Expelled!

Here’s a comment I posted on the blog for the movie, ‘Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed’. 

Here’s a few thoughts from me as a Christian on the whole ID vs. evolution debate.

1. Truth: Christians and ID advocates must always be truthful and be known for their integrity. Never be afraid to admit scientific truths, because all the secondary causes come from the first cause who is God, and they cannot contradict each other if understood properly. Truth and integrity are characteristics of God Himself. Violate this, and they would become a counter-witness against the natural law that comes from God, which even atheists can recognize.

2. Galileo: Similar to the above. There’s a great misunderstanding of the Galileo affair. It was not so much about the Church interfering with science as Galileo interfering with theology. See http://www.catholiceducation.org/links/jump.cgi?ID=3113

3. Evolution: I think one key to resolving the conflict over evolution and ID is to recognize that at the most basic level, there is a universal ordering principle at work – the Logos through which all things were created. How the atoms are organized and interact with each other in a chemical reaction, for example, or how the physical forces are so finely balanced in the Universe (Anthropic Principle). Of course there is Intelligent Design in all this; there is an ordering principle at the very roots of creation – but it does not necessarily contradict with evolution as a chain of secondary causes.

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7 thoughts on “Expelled!”

  1. There is a misunderstanding on the part of many theists who incorrectly assume that evolution attempts to explain a First Cause. It doesn’t; evolutionary biology seeks to explain how the diversity of life arose.

    As far as the First Cause is concerned, that is a matter of philosophy and not science, as one cannot test for Logos nor for any teleological forces.

  2. I want to talk about number 2. You say that the whole thing Galileo affair had nothing to do with the heliocentric theory of the solar system. I’ve read the site you linked, and I am afraid I have to disagree.

    It’s true that Galileo couldn’t prove one theory over the other, but it seems clear he favored the heliocentric theory. The reason he couldn’t prove on of the other is that he didn’t know about the things like angular momentum and general relativity, and without them, there is no distinguishable difference between the two, only intuition to balance against mathematical equivalence. Secondly, if the inquisition set down the rules for the whole process, Galileo surely knew them, and knew what to do to avoid being tortured. So just because he wasn’t personally harmed, does not mean he wasn’t bent into shape by the hammers of the church, namely fear and pain.

    It seems that this article think Galileo’s sin was not teaching Heliocentricism, but rather insisting that the entire universe was subject to scientific inquiry, including god. By teaching a heliocentric view of the solar system, at odds with the prevailing teaching of the church, and extending the idea that this could be done for any subject (I don’t know that he did this, but it seems to be what the article implies) he was using his theories to undermine the church. I get the idea that this article is making. But the problem is that this still boils down to dogma v. science. It may not have been the “dogma” of celestial mechanics that was on trial, but the idea that the world is knowable through science sure was.

    This is the same thing going on now with ID and creationism v. science. The Bible speaks little of genetics, modern biology, cells or anything like that. That evolution is true to at least the same degree that newtons laws are true is obvious to anyone with an adequate science education. So what is the reason for the reaction against it? The same as the reason the church took on Galileo. People are now starting to reach towards an understanding of how life began, but studying the universe, and showing that even more of it is knowable through science, and that that knowledge is more reliable than that gained through revaluation (personal or biblical).

    So maybe Galileo was not really on trial for he scientific theory. He was on trial because his scientific work lead him to the conclusion that many scientists since him have reached. Science is the best method for understanding the physical world. The church couldn’t handle this then truth, and neither can the creationism crowd now.

    I am not trying to talk about the spiritual world necessarily, but the fact that the church felt threated by a challenge to it understanding of the physical world speaks lowly of their confidence in their ideas on the whole.

  3. Thanks for your comments.

    Expelled: yes, I think there’d be a better balance if ID advocates recognized legitimate endeavors of science, and Evolutionists recognized the limitations of science. For the former, to recognize that truth cannot contradict truth, and for the lattter, to recognize that empiricism cannot be proven empirically.

