This I Believe: Kirk Cobb (2007)

“This I Believe”– as presented at the White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church, Mahtomedi, Minnesota, Nov-18-2007


Kirk Cobb’s biographical sketch (as read by Jerry Yanz, 9 AM service, and Gloria Ferguson, 11 AM service, during the speaker introduction:


“Kirk Cobb grew up in a small rural town in Ohio with his twin brother and 2 older siblings. The family attended a Lutheran church a mile up the road.


While reading a book on comparative religions in high school, Kirk immediately connected to Unitarianism, where, it was advertised: “reason and religion meet”.


When Kirk was studying chemical engineering at Ohio University in 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio was so polluted it caught on fire – quite a lesson for a chemical engineering student at the time.

Kirk has worked as a chemical engineer for the past 34 years, most of those years in Savannah, Georgia working for the chemical division of a large paper company.

During the late 1990s as the Religious Right continued to get stronger and more vocal, Kirk finally decided it was time to support a Unitarian Church, and joined the UU Church of Savannah.  He remained an active member for 5 years, served on the church board – and as chairman of the property committee for 2 years he worked hard to keep a 150-year old, pre-Civil War brick building, in good structural condition.

When the paper company in Savannah was gobbled up by a hostile corporate take-over, Kirk and Holly decided, after 26 years, it was time to leave the sultry South and return to the mid-west.  Kirk now applies his experience processing pine oil, to processing rendered oils into biodiesel fuel.


Kirk and his wife, Holly, have one son, Patrick.


Please welcome, Kirk Cobb.”







1) Opening paragraph:  Over the past month I have edited and re-written these 2 ½ pages countless times; I am exhausted by this writing process, more than I could have imagined. Victoria, you do this nearly every week. I am humbled by what you do.  I realized a few days ago, that I have the honor of being the first person to present “This I Believe” in this new sanctuary. It is my hope that the ideas I have to offer today are worthy of this occasion.






First, a reading from the book“The Discoverers”– by Daniel J. Boorstin:


Santorio ….. was born in Venice, Italy in 1561….he attended the University of Padua….and received his medical degree in 1582……  Santorio believed, quite correctly, that he had invented a new branch of medicine, which he called “Static Medicine”.   The health of a body….at that time….was considered to be…..the proper balance of its “humors”……or body fluids…..Disease therefore was an imbalance between what the body……consumed and what the body rejected……. Doctor Santorio set himself the task of studying this equilibrium.  It proved to be both difficult and unpleasant, for it meant measuring everything that came into or out of his body.  For this purpose he constructed his “static chair”…He weighed … everything that went in and out, and he noted all the variations.


Typical of Doctor Santorio’s findings:


VI.   If “8 pounds”of food and drink are taken in one day, the quantity that usually goes off by “Insensible Perspiration” …….is “5 pounds”….


For clarification: of the 8 pounds of food and drink going IN, only 3 pounds could be accounted for coming OUT; the other 5 pounds could not be accounted for – Santorio referred to this unaccounted weight as “insensible perspiration.”


The science of “Static Medicine” had only begun……and Santorio’s weighing chair was carrying physicians into new unknowns.


What had Santorio discovered?  What was the unaccounted for material?






2) Old Process Engineer  – Now, keep in mind, that I am an old “chemical process engineer” so everything to me looks like a “process”.  To define a “process” things go “IN” get changed, and they come “OUT” different. Take animal lard, add caustic – what do you get? – hand soap; add corn meal, molasis, sterilize with steam, add a mold or fungus, blow air thru it, what do you get? –  penicillin antibiotic.  I believe – that soaps and detergents have prevented more disease than all the antibiotics have ever cured.  A farmer plants a seed; it absorbs minerals and water from the earth; carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; sunlight powers the seed’s process to convert water and CO2 into sugars and oxygen, some of the sugars are converted to starch or cellulosic fiber. The farmer harvests the growing plant – we gain food to eat, fiber to build our homes and weave our clothing, biomass for fuel – this process is older than human history, a magnificent, sacred process – photosynthesis.


Ideas get processed too. People come together, share ideas, and create new forms of Government! This “church” is a process…people come IN; we get processed by the ideas we share, and we go out changed.  The analogy of “process” has many meanings. We are in fact, part of a “magnificent” process – the “Universe” which has created us, and of which we are a part!


3)  The Process– Modern astronomers teach us – if a cloud of gaseous hydrogen is massive enough, a star is born – as nuclear fusion converts hydrogen to helium, releasing tremendous amounts of energy. When it is nearly burned out, it collapses on itself, then explodes as a super-nova; the remaining H & He fuse into larger atomic nuclei, C, N, O, S, Fe, Mg in fact 89 new chemical elements are formed.  Given the right conditions, these new elements are the precursors to life.  We truly are “children of the Universe”; the chemistry of stardust is the chemistry of us!


4)   Belief  versus Fact– As a scientific person, I like to deal with “facts”, but I do have my “beliefs” as well.  I think it is important, though, to understand the difference between the two.  A “belief” is an idea you intuitively think is true, but cannot prove. A “fact” is piece of information that is supported with absolute, concrete evidence.  From a religious standpoint, I can honestly say, that I do not “believe” in God, because, to me the existence of God is not a belief, it is a “fact”.  It’s simply a matter of definition.  The fact that we exist, that we observe that the Universe exists, confirms the “fact” that God exists!  God and the Universe; they are one and the same.  The age old question “if God created the Universe, then who created God? – needs no answer.  But when an atheist looks through a telescope and asks, “So where is God?” – He does deserve an answer.  Mr. Atheist, you’re looking at IT!  I believe, the physical Universe is the body of God; the spirit of the Universe is the soul of God.


