Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Here's to Heresy!

Still easing into first "back to work week." Get coffee. Boot up computer. Go to Google to get directions for meeting later this week. Right click on weird Google logo to see what they're celebrating today ...

... and find that today is the 400th ANNIVERSARY OF GALILEO'S TELESCOPE. (Who knew?)

In case you snoozed through that lecture in history class, here's a "Clif Notes" refresher:

Born in 1564, Galileo was a noted physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher. After his 1609 invention of a telescope, Galileo published an account of his observations of the moons of Jupiter -- and used this observation to argue in favor of the sun-centered theory of the universe against the dominant earth-centered theories.

The next year Galileo visited Rome in order to demonstrate his telescope to the influential Jesuit Collegio Romano, and to let them see with their own eyes the reality of the four moons of Jupiter. Nevertheless, opposition arose to the Sun-centered theory of the universe which Galileo supported and in 1614, Galileo's opinions on the motion of the Earth were denounced from a Roman pulpit and called "dangerous and close to heresy."

Galileo went to Rome to defend himself against these accusations. Although he was cleared of any offence at that time, the Catholic Church nevertheless condemned his work as "false and contrary to Scripture" and Galileo was warned to abandon his support for it. When he later defended his views in his most famous work, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, published in 1632, he was tried by the Inquisition, found "vehemently suspect of heresy," forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest -- where he died in 1642.

So what's all this got to do with us today? Read this bit from one of the online bios of Galileo and see if it sounds vaguely familiar:

Galileo's opponents cited biblical references in defense of their position, including:

Psalm 93:1, "the world is firmly established, it cannot be moved."
Psalm 104:5 says, "the LORD set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved."
Ecclesiastes 1:5 states that "And the sun rises and sets and returns to its place" etc.

Galileo defended heliocentrism, and claimed it was not contrary to those Scripture passages. He took Augustine's position on Scripture: not to take every passage literally, particularly when the scripture in question is a book of poetry and songs, not a book of instructions or history. The writers of the Scripture wrote from the perspective of the terrestrial world, and from that vantage point the sun does rise and set.

So there you have it. They say that those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it -- and "Exhibit A" of that theory are those who four hundred years later are throwing around isolated scripture passages to support outdated understandings of everything from the science of creation to the science of human sexuality.

And -- oh yes -- calling those who have learned from their history and are determined NOT to repeat it "heretics."

So here's the "takeaway" from this morning's lecture on life, the universe, Galileo and heresy:


Cue music -- sing along if you know the tune:

I sing a song of the saints of God,
patient and brave and true,
who toiled and fought and lived and died
for the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a pope,
and one was a heretic with a telescope;
they were all of them saints of God,
and I mean, God helping, to be one too.


LarkLady15 said...

Here I am at my computer, humming merrily along (because I do know the tune)... and then I'm rolling on the floor when I get to the revised portion of the lyric! Good one ;-)

Brad Evans said...

Best to just put the "good" book down, study some more physics/math/chemistry/biology and leave theology to the old ladies of both sexes.
Theology was once the Queen of the Sciences; now it's become the Science of Queens.

Pat Klemme said...

Itty-bitty scansion problem there, but worth every extra syllable! Oh, yes, I know that tune!

Mark Andrews said...

Science does a great job of explaining how the actual world actually works. It does a poor job of informing the right use of that new knowledge.

For example, transhumanism posits that social and cultural construction can be applied somatically, behaviorally and ethically - I define my body, I define my behavior, and I define my ethics. Simply, like Nietshcze and his superman, because I choose to.

In transhumanism, all externally assigned labels, all external value statements, are rejected by a sovereign, individual act of the will. The only "right," if such a word can even be used, is to give everyone the same freedom I assert for myself to transform myself as I wish.

The transhumanist applies science to the remaking of humanity into post-humanity. How does Progressive Christianity deal with Transhumanism?


I don't get to speak for "Progressive Christianity" (yet! :) but it sounds pretty self-centered and antithetical to a Christ-centered Gospel imperative to me.

IT said...

Speaking as an actual scientist, Mark Andrews, I don't know what transhumanism is, but it has nothing to do with the actual practice of science.

Bob Schneider said...

To keep the rhyme, I recommend: "They were all of them saints of God, and I HOPE, God helping, to be one too."