Morning Herald's "Spectrum" section.
Dear Mr Ley,
I read your review of 'Uncentering the Earth', printed in Spectrum on
March 17 2007 with some interest.
Ever since I had read Koestler many years ago (decades, actually) I
have been fascinated by the intellectual developments which give rise
to our views of where we live, and the interaction of belief,
theory-making and observation; the 'cascade of enquiry' which maps the
route always taken to understanding of the world.
I was arrested by your claim towards the end of your review, "the
Christian creation myth, which teaches that ignorance is bliss and
knowledge is sinful". I don't know where this idea comes from, or
indeed, how an informed understanding of intellectual history, the
development of modern science, or the development of western history
of philosophy and theology could allow it to be entertained.
Sure, there are some individual Christians who might eschew knowledge,
learning, or the challenge of ideas, but this is not because they are
Christian. Christian faith and practice has given rise in the modern
period (and even through the pre-modern period) to the greatest
flowering of intellectual, cultural and scientific curiosity ever seen
on this planet. Indeed our contemporary attitude to enquiry stems from
the foundation for the credibility of the thinking individual laid by
the Christian theologian Martin Luther. Indeed, to be
anti-intellectual is counter to the tenets of the Bible and the broad
stream of Christian thought.
It is easy to think as you do, if you have only encountered
existentialist theology that talks about a 'leap of faith', a phrase
coined by Soren Kirkegaard, the Danish theologian. He used this phrase
to denote the pursuit of faith contrary to the impulse of the finite
mind or the uncongenial will. On the one hand, it is a summary of
humility in embarking on the Christian journey against the comfort of
a closed and inevitably limited mind. On the other hand, it is taken,
by some, as a retreat into faith despite 'evidence' mounted against
its doctrines, as if holding Christian faith is more comfortable than
slipping in with the unthinking crowd who are led by half-digested and
out of date philosophy. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Embarking on a Christian walk puts all your certainties up for grabs:
it is not the comfortable sheep that go out on emotional, intellectual
and personal limbs, but Christians. In the extreme, few people risk
death by following the crowd. Christians regularly and frequently risk
ridicule, ostracism, isolation and rejection, and from time to time
death, for their beliefs . . . and you think that Christian faith is a
glib 'easy' option? Such insistence has no credibility. Indeed,
historically, it has been the force of rational enquiry that has
encouraged Christian belief, as the self-refuting nonsense of crass
popular 'positivism' comes home with empty hands.
It is, to the contrary, much easier to let all your certainties come
care of the popular media and conversation in the pub or around the
dinner table, and remain bravely unquestioned as people hold their
prejudices jointly with the sureness of the village idiot.
But what of the Christian doctrine of creation, myth' as you call it
(incidentally, you might be interested in a book by the British
philosopher, Mary Midgley, which examines 'evolution' as a creation
myth)? As much has been written on the intellectual and scientific
explosion wrought by Christian thinking, I need merely refer you to
two authors: Stanley Jaki, a Jesuit priest with a PhD in nuclear
physics who has written much on the history and philosophy of science,
and its epistemological dependence on Christian thinking and Dr Peter
Harrison of Bond University who in a major study of the roots of
modern science ("The Bible, Protestantism and the Rise of Natural
Science") identified widespread belief in the creation account in the
Bible as leading to the vigorous theory making and breaking which
marked the 16th and 17th centuries. Much of the science up to the end
of the 19th century made by men (in the main) who would be disparaged
as 'creationists' today.
Did their belief that God created the universe in six days a few
thousand years ago stymie their science, or limit their enquiry?
Hardly! The biblical account calls on humanity to explore and
understand the universe (unlike pagan lore which does result in the
death of enquiry) and gives a basis in an objectively real and
reasonable creation from a sentient God, to explore the home we have
been given. Indeed, arguably the first scientific analysis of the
natural world is recorded in Genesis 2, with Adam naming the animals
(in Hebrew thinking, this isn't calling them Bert, Sally, or Rover,
but identifying their place in the order of life). In the
Judeo-Christian mental landscape, the world is free of mysterious
fates, goblins, forest sprits and the rest of the panoply of gods
invented by those who rejected the creator-God and is instead under a
consistent causal operation and is orderly, reasonable and in theory,
Interestingly, it is in cultures that adopt pagan type thinking that
science dies or never arose. If you think the forest spirit runs in
the forest, you aren't going to 'need' to study its ecology. Indeed,
in a survey I read of some years ago, there was a strong correlation
between belief in evolution as the mechanism of origins and acceptance
of astrology, channelling, crystal lore and the other nonsense of the
'new age' movement, and a strong counter correlation between these
enquiry crippling beliefs and belief that the Bible is the voice of God.
Could I suggest that in your next article that touches on the history
of our understanding of the solar system, you indicate that Galilleo's
crime was to challenge the (pagan) Aristotelian thinking that the
Roman Catholic church had adopted and refer to the cosmos itself, as a
diligent Christian is called to do, not being bound by the myths
invented by men, but attending to the creation given by God for us to
live in and understand.
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