July 5, 2020

Review of “Love and Quasars: An Astrophysicist Reconciles Faith and Science” by Paul Wallace, Part 6.

Review of “Love and Quasars: An Astrophysicist Reconciles Faith and Science” by Paul Wallace, Part 6.

Chapter 8 is entitled A Scientist Reads the Bible: How Science Enlarges Scripture.  Wallace begins the chapter with the account of “Mad” Mike Hughes the California limo driver who launched himself with a homemade rocket to “see” that the Earth was curved, or not- as he was a flat-earther.  Apparently, the Flat-Earth movement is growing, especially in America, and especially among millennials, but also around the worldHere is a basic summary of flat-earth beliefs.

A Flat Earth model depicting Antarctica as an ice wall surrounding a disc-shaped Earth.

Both Wallace and I cannot adequately express our dismay at this trend.  My grandson brought a friend of his, who is a fan of the rapper “B.o.B.” over to the house.  My grandson wanted his friend to speak to a geologist/scientist about his flat-earth beliefs.  I patiently explained that he could verify the Earth’s curvature for himself by taking a pair of binoculars to any large body of water and watch a boat sail away from the shore.  Through the binoculars, he would see the ship disappear hull first with the highest part of ship disappearing last.  He replied that it was simply a matter of “perspective”.  I explained, no, perspective is railroad tracks converging at a distance into a point, but because the ship was disappearing from bottom to top; that could only occur on a curved surface.  On a flat surface the boat would shrink proportionally to a dot.  He shrugged his shoulders and repeated it was all a matter of perspective, clearly not wanting to disrespect his friend’s grandfather, but remained convinced the Earth was flat.  Sigh… did I mention how dismaying this trend is.

Hebrew cosmos

In my opinion, flat-earthers have no excuse.  The phenomenon seems mostly psychological to me and generally related to conspiracy-theory psychology. But you know who had a good excuse?  The writers of Genesis, that’s who.  The first book of the Bible describes the cosmos as envisioned by ancient Israel, a cosmos centered on a flat earth.  Because that’s what they observed, and they didn’t really have evidence to the contrary.  Wallace notes that the difference between the biblical cosmos and the modern cosmos, with its black holes, quasars, fusion powered stars, galaxy upon galaxy, cosmic microwave background, radiation and billions of years cannot be overstated.  And that also makes it hard to see why science matters at all when we read the Bible, and in a certain narrow sense, it doesn’t matter. Wallace says:

No matter what theory scientists come up with, if God ever loved us, God will love us still; if Jesus ever mattered, he will matter still; and if justice and reconciliation were ever our calling, they will be our calling still.  It seems that the shape of the universe has nothing to do with our daily human experience of God and one another.

But we live in a scientific age.  We read our Bibles not on a flat Earth under a transparent dome but on a spherical planet orbiting a star revolving about the center of a vast galactic pinwheel, turning among black holes and quasars.  These are the things God has made.

We cannot set aside what we know and what we love when we sit down with Scripture, nor are we asked to.  Jesus commands us to love God with all our mind as well as with our heart, soul, and strength.   There is such a thing as the scientific love of God.  Those who wish to take both faith and science seriously must hold the Bible in one hand and Scientific American in the other.

So he says science, in its proper context, deepens and enlarges everything it touches.  Anyone can look up at the night sky and admire the beauty.  But the astronomer sees the beauty and more.  Something similar happens when a biblical scholar reads the Bible.  Like the stars on a clear night, the words sit there on the page, freely available to all.  But depth beyond depth is revealed to those who have read it closely for years, learned the original languages, studied the history and culture of the ancient Near East, and become acquainted with biblical theology and the history of biblical interpretation.  The more you know, the more you see, the more questions occur to you, and the less satisfied you are with simplistic answers.

Wallace asks what happens when a scientist reads the Bible.  Of course, it depends on the scientist.  Some dismiss it outright, for Scripture has little to say about science as we know it today.  But for the believing scientist there are a lively hosts of scientific extras.  They aren’t essential to the core understanding but are bonuses, supplements, new and fun ideas neither demanded nor contradicted by his basic view of Scripture as a human record of Israel’s encounter with a real and loving God.

