In conversation with a friend recently, the talk drifted towards our favourite topics of science and faith. Over the years, I have grown wary of talking about the two at the same time, as you are bound to annoy everyone while simultaneously deterring anyone from listening to the whole argument. But this recent conversation has prompted me to break down this wall; I hope you will follow the line of thought and take in the whole point.
The conversation began with a discussion around the terms we use for the symbolic meal of bread and wine at church. Coming from an unmistakeably baptist upbringing, I have always favoured the term ‘communion’. My friend, a catholic, was always used to using ‘mass’. We settled on a compromise, opting for the transliteration ‘Eucharist’. Naturally, the conversation turned to questions of symbolism, remembrance and the tricky idea of transubstantiation.
My friend was gracious enough to recognise that there was no physical transformation. I expected him to begin espousing the virtues of an appeal to the Aristotelian idea of ‘accidents’. I began to prepare my standard responses, that it’s an out-of-date philosophy with no grounding in reality, with my neat follow-up of an appeal to scientific realism to round things off. But something went wrong. He didn’t mention Aristotle or use anything resembling what I had expected. Instead, he took the scientific front foot.
His argument was roughly as follows: the blood of Jesus flowed through his veins when he handled the cup from which they drank and his hands touched the bread which was eaten. His blood vessels were already weak, as exemplified by his sweating blood later in the garden of Gethsemane. So it is likely that some small element of his blood did leach through into the wine and a few of his skin cells came from his hands onto the bread. So the first ‘Last Supper’ did have a real element of drinking his blood and eating his flesh. Yet it was in such small quantities that one could not compare it to the accusations that came from later Roman historians of cannibalism.
So far, so reasonable. But what struck me was the inference. Where else have we heard about the power of something in such negligible quantities. Well, I’m sure the title gives it away. I was astounded that I was following a line of thought that was parallel to that of homeopathy. Might it be that what we have come to think of as modern pseudoscience might actually be a rediscovery of something far more profound and actually based in reality.
My years of scientific education wanted to scream out and decry this as nonsense, but something held me back. Perhaps, because it has been a good few years since I set foot in a lab or jotted my thoughts on a giant blackboard in an empty tutorial room, I began to wonder if there might be more to science than the traditional methods to which I had grown accustomed. And you know me, if there’s one thing I’m sceptical of, it’s tradition.
It’s an unfinished enquiry, but an enticing idea. There is much to be pondered, but for now I am persuaded that it might just be worth tentatively embracing the homeopathic Eucharist.