Myths of conflict: Galileo and the Roman Catholic Church, Huxley and Wilberforce.

I’ve no interest in questioning Lennox’s conclusion that “the ‘Galileo affair’ really does nothing to confirm a simplistic conflict view of the relationship of science to religion” (26). I agree, because just as he says that “statements by scientists are not necessarily statements of science” (19) it is likewise true that conflicts between scientists and religionists are not necessarily conflicts between science and religion.

What I’m interested in are three of the four lessons that Lennox says are to be learned from the affair. He writes about these only in reference to the Galileo affair and heliocentrism, but I see no reason why they can’t be given a wider application. These are found on pages 25 and 26, but I’ve paraphrased them here:

1. Don’t always read the Bible literally,
2. Take a more sophisticated and nuanced view of the Bible, and
3. Avoid using the Bible to support ideas that it never intended to teach.

Now I find these lessons fascinating because of the tension revelation has with evidence and the reader. Depending on the reader and the revelation it is fact or fiction. Yet that revelation also retains properties of the other literary form; facts are presented as fiction, the fiction comes with the authority of god and so lending it fact. Revelation is quasi-fact and quasi-fiction. It is its own genre, for no other writing can combine the authority of an omniscient being with mistakes about the observable natural world or miraculous occurrences and still be treated as literal truth, metaphor or even both at the same time.

And so to question or debate revelation is a different beast as opposed to other texts where the author claims authority over the information. In general, error correction of a revelation’s claim is more internal than external; one examines one’s own interpretation of the text (or seeks advice from trusted others) rather than comparing it’s claims against the observable world. IMHO 2 YMMV.

And so to return to Lennox’s lessons, I’d like to know how he chooses to interpret:

1. what is literal and what is not,
2. what is sophisticated and nuanced, and what is to be taken at face, and
3. what the Bible has authority to teach and what it doesn’t.

9 thoughts on “Myths of conflict: Galileo and the Roman Catholic Church, Huxley and Wilberforce.

  1. Marco

    The Galileo affair is so notorious in the history of science and religion, I dare not accept that it is at all about interpretation of text. What it is about is the dangers of incumbency of an idea that gives a certain group power and influence when the incumbent idea becomes untenable given new evidence. The very fact that it is NOT necessarily about science vs religion needs us to look very hard at what the conflict IS about, to recognise when it is happening in modern science, politics or conflict. When a “leak” or reveal of reliable information to the public happens, you can see the incumbents scrambling to punish the one who has disseminated the new information. What is crucial is not that the information is crucial for the future of the nation or World, but that the information damages the incumbents in power. Whether this evidence is a new scientific discovery, or evidence that the incumbents have broken the law, the incentives to shoot the messenger are very high.

    Science is prone to the same incumbency issues with new ideas being suppressed by incumbent ideas in biology. At least, that is what I see. The incumbent ideas are immune to attack because Occam’s razor has removed the burden of proof from them. How is that different from looking at an aspect of biology (eg abiogenesis) that appears mathematically impossible and removing the burden of proof from an Intelligent design hypothesis by invoking Occam’s razor?

    Of course this is all for another chapter in which Lennox does exactly that – compounding the lazy biology of saying the tough questions have been answered when they haven’t. *We know that the planets go around the sun – We don’t know how life started* Stating that we know natural processes on Earth did it is very much an incumbent idea based on pretty flaky experimental results and fossil record. Evolutionary biology has triumphantly done away with God and rather than replacing it with “I Dunno” but I don’t believe in God – they have created a narrative about how it “could” have happened to convince themselves that it is not about what they believe at all, and the evidence is interpreted to match up with their narrative.

