Re: [thomism] Scripture and Science
- On Fri, Feb 8, 2013 at 11:24 AM, James <jamesmiguez@...> wrote:
Pope John Paul II wrote to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on the
subject of cosmology and how to view Genesis:
"Cosmogony and cosmology have always aroused great interest among
peoples and religions. The Bible itself speaks to us of the origin of
the universe and its make-up, not in order to provide us with a
scientific treatise, but in order to state the correct relationships of
man with God and with the universe. Sacred Scripture wishes simply to
declare that the world was created by God, and in order to teach this
truth it expresses itself in the terms of the cosmology in use at the
time of the writer. The Sacred Book likewise wishes to tell men that the
world was not created as the seat of the gods, as was taught by other
cosmogonies and cosmologies, but was rather created for the service of
man and the glory of God. Any other teaching about the origin and
make-up of the universe is alien to the intentions of the Bible, which
does not wish to teach how heaven was made but how one goes to heaven."
(Discourse of 3rd October 1981 at the Solemn Audience granted to the
Plenary Session and participants in the Study Week dedicated to
"Cosmology and Fundamental Physics").
In this the pope is in keeping with certain early Christian fathers who
maintained the allegorical interpretation of Scripture was licit and
necessary in certain places.
Origen of Alexandria, in a passage that was later chosen by Gregory of
Nazianzus for inclusion in the Philocalia, an anthology of some of his
most important texts, made the following very modern-sounding remarks:
"For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second,
and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun,
and moon, and stars? And that the first day was, as it were, also
without a sky? And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the
manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east,
and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one
tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? And again, that
one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from
the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and
Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts
that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history
having taken place in appearance, and not literally" (De Principiis Book
And in another passage, writing in response to the pagan intellectual
Celsus, he said:
"And with regard to the creation of the light upon the first day, and of
the firmament upon the second, and of the gathering together of the
waters that are under the heaven into their several reservoirs on the
third (the earth thus causing to sprout forth those (fruits) which are
under the control of nature alone), and of the (great) lights and stars
upon the fourth, and of aquatic animals upon the fifth, and of land
animals and man upon the sixth, we have treated to the best of our
ability in our notes upon Genesis, as well as in the foregoing pages,
when we found fault with those who, taking the words in their apparent
signification, said that the time of six days was occupied in the
creation of the world" (Contra Celsius, 6, 60).
Saint Augustine suggested that the Biblical text should not be
interpreted literally if it contradicts what we know from science and
our God-given reason.
"It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the
sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation
or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite
eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons,
about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such
things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by
experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful
and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the
non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these
matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say
that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in
error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly
while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able,
explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of
obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to
the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation" (The Literal
Interpretation of Genesis 1:19–20, Ch. 19).
Again, the Scripture is about faith, not physics.
"With the scriptures it is a matter of treating about the faith. For
that reason, as I have noted repeatedly, if anyone, not understanding
the mode of divine eloquence, should find something about these matters
[about the physical universe] in our books, or hear of the same from
those books, of such a kind that it seems to be at variance with the
perceptions of his own rational faculties, let him believe that these
other things are in no way necessary to the admonitions or accounts or
predictions of the scriptures. In short, it must be said that our
authors knew the truth about the nature of the skies, but it was not the
intention of the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, to teach men
anything that would not be of use to them for their salvation" (The
Literal Interpretation of Genesis 2:9).
Those who advocate interpreting the creation allegorically are concerned with amalgamating the Bible and philosophy, e.g. Origen, Augustine and Thomas. We should seek an agreement between the various creation passages as a contemporary would understand them, in their grammar, culture and epistemic system. Moses could not imagine philosophy.
Philosophically minded Christians read and understand the literal, grammatical words. They just reject them for philosophical reasons. Augustine, in his “Literal Interpretation of Genesis,” discusses whether the first verses in Genesis are to be understood literally or figuratively.
http://college.holycross.edu/faculty/alaffey/other_files/Augustine-Genesis1.pdf He clearly understood the words since he discusses whether the creation of the heavens and the earth meant all corporal existence and whether all of it was at first formless. He uses the expression “the creation of formless matter” but then questions how God who is changeless and eternal (outside of time) can be said to create things in time. He wonders how the day could have light when there was no Sun, etc. He chooses a metaphorical interpretation. The command for light to be is “nothing other than intellectual life, which must be in a formless and chaotic state” until illuminated by the Creator.
Why does philosophical reasoning have such a powerful effect on intelligent believers so that they set aside the text and replace them with humanist reasoning? Paul warns us about the danger of philosophy in Colossians 2:8. He used the imperative of the verb blepo: to see with sight, to discern, to understand, to contemplate, to look at, to weigh carefully. Watch out [imperative] lest we are carried off (sulagogeo) as a prisoner of war, to be lead away from the truth. Paul lists four ways we can be taken captive.
(1) The first is through philosophy. Philosophy originated with the pagan Greeks.
(2) The second is vain deceit. The word "vain" is empty, devoid of truth.
(3) The third is after the tradition of men. Tradition is instruction, the teaching of men.
(4) The fourth is the elementary principles of the orderly system (stoicheia tou kosmou). Euclid's book Stoicheion built an orderly geometry on elementary ideas, stoicheia.
All philosophical systems were founded on elementary principles. The pagan philosophers were unable to invent a natural science because they could not find a first principle to annul how all people thought (in that era) - that everything is changing. The Greek present tense of the verb to be (einai) implied continuing activity. In ancient Greek, something could not BE static and unchanging because their grammar did not permit it. Aristotle admitted that hyle ( the word he used for substance) continues to change its form (morphe) like a child growing in the womb. He could not imagine unchanging substance since the idea that matter has an essence came from the medieval scholastics.
Peter predicted that in the last days mockers will come who will obfuscate (Greek lanthano) the age of the plural heavens with their notion that all things remain the same. Indeed, western science was founded upon the rudimentary principle that the essence of substance is changeless. The word essence does not mean matter cannot change state, combine, increase in volume with temperature increases or be destroyed. In the orderly system of western philosophy, what matter is, its essential nature, does not change as matter ages. Scientists accept that atoms are perpetual motion engines - that a modern atom is identical in nature to an ancient atom. Peter’s prophesy has come true. Those trained in modern science have a stoicheia, a starting point for scientific reasoning. Their operational definitions, procedures, methods, instruments, logic and mathematical laws depend on their foundational assumption. The disciples of a mature science cannot question their first principle even though it is not supported by visible evidence.
The problem with philosophical reasoning is, as Paul predicted, it takes us captive. The disciple of a system of science, cannot think outside the box. Why? Their entire structured system was founded on a single metaphysical assumption. It is easier for them to invent an invisible universe crammed full of undetectable magic than to think outside the confines of their rudimentary assumption. Even believers, whose faith does not waver about the person of Christ, falter when they try to reconcile the creation to the foundational assumption for science.
New telescopes allow us to observe the creation as it occurred. The creation is visible exactly as stated in the literal text. We observe bursts of intense light from the early universe, perhaps giving form to matter. We observe that the earliest galaxies were often formless and naked. We observe that the stars were formed after the galaxies, continually spreading out into huge, local growth spirals. Nowhere do we see any evidence that the essence of substance is changeless. What we see is that the creation is enslaved to change, exactly as the Apostle Paul stated in Romans 8:21. How great will be the triumph of the literal words of creation over science and philosophy!