Saturday, January 24, 2009

Having Faith In Faith

It seems that only a week into the new administration various signs of hope are appearing in our society. I refer to the vote by the Texas Board of Education that high school science teachers would "no longer have to cover the 'strengths and weaknesses' of Charles Darwin's theory that man evolved from lower forms of life." I am quoting from an article in the Dallas Morning News.

Do I dare to hope that our embarrassments in front of the international community are finally being lessened? Has the Texas Board decided not to compete with the Vatican's record on Galileo?

It is easy, and gratifying, to poke fun. 

But there is a very important aspect of these controversies that seldom is voiced. As far back as 415 C.E. Saint Augustine warned in chapter 20 of his "On The Literal Interpretation of Genesis" against being dogmatic in interpretation:

"When they are able, from reliable evidence, to prove some fact of physical science, we shall 

show that it is not contrary to our Scripture."

In 1966 the Melton Research center published "Understanding Genesis." In the introduction Simon Greenberg, Vice Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America says: 

"The Melton Research Center assumes that traditional Judaism has naught to fear from the strictures of philosophy and science, and the discoveries of archeology."

It always perplexes me that a certain type of "Fundamentalist" will propose that the scriptures which they claim to reverence are so weak in their basic premise that they can not withstand any departure from the denotation of the words they contain. The linguistic argument itself belies their premise. I recommend John Boswell's "Christianity, Homosexuality, and Social Tolerance" for a tour of the way the words of scripture have evolved and changed in their meanings over time.

But in a larger context there is, in my humble opinion, a very grievous conflict of ideas in proposing that God is universal, omniscient etc. but is nonetheless bound to conform to our very inadequate notions of time, space and action. The fundamentalists don't seem particularly bothered by relativity, nor by the Scholastic premise of the "Unmoved Mover," yet if you put those thoughts together i.e. that time is a function of distance, and therefore has no application to the "Unmoved Mover," then any recitation of days in Genesis, the idea that "Biblical Time" as applied to God and his creative acts becomes simply ridiculous. 

To ridicule is most irreverent. it is that aspect of these silly discussions that bothers me most. The position of the fundamentalists and conservatives regarding literal interpretations of scripture results in exactly the danger that St.Augustine warned about 1600 years ago. To base the validity of the Scriptures on aspects which are clearly open to debate is to make them debatable; to trivialize them. Their importance lies elsewhere, in matters of the spirit. Let us congratulate the Texas Board for taking them out of the hands of small minded bigots and letting the science teachers get on with teaching truth.  

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