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President's Letter 6/2006


Dear American Unitarian:

One of the things about our Unitarian faith about which I am constantly grateful is its longstanding insistence that faith in God and reason are perfectly compatible and that indeed both are necessary to have a complete and accurate understanding of the world in which we live.

We reject various religious fundamentalisms which take as their starting point various interpretations of various written revelations from God (the Torah, the New Testament, the Qur'an or other scriptures) and are perfectly willing to reject rational criticism and scientific findings that are inconsistent with their interpretation of their particular scriptures,

The subject of this letter, however, is another kind of intolerant absolutism. We American Unitarians also reject the “scientific” materialist atheist view expressed by some scientists, various “humanist” philosophers and various Western totalitarian political philosophies. The recent book by Richard Dawkins entitled /The God Delusion/ is a case in point. These intolerant atheists seem to think that by debunking the obvious failures of orthodox religion they have somehow proven the truth of atheism. They write and act as if anyone who has a faith in God is a rube. I cannot go into detail about the many non sequiturs in these arguments here.

Generally, however, those holding this point of view are not honest with their readership and sometimes not honest with themselves about some very important points. First, to reject the God hypothesis is unscientific. The Universe cannot have existed forever. Both the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the cosmological calculations of physics tell us that. The Universe had a beginning and science cannot, even in principle, explain why or how. A transcendent God is the best answer – for many reasons.

Then there are the details in the scientific narrative that are not really details. They are, in fact, suppositions not unlike religious miracles. These “details” are times when science doesn't work unless the rules are bent. The Big Bang itself violates the known laws of physics since anything as massive as the Universe and as small as the early Universe would remain a singularity (a Black Hole) and collapse in on itself rather than expanding. Hawking radiation, perhaps, may allow for the gradual evaporation of a Black Hole but is not an explanation for the Big Bang. Then there is the fact that for our current physical theories' math to work, physics has to posit that approximately 90 percent of the Universe is Dark Matter or Dark Energy that we cannot see or interact with. If we can't observe it or experimentally prove it exists, that usually means science would reject it but not in this case.

Then there is the fact that for the universe to be as it is (relatively uniform but not perfectly uniform), the Big Bang math doesn't work unless there is posited an “inflationary period” where the universe expanded for a brief period faster than the speed of light. The speed of light, however, is a well known cosmic speed limit and traveling faster than that leads to all kinds of paradoxes and is a violation of the known laws of physics. And so on. All of this is by way of saying that scientific claims to have it all figured out need to be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Science did not used to make moral claims for the scientific method. More recently, however, some scientists are trying to argue that morality is a function of evolution, that various competing moral systems will enhance or detract from groups' ability to survive and that the superior morality, presumably, is that which enhances Darwinian survival chances. That is a long way from a morality based on love of God and love of neighbor. Free will and morality as normally understood are casualties of a worldview (whether scientific or Calvinist) that regards the future as either determined or random. If people have no choice over their actions, it makes no more sense to regard their actions as either praiseworthy or blameworthy than it does to attach moral import to the weather. Neither do the concepts of love or beauty survive a deterministic worldview. In fact, our humanity is a casualty of the atheist “humanist” worldview.

If, however, we introduce God, transcendent, the creator of the Universe and an immanent God (the Holy Spirit in traditional terms) that lies within us and is the basis for our humanity, the basis of our freedom, of morality, of love and of beauty, then the Universe makes sense. We can then have an understanding of the Universe which both preserves scientific truth and our humanity.

Our faith provides us with a wide variety of critical tools to understand the world in which we live and to put together an understanding of that world that neither sacrifices truth nor our humanity. We should treasure it.

May God’s love be with you always.

David R. Burton

AUC President




© 2006 American Unitarian Conference