As a matter of fact, the way of approaching knowledge by the religious authorities is manly based on axioms, fixed or rigid propositions, which are pronouncements not proven in any way, and which are accepted as truth through human agreement, by vote of a majority in a Church Counsel or Synod. The “truths” of religious dogmas have come sometimes with the force of a majority led by strategic interests, and aren’t based on direct observation and analysis of the phenomena but on statements of belief and canons of doctrinal faith.
Real knowledge comes in time, and is in evolution, and we cannot imprison all knowledge about God within the confines of some old dogma or religious doctrines based on ancient biblical texts. For this reason, I maintain that the knowledge of God is sometimes better reached through scientific research, through the knowledge of nature, than by the reiteration of the same religious propositions. The universe looks more complicated than ever, and precisely this multidimensionality points towards the possibility for the existence of an extremely complex and generous Reality infinite in space and time.
The narratives of the Bible are not to be blamed for trying to replace real knowledge with false information because at the time they were written such real knowledge didn’t exist.
In the context of the history of sciences, revelation about the origins of the universe didn’t compete with real knowledge; they are the product of a very different historical epoch and, from the point of view of information contained, the narratives of creation from the book of Genesis reflects the level of pre-scientific cosmology available in that historical epoch. They speak the same pre-scientific language as other non-Jewish sources, which tried to bring light to the mysteries of the origins around 2,500-3,000 years ago or more. That is another clue which leads to the conclusion that this revelation doesn’t present the superior knowledge of God about the universe but rather the average human knowledge at the time.
Scientific explanations are qualitatively superior to the imposition through the religious authority of certain dogma about the cosmos, precisely because they are based on continuous research for truth and incessant progress and not on religious authority. The latter pretend to possess a certain knowledge which was given to it once and for all. Faith and science can go together undisrupted but science and authority usually cannot befriend each other just because authority is by definition conservative and against change and science is, in its essence, the knowledge of things in change. Authority wants to keep what it has, but science disputes all that is.
Historically speaking, the competition between revelation and sciences emerged only when the development of modern sciences gained momentum. Real scientific knowledge was prohibited for a while by the religious clergy, who sustained the so-called revelation from the book of Genesis and a battle had been waged between progress and resistance to it. Notwithstanding, what was thought to be revelation from the book of Genesis has been step by step swept away by systematic human knowledge in spite of the power of the forces sustaining its permanence.
Some religious functionaries, representatives of religious institutions, tried, in the past, to impose their spiritual convictions on believers but, by not allowing any alternative to their cosmological or anthropological views, they have in fact unwillingly disclosed an incredible vulnerability. This fragility was demonstrated by trying to replace a critical analysis with spiritual authority. In time, what was based only on authority but not open for debate suffered defeat.
On the other side, no scientific discovery can be foisted on society and no authority can sustain obligatory scientific theories, and never did.
Are the newest discoveries of modern sciences prohibiting the possibility of the existence of God? Of course, they are not. The sciences cannot prove a negative fact, the inexistence of God, in any way. I think that whoever tries to “demonstrate” that God doesn’t exist on the basis of scientific facts is doomed to failure. If God’s existence cannot be proved or disproved scientifically it seems that this is a matter only for faith.
What the science can prove is that the narratives of creation from the book of Genesis don’t reflect reality, hence they cannot be trusted as the explanation for the apparition of the universe and of humankind. In this situation, God didn’t create the universe as the book of Genesis says and He isn’t correctly described by the first chapters of the Bible. When one rejects the book of Genesis God becomes even more mysterious and the understanding of His nature becomes very important. Dogmatic faith doesn’t explain God anymore and every believer needs to have his or her own personal vision about Him.
Knowledge of God through the study of nature is only the understanding of the possibility of His existence mediated by the knowledge of nature. A more advanced experience with God happens when He dwells in a particular human being and inside his or her consciousness, and the encounter between God and the human being takes place.
