To overcome such reductionism we must first acknowledge a distinction between the scientific method and the philosophy of naturalism (a.k.a. materialism or atheism). The two do not necessarily have to go together. One indication of this is that a growing body of scholars now recognize that the scientific method, as we know it, originated in the Christian culture of the Middle Ages.* Nevertheless, as in the above mentioned biology text, many folks continue to identify "science" with naturalism. G.K. Chesterton pointed out the problem with this identification. Materialism, he says, gives a plausible explanation of "everything," but it does so by leaving out everything important.**
The philosophic naturalist is like the man who wants to see what lies below the earth's surface. He gets the best tools available and starts digging. Turning over soil he finds tiny animals which he begins to analyze. Soon he hits bedrock. Unable to go further he concludes all that exists "below the surface" is dirt, vermin and parasites. Nevertheless, beyond the bedrock lies something else - the subterranean fire. This he could have discovered not only by powerful drilling, but because of certain manifestations: hot springs, geysers and volcanoes.
In giving this comparison, I do not mean to downplay the efforts of working scientists. Rather I offer an analogy to illustrate that the "bottom line" of reality might not be what it first seems.
This Sunday's Old Testament lesson refers to a mysterious Being who speaks to Moses "out of the midst of the fire." (Deut. 4:33) Here we have a hint about what is below the surface. The New Testament brings it out more explicitly. In contrast with other religious leaders Jesus doesn't spend much time moralizing. Instead he talks about the relationship he has with "the Father" and that, amazingly, we can get in on it. In saying this I know some will picture Jesus as a guru who helps us get in touch with the "God within." Nothing could be more antithetical to Jesus' mission than pantheism. No, he offers what he alone possesses - since before the foundation of the world. This Father-Son dynamic is the origin and goal of human existence, indeed the universe itself. The word used to describe their relationship is love - much more than a profound emotion, a distinct divine person.
We get a glimpse of God's inner life because he chose to reveal himself to us. The Bible uses human language which tho inadequate, faithfully expresses Jesus' great revelation. We employ the word Trinity ("threeness") to describe that inner life. It may come as a surprise that the precise word apprears nowhere in the Bible. Still it succinctly sums up biblical teaching; it proved its value value during the great controversies of the early Church.
Almost all Christians today accept the doctrine of the Trinity. That acceptance distinguishes orthodox Christians from the heterodox - Mormons, Witnesses and now "feminist" Christians. The Church Fathers expressed the doctrine this way: The Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, but there are not three gods but one God.
Another formulation says, "The Father is almighty, the Son is almighty, the Holy Spirit is almighty, but there are not three almighties, but one Almighty." You get the idea. Everything we can say of the Father, we can also say of the Son and Holy Spirit - except for their relations to each other.*** Jesus is the Son precisely because of his relation to the Father:
They are so closely related that Jesus can say, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father." (John 14:9)
This mystery, the foundation of all reality, has shown itself. In today’s Gospel the Risen Jesus instructs his apostles to go out and make disciples "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." To return to the original comparison, baptism is like the subterranean fire bursting thru the surface hardness and grime. The question for us this Trinity Sunday is whether we remain on the surface of things or chose to join ourselves to that foundational reality.
*For more information, see The Middle Ages and the Birth of Science or consult The Road of Science and the Ways to God by Stanley L. Jaki.
**For a list of what naturalism leaves out, please see my review of Reason in the Balance
***That, by the way, is why we cannot sign ourselves "In the name of the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier," or other formulae which focus on activity rather than relationship.
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C