Science, Faith, and Me

This universe is bigger and older than some folks thought, a few centuries back.

I don’t mind, at all. Besides, it’s hardly new information. We’ve known that we live in a big world for a long time.

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.”
(Wisdom 11:22)

If that bit from Wisdom doesn’t sound familiar, I’m not surprised. It’s not in the Bibles many Americans have. The one I read and study frequently is the unexpurgated version.

What’s new, in the Euro-American branch of Western Civilization, is that we’re getting some idea of just how big and old.

I gather that Hindus never lost track of our home’s size and age. And that’s another topic.

Getting conniptions over new ideas isn’t new. Neither is imagining that ‘God agrees with me.’ But I don’t think “old” means “good.” Not always.

Some ancient ideas still make sense, and always will.

Maybe thinking that the universe is older than a few thousand years is scary.

Imagining that we don’t that we live on a nice little plate, safely under a protective dome — may be downright terrifying.

To some. Not me.

I figure God can handle the parts of this creation we’re discovering: and whatever else we haven’t found yet.

Being Catholic, and knowing a bit about our faith, helps.

Then there’s the old chestnut about folks thinking Earth is flat in the Middle Ages.

Some Europeans  may have thought Earth is flat in the Middle Ages. Christians, a few, may cherish that bit of Mesopotamian cosmology. I don’t, I haven’t met a Christian who does.

Aristotle and Fanboys

Several decades back a young Christian told me that our sun goes around Earth, because ‘The Bible Says So.’

He wasn’t Catholic.

The Catholic Church told Aristotelian fanboys that Aristotle’s ideas do not carry the same weight as God’s.

That was in 1277.

Bottom line? Thinking Aristotle is a smart guy is okay.

Getting him and God confused isn’t.

A few centuries later, Copernicus delayed publication of his theories because he didn’t want to be hounded by “babblers.”

What happened isn’t the story I grew up with. It’s whopping good good one, and very slightly accurate.

“De revolutionibus…” was on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum: from 1616 to 1960. But not banned. The issue was a few proofing errors. (April 28, 2017)

I like living in an era where much of the natural philosophy I learned in my youth turned out to be incomplete. Or, in some cases, simply wrong. We started calling it “science” a few centuries back.

“…To follow knowledge, like a sinking star,
“Beyond the utmost bound of human thought….”
(“Ulysses,” Tennyson (1833))

“…nothing can be proved either by physical science or archaeology which can really contradict the Scriptures.…”
(“Providentissimus Deus,” Pope Leo XIII (November 18, 1893) [emphasis mine])

“…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))

Basically, I think ignorance isn’t a virtue. And that using our brains is a very good idea.

‘I’m Dreaming of a White — Thanksgiving.’

That’s the view through my webcam, just after I woke up this morning. More or less.

It was definitely this morning, 10 minutes before 10:00. I’m still not convinced that I was “awake.”

I’d gone from ‘sleep’ mode to having a few of the circuits I use for conscious awareness in operation: barely. This is going to be an interesting day.

It’s been an interesting week, for that matter. What with one thing and another, I finished the ‘Friday’ post several hours late. Sleep has been elusive, too. Like I said, “interesting.”

Instead of chugging several more cups of the quadruple-strength coffee I like, and hoping for the best, I’ll put off what I’d planned for today. I’m in no condition for the precision work that’d take.

Instead, I’ll let slip the dogs of memory: in the general direction of why I’m a Christian and a Catholic and write so much about science.

Real science. The sort scientists do. Not the bizarre mutations you’ll run into near various ragged edges of reality.

I chugged the über-strength coffee, anyway. With — interesting — results.

You have been warned.

Living in a Big World

It’s been a few decades since I read something science-related whose author said that picture shows the moment when Europeans realized that they lived in a big world.

Maybe that’s what it illustrated in Flammarion’s “L’atmosphère : météorologie populaire.” Or maybe not.

But word seems to be getting around that it’s an engraving most likely made in the 1880s.

It reflects old styles, including medieval Europe’s fondness for zoomorphic elements and their botanical analogs. But medieval it’s not.

Some Europeans were ignorant and superstitious after the Roman Empire stopped making life interesting in my ancestral homelands. Some probably still are.

