Cosmos: A Personal Voyage

My daughter and I just finished the entire series of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.  It’s one of those series available at the library that you have to wait forever to get.  And no wonder!  It’s excellent.

For high school transcript purposes, we have to come up with various courses so my daughter and I decided to create a course called “The History of Science”. The Cosmos series kicked it off and was a better choice than either of us had imagined. The series covered a multitude of scientific topics along with their historic origins.

I can see why people who watched this series became atheists. Sagan has an obvious love of the earth and believes strongly that had science been allowed to continue without interruption from religion back in the Middle Ages, we’d have a much better world today.  He says that, through science, “We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.”

He’s got a point.  The Christian religion tends to be focused on that which is otherwordly rather than the world we inhabit.  Do the right thing and you get to go to heaven, wherever that is.  So why care about this world?  Now we have all of this technological capability thanks to science, but we still don’t have much regard for the Earth. Things are absolutely crazy!  We eat an apple, but are we eating an apple, or a notion of an apple?  And what does that notion of an apple do to us? Is genetically modifying our food a way for the Cosmos to know itself?  It seems to me it’s just the opposite!

Sagan’s main concern was nuclear war, because this show was filmed during the Cold War. But he was also very concerned about Global Warming.  What I think he wanted his series to do was to put people in awe of the world around them, and to recognize how unique life on our planet is. If we could just understand how amazing and irreplaceable humanity is, perhaps we wouldn’t be so hell bent on self-destruction.

I wonder, have things gotten better or worse since Cosmos was first filmed?  Most of us see ourselves as a global community, now.  But there are still a lot of bumper stickers on the road that say something along the lines of “In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned”.  Original sin via St. Augustine is still built into the fabric of our understanding, be we religious or not.  And despite the consensus among scientists, the media and general public still resist the claims that the world is warming.  Or if they agree that it is warming, they excuse our bad habits and blame it on nature.

Anyway, excellent series.  My daughter really liked Carl Sagan and his approach to science.  The other night, she was having trouble sleeping and said she wanted to watch another episode of Cosmos!  (No – not because it would put her to sleep, but because she genuinely enjoyed the series.)  We both got a lot of out of it.

Evolution, Creationism, and Other Modern Myths: A Critical Inquiry

I watched a show from NOVA about the battle between Intelligent Design and Evolution. Evolution won, which is good.  We really don’t want to go back to the dark ages as far as science goes. Creation Science isn’t science. But at the same time, the battle between Evolution and Creationism always troubles me, a bit.  We always want stories about how we originated, but what if we’re looking at it all wrong? Many Buddhists, for instance, don’t have a problem with Evolution. If we are evolving, we might as well affect that evolution as beneficially as possible. But I have also heard many Buddhists claim that evolution is still just a story we tell ourselves about ourselves. That’s not to say they believe in Intelligent Design, but simply that we are only viewing the surface of our existence when we talk about Evolution.

I have long been a proponent of Evolution and first came across the idea that Evolution is a modern myth in a Shambhala Sun magazine. I don’t remember wrote the article now. I wish I had kept it because it was another one of those punches in the stomach. The author of the article wasn’t trying to discredit Evolution, he/she was simply trying to put evolution into perspective.

There are certain levels where science and rationalism are absolutely spot on. But there are other levels that science and rationalism cannot claim. These levels are not irrational, they are transrational.

I’ve had a book by Vine Deloria Jr. for years and finally got around to reading it after watching the NOVA film:  Evolution, Creationism, and Other Modern Myths. He has a knack for busting American prejudices and I think he may be right that the current battle between Creationism and Evolution exists because of something most of us have failed to notice:  both are based on the exact same cultural bias.

I think this is exactly what Nietzsche was calling our attention to over 150 years ago. The Western notion of an abstract God/Reality is dead, yet no one has noticed!   Not the fundamentalist theist nor the atheistic scientist. Both are still stuck in the same mindset that was handed down to us through medieval Christianity and that mindset no longer serves us!  Deloria says the following set of absolute beliefs have been uncritically accepted by science and that they have reistricted our intellectual horizons for over a century:

  • Monogenesis – the idea that all life must come from one source, held to be a creator in religion, determined to be an arbitrary, unseen process in science.
  • Time as real and linear – derived from Christian theology and uncritically accepted by science as the uniformitarian, homogenous passage of time.
  • Binary thinking – derived from Aristotlean logic (either/or) and Christian missionary zeal (“those not for us are against us”)
  • Stability of the solar system – nothing has changed in our solar system since god created it or produced our sun.
  • Homogeneity and interchangeability of individuals – we allege to believe that all atoms and particles are the same, and that all humans are equal – derived from Christian theology and Greek philosophy.  (Read any popular article on science today, and you will find these assumptions taken for granted – without the slightest hint that perhaps they are mistaken.)

Deloria goes on to say, “It may be possible to formulate a new understanding of the world that is not Darwinian, but to do so we must move from these pointless confrontations and let the data speak for itself. We already have a massive amount of data on how things act. Do we need to have a story on how they became what they are? Deep down, since we have no way of knowing, could we not simply admit that the question itself is impossible and invalid?…Do we need a beginning to make sense of the world?”

That is an excellent question. It is only Western society that insists we have a beginning to our story. When the Evolutionists are asked about a beginning on the witness stand, they claim they aren’t interested in the beginning, only about how things have changed. Deloria claims this is a bogus claim. The entire premise of Evolution requires a beginning and a linear progression of time.

