When Faith and Facts Collide

Source: The Huffington Post

By Former NASA researcher; Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, James Madison University

Conflict between faith and science is as old as science itself.

In 1543, Copernicus’s great work, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, laid the groundwork for a new model of the cosmos, with the sun, rather than the Earth, at its center. Attempting to preemptively defuse the controversy the new worldview would unleash, Copernicus’s publisher anonymously attached a preface. Addressed to the pope, it stated boldly that the author’s only purpose in challenging the status quo was “to seek truth in all things as far as God has permitted human reason to do so.”

The overture failed. Copernicanism became de facto heresy. For Galileo’s unabashed promotion of the new worldview, the Vatican summoned him, aged and infirmed, to face the Inquisition. The verdict: guilty of heresies “more scandalous, more detestable, and more pernicious than any contained in the books of Calvin, of Luther, and of all other heretics put together.” Having been shown the instruments of torture and facing execution, Galileo recanted. Broken but spared, he remained under house arrest until his death in 1642.

When faith and science collide, science ultimately wins. Facts are inherently verifiable; beliefs are not.

But the process of reconciling paradigm-busting facts with long-cherished beliefs is agonizing and slow. Not until 1992, 350 years following Galileo’s death, did the Vatican officially apologize for the Church’s harsh treatment of the greatest scientist of his time.

In the long run, facts prevail. In the short run, belief — right or wrong — trumps the facts. And there’s the rub.

It matters little that it took centuries for heliocentric cosmology to dislodge Ptolemy’s Earth-centered worldview. It matters tremendously how quickly Americans and the world awaken to the dangers posed by climate change. Two more decades of dawdling and the Earth we know is toast.

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Additional Reading

Charles Darwin: An Epiphany for the Muslims, A Catastrophe for the Christians

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