American Unitarian Conference™
Promoting the American Unitarian Tradition
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President's Letter 9/2005
Dear American Unitarian:
It appears to me that
the public discourse is currently dominated by two groups of people.
There are those who have a scientific materialist point of view and
believe that science is the only arbiter of truth. They argue, in
effect, that if it cannot be observed it is not real. They deride all
“supernatural” explanations. They argue that morality is based on
evolution, and the post-modernists among them believe that ethics and
aesthetics is about an endless conversation that never, even in
principle, can reach a conclusion about right and wrong, beauty, meaning
or worth. They seem oblivious to the fact that if everything rests on
quicksand, then even reason and science have no foundation.
On the other side are
those that hold faith and Biblical revelation up as higher than reason
or scientific observation. They find their one and only truth in the
Bible—actually in particular idiosyncratic interpretations of it They
are apparently unaware of the Bible's internal conflicts and the way the
books that compose our Bible were chosen during a centuries long and
contentious debate among men. They are also untroubled by the Bible's
pre-modern morality that reflects Jewish or Roman received wisdom of the
time that is hardly consistent with a modern and free society.
These views represent
a false dichotomy. Reason and science are powerful tools for
understanding God's creation and our place in it. They are not, however,
the end of the story. They cannot be. The “supernatural” (in the sense
of beyond nature) is an integral part of the story. God is the
foundation, the anchor of both creation and of our humanity. God is the
source not only of the creation but of our ability to be human. God is
the reason why the world is and the world is the way that it is. God is
the source of our free will. God is the source of our moral and
aesthetic sense. God is the source of love.
Only by integrating
reason, science and religion can we have a holistic, healthy and correct
understanding of the world as it actually is. Freedom is real. It is not
an illusion. Those
scientific materialism insist that our sense of being able to make
choices is indeed an illusion and give fancy names (soft determinism,
for example) to that proposition. Freedom is a prerequisite to morality.
If a person has no choice over his or her actions, condemning them for
those actions makes no sense. Morality is real. Murdering someone is
wrong. It is not simply a convention. But in the absence of both freedom
and a source or standard outside of the material universe, morality is
an analytical casualty. In the absence of freedom, the ability to make
moral and aesthetic choices and to love, we would not be human.
thought offers a better path. But our integrated world-view is only
dimly heard above the din of the two major warring factions. It is
incumbent on us to argue with both sides and show that there is a third
way—a way that is intellectually coherent and affirms our humanity.
Faith, freedom, and reason,
David R. Burton
American Unitarian Conference
© 2005 American Unitarian Conference™