The Ancient Greeks don’t claim a beginning. Their story is one of constant creation – societies coming into and going out of being. Perhaps there is a sort of evolution going on, but there isn’t an end. Once we finally make it to the golden age, we are destined to make our way through the darker ages again. That’s Nietzsche’s three stages (camel, lion, child).  The stages never actually begin nor do they conclude. It’s an ongoing process of becoming.

Deloria says we need to ask ourselves: “What is the nature of our ability to understand the natural world?”  He sites three levels (which reminds me of how Huston Smith has dealt with this subject).  At the micro level, Western science has had the most spectacular success.  This is all of the stuff that is smaller than us – the atoms, DNA, RNA, etc.  At the micro level,  scientific formulas work because we have so much control over the data. The macro level comprises everything larger than us: space, weather patterns, continental plates. This is the opposite of the subatomic level because, unlike the micro level, we have no control over the data we are observing and have to accept what it is the universe gives us.

At both levels, time and space have little meaning.  They are just handy mathematical devices we use to describe what is otherwise completely meaningless to us. It is the meso level that is the most difficult to comprehend. This is the level where everything is “man-sized” and where the critical element is participation. Participation necessarily alters experimentation and Deloria says we should  honestly admit that we have virtually no objectivity at the meso level because our participation in the experiment alters the outcome. Everything we say or think about the meso level is therefore subject to cultural blinders. We should not assume science has the same success on the meso level as it does on the micro and macro levels. That science refuses to recognize its blinders at this level has made it the reigning religion of today. Its basis is belief, not unbiased empirical data.

Heisenberg warned: “When we speak of the picture of nature in the exact science of our age, we do not mean a picture so much as a picture of our relationship with nature.  We have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning.”  Deloria says that much of what passes for scientific certainty is simply the personal belief that entities exist because they help explain mathematical equations. And what we Westerners call religions in other cultures (Buddhism, Shinto, Native American spirituality) is often far more empirically based and less biased than is Western science. We Westerners, on the other hand, were converted to monotheism by force and coercion which required a manipulation of belief and we have yet to let that manipulated belief go – even within science.

It’s a very interesting argument!

Science and Religion: Lectures 10-12: Evolution, Fundamentalism and Science and Theology


The idea of evolution had been around a long time before Darwin wrote about it. What was new in Darwin’s theory was the idea of natural selection. The problem with natural selection is that it makes God’s direct interaction with humanity unnecessary. The God of the gaps of the natural theologians was being squeezed out of yet another gap.  But it’s important to note that this specifically challenges the supernaturalist position (that God acts directly on all things rather than delegating his powers to natural things), not all of religion. It seems likely that if the English speaking world had not created two centuries of Natural Theology and had not come to rely on it so heavily for proof of God’s existence, then natural selection wouldn’t have provoked such a strong religious response.

Religious philosophies that were not reliant upon Natural Theology were primarily concerned about Darwinism from the standpoint of materialism, presented by thinkers like biologist Ernst Haeckel:

The cell consists of protoplasm, composed chiefly of carbon with an admixture of hydrogen, nitrogen and sulfur.  These component parts, properly nursed, become man. With this single argument, the mystery of the universe is explained, the deity annulled, and a new era of infinite knowledge ushered in.

This is materialism, atheism, scientism all wrapped up into one (and with astonishing arrogance, according to Principe).   From the religious perspective, many theologians were not bothered at all by the thought that man might have evolved from the ape. In fact, a new natural theology developed in accordance with natural selection – the world was evolving all according to a pre-determined blueprint.

Darwinism rejected progressivism (that evolution means constant advancement). But the ideals of advancement worked perfectly with the Victorian ideals of social and political progress and this sometimes found its way into natural theology, too. Natural selection was interpreted in two ways: monogenism – origins from one species. And polygenism – origin from several species. Polygenism was very popular to imperialist England because it supported the idea that some species had the right to rule over others species based on origin.  This was a position rejected by the Catholic Church but supported by much of Protestantism (polygenism was used to support slavery in the American South).

Acceptance of Evolution became a way for intellectual theologians to distinguish themselves from non-intellectual theologians. Accepting Evolution was a mark of being a modern and enlightened theologian. Of course, whenever you create one group, you create another group of those on the outside of the group you have created. The less formerly educated formed opposition to this elitism through opposition to Evolution. Opposition to Evolution became a badge of membership. (Many recent American sects define themselves in practice as much through opposition to evolution as to adherence to specific religious doctrine.)

Most of the opposition to evolution has has been Protestant, not Catholic. Catholicism had a different reaction to Evolution. Catholics were typically neither Biblical Literalists nor Natural Theologists. What Catholics rejected was specifically polygenism and materialism. Pope Pius XII allowed communication between theologians and scientists, but noted that Evolution was a hypothesis. Pope John Paul II noted that there was enough evidence that Evolution was no longer a hypothesis.   A hypothesis is a provisional statement, a supposition in the process of being tested.

John Paull II called Evolution a “theory”.  This is different than a hypothesis.   Theory doesn’t mean a guess or supposition.   A theory is not something waiting to be proven.  It is far greater than a fact could ever be.  A theory is a well-supported explanatory structure capable of explaining and predicting a range of phenomena.   A fact is just an isolated tidbit of knowledge.  A theory organizing facts, concepts and predictions into a functional, scientific framework.   The theory of gravity is a theory.  But nobody ever says that the theory of gravity is “just a theory”.  So what John Paul II was doing was updating Pious XII’s statement. Evolution is no longer a hypothesis, it now holds the status of a theory – a powerful, organizational structure for biology.

