Monthly Archives: August 2017

Should Everyone Study Theology?: Yes and No

August 2017 Credo

It has become unquestioned wisdom these days to advocate that the study of theology at some level should be for every Christian inasmuch as it is practically achievable given her current commitments and stage of life. Whether it be full-time, part-time or occasional studies, Christians are encouraged to give as much of their time to learning about God as possible.

After all, since we have put in so much effort into our own secular studies—especially within an educationally intense system as Singapore’s—shouldn’t we be prepared to do the same and even more when it comes to learning about God?

The advent of the internet has also made theological knowledge much more accessible, either through prescribed courses of self-study or individual on-line modules.

I remember taking a correspondence course many years ago with an American seminary on the history of Western philosophy; the amount of time it took for my assignments to be sent in, marked and returned would simply be unacceptable in our digital age.

Alongside on-line modes of learning, Christians also enroll for classes in seminaries and other organizations. At Trinity Theological College, more and more participants are signing up for our night courses which are open to the Christian layperson. This means that there are people willing to trudge down to our campus after a hard day’s work, to sit and listen to a two-hour lecture till 9.30 pm once a week.

Why would anyone endure such “afflictions” for courses that do not add to their market value? The simple answer is that the pursuit of the knowledge of God is reward itself.

J. I. Packer, one of my former theology lecturers, has asserted that not only is the study of God reward in itself, it is the responsibility of every Christian to do so. Quoting Charles Spurgeon in his book, Knowing God, he writes that, “I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God, the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead” (p. 13).eed, the fact that many Singaporean Christians are committed to learning more about their faith is something every theological educator should take delight in.

In this article, I do not intend to question the basic notion that theological studies of some form is for everyone. However, I do think that in view of the trend discussed above, that there is a need to highlight one particular area that some Christians unwittingly neglect. And that is the fundamental posture of learning theology.

Far too often, lecturers have encountered students who commenced their studies with a similar set of attitudes and values that they had subscribed to for their secular education. They aim for excellence, better results and higher grades.

Not only that, they thoroughly enjoy theological discussions and dissecting the latest scholarly debates, so much so that sometimes we worry if they have forgotten who they are talking about.

Personally, I have found it sometimes necessary to remind my first-year classes that the study of theology is different from any other field of inquiry. For we stand on holy ground when we talk about God, and there must be a certain humility and reverence in our attitude towards the subject since He far surpasses us.

The church father, Gregory of Nazianzus was once asked whether theology is for everyone. His answer, which may come as a surprise to us, was an emphatic No;

Discussion of theology is not for everyone….Nor, I would add, is it for every occasion, or every audience…It is not for all people, but only for those who have been tested and have found a sound footing in study, and, more importantly, have undergone, or at the very least are undergoing, purification of body and soul. For one who is not pure to lay hold of pure things is dangerous, just as it is for weak eyes to look at the sun’s brightness.

What is the right time? Whenever we are free from the mire and noise without, and our commanding faculty is not confused by illusory, wandering images, leading us, as it were, to mix fine script with ugly scrawling, or sweet-smelling scent with slime. We need actually “to be still” in order to know God, and when we receive the opportunity, “to judge uprightly” in theology.

 (Theological Orations 27.3)

Christopher Beeley, in his book, Gregory of Nazianzus on the Trinity and the Knowledge of God (OUP, 2008) summarizes that for Gregory, while everyone has been called to know God, in reality perhaps only some will attain to this as there are other accompanying criteria, including most important of all, the purification of the Christian (pp. 67-68).

In contemporary terms, this purification refers to a radical change in one’s character and conduct so that one befits the privilege and responsibility of knowing God.

To purify oneself before learning about God is a practice that we seldom hear today, and therefore, Gregory’s words are a timely reminder to us—including educators—to be careful that greater theological literacy does not lead to the danger that Paul warned us about; for “knowledge puffeth up” (1 Cor 8:1).

While writing this article, I was perusing my autographed copy of Packer’s Knowing God, and found that he has included in his handwritten inscription a biblical reference that has been echoed by Gregory – Psalm 46. May we learn to be truly still in order to know that He is God (Ps 46:10).


 

Dr Tan Loe Joo is lecturer in systematic theology at Trinity Theological College.