    Bruisecolors: Actually, my claim wasn’t that it had nothing to do with heliocentrism. It was that that the Church didn’t so much interfere with science, as Galileo did with theology. It was more the approach to heliocentrism; the Church had no problem with it before he began to insist on a certain biblical interpretation.

    The Church did not hold that science contradicts the bible (nor did St. Augustine, over 1000 years earliler), and Galileo was not on trial for thinking that science is the best means to explain the physical world (why would the Church fund science if this was the case?). Those are the mistaken views held by the present popular culture, looking back through the doubly distorted lenses of the reformation and the enlightenment (who had every reason to tarnish the Church).

    In fact, it was the Judeo-Christian view of the world as a creation – from ex nihilo – that enabled modern science to flourish in the first place. In all other ancient cultures, it suffered a “still birth” (a term coined by Stanley Jaki), precisely because meddling with the physical world and studying it as an object was sacrilegious within a world-view where God was not transcendent from His creation.

    I recommend How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization by Thomas Woods on this, and many other areas of common misunderstanding.

    So, it was not dogma vs. science at all. In a way, Galileo got into trouble for trying to insist on establishing his own dogma, from the Scriptures, which was not his domain. The Church did not interfere with science, but Galileo did insist on interfering with theology. Allow me to quote from Galileo Controversy:

    The Church is not anti-scientific. It has supported scientific endeavors for centuries. During Galileo’s time, the Jesuits had a highly respected group of astronomers and scientists in Rome. In addition, many notable scientists received encouragement and funding from the Church and from individual Church officials. Many of the scientific advances during this period were made either by clerics or as a result of Church funding.

    Nicolaus Copernicus dedicated his most famous work, On the Revolution of the Celestial Orbs, in which he gave an excellent account of heliocentricity, to Pope Paul III…

    Ten years prior to Galileo, Johannes Kepler published a heliocentric work that expanded on Copernicus’ work. As a result, Kepler also found opposition among his fellow Protestants for his heliocentric views and found a welcome reception among some Jesuits who were known for their scientific achievements.

    Galileo could have safely proposed heliocentricity as a theory or a method to more simply account for the planets’ motions. His problem arose when he stopped proposing it as a scientific theory and began proclaiming it as truth, though there was no conclusive proof of it at the time. Even so, Galileo would not have been in so much trouble if he had chosen to stay within the realm of science and out of the realm of theology. But, despite his friends’ warnings, he insisted on moving the debate onto theological grounds.

    Clinging to Tradition?

    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.

    Centuries earlier, Aristotle had refuted heliocentricity, and by Galileo’s time, nearly every major thinker subscribed to a geocentric view. Copernicus refrained from publishing his heliocentric theory for some time, not out of fear of censure from the Church, but out of fear of ridicule from his colleagues.

    Many people wrongly believe Galileo proved heliocentricity. He could not answer the strongest argument against it, which had been made nearly two thousand years earlier by Aristotle: If heliocentrism were true, then there would be observable parallax shifts in the stars’ positions as the earth moved in its orbit around the sun. However, given the technology of Galileo’s time, no such shifts in their positions could be observed. It would require more sensitive measuring equipment than was available in Galileo’s day to document the existence of these shifts, given the stars’ great distance. Until then, the available evidence suggested that the stars were fixed in their positions relative to the earth, and, thus, that the earth and the stars were not moving in space—only the sun, moon, and planets were.

    …In 1614, Galileo felt compelled to answer the charge that this “new science” was contrary to certain Scripture passages. His opponents pointed to Bible passages with statements like, “And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed . . .” (Josh. 10:13). This is not an isolated occurrence. Psalms 93 and 104 and Ecclesiastes 1:5 also speak of celestial motion and terrestrial stability. A literalistic reading of these passages would have to be abandoned if the heliocentric theory were adopted. Yet this should not have posed a problem. As Augustine put it, “One does not read in the Gospel that the Lord said: ‘I will send you the Paraclete who will teach you about the course of the sun and moon.’ For he willed to make them Christians, not mathematicians.” Following Augustine’s example, Galileo urged caution in not interpreting these biblical statements too literally.

