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The Center of Truth’s Universe

February 1, 2010

From the beginning of time, history has indexed our universe.  Some history we know, some we will never know.  Moreover, some things we thought we knew, we learn were something else all together.  The truth we know today is in how we believe it to be, more than the fact of it – seems everyone knew the earth was the center of the universe until Galileo proved otherwise.  What belief of today will change tomorrow?

Galileo was not alone in his belief, of course.  He built on the works of another great from history – Nicolaus Copernicus.  The realization that the earth was not the center of the universe was a process that took over two-hundred years to understand.  Telling the truth can prove dangerous too.  In Galileo’s case, it cost him his freedom and nearly his life.  The Catholic Church was less than pleased with his proposals as it opposed the teachings of the day.  In 1632, he was tried by the Inquisition, found “vehemently suspect of heresy,” forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

Galileo held to his belief.  While he did recant, it was under threat of death.  Regardless of the Catholic Church’s efforts, his work remained in circulation and people quietly accepted the truth of it.  The truth of his work was undeniable.  Institutions, like the Catholic Church, are slow to correct mistakes; in Galileo’s case, they did not officially change their position until 1992 when Pope John Paul II expressed regret.  Now, there are plans to erect a statue of Galileo within the Vatican walls.

The lesson of Galileo is truth may be suppressed for a time but in the end it will prevail.  There is something indefinable that happens to a person when they learn a truth.  It changes everything they do from that moment forward.  Accepting one truth leads to other truths; the process of learning repeats itself with a perpetual motion of sorts.  It is the engine that drives humanity along our journey of discovery.

Looking back, the Church’s position may seem silly, but we cannot judge through hindsight; we have the advantage of knowing how events unfolded.  That is the point to keep in mind, when the world presents you with an idea that goes against a deeply held belief, the belief may need to change.  The fault did not sit with the Church as a whole, but with a belief system that did not allow for change.  The more we understand the universe, the more we will shed outdated beliefs.  There was a time when traveling faster than the speed of sound was thought impossible; today we routinely fly much faster.  Now, the speed of light presents the same dilemma.  Will we one day dismiss it as a barrier too?

Truth may seem dynamic; it is not.  While two plus two does equal four, other truths are not so easily defined.  In the end, it is our understanding that changes, not truth.  No evil comes from knowing the truth even if it breaks with tradition.  The evil comes in suppressing truth.  If you don’t believe me, just ask Galileo.

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2 comments

  1. Michael,
    I agree with you about truths. I may draw fire here, but religion is one of the most dangerous things on the planet. It amounts to no more than organized superstition, but goes further to promise people something…eternal life…in exchange for their unquestioning belief. You can’t prove them wrong, and the only thing they do to prove themselves right is quote from a book written thousands of years ago. These people were trying to explain the meaning of life and the creation of man and the universe and they didn’t even understand the formation of rain!…and people, including presidents, want to take this literature and use it to run a country! What if our president said he was going to pray to Zeus for guidance? We’d think he had LOST his SENSES! It should worry us, how many things are decided on the basis of chatting with an imaginary friend. I find it baffling how many people do not question the things they believe and get agitated and defensive if you try to intelligently debate it. Their only debate is “the bible says”. The scientific arguments they pose are completely suspect. As science gets bigger, god gets smaller. Americans have a hard time believing that there are almost entire countries who don’t believe in a creator god at all. China is one of them. My problem with religion is the members’ lack of willingness to use logic with it. Where I live here, my kids have students stand up in class and argue with the teachers when they say something about the earth being millions/billions of years old. It is bizarre! They say that it can’t be. It is only 10,000 years old. Huh? How can they bury their heads so fully in the sand? Sadly, I can’t express my views around here or my children would get ostracized.
    Fortunately, the church has lost much of its political power here and isn’t able to stifle science like in centuries past, but it still has great influence. It is also maddening at the attitude of Christians that they are the only moral ones. PLEASE! I think if anything, they are more subject to doing wrong, knowing that they will “be forgiven”. I, personally, feel it is my DUTY to be a moral person, and my mistakes can’t just be erased, therefore I must exercise due diligence to be the sort of person I am not going to be ashamed of.
    Well, that was a real soap-box moment. I can certainly debate longer on the subject, but your post got me thinking. The truth is still hampered by religion all around the world. Reading “His Dark Materials” by Philip Pullman is a great adventure story that is shaped around the struggle for knowledge during a time of high censorship and dangerous control measures being taken by a “magesterium” (much like the Catholic church from the days you are referring to). When I read the really awesome book (a best seller in other countries) I was struck by how the Christians were so “up in arms” about the book. (a very disappointing movie, “The Golden Compass” was made about 1/3rd of it). I remember getting emails from my Christian friends telling me of the evil of the books/movie. I decided to read it for myself. I thought it was fantastic and my older daughter devoured it next. She took it to school and promptly got told by a teacher that she needed to “go to church”.
    Well enough ranting.


    • Yes, it is a sad commentary people want to be allowed their own belief while condemning others for having a different one. I see Western religion as dealing with absolutism. That leads to the problems in adapting to change. While I did not see the movie you refer to, I do understand the problem with reducing Mr. Pullman’s book to a movie length production. As for the ones that stand against it without understanding it, that point alone illustrates the problem with their argument. Thanks for the great reply!!



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