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Friday, August 7, 2020

Christians Should Not Be Afraid of Science: The Historical Use of Science to Inform Us About Scripture

 I recently gave a talk at a local youth group on how current science supports the Genesis creation account and how science provides evidence not only that God exists but can tell us something about God and the truth of the Bible.  When I was finished, a parent spoke up and basically said that I shouldn’t be using science to help inform us about God.  The Bible actually teaches the opposite. Scripture is constantly telling us that the study of nature will point us to God.  Since studying nature is doing science, the Bible teaches that we should do science to learn about God!  

We see several examples in scripture showing us that it is important to God for us to know about the universe. The Old Testament teaches that Solomon was wiser than all other men; 1st Kings lists some of the topics about which Solomon was wise.  

 

He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall. He spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish.[1]

 

King Solomon was a naturalist! God chose to give biological knowledge to Solomon, which he then shared with “people of all nations.” Information about the natural world - also called science - must be important to God. Solomon understood this when he said, “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways and be wise.”[2]

 

Psalm 8 compares the universe to God. 

 

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him.[3]

 

We obviously have to know about nature in order for this comparison to work; we must have already done some science in order to see how great God is.  When we see the incredible immenseness of the universe, we realize how much God must care to pay attention to such a small speck. The more we learn about how fine-tuned the moon and stars have to be for life to exist on earth, the more we see the love that God has for us. Psalm 19 directly tells us that the universe will teach us about God, so we need to do some cosmology, astronomy and geology to see that the heavens actually do “declare the glory of God”. 

 

The heavens declare the glory of God,

   and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Day to day pours out speech,

   and night to night reveals knowledge.[4]

 

Paul begins with science when speaking to the Gentiles! In chapter 14 of Acts, Paul is speaking to the people in Lystra who had tried to make him and Barnabas into the gods Hermes and Zeus. Paul, of course, tells them that he and Barnabas are just men, but then he adds, “…you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.”  Paul then goes on to say that nature can testify to this God. 

 

Here in Acts 14, however, we find the first recorded evangelistic message to an audience with no background in Judaism at all. So, it’s no surprise that Paul doesn’t start to talk about the way Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy (unlike Acts 10:43)! Paul tells them that the natural world is God’s testimony of his goodness and his interest in them.  That is, he appeals to natural revelation, not to special revelation.[5]

 

The greatest evangelist in history actually begins with science when telling non-Christians (who have no background in the church) about Jesus.  Science can be a perfect starting point for evangelism today as well. Many people have at least a cursory knowledge of science, while the number of people that have no knowledge of the Bible or Christianity is increasing.  Our society also tends to take “scientific” knowledge as truth while it tends to be skeptical of “spiritual” knowledge. 

 

When Paul is in Athens, as recorded in chapter 17 of Acts, early in his speech at the Areopagus Paul talks about, “The God who made the world and everything in it...”[6]  Paul’s beginning point here is again with nature; pointing to the created world to show that the Christian God, while having created everything, is actually too great to be worshiped as part of the created world. When we do science, we are looking at the creation, which then can point us to the creator. Paul explains in Romans 1 why he chooses to begin with science when talking to those with no background in Judaism or Christianity.

 

For his invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.[7]

 

Looking at nature is enough to know that God exists and pointing to nature can be a beginning point to showing people that there is a God. Science is our current way of studying nature, so beginning your evangelism with science is a great way – and a Biblical way - to be able to tell people about Jesus!

 

Historically, Christianity has been a religion in which science was encouraged and even used to help interpret scripture. In the Middle Ages, as most people believe, some of the teachings of Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Ptolemy, & Galen (the “Classical tradition”) caused suspicion, hostility, and condemnation from the church.  But more often, critical reflection about the nature of the world was tolerated and even encouraged by medieval religious leaders. Many of the church fathers had been educated in the classical tradition before converting to Christianity and had acquired habits of rational inquiry. They used these tools to help develop Christian doctrine and to help defend the faith against detractors.[8] For example, Aristotle’s philosophy could be used to rationally argue the existence of God.

 

Consequently, many of the church fathers expressed at least limited approval of the classical tradition.  For example, the second and third century writers Athenagoras, Clement, and Origen all found Greek philosophy a useful tool in the defense of Christianity.  Athenagoras marshaled the authority of Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics in favor of monotheism.  Clement attacked the earliest Greek philosophers for their atheism. But he [Clement] also acknowledged that certain philosophers and poets bore testimony to the truth, and that within the philosophical tradition there is a “slender spark, capable of being fanned into flame, a trace of wisdom and an impulse from God.” Tertullian himself viewed Christian religion as the fulfillment of Greek rationality, and he both advocated and engaged in philosophical activity.[9]

 

Medieval Scholastics deeply valued Aristotle and his writings and believed that his teachings on reason could be incorporated into church theology.  Augustine of Hippo (St. Augustine), one of the most important Christian church fathers during the 4th and 5th century, wrote at length about the connection between the Genesis account in the Bible and the natural sciences contained in the classical tradition. Augustine had no problem using natural science to help interpret scripture.  Roger Bacon agreed with Augustine.  