  4. I guess I get sort of what you are saying. Galileo suggested how biblical passages about natural phenomenon should be interpreted. So he was in trouble for trying to do theology because he suggested how the bible should be interpreted, and would have been subject for to the same penalty if it had the whole thing had been about the interpretation of the mustard seed story. Or at least that is how your take appears to me. I’m not trying to warp your argument, just trying to see if I am understanding correctly.

    So if that’s all correct so far, yes, perhaps Galileo stepped into theology before the church stepped into his Science. But a creation story is science, as are any descriptions of natural phenomenon. If those are considered part of theology, of course science was eventually going to have step in and correct a few things our ancient ancestors didn’t know. Science had to take it’s territory back from theology because theology owned the natural world by virtue being developed first.

  5. No, the creation story is not science. You seem to be affirming the fundamentalist/creationist position, which is not necessarily in line with that of historical Christianity. This is one reason why I, as a Catholic, do not necessarily see a conflict between faith and evolution as a guided process. If anything, it serves to remind me again of the seriousness of the schism in the Church which has produced numerous errors, and which acts as a counter-witness to the world (John 17:23). Nevertheless, the historic Church founded by Christ remains One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic – I suggest looking to her for authoritative proclamations in matters such as this.

    Allow me to quote St. Augustine (who is of course a Catholic Saint), writing at 408 AD:

    “It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation” (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 1:19–20 [A.D. 408]).

    “With the scriptures it is a matter of treating about the faith. For that reason, as I have noted repeatedly, if anyone, not understanding the mode of divine eloquence, should find something about these matters [about the physical universe] in our books, or hear of the same from those books, of such a kind that it seems to be at variance with the perceptions of his own rational faculties, let him believe that these other things are in no way necessary to the admonitions or accounts or predictions of the scriptures. In short, it must be said that our authors knew the truth about the nature of the skies, but it was not the intention of the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, to teach men anything that would not be of use to them for their salvation” (ibid., 2:9).

  6. I guess I am somehow missing the thrust of your argument. St. Augustine certainly put forth a sensible doctrine. I think I am just failing to see how the church was following that in the Galileo case, rather than persecuting him for proposing a scientific theory that was counter to church teachings. I guess I am missing some subtlety (or maybe some glaringly obvious fact?).

  7. I think the main difficulty is that the popular culture looks back with certain prejudices at the medieval, ‘Dark’ Ages, and at the Catholic Church in particular. The media is often the driving force behind this. Unfortunately, it has still to learn of the evils of misleading propaganda even after WW2.

    In fact, I’d written some posts about this very topic on ‘Truth and the Media’: part 1, part 2 and part 2.5.

    Thus, we have such wide-spread ignorance regarding what the Inquisition was really like, or how the Crusades began, or how Pius XII saved the Jews during Nazi Holocaust.

    I guess the thing with the Galileo case is that, as I understand it, the Holy See was supportive of heliocentrism, purely as a scientific theory, but that a confrontation became necessary when Galileo moved into the realm of theology. It may be that it was Galileo’s opponents who forced this upon him. Remember that geocentrism was the accepted scientific position at the time – and these opponents could well have quoted from the Scriptures as ‘additional evidence’.

    In any case, in a volatile climate after the Protestant Reformation, a theological confrontation of this sort was not something to be easily entertained and, in the light of Galileo’s ridiculing of the Pope in his fictional dialogue (which placed the Pope’s words in the mouth of the idiotic simpleton – and remember that the rejection of papacy on theological grounds was the cause of the single biggest schism in the entire history of Christianity, just prior to this time), it became too dangerous to ignore. What was a purely scientific and therefore praiseworthy pursuit had turned into a theological dispute which could be perceived as an attack on the Pope, and therefore also on the authority of the Church in theological matters.

    So, eventually he was placed under house arrest, and ended up in a Papal palace with servants to tend to him. A sorry tale of unenlightened, barbaric prejudice against science, indeed!

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