So are some Americans, I strongly suspect.

Current superstitions sometimes have old roots.

Others, reflected in angsty prophecies uttered by anonymous scientists, are new. Newish, anyway. Maybe more like retreads of old ‘don’t offend the spirits’ lore.

A few non-anonymous scientists make memorably-odd remarks when prophesying doom instead of analyzing facts. My opinion, and that’s still another topic.

Some Christians, including some Catholics, are almost certainly superstitious. There’s a whole lot of us, about a billion living today. It’d be nothing short of incredible if at least a few of a diverse bunch that size didn’t have at least a few screws loose.

But superstitious, homicidally psychotic, or profoundly ignorant Catholics aren’t evidence that the Catholic Church advocates mass murder. Or uses ignorance to control the mindless minions of megalomaniacal masterminds.

MUAHAAHA!!!! THE FOOLS!!!!!!!!

Hey, I like stories like that. Some of them.

Superstition, Ignorance, and Getting a Grip

I’ll grant that faith, Christian and otherwise, can coexist with superstition and ignorance.

But Christianity won’t disappear if by some miracle most folks decide that ignorance and superstitions are bad ideas.

Believing that superstition makes sense, or acting as if it does, is one of the few things the Catholic Church says are always bad ideas. No exceptions.

Also slavery , murder, and genocide. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 21102111, 2261, 2313 2414)

Some Catholics act like rules-obsessed killjoys and/or say murder is okay if you really feel like it or think it’s convenient.

But they don’t speak for the Church.

They’ll probably say otherwise, or say that it doesn’t matter because they feel that it should be Catholic teaching. And besides, that’s what they want to be so.

I’m aware that some Catholics have been slavers, murders, and occasionally mass murderers. We’ve been around for two millennia. One of original Apostles was a traitor, and a few of our Popes have been nothing to brag about.

We’re not a restricted-membership society of perfect people.

Through two millennia good popes, not-so-good popes, a few downright bad popes and some Saintly ones — forgot was I was saying.

The Church has never said “go and sin some more” or “if it feels good, do it.”

Our Lord’s outfit has also been notably reticent about making the streets run red with the blood of oppressors.

Like I said, some Catholics have behaved badly. They’ve got company, some of them emphatically non-Catholic religious leaders.

I won’t cry out for God to damn them. That kind of trouble I don’t need.

Holy Willie is a terrible role model.

I’ve wandered off-topic again. Or maybe not so much.

Wrenching myself back to superstition and getting a grip: some sects would develop membership retention issues, if superstition and ignorance disappear.

You guessed it: more topics. A sackful. Wagon load. Lots and lots.

Fu Manchu and Executive Order 9066

Catholics, at least, aren’t kept in superstitious ignorance by machinations of Western-style Fu Manchu clones.

On the other hand, that sort of thing makes a flaming good story.

And has.

Also a running gag in at least one comic strip.

Despite my predilection for some potboiler fiction, I’m not fond of Fu Manchu spinoffs. They’re uncomfortably dependent on attitudes that spawned fears of the “yellow peril.”

I haven’t read the original Sax Rohmer stories, but suspect that they respected then-current acceptable attitudes.

That version of xenophobia isn’t nearly as well-supported as it was in my youth.

Which is another reason I don’t yearn for the ‘good old days.’

The good news is that America’s national government finally got around to making token efforts to correct injustices like Executive Order 9066.

That isn’t the most deeply-shameful bad idea to come out of Washington. Not as I see it. That’s a topic for a post written after I calm down a bit. A lot. So is discussing some yellow peril retreads currently plaguing my nation

I’m under no illusions about this being “as a city upon a hill.” That played well for John Winthrop’s audience in 1930.

It’s been an effective marketing/political slogan for Americans off and on since then.

I’m not sure how well it’ll work over the next few centuries.

My country changed a lot after the 1960s.

I’m not happy about the direction some reforms took.

But I am still convinced that the reforms were needed. And long-overdue, in many cases.

We Can Do Better

Some folks, including some Catholics, bewail their imagined Golden Age.

They yearn for the glorious days when America was a shining beacon to the wicked world, a Christian nation nobly forcing American values down the throats of those wretched heathens.