 

Discrimination Against Christians

August 2017 Pulse

Reader’s Question: There appears to be a rise in anti-Christian sentiments in America, especially in its institutions of higher learning, where discrimination against Christians is evident. What are the reasons for this attitude? Are there similar anti-Christian sentiments in Singapore?

The stats speak for themselves. And they paint a worrying picture.

According to a survey conducted by LifeWay Research in 2015, more than 63 percent of Americans agree that Christians encounter intolerance in some form and that such incidents are on the rise. The LifeWay study also states that 6 out of 10 Americans believe that religious liberty in the United States is on the decline.

In another survey, conducted by the Public Research Institute in 2017, 57 percent of white evangelical Protestants think that discrimination against Christians in America is quite pervasive.

In American society, there is a subtle but undeniable eclipse of religious language and secularisation of Christian events as the courts debate about the removal of the words ‘under God’ from the pledge of allegiance and as ‘Merry Christmas’ is replaced by ‘Happy Holidays’.

Discrimination against Christians is evident in the universities in the US.

According to The Baltimore Sun (April 23, 2014), Brandon Jenkins was denied admission to the Community College of Baltimore City because of his religious belief. Jenkins said that he was denied admission to the Radiation Therapy Programme because when asked in an interview conducted by college officials what was most important to him, he responded: ‘My God’. The Washington-based American Centre for Law and Justice is handling Jenkins’ lawsuit against the college.

At Sonoma State University, a liberal arts student Audrey Javis was asked to remove her cross necklace because it might be offensive to other students. Javis, a devout Catholic, told Fox News that she felt a sense of outrage. ‘I was very hurt and felt as if the university’s mission statement – which includes tolerance and inclusivity to all – was violated’.

Christian organisations are also being removed from university campuses. In its September 10, 2014, issue The Huffington Post reported that all 23 campuses of the California State University have ‘de-recognised’ Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, an evangelical Christian group with 860 chapters across the United States, because of its Christian beliefs.

These are all disturbing telltale signs of the growing secular hegemony in American society.

The situation is so alarming that, according to The Huffington Post, former GOP candidate Mike Huckabee opined that ‘We are moving rapidly toward the criminalization of Christianity’. Although this is obviously an overstatement, the growing presence of discrimination against Christians in America cannot be denied.

In addition, this development seems to be in tandem with the rise of global anti-Christian persecution documented in books such as Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians (2013) by Paul Marshall and The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution (2016) by John L. Allen.

One reason for this trend is the ascendency of a militant and toxic form of secular humanism in the West that is in essence anti-religion. In rejecting the existence of God – and with it, institutionalised religions – these secular humanists have fabricated the myth of human omnicompetence and might.

The radical anthropocentrism (some would say, anthropomonism) it espouses has mocked traditional monotheistic faiths like Christianity and Judaism for their belief in a non-existence transcendent being by employing the spurious arguments of atheist authors like Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens. But by professing unbounded faith in humankind, secular humanism has in fact erected an altar to a new god, and created a new religion.

This is evident in the writings of the Fathers of secular humanism. For example, in The Social Contract (1762) Jacques Rousseau proposed a civil religion where reverence and obedience are accorded to the sovereign state, whose dogmas and laws supplant those of traditional religions like Christianity.

John Dewey’s My Pedagogic Creed (1897) hailed the teacher in the secular society as a prophet of the true god, who will usher the children they teach into the kingdom of god. Except that Dewey’s true god is not the God of the Bible but the human community, and the kingdom of god about which he speaks is secular society from which religion has been expunged.

But it is precisely because of their anthropocentrism – their idolatrous worship of man instead of God – that makes the secular humanists prone to an insidious form of intolerance (an intolerance that is camouflaged by the rhetoric of inclusivity, diversity, and, yes, tolerance), tyranny and totalitarianism.

Secular humanism maintains that values and morals are nothing but mere opinions and personal preferences – there is no such thing as an objective moral norm. Yet it imposes its own dogmas and standards on society: even the staunchest secular humanist will admit, if he is honest, that he is shaped and guided by dogma.

This is nothing but an instance of self-absolutization.

The absolutist creed of secular humanism has spawned a history of violence and inhumanity. ‘Nobody except certain intellectuals’, writes Richard Bastien, ‘can ignore the fact that the two societies that have systematically fought Christianity root and branch – Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia – have also been the two most grossly inhumane’.