 

His goal was to demonstrate that the pagan learning of the classical tradition was a vital resource, capable of offering essential services to theology and the church; and moreover that it posed no insuperable religious threat, that suitably disciplined and purged of error, it would serve as a faithful handmaiden of religion and the church.[10]

 

Thomas Aquinas’ writings in the 13th century were the culmination of this thought; combining the theological principles of faith with Aristotle’s philosophical principles of reason. 

 

Thomas Aquinas as biblical exegete, metaphysician, and philosopher of nature offers us a rich array of insights for contemporary discourse on the relationship among sacred texts, the natural sciences, and philosophy. He can help us to avoid the whirlpool of a reductionist materialism as well as the stumbling block of biblical literalism. His principles continue to serve as an anchor of intelligibility in a sea of confusing claims.[11]

 

Augustine also wanted Christians to be knowledgeable about the natural world and use it as a handmaiden of theology and religion. He worried about Christians talking nonsense about science and how that would hurt the religion.

 

Augustine made it clear that although scriptural knowledge is vastly superior to knowledge gained through the senses, the latter is inestimably superior to ignorance. Moreover, he worried that Christians, naively interpreting scripture, might express absurd opinions on cosmological issues, this provoking ridicule among better informed pagans and bringing the Christian faith into disrepute.[12]

 

Taking a quick, but relevant digression, Augustine’s warning to Christians is still relevant today.  Bernard Ramm in the 1950’s observed this exact thing and gave a similar warning.

 

It is impossible to settle the complex problems of Bible-and-science, theological and empirical fact without a well-developed Christian theism and philosophy of science. For example, the idea of creation is rather complex. Evangelicals were not always aware of the great deal of thought put into this matter by Augustine and Aquinas. As a result, evangelicals posed the problems of modern science as resolving down to : (i) fiat, instantaneous creationism; or (ii) atheistic developmentalism. This is certainly a gross over-simplification, not a genuine probing, of the entire concept of creation.[13]

 

This way of thinking has resulted in science being taught with absolute disregard of biblical statements and Christian perspectives. Science mostly is done with no interest as to what the Bible says on the subject and is now developed and controlled by people who do not believe in the scientific credibility of the Bible. Both science and theology are hurt when we operate as if the divide between them exists. 

 

Back to the Middle Ages, Augustine wanted the interpretation of scripture to stay consistent with the cosmology and physics of the classical tradition and used the natural sciences in his role as a theologian and bible interpreter. Christians should think of Scripture and Creation as two “books” that should be read together for understanding of the fullness of God’s self-revelation; science is a God-given tool for discerning the handiwork of God in Creation and is fully compatible with God’s Word revealed in Scripture. 

 

Article 2 of the Belgic Confession of 1561 states: We know God by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: God’s eternal power and divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20. All these things are enough to convict humansand to leave them without excuse. Second, God makes himself known to us more clearly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for God’s glory and for our salvation.

 

God has put us in this universe and made us curious because what we learn about nature teaches us about Him.  Biochemistry is showing us that only an incredible mind could be responsible for the information and intricate systems we are finding. Cosmology is teaching us the grandeur and vastness of the universe; which had to be created by something even more grand.  Geology and biology are showing us the incredible fine-tuning needed for life to exist on earth and the care that had to be taken by the creator to make a home for us.  The very small and the very large both point us to God and show us His characteristics and His greatness. The Bible tells us to do science for this very reason. Christians throughout history have followed this instruction; it has been to the detriment of Christianity when we don’t.

 



[1] 1 Kings 4:33 ESV

[2] Proverbs 6:6 ESV

[3] Psalm 8:3 ESV

[4] Psalm 19: 1-2 ESV

[5] C. John Collins, Science & Faith, Friends or Foes?, Crossway Books, 2003, page 190

[6] Acts 17:24

[7] Romans 1:20

[8] David C. Linderg, When Science and Christianity Meet, University of Chicago Press, 2003

[9] David C. Linderg, When Science and Christianity Meet, University of Chicago Press, 2003, page 12

[10] ibid, page 24

[11] https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/science/faith-and-science/creation-evolution-and-thomas-aquinas.html

[12] ibid, page 14

[13] Bernard Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture, William B Eerdmans Publishing, 1954, page 19

Monday, August 3, 2020

Christianity Advanced Science & Was Necessary For Modern Science To Even Begin!

Modern science arose in Western Europe because of Christianity. The Judeo-Christian world view teaches that creation can and should be studied and can be figured out. Our universe was created by a rational God with regular rules and patterns and because we are also created by God, with the mind of God, we are able, at least in part, to think God’s thoughts after Him and decipher these laws. The natural laws are God’s laws – not eternal self-sufficient principles, as Aristotle thought. This makes physical laws contingent; God could have created the universe with different physical laws than what we are observing. Christianity, not Greek thought, provided the backdrop to allow us to consider multiple possibilities and then test those possibilities to see which one is correct! 