Wallace gives as an example Genesis 1:20-21, 24-25:

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

Opabinia

He says we should notice that “the waters” and “the earth” bring forth living creatures.  These verses suggest that God creates indirectly, using what was previously made.  Wallace thinks this passage invites us to imagine evolution in all its weirdness and beauty.  We are free to visualize life being brought forth deep in the waters, perhaps microorganisms thriving on hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor four billion years ago.  We may envision euthycarciniods, distant ancestors of centipedes who left the sea 530 million years ago, beating even plants in life’s slow landward creep.  The Middle Cambrian oddball Opabinia provides a colorful side note.  This five-eyed, backward-mouthed, limbless, long-nosed, sea dwelling arthropod was one of the first and strangest animals to ever live.

But of course, Wallace notes, the authors of Genesis knew nothing of evolution or hydrothermal vents or euthycarciniods or Opabinia.  God did not whisper these verses into their ears, knowing we would eventually figure out evolution and discover the secret truth of Scripture.  Instead, they observed nature, saw that God had given it capacity to generate new things, and wove this insight into their creation story.  Wallace concludes:

You may disagree with what I am doing here.  You may think that it’s wrongheaded to drag evolution in to a discussion of Genesis because the book is really about relationships between God, humanity, and creation…

But I do not intend to replace standard understandings of Scripture with scientific ones.  These examples show how science deepens, sharpens, or expands traditional meanings.  Christians who love science are free to imagine new things when they come to Scripture, to create a king of scientific commentary on the Bible.  These examples show how Scripture might be enlarged, and not reduced or replaced, by science.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Iain Lovejoy says

    Genesis 1 is *inescapably* evolutionary. It starts (from what I understand of Hebrew grammar) with a circumstantial clause setting out the world’s unformed state after creation I.e. literally “In the beginning, when God had created the heavens and the earth, when the earth was without form and void etc.” and describes God’s word forming order out of chaos in stages, each stage growing out of what has gone before. (Albeit the literal timescale is a bit off.)
    I’ve probably posted this before, but that’s never stopped me in the past:
    https://worldviewsandcurrentnews.wordpress.com/2018/09/11/without-form-and-void/

  2. A young man (mid twenties) I work with has an even younger brother (early twenties) who subscribes to Flat Earth-ism. My coworker, who has a lively interest in science, is at a loss about how to talk to his brother regarding this matter and the brother’s belief in conspiracy theories, and it’s creating a lot of conflict between them. The brother also is a believer in biblical inerrancy, even though from what my coworker has said he is not an especially religious person. It seems to me that belief in Flat Earth-ism is a form of conspiracy theory, or closely related to it, and that fundamentalist Christians are often subscribers to one conspiracy theory or another. I suppose the belief that lay at the back of fundamentalist Christian susceptibility to conspiracy theorizing is that Satan and the devils are always trying to deceive us, and have the power to both alter physical reality and deceive large numbers of people, including scientists.

  3. Flat-eartherism is also, when it comes down to it, a very narrow and egocentric POV – “The world looks flat to me, therefore it IS flat, and anyone else’s observations, scientific research, etc, is irrelevant because my experience is all that matters.” And it’s really REALLY hard to argue with an egotist.

  4. My limited experience with flat-earthers is that they also deny the moon landing, ridicule as false picture of Earth from space, and demand obtuse mathematical “proofs” that the Earth is a sphere. One person I spoke with even said that NASA is Hebrew for “liar”.

    • Also tend to be anti-vaxxers…

      • very fearful people, yes . . . . . but they ‘have hold of the wrong horror’, sadly . . . (Samoa epidemic, measles)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Donna Kossy’s book Kooks: A Field Guide to the Outer Limits of Human Belief (1994) has a section on the Flat Earth Society. Pages 72-78. It kicks off with an image of a Flat Earth Society newsletter:
      * One of the secondary headlines is “TWO WITNESSES DECLARE EARTH FLAT” (note TWO Witnesses, just as in Leviticus); the “TWO Witnesses” are an old bearded man with the look of a fierce Old Testament Prophet and a woman who looks like she was baptized in battery acid.
      * The text of the accompanying article includes a transcript of an interior article that PAGAN Greeks ate grease, which is why their land is called Greece.
      * Other transcripts are quoted in a style familiar to anyone who remembers Jack Chick Tracts — lots of misspellings, ALL CAPS, and very nasty tone. Example (in praise of Ronald Reagan):

      “So he used the same phrase as the PHONIE the Carnie ANTI-CHRISTS the slobbering foul degenerate dogs, the “astronauts” in Discovery, he said to the degenerate Anti-Christs YOU made us proud, etc… BUT he then went on to say, EARTH IS FLAT, GOD EXISTS, HE IS IN HEAVEN, A PLACE, THAT IS UP ABOVE EARTH, ABOVE THE USA. THAT HE BELIEVED AT DEATH OUR SOUL GOES TO HEAVEN ABOVE THIS FLAT EARTH.”

