Volume 10, Issue 2: Similitudes
Galileo and Gunpowder
We resumed our walk down the road, and the conversation lagged for a while. Jocko walked along the side of the ditch, whacking tall grass with stick. After a time, Samuel spoke. I could tell that the incident with the dictionary had bothered him deeply.
"You know what the problem with you fundamentalists is?" Jocko looked up startled. He hated it whenever anyone called him a fundamentalist.
"What?" I said.
"You refuse to acknowledge scientific progress. The real problem here is a deep unwillingness to recognize that we live in a modern world. In the old days, before Galileo, the church could comfortably doze on with a pious confidence in the Scriptures. But truth is truth, whether the church wants to recognize it or not. Before the invention of the printing press, gunpowder, and the telescope, such ignorance could be respectable. But no longer."
I was not quite up to speed, and said so. "Galileo?"
Samuel shook his head, exasperated. "Surely you are not as ignorant of history as you are of science? Galileo ran afoul of the church authorities for teaching that the earth traveled around the sun. Science found the truth which the church then resisted. You are doing the same thing in your reluctance to acknowledge the fact of evolution."
I squinted at the sun which, because it was late afternoon, was approaching the horizon. "What do we call that? Why do we say sunset instead of earthturn pm?"
Samuel shook his head impatiently. "That's just a figure of speech based on appearances. The churchmen who opposed Galileo really thought the sun actually went around the earth. Don't try to get tricky on me."
"I wonder why they thought that?"
Jocko looked alarmed. Perhaps he thought I was about to defend geocentrism.
Samuel stood up tall, in lecture mode. "They thought that because the Bible speaks of the sun going around the earth."
"But we speak the same way. I wonder why they thought it was really true?"
"I suppose you have a suggestion." Samuel was glaring the way he liked to do in an argument.
"Well, yes I do."
"What is it?" Jocko asked, in spite of himself.
"They thought it was really true because they had adopted a Hellenistic cosmology. They thought that way because Aristotle had thought that way."
"So what's your point?" Samuel muttered.
"The churchmen did not resist Galileo because he represented Science and they represented Theology. They resisted him because he represented the New Science and they had already compromised with the Old Science. They had not yet learned the truism that he who marries the science of the moment had better be prepared to be a widow tomorrow."
Samuel looked at me, befuddled. "I have no earthly idea what you are talking about."
"Me neither," said Jocko.
"I will try to be brief and blunt," I said. "You want me to accomodate my theology to the best science of the day because really bad things happened when the medieval church acccomodated itself to the best science of the day."
"I don't remember saying that," Samuel said.
"Look," Jocko interrupted. "Why don't you just let science do what it does best? Why not learn from scientists and let the Bible speak to matters of faith and the heart?"
"Because what science does best is change its mind. And further, if I were to do what you suggest, then I am afraid I would be imitating the churchmen of Galileo's day. I was told earlier in this conversation not to do that. And if the Bible is false in one area, why would I trust it in another?"
Jocko was none too pleased. "My preacher said that such blind faith has a profoundly anti-scientific cast of mind. Those who clutch at ancient documents in the sea of modernity and contemporary flux are bound to grab the anvils of superstition and fear instead. And sink straight to the bottom."
"What?" I said.
"Listen to Samuel," Jocko said. "He has been to Graduate School. In the hard sciences."
"I don't think so," I said. "Remember the lessons of Galileo and gunpowder."
"I think you are being obstinate," Samuel said. "I am not sure there is any sense talking further if you are going to be like this."
"Well, perhaps you are right. Maybe we can resume our discussion a little later on. Let's just walk together and enjoy the earthturn."