I think pursuing knowledge and truth is a good idea. That’s probably why Tennyson’s “Ulysses” is one of my favorite poems.
It’s the source of my Google Plus tagline: “To follow knowledge like a sinking star, Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.” (March 26, 2017)
I’ll be talking about science, faith, and why I see no problem with admiring God’s work. Also the Flat Earth Society’s origin, and my own silly notion: a doughnut-shaped Earth.
But first, an excerpt from Apollodorus that reminded me of the pottery metaphor in Genesis 2:7:
“…Prometheus moulded men out of water and earth and gave them also fire….”
(Apollodorus, The Library, Book 1, 1.7.1; via The Theoi Classical Texts Library)
Bible translations I grew up with often called the material in Genesis 2:7 “clay.” The Hebrew word is אדמה, adamah/adama. It means ground, land, or earth — dirt.
I use the The New American Bible these days, where Genesis 2:7 says that God formed Adam “out of the dust of the ground.” Dust, earth, or dirt: the meaning seems clear enough. We’re made from the stuff of this world and God’s breath.
‘My Name is Mud’
My Bible’s translation of the Hebrew word אָדָם, adam, is “the man” in Genesis 2.
It’s not shown as a name, “Adam,” until Genesis 4:25. The original adamah-Adam play on words doesn’t work in my language. Not unless I check the footnotes.
Anyway, instead of telling Adam what to call each critter, God hands that off to “adam.”
“So the LORD God formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each living creature was then its name.”
It looks like God lets us work out some details ourselves. That’s hardly surprising, since we’re made “in the image of God,” and in charge of this creation. (Genesis 1:26–27)
The second creation story, in Genesis 2:4–7, doesn’t agree with the one in Genesis 1:1–2:4.
Not if I assume that an American wrote both; or at least someone with no sense of poetry. I’m a Catholic, so that’s not necessary. Or a good idea. (April 21, 2017)
Getting back to Genesis, you know what happens next. We break the lease on Eden, the man tries blaming his wife and God. We’ve had trouble ever since. Genesis 3:1–24 describes the debacle. No wonder Eve’s husband’s name is “Mud” in the next chapter.
Our problems don’t happen because God is smiting us for something done uncounted generations before our time. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 386–390; Gaudium et spes, 13, Paul VI (1965)
We were made “in the image of God,” “in a state of holiness,” as Blessed Pope Paul VI put it. We were basically good. We still are.
The first of us decided that acting on an impulse was more important than what God wanted. That was a massive lapse in judgment. Our problems aren’t God’s fault. They’re consequences of that decision. (Catechism, 390, 396–401)
Original sin, for Catholics who understand our faith, isn’t the notion that we’re rotten to the core. It’s recognition that consequences happen. We can’t ‘go back’ to the way we were. But we have the option of moving forward with hope. (March 10, 2017; April 16, 2017)
About Adam, Genesis, and all that: I take the Bible seriously.
I have to. It’s ‘Catholicism 101,’ sort of: Catechism, 101–133.
I think Genesis is true. I also know it wasn’t written by an American. I don’t expect the Bible to be a computer manual or science textbook.1
Genesis 3 describes a real event in figurative language. (Catechism, 390)
I think we are made “in the image of God,” matter and spirit, body and soul. Each of us is a person — someone, not something — made from the stuff of this world and filled with God’s ‘breath.’ (Genesis 1:26–27, 2:7; Catechism, 355, 357, 362–368)
That’s not even close to thinking Adam and Eve were German. (September 23, 2016)
Zeal and Cosmology
A doughnut-shaped Earth like the one over that ‘cosmic coffee cup’ would look like the real one. Near where where I live, that is. If you don’t look up and to the north.
I’m pretty sure nobody’s going to think our home is really shaped like that. But there are some downright odd notions about our universe in my culture’s background noise.
Some are several centuries past their expiration date. Millennia, in at least one case.
I knew someone who was a Christian and insisted that our sun goes around Earth, not the other way around. His proof was that ‘it said so in the Bible.’ From his other remarks, my guess is that he had Joshua 10:12–13 in mind. Maybe Job 9:7, too. (December 2, 2016)
What’s a bit odd, from my viewpoint, is that he apparently did not try to adjust his cosmology to include the pillars beneath Earth. Those are mentioned in Job 9:6.
In a way, I admire the young Christian’s zeal in upholding Aristotle’s cosmology as described in Ptolemy’s “Almagest.”
Happily, I did not assume that all Christians had similar views, or that Christianity was founded on the principle that ancient Mesopotamians knew everything there is to know about this universe. (March 24, 2017)
Judging from my experiences, however, someone could easily get the idea that Christianity and reality don’t mix.
I’ve met Christians who don’t approve of science, or what we’ve learned in the last few centuries.
I don’t expect everyone to have my enthusiasm for humanity’s growing knowledge of the universe.
