Galileo was imprisoned and tortured for challenging the Church's position on cosmology.

10 Myths Related to Science and Christianity

Outline by Jefrey Breshears

The Myth.
  • The premier example of the "conflict thesis."
  • An enduring myth.
    • Voltaire (1728): "The great Galileo, at the age of fourscore, groaned away his day in the dungeons of the Inquisition, because he had demonstrated by irrefragable proofs the motion of the earth."
    • Carl Sagan (1980): Galileo languished "in a Catholic dungeon threatened with torture" for his "heretical view that the earth moved about the sun."
The Historical Context.
  • The Protestant challenge to the Catholic Church.
  • The Thirty Years War (1618-48).
The Central Controversy.
  • The Galileo case was not between faith and science, but competing scientific claims.
  • The traditional cosmology: The Aristotelian geocentric theory of the universe.
  • Nicholaus Copernicus (1473-1543) the heliocentric theory.
  • Galileo's startling new discoveries in 1609.
The Inquisition.
  • Pope Paul V (r. 1605-21) and Cardinal Robert Bellarmine. [NOTE: The trial and execution of Giordano Bruno.]
  • Why were Church officials so skeptical? (1)Scientifically, Galileo's evidence was inconclusive. (2)Philosophically (and theologically), the heliocentric theory presented a challenge to Aristotelian physics and cosmology.
  • Galileo's hearing in Rome (1615).
  • Bellarmine's position.
    • A correspondence theory of Scripture and science.
    • If science proves our interpretation of Scripture to be erroneous, we should acknowledge our mistake and revise our hermeneutic.
    • The burden of proof is on the revisionist: "While experience tells us plainly that the earth is standing still, if there were a real proof that the sun is in the center of the universe... and that the sun does not go round the earth but the earth round the sun, then we should have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages of scripture which appear to teach the contrary, and rather admit that we did not understand them.... But this is not a thing to be done in haste, and as for myself, I shall not believe that there are such proofs until they are shown to me."
    • Given the inconclusive evidence for Galileo's theory and the controversial theological implications of the issue, Galileo should refrain from teaching heliocentrism.
  • Galileo's position.
    • Galileo: "The holy Bible and the phenomena of nature proceed alike from the divine Word, the former as the dictate of the Holy Spirit and the latter as the observant executrix of God's commands."
  • The Index of Forbidden Books' condemnation of Copernicus' On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (1543).
A Broken Agreement.
  • A new pope: Urban VIII (r. 1623-44).
  • Galileo's Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632).
    • Some erroneous speculations.
    • An allegorical theory of hermeneutics.
    • Satirizing the pope.
Trial and Conviction.
  • 1633: A new trial and new charges.
  • A "rigorous examination."
    • Galileo's recantations.
  • The assumption of imprisonment and torture
  • The final verdict.
  • Perpetual house arrest.
  • A peaceful death of natural causes.
Reflections on the Galileo Case.
  • Pope Leo XIII's (r. 1878-1903) declaration in 1891:
    • Any apparent contradiction between Scripture and science means that either...
      • (1)Scripture has been misinterpreted, or
      • (2)The "science" in question is merely theory, not fact.
    • Leo XIII: "[T]he Church and her Pastors are not opposed to true and solid science... [T]hey embrace it, encourage it, and promote it with the fullest possible dedication.... Truth cannot contradict truth, and we may be sure that some mistake has been made either in the interpretation of the sacred words, or in the polemical discussion itself."
  • Pope John Paul II's declaration in 1992:
    • "Galileo, a sincere believer, showed himself to be more perceptive [in the area of Biblical interpretation] than the theologians who opposed him. If Scripture cannot err, certain of its interpreters and commentators can and do [err] in many ways."
  • A unique case.
  • The case of Antoine Lavoisier (1743-94).

During our discussion, Dr. Richard Howe suggested some recent references on the Galileo story.

  • Richard J. Blackwell, "Galileo, Bellarmine and the Bible"
  • Ronald Numbers, "Galileo Goes to Jail"
  • Ronald Numbers, "The Creationists"
  • David Lindberg and Ronald Numbers, "When Science and Christianity Meet"
  • Machamer, "Cambridge Companion to Galileo"
  • Michael J. Crowe, "Theories of the World"



10 Myths
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