Opinions on faith and life

The Galileo Syndrome

2009-05-05

When Galileo proposed that it was the sun, not the earth, that was the center of the solar system, the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) vehemently opposed the idea. Looking back on this, some now say that because “the church” has been wrong in the past about some scientific issues, then either (a) Christianity is anti-science, or (b) the Bible is meant to be taken allegorically, and therefore we can interpret the whole Bible that way. But there is an important fact overlooked in this incident:

Anti-Catholics often cite the Galileo case as an example of the Church refusing to abandon outdated or incorrect teaching, and clinging to a “tradition.” They fail to realize that the judges who presided over Galileo’s case were not the only people who held to a geocentric view of the universe. It was the received view among scientists at the time. (source, emphasis mine)

So in fact this debate was not science against religious dogma, but science against scientific dogma. And what is the RCC doing today? Siding with the prevailing scientific dogma. At least she’s been consistent.

But my main focus is on (b). The lesson we should have learned in this is that “science” is not only about its strict definition (observation and experiment), but about protecting careers and reputations. And in the last few centuries, it has been dominated by those who mistake the exclusion of the supernatural as science. Naturalism, as I’ve written before, is hardly neutral. It restricts the parameters of any investigation such that all data not fitting its predictions, rather than disproving its theories as science demands, is instead explained away via abstract mathematics that become increasingly complex— much like the epicycles of Ptolemy.

So the position of the RCC in accepting evolutionism is nothing new, and neither is the effort to invent complex theories to explain the simple yet unwelcome truth. The preference of some to approach the Bible as primarily allegory may solve some problems for them, but it is overly complex in that it makes plain communication utterly impossible. An example is the book of Revelation, where literal judgment on earth is rejected a priori in favor of some very imaginative theories to explain away things like Satan being bound or the mention of the Temple in the prophecy. Another example is in redefining the days of creation in Genesis, with various theories advanced in order to bend the scriptures to what is believed to be scientific fact.

Yet we never seem to learn the lesson. We keep trying to fit scripture onto prevailing theories, no matter how complex, no matter how counter-intuitive, because we don’t want to be seen as backward or anti-science. But if it is Truth that we have, then as even unbelievers know, we’d stick to it and never change. Scripture would be interpreted on the basis of its own witness, its own interpretation, according to standard textual studies that have not changed.

Words have meanings and there are various forms of expression; these are factors which we can use to examine any given text when it is not possible to ask the author directly. If we have no objective way to determine genre, or to assign a limited range of meanings to any given word, then we are completely unable to understand any communication.

Are the words I’m typing right now meant to be taken literally or figuratively? How do you decide? You decide on the basis of rules of communication, which you cannot escape or deny because it takes rules of communication to say so! Like the saying “nothing is knowable”, we have to know something: that nothing is knowable; it’s self-contradicting. So also we must have defined methods of interpretation that are used universally, for any text, before we can hope to understand it.

The details of the approach I use, the literal - historical - grammatical, are in the page here by that name (LHG Hermeneutic). Any other method creates too many complex “epicycles” since there is no standard by which to measure them. While some think no standard is necessary, or that the idea of a standard is inferior, I would challenge them to defend that claim without appealing to the very things they say are wrong. There is simply no escaping logic and reason and analysis; that’s not just my opinion, it’s an unavoidable fact.

12 Comments

Cheryl Schatz

Good thoughts, Paula!

Paula Fether

Tanx Cheryl!

Greg Anderson

Again, the irony is grand ain’t it! How the cycles of human history repeat! Galileo had to recant his positions in order to avoid the rack (or worse).

Some Christian academics have to keep their traps shut in order to avoid being removed from tenure track or to keep their adjunct positions with their respective universities.

Is there anybody out there who seriously doubts that human history is like a sine function and that only the names and faces change?

Paula Fether

Now I’m an embarrassed geek... I’ve been thinking of it as a roller-coaster instead of a sine wave! ;-)

If only people were taught history. I’m sure most don’t know that ancient Rome had a "modern" sewer system, or that it crumbled within from corruption just like the western world is now. We are becoming more barbaric every day and soon Christians, like the main character in I Am Legend, will be the "monsters".

And doubly ironic that history should have returned to Rome in these prophetic times.

Lin

It is not just studying history either but a deep study of history because the victors write history. I ran across this when I started hearing all sorts of praise for John Knox. What I found is that religious oriented history left out quite a bit of information on Knox that is relevant to his character. Reading secular biographies not only of Knox but of characters surrounding him gave a very different picture of him.

He is being touted as a hero of the faith. With hero’s like him (plotting murder, etc) in Christendom, we are in trouble.

All of this is nothing but a return to Rome

Paula Fether

Good point to remember, "history is written by the victors." The same is true of -- dare I say it? -- King James. Nobody wants to hear the truth, and they’ll blast anyone who tries to tell them. Funny how such venom flows freely from the self-righteous.

