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Words of a Fether

Opinions on Faith and Life

The Galileo Syndrome

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Anti-Catholics often cite the Galileo case as an example of the Church refusing to abandon outdated or incorrect teaching, and clinging to a “tradition.”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.

Posted 2009-05-05 under church, Bible Text, faith, Science, Science, Apologetics, allegory, galileo