answer the real question.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...