What is Truth?

   Written by on October 19, 2017 at 11:01 am

logo-smith-gregLast week, many people enjoyed the day off in remembrance of Columbus Day. The famous Looney Toons cartoon depicts Columbus trying to convince King Ferdinand of Spain that the earth is “round, like the apple.” The king responds, “She’s flat, like the pancake.” Columbus retorts, “She’s a’round, like my head!” In response, the king hits Columbus on the head with a mallet and says, “She’s flat like your head!” The Looney Toons version of the story (which many of us learned as historical fact), depicts Columbus claiming the earth to be round, unlike most in Christendom, making him a hero for proving a new theory about physics and geography. Actually, most people in the late fifteenth century already knew the earth was round—it was the circumference of the earth that was in question. In fact, it was fiction author Washington Irving (Rip Van Winkle, Legend of Sleepy Hollow), who depicted church leaders warning Columbus that he might sail off the end of the earth. This comes from literary myth, not history.1

Even today, many want to paint Christians as being ignorant, anti-education, and anti-science. The term “flat-earther” has been used to describe creationists and others with a conservative standpoint. Yet, the Bible doesn’t teach that the earth is flat. In fact, Isaiah 40:22 (Douay-Rheims Bible) says of God, “It is he that sitteth upon the globe of the earth.” “Also, Luke 17:34-36 depicts Christ›s Second Coming as happening while some are asleep at night and others are working at day-time activities in the field—an indication of a rotating Earth with day and night at the same time.”2 The fact is that there are many places where the Bible and science agree. This should bolster our faith and give us confidence. Yet many people try to make the Bible speak as if it’s a scientific textbook when its purpose isn’t to teach science at all. Attempts to try to make the Bible say what it’s not trying to say simply discredit the source of our faith.

Science is the search for fact, and religion is the quest for truth. Science uses the scientific method, which works repeated experiments until a theory is proven or disproven and fact established. Religion uses a different method—that of finding God within the Bible, creation, and the inner self—to discover ultimate Truth (with a capital T). Faith and reason are not mutually exclusive, as many believe. Too many religious people discount science, and too many scientific people abandon faith. In reality, it’s when we use our brains in church and our faith in the classroom that we become the most well-rounded people, able to understand fact and truth.

In John 18:19-24, 28-40, fact and fiction are figured, and truth is put on trial. When Jesus stands before the High Priest, He knows he’s condemned even before the trial. He knows that false witnesses have trumped up charges, so He says in verse 23 (NLT), “If I said anything wrong, you must prove it. But if I’m speaking the truth, why are you beating me?” Jesus stands for Truth, but His accusers want nothing to do with the Truth. They want only to prove about Jesus the things that they erroneously believe.

Later, on trial before Pilate, the Roman governor investigates whether there’s anything behind Jesus’ charge of treason. Pilate cares nothing for the charges of blasphemy—these are accusations based on the Jewish religion, about which he knows next to nothing and cares even less. But Pilate’s job is to determine the facts of the case. Does Jesus, indeed, claim to be the King of the Jews? Verses 37-40 (NLT) say:

Pilate said, “So you are a king?”

Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”

“What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime. But you have a custom of asking me to release one prisoner each year at Passover. Would you like me to release this ‘King of the Jews’?”

But they shouted back, “No! Not this man. We want Barabbas!” (Barabbas was a revolutionary.)

Pilate’s powerful words, “What is truth?” still ring clearly today. It is, perhaps, one of the biggest questions of this generation. It seems like ultimate and objective Truth is hard to find in an age of uncertainty and rhetoric. In a time when the President talks about “fake news,” we must wonder if there’s a source of “real news” anywhere. If conservatives only watch Fox, and liberals only watch MSNBC, then it seems like both groups are looking for “news” stories that simply support their preconceived notions. Like the people who conducted Jesus’ trial, we’re often far less interested in discovering the truth than we are having our opinions reinforced. But perhaps Fact and the Truth are out there, for those who use both their faith and their brains. In fact, good Christians must employ both their intellect as well as their belief if we are to understand God and our world.

While it’s untrue that the Church ever taught that the world was flat, it is true that we believed in a geocentric, rather than heliocentric solar system. In 1543, Copernicus was made famous by teaching the theory of the Roman Ptolemy, who believed, contrary to popular opinion, that the earth orbited the Sun instead of the other way around. Later, Galileo adopted both the opinions of Ptolemy and Copernicus. Adding the evidence that he gathered with his invention, the telescope, Galileo began to teach as fact that the sun is the center of the solar system. In response, the Roman Catholic Church subjected him to the Inquisition. Journalist Alan Cowell writes:

Summoned to Rome for trial by the Inquisition one year later, Galileo defended himself by saying that scientific research and the Christian faith were not mutually exclusive and that study of the natural world would promote understanding and interpretation of the scriptures. But his views were judged “false and erroneous.” Aging, ailing and threatened with torture by the Inquisition, Galileo recanted on April 30, 1633.

Because of his advanced years, he was permitted house arrest in Siena. Legend has it that as Galileo rose from kneeling before his inquisitors, he murmured, “e pur, si muove” — “even so, it does move.”3

Interestingly, Galileo remained condemned by the church until Pope John Paul II issued a retraction in 1992. Even though so much evidence pointed to the fact that Galileo was right, the Church was more interested in their version of the Truth which said that if humanity is the crowning point of creation, then it must be at the physical center, and therefore the sun must revolve around the earth. That theology, plus Joshua 10:13 which records a day when the sun stood still in the sky, made the Church sure of this “truth,” which was nothing more than a misunderstanding of the scriptures and a denial of objective fact.

Today, if the Church is going to survive in an era when people are searching for the Truth, we would do well to also be on the side of fact. We must make sure that we don’t check our brains at the door when we enter the sanctuary. We must also be certain not to check our faith at the door when we enter the classroom. Galileo was right—science and faith are not mutually exclusive, and we can learn about God from observing creation. Whether it’s in the science classroom or in the news room, whether we’re in church or anywhere else, let’s see if we can look for fact instead of fiction. Instead of washing our hands of the Truth like Pilate did, let’s embrace Truth in all its forms, so God can speak to us, and through us, to a searching generation.

(Endnotes)

1 https://strangenotions.com/did-the-church-teach-the-earth-was-flat/. September 7, 2017.

2 “Who Invented the Idea of a Flat Earth?” http://www.christiananswers.net/q-aig/aig-c034.html. October 11, 2017.

3 Cowell, Alan. “After 350 Years, Vatican Says Galileo Was Right: It Moves” The New York Times. October 31, 1992. http://www.nytimes.com/1992/10/31/world/after-350-years-vatican-says-galileo-was-right-it-moves.html?mcubz=1. September 8, 2017.

©2017 Gregory T. Smith. Reprinted with permission revgregsmith.blogspot.com

About Greg Smith

Greg Smith is a Baptist minister who has served churches in Central and Southside Virginia. He lives in Halifax County, VA with his wife and children. To read more of Greg’s writings check out his blog at revgregsmith.blogspot.com.

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