By force, when necessary.

I really do not miss the ‘good old days.’

I remember their trailing edge, and was one of ‘those crazy kids’ who thought we could do better. Much better.

We’re not a “shining city upon a hill,” and never have been.

If we’d honored truth and justice, we’d have honored at least a few of the treaties made with nations west of the Appalachians. Miscommunication, blunders, and errors made might for right up to 1776 aren’t entirely our fault.

England overran some folks living east of those mountains, or seized territory conquered by other Europeans. Then some Americans got fed up with mismanagement, and revolted.

In retrospect, letting colonists get experience managing their own affairs can be seen as a mistake on England’s part. The colonists got pretty good at it. Better, in some ways, than the old-school lot running jolly old England. Which wouldn’t take much, in some cases.

I like being an American, on the whole, and think my homeland’s leadership occasionally tries to rule with justice and concern for the common good.

But like I said, we’re not an ideal nation.

On the other hand, we’re among humanity’s better approximations to date.

We’re not there yet. Not even close. But we’re still trying. And we’re not the only ones experimenting with new approaches to ancient ideas.

The E. U. and U. N. are promising first efforts.

But don’t hold your breath, waiting for a reasonable facsimile of St. John Paul II’s “civilization of love.”

Better yet, don’t wait. Do whatever you can to work with others who think we can build a better world. And don’t let the prospect of dying centuries before before we start seeing significant progress get you down.

Millennia, more likely.

Longer, for efforts that last long enough to be worth emulating later.

Trying Something New — and Ancient

I’d like to see a “Parliament of man … Federation of the world” in my lifetime. That’s not gonna happen. There are too many unresolved issues, too many pending reforms.

This may be among humanity’s most challenging jobs. But I think we can do this, and that it’ll be worth the effort. We certainly must try.

As it is, I am content — delighted — to live when humanity is trying a viable alternative to the empire-collapse-rebuild cycle we’ve used in the 43 centuries since Sargon of Akkad.

Reasonably hopeful days like ours generally don’t come more than once every few millennia. On the other hand, we’ve very recently developed tech that could shave at least a few centuries off how long it’ll take us to reach the next one.

If we use it with wisdom.

We’ll have to decide that loving our neighbor is worth the trouble. That won’t be easy. Never has been. (June 18, 2017; February 5, 2017; February 1, 2017)

Disappointed, Not Surprised

‘Faith and reason, religion and science, are incompatible.’ That’s been a cherished traditional belief in some of my civilization’s circles for a few centuries.

Variations play well in Christianity’s more painfully-pious and novophobic peripheries.

I’m not surprised that I keep seeing the assumption that smart folks freed Western civilization from the tramming shackles of superstition, ignorance, and suchlike stuff in the Renaissance.

And that religion, particularly Christianity, is a major foe of science and logic.

Disappointed, but not surprised.

The ‘scientists against the forces of darkness’ thing is a whacking good story, full of noble heroes, evil minions, and a wonderfully colorful master villain: the big, bad, Catholic Church.

It’s almost based on reality. In spots.

Some Christians, including the occasional Catholic, act as they believe thinking too much leads to eternal damnation.

I don’t agree, at all. But like I said earlier: I know a bit about my faith.

I signed up with our Lord’s outfit partly because it was logical.

Among my favorite quips about science and religion is what an atheist-turned-Catholic writer said:

“… If Vulcans had a church, they’d be Catholics.”
(John C. Wright, johncwright.livejournal.com (March 21 2008))

Conan and Me

I enjoy drama, myself: including blood-and-thunder stuff like the Schwarzenegger “Conan” movies.

There was meat of the intellectual sort in them, too. I’m not a fan of beefcake, and that’s yet another topic.

Novophobia isn’t in any dictionary I’ve found. By some standards it isn’t a “real” word. Not yet. I didn’t coin it. Someone did, probably no more than a few decades back.

No word in my language is particularly old. Not compared to the current duration of my civilization’s post-LBAC phase. LBAC? Late Bronze Age Collapse. The last really major speed bump my civilization’s experienced. My opinion.

A few others, including the Black Death and Roman Empire’s breakup, were pretty serious. The latter nowhere near as big a setback than many think. It wasn’t good news for upper-crust Romans and folks working in trans-regional trade. Yet again more topics.