Science continued to advance after Copernicus, Bruno, and Galileo because of Christianity, not in spite of it. Because they thought it could be done, the vast majority of initial thinkers in science were Christians who did their investigations because of the Christian ideas they had about the universe. Copernicus was a church deacon who did astronomy in his spare time. Robert Boyle, father of modern chemistry, set up Christian apologetics lectures. Isaac Newton, discoverer of the universal laws of gravitation, included these statements in his Principia:

This most beautiful system of sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being...This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called Lord God.[1]

Johannes Kepler, discoverer of the laws of planetary motion, wrote:

The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order which has been imposed on it by God, and which he revealed to us in the language of mathematics.[2]

Here is a partial list of seminal thinkers in the sciences who were also Christians: 
Roger Bacon, Jean Buridan, Nicole Oresme, Nicholas of Cusa, Nicolaus Copernicus, Michael Servetus, Francis Bacon, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, René Descartes, Pierre Gassendi, Blaise Pascal, Isaac Barrow, Robert Boyle, Gottfried Leibniz, Isaac Newton, Thomas Bayes, Carolus Linnaeus, Leonhard Euler, Joseph Priestley, Isaac Milner, Michael Faraday, James Clerk Maxwell, Gregor Mendel, Louis Pasteur, Lord Kelvin, John Ambrose Fleming, Max Planck, Robert Millikan, Arthur Compton, Georges Lemaître, Freeman Dyson, Allan Sandage, John Polkinghorn, Henry F. Schaefer III, Kenneth R. Miller, Francis Collins, Simon C. Morris, John D. Barrow, John Lennox

Newton, Boyle, Descartes, and Gassendi all subscribed to some version of the mechanical philosophy. They also believed in an all-wise, all-powerful God who had once created and still preserved this universe of matter in motion. None of these natural philosophers saw any conflict between the two beliefs; in fact, one might go so far as to say that they found these two creeds, Christianity and the mechanical philosophy, inseparable and equally necessary.[3]

The acceptance of the mechanical philosophy played a major role in the events that we collectively call “the Scientific Revolution” … the proponents of a mechanical universe were driven by religious concerns, the debate between different forms of the mechanical philosophy was waged on religious grounds, and the success of the mechanical philosophy was hailed as a Christian triumph.[4]

Arno Penzias, Nobel Laureate and co-discoverer of the cosmic background radiation, says of Kepler’s philosophy: 

That really goes back to the triumph, not of Copernicus, but really the triumph of Kepler. That's because, after all, the notion of epicycles and so forth goes back to days when scientists were swapping opinions. All this went along until we had a true believer and this was Kepler. Kepler, after all, was the Old Testament Christian. Right? He really believed in God the Lawgiver. And so he demanded that the same God who spoke in single words and created the universe is not going to have a universe with 35 epicycles in it. And he said there's got to be something simpler and more powerful. Now he was lucky or maybe there was something deeper, but Kepler's faith was rewarded with his laws of nature. And so from that day on, it's been an awful struggle, but over long centuries, we find that very simple laws of nature actually do apply. And so that expectation is still with scientists. And it comes essentially from Kepler, and Kepler got it out of his belief in the Bible, as far as I can tell. This passionate belief turned out to be right. And he gave us his laws of motion, the first real laws of nature we ever had. And so nature turned out to redeem the expectations he had based on his faith. And scientists have adopted Kepler's faith, without the cause.[5]

Non-Christian views of the world were stifling to science. The view that the universe is mysterious, unpredictable, ideal, or arbitrary would keep you from trying to decipher how nature worked. The ancient Greeks thought that the universe had been created in accordance to ideals, like perfect shapes. This idealism is an impediment to discovery.  For example, adherence to Aristotle kept astronomers from even considering that planets might not be orbiting in any manner except in a perfect circle. If you have no concept of a creation or a Creator there is no reason to think that a limited human mind could grasp and control the laws of nature, as nature itself was not subject to a mind. If the path to wisdom is believed to be through meditation and mystical insights and the intellectuals in your society pursue enlightenment, then reason is not something you would use to investigate nature and science as we know it now is not something that culture would do.

Many societies believed that the universe simply had always been and that there was no reason to suppose that it functioned according to laws we could decipher and comprehend on a physical level; thinking it better understood in mystical terms. Images of impersonal or irrational gods do not provide a reason to believe that nature is then rational and orderly. If your view is that the universe is locked into an endless cycle of progress and decay, there is no concept of advancement; the natural world is just something that exists, not something to study.  If your religion makes inanimate objects into living creatures, then a search for physical theories is impossible. Some religions also taught that it was blasphemy to formulate natural laws; they believed that God could do whatever he pleased, even if his actions were variable and arbitrary.  This belief would then then make the universe variable and arbitrary, so searching for consistent physical laws would be a waste of time.