But the actions of folks who seem to have trouble dealing with the reality we live in are sometimes embarrassing.
A flat Earth crackpot might be harmless. Folks with similarly-inaccurate beliefs who seem convinced that they must defend ‘their’ country from folks like my ancestors can be anything but. Sadly, there can be some overlap of the two sets. (February 1, 2017; November 29, 2016)
Faith, Catholic Style
I could be upset over cartoonists who poke fun at the wacky side of American Christianity. Sometimes I am. But mostly I sympathize with those who see humor in “creation science.” (March 31, 2017)
Anti-evolutionists are easy enough to notice. Sometimes they even run billboard campaigns.
Although some American Christians may believe that Earth is flat, I’ve yet to meet one. That’s a bit surprising, since Samuel Rowbotham released his 16-page pamphlet, “Zetetic Astronomy,” in 1849. His 430-page book, “Earth Not a Globe,” followed in 1881. It was republished online in 2016.
Rowbotham had fans in his day, including the loudly-Christian John Hampden and the more discrete Lady Elizabeth Blount.
But he didn’t gain Darwin’s lasting name-recognition. That could be because he wrote under a pseudonym, Parallax. Flat Earth cosmography’s failure to get entangled in Victorian-era politics probably didn’t help, either. (March 10, 2017; October 28, 2016)
I’ll get back to Rowbotham, the Flat Earth Society, and evidence that scientists are human.
Evolution seems to be a big hot-button topic for many tightly-wound Christians. I don’t know how many there are, but they’re often quite vocal.
Again, I admire their zeal. The impression they give of my faith is another matter.
I’ve met Christians who insist that evolution mustn’t happen. Generally because it’s not in the Bible.
Some also declare that Earth must be many orders of magnitude younger than scientists have determined.
Maybe we’ll learn that radioactive decay rates changed dramatically, and recently. That could make samples like zircons found in Australia’s Jack Hills much younger than we think.
Maybe erosion rates changed too, and all the other evidence we’ve been analyzing for the last few centuries is a sort of divine practical joke. That seems a trifle unlikely to me. (January 13, 2017)
I figure God has a sense of humor: we get that quality from somewhere, and our creator is the most obvious source. But planting intellectual land mines? That seems a bit extreme.
The Copernican principle, the idea that this universe works the same way everywhere, still seems like a pretty good match with reality. (June 23, 2017)
That hasn’t stopped scientists from discussing unlikely and unprovable ideas. Discussing, not insisting that the ideas must be true. (June 2, 2017)
One of these is that the gravitational constant and Sommerfeld’s constant may have changed since this universe started. At the moment, it’s intriguing academic speculation and little more.
Inconstant constants might fit the Lambda-CDM model. That’s the standard model of cosmology we’ve developed in the last few decades. Or maybe astronomers and other scientists will learn that this universe is — different.
Which reminds me; physicists and mathematicians have worked out hypothetical models of continua that are very unlike the space-time we live in.
The math works fine. Whether or not there are ‘universes’ with more or fewer dimensions than ours is another question. And that’s another topic.
I can almost understand Christians at one end of America’s beliefs insisting that evolution is bad, and that science threatens their religion. If their faith is based on unyielding allegiance to a 17th-century chronology — my view is that science isn’t their problem. (August 28, 2016)
I think faith and science are both pursuing truth, from different directions; so I don’t see conflict between their goals.
Being Catholic helps. We’re told that science gives us opportunities for admiration of God’s work, and that faith is a willing and conscious embrace of “the whole truth that God has revealed.” (Catechism, 142–150, 283, 341)
Now, time for some fun and quotes.
Flat Earth, 1849-2014
Rowbotham’s research was based on the Bible and the Bedford Level experiment: the 1838 one.
Newspaper editor Ulysses Grant Morrow conducted his own experiments elsewhere in 1896. He did even better than Rowbotham. Mr. Morrow got results showing that Earth has a concave curvature: like the inside of a bowl.
If I was serious about my ‘cosmic coffee cup’ cosmology, I’d claim that every Bedford Level experiment and Mr. Morrow’s claim were exactly accurate.
The different results are, ‘obviously,’ due to the doughnut-Earth’s surface moving along the doughnut’s surface. Never mind the distortions in horizontal scale that’d involve.
I’d also say that similar experiments, done elsewhere, get their varying results for the same reason. If any still didn’t fit my claims, I’d say this was proof that an international cabal of non-dairy creamer manufacturers is even more powerful than I feared.
The cabal may even be in league with Mondelez, the multinational conglomerate behind aerosol cheese. The very name craftily conceals “mond,” the Latin word for “world.” Suspicious!
There are several other conspiracy theories waiting to be hatched there, and maybe a new religion or two. All thoroughly bogus.
I trust that my cheesy cabal will be taken as a lighthearted spoof.
I also hope that nobody will wonder if I’m being serious about the cosmic coffee cup and aerosol cheese machinations. Considering some wackadoo notions that get believed, that might be a reasonable concern. Or not. Moving on.
