This is #4 in a series of posts looking at the 26 Christian Science Weekly Bible Lesson subjects, chosen by Mary Baker Eddy, and rotated twice per year. These lessons are the sermon at each Christian Science church worldwide, and are read by Christian Scientists daily. Today’s subject is “Is the Universe, Including Man, Evolved by Atomic Force?”. Look for other posts in the category “Lesson Sermon Subjects“.
Some Christian Scientists like to say that Mary Baker Eddy was far ahead of her time in even talking or thinking about atomic force, and perhaps to some degree she was, but simple research on the subject of atoms on Wikipedia, yields the fact that the idea or concept of atoms has been around for millennia, at least in a philosophical sense, to explain matter and its constructs; and the current concept of an atom, with its components (nucleus and electrons) came about through experimentation and observation through the mid to late 19th century, into the early 20th century, contemporaneous to Mary Baker Eddy’s life and her supposed “discovery” of Christian Science. The very familiar Rutherford model of the atom came about in 1911, based on experiments begun in 1909. Even the still considered-to-be-cutting edge concept of quantum physics has its initial roots in the observations and theory of Neils Bohr in 1913, just three years after Eddy’s death. So, Eddy was not really ahead of her time, she was very much abreast of her time, and she was known to be a well-read and intellectually curious person, so I have no doubt she was well aware of these developments in the world of physics.
This is probably the one Bible Lesson subject that best shows off the intellectual/academic/scientific veneer of Christian Science. I remember a friend of my parents, who was not a Christian Scientist, remarking once that of any religion he had observed or experienced, Christian Science was the most intellectual. That was a reason he found it somewhat intriguing. Yes, Christian Science is, to some degree, quite intellectual. I say that because to understand Christian Science, one has to have an ability in “mental gymnastics” that a highly academic background would usually give you. It requires of its followers a faith in, and and understanding of, extremely esoteric and abstract concepts. Most Christian Scientists I knew had post-secondary degrees. Try the simple exercise of believing wholeheartedly that matter (everything around you that you see, hear, feel, and smell–your body included) is not real, but rather a massive illusion put upon you by something called mortal mind; just try that for a few seconds. How did you do? Probably not so well. I never did well myself, and I was in this faith for 40 years. This concept, by the way, is a bedrock concept in Christian Science. Virtually all of its teachings rest upon this one basic concept: matter is not real. This is also why, as I have come to see it, Christian Science is completely false. Matter is real; it is very real. So is sickness, and death–two other things that are unreal, according to the teachings of Christian Science. False as it is, Christian Science can, to a casual academic observer, seem like an interesting intellectual and/or philosophical exercise.
Christian Science also considers itself a science and tries to act somewhat scientific, yet it really isn’t. Real science is quantifiable, and does not shy away from critical analysis–two things Christian Science runs from like a cockroach when the light is turned on. Eddy is famous for peppering her writings, especially her seminal work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, with unverifiable anecdotes that use the language or put on the appearance of science. One of the most well-known is an account purportedly published in the British medical journal called The Lancet. In this account, Eddy talks of a woman who was, “Disappointed in love in her early years…” and went insane, apparently losing all concept of time, and therefore not aging physically (p. 245). Repeated searches of issues of The Lancet from and before Eddy’s time, all the way back to its first issue, by various researchers have thus far turned up nothing resembling this account, and as with other similar anecdotes in Eddy’s writings, there are no footnotes. A proper academic publication, especially one that cites information previously published by others, would have extensive footnotes so that everything can be verified. Real science is verifiable. To my memory, there are none in any of Eddy’s writings and she offers up many anecdotes that in any reputable publication would be footnoted. She glaringly fails in this one basic academic/scientific area.
Continuing to cloak itself in the veneer of scientific and academic acceptability, Christian Science also calls itself a viable form of alternate health care that should be covered by medical insurance, and supports this claim with “over 80,000” verified healings published over the past 130 years in the various periodicals of the Christian Science Publishing Society.1 The verifications consist of the submission, by the testifier, of the names and contact information for three people who “…know you well and have either witnessed the healing or can vouch for your integrity in sharing it.”2 That’s all! No submission of any sort of diagnostic proof that the testifier was even suffering from the actual disease they claimed to be suffering from. Many testimonies are titled “Healed From Symptoms of [insert name of disease here].” Just putting in that little word “symptoms” is the proverbial “get out of jail free card” and makes it seem credible. You’re not saying you had the particular disease in question, just that it seemed like you did. Likely, most testifiers were not actually suffering from the disease they thought they were suffering from. For instance, I have had an e-mail exchange with a fellow ex-Christian Scientist who has very recently left Christian Science largely because he discovered that he and his Christian Science practitioner (who was also a Teacher of Christian Science) were praying about a serious medical condition that it turned out he did not have. They both thought it was one particular ailment, as his symptoms were strongly indicative of that ailment and they prayed about it. When he did not find relief through Christian Science treatment, he went to see a medical doctor. The medical diagnosis turned out to be something completely different and far less serious. His suffering was quickly alleviated through routine medical treatment and the condition was healed.
One can think they have a particular condition, but without the years of training a physician undergoes, and the scientific testing that is only available to physicians; self-diagnosis is highly unreliable, as many different diseases have similar symptoms. However, published testimonies in the Christian Science periodicals are filled with self-diagnoses and most who read “Healed of Symptoms of Diabetes”, for instance, will truly believe that the person was healed of diabetes, when in fact, it could have been some other far less serious condition that merely corrected itself via the immune system, or a change in diet and lifestyle.
