Humility & Openness- A lesson from Science for Religion

These days, I am attending a course in cosmology. Today we know that sun is the center of solar system and earth revolves around the sun. The western world became aware of it in the late 16 century after the proposals of Copernicus and company. Till then, the accepted belief was that earth was the static center and the sun revolves around the world. This is what we see with our naked eyes too.

Now I want to consider two theories from both of these periods. The theory representing earth as centre (geocentrism) group is Modified version of Ptolemaic theory and the theory representing sun as the centre group is the initial proposal of Copernicus. Now if we look today, Copernicus was closer to the physical reality.

But now let me add a twist here. Ptolemaic theory, though not representing physical reality accurately, was an ingenious mathematical model which could predict movement of planets and sun with sufficient accuracy — an accuracy greater than the initial model of Copernicus in some matters.

Thus judgement about the correct model becomes difficult at certain points (especially transition phase) in the growth of science. Now scientists and philosophers of science (especially Thomas Kuhn) has spoken about it. But I want to raise a related point.

Science speaks of the reality. As and when theories of the reality change (especially major changes), science struggles to accept it. It is forced to accept in due course of time for the sake of growth. Till yesterday the previous theory was the best. But from today we have a better theory providing better understanding. It could be succeeded by a better understanding (&theory) tomorrow. Though the composition/structure of reality may not be changing, our understanding is becoming better. (Evidences and checks could find the authenticity of the newer theory).

Now science and religion are different ball games. We can’t employ scientific principles to religion and spirituality. But the attitude of humility about the knowledge of reality is possible even in the case of religion. An extreme conservative fellow may say that the understanding of God is quite clear for us. An extreme liberal might say anything could go. But a mid way (an authentic approach according to me )could be that the understanding of God and reality can definitely grow in the course of time. The question is our willingness (as an individual and group) to that transformation and growth.

To use an example, circumcision was a normal practice for the initial Christians. But when non-Jewish people started joining Christianity, Paul argued (and fighted) against circumcision. Today we might say it was a minor thing, but I don’t think it was at that time. Thus the understanding of being a Christian became a little better (or deeper) after incorporating the new dimension. This same deepening process is (and should be) continuing today if we have the openness and humility to change, transform and to grow.

In the transition periods, science struggles to judge between various competing options. Definitely judgement is not easy with regard to the understanding of God and reality. But that doesn’t give us the chance to say understanding shouldn’t and needn’t grow or that it should grow only in some particular dimension and not in other ways.

A Jesuit interested to think and write; Loves philosophy, spirituality, politics…. Believes in God & well-being of all humans… Open to difference & newness..

A Jesuit interested to think and write; Loves philosophy, spirituality, politics…. Believes in God & well-being of all humans… Open to difference & newness..