Blind Faith vs. Genuine Faith


For more than 1,000 years, astronomers believed stars and planets revolved around the earth. They observed how stars moved smoothly in their orbits while planets did not. Planets’ orbits wobbled, their speed varied, and sometimes even seemed to reverse directions. To explain facts that seemed to defy logic, scientists developed increasingly complex theories.

Then, in the early sixteenth century, Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus proposed a radical idea that better explained the planets’ orbits. He theorized Earth was neither stationary nor the center of the universe. Since he knew the corrupt Catholic Church of his day would reject his proposal and attack him, Copernicus did not publicize his theory for 30 years. However, as he neared death, he decided the truth was too important to hide and published his theory. Ironically, his first copy of his book arrived on the day he died.

Copernicus’ concern was legitimate. The Church forbade his book, and it was largely forgotten for almost 70 years. It was not until the early 1600s that Italian scientist Galileo Galilei published similar findings. Galileo knew the Church had burned philosopher Giordano Bruno at the stake a few years earlier for supporting Copernicus’ theory, and he recanted what he believed to save himself from a similar death.

Years later, in 1632, Galileo published a book convincingly arguing that Copernicus’ conclusions were accurate. The Church forced him to renounce his belief, and he would remain under house arrest for the remainder of his life.

This story is often viewed as an example of how people of faith are less objective and may be more prone to reject new ideas. A casual glance seems to confirm that; however, an additional fact undermines that conclusion: Copernicus knew church leaders would reject his ideas because he, too, was part of the Church hierarchy.

Asking difficult questions is not the opposite of true belief. There is a vast difference between blind faith and genuine faith. When John the Baptist was arrested, he sent one of his followers to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah. Jesus said, “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” (Luke 7:22, NLT)

Genuine faith welcomes honest examination. When Jesus began his ministry, most local religious leaders rejected him, but many of them eventually believed he was the Messiah and became committed followers.

The stories of Copernicus and Jesus illustrate how people of faith must be sure what they believe is based on God’s truth and not primarily on their preconceptions. While many traditions cannot survive serious scrutiny, the Christian faith can thrive as people ask tough questions.