Biblical Cosmology & Modern Misconceptions

Christ's Ascension“That there are today, in our civilization, religions with followers still standing by their beliefs is, with respect to the modern world, a kind of anomaly: religious belief definitely belongs to a bygone age. A believer’s situation, whatever his religion, is not an easy one then. But what is true for all sacred forms is especially true for Christianity, because for three centuries it has been directly confronted by the negations of modernity. The day when Hinduism, Buddhism or Islam experience the omnipresence of this modernity, they will undoubtedly in their turn undergo serious crises.

The blows dealt by the modern world against a people’s religious soul is in the first place concerned with the plane of immediate and daily existence. No need for ideological struggle here; merely by strength of its presence and extraordinary material success, this world refutes the world of religion, silences it, and destroys its power. This is because religion speaks of an invisible world, while contemporary civilization renders the sensory world more and more present, the invisible more and more absent.

This is, however, only the apparent aspect of things. The omnipresence of a world ever more ‘worldly’ is only the effect, in the practical order, of a more decisive cause that is theoretical in nature, namely the revelation of Galilean science, its technical progress being only its consequent confirmation. For the religious soul, the importance of the scientific revolution consists in the fact that it affects this soul’s own inwardness. As powerful as it might be, for the human being, society represents only an environment which it can in principle ward off. Whereas the scientific revolution, insofar as it ascribes the truth to itself, imposes itself irresistibly and from within on the intelligence that it besieges. It is a cultural and therefore a ‘spiritual’ revolution to the extent that it makes an appeal to our mind. But whenever it is a question of a believer’s mind, it is the vision of the world and the reality implied by his faith that is subverted. What remains then is the option either to renounce his faith, or else – an almost desperate solution – to renounce entirely the cosmology that it entails.

On the whole Christian thought has committed itself to this second way: to keep the faith (but a ‘purified’ faith!) and abandon all the cosmological representations by which that faith has been expressed. This is a desperate solution because these cosmological representations are first scriptural representations, the very forms by which God speaks to us about Himself. But if we disregard these forms, what remains of our faith? Scripture informs us that the apostles saw Christ raised from the earth and disappear behind a cloud, while Galilean science objects that space is infinite, that it has neither high nor low, and that this ascension, even supposing it to be possible – which it is not – is meaningless. What remains is then to see in it a symbolic fiction by which the early Christian community attempted to speak its faith in a vanished Jesus Christ: if He is no longer visible, this is because He has ‘gone back to heaven.’ Following Rudolf Bultmann the majority of Protestant and Catholic exegetes and theologians have adopted this ‘solution.’ Since then an immense process of demythologization of Christian scriptures has been in progress. According to Bultmann, what is mythological is a belief in the objective reality of revelation’s cosmological presentation: ‘descent,’ ‘resurrection,’ ‘ascensions,’ etc. To demythologize is to understand that this cosmological presentation is, in reality, only a symbolic language, in other words, a fiction. To pass from myth to symbol, this is the hermeneutic that enables to a modern believer, living at the same time in two incompatible universes – that of the Bible and of Galilean science – to avoid cultural schizophrenia.

But at what price? At the price of making unreal all biblical teachings on which faith relies and with which it is bound up. To reject this cosmological presentation, the witness of which the apostles, for example, vouch to have been, is this not to reject with the selfsame stroke the faith attached to it? What does this parting of faith from its cosmological garment, of kerygma from myth, imply? Basically, would this not separate the Divine Word from its carnal covering and ultimately deny the Incarnation?

How surprising that another way never occurred to Bultmann, a way which, had it been taken into consideration, might have changed many things in the course of the West’s religious history. It is this way that the distinguished mathematician Wolfgang Smith proposes to explore, and into which he now offers us insights. In the present crisis, in which Christian thought is split between an impossible fideism and its confinement to moral problems, his book discloses a liberating perspective which, in the name of science itself, restores to faith its entire truth. It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of such a work. On the most essential points, the most burning questions concerned with biblical cosmology, heliocentrism, the nature of space and matter, the concept of a true causality, etc. Wolfgang Smith shows how the conclusions of contemporary science cease to be incompatible with the affirmation of traditional cosmology.”

– Jean Borella, Foreward to Ancient Wisdom and Modern Misconceptions – 


– Lucas G. Westman

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