In the same time, before believing something one needs arguments for his or her belief or disbelief and all these arguments give the rationality of the faith. Faith is based on reasons because none can believe or refuse to believe anything without good motivation.
Does the Bible contain enough information, in the first two chapters of it, to make sense of the origins of the universe? I would answer negatively to this question because on just two pages of the book of Genesis, which contain contradictory texts and also which negate all basic human experience, it would be impossible to tell the whole story of the origins of the universe. The book of Genesis can be at the most an allegorical way to transmit a certain message, and it is not at all a book of science.
How credible are the narratives from the book of Genesis in our days, when astrophysics, quantum physics or genetics took their rightful place? Is there anyone left to believe that, at a certain moment in time, in the process of the creation of the earth, our planet was alone in cosmos, being the first created and wandering in complete isolation under the eyes of God for three days? This description is an unreasonable proposition.
Anyone can remember, from historical accounts, that, for a long period of time, the institution of the Church defended the belief that the earth is in the centre of the universe and the sun and all other celestial bodies are gravitating around it.
The Church didn’t yield to this position until it was forced to do so, by strong scientific arguments. How can anyone trust, any more, the interpretations given by the classical theist commentators, to the book of Genesis? It isn’t that the representatives of the Church made a mistake in the way in which they understood the dynamic of the solar system. The interpretation given by the clergy to the Bible was determined by what the book of Genesis and other biblical texts state about the earth, sun, moon, and stars. That interpretation was based on a myth in which the earth was created first, before the celestial bodies, and all the latter were set in place only in the service of our planet. Of course, that seems to mean that the earth is in the centre of the universe and all the cosmos gravitate around it. The description of the universe by the Bible being wrong, all interpretations based on it cannot be other than false.
Based on the Bible, for a long period of time the explanations given by organised religion to cosmological problems were wrong and the Roman Catholic Church not too long ago conceded that its cosmological views were incorrect. Nevertheless, many commentators of the Bible representing many Christian denominations continue to trust and to promote a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis. What must happen to persuade them to reconsider their positions? Such a literal interpretation was the cause for the misunderstanding of the functioning of the solar system. The geocentric theory has been adopted by the Church which endorsed it with all its spiritual authority in spite of its fundamental error:
“The early Greeks observed the sky and all that it contained. From their observations, the Greeks believed the Earth was the centre of the moon, Sun, and the only known planets at that time, Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter. These planets were said to be moving around Earth in a clockwise direction. They believed the Earth was motionless, because no one felt the Earth moving. The stars appeared to move around the Earth daily, further convincing them of this theory, which became known as geocentric or Earth-centred. The Greeks had a basic understanding of geometry and trigonometry, which lead them to conclude that fast moving objects were closer to the Earth than slower moving objects. Around 140 A.D., Claudius Ptolemy wrote thirteen volumes on the motion of the planets, and put the geocentric theory in its finest form.”
With the book of Genesis at their disposal the representatives of the Church sustained Ptolemy’s theory and were ready to declare as heretic everyone who dared to reckon otherwise. This was not a coincidence. The book of Genesis is conceived in a way that not only permits, but also privileges the interpretation of the cosmos given by Ptolemy.
How can anyone trust the present endorsement of the Church for the book of Genesis if it clearly had interpreted it so wrong in the past? Placing so much weight behind the geocentric theory, the Church has compromised any credibility of its interpretation of the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis. Reading the book of Genesis from the Bible, one can easily notice an incredible resemblance between what Greeks thought about the universe and the record of the Bible. Why could that be? In my opinion, it is obvious that the narratives from the book of Genesis reflects the level of knowledge of the ancient time when the book was written, and isn’t at all a form of “high science” or a “science from above”, which bears the secrets of the universe transmitted to humankind through revelation.
The narratives of creation from the Bible are not at all a kind of an extraordinary knowledge, very exact and carefully descriptive, but a pre-scientific explanation of the origins of the universe, usual for that historical time, and it is in accordance with some similar explanations given by the Greeks. Both explanations have the earth in the centre of the universe, given its importance for humankind.