Evolution created a religious equivalent of theistic evolution which said that evolution was a natural process guided or directed in some way by God. This was developed by scientists.  Evolution is what made humanity what it is, but it is God who gave man “soul”.


I find this extremely interesting – there is more religiously motivated opposition to Evolution in America today than there was at the start of the 20th century. By 1900, Evolution had gained wide acceptance within both the scientific and theological communities. Literal interpretations were becoming things of the past. But by the 1920s, literalism came back with a huge bang in the United States.

Fundamentalism is an American product. The Fundamentals, by A.C. Dixon (1910-1915) were mass produced. It was in opposition to modernism which is a movement towards new theological perspectives in Protestantism (particularly within Episcopalianism and Methodism). Fundamentalism is a reactionary movement and was primarily Baptists and Presbyterians who responded to the fundamentals.

Fundamentalism can be divided into two groups: theological and socio-political.

Fundamentalist theological beliefs:

  • naive literalism
  • biblical inerrancy
  • 19th century millenarianism

The idea of the rapture developed from millenarianism. The rapture is the notion that the supposed faithful would suddenly disappear at the start of the millennium. This was a belief totally unheard of before the start of the 19th century.  Biblical innerancy and naive literalism became a natural consequence of these sorts of beliefs.

This shift was also social. The U.S. was undergoing a shift from an agrarian culture to an urbanized, industrialized one.  There was also a lot of immigration. So there was a lot of anxiety. The trend toward Biblical exegesis also added a lot of stress because unless you were an intellectual, you couldn’t follow this trend. The Ku Klux Klan sprang from similar social consequences, too. People suddenly began to realize they didn’t have a privileged place in an increasingly pluralistic America.

Fundamentalism developed around negativity. A fundamentalist is an evangelical who is angry about something. What they are angry about has changed over times. Early on, the anger was toward Higher Criticism, not Evolution. The anger toward Evolution started with WWI. This was the first technological war and suggested that something had gone fundamentally wrong with Western Culture and its promises of progress and enlightenment.

1900-1920 witnessed an unprecedented growth in high schools. America’s rural populations were suddenly exposed to modern thought and science for the first time. This was intelligentsia invading rural America.

Improved education in 1957, thanks to Sputnik, launched another overhauling of public education – especially in terms of text books. But this improved education, which used Evolution as an organizing principle, set off new attempts to ban Evolution.

Anti-evolutionists turn to a new strategy – equal time strategy. This is when creation science becomes a legally promotable evolution alternative. The Creation Science Society was founded in 1963, after the publication of The Genesis Flood (1961).  In 1987, Creation Science was recognized by the Supreme Court as a religious doctrine and not science.

Creation Science is a minority view and should not be confused with that of orthodox Christianity. It’s from young earth creationists. Virtually every mainstream Christian denomination, Catholic and Protestant, voted to strike down the equal time law.

The next generation from Creation Science is neocreationism. This is the abrupt appearance theory: new life forms abruptly appeared. This is creationism without mentioning God. This was not a successful adaptation. A more successful adaptation is Intelligent Design.

In American public education, the strategy has been to downplay evolution in order to keep upsets to a minimum.  Textbooks have minimized their coverage of evolution for the same reason.  If you want to learn about evolution in America, you need to attend a Catholic school or another private school not set up by a fundamentalist curriculum.

Science and Theology

Science and Theology share a great deal in common:

  • They are both human strivings for knowledge: operating by the cooperative exercises of faith and reason
  • They are both activities of human beings and both expressions of human desire – especially our human desire “to know”

Theology developed some of the methods and approaches that modern  science takes for granted and sometimes thinks to be it’s own creation. Theology developed within Western culture, a culture of dispute. Try to imagine good science without dispute. The same is true for theology. The foundations of naturalism for science lie with the medieval theologians who realized that only secondary causation is really comprehensible to the human mind. Therefore only secondary causation has any explanatory power.

Theology, no less than science, is a search for the truth. It is not just about opinion. Christian theology has proven itself remarkably flexible in its ability to adopt, adapt, and explore new scientific findings – to see what they mean.

It used to be that the only way to become a theologian was through elite training. It would take years of training to become a theologian. On the other hand, it used to be that being scientist only required observation. Anyone with a keen sense could consider themselves a scientist.  But trends have changed. To be considered a scientist today requires elite training, yet theologians abound who have no training whatsoever.

The current theological conflict involves whether Genesis 1 should be read literally or not. Intellectually speaking, it is very difficult to find this trivial and non-interesting compared to earlier issues. If this is all the general public is exposed to, it’s no wonder the status of theology is in decline.

Historical religion tells us that the issue of biblical literalism and evolution is a non-issue. Old-time religion isn’t a problem. It is current Biblical inerrancy that raises the issue. But even the person who first advocated Biblical inerrancy (Warfield) was open to the idea of Evolution!

While some fundamentalist justifiably warrant conflict and create the error of collectivism, but so do some scientists.  Hawkins, Sagan, Hoyle, Dawkins, and their tribe create good reason for anxiety. These people promote the gospel of materialism and scientism.  Very often the claims these folks make are full of philosophical naivism, arrogant sarcasm and arrogant disdain.  This does not promote productive discussion.

The battle between science and religion is a battle of extremists. Extremist views are simple and easy to feature in a 15 minute soundbite. They alienate the more moderate viewpoints. Extremists want the division between science and religion, but this division doesn’t really exist.

Things are not always what they are now.  It is important to understand history, historically – not according to modern understanding.

