In Praise of Science and Technology

“Whatever furnishes the semblance of an idea governed by its Principle, furnishes food for thought. Through astronomy, natural history, chemistry, music, mathematics, thought passes naturally from effect back to cause… Academics of the right sort are requisite. Observation, study, and original thought are expansive and should promote the growth of mortal mind out of itself, out of all that is mortal.”

– from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy

 ***

My dad is 94 – he  was born in 1918. It’s mind-boggling for me to think about all that he’s witnessed and lived through in his life.  He was born near the end of World War I, and two years before women in the United States got the right to vote. He lived through The Great Depression, and served in World War II. He was around for the first radio broadcast, the first flight across the Atlantic, and the first “talking picture.” When he was born people used these things called phonographs to listen to music (I did, too), and typewriters to write stories (me, too!) – and if a writer made a mistake on a typewriter, she couldn’t just “delete” it – she had to type the whole *@#$%* page over again! (Yeah, the exclamation mark indicates some personal experience with this.) Toasters, yo-yos, television (we didn’t get our first TV until I was six or seven), color television (we didn’t get our first color TV until I was a teenager), duct tape, microwave ovens, Velcro, hula hoops, calculators, post-it notes, computers, personal computers, videos, phonographs, liquid paper, DVDs, CDs, i-pods, and our first launch into space and our landing on the moon have all come during Dad’s lifetime.  He is a piece of walking history. 🙂

In Prose Works (Miscellany, p. 345), we find an interesting dialogue about science and technology between Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science church, and an interviewer. The interviewer asks Eddy how she feels about the “pursuit of modern material inventions,” and Eddy replies: “Oh, we cannot oppose them. They all tend to newer, finer, more etherealized ways of living. They seek the finer essences. They light the way to the Church of Christ. We use them, we make them our figures of speech. They are preparing the way for us.”

Although I myself have sometimes considered Luddite membership – usually following a skirmish with my laptop’s recalcitrant hardware, or frustration over trying to figure out which icon to push on my new cellphone – this occasional desire to chuck my phone into the nearest river is not something that comes from my study of Christian Science.  It’s just me being me.

Christian Science is not at odds with science and technology.

In the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy writes: “The mariner will have dominion over the atmosphere and the great deep, over the fish of the sea and the fowls of the air. The astronomer will no longer look up to the stars, – he will look out from them upon the universe; and the florist will find his flower before its seed.” Eddy published her book in 1875 – almost 100 years before man landed on the moon – yet she seemed able to foretell some of the advances in science that we have come to see. Pretty cool, ay? (Piece of trivia here: The wife and the mother of Alan Shephard, the first guy NASA shot into space, were both Christian Scientists.)

My Christian Science mom (born in 1927) is huge into quantum physics. I don’t mean that she’s formally educated in it or anything (she was a music major – my dad was the one educated in the sciences – he was a geologist) – but the concepts in quantum physics absolutely fascinate her. She’s got tons of books and videos on the subject – and gets great joy from contemplating that stuff.

Unlike my mom, there are Christian Scientists who are actual physicists – and probably some of them are fascinated by the idea that the more you study matter the more you realize how little substance there actually is to it. From what I can gather most of the material world around us is actually filled with electrical fields and there’s more “space” between atoms than there is substance. So really, even from a physically scientific standpoint, matter doesn’t exist, or it hardly exists. (Sort of puts a whole new perspective on Mary Baker Eddy’s thought that matter is illusion, doesn’t it?) 🙂

I’ve often heard people separate religion and science, and talk about the two things like they are mutually exclusive. And I would agree that some religious people do seem to see science as the enemy.  Some religious folks have even gone so far as to consciously and deliberately make a war on science – and I find this appalling. (For a really enlightening read on this subject , you might check out wikipedia’s article on The Wedge Document – “The Wedge Document outlines a public relations campaign meant to sway the opinion of the public, popular media, charitable funding agencies, and public policy makers. According to critics, the wedge document, more than any other Discovery Institute project, demonstrates the Institute’s and intelligent design’s political rather than scientific purpose.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedge_strategy)

But Christian Scientists are not creationists or Intelligent Design adherents. We don’t believe the first chapters of Genesis are to be interpreted literally, and don’t believe the world was actually created in seven days and seven nights. (For more about how Christian Scientists view creation, you might want to read the chapter entitled Genesis in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.)

In the battle between religious ideology and science, Mary Baker Eddy chose science. In Prose Works, she writes: “On the startled ear of humanity rings out the iron tread of merciless invaders, putting man to the rack for his conscience, or forcing from the lips of manhood shameful confessions, – Galileo kneeling at the feet of priestcraft, and giving the lie to science.”

Mary Baker Eddy believed her discovery of Christian Science to be a scientific one, based on a provable Principle that brings healing to the world.  And, even with my own limited understanding of Christian Science, I have been able to prove – to myself – that by resting my thoughts upon this Principle (God, Love, Truth, Life), I can experience healing in a dependable and consistent way.

And I guess this brings us to medical science.

Some of the best, most honorable and intelligent people I know, are medical doctors.  They are motivated by a desire to heal the world, to use their intelligence and talents to bring wholeness and well-being to others. And I’m so glad to be able to call a number of them my “friends.”  Some of them do remarkable work for their fellow man – and it stems from their love of humanity.

But medical science is not like physics. It’s not an exact science, with dependable principles and rules. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it seems to help people, and sometimes it kills them.  Medical scientists cannot make a guarantee that their science will cure its adherents, and that it won’t harm or kill them instead.

In the interview I mentioned earlier, the reporter asks Mrs. Eddy how Christian Scientists should look on health laws of the States regarding infectious and contagious diseases. Eddy answers: “I say ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.’ …  knowing…  that the fear of catching smallpox is more dangerous than any material infection, I say: Where vaccination is compulsory, let your children be vaccinated, and see that your mind is in such a state that by your prayers vaccination will do the children no harm.” Regarding the use of drugs, Eddy says: “I was dosed with drugs until they had no effect on me. The doctors said I would live if the drugs could be made to act on me. Then homoepathy came like blessed relief to me, but I found that when I prescribed pellets without any medication they acted just the same and healed the sick.”

The drugs we see advertised on television do not seem like something any sane person would want to get tangled up with. Loss of memory, diarrhea, dry mouth, vomiting, thoughts of suicide, depression, liver damage, rashes, death – these possible side effects of drugs do not make me want to run out and get them. I know – call me loopy –  but when my health and life are on the line, I’d rather turn to the method of healing that has consistently worked for me, than some lab-tested drug  that may or may not cure me, and could possibly kill me.  Tested with the scientific method, these drugs may be – but that doesn’t guarantee they’ll work.

Medical research has shown that certain emotions – fear, anger, hate – produce chemicals that can affect your physical health:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090304091229.htm
http://psycnet.apa.org/?fa=main.doiLanding&fuseaction=showUIDAbstract&uid=2000-13324-011

– and I think this research on the mind-body connection correlates well to the teachings of Christian Science which include the belief that our state of mind determines our human experience. On the first website I listed above, the research indicates that your emotions play an even bigger role than having basic needs. If I were a medical doctor I think  this is the kind of research I’d be interested in studying further. I’d be studying to learn why a placebo is often as effective as the actual drug, and looking into the connection between a person’s thoughts and emotions and their physical health.

Is Christian Science an enemy of science? Nay, nada, nope. Is Christian Science a science? Well, I guess all I can say about that is that in my own personal experience it has provided me with reliable, consistent, dependable results time after time.

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