On Science-Theology: An Early Battle

Battles between religion and science are not new, so let’s go back in time. Using newly-discovered knowledge, Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543), Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), and Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) challenged the Church’s longstanding view of earth (and its humans) as the center of the universe.

Copernicus, a loyal Catholic and canon at the Frauenberg Cathedral, determined the earth revolved around the sun, yet no matter the evidence, the church resisted his explanation for over 100 years.

Galileo, an acclaimed astronomer, physicist, mathematician, and philosopher, supported Copernicianism, yet the church forced him to recant his observations and analysis because they were contrary to the church’s teaching. Nonetheless, Galileo’s 1615 response seems applicable today.

Showing a greater fondness for their own opinions that for truth they sought to deny and disprove the new things which, if they had cared to look for themselves, their own senses would have demonstrated to them. …. I hope to show that I proceed with much greater piety than they (church leaders) do, when I argue not against condemning this book (the Bible), but against condemning it in the way they suggest that is without understanding it, weighing it, or so much as reading it. For Copernicus never discusses matter of religion and faith, not does he use argument that depend in any way upon the authority of sacred writings which he might have interpreted erroneously.

Kepler, a mathematician, astronomer, and faithful Lutheran, determined the laws of planetary motion supporting Copernicus. Even though the church harassed him, he ended on of his astronomy papers with the following prayer:

I give thee thanks, O Lord and Creator, that thou hast gladdened me by thy creation, when I was enraptured by the work of thy hands. Behold, I have here completed a work of my calling, with as much of intellectual strength as thou hast granted me. I have declared the praise of thy works to the men who will read the evidences of it, so far as my finite spirit could comprehend them in their infinity …. Have I been seduced into presumption by the admirable beauty of thy works, or have I sought my own glory among men, in the construction of work designed for thy honor? O then graciously and mercifully forgive me; and finally grant me this favor, that this work may never be injurious, but may conduce to thy glory and the good or souls.

Whenever I read these quotes, a side of me sees that times haven’t changed much since 1615. I know part of that is an exaggeration on my part, but do you see Galileo’s quote still  applicable to discussions today about issues involving science and theology?