Science and Religion: Lectures 7-9: Mechanical Philosophy, Natural Theology, Geology and the Big Bang Theory

Mechanical Philosophy

It’s interesting to consider that the replacement of the traditional cosmology (earth is the center of the universe) with the Copernican cosmology (the earth revolves around the sun) did not have near as far reaching affect on philosophy and theology as did the mechanical philosophy which envisioned the universe as a an immense and immensely complicated mechanical clock (atoms).

Individual organs became mechanical devices.  The heart is a pump; the kidneys are filters; and the whole body is a mass of plumbing.   It was understood that underneath everything that can be seen were even smaller mechanical clock systems which brings us back to the problem of hidden causation.

The mechanical philosophy caused some problems for theology. If everything natural can be proven, then miracles could be more easily proven, too. And if everything in the world is mechanical, then there must be a divine craftsman.   But a God that is a divine craftsman did not support the orthodox understanding of God. It suggested that God created the world and then stepped back and let it happen. The other problem the mechanical philosophy created was the belief that matter is all there is – there is nothing spiritual.

Medieval religious writers argued for subtle understandings of the trinity, free will, divine providence, etc. 17th century religious writers made a shift to apologetics and the trivial – arguing simply for the existence of some sort of deity. This shift should not be underestimated because we are still dealing with it today.

Natural Theology

Theology came up with an idea of a sort of “God of the gaps”.  If nature can be explained, then whatever cannot be explained claims that God is the cause. But the problem with this is that invariably, all gaps are a result of our incomplete of the understanding of the natural world, not actual gaps.  A God of the gaps is constantly being replaced by natural explanations.

Argument for design says that the smooth functioning and intricate contrivance of natural objects implies a designer.    But this understanding of God doesn’t necessarily lead you where you want to go if you are a monotheist because it  could be an organization of designers (polytheism).  The problem is, an argument for design depends on an argument from design. Therefore, arguments for design, ultimately rely upon appeals to ignorance. And this leads to an argument for a God of the gaps. Arguments for design are not rational arguments. They appeal to our emotions.

Originally, natural theology was specifically for believers. Understanding the natural world could only strengthen a belief in God, but eventually, natural theology became an attempt to convince non-believers. While natural theology can strengthen a belief in God, it can’t create a belief in God!  That’s where the weakness lies!

There is something very English about the image of a proper, well-ordered world governed by a magnificent sovereign.   The natural theologian’s image of the world and the projected image of the English state and crown is extremely “English”. Also, you are far more likely to buy into the idea that the world has been perfectly designed by a beneficent deity if you are wealthy than if you are a peasant who has experienced the death of many of your children by the age of ten.

A recent development of natural theology is Intelligent Design. First, this theology says that intelligent causes have a crucial role in the origin and design of the universe and of life and its diversity.  Second, design is empirically detectable in nature.

But when we claim that something is inherently inexplicable in terms of natural causes, we are asserting that ordinary secondary causation is inadequate and therefore that primary causation (a designer) must be invoked. But primary causation, by its very nature, is incomprehensible. So, the recourse to primary causation explains nothing in the usual way we understand the term “explain”. When we rule out the usual functioning of natural causes, we are left with only two causes: (1) direct primary cause acts without mediation (the creation out of nothing); (2) the first cause acts through secondary causes in such a way that their usual action is altered. We call such events “miracles”, but we can only label it as such. If we could explain the miracle, it wouldn’t be a miracle. Therefore, the promise that the designer might literally explain something is vain.

According to medieval philosophy, on the other hand, primary causation is literally incomprehensible. Primary causation doesn’t help you if you want explanation or understanding. All we can comprehend is secondary causation – that is all we have to study.  Only secondary causation provides true explanation.  A designer might be behind the secondary causes, but we can never know for sure and in a practical sense, it doesn’t make any difference for our explanations because all we can ever observe are the secondary causations.


The Medievals had little reason to believe the Earth was more than a few thousand years old. There was no physical evidence for this.

Given a homocentric cosmology (a view of the earth and universe as created for mankind), it made no sense to think that the Earth would have been around for aeons without mankind. The belief in these times were not held to religiously, there was simply nothing around to contradict them.  After fossils and statification were introduced, the flood of Noah’s Ark became a geological event for the first time because it was theorized that the food created the stratification.

While Natural Theologians in England were harmonizing geological findings with Biblical narratives, there were thinkers in France who were using geological findings to discard Biblical narratives.  A practice of studying the Bible for historical purposes became popular – but these findings were used both for and against the importance of Biblical narratives. It was a confused mess in the 18th century.

In 1807, geology became professionalization. A group of people termed themselves “philosophical” geologists which was defined by a focused attention to geology per se, not its religious ramifications.  By default, the creation of this group created another group, the “Mosaical” geologists who endeavored to conform scientific findings to literal readings of Genesis. They wanted to oppose the rhetoric of eternalists like Hutton and to express the moral horror of the French Revolution which they felt was exemplified by French deists. The Mosaical geologists were being shut out of Biblical exegesis by “the higher criticism”

In the middle ages, theologians were the most highly professionalized groups. However, with the rise of Protestantism came the notion that anybody could interpret scripture. Then around 1800 with the advent of Higher Criticism, which required the knowledge of ancient languages, the reading of scripture was becoming professionalized, again.

For those who become excluded from increasingly complex esoteric and professionalized scientific and theological communities, one response is retrenchment. Mosaical geologists returned to late 17th century styles of Earth histories as though the 18th century hadn’t happened. And they preferred naive readings of Genesis as though the Higher Criticism hadn’t happened.

