Late to the Party, As Usual

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The Church of England, as usual, is late to the party. In a masterpiece of bad timing, when the intellectual establishment has finally been rocked back on its heels by serious questions about the viability of Darwinism, questions that won’t go away, and die-hard adherents of the Darwinian old-timey religion have had to resort to threats, censorship, and intimidation instead of debate, and scientists continue to learn about the amazing internal workings of the cell anyway — now is the time for the Church of England to apologize to Charles Darwin for the chilly reception he got from them back in the middle of the 19th century. In retrospect, that chilly reception can only be accounted for because Darwin wrote in a time when the Anglican establishment was still recognizably Christian. I guess that calls for an apology, at any rate.

But that is not why I am posting this. I wanted to pick up on a phrase from this article — the Church apparently was “repeating the mistakes” that the Church made in her response to Galileo’s astronomy. But in the relationship of faith and science, this is one of those lessons that everybody loves to point to, and which nobody ever learns.

The mistake made by the medievals was not that of a wooden biblical literalism. The Church was geocentric, not because of the Scripture verses that describe the sun rising, but rather because the Church had securely accomodated herself to the best pagan science of the day. The driving force behind that famous showdown was Plato and Aristotle. That pagan system of belief was of course decorated with Bible verses, in much the same way that Darwinian evolution is decorated with really creative exegesis.

But the ancient pagan cosmology eventually began to collide with what we could observe with our own eyes — not unlike what is happening today with the scientific demonstrations of intelligent design at the cellular level. And when the facts catch up with us, you can always count on a certain kind of cleric to cling tenaciously to the old science, refusing even to entertain the possibility of knowledge coming from the new science. The clerics of Galileo’s day refused to look through a telescope. The myopic clerics of our day are refusing to look through a microscope.

So then, the medieval conflict was not between the Bible and science. It was between the old science (and a coopted Church) and the new science. And there is a certain kind of cleric, with us always, who is ever hungry for establishment privileges and respect, and who therefore consistently favors whatever science the Church compromised with centuries before. You can always count on him to bet on the wrong horse, the one that died at the top of the back stretch.

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