The Discarded Image…or is it? Part Four

In this final blog on Geocentrism, I will present a rebuttal to the claims of modern geocentrists. This might seem like an exercise in futility, as those who reject geocentrism as gobbledygook will already have sound reasons for doing so, and those who do accept geocentrism are likely to adhere to the theory dogmatically and are unlikely to be swayed by any reason, religious, scientific, or otherwise.  Given that one in five Americans believes this stuff, however, it’s good to have a firm grasp on the issue.

The Religious Argument

From my perspective, I believe that the fundamental religious issue here is one of fidelity to the meaning of the texts of scripture, which should be interpreted within the context in which it was written. An individual who starts from a modern viewpoint and reads contemporary questions of science into the text is simply not engaging in a literal (or sound) interpretation. Christian scriptures were not dictated by God from heaven (as in other religions), but were instead written by individuals operating within a specific historical and cultural environment.  Scripture is viewed as “inspired” rather than “dictated”, in that they are viewed to contain the truth of God’s interactions with humanity from the pen and perspective of specific individuals in the setting of real culture and history. Viewing the scripture in this way does not question the truth of the Bible, but also does not assume that God was attempting to provide nomadic shepherds scientific theories which would be unintelligible 3,000 years ago and would continue to be until the advent of modern science.

This might seem obvious with respect to strict geocentrism, but is true with relative geocentrism as well. By interpreting scripture through the lens of general relativity, God is made very clever, in the tricky sense of the word.  It is almost a joke of sort, putting coded messages in apparently geocentric scriptures that won’t be understood in their truest form until a particular scientific theory is developed several millennia later, at which point we can look back and say, “Oooh, how clever! God secretly encoded scientific messages in the Bible that make so much more sense now!”  Christians who do this make the same mistake that the Medievals did in tying their cosmology to Ptolemy. What happens 200 years from now when mounting scientific discoveries upset Einstein’s general relativity and some new model is introduced?  Will it just be a matter of “Oops, yeah, that argument from relativity was off base. What God really meant was…”

Obviously, I am coming from the perspective that when scripture speaks of the natural world, it does so from the historical and cultural perspective of the original biblical authors.  I am not inclined to think that the Bible is trying to communicate science to us. I also know that many Christians have the opposite point of view. If you are inclined to believe that the Bible does contain objective scientific statements which are not historically or culturally situated (the “concordist” position), there are plenty of resources out there which tackle the issue of Geocentrism from this point of view as well.  I simply think that type of intellectual gymnastics is unnecessary.

The Scientific Argument

I think it is fair to say that many Christians misunderstand the scientific process, perhaps because of the manner in which we are taught it in elementary school.  Simply put, there are two basic ways to “prove” an argument: deductive and inductive.  Many Christians will use deductive reasoning but are prone to ignore inductive reasoning.  Here’s what I mean:

In a deductive argument, we start with a hypothesis.  For example, “The Earth is at the center of the Universe”.  The hypothesis can now go in two directions.  By using theology, we attempt to justify the argument using scripture or religion, i.e., “the following scriptures state that the Earth cannot be moved…”  To make this a scientific argument, however, we need evidence from the physical world.  We then look for such evidence, and when we find it we make the argument that our hypothesis is a good theory (or model supported by the available evidence) because we have provided evidence to back up our original hypothesis.

The problem with a strictly deductive approach is that it does not need to take into account contradictory evidence. This is particularly obvious in the case of modern galactocentrism, which makes an attempt to use a particular scientific approach in a somewhat unorthodox manner (in this case, quantizing the red shifts of entire galaxies). All data pointing in the other direction is either then reinterpreted to fit the theory or simply ignored.  Sometimes it even devolves into conspiracy theory…perhaps it is a conspiracy of atheist scientists, or perhaps God simply made things appear a certain way which we can never understand.  This typically ends in a non-falsifiable argument.  Falsifiability, or the ability to prove that a theory is incorrect, is a fundamental requirement of science.  If a theory cannot be proved incorrect by rational means, it ceases to be science and enters the realm of metaphysics, philosophy, or religion.

This is why science typically works from an inductive method.  A scientist attempts to observe phenomenon in the natural world, and creates a hypothesis to explain what he or she actually observes. A theory is constructed which attempts to synthesize all the available evidence. When new evidence is discovered, the theory is modified. Theories are held provisionally, with the understanding that new evidence could force a radical integration of new knowledge with the old theory.  Operational science is properly restricted to the created material world. While it can explain many things, it is also limited.  Does science always work perfectly?  Of course not.  Scientists make mistakes, thus the care taken in defining falsifiability. That mistakes are made does not mean a wholesale rejection of inductive reasoning, or abandoning the important criteria of falsifiability. Still, there are other ways of knowing besides science, and many of the most important things in life are not subject to scientific analysis. Science cannot prove or disprove whether God exists, and cannot prove or disprove whether there is any purpose to my life. These are essentialist questions and are the realm of philosophy and religion. Science, then, is a rational tool by which we understand the physical world.