There were clergy and devout Christians on both sides of the philosophical/Mosaical geologists divide. The division was not science vs. religion. The division was social and it was enforced by how the groups treated geological knowledge publicly. Mosaisists directed it to apologetic purposes akin to natural theology. The philosophical geologists frowned with this use. Even if some of the members attempted to harmonize Genesis with geology, this was not to be done publicly. A strict adherence to natural causes was maintained, but this adherence was not about private belief.  It was specifically a boundary created for professional discussion and publication. The split was not a science/religion split. It was a social split between those with elite training and a popular group.

Big Bang Theory

In the 20th century, the big discussion was steady state theory vs. big bang theory.   The Big Bang theory was first presented by Georges Lamaitre, a Belgian Priest.  Einstein and others initially rejected it because they said it sounded too much like Christian dogma (it maintains that there is a definite beginning and it is out of nothing). This presents a twist – discomfort with a new theory because it sounds too much like Christian dogma. Einstein was finally won over and the steady state theory was eventually rejected.

Fred Hoyle was the most boisterous opponent of the big bang theory (he coined the term). He was an avowed atheist, anti-clerical and especially anti-Catholic.  He maintained the steady state theory.  Ironically, while he linked the steady state model to an atheistic campaign, others interpreted it theologically. They said the the steady appearance of hydrogen molecules within empty space was evidence of God’s continuing activity in the physical world.

That the Big Bang theory is currently the prevailing theory and shows that when theological and scientific perspectives are at odds, theology isn’t always the “loser”.

In every instance of scientific finding, theologians have found ways to include the findings within their theological interpretation. Theology is not diametrically opposed to science.

Science and Religion: Lectures 5-6 – Galileo Affair

In 1543, Nicholas Copernicus published De revolutionibus orbium coelstium (On the Revolution of the Heavenly Orbes).  Copernicus said that the sun is at the center of the universe (heliocentrism) and that the earth is in motion (geokineticism).  It turns on its axis and moves around the sun. His idea was not accepted because it violated common sense experience; it threw out 2000 years of astronomical theory; and it subverted fundamental principles of physics. It also presented a biblical problem because Joshua supposedly had made the sun stand still.

Galileo had become convinced of Copernicus’s hypothesis. Many had accepted Copernicus’s views as a sort of fictional hypothesis because they were useful in mathematical equations for determining astrological predictions, but they didn’t think of them as fact. Galileo’s ideas were called into question by the Inquisition but were quickly dismissed.    What got him into trouble was a reinterpretation of the Joshua story in terms of  heliocentrism. His theological grounding is firm, but he did this during a hypercharged period within Catholicism because of the Protestant Reformation.  Protestantism called for individual interpretation and this individual interpretation was creating a lot of extremely mis-directed Biblical understandings (even Martin Luther agreed with this).  So the Catholic church was coming down extra hard on Biblical interpretations that did not have the backing of the Church fathers. Obviously, heliocentrism did not have this backing, but Galileo also claimed that his Biblical interpretations were not just alternative interpretations, but better interpretations than the theologians interpretations. He also tells theologians to stay out of natural philosophy. This didn’t make him particularly popular.

To be fair, Cardinal Bellarmino was willing to interpret the Biblical passage according to heliocentrism if proof of the earth’s rotation around the sun could be established. Galileo claimed he had a proof and Bellarmino denied his proof.  In this case, Bellarmino was right.  Galileo’s proof wasn’t proof.  It could all be explained by geocentric means, too.  He was ultimately correct about heliocentrism, but he wasn’t able to provide proof.

Bellarmino and Galileo agreed on harmonizing Biblical interpretations with scientific knowledge.  Where they differed was on who would do the the reinterpretation and when. Bellarmino was cautious, Galileo was potentially overly enthusiastic. It’s also likely Galileo got caught in a power struggle between the Dominicans and the Jesuits. The Jesuits were replacing the Dominicans as the intellectual force of the Catholic Church. Some of the Jesuit Universities had even begun teaching Copernicus’s theories. Galileo’s accusers were Dominicans.

We are not free to engage in collectivism. The actions of specific churchmen cannot be turned into a general statement of Galileo vs. “The Church”. Galileo went to see the Pope in 1616 and said that he was well-received. The Pope acknowledged Galileo’s enemies and said Galileo could feel safe as long as the Pope lived. In May of 1616, Bellarmino gave Galileo a certificate stating that he had not been condemned but had simply been warned that he should not defend Copernicus’ hypothesis as literally true.

Galileo’s friend became the new Pope (known as Urban VIII). He gave the OK for Galileo to write a new book on the tides. It was to be published in Rome and had been Ok’d by Roman censorship, but the University he had originally planned to publish his book through collapsed. Then the plague broke out so he could not send his book to Rome without it being placed in quarantine. Gallileo became frustrated and decided to have it published in Florence, but the book had not been OK’d by censorship, there. The issues that Galileo went through to get his book published are those we still deal with today.  You could say that books today require “peer reviews” rather than the review of the church, but that’s a modern understanding of how things worked in Galileo’s time. Galileo’s book was sent to a mathemetician who was also a churchman. (Copernicus had been a churchman.)

When Galileo’s book was published, it was immediately praised, but rumors began to emerge about it. The Pope was an old friend of Galileo’s so you would think that the rumors could have easily been stopped, but the opposite happened. Urban VIII exploded in anger at Galileo. Why? Why did he claim he had been deceived?

