Sunday, October 13, 2013

Truth Cannot Contradict Truth

What is wrong with this picture?

(From, via Google Developers, Google+, used w/o permission.)

From my point of view, it's the live ammonite in the pickup and pterosaur flying out of a cliff face. Neither has been around for about 65,000,000 years. That's quibbling, though.

I think most folks recognize fanciful embellishments: including folks who are still in elementary and high school. Sometimes a little playfulness makes a picture more memorable.

That's why this cartoon is the sort of illustration I'd like to see in science textbooks. It's a clear illustration of a fairly complicated set of data.

Errors, Spelling and Otherwise

That's my point of view. I'm a Christian with a lively interest in God's creation, and a willingness to take reality "as is."

Not everyone shares these views. The third, sixth, and seventh comments responding to a post on Google+ reflect two all-too-common ways of thinking:
"Two errors in posted image:
1) The dates are significantly too long ago.
2) The Flood, which caused the immediate burial of dinosaurs, etc needed for good quality Fossilization, is absent.

"Not sure if serious or trolling.."

"Please cite the Bible as your source, so that everyone can be keenly aware you have made no distinction between mythology and science, and thereby safely ignore you."

"As a beliver in the one true God who created all things, who is over all things even science, and logic....."
(Google Developers post, Google+ (October 11, 2013))
The "Two errors" comment might be trolling. The seventh, where "believer" is misspelled, is almost certainly an honest expression of belief. So, I think, is the one that ends with "safely ignore you."

Pouring Oil on Troubled Fires

My contribution, added much later, was "Next thing you know, someone will claim that the sky doesn't keep the upper waters from flooding us."

By then the discussion of "mythology and science" had marched down a well-worn path.

Followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster criticized the "wild and uncanny ignorance" of those who believe in the "god guy."

The other side said that Earth had to be as old as they think it is because "the Bible is God's word and not the work of fallible people, we know it is correct."

The conversation was fairly coherent, as such things go.

Emotions tend to run wild when folks who passionately believe that religion is nonsense argue with folks equally convinced that God agrees with a 17th century Calvinist.

Perhaps I'm being unfair: or, not.

My hope was that someone would see my comment and get curious about my beliefs. Besides, pouring oil on troubled fires occasionally pushes back the darkness.

Transpacific Flights and Mesopotamian Cosmology

(From "The Three-Story Universe," © N. F. Gier, God, Reason, and the Evangelicals (1987), via Nick Gier, University of Idaho, used w/o permission.)

Oddly enough, folks who sincerely believe that Earth didn't exist before 4004 B.C. don't seem troubled by transpacific airline flights and other evidence of a spherical Earth.

If the imagery we find in the Bible was literally true, as read by a post-Victorian American, we'd be living between "the waters beneath the earth" and "the flood waters stored on high." (Genesis 1:7; Exodus 20:41 Samuel 2:8; Job 9:6-7; Job 26:11; Psalms 33:7; 75:4; Sirach 43:10)

I knew one fellow who said that our sun goes around Earth, not the other way around: because the Bible says so. (Joshua 10:12-13) Even he didn't seem to have trouble with thinking that Earth is spherical.

I suppose implications of around-the-world cruises and international long distance telephone service1 made believing in a flat Earth too much for all but the most - devout?

Biblical imagery uses ideas from ancient Mespotamian cosmology. Back then, many folks assumed that the ground we walk on rested on huge pillars, with vast expanses of water beyond the deepest wells and on the other side of the sky.

I don't think Psalm 150:1 is 'mere poetry.' On the other hand, my faith wasn't shattered when Voyager 1 didn't crash into a celestial dome on its way to interstellar space.

Reading the Bible: Often

Nearly two dozen centuries back, a chap named Eratosthenes observed the sun's angle at noon on the summer solstice and calculated Earth's circumference. His results weren't entirely accurate, but pretty good for a rough approximation.

Since then, we've learned that the universe is vast and ancient on scales far beyond those measured by Eratosthenes. I don't mind. If anything, the overwhelming scale of creation increases my awe of the Creator.

My willingness to say that Ussher was wrong could brand me as one of the "disrespectful atheists." I'm not, but I do not expect the Bible to follow American, or even Western, cultural norms.

