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  • Terry Wigmore

Square Pegs - Round Holes: the case of shaping reality to fit theological assumptions

Updated: Jan 3, 2022

It is a challenge to rehabilitate long-held beliefs with new knowledge, especially when the new knowledge doesn't fit the old ways of thinking. As with most things in life, letting reality in is a process, much like the one depicted in the image above of the square peg being whittled away and pounded in to fit the established round hole of traditional belief. Sometimes we are shocked into adapting our beliefs quickly, especially when the information seems so radically different than what we used to claim as our truth. Perhaps the information being released publicly about UFO's (now rebranded as UAP's - unidentified Aerial Phenomenon) is one such example, although faith in the divine would, in theory, mean that even UAP's could be made to fit into traditional beliefs such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But what do people who cling to rigidly held beliefs (i.e. Christian Evangelicals) do when new knowledge (science) is presenting claims of truth that challenge their beliefs? Deny (Science is wrong), Attack the messengers (some scientists are wrong), use "Yeah, But..." (we have our own science), until they eventually change their beliefs, being dragged kicking and protesting all the way into the 21st century. Note: even Trump said, "Vaccines work!"...although uttered a year and a half too late and only after being told his covid denialism was killing off his base of support.

The initial response is usually very knee-jerk and sudden, with a passionate denial and refutation of the new idea. The response may include ad hominem attacks on the characters of the people (witnesses/scientists) involved. Who can forget the right wing media and Christian Evangelical attacks on Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx throughout the Corona Virus pandemic? Then there is the next level of confrontation moving from media attempts to control the message to an investigation of the sort that Galileo endured at the hands of the Vatican. What now seems to be simplistic and self-evident truth people in the 21st century was quite radical in the 1600s, when Galileo asserted that the Earth is NOT the center of the solar system. It is worth a little review of that confrontation between the Catholic Church and Galileo, to remind ourselves of the ways (patterns) institutions have of managing to control the narratives to protect their dogma.

The first time Galileo was summoned by the Vatican was, in 1616, and according to current historians, it was only a warning shot fired across the bow of science, reminding Galileo of what the current position of the Church was regarding the paths of planets (Kepler wrote about observations of elliptical paths, not the divine circles) and the order of the solar system. Galileo was leaning in the direction of a heliocentric view, and this could not be tolerated by Church which had long held the view that MAN occupied the preeminent position in the creation story so, logically, the place where MAN was placed (Earth) would be the physical center of all the cosmos. Or so it was reasoned and written into the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church.

The mere fact of being the subject of an Inquisition must have shaken Galileo, and it is likely that he felt pressure to re-state his position on heliocentricism (a sun-centered model of the solar system) in terms that seemed to remain within the geocentric cosmology of the Roman Catholic Church. That said, Galileo carried on his observations and writing after 1616 and it was not until nearly 20 years later, in 1633, that Galileo was the subject of a second inquisition, and this time it seemed to be the heavy-handed approach. The Church called Galileo to give an full account of his beliefs as stated in his published writings. This time, the usual methodology of "correction" was applied: 1. obtain a confession (use torture if necessary); 2. get the subject of the hearing to recant (threaten imprisonment or death, if necessary) and ; 3. bring closure to the dissent once and for all., and label this knowledge as heresy (or fake news, nothing to see here). Galileo's book was banned, and Galileo was imprisoned, though he avoided being tortured and, after only day in prison, his sentence was changed to a form of house arrest. The case seemed closed, and for a time it was.

There is a thorny problem with truth, however - it has a way of finding a path forward despite the constraints people, however well-meaning, try to impose upon it. Truth will set us free, but whose version of truth prevails? In the case of Religion versus Science, it seems that science is the square peg that religion is trying to whittle away and make fit the round hole of belief. *

*the circle has been used by the Church to represent the divine nature of God with no beginning and no end, and to describe the orbits of planets, as well as angelic halos and other such theological artifacts. An interesting aside for further speculation: is it coincidence that Jesus is said to have worn a crown of thorns at the crucifixion and that the Corona (crown) virus uses the spikes to attach to host cells? (ominous music playing in the background...with a narrator's "Mwa-ha-ha" drifting off into a reverberated space). Knowledge is like a vaccine, one shot is not enough. We do not arrive, in one instance, at a better understanding of how things work. We need to keep updating our knowledge and checking our assumptions, in order to remain largely protected from dogmatic claims of truth.

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