Even though science was stifled in every other society and by every other religion, it is still common to accuse Christianity of hindering scientific progress. Any commonly accepted idea could hinder science—not just ones that Christians hold. The best example was the dogmatic adherence to Aristotle that hindered scientific progress for over 2000 years. The first people to openly disagree with Aristotle were either Christians or professors in church sponsored universities; these ideas lead eventually to the revolutionary idea of Nicolaus Copernicus.

In the second half of the seventeenth century, a new philosophy of nature came into prominence. Although it was presented in many forms by the likes of Rene Descartes, Pierre Gassendi, and Robert Boyle, in all forms it treated matter as lifeless and inert, without any properties of its own. It also suggested that all natural phenomena could be explained by the mechanical interactions of matter in motion. This "mechanical philosophy" as it came to be called, was in strong contrast to the picture presented by the traditional philosophies, such as Aristotlelianism.[6]

It was another Christian, Galileo, who challenged the prevailing scientific view of the universe in the name of science. Most people at the time held the Aristotelian idea that the earth was at the center of the solar system and heavenly bodies moved in perfect circles. Astronomers in Galileo’s day overwhelmingly thought the data favored Tycho Brahe’s hybrid geocentric model. It was Kepler who showed planetary orbits to be ellipses. Christians were the ones actually pushing science forward in an age of scientific stagnation.

The main lesson to be drawn is that it was Galileo, a believer in the biblical worldview, who was advancing a better scientific understanding of the universe, not only, as we have seen, in opposition to some churchmen but against the resistance and the obscurantism of the secular philosophers of his time who, like the churchmen, were also convinced disciples of Aristotle.[7]

Another example of this was Louis Pasteur, a devout Christian credited with the discovery of germ theory. The prevailing view in Pasteur’s time was that microbes could spontaneously appear from chemicals and this was the cause of illness. Spontaneous generation disagrees with the Christian Doctrine of Creation, so Pasteur set out, with obvious success, to show that life appearing from non-life could not be correct. Based on his Christian beliefs, Pasteur was motivated to test a prevailing scientific theory to the benefit of mankind.

It is a common accusation that belief in Biblical miracles will stifle and hold back scientific advancement.  This has historically not been the case; even belief in the Biblical Flood & Noah’s Ark stimulated and advanced science!

Yet it is commonplace to read of a clash between belief in the Bible and the facts revealed by the developing world of science; it is often said that belief in the real former existence of the Ark is “unscientific” and has been exploded by a properly “scientific” investigation of the evidence…. such a view is oversimplified.[8]

From about 1500 to 1800 the idea of an Ark, and Noah’s story itself, played key roles both in European religious doctrine and in the emerging body of thought that came to be known as science.[9]

However, it is important to note that religion was here providing Hooke and others with a significant explanation for the phenomena that appeared in the natural world around them. Religion provided the framework within which to fit phenomena or objects that we would now consider part of science-fossils, earthquakes, sedimentary deposits. The story of the Flood supplied meaningful explanations for things that were otherwise difficult to understand. Putting it another way, belief in the Bible as a historical record at this point encouraged the development of interpretive categories and investigative techniques that proved constructive in the long-term development of natural history. These categories included the idea of a flood, the collection of fossils, classification of animals and plants, and the calculation of human population statistics.[10]

On these grounds, the popular view that religious orthodoxy stifled early geological and natural historical research cannot be sustained. On the contrary, efforts to combine the Genesis story with what was known about the natural world opened up important new perspectives in the world of learning.[11]

The controversies arising from speculations about the meaning of fossils and the geographic extent of the Flood brought new ideas about the age of the earth and the prehistory of mankind into the open. These were set within a devout religious context but were flexible in their interpretation of ancient writings and chronologies.  The attempt to explain how animals arrived in the New World and how Noah’s children repopulated the earth stimulated the study of indigenous societies and early human migrations. The search for appropriate sources of water led to distinctive observations about comets, earthquakes, rainfall, and sedimentary strata.[12]

An actual, current example of a theory holding back science is the belief that our DNA contains a vast amount of “junk” that has no function. Scientists have clung to this belief because it is one of the key pieces of evidence for evolutionary theory; this has “held back” science for 30 years. We are now discovering all kinds of function in the so called “junk DNA” that we never bothered to look for earlier because of a dogmatic adherence to evolutionary theory. For example, these previously thought “non-coding” regions are showing a possible ability to “turn off” cancer cells; some promise for a possible cancer cure that was ignored because of the scientific dogma of junk DNA. There are scientists who are refusing to accept the data coming in from the ENCODE project because it doesn’t fit with their current evolutionary model. Science is held back when a theory drives the data instead of data driving the theory. Christianity is no more guilty of “holding back science” than any other commonly held idea that society sees as correct.

