Whilst I was at University I was introduced to Stephen Jay Gould, and paleontogist and biologist, who gained quite a name for himself writing popular science books in an attempt to inspire people to become more interested in biology. I recently stumbled across a quote from him, although I must confess to not knowing where he wrote it, or which particular stories he was referring to. It goes:
‘The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best — and therefore never scrutinize or question.’
As a scientist I know these are wise words. As a scientist, there is always the danger of assuming you know how things operate, and so read that understanding into your observations and interpretations of data, and so become blinded to the possibility that in fact in reality things work quite differently. It can take quite a leap of imagination to see the world differently to how it is widely believed to be. For centuries people believed that the Sun went around the Earth, it took the imagination and courage of Galileo to begin to persuade people that they’d got the story wrong. Similarly, since Newton, it was widely believed that these rules governed everything – until a wave of scientists in the 20th Century came along with the concept of Quantum Mechanics. Suddenly the story of the world became a whole lot stranger.
But Gould’s saying doesn’t just relate to science. It can also apply to how we relate to people. It is all too easy to believe we understand other cultures around us, that we know what they believe and what is important to them. Gould’s saying warns us against this and challenges us to make sure this isn’t simple prejudice or misunderstanding.
As a Christian, his words provoked me to think about how I approach the Bible too. The challenge for us is to keep the Bible fresh, to always approach it with an open mind, to never assume that we’ve understood it all. It is all too easy for us to believe we know how it’s story goes, and be blinded by our assumption with the consequence that we are prevented from actually hearing what it really says, or to hearing what God might be trying to say to us through it today because we remember what he said yesterday. The Pharisees thought they knew the story, and yet when the Story became flesh and walked amongst them, they didn’t recognise him as he wasn’t what they thought the Story said. Let us heed Gould’s words and the warning from the Pharisee’s example.