In the last post, I took a scientist to task for going beyond the domain of science…in this post I think it only fair to take Christians to task for going beyond what the Bible says. The classic case of this, of course, is how the church treated Galileo when he supported Copernicus’ assertion that the Earth revolved around the Sun. Of course, it wasn’t simply religion vs science, since the church really was just holding on to a previously held scientific theory, nevertheless the church did buy into the older theory and had developed theology in support of it to such an extant when the new hypothesis appeared the church’s theology was threatened.
There is a lesson here…first, we need to be careful about tying any of our theology too closely to a current scientific theory. (For instance, it would be better to talk about the theology implications of a theory instead of showing how that theory was described in the Bible). Secondly, we need a certain humility when it comes to our own understandings of Scripture and realize that they are not the same thing as Scripture itself. Over a 1000 years before the Galileo controversy, Augustine, a noted “Church Father”, warned the Church about being embroiled in something like this…his warning is just as apt for us today.
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion. [1 Timothy 1.7]