May 26, 2009

Scientific Truth versus Revealed Truth

This article was published on May 29, 2009 in the Springfield News Leader under the title, ŒBiblical truth¹ was forced to change.

Want to read the article by Rev. Phillips referred to below? Click here.

Read/Post Comments to this Blog (2)

On May 26 Rev. A. Wilson Phillips replied to my critique of Mark Thieme’s “Bible Tale.” There were several other replies, which were mostly denunciation, but Rev. Phillip’ reply framed the problem with which people of faith always struggle: can faith demand that I believe something I find to be patently untrue? Or put another way: at what point does reason demand that I revise my faith? To Rev. Phillips’ credit he understands the problem. Here is his answer: spiritual truth is superior to rational truth! Or in his words: “Scientific truth…helps to establish [spiritual] truth and supports it.” In other words, the truths we affirm in faith are superior to the truths we reach by analysis, logic, and reason.

     Maybe not! Here is one example to the contrary: In the sixteenth century Polish scientist and churchman Nikolas Copernicus proved that the solar system was heliocentric; in short, the earth and all the planets rotate around the sun. While his views eventually became the basis for our modern view of the solar system, at that time they were radically different from accepted beliefs (i.e., that the sun rotated around the earth, which was the center of the universe) and were regarded as heresy. At the end of the sixteenth century Giordano Bruno, an Italian monk-philosopher, was tried by church courts and given a chance to recant the views of Copernicus. When he refused, he was convicted of heresy and burned at the stake. In the early seventeenth century Galileo Galilei, an Italian astronomer, faced the same charges as Bruno. Eventually he was forced to recant the views of Copernicus and, perjuring himself, he reaffirmed the mid-second century view of Ptolemaeus that the sun rotated around the earth. Church authorities declared the view held by these sixteenth and seventeenth century “scientists” (that the earth rotated around the sun) was “contrary to Scripture”: “The very idea that the sun was the center of the universe and is immobile is foolish and absurd in philosophy and formally heretical since it contradicts the express words of the Scriptures.” By the early nineteenth century all opposition to the view that the earth rotated around the sun ceased and today every modern junior high school student knows that the sun is the center of our solar system (adapted from Charles W. Hedrick, When History and Faith Collide, xi-xii).

     The church’s “biblical truth” was forced to change and adopt analytical truth. Human reason is a bully! This example cautions all of us against arrogance about our spiritual and biblical truths, for today’s invincible religious truth seemingly worth dying for, may be tomorrow’s dry historical footnote forking no lightning. The most problematical aspect of Rev. Phillips’ essay is this: whose spiritual discernment do we follow? There never has been a uniform “spiritual discernment.” The cacophony of voices under the influence of the spirit demanding control of our souls is legion.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

Posted by Charles Hedrick at 10:16am

Hi Dr. Hedrick,

Yes, the Church had to apologize for that bit in its history. Their basic response was that they are infallible in matters of faith, not science. Personally, I think St. Augustine had it best, when he commented on Genesis that if there is ever a conflict between science and theology, it's not the science that's wrong, it's the theological interpretation.

With that being said, I do find it interesting how so many Christians on the Fundamentalist side argue for a literal reading of Genesis, but I have never heard of any one of them treating the story of Joshua stopping the sun in the sky in the same manner.

Take care,
+ Cody +
Posted by Cody Hayes on 11/1/2009 at 2:52pm

Dr. Hedrick,
Recently you wrote an article in the "Voices" section of the Springfield News-Leader. I'm trying to find the article which discussed Beatitudes as Riddles....please direct me to this very well done piece.

Thank You,so much

Wm Jerome Maurer Springfield,Missouri
Posted by Wm Jerome Maurer on 9/30/2009 at 12:00pm

Mr. Maurer,
I am sorry to be so long getting back to you. I went through my files and racked my gray matter (what little is still functioning) and I have drawn a blank. I cannot find where I did an article the subject you are interested in. Can you give me a little more to go on?

Posted by Charles Hedrick on 10/1/2009 at 3:11pm