Going onto Facebook these days requires equal amounts of intestinal fortitude and forbearance. And above all other things, it also demands a firm commitment to avoid the near occasion of “click bait” which, if not avoided, almost always leads one into rabbit holes of increasingly unpleasant exchanges.
For me, Facebook has become primarily a spectator sport. Though I sincerely attempt to minimize my involvement in the polemics of the time, sooner or later something I see gets my fingers twitching toward the post button.
Recently one such incident involved a Facebook friend posting a headline they found online from the Guardian news service in the UK with the snarky headline “Pope Francis Declares Evolution and Big Bang Theory are Real and God is not a Magician with a Magic Wand.” My Facebook friend commented on this headline with the words “This Pope Gets it!”
Before I could break my solemn vow not to Facebook without charity in my heart, others chimed in. One post reminded her that the Big Bang Theory was actually developed by a Catholic priest many decades ago while another posted that comfort with the theory of evolution had been a Catholic teaching staple for almost as long.
I went to the Guardian web site where I found the snarkiness of the headline no match for the sub heading which proudly proclaimed, “Francis Goes Against Benedict XVI’s Apparent Support of Intelligent Design – But does Hail his Predecessor’s Great Contribution to Theology.”
If you just stepped off the Mars shuttle and read that you would have been filled with visions of Benedict sitting in his papal palace having a secret meeting of the “Flat Earth Society” and pondering just how Noah managed to get two titanosaurs on board the ark, let alone all those other terrible lizards.
Pope Francis doesn’t “get it” any more than just about any other pope and the history of the Church and the natural world. The relationship between the Church, the natural world and scientific quests to understand it – has been intimate, messy and fruitful all at the same time. Kind of like a lot of other aspects of the Church here on Earth.
February 19 is the birthday of one of the poster boys of science; the polish part-time astronomer Copernicus who took the theory of heliocentrism – the Sun as the center of the solar system by which planets like ours orbit – to another level. Copernicus’ major work “On the Revolutions of Heavenly Bodies” made his case for the sun being at the center of our system and for the Earth and other planets moving around it…a long time before Galileo grabbed that scientific baton. Copernicus begins his opus with a personal plea to Pope Paul III for protection against the attacks he believed were sure to come from other scientific and religious quarters. Pope Paul III “got it” and did not condemn this scientific inquiry. But the Pope was also dealing with this pesky little thing called the Reformation. By 1543, when Copernicus’ book was published, the Reformation had already gotten traction in large swaths of Europe and the Church had lost her crown jewel England to Henry VIII’s hubris just a few years earlier.
The poster boy of the Reformation, Martin Luther weighed in on Copernicus immediately, condemning any scientific theory that might counter any literal interpretation of scripture. “The fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside-down. However, as Holy Scripture tells us, so did Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth.” And it was the great protestant scientist Kepler who had to take sanctuary in a Catholic country when sola scriptura absolutists came after him with pitch forks and torches.
Contrary to popular opinion, UK news sites and even some ill-informed Catholics, the Church has always taken a nuanced and for the most part, supportive approach to science. The result has been a confluence of faith and reason. Like the Church, science is not about consensus, but immutable truth. If what Christ preached was true, then every advance in science from that time forward can only provide support and not represent some kind of existential threat.
And Pope’s from every epoch in the life of the Church have gotten that.