4 Conflict between Religion and Science?-the Galileo Case a Introduction

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4) Conflict between Religion and Science?—the Galileo Case

a) Introduction.

  • In the 17th century, the famous scientist Galileo Galilei came into conflict with the Church over the heliocentric theory (the sun as the centre of the universe).

  • This case is often used by Rationalists as an example of how the Church is tyrannically ignorant and anti-science; in 1992, Pope John Paul even apologized in the name of the Church for the injustice done to Galileo.

  • Are the Rationalists right? Is the Primacy of Peter a tool of ignorance? What happened? Are religion and science always in conflict?

b) Timeline of the Galileo Case

i) Before Galileo got in trouble.

  • June 1530: Luther and Melancthon publish the Augburg Confessions, which declare among other doctrines the idea of self-interpretation of the Bible.

  • 1543: Nicolaus Koppernigk (Nicolas Copernicus) publishes a theory that the sun and not the earth is the centre of the universe; some scoff, others are intrigued.

  • 1609: Dutchman Hans Lippershy invents the telescope.

  • Early 1610: Galileo makes a telescope according to Lippershy’s design and makes astonishing discoveries, all of which seem to agree with Copernicus’ ideas:

* The moon has mountains and is therefore made of matter.

* The planet Venus has phases, which means that it revolves around the sun.

* The planet Jupiter has moons that revolve around it.

  • 1600s: Europe’s two leading astronomers are split on the Copernican theory; Johann Kepler (1571-1630) supported Copernicus, and Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) still believed that the earth was the centre of the universe.

  • December 1610: Jesuit priest and mathematician Christopher Clavius observed the same data with his telescope and invites Galileo to Rome to promote his ideas.

  • March 1611: Galileo accepts Clavius’ invitation and attends an audience with Pope Paul V. Clavius promotes these ideas to one of the most influential cardinals of the day, the Jesuit Cardinal St. Robert Bellarmine.

  • 1612: Galileo publishes Discourse on Floating Bodies, in which he mocks the geocentric theory (the earth as the centre of the universe). His work is supported by his friend Cardinal Maffeo Barberini.

  • December 1613: Grand Duchess Christina de Medici declares at a banquet she is hosting that Copernicus’ theory was heresy because it went against Scripture.

  • December 1613: Galileo writes a public letter to Christina, saying that Scripture should not be read literally all the time e.g., when it writes that the sun rose and set.

  • January 1614: Dominican priest Tommaso Caccini preaches against the Copernican theory, saying it is incompatible with the Scriptures. He uses the specific example of Jos. 10: 12, when Joshua commanded the sun to stand still. This is the first claim from a churchman that the Copernican theory was heresy.

  • February 1615: the Roman Inquisition hears Caccini’s complaint against the Copernican theory. It also hears a similar complaint from another priest Niccolo Lorini, who claimed that Galileo was engaging in Luther’s idea of self-interpretation of the Bible. The Inquisition dismisses both complaints.

  • February 1615: Cardinal Barberini writes to Galileo to use “greater caution in not going beyond the arguments used by Ptolemy and Copernicus, and…not to exceed the limitations of physics and mathematics…”

  • March 1615: Cardinal Bellarmine writes that the Copernican theory might be true, but was not yet proven. Also, the theory should not be applied to the interpretation of Scripture until it was scientifically proven.

  • December 1615: Galileo goes to Rome, and against the advice of his friends he preaches the Copernican theory as truth.

  • February 1616: Pope Paul V decides that a formal decision on the Copernican theory should be made by the Inquisition. Cardinal Bellarmine convinces Paul not to make a statement as pope on the issue, because believed that the theory might be proven true.

  • February 1616: a committee of 11 theologians (and no scientists) under the authority of the Inquisition unanimously pronounces the Copernican theory as “false, absurd, and heretical.” This is a bad move by these theologians, who forget that St. Augustine said that the Church’s purpose was not to decide scientific questions.

  • February 1616: Paul V instructs Cardinal Bellarmine to tell Galileo not to hold or defend the Copernican theory as certainly true.

  • February 1616: Bellarmine—who still favoured teaching Copernicus’ ideas as theory—publicly declares that Galileo did not have to formally abjure his ideas or receive a penance; instead, Galileo simply cannot teach the theory as absolute truth.

  • February 1616: Galileo submits to Paul V immediately. He receives a 45 minute audience with the pope, who assured Galileo of his admiration and support. Galileo then returns to Florence.

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