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Monday, August 27, 2012

Ets Hadda'ath Tobh Wa Ra

Discover the force of the heavens O Men: once recognised it can be put to use.

 - Johannes Kepler, De Fundamentis Astrologiae Certioribus (1601)

Raw Story:

Bill Nye, host of the popular nineties children’s show Bill Nye the Science Guy, is warning parents to not teach their children creationism because, he says, it does them a disservice by undermining their scientific understanding and development.

In a short video for Big Think, Nye says that despite being the seat of some of the world’s greatest technological innovations, America is still home to so many who refuse to accept the fundamental scientific theory of evolution. If that belief is passed on to future generations, he said, America would be deprived of the scientists and engineers it will need to stay technologically competitive down the road.

“I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution, and live in your—in your world, that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in our universe, that’s fine, but don’t make your kids do it, because we need them,” he said. “We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future.”

Oddly enough, when I saw this article I'd just been reading in American Jezebel about the trials of Anne Hutchinson's father back in England.  Francis Marbury maintained that the Anglican church didn't have enough clergy and they were not sufficiently educated, which apparently was anathema to the authorities so they threw him in jail a few times.  At one point in his defense he recited Hosea 4:6:

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.

In the context, we're of course talking about knowledge of God and divine laws.  Yet I can't help but wonder if that's limited only to matters of morality and spirituality, or does it encompass the entirety of Creation, including natural laws?  

I have no doubt a fundamentalist would deny such an expansive view, and perhaps they would never consider the following, but...

John Winthrop, great-great grandson of the Massachussets Governor who banished Anne Hutchinson, gave a lecture on earthquakes in 1755:

The all-wise CREATOR could not but foresee all the effects of all the powers he implanted in matter ; and, as we find in innumerable instances (and the more we know of his works, the more fuch instances we discover) that he has established such laws for the government of the world, as tend to promote the good of the whole, we may reasonably presume, that he has done it in this case as well as others...
[T]he world is governed by general laws ; and general laws must, from the nature of them, be liable sometimes to do hurt. However, laws of this sort are sufficiently vindicated, not only as wise, but as good if upon the whole they produce a maximum of good...and this, It is in the highest degree probable, all the laws of nature do.

And as Presbyterian minister (and diet reformist), Sylvester Graham, wrote in 1854:

[T]he eternal and infinite Jehovah is the omnipotent and intelligent First Cause of all things; that Nature is his own handiwork; and every law and principle and property of Nature is the inscription of his omnific will and purpose: that if the Bible is, in truth, a record of divine Revelation, the God of the Bible and the God of Nature, are one and the same Being; that Nature, when rightly understood and interpreted, is as truly a revelation of God, as the word of divine inspiration is; and that every law of Nature is as truly a law of God...
[T]he history of the human world, when securately understood, is as true and infallible a revelation of the laws of God, concerning man, as, in the nature of things, can possibly be made; and whether we come to a knowledge of these laws, by a direct, supernatural revelation or by investigation and experience, they are equally the laws of God, and equally authoritative to man. Nature, therefore, is, in truth, the first great volume of divine Revelation, in which the deeply written will of God lies ever ready to be disclosed to the human mind by the true developments of science. The Revealed Word is but a Supplement to this first great Volume...

Returning to Kepler, he noted in Mysterium Cosmographicum (1596), the book in which he posited his theory of Platonic solids governing planetary orbits:

We do not ask for what useful purpose the birds do sing, for song is their pleasure since they were created for singing. Similarly, we ought not to ask why the human mind troubles to fathom the secrets of the heavens. The diversity of the phenomena of nature is so great and the treasures hidden in the heavens so rich precisely in order that the human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment.

While he necessarily had to reject his own ideas when data and reality conspired against him, Kepler ever maintained his faith in the face of new discovery.  You don't have to subscribe to a belief in the God of the Gaps to recognize that one can be spiritual and still accept, even celebrate, the beauty of natural laws and their discovery.  Knowledge and understanding is a good thing, and divine.


August 27, 2012 | Permalink


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One of, and possibly the defining, aspects of "God" as typically formulated, is omniscience. If, in the relevant catechisms, humans ARE "created" in some theistic "image/likeness," then the hunger for knowledge must be one of the ways we would "honor" It.

Posted by: Woody 99er | Jul 24, 2013 7:55:55 AM

You do realize that the irony is that Kepler was wrong about those Platonic solids and that the idea is entirely metaphysical, he was mixing the metaphysical with physical science, trying to make the numbers work.

I've been thinking a lot about the extraction industries, the weapons industries, the chemical and bio-engineering and virologists creating super-bugs.....etc. And wonder if that verse about eating of The Tree of Knowledge leading to our death might not prove to be true in the end. Knowledge uncontrolled by a moral stand of unselfishness and universal love is deadly.

Posted by: Anthony McCarthy | Jul 24, 2013 11:47:00 AM

Indeed, that is central to my point.

Posted by: NTodd Pritsky | Jul 24, 2013 1:13:10 PM

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