This earth-centricity is a direct effect of the narrowness and the limited view of humankind about the universe.
From that time on, until our days, the universe became bigger and bigger, due to the improvement of instruments of observation and the accumulation a scientific data. Nevertheless, for a divine discovery one would expect that the record of creation from the Bible to be ahead of its time and to convey a much more advanced knowledge.
Why was the empirical science of the universe embraced so much by the Christian religion? Probably just because religion in reality needs science, or it was felt at the time that it needed it in order to strengthen and legitimise its minute record of creation. To me, the adoption of the Greek science in the intimate corpus of dogma, by the Christian religion, shows the insufficiencies of the biblical record as an explicit model of the universe. If the biblical record was a quasi-comprehensive story of creation and didn’t leave anything unclear, the demand for extra biblical explanations would have been less obvious.
The association between religion and science wasn’t always a happy one. While in the Middle Ages thinkers like Thomas Aquinas embraced strongly the Aristotelian theory of the universe and through this helped the promotion of the Greek scientific thought, later on, at the dawn of the development of sciences and particularly of astronomy, the relationship between science and Christian religion became more problematic. The Greek philosophy with its scientific offshoots which once was acceptable and useful in order to sustain the religious doctrines, in time became unacceptable when it was obvious that science is no longer subservient to religion.
The victims, who died on “the altar of truth”, are well known and I would remember Giordano Bruno. He was an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. His cosmological theories went beyond the Copernican model in proposing that the sun was essentially a star, and moreover, that the universe contained an infinite number of inhabited worlds populated by other intelligent beings.
I also would propose for recollection the treatments applied to Copernicus and Galileo Galilee by the official Church, which by themselves show how far astray the stories contained by the book of Genesis can lead someone. One would say that the stories from the book of Genesis concerning the creation of the world are not directly responsible for the clerical abuses but they were the direct source of documentation and ideological support for such religious behaviour.
The Roman Catholic Church was not the only enemy of science but, based on the stories of creation from the book of Genesis, Martin Luther, one of the most important Christian reformers, also condemned the new theory.
Martin Luther once said:
“People gave ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon. Whoever wishes to appear clever must devise some new system, which of all systems is of course the very best. This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.”
This statement makes us wonder if that sacred Scripture, mentioned by Martin Luther, was really inspired by God, even if clearly it is not in accord with the undisputed astronomical facts. There is only one reasonable answer and that is that God wouldn’t have inspired that story with Joshua, which is also a legend.
John Calvin, another important reformer, was not welcoming to the heliocentric theories. He stated:
“The Christian is not to compromise so as to obscure the distinction between good and evil, and is to avoid the errors of those dreamers who have a spirit of bitterness and contradiction, who reprove everything and prevent the order of nature. We will see some who are so deranged, not only in religion but who in all things reveal their monstrous nature, that they will say that the sun does not move, and that it is the earth which shifts and turns. When we see such minds we must indeed confess that the devil possess them, and that God sets them before us as mirrors, in order to keep us in his fear.”
He referred clearly to the revolution of the sun, moon, and stars around the earth. For him, a person who could demonstrate that the earth moves around the sun, it was a deranged human being. What I want to say here is that the cosmology, suggested by the book of Genesis, was not just a misinterpretation of a certain particular Church but it is also, more fundamentally, inherent in the texts of the Bible themselves and whoever wants to take these narratives literally, unavoidably reaches the same conclusions.
How can a book be inspired by God if contains demonstrable untruths? How could Joshua ask to the sun to stand still and not to orbit around the earth, if in fact the sun doesn’t orbit around the earth anyway? This passage could not be inspired by God, who knows the truth.
Not only the book of Genesis but also other texts of the Bible seem to support the geocentric view of the cosmos. For example, psalm 93 was interpreted as evidence for the geocentric theory:
“1 The LORD is king, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed, he is girded with strength. He has established the world; it shall never be moved;” (Psalm 93; 1 NRSV)
Specifically, members of the Catholic Church took that line to mean that the earth did not revolve around anything because it is “immovable”. That stands in direct opposition to the heliocentric idea of orbiting planets.
