Katharine Jefferts Schori

The 26th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church

Day1 Faith & Science Series: Beyond Our Knowing

February 3, 2016
Katharine Jefferts Schori

The Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, former Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, shares insights on the issue of creation and evolution and focuses on what matters eternally. This video is part of the Day1 Faith & Science in the 21st Century Series, made possible through the support of a grant by the John Templeton Foundation.


Since the Enlightenment, most of the western world has struggled with new insights coming from the scientific disciplines and what to do with their practical applications.  The church’s persecution of Galileo is one example, the Scopes trial over teaching evolution another.  When traditional ways of understanding who and what God is are challenged, human beings have often rejected those new insights.  It takes a significant shift in worldview for faithful people to reframe their theological understanding more broadly.  Yet that reframing is one aspect of repentance, turning toward God as the center of existence, rather than ourselves and our necessarily limited understandings.  It’s also part of the history of God’s ongoing relationship with humanity recorded in the Bible.  We see it in Jesus,’ and later his followers’, growing understanding that his message is for all people, Gentiles as well as Jews.

The Abrahamic traditions all challenge us to recognize that the fullness of God is ultimately beyond our knowing.  The most we can hope to do is to learn from generations of the faithful, to recognize God’s presence and action in human lives, and to keep growing in our capacity to know that God is both transcendent (ultimately beyond our knowing) and immanent (yet also present in our every breath and interaction).

The assertion that creation literally happened in six days, and that its origin could be dated to about 4000 years ago, is very recent.  Like a number of his contemporaries, including Isaac Newton, Archbishop James Ussher did serious historical research, and with inferences from biblical texts, in the 1650s asserted that creation began at “nightfall, 22 October 4004 BC.”  He was using the best data of his day to attempt to harmonize a religious and a scientific view of the way things are.  Yet our understanding of science, archaeology, and many of the other fields Ussher drew on have moved beyond what he knew.  The static use of centuries-old information underlies controversies over teaching evolution and the relationship of science and religion in many public conversations today.

Yet, if we believe that our ability to think, question, choose, and learn is a reflection of the one who has created us, it must follow that our understanding of God must also grow.  We may never understand fully in this life – as Paul says, we can only see dim reflections – but the journey Jesus calls us to includes a growing relationship with the one he calls “Abba.”  Jesus shows us that restless pursuit, and that it does not end, even in the grave.


The Day1 Faith & Science Series project was made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in these documents are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.


Bishop Jefferts Schori


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