What were Galileo's scientific and biblical conflicts with the Church?

From: janice matchett <janmatch@earthlink.net>
Date: Mon Sep 19 2005 - 12:59:15 EDT

"..it was a conflict between Copernican science and Aristotelian science.."

Some who haven't seen this commentary may find it of interest. ~ Janice

What were Galileo's scientific and biblical conflicts with the Church?

What were Galileo Galilei's conflicts with the Roman Catholic Church? It
was not a simple conflict between science and religion, as usually
portrayed. Rather it was a conflict between Copernican science and
Aristotelian science which had become Church tradition. Galileo expressed
his scientific views supporting Copernicus as well as his biblical views in
a 1615 letter to the Grand Duchess of Tuscany which became the basis of his
first Church trial and censure. A major work published in 1632 resulted in
Galileo's conviction on suspicion of heresy and a lifetime house arrest.
The Galileo affair provides important lessons and applications to the
Church and to science today.


Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) believed the universe is finite and spherical with
a stationary earth at its center. Enclosing the whole universe is the
sphere of the Prime Motion turned by the First Unmoved Mover. Inside that
were transparent spheres containing fixed and unchanging stars, planets,
moon and sun.[<http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/#1>1] Aristotle was
also a renowned philosopher.

Clement and Origen (185-254 A.D.), both of
sought to reconcile Greek wisdom (Aristotle's thoughts in philosophy and
sciences) with scriptural wisdom. Origen imagined separate literal, moral,
and spiritual senses of Bible passages (expanded to five senses in
Concordism today).[<http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/#2>2]

Van Bebber says, "This allegorical interpretation gave birth to a new brand
of Christianity. Augustine (354-430 A.D.), although not as extreme as
Clement or Origen, accepted this new approach. Through Augustine the mixing
of philosophy, culture, and theology became inter-twined. And, since
Catholic theology recognizes the traditions of the Church as equal in
authority with written scripture, changing this trend became impossible.
Eventually, the roots planted in Augustine took full bloom in Thomas
Aquinas" (1224-1274 A.D.).[<http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/#3>3]
The Renaissance Period (1300-1600 A.D.), the rebirth of Greek philosophy,
reinforced Aristotle's philosophy and science, already embedded in Roman
Catholic theology and tradition. The most serious scientific error was
acceptance of an earth-centered cosmos. But this error fit well in the
man-centered theme of the Renaissance.

Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543 A.D.) was a Renaissance man educated in the
classics, law, theology, mathematics, metaphysics, languages, and
Copernicus developed a cosmology with the sun at the center, the earth
rotating about a polar axis, and the earth and planets circling the sun,
essentially as we know it today.[<http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/#4>4]

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642 A.D.) received a broad Renaissance education.
Until 1610, when Galileo built his first telescope at age 46, he focused
mainly on physics, not
He soon made discoveries which shook the foundations of the Aristotelian
cosmos. He saw mountains, valleys and other features indicating change on
the moon. He observed the motion of four of Jupiter's moons, now referred
to as the
moons. No longer could scientists say that heavenly bodies revolve
exclusively around the earth. He also observed the phases of Venus, the
only explanation of which is that Venus moves around the sun and not the

Response to these discoveries ranged from enthusiastic to very hostile.
Never fearing a fight, Galileo actively defended his evidence which
supported the Copernican cosmos. Hummel states,

"He was a passionate, powerful character who could dominate any room or
discussion. His talent and wit won a variety of illustrious friends in
university, court and church circles, ... At the same time his biting
sarcasm against those whose arguments were vulnerable to his scientific
discoveries made him some formidable enemies. Galileo thrived on debate...
His professional life was spent not only in observing and calculating but
also in arguing and convincing. His goal was to promote as well as develop
a new scientific world view."[<http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/#5>5]

Johnston, a Catholic defending the Church, wrote that Galileo was intent on
ramming Copernicus down the throat of Christendom. Johnston claims that
Galileo's position and manner had alienated many and left the Church
authorities no room to maneuver. While there is some truth in Johnston's
assertion, it was a minor factor in the conflict.