The danger for Christians in rejecting the inductive scientific method is that it rejects what we can know about God’s creation. If we assume that properties of the physical world are an illusion created by God, or simply ignore aspects of the physical world because they do not fit into our theology, or try to explain away every physical phenomena we dislike because for a theological reason, we are no longer operating from an orthodox Christian perspective.  This type of denial of physical reality is closer to paganism or Gnosticism, and is ultimately unhealthy spiritually, physically, and intellectually.

 The Philosophical Argument

 My last point is probably my simplest.  Both geocentrism and galactocentrism, whatever their scientific or religious problems, rest on a fallacy.  It can be simply stated like this:

“Man is important to God. Importance is determined by physical, geographic location. Thus, Man must be at the center of the Universe.”

The problem with this is the assumption that geographical location has anything to do with importance, and that being at the physical center necessarily denotes importance.

An analogy:  My wife is at the center of my affections in life.  She can still be at the center of my attention and love regardless of where she is physically.  In fact, her physical location is ultimately utterly irrelevant for my love for her. Regardless of where she is, my love remains constant.

Surely the same can be true for God.  If man is important to God, and God loves man, we can be at the center of His attention and love regardless of the physical location of the Earth in the wider universe.

Other entries in this series:  part one     part two    part three

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2 Responses to The Discarded Image…or is it? Part Four

  1. Jeff says:

    I personally think that the long standing divide between the religious camps and the scientific ones is pointless and indicative of a lack of faith in the religious community itself.

    Questioning the solidity and validity of the world and our perceptions of it is the purpose and truest nature of science. True science is the practice of seeking truth, no matter the consequence, of hearing and vigorously testing both supporting and dissenting theories and sharing the outcome.

    These results are then held as facts. If A, then B. Quantifiable, testable facts.

    As children, we are taught these facts and told to believe them, and we accept them on faith, much as we do religion. Gravity on Earth accelerates an object at 9.8m/s^2. We can test that. We can then formulate new questions and test those. Yet after a while, we just begin to have faith in the scientific method and in the published results of others.
    So in a way, even cold hard facts are taken on faith.

    Likewise, religion is a system of belief based on faith in communally accepted truths, but questioning and testing are not encouraged. “Do not tempt the Lord thy God”

    Question religion and you are labelled a non-believer or worse, a heretic, or enemy of God.

    A major part of the problem lies in the religious community’s insistence that God cannot be proven and must be accepted on faith. Yet if a religious person truly had faith, they would not be bothered by science in the least, having faith that in the end, science would eventually find that God IS there.

    If a scientist were to discover irrefutable proof of the existence of a supreme being, what would happen to faith?

    I’m guessing that faith would disappear, and would be replaced by something else that is much stronger and less prone to the weaknesses of the human spirit. If God were to become Fact, everything in the entire world would change.

    And I don’t consider that a bad thing.

    Faith, by its very definition implies uncertainty. It is something that is believed for reasons other than with solid empiric evidence. Just like hope and fear and many other opinions we might have about the future.

    People fear that God will judge their actions, and they have faith that their prayers for forgiveness are heard, and they hope that they will be answered.

    What would it be like if people knew that God would judge their actions, and they could verify that their prayers were heard, and were given a definitive answer in response to their prayers?

    If the purpose of science is to find truth, and the truth of the universe is God, is it not wisest for the religions of the world to stop squabbling with the scientists and let them get on with the task of eventually proving religion to be correct?

    After all, is not science just an expression of the inquisitive nature of mankind? Who else but God is ultimately responsible for the nature of mankind?

    In this light, any attack on science and the scientific process is an admission to a lack of faith. And early persecution of scientists at the hands of religion is indicative of fear that religion may be wrong.

    Religion has branded science an enemy, yet science is not the enemy of religion. Its not the enemy of anything except ignorance.

    7 of Spades, have a nice day!

    Jeff

    PS> Can’t we all just get along?

  2. offthebox says:

    Hi Jeff,

    Great to hear from you and thank you for your well thought-out reply! I agree with you that science and religion are not inherently enemies, despite the constant sniping coming from both sides. Some attacks on science are also prevalent within the academy from secular sources, as radical post-modern thought denies that reality can truly (or at least exclusively) be understood through quantitative means. While I’m not a fan of much of post-modernism, there is an element of uncertainty in everything in life, even science, and I am okay with that. It would be nice if we could all get along, though!

    I’m not so sure that questioning and and testing are universally discouraged by religion, although unfortunately this is far to common. Suppressing questions, to me, is indicative of human nature to try and control others through authoritarian means and is not necessarily inherent(or exclusive)to religion in the best sense. After all, much of Jesus’s teachings came through asking questions or through telling stories which questioned the presuppositions of the religious authorities of his day. I would argue that anyone who denies the opportunity to ask honest questions is acting in an inapropriately authoritarian manner and is not being religious in any sense of the word I would care to associate with.

    At the end of the day, though, your primary point is sound: religion has nothing to fear from science. Likewise, science has nothing to fear from religion. If there’s anything to fear, it would be people abusing either form of knowing by twisting it to their own personal ends as a means of control.

    Take care…Mau!

    -Bill

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