‘And as Western democracies do away with their Christian heritage’, he adds, ‘they become more and more cruel and inhumane. The deliberate starvation of Downs syndrome babies, unrestricted abortion, euthanasia, devaluation of life-giving and life-supporting roles such as motherhood and fatherhood, all bear testimony to the fact that ours is increasingly becoming a death culture like Nazi and Soviet culture’.

The intolerant dogmatism of the secular humanists is made evident in their penchant for closing down debates over opinions and positions they disagree with or are antithetical to their secular creed. They use the rhetoric of ‘hate speech’ or ‘inclusivity’ as political weapons to silence the people they disagree with, thereby disabling genuine public debate.

They assume that they alone have the authority to define ‘hate speech’ and they alone can determine the rules of the game as far as inclusiveness is concerned.

This is profoundly undemocratic!

Thankfully, this venomous form of secularism is not present (if present, it is not influential) in Singapore, a nation that takes pride in its religious diversity. The secularism of the state is not anti-religion, but a kind of ‘procedural’ secularism that celebrates religious plurality and recognises the profound contributions that religion can make to society.

Our constitution allows those who live and work in Singapore not only to profess their faiths but also to propagate them. The secularism of the state is a ‘minimalist’ secularism that respects and protects the religious liberty of its citizens. A survey conducted by the Institute for Policy Studies in 2014 showed that the majority of the respondents ‘agreed that there is religious harmony here’.

While there might be a few here who may find militant secularism attractive, it is doubtful that they are able to unleash the culture war we witness in the US here – at least, not in the foreseeable future.

But religious liberty and harmony in any society is always fragile, not least in this current climate of suspicion and hate.

To prevent religious discrimination brought about by hegemonic secularism, we must protect the religious freedom that we currently enjoy and never take it for granted. And we must strive to ensure that everyone in Singapore – people of different faiths as well as people with no religion – is valued and accorded proper respect.


 

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

 

 

 

 

 

The Third Sex

August 2017 Pulse

In the past few decades, scores of books on homosexuality and transgenderism have poured out from the Christian presses in America, UK and Europe. However, works by Christian theologians and ethicists on intersexuality – a condition which affects 0.1 – 0.2 percent of the population – remains scant and sketchy.

‘Intersexuality has not been properly addressed within recent ethical discussions about sexuality, writes John Hare. ‘One consequence of this omission has been that the rigid and polarized view that humans are clearly and discretely either male or female has gone unchallenged’.

The term ‘intersex’ covers a wide range of conditions that present atypical physical sex in one form or another. These include people (1) with ambiguous genitalia, whose physical appearance is between the male and female genitals; (2) whose genital appearance is not matched with some other physical aspect (e.g., a female vulva with testes); and (3) with unusual chromosomes (e.g., XXY or combination of XX and XY).

Intersex must not be confused with transgender. Transgendered people experience a dysphoria between their biological sex and gender identity, while intersex people have physical features that make their biological sex ambiguous. In the same way, intersex should not be mistaken as homosexuality because it does not have to do with sexual orientation but with biological sex.

In the past – between 1960 and 1990 – it was not uncommon for children born with atypical genitalia to undergo corrective surgery soon after birth. This approach, however, has been largely abandoned because of the serious ethical and psychological issues it presents.

Current approaches include delaying surgery until the children are old enough to understand their condition and explore options for their own bodies. In some cases, treatment does not involve surgery at all because of the belief that intersex people can achieve psychological security about their gender without the need to have a typical genital anatomy.

Intersex has called to question current definitions of biological sex. For example, many legal commentators have pointed out that English law’s emphasis on chromosomes as the decisive factor in determining sex is problematic when it comes to intersex people.

This in turn has created problems in ascertaining the legal status of people with genital anomalies. Needless to say that this has profound implications for marriage law.

In some European countries (e.g., Finland, Portugal and France) the sex of the child can be registered at a later date if it cannot be determined from birth.

Intersex people pose a challenge to the Christian understanding of sex because they do not fit into the neat categories of ‘male’ or ‘female’. This has led some intersex people to think that they are a ‘third sex’.

