So what?, Copernicus.

I had a conversation with a friend of mine about the paucity of scientific facts amongst the younger people of our society. He told me a story about a famous moment in the popular television programme ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’. One of the questions asked which planetary body orbited the earth. A couple of the choices were the moon and the sun. The contestant didn’t know and guessed the sun. I found this hard to believe so my friend told me how he also found this incredulous and conducted a little experiment in the office where he worked.

With exactly the same question that was used in the programme, just less than half his office colleagues didn’t know the answer either, most of them being in the 18 – 30 age range. We tut-tutted this appalling state of affairs then concluded that most of the people who didn’t know, didn’t care either.

Today I recalled that conversation and I considered why the youngsters should care. I couldn’t find any good reasons apart from the satisfaction of knowing. From their point of view it has no relevance to their lives; they don’t need that knowledge unless they intend to send something into orbit. From that standpoint, science could make the announcement today that they had discovered life on another planet 20 million light years away and the youngsters would say ’so what? What relevance does that have to my life of work and spend?’

Then I made the leap to Copernicus. He announces to the world that actually the earth revolves around the sun and everyone at the time goes ’so what?’ It didn’t change anything about the way they conducted their daily lives.

Except of course the church did not say ’so what?’. they said ‘WHAT!?’ And we know why that was, don’t we?

The church had set itself up as the organisation that had all the answers. And one of their answers was that the earth was the centre of the universe. Any evidence that contradicted one of their pronouncements threatened to undermine all their authority. The mistake they had made was pretending that they had all the answers. If they had simply said they didn’t know what happened before man appeared or what happened after death then they could have said ’so what?’ to Copernicus’ announcement and continued to be the guiding moral principle in a lot of peoples lives.

The paradox is that it was the churches very certainty that made it so attractive to so many people who lived in uncertain times. This claim to knowledge gave the church incredible power, especially as they could mete out eternal damnation, which reinforced its position in society.

The danger with inflexible dogma however, is that it is bound to break at some point.

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