I take the Bible very seriously. As a Catholic, I have to. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 101-133)

Believing that the Bible is the Word of God is literally Catholicism 101. Since I can't believe that God is a liar, I think that what's in the Bible is true.

But since I also believe that God isn't an American, I don't have to assume that the Bible was written by someone with my culture's profound lack of appreciation for metaphor.

I've written about this before:
We're expected to read the Bible, often:
"The Church 'forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.'112"
(Catechism, 133)
If that's not what you've heard, I'm not surprised: and that's another topic.

More about Sacred Scripture, what it is and what it isn't:
  • "Understanding the Bible"
    Mary Elizabeth Sperry, Associate Director for Utilization of the New American Bible, USCCB

Why Bother With Science?

In the last several weeks, I've written about evolution, exobiology, exoplanets, fusion reactor research, meteor craters that are 35,000,000 years old and older, a fish that's been dead for 419,000,000 years, and a submerged mountain in the Pacific Ocean.2

Why all the stuff about science and technology in a 'religious' blog?

I am fascinated and delighted by what we're learning about God's creation. I enjoy sharing what I learn: even if — particularly if — it's not what my high school science textbooks said.

The goofy notion that science is against religion has been fashionable on and off since around the middle of the 19th century. I can see why folks who don't want God to exist sometimes claim that religion is an illogical set of 'unscientific' superstitions.

What's remarkable, and sad, is that many Christians say roughly the same thing: using different terms and invoking verses like 2 Timothy 2:15.

My faith doesn't depend on an interest in science, but it's not threatened by knowledge.

I think God exists, and created everything. I am also quite certain that God knows more than folks who lived more than a thousand years ago: or anyone living today.

Honest study of this universe cannot get in the way of faith. Since God created everything, including the physical world, nothing we learn about this creation can interfere with faith. (Catechism, 159)

(image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech)
"Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth."
(Dei Filius (1870), quoted in Catechism, 159)
Related posts:

1 "International long distance telephone service?!" Think about it: anyone calling someone in another country either knows about time zones before dialing; or learns by experience.

2 I routinely update a link list of 'science' posts:


David Torkington said...

It was good to note your reference to the protestant Bishop of Armagh who stated categorically that the world began 6,004 years before the year 2,000. Bishops Ussher’s incredibly naive calculations have never at any time been accepted by the teaching of the Catholic Church.

Meg Falciani said...

This is something that frustrates me so much -- the "either/or" that our culture seems to demand. More conservative-than-Catholic Christians (I didn't know these existed! lol) demand that only the Bible is right, yet those on the other side that Evolution is it. Who'd have thought that Catholicism would be the middle ground? I don't understand why both can't co-exist. Yes, God created everything, but given what we know about genetics (whose pioneer was a Catholic monk), who's to say that He hasn't "tinkered with" things as time went along.

Brian Gill said...

Sorry about the delay: I do comment moderation to avoid spam, and am organizationally challenged. ;)

David Torkington, thank you. I can understand tightly-wound Protestants clinging to Ussher's ideas. What makes less sense to me are Catholics who do the same thing.

Meg Falcaiani - Thank you, too.

A few things in life are "either/or," but much of human experience is anything but. Oddly, the Bible arguably presents an excellent case for evolution: when defined as more-or-less orderly change. We see a progression from the world's best job in Eden, through our first parents' appalling decision and uncounted generations of foul-ups, to Jesus' sacrifice - with a sneak peak at coming attractions.

And no, I do not assume that Adam and Eve looked like us. Evidence indicates that they'd have a terrible time trying to fit into a crowd these days.

You're spot-on with Mendel. He's one of many pioneering scientists who were Catholic: including Albertus Magnus, who was a scientist before natural philosophy was called "science."

Finally - about Catholicism and assumptions. On some issues, the Catholic Church is 'obviously' conservative. On others, it is 'obviously' liberal. The reality is that we've been following the same basic rules for two millennia - - - which puts us out of step with everybody who follow their own society's mores. I've talked about this a few times, including this:

"Conservative? Liberal? Democrat? Republican? No, I'm Catholic " (November 3, 2008)

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.