John Hare echoes the views of some Christian writers when he writes: ‘The existence of intersexuality confounds the tidy categories that some Christian ethicists and church leaders work with and challenges us all to think more deeply about the God-given nature of our sexuality … The condition of intersexuality … draws our attention to the complexity and diversity in the development of human sexuality’.

In similar vein, Susannah Cornwall of the University of Manchester asserts that ‘Theologies which assume everyone is clearly male or female may find themselves uncomfortably stretched when they begin to take into account the experiences of people whose bodies do not fit either category’.

However, despite the undeniable theological and pastoral complexities associated with intersex, the biblical or creational norm of human beings created as either male or female (Genesis 5:2) must be upheld.

As Dennis Hollinger has rightly argued in his book entitled, The Meaning of Sex: ‘Natural sexual conditions and anomalies in no way undermine the creational norms. All distortions in the world must be judged against the divine creational givens’.

‘In a fallen world’, he adds, ‘there will be chaos and confusion that extends even to human sexuality. But the normative structure toward which God calls humanity is not the fallenness of nature; it is, rather, God’s created designs’.

To argue that intersex is one of the distortions of our sin-scarred and fallen world is not to say that atypical genitalia is the result of the personal sins of the people with this condition. It is rather to emphasise that they – like all of us – are part of a world fractured by original sin, a world that is radically different from what the Creator had originally intended it to be.

Christians must regard intersex people as bearers of the image and likeness of God, who must be accorded with equal dignity and value. Christians therefore can never tolerate the discrimination or humiliation of intersex people.

More reflection is needed on the part of theologians, Christian ethicists and pastors on the theological and pastoral issues associated with intersex Christians – issues such as marriage, having children and their full involvement in the life of the Church, including leadership and ordination.

In addition, we must listen very attentively to the experience of intersex people so that we may achieve a deeper appreciation of their struggles and aspirations.

But most importantly, we must accept intersex Christians as members of Christ’s body, the Church. For as Christians, our identity is established in Christ.

As the Apostle Paul puts it: ‘For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:26-28).


 

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

Word Made Flesh

August 2017 Credo

Who is Jesus Christ?

This question continues to exercise inquiring minds throughout the centuries, even as the enigmatic figure of the first century Rabbi never ceases to fascinate and capture the human imagination.

This is evidenced in the countless books that were written proposing endless theories about Jesus, not to mention the numerous television documentaries (especially by National Geographic).

The answer that Scripture gives to this question is at once clear and provocative. Jesus Christ is the eternal Word of God who ‘was made flesh, and dwelt among us’, declares John in his Gospel (1:14).

The Apostle Paul says that Jesus is ‘the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation’ (Colossians 1:15). The writer of Hebrews adds: ‘He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature’, who upholds the universe by his power (Hebrews 1:3).

Jesus Christ is the image, reflection and imprint of God because he is God himself. He is the second person of the triune God who has taken up human nature in the incarnation.

Understandably, many people today would reject the truth of the incarnation because it sounds so incredulous to the modern ear. Moderns would have no problems at all with seeing Jesus as an exceptional rabbi, or a nationalistic revolutionary, or even a shaman or mystic.

But even some Christians have found the idea of the incarnation dubious, and questioned if it is altogether necessary for Christianity to continue to perpetuate this claim.

In 1977, the authors of a collection of essays published as The Myth of God Incarnate and edited by the late John Hick controversially called to question the traditional dogma of the incarnation.

In 2005, Hick published The Metaphor of God Incarnate in which he argued that the incarnation must be understood metaphorically and not literally. For Hick, to make the claim that ‘Jesus is the incarnation of God’ is not very different from saying that ‘Winston Churchill incarnated the British will to resist Hitler’.

Liberal Christians like Bishop John Shelby Spong of the Episcopal Church in America reject the incarnation, and insisted that traditional Christology is bankrupt in the modern scientific age.

But the doctrine of the incarnation is not a metaphysical aberration that has somehow infected the early church’s understanding of Jesus Christ, a distortion brought about by Hellenic philosophy. As we have seen, it is clearly found in the New Testament and it has shaped the church’s prayers and liturgy since her inception.

Belief in the incarnation was given creedal form in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (formulated in the First [325] and Second Ecumenical Councils [381]) and the Chalcedonian Creed (451) amidst fierce battles against erroneous concepts of Christ.