Galileo probably made two injudicious moves. The Pope had required that Galileo include the limits of human knowledge in The Dialogue. Galileo did include it, but how he did it was enough to injuriate Urban VIII. Galileo put the Pope’s argument on the very last page of the book and in the mouth of a fool. The Pope also found out that in 1616, Galileo had agreed not to defend the Copernicus’ hypothesis but never bothered to tell the Pope about this agreement.   Urban had supported and protected Galileo and his reward was embarassment and insult. Urban VIII may have forgiven Galileo, but this  was the last problem Urban VIII needed at the time. He was dealing with problems with the Spanish over the Thirty Year’s War.  His reputation was already under attack and his friend embarrasses him when his attention needed to be elsewhere. Urban VIII let the Inquisition deal with Galileo and made and example of him.

Galileo was treated very well, unlike the stories that are told. He had lots of friends in church circles. He stayed in the palace of the Tuscan ambassador.  He wasn’t arrested. There was a document found in the Inquisition files that doesn’t fit with the certificate that Bellarmino gave Galileo. What was in the files said that Gallileo was forbidden to discuss the Copernicus hypothesis and it was unsigned. Bellarmino was dead so couldn’t resolve the issue.

What the Inquisition sought to address was very specific.  In writing The Dialogue, did Galileo violate his agreement with Bellarmino from 1616?

Galileo was asked why he never mentioned Bellarmino’s warning to the Pope. Galileo’s response isn’t convincing. He said he never imagined that his book was actually defending heliocentrism so he thought Bellarmino’s warning didn’t apply. He also said he didn’t really think that heliocentrism was true, anyway, that he was just playing around trying to make a weak argument look strong. This seems a big stretch, but the Inquisitors accept it. They then presented a plea bargain: Galileo would admit to inadvertently breaking his agreement. Galileo did this – basically said he had gone too far. That should have been the end of it but the Pope wouldn’t allow it to be the end. He demanded that Galileo be formally arrested and that the book had to be banned.

Galileo was formally Inquisitioned and presented surprising humility.  That should have been the end of it, but three cardinal’s refused to sign which makes it seem that the trial was really for show and that the Pope didn’t actually support it.

Split between a realist and an instrumentalist view of science was just beginning to emerge during the time of Galileo.  Realism says that scientific theories are true depictions of the world.  Scientific ideas really do describe the world as it objectively is. Instrumentalism says that scientific theories are simply useful tools for saving the phenomena.  Saving the phenomena means that if we see some set of phenomena, the goal of science is simply to propose a coherent model for describing and predicting these phenomena. Whether or not the theory is literally true of objective reality behind the phenomena is irrelevant.

Most modern scientists are realists.  So were Copernicus and Galileo but this was extremely unusual for their day.  Bellarmino, Urban VII, and many of the Jesuit astronomers of the Collegio Romano were instrumentalists.

The instrumentalists likely held the theological position of ex suppositione:  “by supposition” – you take a position suppositionally for the sake of the argument and see where it leads. Bellarmino and Urban were likely confused that Galileo insisted on the literal truth for his notions.

The realist view of modern science is based on an optimistic faith statement:  The human intellect can ascertain true causes and we can work backwards from observable to true causes and recognize them as such.

We have decided that  science is supposed to get at true causes and not rest content with workable accounts usable for prediction and explanation, but do not make claims to objective truth.

In practice, most scientists don’t follow the realist road all the way to the end. Philosophically speaking, we cannot ever tell that we have discovered ultimate causes or even that we are able to uncover them. In this sense, Urban VIII and Bellarmino were right.

But modern science does one of two things. It either makes the leap of faith that human beings can ascertain true causes or it assumes it can. Science has been successful, but success is not an argument for objective truth.

Science and Religion: Lectures 1-4

Science and Religion is a Great Courses lecture series taught by Professor Lawrence M. Principe of John Hopkins University.

He takes a historical (and also somewhat philosophical) approach to the subject which is surprisingly a much different approach than I have previously encountered. He says that science and religion are the two most important influences on human civilization. His course specifically sticks to the interaction of science and religion in the Latin West and descendants (Western Europe and North America) so the specific religion of his focus is Western Christianity.

Prof. Principe defines science as both a body of knowledge claims and a practice; it deals with the knowledge and study of the natural world. He says it is more difficult to define religion so breaks it into three parts: religious practice, theology and faith. He says that when we compare science and religion, what we are actually comparing is science and theology. Theology, like science, is both a body of knowledge claims and a practice of generating them. The comparison of science to theology is the only proper comparison because it doesn’t make sense to compare science to faith or science to religious practice. However, faith and reason are a useful pair of terms and it isn’t true that science works by reason and theology by faith. Science often must depend on faith statements and theology likewise relies on reason.

Proposed Models

There are various models referring to the historical relationship between science and religion that have been presented over the years. One very popular model is the warfare model which is also known as the conflict model which became especially popular in the 19th century. This says that science and religion have been opposed and that religion has stifled the advances of science. No serious historian maintains this theory today because the original proponents based their arguments on shoddy historical research and the divisions it creates between religion and science are not transhistorical because they are based on modern categories that do not apply to pre-modern thinkers. Pre-modern thinkers are called scientists now, but were not known as scientists in pre-modern times. They believed that theology was relevant to their work and vice versa. What is most troubling is that despite the shoddy scholarship, the model continues to be influential because it successfully created a myth of science as religion which was readily accepted by science advocates. Principe cited Carl Sagan as an example.

Other models that have been proposed are the separate realms model which argues that science and religion address different domains so any conflict is a result of boundary transgressions. But this model doesn’t hold up because it is based on a priori, modern and sometimes idiosyncratic definitions of science and religion. Another model is the complexity thesis which refer to the diverse and complex interactions of science and religion.

