Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Galileo Moment



About a year ago I briefly referenced the story of Galileo's confrontation with the church 'pillars' of his time. In 1633 he was called to account by the Roman Catholic Inquisition. His crime? Science.

Armed with a new telescope Galileo, observing the planets, began to promote with evidence the much earlier theory of Copernicus that the earth and other planets orbited the sun. This was a huge problem because the official church position based on the understanding of the sacred scripture at the time dictated that world and cosmos be understood differently. This inquisition declared such a view of a heliocentric solar system to be heresy. Thus a collision between science and religion.

This inquisition found Galileo suspect of heresy and it was only through a carefully reasoned argument and probably a bit of luck that he wasn't condemned. He was bid his leave with the admonition not to write of or teach his 'heresy'. Of course the church could not be seen as wavering but must have been at least a bit convicted that they could be wrong.

It doesn't take much imagination to observe a principle from this of what I'll call 'A Galileo Moment'. It might state: "Whenever religion and real observable science come into conflict religion must necessarily give way." You might be thinking this is the talk of a crazy person or even a heretic. One reason, among many others, some may feel that way is because of the falsehood that one's understanding of scripture and therefore God = the truth concerning God and scripture.

Let's face it, Galileo was right, the church eventually accepted the truth. This problem  required a new way of viewing the sacred texts. Their methods of reading and comprehending the scriptures were fundamentally wrong. Adjustments were made and were applied to this new knowledge. The danger of not doing this work is to become objectively irrelevant in a world of real things. Then any claim to having "truth" becomes a parody. The position of immovability is really fearful and willful ignorance disguised as a faith.

There are rich contributions from scientist-clerics prior to Galileo's time. Copernicus was such as these. One wonders why the very religious tradition within which such great thinking was produced would turn against those conclusions? I'll leave that question for someone else to think about.

Consider the following juxtaposition:

a) The sheer volume and mass of scientific discovery and progress since the time of these men from at least the early 1600's is mind boggling. Though amazingly much of it has occurred in our lifetimes and is continuing at an exponential rate.

b) The relative non-progress of religious thought over the same time frame. With only few and limited exceptions and no substantive fundamental shifts, or what would most accurately be called 'repentance'. (Some traditions are even retreating back into archaic religion-just check the news from the middle east and in fact all of Europe-though for different reasons).

I believe that in light of the exponential pace in the growth of scientific knowledge, and the relative retardation of religious thought we are fast approaching a Galileo Moment in our own time. There will be a crumbling of walls once thought impregnable.

What is the response of much of our religion in the face of this rapid change? Acquire sand-insert head. We must be able to move away from believing certain ideas about religion and our sacred texts that may ultimately turn out to be, as in the minds of Galileo's interlocutors, superstition. Two primary ways I see this evolution of knowledge working out are:

1) Those who will not repent (change their thinking) will find they have become completely irrelevant to the world and the Kingdom of God within it all the while being deluded into thinking they are part of some sort of remnant or other foolishness. Simultaneously being marginalized while marginalizing the rest of humanity; Failing Jesus' call.
2) Others will concede the reality of what is, i.e. pull their head out of the sand, but they will forsake their faith lamenting that they were all along lied to by their self-proclaimed shepherds; Those who employ "Old MacDonald" theology: Here a verse, There a verse, Everywhere a verse, verse and foolishly try to construct some sort of reasoned model for life. If life's problems were nails this sort of theological thinking would not be a hammer, but a banana.


So what to do? Own your faith. Use your mind. Fear not! It is not thought and reason, but certainty, that is the enemy of faith. Don't be afraid of the journey turned adventure. God is good.

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