    I guess to answer your question about interpretation, the bible should be like the fossil record. It stays static and is what it is but the same evidence can suit many narratives. The narratives about evolution and the bible alike is what gives people a sense that they know what the evidence is showing

    Reply
  2. Nathanael

    There’s a fascinating live case study on the interpretation of the Bible that models a response to all three of Winston’s requests of Lennox dealing with a real issue of difference in the life of the church.
    John Dickson has recently published a short book called Hearing Her Voice:
    http://www.amazon.com/Hearing-Her-Voice-Perspectives-ebook/dp/B00A695EME
    It’s been interesting to follow the reviews and critiques that have started to be published, and also Dickson’s responses to them.
    Particularly how those who disagree with John even when they’ve constructed a very good response have actually failed to engage with his central thesis.
    Especially when they are highly academically qualified and from the position of the established majority.
    It also proves to me why it’s worth listening to people who have actually put a lot of time into learning about something and working through the issues from their academic perspective.
    If you want to invest $4.22US and follow a couple of other links I’m happy to provide you’ll get the sense of things pretty quickly.
    I know for us 21st century Gen X guys it seems ridiculous that this should even be an issue.
    It’s just nice to see someone so credentialled and respected who’s inside the camp where the majority view is one way putting forward a well articulated different perspective.

    Reply
    1. winstoninabox Post author

      “I know for us 21st century Gen X guys it seems ridiculous that this should even be an issue.”
      Or even has been an issue. For 2000 years. Two thousand.
      I’m not sure if I could read another book by the well-intentioned Mr. Dickson as he attempts to explain why people have been reading the bible wrong since forever. But I’ll see what happens after “God’s Undertaker”. I’d really like to do another medium I think. Especially video would be fun.

      Reply
  3. Nathanael

    I’ll spot you 1700 years of wrong reading, but not forever or even Two thousand.

    I’d contend that up until Emperor Constantine the early church was doing a great job of modelling an egalitarian community that in the first century was a radical and fundamental shift away from a the Judaic patriarchal-rabbi-priest system.

    Within a very short period of time, this institutionalising of the church as a state religion changed the whole context of how the Christian faith was practiced.

    To offer some of your own words with key words changed:
    “Winstoninabox has some naive ideals about Dame Theology. I’m guessing he lives on planet Mickey Mouse where Christians are swimming in a Disneyland theme park of their own cultural isolation and so has no idea that here on Earth Theology, like everything else, is influenced by culture. Theology must exist in culture, and so is shaped to some extent by cultural agendas. Theology has not nor has ever been ‘untrammeled by extraneous and potentially divisive intrusions’.”

    I’d be happy if you looked at the well intentioned Mr.Dickson’s style as something to emulate in principle and then tune your unique voice to that style of writing.

    Critiquing video offers so many more opportunities to critique style over substance but it’s your blog so your choice. Words on a page may only be 7% of the message but I find that medium has less potential distractions to the message getting through.
    Although I’m saying all of this without clearly understanding how you’re measuring your stated aim of having good discussions.

    Reply
    1. winstoninabox Post author

      One of the problems that I had with reading Mr. Dickson was that there’s so much that the early church seems to have got wrong almost immediately. Women’s role in marriage, women’s role in the church…it’s like Jesus said these things and then every body nodded and went back to what they were doing. And somehow, we’re now finding the correct meaning, or as you prefer we’re returning to the way it was for a few short years after the events before the big bad of institutionalized religion hijacked it.
      I don’t buy it. I don’t believe that there was a radical misunderstanding by the people in the time the gospels were written to their meaning, I don’t buy that there was a golden age in early Christianity where it was correctly interpreted and women broke through the clay ceiling to be equal partners in society, and I think that these reassessments of women’s roles are coming about because society now finds it unacceptable and this is encouraging reinterpretations, and not a Luthorian upheaval from inside the church.
      I think that Dickson sits in his upper middle class house in the suburbs in a 21st century first world society and imagines that surely it was just like this for the early Christians, too. I’ve no proof. I’ve no evidence. I’m probably completely wrong, but I’d think “Life of Brian” is a better interpretation of the period than Dickson’s imaginings.