5)   Conscious Awareness– At first glance, the Universe appears to contain just “inanimate” materials and forces.  But we have been created byit, by the processes within it, and we are also part ofthe Universe.  We sit here today, aware of one another, and the world around us; even our mental awareness is part of this Universe.  (pause)  Since we are a part of this Universe, through our conscious awareness, then, the Universe is aware of its own existence!”  I think that is absolutely amazing!  The Universe is aware of its own existence, through us. And this is not a belief of mine; this is a fact.  Maybe we are more than just insignificant bits of dust.


6) Spiritual Guidance– For many centuries, humankind has gained great insight, wisdom, in spiritural matters from prophets – such as Moses, Buda, Jesus, Mohamed, – and in the modern times, such as – Gandhi, and Martin Luther King.  We certainly have had the benefit of learning from these previous generations, through the written word.  But, I believe there is a new “prophet” in the world today.  This new prophet is not a person; it is a “process”.  It started about 400 years ago, with people like the Italian doctor, Santorio, who revolutionized the science of medicine with his weighing chair.  Santorio could not possibly have known that we literally “burn” our food.  The human body is powered by the process of combustion. This fact would be revealed by the emerging science of chemistry over 100 years later, when carbon dioxide was discovered.  But by simply measuring what went into and out of a process, in this case the human body, Santorio began to reveal the mystery of the process within.


7) The great gift  – Now, scientists think they are pretty smart, right?  Look what WE have figured out!  Through the use of the “scientific method”humanity has learned about mathematics, physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology, medicine, psychology, environmental science, and ecology; Wow, aren’t we smart!  In fact, we are learning about the Universe itself!  But, are we so arrogant to think that we invented this method of discovery? The “scientific method” is NOT our invention.  Just as life itself is a gift to us, the “scientific method” is also a gift. Through this new prophet, the scientific method, the Universe is revealing its secrets to us.  I do believe one of the greatest forms of “worship” is to use the scientific method to discover the secrets of the Universe. And if we eventually come to understand the creative process, and the mechanisms by which life was formed, life is no less a miracle!

8)  Human spiritual growth– We are on a spiritual journey; we started many thousands of years ago.  Throughout human history, people have recognized that they are part of a greater reality of nature, of the Universe.  But peoples’ understanding, and methods of religious expression have changed with time.  There have been: the Sun worshippers of the Inca and Mayan cultures; the quest for eternal life in the pyramids of Egypt, observing astronomical cycles at Stonehenge in ancient Britain; Greek and Roman polytheism – worshiping the gods of the sky, the ocean, the sun, the mountains; appeasing the angry gods of volcanoes with human sacrifices.  These forms of ancient religious expression are now archeological curiosities. Eventually, over many centuries of time, the concept of God has evolved into the view of a single, monotheistic God of the Universe.  But, has humanity’s spiritual journey come to an end?  Have the current major religions of the world reached the peak of our spiritual adventure?  Have the last sacred texts been written?  (pause)  Our understanding of the Universe continues to change, as we collectively continue to learn.  And therefore, our forms of religious expression will continue to change, not because God is changing, but because humanity is changing, as the Universe continues to reveal its secrets to us. The current major world religions may also become archeological curiosities of future human cultures; not that the current religions are wrong or false, but that human spirituality will continue to grow to new levels of understanding.


9)  Religious Fundamentalism– I read the book, “The Battle for God” by Karen Armstrong, a few years ago.  In this book, she explains that the current rise in religious fundamentalism in the world today, is due to the insecurity that people feel, by the challenge they sense to their traditional religious values. They fear “change”. They are afraid that scientific knowledge will invalidate their religious traditions.  In defense of their traditions, fundamentalists label “science” as ungodly, pagan, infidel, sacrilegious.  But, I believe fundamentalists fail to see the spiritual and religious significance of the scientific revolution that is sweeping through the modern world today.  God is revealing the secrets of His Universe to us, through the scientific method; there is a profoundly spiritual and sacred learning process taking place in the world today.


10) The Human Ant Hill– I, too, have a fear. I fear “the Human Ant Hill”.   In a human ant hill every generation of humans would live their lives just like every other generation, like ants in an ant hill.  There would be no growth in knowledge, no development in technology, no change in spiritual understanding.  In a “human ant hill” religious dogma would demand that no one have any religious ideas except those that conform to the established dogma.  Just as religious fundamentalists fear “change”, I fear the “human ant hill”, and don’t deceive yourselves, the human ant hill exists in this world.  Instead of the human ant hill as our fate, I “believe” it is our destiny to continue to grow and learn, and that we are being guided by the scientific method, to greater understanding of ourselves and our Universe.  Human culture is evolving; technology is evolving; human spirituality is evolving; these are FACTS.  Humanity will never again be the same as it was 100 years ago, or 1,000 years ago.  And yes, the current world religions may eventually become absorbed into, or be displaced by,a “new spirituality”. Fellow UU’s  –  this “new spirituality” – I believe – It’s already here!