Christianity and science are not at odds, nor should they be at war. As it did with the early scientists, Christianity can provide inspiration and provide a reason and a rationale for why we should investigate nature. Christians thought it was their duty to investigate nature in order to discover God’s thinking. 
Christianity depicted God as a rational, responsive, dependable, and omnipotent being and the universe as his personal creation, thus having a rational, lawful, stable structure, awaiting human comprehension.[13]


[1] Isaac Newton, Principia, 1687
[2] Johannes Kepler, Astronomia nova, 1609
[3] William B. Ashworth Jr., When Science & Christianity Meet, Lindberg & Numbers, editors, University of Chicago Press, 2003, page 84
[4] ibid, page 61
[5] Michael Bumbulis, Christianity and the Birth of Sciencehttp://www.ldolphin.org/bumbulis/
[6] William B. Ashworth Jr., When Science & Christianity Meet, Lindberg & Numbers, editors, University of Chicago Press, 2003, page 61
[7] John Lennox, in Just Thinking, RZIM, Volume 27.1, page 17
[8] Janet Browne, When Science & Christianity Meet, Lindberg & Numbers, editors, University of Chicago Press, 2003, page 112
[9] ibid, page 113
[10] ibid, page 128
[11] ibid, page 132
[12] ibid, page 138
[13] Rodney Stark, For The Glory of God, Princeton University Press, 2003, page 147

Friday, July 31, 2020

Bruno & Galileo: NOT examples of Christianity Persecuting Science

The myth that Christianity and the church persecuted and held back science is still alive and well. In the first episode of the new Cosmos series, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson ignores actual history and takes great lengths to teach that Christianity hindered scientific thought. The same tired fiction is recycled in the introduction to Dr. John Gribbin’s 2009 book, In Search of the Multiverse. Both Dr. Gribbin and Dr. Tyson state that Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake by the Catholic Church for exposing heretical scientific ideas “that the stars are other suns, and that there must be other earths, and life elsewhere in the universe.”[1] Dr. Gribbin at least admits that this was not the main reason for Bruno’s conviction, but nonetheless leaves the impression that Christianity persecuted science. Dr. Tyson opens his new Cosmos series with the statement that he will “follow the evidence wherever it leads.”  Surprisingly, neither Dr. Tyson nor Dr. Gribbin bothered to check the actual historical evidence regarding Giordano Bruno. 

The Church did not silence Bruno for his scientific beliefs. Even though Bruno did a little speculative astronomy, he was far from a scientist. He was a renegade monk, a Hermetic sorcerer, and a philosopher; his interests were theological and when he did write on astronomy his work was amateurish and confused.  He got his ideas solely through imagination, speculation, and faith with absolutely no evidence or data. The troubles he had with the Church were due to his theological beliefs, namely his polytheism and antiorthodox teachings. His beliefs happened to include the idea that the universe was infinite and that it contained large numbers of worlds, but these propositions were not a problem to the church. 

Bruno’s scientific position of an unbounded universe with many worlds was not at all unique. There were many others in the same time period who held similar scientific views and were never persecuted by the church. Nicolaus Cusanus (Nicholas of Cusa), in the first half of the 15th century, wrote of an unbounded universe with many worlds and all of its parts in motion.  The Church made him Papal legate to Germany in 1446, he was appointed cardinal for his merits by Pope Nicholas V in 1448, and he became vicar general in the Papal States in 1459.  The Church obviously did not care if Nicolaus Cusanus thought the universe was infinite! Marsilio Ficino thought the sun was at the center of the universe because it was created first.  In 1489 he was accused of magic before Pope Innocent VIII, but escaped punishment; he wasn’t persecuted for his heliocentric science. 

Thomas Digges, a leading 16th century English mathematician and astronomer, taught that the Copernican model (heliocentric) of the solar system was physically real. Digges wanted to make the ideas of Copernicus accessible to everyone, so in 1576, he published the first English translation of Copernicus’ On The RevolutionsHis work included the idea of infinite space needing to be a part of the Copernican system; that the stars must extend infinitely up. He never had any trouble from the church. The church also had no problem with another 16th century scientist William Gilbert, who openly rejected Aristotle and also understood the universe to be infinite. There is a long list of intellectual thinkers who were never persecuted, even though they had scientific ideas contrary to the Church.  

For Giordano Bruno and others persecuted by the Church, the dispute was not with science, but in almost every case when blood was shed, the disputes were over theology, not a dispute between theology and science. Bruno, in addition to his polytheistic belief that all animals and even the Earth contained a soul, also practiced magic, suggested that Satan was destined to be saved and redeemed by God, didn't think Jesus divine but rather instead was “an unusually skilled magician.” He also publicly disputed Mary's virginity and the doctrine of the trinity. In addition, he constantly ranted about how idiotic his fellow friars were, calling themnames and lamenting their adherence to Catholic doctrine. For years, he'd set up shop in some city, find new patrons, and promptly make enemies of them with his combative sarcasm and relentless arguments. Even fellow Copernican pioneersGalileo and Kepler, scientists who actually used evidence, had no love for Bruno.[2] He, of course, did not deserve to be killed for his beliefs and could rightly be considered a martyr for the freedom of religion; but in no way should he be considered a martyr for science.