      Reply
  4. Nathanael

    I’m not saying there wasn’t a leadership structure.
    There had to be to support the explosive growth that happened.
    We might even debate how quickly the rot set in.
    The New Testament shows there’s overseers, elders and deacons, not “bishops” or “special priests”
    Bishop is a mis-translation of the original greek word episkopoi, which meant overseer, which became cemented through the Roman Catholic Church and was reinforced in the King James Version for us lapsed Anglicans.
    But I’ll continue to contend that adopting the fixed template of the Roman Empire cemented and subverted the original .
    There also a growing corpus of writings that showed that the early church met in homes where slaves and masters, men and women were treated as equals.
    Someone I’ve found helpful in this field is Mark Strom in this book:
    http://www.amazon.com/Reframing-Paul-Conversations-Grace-Community/dp/0830815708
    Extended review here: http://atbr.atf.org.au/atbr/images/review_reframing_paul.pdf
    Also Edwin Judge and Robert Banks work cited in the article:
    http://www.amazon.com/Pauls-Idea-Community-Churches-Cultural/dp/0801045541
    We can all clearly stomach scientists discovering insights that overturn everything we previously though or knew from other scientists.
    Why not historians and bibilcal scholars?

    Reply
  5. Nathanael

    Staggered at your naivete here.

    Winstoninabox:
    Women’s role in marriage, women’s role in the church…it’s like Jesus said these things and then every body nodded and went back to what they were doing.

    Nathanael:
    And people don’t do that today all the time when some puts forward a different perspective?

    Winstoninabox:
    I don’t buy it. I don’t believe that there was a radical misunderstanding by the people in the time the gospels were written to their meaning.

    Nathanael:
    Would be helpful if we said New Testament as opposed to gospels, as this includes all the canon that is under discussion.

    How quickly do wrong messages today get circulated that become *facts* that people continue to believe for years afterwards even if they are a radical misunderstanding of what actually happened?

    Given you don’t believe the New Testament based on the *lack* of documentary evidence and given the lack of communication technology back then compared to now why is it not plausible that radical misunderstandings occurred?

    How easily do people have radical misunderstandings of what people write as to their meaning today?

    Winstoninabox
    I don’t buy that there was a golden age in early Christianity where it was correctly interpreted and women broke through the clay ceiling to be equal partners in society, and I think that these reassessments of women’s roles are coming about because society now finds it unacceptable and this is encouraging reinterpretations, and not a Luthorian upheaval from inside the church.

    Nathanael:
    Careful with your words here.
    I’m not arguing for a “golden age”.
    While it’s undeniable that that the early church spread rapidly across its known world many of the epistles were written to offer instruction and correction to people.
    So no golden or rose coloured glasses on these eyes.
    Broke through the clay ceiling is an unhelpful metaphor.
    The way Jesus related to women and all those regarded as socially inferior or outcasts was a radical departure from his cultural norm.
    Paul followed this through in stating that in Christ there is neither jew nor greek (race), male nor female (gender), slave nor free (social standing).
    Again incredibly radical.
    This practice was encouraged and lived out openly when the church gathered as much as they could – which was not at all like today.
    The closest parallel we have today is in countries were Christians are actively persecuted for their faith.
    When you could be thrown in prison or killed for stating your belief then a lot of what you do goes underground or behind closed doors.

    The fact that society finds things unacceptable might give a practice greater freedom within which to manoeuvre, but it doesn’t mean that the teaching or practice never existed.

    And while you’re right that Dickson lives in an upper middle class suburb (i can’t speak for the house, but it’s about 20 minutes from where we were born) in his role as an Associate Professor he has travelled to the locations he writes about.

    Reply
    1. winstoninabox Post author

      Staggered by naivete? Damn, I was trying for gob-smacked…
      Do I think these things happen? Sure. Do I think these things happened here? No.
      You believe your just-so story over mine. Fair enough. But I find it a pretty interesting coincidence that these reboots / reimaginings / revisions to dogma are coming at this time in our society when the minorities that Dicksons defends (and good on him for that) are in a time of social empowerment in our society.
      Again, I could be completely wrong.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s