Every day, the sun rises, travels across the sky, and then sets. We
see it with our own eyes.
We take "sunrise" for granted as a fact of nature, even though this
expression is not literally true. In fact, the rising is an illusion
created by the Earth's spinning - it seems like the sun travels
overhead every day, but actually it's us turning under the sun.
There's no scientific doubt about this theory. And it is a theory - no
one has ever stood back far enough to witness the Earth orbiting the
sun. But virtually all the physical evidence - the minute
mathematics of gravity and motion, the predictions of what the sky
will look like and when, the spacecrafts sent to other planets based
on solar system measurements - it all proves the theory is,
essentially, a fact.
Why am I explaining this - everybody knows the sun doesn't travel
around the Earth, even though the Bible itself says "the sun rises and
the sun goes down." In the 1600s, Galileo got into trouble with the
church for insisting on this fact of nature which appears to
contradict the Bible.
So, are the scientists right and the Bible wrong?
The answer is: No. The scientists and the Bible are talking about
two different orders of reality. One order, the natural world, is
fixed, and because of this it's observable, analyzable and predictable.
The other order, the inner, psychic world, is - as far as we can tell -
unfixed; its contents cannot be isolated in laboratories and
Science talks about the physical, natural world. Scientists observe
and catalog physical facts, analyze them, and draw conclusions, such
as the Earth travels around the sun, or dinosaurs lived 100 million
years ago. These are not guesses, but are conclusions drawn from
detailed analysis of all available physical evidence. They are fixed
physical realities that can be demonstrated.
The Bible talks about the inner world of human beings - the
emotional, mental and moral realities you experience every day. It
assumes your inner experiences are as real as your body. In fact, the
scripture of most religions takes it for granted that your inner life is
more real than your physical life. Thoughts, emotions and feelings
change shape from moment to moment in any individual person.
They are impossible to observe directly because they're immaterial.
Because of this, science has almost nothing to say about the inner
life. A scientist can observe what your body is doing when you tell
him certain thoughts or images are happening in your mind. But
beyond observing brain waves, eye movement, changes in body
chemicals, a scientist can tell you nothing about a dream. Nor can
he tell you anything about your sense of humor, or your sense of
right and wrong. These are unfixed realities which everyone
experiences every day, and which we all agree we share, even
though they are beyond scientific observation.
And yet, it has been known since time immemorial that the way we
think about the world profoundly affects how it develops around us,
and so each of us needs to take care of his inner world. This is
difficult, more difficult than observing, cataloging and analyzing.
The Bible - and the scripture of all religions - offers guidance for
taking care of the inner world. But because inner experiences are
unfixed, and some of them are literally beyond rational
comprehension, they're nearly impossible to talk about without
referring to the things of the physical world. And so the Bible - and
all scripture - uses images and stories, some of which actually
happened, others not, to represent the unfixed inner events. The
stories convey, not facts about the physical world, but truths about
the inner world.
Whether any given event depicted in the Bible actually happened
can be debated by historians. It seems likely the major events of
Christ's Passion actually happened. It seems unlikely that Jesus'
parables depicted true-life adventures. But by and large, it doesn't
matter. What matters are the inner truths they reveal.
The Bible's sentence "the sun rises and the sun goes down" does not
express a literal fact of nature. And it doesn't matter. In its context,
it reveals a profound intuitive sense of the inner life of the universe,
like dawn in the mind.
The Different Worlds
of Science and the Bible
© Dana Wilde 2007; Bangor Daily News, 2006.