By Patrick White
Witnessing the rout of a core bulwark of Judaeo-Christian religious dogma is truly rare. The first time this occurred was in the 15th century when Copernicus, followed by Galileo, challenged and defeated the Genesis-inspired myth that the earth was a special creation, positioned at the centre of the cosmos.
It took another 400 years for the next major attack. This came when Darwin published his Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection, which revolutionised scientific thought in the biological sciences. It enabled mankind, for the first time, to understand how life developed and why it is now diverse, without having to resort to the supernatural.
Although this battle is still not over, defeat of the religious alternative is already in sight. The most recent sign was the ignominious repudiation of intelligent design in a Pennsylvania courtroom.
A related skirmish is also under way, in cosmology, the science of the development of the Universe. The latest discoveries have unhorsed the Genesis myth that God created the heavens and the earth some 6,000 years ago. Genesis is not only off by billions of years, the latest cosmological models show that purely natural processes are sufficient to explain the development of the known structures, the planets, stars, and galaxies. This has led the eminent physicist, Stephen Hawkins, to remark that there is no longer need for a divine hand in the creation process.
But, science is not the only field confronting the Judaeo-Christian religion. An attack challenging the very legitimacy of the Bible is coming from archaeology.
In the latest salvo, Israel Finkelstein, dean of archaeology at Tel Aviv University, and his co-author, Neil Silberman, have published a book, The Bible Unearthed, that goes beyond the typical critique of the historicity of the Bible, noting, "... It is now evident that many events of biblical history did not take place in either the particular era or manner described. Some of the most famous events in the Bible clearly never happened at all."
Their conclusion is that the Pentateuch is principally a collection of myths and legends, likely written to support the religious-cleansing policies of the Judahite ruler at the time, King Josiah.
With attacks like these, across several fronts, the Judaeo-Christian religion is indeed facing the fight of its life, with the possibility of a rout of truly 'biblical' proportions.
In struggling to find an effective response, some religious leaders have blamed "rising secularism", as Pastor Ian Boyne noted in his June 23, 2013 In Focus column, 'Culture clash on homosexuality', in The Sunday Gleaner. He, like his colleagues, seems to be ignoring, possibly because it is inconvenient, that on the basis of today's knowledge, there is a perfectly rational basis for secularism.
Some religious leaders have also regrettably pinned their hopes for survival on homophobia, the unjustifiable, or irrational, fear of what consenting adult homosexuals may be doing in the privacy of their bedrooms.
The strategy is designed to exploit the aversion, particularly by the ignorant, for things or behaviours that are unusual to them. But, even here, these pastors should know that continued scientific progress, coupled with increasing access to information, would eventually defeat their cynicism.
Indeed, the near certainty of defeat is the principal factor that is now motivating Pastor Boyne to advocate the strategic retreat, he proposed in his column. He calls for redefining homosexuality as a philosophical question away from the scientific, where data are irrelevant to deciding the outcome.
Pastor Boyne seems to think that since philosophical "reasoning" generally recycles information already embedded in its starting propositions, he and his religious colleagues may yet weather this storm, if they chose their propositions carefully.
What the pastor seems to have missed is a growing segment of the population has already rejected these ploys. Indeed, judging by popular reaction, even churchgoers appear to be fully engaged on the scientific basis for homosexuality.
It may be too late for the Church to ignore scientific progress.
Patrick White holds a doctorate in engineering and led research groups at Bell Laboratories and Bellcore (Telcordia). Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.