      * I am NOT making any of this up.

      • Accumulate enough ignorance and I fear for our kingdom (USA). Every kingdom in history comes down eventually. All have a shelf life. I’ll bet an over abundance of ignorance would certainly be one factor in a potential demise. An educated, informed populace is critical and it’s scary how dumb or purposefully blind we can be.

  5. It’s useful to read Augustine trying to reconcile the cosmology of Genesis with his own up to date “geocentric” cosmology! (Actually there is also a burgeoning contemporary geocentrism movement I understand. It will be rather entertaining to watch the flat-earthers at war with the geocentrists!)

    The truth is people have to be deliberately educated out of ignorance. We don’t become enlightened by osmosis. Our parent centered education system is most of the problem. Local school boards are so afraid of offending anyone they become cowards. It should be illegal to teach a child young earth creationism. I think that constitutes abuse. We also need rigorous, nationwide education standards. Yeah I know, don’t hold your breath.

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Current Flat-Earthism began in Victorian times with something called “Zetetic Astronomy”, whose stated purpose was to “Defend God and SCRIPTURE against science falsely so-called — WORD OF GOD or Vain Imaginings of Men”.

    The parallels to today’s YECs are obvious, Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory and all.

  7. Umm… Is this satire? It would work pretty well if it were, but alas, I fear not.

    Next question: is this satire?
    http://www.breakingburgh.com/betsy-devos-says-flat-earth-theories-have-no-place-in-schools-thats-college-level-science/

    It’s been around a while, but it’s a satire of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos saying that Flat-Eartherism should not be taught in public schools because that’s “college-level science.”

    I saw it on facebook a few days ago and yes, I thought it was real, knowing what I think I know about Betsy DeVos. But, it turns out it’s satire. Now I’m confused.

    Will the real satire please stand up?

    .

    • My friends and I growing up with the old Universal horror movies used to have a scale to determine how long it took to go from an original item to its parody. Namely, how long it took to go from the original Frankenstein to Albert & Costello Meet Frankenstein. Doubtless this reflects these postmodern times but we seem to have arrived at the position where many things are presented as both itself and its own parody. In a way this makes satire impossible. Not naming names of course but simply look at the news for countless examples. .

    • Oh gosh, that’s funny!!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      In an Age of Extremes (and More Extreme Than Thou) like today, as over-the-top and crazy as you can get for satire, somewhere out there will be True Believers twice as over-the-top, twice as crazy, and DEAD SERIOUS.

  8. Just because I’m such a big fan of this album and, well… the title matches the discussion.

    https://www.allmusic.com/album/the-flat-earth-mw0000650083

    And here’s the excellent title song, best played loudly with headphones on:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEBI-Ov_r-M

    “The Flat Earth”

    The Earth can be any shape you want it
    Any shape at all
    Dark and cold or bright and warm
    Long or thin or small
    But it’s home and all I ever had
    And maybe why for me the Earth is flat

    Friends have often asked me why
    I’m sensitive about my height
    I would look around and say
    Hmm, I thought I was immune
    All my life I have waited
    To be given any word
    It was screaming to be heard

    Please remember…

    The Earth can be any shape you want it
    Any shape at all
    Dark and cold or bright and warm
    Long or thin or small
    But it’s home and all I ever had
    And maybe why for me the Earth is flat

    Turn the island to the storm tonight
    Then when they spill the demon seed
    Turn and face into the wind
    All along you still believed
    Believed you were immune
    And if love is all you’re missing
    Look into your heart
    Is anybody home?

    Please remember…
    The Earth can be any shape you want it
    Any in the world
    But don’t you point that ray-gun at me
    I might just explode
    There are stones buried in your soul
    And only a fool would blame the death of rock and roll, yeah
    And in time you’ll come to understand
    This flat old Earth is in your gentle hands