Along with Giordano Bruno, Galileo has also become a tale of combat between the voices of scientific freedom and the forces of theological intolerance; a view which is also seriously deficient as history. Just like Bruno, the Galileo affair was not a battle between science and Christianity; every one of the participants on both sides of the argument was Christian! The conflict was within the church, between opposing theories of biblical interpretation and within science between alternative cosmologies. Two main points seem to be forgotten or ignored: the Galileo affair based its scientific decision on the current scientific evidence and the theological decision was powerfully shaped by local circumstances and personal interests. 
Western cosmologies had been geocentric since at least the fourth century, following the ancient Greek scientific views of Aristotle and then Ptolemy. Heliocentric (sun centered) systems were merely curiosities until Copernicus in 1543. Copernicus’ book, On The Revolutions, was highly technical and written for a very small audience of mathematically proficient astronomers; as a result, it was little known and less read. This is why Thomas Digges translated it in 1546. There was almost no reaction from the Catholic church, and nobody judged Copernicus as dangerous or a threat. In other words, scientists writing about and publishing books on heliocentrism were not the issue.
In the 16th century, there was little evidence in support of a heliocentric model being physically true. Putting the earth in motion represented a massive violation of common sense. Removal of the earth from the center of the cosmos represented a destructive attack on Aristotle’s physics – the only comprehensive system of physics in existence. To put the earth in motion was to put it in the heavens, thereby destroying the dichotomy between the heavens and the earth, which had served as a fundamental cosmological premise wherever Aristotelian philosophy prevailed for the previous 2000 years. There also wasn’t any conclusive evidence that the Earth was moving. The absence of stellar parallax also offered powerful empirical evidence against heliocentrism. Astronomers and natural philosophers who rejected heliocentrism did so not because of blind conservatism or religious intolerance, but because of their commitment to widely held scientific principles and theories. The church in the Galileo affair was following the science!
In the 1614 book Mathematical Disquisitions Concerning Astronomical Controversies and Novelties, Johann Georg Locher challenged Galileo on scientific grounds. Locher used arguments about the size and distances of stars which were supported by the leading astronomer of the day, Tycho Brahe and a leading Polish mathematician, Peter Cruger. Locher thought the data supported Ptolemy’s epicycles. Tycho Brahe favored a hybrid geocentric model of a stationary Earth around which the Sun, Moon, and Stars orbited, with the planets all orbiting the sun. In 1616, Monsignor Francesco Ingoli published an essay that essentially used Brahe’s arguments for the hybrid geocentric model; presenting five physical arguments using Aristotle’s physics, and thirteen mathematical arguments using current astronomical data.  All of these scientificarguments were against the Copernican system.
Galileo believed Ingoli’s essay to have been influential in the infamous condemnation of the Copernicus hypothesis by a committee of consultants for the Roman Inquisition in February 1616. Thus, Ingoli’s emphasis on weighty mathematical and physical arguments (that is, “scientific” arguments) rather than on the theological arguments, his reliance on the work of Tycho, and even his inclusion of theological arguments, which he then deemphasizes, all suggest an overlooked aspect of the Inquisition’s opposition to Copernicus. Unsurprisingly, among those arguments of Tycho that Ingoli cites are the cannon at the equator and poles argument, and of course, the star size objection.[3]
In 1651 Giovanni Battista Riccioli published The New Almagest, the most current and complete astronomy textbook of the time. It included every new discovery that had been made with the telescope. By 1651, the Ptolemaic system was no longer in consideration for a reasonable model of the universe, so The New Almagest weighed the Copernican system against Tycho Brahe’s hybrid geocentric system.  According to historian Edward Grant, Riccioli’s work was the most complete and most authoritative astronomy text of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Riccioli had 126 arguments in his book; 49 of the arguments favored heliocentrism while 77 favored geocentricism but Riccioli himself stated that his book was not just a “counting of arguments” and considered many of the 126 arguments on both sides to be unconvincing. Riccioli found two of the arguments against heliocentrism to be the most convincing:  detection of the earth’s motion and the size and distance of stars. At the time, there wasn’t any way to detect the motion of the Earth.  