In the Nicene Creed, the church maintains that the Jesus who died and rose again is the eternal Son of God, who is of the same essence with God the Father. In the words of the Creed, the incarnate One is ‘the only-begotten Son of God … God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God’.

In the incarnation, the eternal Son of God was ‘made flesh’, as the King James translation has it. Other versions (RSV, NIV, ESV) render it as the ‘Word became flesh’.

It is extremely important that we understand what Scripture means when it speaks of the eternal Word ‘becoming’ human flesh. There are at least two erroneous ways of understanding this ‘becoming’.

The first error is to think that in ‘becoming’ flesh, the eternal Word ‘comes into’ an existing human being, Jesus of Nazareth. To think of the incarnation in this way is to fall into the ancient heresy called ‘adoptionism’ (associated with Paul of Samosata). Adoptionism reduces Jesus to merely another prophet in whom the Word of God dwelt.

The second error is to think that in the incarnation there occurred a transmogrification of the eternal Word (Son) into a human being. According to this understanding, at the incarnation the eternal Word ‘changes into’ the man Jesus.

The early theologians of the church were very careful to stress that the incarnation is not just another version of the ‘mythical transformations’ of the gods that we find in some religions. They insisted that since God cannot be subjected to change, in taking on human flesh the second Person of the Trinity did not become other than himself.

Rather, in the incarnation the eternal Son of God takes up human nature without ever ceasing to be God. To put this in another way, in the incarnation the eternal Son does not ‘change into’ a human being, but he ‘puts on’ human nature.

The early Fathers were fond of using the imagery of Aaron donning his high-priestly robe to depict the incarnation. Just as Aaron remained unchanged after assuming his priestly dress, so the Word or Son does not cease to be God when cloaked in human flesh.

Hence, according to the Chalcedonian Definition the Son of God in the incarnation is very God and very Man. The divine and human natures are united in the second Person of the Trinity ‘without confusion, without change, without division, without separation’.

It is also crucial to note that in the incarnation, the eternal Son plunges into the depths of the human condition by taking upon himself post-lapsarian Adamic flesh, i.e., fallen human nature.

Following Hebrews 2:14, Athanasius (296-373) in his great treatise De Incarnatione maintains that in the incarnation the Son ‘takes a body of our own kind’.

As Thomas Weinandy explains, for Athanasius ‘the humanity assumed by the Word was not some generic immunized, sanitized or quarantined humanity, but a humanity taken from the sinful race of Adam …’

As we have seen, the Chalcedonian Definition postulates that the divine and human natures are united in the person of the incarnate Son without confusion, that is, with their integrity intact.

How are we to even begin to understand this with regard to the acts of Jesus of Nazareth? The theologian William Placher suggests that we think of this great mystery in this way.

Because Jesus Christ is God incarnate, he did things that only God can do – he forgave sins, resuscitated the dead, and saved humankind from sin and death. But because Jesus Christ is God incarnate, because he took up our human nature and became a man, he did other things that are associated to being human – he ate and drank, he became tired.

And if we ask who was it that did all these things, the answer is: Jesus Christ.


 

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

Reflections on the Galileo Effect- Was the Galileo Affair a Conflict between Science and Religion?

August 2017 Feature

The arrest of Galileo Galilei for proposing a sun-centered model of the universe despite being told not to has been cited as an embarrassing example of the inevitable conflict between the forward-looking nature of science and regressive character of religion.

This article will offer a brief recounting of this episode in order to show the difficulty of drawing simplistic conclusions concerning religion’s conflicting or cooperative relationship with science at the time. It will then mention some lessons the episode can offer us today.

Galileo, who lived in the 16th and 17th centuries, made seminal contributions to physics, engineering, and astronomy. With the creation of a superior telescope, his corresponding observations led him to favour the physical reality of a sun-centered Copernican model of the universe, whose mathematical calculations he had already favoured beforehand.

The Catholic Church had previously accepted the Copernican model insofar as it was a useful  predictive mathematical tool that did not otherwise assert that the sun must be at the center of the universe. Instead, the Church and many astronomers accepted the physical reality of an earth-centered model of the universe based on Aristotelian physics.

