Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Challenge to the Church. (1233 words)

By John de Waal.

I decided to re-read the thin, but dense, book “A Brief History of Time” by Professor Stephen Hawking [Bantam Books, New York, 1990]. This book talks about “The Big Bang” and “Black Holes”, Einstein’s Law of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, along with a few other things in an effort to explain how things began in our Cosmos and where we are heading. The book pulls together the thoughts and works of many other scientists around the world who are working on the various aspects of this challenge.

While it is probably true that no one but Dr. Hawking “could have put these mathematically formidable subjects more clearly” [Chicago Tribune], the book is a tough read, for me at least. However, more than a million hardcover copies of the book were sold and more than nine million of the paperback version. The book was on the New York Times bestseller list for 100 weeks and on the London Sunday Times best-seller list for more than four years! That shows that I have a lot of company in wanting to understand everything around us.

The information Dr. Hawking provides does satisfy much of the curiosity about how our universe was formed, how the stars and planets developed, and where we came from. However, many of the findings and discoveries in the book infringe on the realm that is designated by religion as belonging to God. Indeed, in 1981, the Roman Catholic Church organized a convention of leading scientists at the Vatican to both learn the state of science and to give Pope John II the opportunity to tell the scientists how far they can go and where they must stop. Big Bang, for instance, is out of bounds because that is the work of God. The pope apparently had not heard Dr. Hawking, who was there and who had just lectured on that subject.

In spite of Pope John’s admonishments, science has forced ahead in exploring all avenues in their quest for a complete unified theory of everything in the universe. Thus, the idea developed that “space and time may form a closed surface without boundaries or an edge, that our universe is really completely self-contained, and that there is neither beginning nor end” (Pp.140-141). This, of course, leads to the inevitable conclusion that there is no need for a Creator! When Hawking later wrote: “So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a Creator,” [but] "I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science, laws that may have been decreed by God, but who does not intervene to break the laws", thereby essentially confirming his initial statement that there is no obvious need for God, while attempting to placate the Church.
My renewed interest seems to coincide with those of the Vatican, because – as I write these words - another five-day Vatican meeting has convened. It started Friday, October 31, 2008 and is themed "Scientific Insights into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life." Eighty scientists, philosophers and theologians are participating.
Before the discussions started, Pope Benedict XVI laid down the ground rules by affirming his belief that “the world did not emerge out of chaos, but was intentionally created by "the First Being." In order to develop and evolve, the world must first be and thus have come from nothing into being; it must be created by the First Being who is such by essence!"
Benedict went on to assert that the Creator was not only involved in the origins of the universe, but continually sustains the development of life and the world. “The Creator”, he said, “is the cause of every being and all becoming.”
One may wonder on what this rhetoric is based and why the Pope finds it necessary to influence the thinking of the scientists and philosophers in his audience. Does he really believe that, because he is the Pope, he knows better than mere men, that only he can guide civilization and regulate scientific inquiry as he sees fit?
Of course, the Church has, for centuries, held their beliefs infallible. Humility was never part of their domain. For instance:
In the 17th century, the geocentric Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, who proceeded against Giordano Bruno, whom he had tortured to death, and Galileo Galilei, whom he put on house arrest until dead, for their scientific discoveries pertaining to our solar system. He dismissed their findings and stated flatly: “To affirm that the Sun is really fixed in the center of the heavens and that the Earth revolves around it is not only irritating to the theologians and philosophers, but (is) injuring our holy faith…”
We all now recognize that as arrogant and conceited. Still, the Vatican never did seem to realize that their ideas are mere opinion that can, and are overturned by observation and experimentation. In spite of his efforts to thwart science, Bellarmine was canonized by his Church in 1930!
One may wonder why Pope Benedict is taking the same risk. Is he afraid that science will succeed in discovering ‘the complete theory that will enable us to understand and explain everything’? Science is getting closer, it is just a matter of time and when science reaches that point mankind will understand the “Mind of God”. Does Benedict consider that dangerous to the continuation of the faith, will this expose his Church for what it is? Is that why, in spite of all the secular and scientific progress, the Church continues to attempt to control humanity, as they have done from the very beginning?
The Church still relies on fear to get their way. ‘God is omnipotent and knows and sees everything all humans think and do. There is no place to hide. Only if you live by the rules of the Church will you go to heaven, otherwise you go to hell, probably sooner than later’. Science, inadvertently show convincingly that there is no need for God, that there is no Creator, not now and there never was. When that truth becomes general knowledge, the underpinnings of the Church will be severely compromised.
Yet, this need not be. The Church should recognize the emerging influence of secular thinking due to the rise of science; they should rethink their mission, instead of fighting progress. “Religion needs to evolve to keep pace with the evolution of politics, economics, and science”, said Dr. Felix Adler of the Ethical Culture Society in New York , way back in 1876. However, the Church continues to hang on to its ancient rituals and beliefs. In spite of its size and influence, its foundations will crumble when the evidence provided by science becomes too overwhelming and humanity will suffer a great loss because alternates such as ethical culture and similar religious developments will not be developed enough to fill the gap!
Therefore, instead of the Church fighting “Secular Humanism” (a name invented by its fundamentalist critics) they should realize that they and all religious communities are essential for their real and exclusive mission is, or should be: 1. to sanctify life, 2. to teach ethical values, and 3. to provide a personal experience of living in a caring community. This can be done without the use of traditional religious metaphors and fear.
Teaching the supremacy of moral ends over human ends and interests, moral laws that have immediate authority, helping rather than hindering the march of knowledge, and educating people everywhere in the art of living just, is the future. This would make the priestly profession more relevant, challenging and certainly more satisfying. To Church should concentrate on developing in man a philosophy that will always make him "Act so as to encourage the best in others and by so doing develop the best in him/her self."(Adler). This will have a noticeable and positive impact on this world of ours because it will reduce greed, injustice, arrogance and violence.
Therefore, Pope Benedict, why don’t you and the Church join the 21st century and make your great organization a force for good!

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