“…To follow knowledge, like a sinking star,
“Beyond the utmost bound of human thought….”
(“Ulysses,” Tennyson (1833))
I’m not “an idle king,” and take my family obligations seriously, so I won’t be setting off on a voyage of discovery. Thanks to a pretty good Internet connection and research skills, I can “follow knowledge” without leaving my desk.
My shameless curiosity may need some explanation. Or maybe not, if you read my Friday ‘science’ posts.
Despite the gusto some Christians show in their rejection of science that doesn’t fit their assumptions, we do not all see ignorance as a virtue.
And as a Catholic, I’m supposed to use my brain.
We can’t all be scientists. But being curious, thinking, and studying the universe, is part of being human. Noticing order and beauty in the universe is one way we can learn about God. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 31–32, 35–36, 301, 303–306, 311, 319, 1704, 2293–2296)
They make me “docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit,” helping me accept God’s authority. But they don’t make me do anything. I’ve got free will: and the responsibility that goes with it. (Catechism, 144, 150, 1730–1742, 1830–1831)
In 20-20 hindsight we see that Isaiah was talking about our Lord:
Then, in 1980, Mount St. Helens exploded.
I remember seeing news footage of what looked like wooden matchsticks swirling in a torrent of mud and water.
Then I noticed a little yellow chip among the matchsticks. It was part of one of those trucks that carry outsize logs. The matchsticks were what was left of trees.
Rocky Kolberg, the photographer who produced that picture, was about 35 miles away, and survived. Nearly 60 folks who were closer — didn’t.
The ‘now that we are in control’ attitude has given way to ‘we’re doomed’ in some quarters, but this is still true:
And we still have trouble when we forget that “little less than a god” isn’t “God.”
(Hubble image of the Westerlund 2 star cluster.)
I suspect that some Christians have an at-best ambivalent attitude toward science and knowledge in general because so much of what we’re learning about the universe isn’t what some of us thought was so a few centuries back.
“New” isn’t necessarily “bad,” but I think it can be unsettling.
Particularly when we haven’t figured out quite what to make of the new knowledge yet.
Being so impressed by what we’re learning that we idolize the universe, or forget that “in the image of God” isn’t “God,” and idolizing our ability to learn? Like I said, that’s a bad idea.
But I do not think that learning more about the universe makes God unimportant. For me, it makes what we’ve known for millennia even more impressive.
“4 Indeed, before you the whole universe is as a grain from a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.
“But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook the sins of men that they may repent.”
It’s like Pope St. John Paul II wrote:
“…the Holy Spirit aids people with the gift of Knowledge. It is this gift which helps them to value things correctly in their essential dependence on the Creator. Thanks to it, as St Thomas writes, man does not esteem creatures more than they are worth and does not place in them the end of his life, but in God (ct. “Summa Theol.”. II-II, q. 9, a. 4)….”
(“Knowledge,” Regina Coeli, Pope St. John Paul II (April 23, 1989))
I think the universe is like a library, filled with books written by God. Each book is filled with beauty, wonders, and puzzles.
We are learning to read the books, using our gift of knowledge. Solving some puzzles requires information in books we didn’t know existed until recently.
The more we read, the more we can learn about the author.
But we have to open each book, and keep turning the pages.
More or less related posts:
(March 12, 2017)
- “Making a Universe: Why Bother?”
(January 29, 2017)
- “The Virtue Trap”
(October 23, 2016)
- “Faith That Matters”
(October 2, 2016) (guest post)
- “Humility isn’t Being Delusional”
(July 31, 2016)
1 Fear of the Lord is the reverence and respect God deserves. The problem goes back to consequences of a very bad decision that we’ve all been living with:
- Genesis 3:1–8
- Psalms 110:10
- General Audience
Pope Francis (June 11, 2014)
- “Fear of the Lord”
Angelus, Pope St. John Paul II (June 11, 1989)
- Catechism, 397–401, 2084–2089, 2144–2149
Being scared of God didn’t start with Jonathan Edwards, although I think his “angry God” sermon helped set America’s spiritual tone. I’ve talked about that; Mark Twain; and original sin, Catholic style, before: