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Issues of the Confrontation of Galileo Galilei with the Roman Catholic Church

 

Modern history has been re-written to portray Christians and the church in their worst possible light.  This fact is no less true with Galileo.  Those issues, listed here in summary form and  taken from Nancy Pearcey and Charles B. Thaxton, Soul of Science (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), pages 25-28 in online version: http://www.lambsound.com/Reading/books/Christian_Faith_and_Natural_Philosophy.pdf

 

1.  Heliocentrism was still being debated.  At the time of the controversy between Galileo and The Church, the issue of the earth revolving around the sun vs. the sun rotating around the earth was not a settled issue.  It was not until the time of Isaac Newton (1642-1727) that the revolutions of the planets around the sun became a widely accepted fact.  The actual situation is just the opposite of that which is usually reported in modern times: “the major part of the Church intellectuals was on the side of Galileo” (page 22).  At one time, even the Pope who had ordered his appearance before the Inquisition had accepted Galileo’s work as true.  (Gordon Clark in Thales to Dewey [page 307] states that the heliocentric theory was not "proved" until 1838.)

 

2.  The primary objection of the church concerned Galileo’s attack on Aristotelian philosophy which had become central to the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC).  The Pope and church leaders feared that their doctrine might be weakened by this attack.  During this time period, also, the RCC was still fighting the Protestants and did not want to give them an edge in any way.

Aquinas had Christianized Aristotle so well that when the authority of Aristotle in the area of astronomy and physics was called into question, many Christian theologians thought biblical truth was being denied.  So completely had Aristotle and medieval Christian theology been harmonized in the Thomistic synthesis that the threatened overthrow of Aristotelian cosmology seemed to many theologians to be a rejection of biblical revelation as well.  Hence the move against Galileo: the Aristotelian theologians realized that if the Copernican doctrines were sanctioned, this would seriously damage their own authority as guardians of orthodoxy by proving false what they had taught was true.  The real issue in the trial of Galileo was not the truth of Holy Scripture, bur rather the truth of Aristotle and the authority of the Aristotelian theologians.  (Charles Dykes, “Medieval Speculation, Puritanism, and Modern Science,” The Journal of Christian Reconstruction: Symposium on Puritanism and Progress, ed. Gary North (Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon, 1979), 6:1, page 35)

3.  Galileo provoked the RCC himself.  In his revised publication of his findings, he wrote, “Several years ago there was published in Rome a salutary edict which, in order to obviate the dangerous tendencies of our present age, imposed a reasonable silence upon the Pythagorean opinion that the earth moves.  There were those who imprudently asserted that this decree had its origin not in judicious inquiry, but in passion none too well informed.  Complaints were to be heard that advisers who were totally unskilled in astronomical observations ought not to clip the wings of reflective intellects by means of rash prohibitions.”  (From Ariel and Will Durant, The Story of Western Civilization, Volume 7, page 609.  Emphases are Ed’s)

 

4.  While Galileo did recant his heliocentric view, he did not recant his faith.  Over and over he affirmed the doctrines of the RCC and the Christian faith.  He clearly saw his work as investigating the orderliness and laws of God’s Creation.  “Only Galileo’s determination to remain within his religious tradition seems an adequate explanation of why he tried so hard to persuade everyone from the Pope downwards, and why he declined all chances to escape to the safety of the Venetian republic.” And his investigations were clearly into God’s Creation, “We cannot presume to know how God thinks, Galileo argued; we must go out and look at the world He created.”  (Pearcey, page 22, online version)

                                                                                      

5.  People of all ages have been reluctant to accept new ideas, especially those longstanding.  Harvey’s work on the circulation of the blood could not be published until after his death.  Lister faced severe opposition over his procedures to limit infectious spread in hospitals.  Pasteur’s germ theory was ridiculed.  Newtonian physics faced a severe headwind.  And on and on.  To focus oppressively on the Church of Galileo’s time, as the only people opposed to his theory, and as the only time in history when new discoveries were opposed, is to reflect clearly that at root is not  

 

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