Faith and Reason/Scripture and Nature

Faith and Reason are the methods.  Scripture and Nature are the sources.  We consider Scripture and Nature to be two very different sources but this wasn’t always the case.

St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430)  is fundamental to western culture. Augustine originally rejected Christianity because the form that was presented to him was faith based which he found illogical. He preferred the Manichees which was a North African sect that rejected reliance on faith in favor of what could be proven by argument.  It also presented the world as in constant battle between good and evil/light and darkness (dualism). When Augustine was presented with an intellectual approach to Christianity through neo-Platonism, he no longer found the need to reject it and he got baptized. He made four points that became fundamental to Christian theology and are foundational to the science-religion interaction.

  • There is a unity of truth.  There is not one philosophy for science, one truth for philosophy, one truth for theology.  This is a single truth.  If there is a disagreement, the disagreement has to be resolved. But it’s really difficult for fallible human beings to get the truth right.
  • Nature and Scripture are two ways in which God reveals himself to man. They cannot contradict each other.
  • Both of the “Books” (nature and scripture) require careful interpretation; apparent contradictions arise from incorrect interpretations. He realized that even though the senses transfer to our minds exactly what it is they are sensing, our minds can misinterpret what comes to us through the senses. Things aren’t always what they seem.  Reading the book of nature requires rational analysis. Augustine said that the interpretation of Scripture, however, was even more difficult. Augustine said the literal meaning was the most difficult to interpret. Literal did not mean the surface meaning as it often does today. It was not a naive literalism.
  • Religion has primacy, but scientific knowledge is a key ancilla which assists true religion. Biblical interpretation must be informed by the current state of demonstrable knowledge.

It was knowledge of the natural world that turned Augustine away from the Manichees and led him to the “true faith”.

Credo ut intellegam: “I believe so that I may understand.” vs. Intellego ut credam: “I understand so that I may believe.”    Augustine concluded that faith increases by understanding. Faith and reason could not be separated and one could not be separated from the other. They always work together.  Understand so that you believe and believe so that you understand.  Both faith and reason are prone to error, but used together, they can be self-correcting.

Even in 1998, Pope John Paul II presented an encyclical called Faith and Reason which presents the two as inseperable and interelated and shows an optimism for human potential through the inseparability of both. It rejected blind faith over reason and reliance on biblical texts alone. The faith statements in the document are not Christian dogma, but that human life has meaning and that there exists an eternal and transcendant truth. Concepts like radical relativism, nihilism, pragmatism, and scientism are rejected because they are viewed as maintaining a negative faith rather than a positive faith. The loss of faith in an ultimate truth toward which we can strive (even if we cannot attain it) is a negative faith. So is the rejection of transcendent ideals which are worth striving for.

[I don’t know what I think of this. On the one hand, I agree that faith and reason are inseparable and I definitely have  "faith" in transcendent truth. But I don’t think this truth is something we need "strive" for because this sounds more to me like an abstract truth than a transcendent truth. The idea that we can "strive" for transcendent ideals doesn’t make any sense to me at all.  What does that mean and who gets to decide what those ideals are if they are transcendent?   Obviously, no one can determine by reason if there is a transcendent truth and I do agree that those who claim there is not a transcendent truth are making a faith based claim that there is not. And I definitely don’t think that just because it is unknowable, it is irrelevant. But it likewise doesn’t make sense to me to tell people to place their faith in the transcendent truth so that you can have something toward which to strive.  That seems to me to place the focus on the finger pointing at the moon rather than at the moon itself and makes the encyclical seem somewhat suspect. I suppose in a mystical sense, it could be said that the church is the transcendent truth. I understand this. Honestly, I get it. But the church is also a finger which purports to point at transcendent truth and in that sense is not transcendent truth. So is the purpose of the encyclical to encourage us to put our faith in that which is transcendent or is it really encouraging us to put our faith in that which purports to point us toward transcendence? The difference is huge and I think the reality all depends upon individual experience. The church can’t make the claim that it is transcendent separate from the individual who personally experiences it as transcendent. Therefore, to claim that we should place our faith in transcendent truth so that we have something to strive toward seems to me hugely problematic.]

God and Nature/Miracles and Demons

What causes the natural world is the fundamental question of science. It is also a question of theology because it is understood that God provides a basis for science because God implies a regularity of action underlying the natural world. Science endeavors to uncover this regularity.

Supernaturalism says that God directly effects everything in the world; all causation comes from a power outside of nature rather than within nature. There is naive supernaturalism that is anti-intellectual. But there is also a more sophisticated version called occasionalism which links what we witness between cause and effect are merely consequences of our perceptions. One thing doesn’t cause another, it only marks the occasion at which God acts.   Some supernaturalists believe that God naturally creates by his direct action.

Another view is naturalism. God created the world and then rested. Everything since creation flows from natural things.

Medieval philosphers identified two levels of causation: primary (directly from God) and secondary (from created things). If they have inherent powers of causation, they are secondary causes. Supernaturalists, on the other hand, rely on primary causation. The direct cause is always God.  Naturalists invoke secondary causation.

Counter to popular belief, theologians from the middle ages primarily sided with naturalism (albeit not radically). This has been true of all mainstream Christianity.  Some theologians said that there were two kinds of divine power:  God’s omnipotence: potentia Dei absoluta (the absolute power of God) and the powers that God actually chooses to exercise given the creation the way he made it: potentia Dei ordinata (God’s ordained power).  God could be capricious and could change the laws of nature, he chooses not to. It might have been true that medieval peasants believed in the constant interferance of God, but it wasn’t true of the medieval theologians. Medieval theologians sided with naturalism. For instance, in the Parting of the Red Sea (Reed Sea), medieval theologians argued that it was the wind that parted the sea, not God. God who had initially created wind worked through secondary causes, not primary causes.

