Although everyone at one time or another has supposed something to be true that wasn’t, real truth will endure the test of time. And, it will be harmonious with real truth from any other source.
I’d like to revise the wording of the statement attributed to Thomas Aquinas: “Faith and reason were not in conflict, and… the two were actually compatible” would be more accurately stated as: “faith and reason need not always be in conflict, and the two can actually be compatible.”
Of course, there are, and have been, religious teachings that have clashed with scientific discoveries. Certainly not every religious teaching ever taught has been true, or truly understood. Neither have all scientific “discoveries” been true, interpreted, or understood correctly. Looking back at what might be called the “dark age of religious dominance,” we can see that there were those who were declared “heretics” who should have been acknowledged as people of genius. Many religious teachings over the years have been shown to be erroneous, and so have scientific theories.
The impressive lecture series by Steven L. Goldman, titled “Science Wars: What Scientists Know and How they Know It,” included a particularly interesting assertion. Namely: “had Galileo claimed that Copernicus’s theory was the most effective means of making astronomical calculations” rather than insisting that the theory was “physically true” he likely would not have suffered such harsh consequences. Goldman claimed that “it was Galileo’s conception of knowledge” that put him in “conflict with the Catholic Church.” And, that “the Church was waging a brutal war” with those “challenging its authority as a source of truth.”
In 2009 an interesting docu-drama on the Scopes “Monkey Trial” aired on TV. After the actors had admirably depicted the proceedings of the trial, the commentator concluded with: “Evolution became an undisputed scientific fact.” That statement should have been substantially revised! It is one example of beliefs being authoritatively stated as though fact. Such statements have led large numbers of people to suppose that all aspects of evolutionary theory have been proven by experimentation—to the point that they are now universally accepted as fact.
In reality, the word “evolve” is used to mean concepts as simple as “change,” “develop,” or “modify.” Other meanings include spontaneous changes of all life forms from a single-celled ancestor, from simple to complex while increasing in stability. Some uses of the word are straightforward and without challenge, but others are not only untestable, but heavily dependent on speculation and tenuous connections.
Ideally, whenever any aspect of science is taught, great effort should be made to distinguish between facts, experimental evidence, inferences, interpretations, and suppositions. Too often writers of scientific material do not take the time and effort necessary to do so, and often don’t even know themselves. This makes it difficult (especially for less-educated teachers) to discern and teach truth. The controversy over teaching evolution or creation in the schools may be somewhat abated very simply: ensure that such classes are optional, and whenever either is taught, have its class description include a statement of perspective (e.g. from an atheistic point of view, or from that of the ___________ religious tradition). What government or scholastic agency should dictate which of the huge variety of competing views may or may not be taught? Too often the constitutional freedom of religion is misconstrued to mean exclusion of religious teaching.
Truths in science and truths in religion complement one another. However, certain teachings in science not only conflict with teachings of religion, but with other aspects of science. Similarly, as evidenced by the variety of beliefs among different religious groups, religious teachings often conflict with each other, and they also conflict with aspects of science.
Although we have geniuses among us, the average person will not be able to sort out all the truth from misperceptions, misunderstandings, and misinformation. Thus, it seems we are left to try do our best to distinguish truth, and in our writing and teaching, clearly state what is fact, theory, logical deduction, inference, etc. My hope is that we can tolerate, in a kindly manner, those who understand things differently. I am very impressed by the old sayings: “Agree to disagree” and “Disagree agreeably.”