Yes, it’s as if The Emperor of Star Wars is saying to us along with Luke, "It is you who are mistaken-- about a great many things." Or from Hoodwinked, "You’ve been hoodwinked baby!" We’ve all been taken for a very long ride. It is the nature of the worldly to seek control, so the worldly always wind up there, while those transformed by the faith have no such ambition. I marvel that any good has transpired in all of human history.

Paula Fether

Just happened to wander over to my fav creationist site, today, and they just happened to have featured a set of articles on Galileo. Peachy.

Janice

Have you ever read Arthur Koestler’s "The Sleepwalkers"? It’s all about Copernicus and Galileo and it’s fascinating.

Galileo’s problem was not with the church (at least not until after he insulted the Pope). The RC church was happy to let Galileo keep on doing what he was doing as long as he described his ideas as a working hypothesis, rather than The Truth, because at that stage he had no proof that he was right.

That was the basis of his problems with academia too. They weren’t about to abandon the model they taught until he could show that his model was superior and he couldn’t do that because he didn’t have a good enough telescope. His own character flaws were the major cause of his undoing.

I am quite sure that there were academics among that crowd who were very concerned with protecting their own careers and reputations. However, today we have the added problem that so many people, academics and non-academics alike, are also concerned with protecting a world view in which God is either non-existent or has no particular interest in us.

In relation to your point about Biblical interpretation, I have just started formal studies in theology and have had to read up on various schools of Biblical criticism. It worried me initially because I read Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict, volumes 1 and 2, years and years go. I still hate having to keep reading about J, E, P and D but I have three grounds for hope that things will be different in the future. First, as I’ve discovered, more than a few scholars are now willing, publicly, to describe the Documentary Hypothesis as fiction. Second, the failures of 19th and early 20th century Biblical scholarship have (finally) led to new, interesting and productive approaches based on the literary and rhetorical qualities of the text. Third, David Rohl’s new chronology and the evidence on which it is based, is showing that the apparent lack of evidence for the Exodus is only because people have been looking in the wrong place (time) and, therefore, the minimalist view of Israelite history (that it was made up out of whole cloth hundreds of years later) is without foundation.

Of course that doesn’t take us all the way back to creation but I’m hopeful there too. Dr John Sanford’s book Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Genome shows not only that there is no way that mutation plus natural selection can explain how every living thing could have descended from a common ancestor but also that every group of living things is heading, inexorably, for extinction. Sooner or later more and more people will hear about this and some will join the dots.

Paradigms don’t die until the leading exponents of them die or otherwise lose their ability to influence the choice of who will be the next generation of leaders in their field. What I think I see is a whole bunch of paradigms in the process of dying. I doubt I’ll live long enough to see them go defunct but I have no doubt that God is in charge and all’s well with his plan. In the meantime I will do whatever I can to encourage people to consider Christ’s claims on their loyalty and their life.

Janice

P.S.

I like your site’s new look very much. The old one was good but this is very smooth indeed.

Paula Fether

Janice,

@#9 - Thanks! You know we girls just gotta move the furniture around every so often... Besides, I saw that tab thingy for the side menu and thought it was kewl.

@#8 - Haven’t read that one but it sounds good. Yeah, I get so tired of people holding up Galileo and the RCC as somehow an excuse to either call Christians stupid or treat the Bible as allegory. And you’re right, this time it’s as much about enforcing a worldview as protecting careers.

I read Josh’s Evidence... many years ago and still consider it one of the more important books in a good Christian library. Much of the info is available online now, but for its time it was a vital resource. I agree, it’s a shame we ever had to deal with JEPD, and I too would be happy to see it all thrown in the trash where it belongs.

Good point also about prejudice in not only the history books but also archaeology and other sciences. Same goes for our Greek and Hebrew dictionaries, and it’s a high crime that especially the Greek ones have been keep almost literally in the dark ages due only to prejudice, to protecting careers.

I hope too that in spite of all the indoctrination, students and faculty alike will open their eyes and admit that evo is "the emperor’s new clothes". But then, knowing how people are, they’d likely attribute all this creation to themselves and their "God is All" worldview. Even physicists have stated that "We now know the moon is demonstrably not there when nobody looks." (source) They say that we control reality, so we must be God, and therefore the Creator.

But hey, at least evo will finally bite the dust!

And yes, we need to always remember why we’re here in the first place, to spread the gospel. This twisted, warped, evil world surely needs it. And it’s yet another indictment on those who would keep half the workers from the harvest.

Greg Anderson

Janice and Paula,

I’m surprised that Darwinism has held up under the rigor of advanced mathematics for long as it has. Euler and Gauss must be rolling over in their graves, not to mention Newton and Leibniz.

Then again, I’m not surprised, because as Paula has pointed out, much is at stake in the way of careers and of course funding.

Paula Fether

Yep. The whole thing is a showcase of how willing people are to hold happily to contradictions, and to sacrifice truth on the altar of ego.