Experiments involving falling bodies were inconclusive. Brahe’s argument about what we see when we fire cannon balls was still valid and concluded that the Earth was not moving. Telescope evidence also showed that for the Copernican hypothesis to be correct, the stars would have to be incredibly huge. According to the data of the time, one single star in the Copernican system could conceivably be larger than the entire universe in the hybrid geocentric system. The data supported reasonably sized stars for the hybrid geocentric system. According to the scientific evidence we had at the time – even data taken with a telescope – the necessary sizes of stars would have made the Copernican system absurd.
An array of arguments and many scientists supported geocentrism. Simon Marius of Ansbach Germany claimed that the appearance of stars through a telescope supported the Tychonic, not the Copernican hypothesis. Peter Cruger of Gdansk wrote in 1631 that a star of even the smallest size poses a challenge to Copernicus. The Copernican system’s moving Earth was contrary to the accepted physics; it was in conflict with Aristotle – the accepted description of motion at the time had no mechanism by which the Earth could easily move! The Earth’s motion should have been detectable through physical experiments and at the time it wasn’t.
Reasoning and intrinsic arguments alone considered, and every authority set aside; the hypothesis supposing the immobility or quiet of the Earth absolutely must be asserted as true; and the hypothesis that bestows to the Earth motion … absolutely must be asserted as false and disagreeing with physical and indeed physico-mathematical demonstrations.[4]
Galileo did have data and arguments for geocentrism. Using a telescope, Galileo observed that the moon was similar in structure to the earth; arguing that since the moon was rocky like the earth and moved through space, this meant that it could be made of the same elements as Earth and if the moon cold move through space, then so could the Earth. He saw Venus passing through a complete set of phases, just like the moon does. These observations were in contradiction with Aristotle and Ptolemy but could be explained – and actually had been predicted - by the geocentric model of Tycho Brahe. Galileo observed that Jupiter and Saturn had “satellites”; arguing that the moon could therefore be a satellite of the moving earth. His observation of sunspots struck at the Aristotelian idea of the heavens being made of an incorruptible fifth element, and therefore “perfect.” Galileo’s evidence showed that Ptolemy’s universe wasn’t correct and went against some of Aristotle’s ideas, but did not show that Copernicus was superior to Brahe. Almost 20 years after Galileo’s second trial, Riccioli thought that the telescope evidence and data from falling objects still supported a hybrid geocentric universe – not a heliocentric one.
It is tempting from a modern perspective to propose that the leading theologians of the church ought to have modified their interpretation of the relevant biblical texts in order to get into step with the scientific opinion. But we must keep in mind that the position adopted by the inquisition was in step with the majority, if not the latest, scientific opinion. Cardinal Robert Bellarmine echoed the historical position of the church fathers Augustine and Aquinas, “that if solid evidence for the Copernican system were found, then the literal sense of scripture would have to give way to a different interpretation.”[5] It would have been a most remarkable event had its members taken elaborate measures to abandon their own deeply held principles of biblical interpretation, as well as traditional cosmological opinions of the church fathers, while simultaneously rejecting the majority opinion of qualified astronomers.
Or, to put it more correctly, just as science supported the Copernican hypothesis over the Ptolemaic with discoveries such as the phases of Venus, so science supported the Tychonic hypothesis over the Copernican with discoveries such as adventitious rays and the telescopic disks of stars. Likewise, just as religion was used to support geocentrism, by citing scriptural backing for a fixed Earth, so also religion was used to support heliocentrism, by providing a supernatural explanation (also supportable by scripture) for a dramatic absurdity in the Copernican system. The story of the “Copernican Revolution” does not look so much like a morality play about brave reason and villainous superstition, about “science vs. religion,” as it looks like a battle between two scientific theories, about “science vs. science,” with a little “religion vs. religion” thrown in as well. It is remarkable that the story of this science vs. science battle has been so thoroughly forgotten.[6]