The primary problem, as introduced earlier, was that Aristotle's science
was going out of style; but the church was still attached to him. It could
not make a distinction between Aristotle and Christian teachings; and in
that era, there was no distinguishment or separation of science from
philosophy. For the Church, if Aristotle was wrong, Christianity was

Another background factor in Galileo's conflict with the Church was the
influence of the Reformation. Because Martin Luther (1483-1546 A.D.) and
the Protestant reformation (1517 A.D.) questioned Church authority, the
Roman Church lost significant power and influence. It reacted with a list
of literature forbidden to Catholics. Included were any writings
challenging traditional Scripture

Letter to Madame Christina

In 1615 Galileo wrote a letter outlining his views to Madame Christina of
Lorraine, the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, "Concerning the Use of Biblical
Quotations in Matters of
Science."[<http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/#8>8] The tribunal used
this letter against him in his first trial in 1616. They directed Galileo
to relinquish Copernicanism and to abstain altogether from teaching or
defending this opinion and doctrine, and even from discussing

Excerpts from the letter to Madame Christina help to reveal Galileo's view
of Scripture and that of his predecessors. He writes, "I think in the first
place that it is very pious to say and prudent to affirm that the Holy
Bible can never speak untruth -- whenever its true meaning is

He cited Copernicus in the same vein: "He [Copernicus] did not ignore the
Bible, but he knew very well that if his doctrine were proved, then it
could not contradict the Scripture when they were rightly
understood".[<http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/#11>11] He quotes
Augustine relating true reason to Scriptural truth.

"And in St. Augustine [in the seventh letter to Marcellinus] we read: 'If
anyone shall set the authority of Holy Writ against clear and manifest
reason, he who does this knows not what he has undertaken; for he opposes
to the truth not the meaning of the Bible, which is beyond his
comprehension, but rather his own interpretation; not what is in the Bible,
but what he has found in himself and imagines to be

The Church had no problem with these solid orthodox views. Galileo was a
man of faith as well as science.

Two examples from Galileo's letter help to illustrate his interpretation of
Scripture dealing with science. Some say he should have left Scripture
alone and just stuck to science, but he was in a "no-win situation"
whatever he did, for the Roman Catholic Church's Aristotelian views were
being challenged.

<http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/../bible/job9.html#6>Job 9:6 says,
"Who moveth the earth from its place..." Galileo cites the Commentary on
Job (1584) by Didacus a Stunica which concluded that the mobility of the
earth is not contrary to
Scripture.[<http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/#13>13] Today,
creationists would term this passage "observer true." In Galileo's day,
they used the equivalent phrase or expression "speaking according to
appearances." That is, for us who live on the earth it does not appear to
move under our feet. But Galileo's opponents would not accept this

A second passage and Galileo's commentary illustrate that he felt Scripture
dealing with science should not be interpreted literally.
<http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/../bible/job26.html#7>Job 26:7
states, "He stretcheth out the north over the void, and hangeth the earth
above nothing." Galileo says, "St. Thomas Aquinas notes that the Bible
calls 'void' or 'nothing' that space which we know to be not empty, but
filled with air. Nevertheless the Bible he says, in order to accommodate
itself to the beliefs of the common people (who think there is nothing in
that space), calls it 'void' or
'nothing'."[<http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/#15>15] As a side note,
today we know that this verse is literally and scientifically true as
written. No accommodation needs to be made for the common or uneducated
person. Space is a void except for a thin layer of air surrounding our earth.

A New Book and a Second Trial

In 1632, Galileo completed his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World
Systems -- Ptolemaic & Copernican. This publication, a twelve year effort,
presented all the arguments for and against the two great world
systems--the Copernican (sun centered) and the Aristotelian or Ptolemaic
(earth centered). Galileo also warned the Church of a trap they were
walking into:

"Take note, theologians, that in your desire to make matters of faith out
of propositions relating to the fixity of sun and earth you run the risk of
eventually having to condemn as heretics those who would declare the earth
to stand still and the sun to change position--eventually, I say, at such a
time as it might be physically or logically proved that the earth moves and
the sun stands still."[<http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/#16>16]