Aristotelian physics conceived reality as composed of five elements, four of which consist of inferior material which tended to the center of the universe, that is, earth, which was unmoving. The fifth element, quintessence, an incorruptible and unchanging material, was what made the heavenly bodies and determined that they revolve around the earth in perfect circles for eternity.

Galileo’s observations revealed to him, among other things, that the surface of the sun and moon were not perfect, as quintessence would have it; and that Jupiter had four moons, which indicated that the heavenly bodies did not all revolve around the earth.

He published these findings indicating his preference for the Copernican model in 1610 and 1613. This led Holy Office – the office charged with ensuring orthodoxy – to declare the implications of these findings false.

Many scientists disagreed with Galileo as well. They argued that the Copernican model could not yield superior predictions to the earth-centered model partly because both assumed circular rather than elliptical orbits. They also argued, wrongly – because they did not have powerful enough measurement equipment at the time – that stellar parallax, which should be observable if the earth was moving, could not, in fact, be observed.

However, by 1613 and 1615, he had already sent out widely circulated defending the Copernican model on scriptural grounds.

In the letters, he relied heavily on the interpretive principles of the Church Fathers, especially Saint Augustine’s concept of “accommodation,” which is the idea that the scriptures have been written to accommodate the mind of the common person, giving priority and clarity to matters pertaining to salvation, not to scientifically robust descriptions of reality.

The verses which had been appealed to in support of the Aristotelian model included Joshua 10.13, Psalm 19.4-6; 93.1; 96.10; 104.5; 119.90; Ecclesiastes 1.5, and I Chronicles 16.30.

Unfortunately, by engaging with scriptural interpretation, he was treading on thin ice. The Church had been embroiled in theological and political conflict with the Protestant Reformers for some time, and had declared at the Council of Trent in 1545-63 that “no one, relying on his own judgment and distorting the Sacred Scriptures according to his own conceptions, shall dare to interpret them contrary to that sense which Holy Mother Church, to whom it belongs to judge their true sense and meaning, had held and does hold.”

Thankfully, Pope Urban VIII, who was a long-time admirer of Galileo’s work, told him in 1624 that he could discuss Copernican theory but only as one hypothesis among others. This emboldened Galileo to, rather unwisely, promote Copernican theory by publishing a fictional dialogue between three individuals about cosmology in 1632. And he gave the name Simplicio, which means someone who is simple-minded, to the advocate of the Aristotelian position, a position which the Pope personally favoured.

In other words, Galileo seemed to be accusing the Pope of being simple-minded in an underhanded way. As one might imagine, the Pope did not take this lightly. He was at the time embroiled in the Thirty-Years’ War, had just switched his allegiance from the French to the Spanish and felt that he needed to come down strong on Galileo to show his new allies his authority and decisiveness.

Thus, in 1633, he was summoned to the Holy Office and found guilty of vehement suspicion of heresy. He was ordered to publicly recant his Copernican astronomy and be confined to his home in Florence where he remained until his death in 1642.

A century later, the Church began the gradual process of publicly shifting their stance toward Galileo. In 1744, Galileo’s Dialogue was republished with the Church’s approval. In 1893, Pope Leo XIII advanced a view concerning the relationship between the scriptures and science in his encyclical like those in Galileo’s letters. Between 1941 and 46, several academic clergymen occasioned a partial and informal rehabilitation of Galileo in their published work. And in 1979, Pope John Paul II initiated the latest informal rehabilitation of him.

From this brief recounting of the episode, it is apparent that interpreting the affair as a conflict between science and religion would be an over-simplification. To appreciate the complexities involved, the minimum factors, of varying weight, that should be considered include the legitimate disagreement among scientists toward Copernican astronomy, the Reformers’ challenge to the Church’s interpretive authority, Pope Urban VIII’s own political troubles, Galileo’s commitment to the primacy of mathematics over Aristotelian physics, and his unwise jab at the Pope.

What can be learned from this episode? We can learn that the relationship between the scriptures and the deliverances of modern science is not a straightforward one. We can also learn to appreciate the different kinds of literary genres in the scriptures and value their theological import without necessarily committing ourselves to their corresponding literal descriptions of reality.


 

Keith Leong studied Theology and Religion with a focus on science and religion at Durham University and the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom from 2013-2016. He is a member of St Andrew’s Cathedral, Singapore.