Galileo’s trial must also be judged by the standards, behavior, and culture of the early seventeenth century. The freedom to express dangerous ideas was as unlikely to be defended in Protestant Geneva as in Catholic Rome.  The idea that a stable society could be built on general principles of free speech was defended by nobody at the time.  Examined in 17th century terms, the outcome of the Galileo trial was a product not of dogmatism or intolerance beyond the norm, but a combination of standard bureaucratic procedure, plausible political judgement, and a familiar array of human foibles and failings. The recent reformation also played a large part in the Galileo event.  The church had just lost half of Europe as a result of what could be construed as a relaxed policy toward dissent and controversy.  The church bureaucracy since the Council of Trent was more worried about controversy than the medieval church had been.  It took a much stricter view of biblical interpretation, moving toward literalism, and refused to embrace any interpretation not sanctioned by church tradition or the church fathers.  Ironic, since the church fathers, Augustine and Aquinas, encouraged an interplay between science and scripture.

The reformation and counter-reformation did serve to entrench Aristotle’s physics and cosmology more deeply and inflexibly than ever before.  The fascinating and significant anti-Aristotelian alternatives so enthusiastically discussed in the fourteenth century were now ignored and often forgotten.  Protestants and Catholics alike clung tenaciously to Aristotle’s cosmology while vigorously denouncing Copernicus.  Only in the 17th century did heliocentric supplant Aristotle’s cosmology and only then did the physical consequences derived from the assumed daily and annual motion of the earth destroy Aristotle’s physics as well.[7]
Galileo was at first accused of adopting rash and heretical principles of exegesis. In other words, the Church was at first upset with Galileo interpreting scripture. When the inquisition formally censured heliocentrism in 1616, Galileo faced no personal danger and was not punished nor declared a heretic.  He was simply ordered to not teach or defend the Copernican system as real; it was still okay to present it as a useful mathematical model, just not as the way the universe actually was. Galileo actually argued for the same thing as Augustine and Aquinas; stating that the literal biblical text is necessary for salvation and those things that surpass human reason, but when matters are addressed that are within the reach of sensory experience and rational knowledge, God does not expect us to abandon these abilities of observation and rational thought. Pope Benedict agreed with this; demonstrating that the scientific evidence did not support heliocentrism. Ironically, the Copernican answer to the star size problem was to invoke the power of God!  It was the Copernicus supporters who were using God as an explanation against the geocentrists. The church used the actual science of the day, which still supported a stationary Earth.
Urban VIII became pope in 1621. He was a friend of Galileo and was considered to be an intellectual, a man of vision, and a moderate on the topic of heliocentrism. From his discussions with the pope, Galileo came to understand that he was now free to write about heliocentrism, so long as he treated it as mere hypothesis. Galileo’s Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems came out in 1632. It was a discussion between Salviati, who gave the arguments in favor of heliocentrism, and Simplicio, who argued for geocentrism.  Galileo’s mistake was in making Simplicio seem to be a slow-witted, Aristotelian laughingstock that resembled Pope Urban; such flagrant insubordination could not go unpunished. Similarly, to Bruno, Galileo hurt himself by lying to, betraying, and insulting the Pope.  As the second trial unfolded, it proved to be only indirectly about biblical interpretation and cosmological theories and more about disobedience and flagrant insubordination. 
But, insofar as the suppression of science is concerned, the bloodiest incidents have been recent and have had nothing to do with religion. It was the Nazi Party, not the German Evangelical Church, that tried to eradicate “Jewish” physics, and it was the Communist Party, not the Russian Orthodox Church, that destroyed the “bourgeois” genetics and left many other fields of Soviet science in disarray.[8]

Persecution of beliefs did, sadly, occur because heretical theologies threaten the authority of those in control in a way that science doesn’t. All powerful institutions and organizations suppress dissent and nonconformity and abuse their power.  Autocrats do not tolerate disagreement. This is why Christians should never want to live in a theocracy. However, Galileo was never put on the list of forbidden books and his harassment was over Church authority and who had the right to interpret scripture. The Pope himself actually thwarted efforts to impose more serious penalties on Galileo. Church leaders usually allowed scientists to sidestep theological conflict. 

In this spirit the pope reassured Galileo that he had nothing to fear as long as he made it clear that he spoke as a mathematician, not a theologian. Specifically, Pope Urban instructed Galileo to acknowledge in his publications that “definitive conclusions could not be reached in the natural sciences. God in his omnipotence could produce a natural phenomenon in any number of ways and it was therefore presumptuous for any philosopher to claim that he had a unique solution.”[9]

Galileo’s punishment was simply house arrest which allowed Galileo to turn to other scientific problems. Galileo’s mechanics as described in Discourse on Two New Sciences served to overturn the Aristotelian view of the world. We needed an entire new system of physics before we could get rid of Aristotle and geocentrism; one could argue that the punishment imposed by the Catholic Church actually advanced science and heliocentrism more than if they had left Galileo unpunished!
David C Lindberg’s conclusions regarding Galileo from his 2003 book When Science & Christianity Meet are as follows:
1.     Personal interest and political ambition are as important as ideology and observation. If Galileo had paid more attention to diplomacy, the outcome may have been different. 
2.     The Galileo affair was powerfully influenced by local circumstances:  the Reformation, the Thirty Years’ War, the power of the papacy being threatened by the Spanish, and the criticism of Pope Urban for favoring Protestant King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden all played a part in how Galileo was dealt with.
3.     This was not a battle between science and Christianity. Every one of the combatants – including Galileo - was Christian. The conflict was within the church, between opposing theories of biblical interpretation and within science between alternative cosmologies.[10]

The two most cited examples of Christianity persecuting science are Giordano Bruno and Galileo. This narrative is simply false. The scientific evidence in Galileo’s time did not support the Copernican view of the universe; the church held to a geocentric position because of the current scientific data! A clear demonstration of the motion of the earth and a complete answer to the star problem would not come for two more centuries! Science and Christianity are not in opposition.  The Giordano Bruno story is one of theology only, the Galileo story is one of science vs. science and theology vs. theology. Neither story should be used to illustrate a war between science and Christianity.




[1] John Gribbin, In Search of the Multiverse, Wiley, 2009, page 1
[3] Christopher M. Graney, Setting Aside All Authority: Giovanni Battista Riccioli and the Science against Copernicus in the Age of Galileo, University of Notre Dame Press, 2015, page 68
[4] Riccioli 1651
[5] Christopher M. Graney, Setting Aside All Authority: Giovanni Battista Riccioli and the Science against Copernicus in the Age of Galileo, University of Notre Dame Press, 2015, page 74
[6] Christopher M. Graney, Setting Aside All Authority: Giovanni Battista Riccioli and the Science against Copernicus in the Age of Galileo, University of Notre Dame Press, 2015, page 145
[7] Edward Grant, Physical Science in the Middle Ages, Cambridge University Press, 1977
[8] ibid
[9] Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God, 2003, Princeton University Press
[10] David C. Linberg, When Science and Christianity Meet, University of Chicago Press, 2003