Thought this was too good not to mention.
From James K.A. Smith’s new Christianity Today article, What Galileo’s Telescope Can’t See.
“There is a particular analogy often invoked in current discussions about the relationship between Christian faith and science. Ours, we are told, is a “Galilean” moment: a critical time in history when new findings in the natural sciences threaten to topple fundamental Christian beliefs, just as Galileo’s proposed heliocentrism rocked the ecclesiastical establishment of his day. This parallel is usually invoked in the context of genetic, evolutionary, and archaeological evidence about human origins that challenges traditional Christian understandings.
Historical analogies like this are often particularly loaded because our age is characterized by chronological snobbery and a self-congratulatory sense of our maturity and progress. Since we now tend to look at the church’s response to Galileo as misguided, reactionary, and backward, this “Galilean” framing of contemporary discussions does two things—before any “evidence” is ever put on the table.
First, it casts scientists—and those Christian scholars who champion such science—as heroes and martyrs willing to embrace progress and enlightenment. Second, and as a result, this framing of the debate depicts those concerned with preserving Christian orthodoxy as backward, timid, and fundamentalist. With heads in flat-earth sand, any who voice hesitation or skepticism about the “assured/obvious” implications of evolutionary evidence are cast in the villainous role of Galileo’s putative persecutor, Cardinal Bellarmine.
… But the Galileo analogy doesn’t help us work through that tension because it says too much too fast. To invoke the Galileo analogy is to have already made up our minds. When we construe current debates about human origins in “Galilean” terms, we rhetorically position ourselves as if the implications of common descent were “as obvious” as the earth revolving around the sun. The Galileo analogy is a conversation stopper. It effectively suggests that resistance is futile.
Underneath the analogy is a more serious problem. These “Galileans” exhibit an essentially “whiggish” stance toward the theological tradition—an underlying confidence in progress and the unquestioned assumption that “newer is better.” At work here is a sense that faith needs “updating,” and that clinging to historic concerns and formulations is merely “conservative,” as if seeking to preserve historic doctrines were just a matter of fearing change.
The result is that the Christian theological tradition is seen to be a burden rather than a gift that enables the Christian community to think through such challenges. The Galileans never entertain the possibility that some of our ancient theological and confessional traditions might actually be a resource in contemporary debates—a wellspring of theological imagination to help us grapple with difficult questions. Instead, they suppose that the cross-pressure between theological tradition and contemporary science can only be alleviated by “updating” the tradition. On this account, our orthodox theological heritage—including the creeds and confessions—is part of the problem rather than a valued resource for articulating a solution.”
You can read the full article here.
Although I’m quite comfortable with evolution as a scientific principle, I think Smith does an excellent job of critiquing the ways in which the Galileo analogy encourages us to move rather uncritically from an acknowledgment of evolutionary science to the assumption that this must then necessitate the Church makes particular theological moves.