An Astronomical Mistake

Disclaimer:  I think science is awesome.  I think scientists are awesome…but they can go mad.

When I was a teenager, I remember that a fundamentalist friend of mine told me that the Catholic Church was bad because it dictated what its members were supposed to believe.  You know, because his fundamentalist church didn’t tell its members what to believe.

It turns out there’s a similar blind spot in the present day culture of Scientists As The Unquestionable Priests of The Post Modern Age.  They’re the smart guys.  They’re the folks who deal in facts. So, when Christians engage in the Origins of Life, the Universe and Everything debate, loud voices tell us that Christians need to keep their religion out of science.

Basically, we’re told that theologians make lousy scientists.  But is it possible that otherwise brilliant scientists make lousy theologians?  Enter astronomer William Hartmann, co-founder of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona.

A recent article in New Scientist summarizes Hartmann’s theory that Falling Meteor May Have Changed the Course of Christianity.

As the introduction to the article puts it

The early evangelist Paul became a Christian because of a dazzling light on the road to Damascus, but one astronomer thinks it was an exploding meteor.

I’m only one sentence into the article, and I’m already pretty sure that it’s true:  scientists really do make lousy theologians, or at least one of them does.

The world renowned astronomer goes on to explain that events like the exploding meteor seen above Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013 parallel the flash of light that temporarily blinded Saul of Taurus and turned him from being a Christian killing zealot into one of the most influential figures in the early Christian church.

After all, with the Chelyabinsk meteor, there was a bright light and a knock-you-off-your-feet explosion, and in Acts chapter 9 it says as Saul

”…neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

IT’S JUST LIKE A METEOR!  Why didn’t I see this before?  Oh, except that the Chelyabinsk meteor didn’t speak to anyone, nor blind anyone, nor completely change the course of anyone’s life.  Details.

If Hartmann’s wild conjecture that a flash of light and people falling to the ground means that Paul’s conversion experience was really just a random astronomical event isn’t enough for you, the article ends with language more worthy of a politician than a scientist.

From the New Scientist:

Hartmann believes we need to think seriously about the implications of his idea. “My goal is not to discredit anything that anybody wants to believe in,” he says.

So, of course, in the next sentence, here comes the attempt to discredit…

“But if the spread of a major religion was motivated by misunderstanding a fireball, that’s something we human beings ought to understand about ourselves.”

I think we human beings do need to understand something about ourselves:  brilliant scientists can be lousy theologians.