Was Copernicus right?

Kenneth A. Feucht (kenf@kenf.seanet.com)
Fri, 14 Jun 1996 07:50:55 -0700

No one nowdays dare question the authority of Copernicus, lest they be
willing to assume the status of idiot or fool. Yet, while cosmologically
speaking, Copernicus correctly (I hope!) determined that the earth goes
around the sun, and thus destroying the Ptolemaic conception of the
universe, he failed to acknowledge at least some sense of the rightness of
the Ptolemaic system. After all, the center of God's interest is earth,
and all the interests of God, all his salvific efforts, and all his
personal actions (as far as he has communicated to us) has focused of the
terra firma of planet earth, and not the sun. If the cosmos is all there
is (C. Sagan quoted), then the Copernican system stands no need of
defining subclauses to emphasize exactly what we mean. Yet as Christians,
we maintain a strong sense of their being another perspective that needs
to be considered in order to fully grasp the truths of nature that we
seek.
I have spoken before about science being oriented primarily for the glory
of God. It has been of interest to me that I view the facts and laws of
nature in a Christocentric and doxological fashion. Thus, science is
repleat with praise and honor to the creator, and I beware those
scientific exploits that venture on a less grand view of God. I simply
assume that built into the entire fabric of creation are those facts that
give our Lord the honor due to him.
I am saying all this not as an exercise in preaching, but to lead into a
discussion of the epistemological exploration of what and how we do things
in science. Most of us would answer in the affirmative that we might be
non-Christian and yet do scientific endeavors well, possibly on the basis
of common grace given to us, and possibly on the basis of a fallen but
intact intellect that reflects part of what it means to reflect God's
image as man. We would also argue that it is nonsense to refer to various
exploits as having "Christian" subdivisions. Thus, Etienne Gilson in
Spirit of Medieval Philosophy argues against a "Christian ethic", a
"Christian biology", a "Christian psychology", a "Christian physics", etc.
Truth is true, whether or not it has a Christian subclause after it.
Or, is it? Others would argue that science has been successful only
because of its Christian sub-base. As we loose our Christian orientation,
we also loose our capacity to truly do scientific exploits. As examples of
that, my own field of medicine is so fraught with dishonesty in reporting
results, and so heavy with injecting strong personal hypotheses on fringe
data in order to make the data seem anything other than feeble, that I
often have no choice but to doubt, or discard most of the published work
that comes out as trash. Perhaps medicine is the only field where science
is like that, but I doubt it. Science magazine seems to struggle with the
problem of ethics in research throughout the individual fields of study.
I am particularly bothered by the hubris of being up to date on things.
When I was spending my entire time in the laboratory, there was not a week
where I would try to be the first to get the latest edition of Cell, or
Cell Biology, or Cancer Research. As though it really mattered, like I
would be a jonny-come-lately on the definitive article that would untwist
the Gordian knot, and reveal the secrets that I arduously sought to wrench
out of nature. In actual fact, much of the apparent progress was really no
progress at all, but simply an activity that did one of two things
a)change a prevailing paradigm or b)change a prevailing terminology. As an
example of a) the air was thick with excitement when a change in paradigms
of the mechanism of breast cancer metastasis suggested that we were now
coming to the true light of how we could understand breast cancer. Yet, it
really was simply a return to the pre-Halstedian era (cir 1900) of breast
cancer understanding and offered nothing substantive in the fight against
breast cancer. As an example of b), I think of the dude (dudette?) that
decided HTLV-III was inappropriate for naming the AIDS virus. One was out
of touch to not talk of HIV, but instead used archaic terminology.
There was recent criticism regarding a geologic paper in Perspectives not
using 1995 terminology and being aware of a published 1995 book. Yet, if
the field under discusssion was noted to be changing that rapidly, and I
could only assume either a superficial shift of paradigms and terminology,
or, assume the field to be in such flux that the 1995 dogma will be
discredited as archaic by 1997. If such is the case, true humility would
allow for no discussion, as there is no point arguing over the saliency of
theories soon to be proven out of date.
So, what does the Christian do? Any good books that discuss this issue? I
slowly find less and less commonality between myself and my atheistic
colleagues, and that, not on overtly religious issues, but issues of the
formation of the paradigms and models that we use to fit together the
empiric data available to us. I insist on a Christian view, trusting the
Scriptures as more reliable than my own senses. That goes over poorly in a
world at war with God. I would appreciate your thoughts.
-- 
Kenneth A. Feucht
kenf@kenf.seanet.com
St_Augustine@msn.com
win 95 Beta-tester 176022