I see flat Earth beliefs as silly, and potentially funny.
By themselves, they’re arguably harmless, except possibly for the ‘believers.’
When politics and ‘God agrees with me’ beliefs get into the mix, I’m not so sure.
The International Flat Earth Society, founded in 1956, recruited members by denouncing the U.S. government, particularly NASA.
Reasoned consideration of government actions is, I think, a good idea. Encouraging unreasonable fears, not so much. And that’s yet another topic.
The 1956 Flat Earth outfit apparently became the International Flat Earth Research Society of America and Covenant People’s Church in California in the 1970s. They had several thousand members in their prime.
The last two folks maintaining the membership database died around 2001. An online Flat Earth Society started in 2004, and by 2014 had grown to a global membership of 500.
My guess is that some folks join ‘flat Earth’ outfits because it amuses them. Others may well be devoted to the “extreme Biblical-literalist theology” Eugenie Scott discussed.
I might take both, or all, sides of the debate more seriously — if they didn’t seem to have about as much influence on national and world affairs as believers in Icke’s lizard men. The state of their minds concerns me a bit, but there isn’t much I can do about that.
I think experiments like Rowbotham’s and Morrow’s are the sort of thing that happen when folks are overly focused on getting a particular result, and less on uncovering truth.
Some scientists have acted that way, too. I think it shows that scientists are human, not that science is a fraud. (April 28, 2017)
“Pursuit of Truth”
I can’t reasonably be afraid that I’ll learn too much, or that my interest in science offends God.
Being human includes being curious, thinking, and — for some of us — studying this universe. We’re supposed to notice the order and beauty surrounding us. It’s one way we can learn about God. (Catechism, 31–32, 35–36, 301, 303–306, 311, 319, 1704, 2293–2296)
“…It’s something too many of us forget, that reality has layers. Occasionally people ask me how I can be Catholic and a science journalist. The answer is simple: Truth does not contradict truth. Both science and religion are pursuit of truth. They’re after different aspects of truth, different layers of reality, but they’re still both fundamentally about truth….”
(Camille M. Carlisle, Sky and Telescope (June 2017))
“…faith must be there first, if one wishes to see God in Creation.”
(Brother Guy Consolmagno, Vatican Observatory, in a Zenit interview (May 2017))
“No matter where and how far we look, nowhere do we find a contradiction between religion and natural science. On the contrary, we find a complete concordance in the very points of decisive importance. Religion and natural science do not exclude each other, as many contemporaries of ours would believe or fear. They mutually supplement and condition each other. The most immediate proof of the compatibility of religion and natural science, even under the most thorough critical scrutiny, is the historical fact that the very greatest natural scientists of all times—men such as Kepler, Newton, Leibniz—were permeated by a most profound religious attitude.”
“Religion and natural science are fighting a joint battle in an incessant, never relaxing crusade against scepticism and against dogmatism, against disbelief and against superstition, and the rallying cry in this crusade has always been, and always will be: ‘On to God!’”
(“Religion and Natural Science,” Lecture about the relationship between religion and science. Originally entitled Religion und Naturwissenschaft. (1937) Complete translation into English: “Max Planck: Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers” (1968); via Wikiquote [emphasis mine])
“…Even if the difficulty is after all not cleared up and the discrepancy seems to remain, the contest must not be abandoned; truth cannot contradict truth…”
(“Providentissimus Deus,” Pope Leo XIII (November 18, 1893))
Pursuing truth occasionally lets us see “wonderful things.”
“Lord Carnarvon: “Can you see anything?”
Howard Carter: “Yes, wonderful things!”
(First look into Tutankhamen’s tomb (1922) via Wikipedia)
I think the pursuit is always worthwhile, within reason:
- “Ammonites, Dinosaurs, and Us”
(May 19, 2017)
- “Knowledge: Opening the Gift”
(March 26, 2017)
- “KIC 8462852 and Strange Stars”
(December 2, 2016)
- “Brain Implants and Rewired Monkeys”
(November 18, 2016)
- “Europa, Mars, and Someday the Stars”
(September 30, 2016)
“…Know what the Bible is – and what it isn’t. The Bible is the story of God’s relationship with the people he has called to himself. It is not intended to be read as history text, a science book, or a political manifesto. In the Bible, God teaches us the truths that we need for the sake of our salvation….”
(“Understanding the Bible,” Mary Elizabeth Sperry, USCCB)
From “10 points for fruitful Scripture reading:”
- Bible reading is for Catholics
- Prayer is the beginning and the end
- Get the whole story!
- The Bible isn’t a book. It’s a library
- Know what the Bible is – and what it isn’t
- The sum is greater than the parts
- The Old relates to the New
- You do not read alone
- What is God saying to me?
- Reading isn’t enough
(From “Understanding the Bible,” Mary Elizabeth Sperry, USCCB)
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