The question arises: “Was that line, from psalm 93, inspired by God?” If God knows everything it is hard to accept that He would inspire a text, which in fact contradicts a demonstrable reality. How many lines of the Bible are not inspired by God and what is inspired and what is not? I try to give an answer to this question in relation to the book of Genesis.
The Roman Catholic Church has rejected for a long time the heliocentric theory of the universe because it seems to be contradicted by the Bible. In time, it changed its position concerning the heliocentric theory. In 1758, the Roman Catholic Church dropped the general prohibition of books advocating heliocentric theory from the Index of Forbidden Books. Pope Pius VII approved a decree in 1822 by the Sacred Congregation of the Inquisition to allow the printing of heliocentric books in Rome.
Even if the Roman Catholic Church changed its attitude in relation to geocentric and heliocentric theories, nevertheless, a literal interpretation of the texts concerning the creation of the world, contained by the book of Genesis, still continues to be present in the evangelical movements. The representatives of the Roman Catholic Church admit that mistakes were made in the past in the relationship between religion and science, but this admission doesn’t seem to have an important impact on the new apostles of the literal interpretation of the Bible.
The heliocentric theory of the universe is now taught in all schools and accepted in all but a tiny minority of communities as the definitive understanding of the universe. It posits that the Earth revolves around the sun, thereby overturning the previously accepted geocentric theory of the universe, which held that the universe revolves around the earth. Nicolas Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, and Johannes Kepler are some of the scientists most famously related to heliocentric theory.
Some people try to reconcile a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis with the modern discoveries of cosmology but the results are unconvincing. It was either seven days or 13.7 billion years. The earth is either a part of something much bigger, and they originated in the same unique process, for example the Big Bang, or the earth was created separated from the cosmos and all celestial bodies came afterwards only to service the blue planet.
The earth, as one amongst other planets of the solar system, always took its light from the sun, or for a certain period of time the earth was alone in the universe and was illuminated by an undetermined source. A literal interpretation of the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis is the basis for a false understanding of reality and for an incorrect theology about God.
It is probably not fair to choose based on religious beliefs which information offered by sciences we accept and which we reject. Religion should not dictate what information or scientific results we can accept and what we have to reject on the basis of religious dogmas. If one denies scientific methodology which is used to analyse the origins of the universe and humankind, why is he or she using practical scientific results in other domains? Sciences use, generally speaking, the same methodology, when drawing any of their conclusions.
The same methodological tools were used by sciences both when the principles which govern the functioning of our TV sets or our mobile phones were discovered, and when the age of the universe was established. Why is it that the same people accept or love the first category of scientific results and reject or despise the conclusions about the origins of the universe? Is there a double standard? The same human creativity and intelligence was at work. The same general methods applied by sciences are used in mechanics, communications, or in astrophysics. Sciences use the following steps in order to reach their conclusions:
“1. Observation and description of a phenomenon. The observations are made visually or with the aid of scientific equipment.
2. Formulation of a hypothesis to explain the phenomenon in the form of a causal mechanism or a mathematical relation.
3. Test the hypothesis by analyzing the results of observations or by predicting and observing the existence of new phenomena that follow from the hypothesis. If experiments do not confirm the hypothesis, the hypothesis must be rejected or modified (Go back to Step 2).
4. Establish a theory based on repeated verification of the results.”
These are the general steps which precede any scientific discovery. If we accept and validate the discoveries which give us the chance to communicate easier, for example via Internet, we should understand that human knowledge in astrophysics follows the same basic principles when dealing with the universe, albeit in a specific way. We are happy to drive a powerful car, but, at the same time, some of us become ironic with the idea of a Big Bang, on religious grounds, even if both aspects are the conclusions of similar processes of scientific knowledge. Sciences all work in the same direction and with the same purpose, the increase in human knowledge, inclusively in the topics of the origins of the universe and of humankind.
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