Saturday, 31 October 2009

The 'inventions' of reductionism

Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people "Peace, peace," and there is no peace! Luther's 95 theses.

In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus published his work on the movement of the celestial spheres, and thus was born the modern understanding of our universe and the contemporary approach to astrophysics. Copernicus, like Kepler and Newton, believed that his discoveries and observations allowed insight into a wisdom and knowledge inherent within the very design of the physical universe, so it's certainly strange that in our own times, the view known as the 'Copernican Principal' actually asserts that there is nothing special regarding the position/location of the earth within the universe.

This is a fascinating example of endeavor (in this case, to study the wonders of creation, and gain insight into their source) where the original intent is lost or entirely over-written for another purpose, and it happens all the time.

This week, for example, I learned about the new literary movement entitled "mundane" science fiction. Rather than applying the 'grand' themes and ideas of prior (golden) eras of the genre - space travel, bold adventure, and the like, the aim here is to confine writers to works which are possible to known science. It sounded of interest, but when I began to listen to those talking up the new aim, I quickly became aware of flaws and worryingly demeaning blind spots in the philosophy of such a venture - errors which effectively blight an understanding of what inspires and produces not only good material in this genre, but painfully obvious mistakes about the links between "pulp" and "pop" sci-fi, and fields such as technological advance - just look, for example, at the 'predictions' regarding future technology on the original series of Star Trek, and our present generation to see how many have become everyday items.

This week, a respected report was issued here in the UK which strongly advocated that human beings end eating meat to aid in halting - you've guessed it - climate change. Apparently, our use of livestock in this fashion is simply placing too much strain on the environment in producing certain greenhouse gases, so the responsible answer is a scheme to remove the problem entirely.

Now let me say I love science - the sense of wonder gained from learning new things about this world is often truly marvelous - and I love science fiction (I'm very much a 'golden era' man) and I'm happy to apply common sense to how I use things - food, energy and the like, but all of the above ventures strike me as having a common flaw.

In the 1500's, Rome decided to set upon a great scheme to build a new basilica, and to use the ecclesiastical machinery at its disposal to literally indulge upon the population of Europe to finance such an enterprise. Mercifully, there was a young monk who was troubled and able enough to raise concerns about the whole matter, and the results, as they say, are history.

There's been much written to say that what troubled Luther is old news, that whilst 'minor' matters may need attention, what happened then is pretty over and done with, but that is effectively looking at the matter, like the others I've touched on, from a very narrow and therefore dangerous perspective.
The major question of those times was what truly makes a person right before God, and Luther's answer stems directly from the Gospel - unmerited grace, imputed to us through the gift of faith.

It may not be popular to hold to certain views right now - in some cases, it's actually becoming quite dangerous! - but they need to be expressed none the less.

Luther stood against the power and authority structures of his time, and thereby allowed a renewing of faith in the undiluted riches of Gods justifying work which aided in generating a flowering of rich spirituality in the contemporary world. It is imperative that such standing to be counted regarding the inherent nature of the gospel be evidenced today, so with that in mind,
I'm delighted to be writing this on Reformation day.


ahswan said...

Happy Reformation Day, Howard!

(and Happy All Saints' Day!)

Steve said...

Thanks, Howard, for reminding us of the courage of Martin Luther and the Reformers, and of the courage that we might all have when it comes to speaking the truth and standing up for what is right.