[Just a quick thought – and I’m not exactly sure this has to do with anything – the Dalai Lama says the unique philosophy of Buddha is that everything comes because of some cause. That is the only law.]

If a large group of people are able to seek their freedom because of this strange phenomenon of wind creating dry land for them to cross, is it a miracle or not? In the 13th century, miracles were defined as:

  • special events outside the cursus communis naturae
  • might be worked by God intervening directly
  • or by his applying existing secondary causes in a special way


  • An event that displays a naturally inexplicable disproportion between the power of the evident cause and the effect is likely to be miraculous.

Therefore, miracles must be carefully identified so the need to identify miracles lead directly to the need for scientific knowledge which can show us the limits of natural actions. Miracles, because they are improbable, ultimately must be based on faith.

Miracles became especially problematic in the 17th century because Protestants widely adopted the doctrine of the cessation of miracles which said that “the age of miracles” was over; it ended with the death of the apostolic generation.  A consequence of this doctrine was an intense interest in demonic activity. Demons were understood not to have supernatural ability, but were thought to know natural properties perfecty and could apply natural agents in an instant. This makes demon appear miraculous, but it’s nothing more than an application of natural agents to subjects.  The dangerous part of discerning a miracle became the fear that if you ascented to the wrong part of a miracle, it might put you in the power of demons. Another consequence was the belief that if human beings could become as knowledgable of the natural world (through science) as the demons, humans could produce what seems to be miraculous but is merely a marvel (technology).

Today, there are many sects that fall far outside the historical mainstream Christian thought. These sects enhance the importance of miracles which diminishes the importance of natural causation. They also attribute far greater power to Satanic forces than does mainstream Christianity.  Such attribution resembles Manicheasm more than it does Christianity. Unlike orthodox Christianity, these sects have a lack of faith in the order that constitute science and so they are consistently opposed to scientific inquiry, explanation and education while orthodox Christianity fully upholds scientific inquiry, explanation and education.

A Few More Thoughts from The Time Paradox

While I’m thinking about it (because I checked this book out at the library and won’t be able to easily reference it), I want to jot down just a few more notes:

1.  Books I’d like to Read

Zimbardo & Boyd highly recommend several books which I might get a lot from so I am listing them here as a reminder:  

  • A Geography of Time by Robert Levine
  • Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman
  • Stumbling into Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
  • The How of Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. 

I also looked up Zimbardo’s Lucifer Effect and it has fantastic reviews – very many people claimed that book was life changing for them and it’s also available at my library. I have the books by Gilbert and Levine they recommend because I found both at Goodwill the other day before I had read The Time Paradox.  I could have sworn I had bought a book by Seligman but I must have decided to pass it up because I can’t find it on any of my bookshelves.  (I have so many unread books on my bookshelves these days after the $1.99 book deal at Goodwill!  A wonderful Goodwill store is right next to my son takes guitar lessons which is also right next to the Half Price Bookstore. I hang out at both while waiting for his lesson to finish. So much fun!)

2. What Happy People Do

Zimbardo & Boyd use Sonja Lyubormirsky research to show what “happy people” tend to do more than less happy people which I found interesting:

  • Help coworkers and passersby
  • Express gratitude for what they have
  • Devote time to family, friends, and other social relationships
  • Savor life’s pleasures and try to live in the present
  • Exercise habitually
  • Express optimism about their future
  • Set and pursue life goals
  • Cope well with life’s headaches

Each of these has a time perspective correlate, of course:

Helping Others: A study was done with seminarians. Some were told that they had lots of time to give a sermon and others were told they were late.  A man in obvious need of help was staged on the way to where the seminarians were to give their sermon. Those who believed they had a lot of time to give the sermon were far more likely to stop and help. Those who thought they didn’t have much time overwhelmingly decided to get to their sermon rather than stopping to help. This requires a healthy present-hedonist perspective. So does savoring lie’s pleasure.

Expressing Gratitude: Requires a healthy past-positive time perspective.

Expressing Optimism about the future: Requires a healthy future time perspective.

3.  Happiness is NOT a priority.

We generally devalue happiness in our society because we feel pressure to use our time productively. Industry and economic success are prized over happiness.  But income in excess of what is required to meet basic needs does not bring happiness so this has paradoxically made our American culture become obsessed with personal happiness.    

We all realize happiness is important, but because happiness takes time to acquire and we are driven by urgency, we don’t make it a priority even though we are overly obsessed with a “feel good” version of it. We have to give ourselves time to be happy and we don’t like giving up our time.  Most people who don’t stop their excessive business for happiness report a feeling of emptiness toward the end of their lives. So what is going to stop for if you don’t stop for time? Death. Perhaps if we actually made happiness a priority, we would no longer be so heavily criticized by the rest of the world for our shallow “feel-good” value system.

4.  Education

The primary function of our educational system is the domestication of present-hedonistic children [a natural state for children] and transformation of them into future-oriented adults ready to assume their place on the factory line. Public education is patterned after the Prussian Army.  It’s not about educating generations of freethinkers, it’s about making behavior predictable, controlled and in line with the rest of society’s.  Today’s education is as much about making sure our children get rid of their playfulness and spontanaiety as it is about what they learn. They have to learn to delay gratification, obey authority, and tolerate boredom. These are the main lessons of traditional education.