Now, a Christian Science-affiliated college (Principia College) is starting up an “Institute for the Metaphysics of Physics“.3 I’ll let that one sit with you for a few minutes. Once again, Christian Science is trying to be an actual science; it is putting on its academic/scientific veneer. Quantum physics is an area of physics that is difficult to wrap one’s head around, because the mathematical formulas are abstract, yet it is often hijacked by new-age practitioners as some sort of magical bridge between the real and natural and the supernatural, when at its basic level, all it is is a branch of physics that deals with physical phenomena at a microscopic level. There just happen to be some aspects of quantum physics that look magical. I have done some layman’s reading on the subject, and I haven’t seen enough to convince me that metaphysics and quantum physics have much in common, and to my knowledge most mainstream scientists are of a similar opinion. For one, metaphysics is a philosophy (as is Christian Science), physics is a science. Not that philosophy and science cannot and never should interact, but great care should be taken in blurring the lines. A guest writer has written an excellent and very well-reasoned post about Principia College’s new initiative on Kindism. I encourage you to give it a read. The writer is a former technical writer.
I guarantee you, nothing would bring more joy to Christian Scientists than to discover that somehow quantum physics validates Mary Baker Eddy’s teachings and philosophy. It tantalizes the metaphysicians, yes; it used to tantalize me in a similar way. I have sometimes heard quantum physicists referred to as “reluctant metaphysicians”. If they are such, I pray they remain so. A skeptical mind will always seek the truth and will be satisfied with nothing less; thus if the claim of a connection between quantum physics and the ideas of metaphysics ever does emerge, there will be credibility to the claim. Quantum physics is abstract in many ways, sometimes results of experiments are affected by the mere fact that they are observed, and this is a concept that the metaphysics folks grab on to like a vice grip. If Principia College’s new institute is willing to be a truly scientific endeavour, and subject itself to the rigours of academic and scientific scrutiny, perhaps it will succeed in proving a connection between the metaphysical and the physical.
I am of the belief that there are many possibilities out there in the universe, including the possibility that there are unseen actions and connections on the quantum level or in other ways that may seem to us to be supernatural, but I will always seek proof until I believe in its reality. Until then, it is all tantalizing to me, yes, but while I might take my mind and imagination out for walks in the clouds, I always keep my feet firmly rooted in fact and truth.
Open mindedness is a quality I hold near and dear, and I think it is something we should all cultivate. I have seen too many closed minds on all sides of the religious/spiritual/atheist/science debate, and I find closed-mindedness in any aspect on any side to be detrimental to progress. I think imagination is a huge part of scientific discovery; it pushes the mind to think of limitless possibilities, and to subsequently explore the reality, or perhaps discover the unreality of those possibilities. However, I do not believe in the supernatural. Everything that is real and true has a rational explanation behind it. We just need to seek it out, and irrefutable proof must back it up. If ghosts exist, then there is a rational explanation for their existence. I think it is the height of human/scientific arrogance to think that we know or ever will know everything.
Yes, Christian Science does wear the clothes of intellectualism and science, and it does, in my opinion, require the elasticity of an academically trained mind to begin an attempt to understand it. But, like all other religions, it is a philosophy, an idea–albeit a complex one; it is not a science, much as it claims to be. Perhaps one might consider it to be a form of alternative health care, although unlike most other forms of alternative health care such as acupuncture, chiropractic, or naturopathic care, Christian Science does not subject itself to even the most rudimentary forms of professional licensure or accountability, and while most other forms of alternative health care do subject themselves to outside scrutiny, Christian Science vigorously avoids it. So, take Christian Science as it truly is: an interesting philosophy, a religion, or even perhaps a form of alternative health care (I strongly recommend caution in thinking of it as a form of health care–use it at your own risk, and trust me, there are monumental risks that Christian Scientists will never tell you about). But, don’t call it a science, because it isn’t one.
So, is the universe, including man, evolved by atomic force? The Christian Scientist will probably say ‘no’, that an intelligent, invisible, outside deity thought it all into being, as described in the first chapter of Genesis. I say ‘yes’. There is plenty of scientific evidence to back up the idea that the actions of atoms form the basis of what we see and experience, and the theory of evolution holds up well as an explanation for life as it appears on our little blue marble. I do not accept the veracity of a collection of tribal legends, that has been translated and re-translated many times, and heavily edited to suit the political whims of history, whose source documents are largely lost to the mists of time. The Bible is not the infallible word of God, if there even is a God.
1 “Firsthand experiences of healing”. Christian Science. The Christian Science Board of Directors. n.d. Web. 22 December 2013. <http://christianscience.com/prayer-and-health/firsthand-experiences-of-healing>
2 “Testimony Guidelines”. Christian Science JSH-Online. The Christian Science Publishing Society. n.d. Web. 22 December 2013. <http://jsh.christianscience.com/submit/testimony-guidelines>
3 “Institute for the Metaphysics of Physics Launches”. Principia Wire. The Principia. 5 December 2013. Web. 5 January 2014. <http://www.principiawire.com/2013/12/institute-for-the-metaphysics-of-physics-launches/>