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Conscience

“To go against conscience is neither right nor safe.”

Martin Luther

By Dr. Jim Ferguson
Perhaps it’s a bit late to talk about Independence Day, but I wanted everyone to know that Knoxville Tennessee was named the most patriotic city in the United States according to a recent USA Today poll.  I realize most polls are biased and even more troublesome is our leaders’ dependence on these often statistically flawed head counts.  However, I was intrigued that we were again number one.

I mentioned some weeks ago another poll done by the Barna Group and reported in the News Sentinel.  This national survey found Knoxville Tennessee to be the most “biblically minded” city in the country.  Without getting into statistical nuances of surveys, I come away sensing that we Knoxvillians live in an oasis of sanity and we should be very thankful.  I believe something is happening in Knoxville.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about conscience, that inner voice which guides us.  Luminaries down through the ages have mused upon this mysterious essence of humanity, as well as its origin.  Some hold that virtue (right behavior) is little more than an evolutionary strategy which promotes comity and a social order furthering our species.  However, to say that a soldier who falls on a grenade to save his comrades so that they may one day pass on their genetic heritage is a ridiculous and fallacious evolutionary argument.

I have the belief that there is an Absolute good, though I will never attain that degree of perfection.  However, because I have this standard by which to measure my thoughts and actions, I can determine what is right or virtuous, and what is not.  My conscience is where this touchstone resides and frequently intercedes in me with “groans too deep for words.”  All of us carry this spark of the Divinity within us, and we are taught how to interact with the Spirit by our parents, our community and our church.  This area should remain separate from the state.

History tells us that Jesus lived in the backwaters of the Roman Empire two thousand years ago.  The Bible and multiple other sources attest to his life, his teaching, his crucifixion and his death.  What some dispute is the reason his body disappeared from its tomb.  However, non-believers can’t explain why his followers, who had been cowering in fear after the crucifixion, suddenly reappeared in the Jerusalem Temple and risked their lives proclaiming the Gospel message and defying the authorities.  Something happened to these people that changed their lives in a way no corpse is capable of doing.  Historians say that legends take decades, if not generations, to develop.  Again, something happened and within a few years the Way of Christ spread all over the Roman world and continues to resonate with us thousands of years later.

At one point in my life I was solely a man of science.  Now, I am also a man of faith.  Once there was a prohibition against speaking of such matters in the halls of medicine.  Now, I sing of the Creator’s work that I see in a sunset or in the intricacy and wonder of thoughtful life.

As far as we can see the Universe extends, from quarks to quasars and probably beyond.  If I walk on the beach and see ripples in the sand I might conclude that tidal forces and waves crushed sea shells and piled them at the shoreline.  However, if I come upon a sandcastle I conclude that this was the work of intelligent design.  Someone once wrote that given enough time a room full of monkeys with type writers would type all the works of Shakespeare.  We recognize this as ludicrously improbable, but not impossible.  I ask you which is more likely: a Universe based on chance where Ferguson’s produce essays and monkeys duplicate Shakespeare; or a design and a Designer with a purpose and plan, though admittedly often mysterious and inscrutable.  I see the Designer at work everywhere, even in me.

I was somewhat of an underachiever in my youth.  I was more interested in sports and girls than books.  However, when I went college I buckled down and worked hard to achieve my goal.  I’ve come to realize that my education in science was inadequate, and I’ve spent the last twenty years in the humanities.  History, philosophy, art, music, poetry, literature and religion were not mentioned in medical school and internal medicine training.  This was a mistake.  Doctors without the humanities are not well rounded and may be unable to truly care for their patients.

Aristotle was a man of observational truth – in other words, a man of science.  He argued eloquently for a perspective known as causality.  This holds that I am here because of my parents, and they came into the world because of their parents.  Extrapolating backwards we come to a “first cause” that science currently understands as the Big Bang or the Genesis Point.  Genesis 1:1-2 says that before that creation moment there was nothing except the Creator.   “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”  What a beautiful and poetic description of causality.

Something happened 13.5 billion years ago and continues to happen in my heart.  Seek and listen to that inner voice and you won’t go wrong.

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