The Roman Catholic hierarchy and their Aristotlean-Ptolemaic advisors did
not heed this advice. The Roman Curia promptly banned and confiscated
Galileo's monumental work; and it became the basis for his second trial,
censure, and lifetime house arrest by the Holy Office of the Inquisition in
1633. The Roman Catholic Church convicted him of breaking his agreement of
1616 and of teaching the Copernican theory as a truth and not a hypothesis.
They suspected him of holding heretical opinions condemned by the Church,
which they ordered him to abjure [abandon a false opinion]. Seven of the
ten Cardinals presiding signed his

The Holy Tribunal in Galileo's condemnation states: "The proposition that
the sun is the center of the world and does not move from its place is
absurd and false philosophically and formally heretical, because it is
expressly contrary to the Holy Scripture. The proposition that the earth is
not the center of the world and immovable, but that it moves, and also with
a diurnal motion, is equally absurd and false philosophically, and
theologically considered, at least erroneous in

Historical Aftermath of the Galileo Affair

As new observations poured in, evidence grew supporting a Copernican view.
The Roman Catholic Church leadership looked like fools, opening a wedge
between science and religion that has increasingly widened to today. As
Johnston put it, "To the popular mind, the Galileo affair is prima facie
evidence that the free pursuit of truth became possible only after science
'Liberated' itself from the theological shackles of the Middle Ages. ...the
Galileo case is one of the historic bludgeons that are used to beat on the
Church -- the other two being the Crusades and the Spanish

Applications and Lessons Today

Application to Science

Today, Science views Galileo's conflict with Church hierarchy as a great
triumph of science over religion. Today Science is king, Nature is the
Creator, and God (if He exists) is irrelevant. Galileo would not have
viewed it thus, for his faith in the truth of God's Word remained strong.
He recognized that God is King and Creator, not Nature.

Misapplication by Theistic Evolutionists and Progressive Creationists

Theistic evolutionists and Progressive Creationists often use a "Two Book"
concept to reconcile or compromise the Bible with Science. They claim both
the "Book of Nature" and the "Book of Scripture" are true or applicable in
their own realm. But today, Science is always put first. Thus, religion
must bow to scientific findings. The "Book of Scripture" must yield to and
accommodate the "Book of Nature". Theologians must reinterpret or
compromise Scripture to accommodate whatever today's Science says is true.
When new scientific theories come along, Biblical interpretations must
change accordingly.

The Two-Book concept was encouraged by Galileo's view that scientific
descriptions in the Bible were not important, for the common man could not
understand them. Galileo used the same terminology. For example, Galileo
said, "The Book of Nature is written in (clearly-understood)
mathematics."[<http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/#20>20] Galileo cited
Cardinal Baronius (1598) for the statement, "The Bible was written to show
us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens

Lessons to Religious Authority

The Roman Curia, the religious authorities, imposed Aristotle's view upon
the Bible, allowing Greek philosophy to influence its theology. They
steadfastly maintained their traditions and erroneous interpretations of
Scripture[<http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/#22>22] above increasing
scientific observations to the contrary. Galileo's published works remained
on the Roman Church's Index of Prohibited Books until 1835. Not until 1981
did the Roman Catholic Church officially forgive

Van Bebber aptly states, "The Bible is the only infallible, inspired
revelation of God. Motivated by a love for the Creator and His word, the
believer must carefully weigh his every thought against the standard of the
Bible. Those ideas which oppose sound Biblical teachings must be abandoned.
Had this been achieved during the days of Galileo, a peaceful and
reasonable solution would have helped to strip the Catholic Church of
traditional, non-Christian philosophies which proved to hinder its

Lesson to All

A final lesson and warning applies to the Church, Science, and the modern
Creationist movement today. Beware of holding steadfastly to a particular
interpretation of Scripture and/or a scientific model, which may be in
error. For instance, there are various scientific challenges to the
Young-Earth Creationist position. We should hold many of our scientific
views and their corresponding Biblical interpretations loosely. For we will
never have all the right answers this side of heaven.

What is the lesson that Christians should learn from Galileo?

References http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/galileo.html

Received on Mon Sep 19 13:01:24 2005

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Mon Sep 19 2005 - 13:01:24 EDT