Where was I? Snowfall in Minnesota, quadruple-strength coffee, noble scientists versus popish plotters, Conan the Barbarian. Right.

Earth, this Universe, and Beyond

Like I said, there’s a little truth to the ‘science frees us from religion’s oppressive shackles’ theme. Very little, but enough for rousing good stories.

Think “Things to Come” and it’s less well-thought-through love children.

In fairness, most folks probably don’t remember that the Catholic Church told Aristotle’s overly-zealous fans that if God says there are other worlds — there are other worlds. So stop saying there can’t be other worlds, since Aristotle said so.

That particular rule has been rescinded, but not the underlying principle.

God’s God. Aristotle’s not.

Turns out that there are other worlds.

We’ve found thousands in the last few decades, and have barely started charting systems in the rest of this galaxy.

Aristotle was smart, and got some things right. But we’ve learned a bit since his days. Quite a bit of that in my lifetime.

I think praying most fervently for the salvation of folks who aren’t just the self-described ‘good Christians’ is more popular these days.

It’s a nice change from the frightful faith proclaimed by some radio preachers of my youth. Their apparent delight at the impending damnation of folks who weren’t like them was impressive.

So were their portrayals of the accursed souls writing in eternal torment and the faithful few whooping with holy(?) exultation as “the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever.”

It was an impressive display. But not favorable. I like to think they were sincere, and didn’t listen to what they were saying. Didn’t think about it, anyway.

Honestly, did they really believe their favorite verses from the King James Book of Revelation were all there was in Holy Writ?

Yea, verily I say unto thee: THINK, lest thy dasheth thy foot upon a stone. And no: that’s not in the Bible. Not all of it. Verily. Forsooth.

About Revelation 13:11, the mark of the beast, and all that, I think Psalms 91:11 is comforting, and true.

But it doesn’t strike me as a guarantee that being a Christian means a life free from unpleasantness.

I also avoid dabbling in numerology, divination, and Bible trivia in an effort to second-guess God the Father.

If Jesus didn’t need know when Ragnarök was coming, I sure don’t. (August 25, 2017; November 15, 2016; November 8, 2016)

Not Ragnarök. Final Judgment. (April 16, 2017)

On the other hand, Ragnarök is oddly reminiscent of what we’re told about the Final Judgment. It’s also remarkably final. Not much like the ‘endless cycles’ in many traditions.

Scholars may never settle how much, if any, of the Norse account was influenced by Christian beliefs.

Explaining how the Bible proves that evolution is evil and Armageddon is nigh were also favorite topics among the ‘blessed are the ranters’ lot.

Their Armageddon lore included some — interesting — notions.

The Soviet Union was Satan’s pawn, naturally.

It also goes without saying that America would be at the very head of God’s army, hacking and slashing its way to a holy victory. According to them. Not me.

Once chap even said that a particular bit of ordinance was prophesied — maybe in Joel 2, or Ezekiel. Somesuch place in the Bible. It was a credible effort.

Credible to folks who bought his brand of faith, anyway. I thought he was as colorful as some science fiction writers, but nowhere near as believable.

Now that I think of it, I think I may be remembering Ezekiel because another chap did an equally-credible job of proving that Ezekiel had seen a spaceship.

Extraterrestrial, of course. And no, I don’t think he was right. Sincere, maybe. Not right.

He wasn’t a Bible thumper so much as an advocate of ‘ancient astronaut’ beliefs. Or maybe a savvy author who knew a lucrative market when he saw one.

On the ‘up’ side, those radio ranters started me running down a path that eventually led me to deciding religion isn’t necessarily a psychiatric condition.

Later, I realized the Catholic Church had been logical for two millennia, and signed up. Learning who currently holds the authority our Lord gave Peter was factor, too. A huge one. Pivotal.

The inevitable links to more stuff, allegedly-related; in a slightly nonstandard format:

About Brian H. Gill

I’m a sixty-something married guy with six kids, four surviving, in a small central Minnesota town. I mostly write and make digital art. I’m only interested in three things: that which exists within the universe; that which exists beyond; and that which might exist.

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