…interpreting the written word

[The Leaven – exploring the relationship between science and religion (cont)]

Through different religions, Biblical philosophies are used to control the thoughts and actions of individuals by a labyrinth of hierarchy, power and rituals. This has often led to a confusing view of Biblical teachings, as there seems to be different methods to search for truth and there is certainly a variation in interpreting what the truth is. In the Old Testament ritual seems to take on a greater significance and is viewed as an important ways to control the elements of nature that appear to be governed by God’s will.  In contrast, the New Testament seems to be concerned about dispelling the corrupt influence of many religious ceremonial activities that materialised from the teachings of the Old Testament. Differences between the philosophies behind the Old and New Testament lead to  two different and opposing interpretations of the term ‘leaven’.

Leaven in the Old Testament is only used to symbolise corruption and impurity and forms an integral part of religious ceremony. Whereas, the term leaven in the New Testament symbolises the dispersal of philosophical thought. Many of the statements in the New Testament are intended to be figurative or metaphorical and therefore could be interpreted in more than one way. Theologians are often accused of treating these metaphors too analytically and reading meanings into certain words or phrases that were originally unintentional. This is perhaps a major problem of presenting philosophical thought as parables or metaphors; although the concept can be easily conveyed, through changes in social history, it can also evolve new meaning. The Bible therefore contains two testaments, with quite opposing views and purpose. Perhaps, what is needed is a third Testament to explain how the Old and New Testaments are supposed to interact.

As Biblical teachings can influence the way science is interpreted by society, likewise, science can influence the way society responds to the content of the Bible. This is reflected in certain periods of history were science has significantly altered social perception of established ideals. Science researched by Copernicus, Newton and Darwin has had a fundamental impact on the way society views text within the Bible.

The classical Platonic view of investigating scientific rational was that all beings had originated from the mind of a Creator and therefore rational order must lie in investigating its plan within the natural world. Through this philosophy, ‘scientific investigation’ and ‘belief in a Creator’ were inextricably linked.

Copernicus through the rationality of geometry revealed that the Sun, and not the Earth, was the centre of the universe. He proposed that through the gift of reality, society would be able to share the mathematical structure by which God created the world. In the shadow of Copernicus came an expansion of scientific investigation and new innovations, building on the assumption that scientific reality did not impinge on theological certainty. Investigators also discovered that their socio-political status could be improved by uncovering certain knowledge and therefore a scientific revolution emerged.

Galileo supported Copernicus’s theory that the Earth moved around the Sun although it contravened the view interpreted by the Bible. When his work was published it brought attention to these contradictions, he was subsequently condemned by the defenders of the Catholic Church and forced to recant his support for Copernican philosophy. Isaac Newton, later in the seventeenth century, was not met by the same dissension when he revealed the theory behind the movement of objects in time through laws of mechanics. He emphasised that his discovery was made through merely understanding the mathematics of God. By describing the mechanisms of creation through laws he was testifying to the unimaginable greatness of the Creator.

In the light of his discoveries Isaac Newton played homage to the scientists whose research formed the foundation of his work. In a letter to fellow scientist Robert Hooke he wrote:

If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.

In science, as in religion, interpreting words effectively will eventually lead to the truth.

By the eighteenth century many theologians embraced the richness of the natural world as it gave testimony to the existence of God. Science and religion momentarily joined forces. New scientific hypotheses, such as Mendel’s laws, illustrated the predetermined order and structure of the universe. Tensions began to re-emerge when the precise age of the Earths creation and the origin of mankind were disputed by geology and new evolutionary theory. This was most evident when Charles Darwin published Origin of Species in 1859. Although his findings questioned the validity of Creation as described in the Bible their knowledge and scope was valued by society.

The initiative taken by Darwin encouraged other scientists to follow a different pathway, one that benefited society through knowledge rather than religion. They recognised that this kind of knowledge could be profitable and lead to increased socio-political status. Therefore the quest to unravel the mysteries of the natural world in the name of religion diminished. The thirst for scientific truth became and still remains independent of religious enlightenment. Religion is now generally concerned with moral and ethical objectives, while science has become a pursuit of knowledge in order to fulfil practical goals or curiosity.