Galileo and Religion From a Theological Perspective Essay

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Galileo and Religion

From a theological perspective, it matters not at all whether the earth moves around the sun or vice versa, since the Bible hardly deals with any of these scientific questions at all. Galileo was correct that the purpose of the Bible was to teach certain religious and spiritual truths, not to provide scientific information on chemistry, physics or biology. Even if its authors had been aware of these subjects, they were basically irrelevant to the stories they intended to tell. In Genesis, for example, the Bible asserts that God created the universe out of nothing in the very distant past, but never mentions whether the earth or other planets are moving. Among those few people in the ancient world who gave any thought to these matters, the views of Aristotle and Ptolemy had been officially accepted by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, and therefore it had difficulty in changing its views when Galileo disproved these two philosophers. Even in the ancient world, though, other scientists had concluded that the sun was stationary, so Galileo and Copernicus deserve credit for rediscovering and proving their views. The fact that one or another ancient Greek philosopher was disproven on some issue is of no religious significance at all, although the Catholic Church condemned Galileo's work as heretical and the Inquisition threatened to burn him. They later apologized for this, of course, but as Galileo wrote at the time they would have done better to simply leave these scientific questions to the scientists.

Section 2: Galileo's Primary Contribution to Scientific Knowledge

In Galileo's Letter to the Grand Duchess of Tuscany in 1615, he defended the New Science against is conservative critics in the universities and Catholic Church, who were claiming that he had simply falsified his results. They had also sprinkled their arguments with "passages taken from places in the Bible which they had failed to understand properly, and which were ill-suited to their purposes."[footnoteRef:1] These narrow-minded critics were using the Bible to defend the false and outdated theories of Ptolemy and Aristotle, and claiming that he was a heretic. All the opponents of Nicholas Copernicus had attacked him on the same grounds, no matter that he was a Catholic priest whose book On the Celestial Revolutions was dedicated to Pope Paul III. If the Church had accepted this book, then as Galileo pointed out his own views were based on it and should also be accepted. Neither he nor Copernicus had ever had any intention of discussing the Bible or religious matters in their scientific work, although their opponents "would have us altogether abandon reason and the evidence of our senses in favor of some biblical passage, though under the surface meaning of its words this passage may contain a different sense."[footnoteRef:2] Galileo also claimed to be a devout Catholic who had no desire at all to publish any doctrines that ran contrary to the Church of the Bible. Even so, he insisted that facts were facts, and the observation proved all the planets were moving around the sun. Even its opponents usually conceded this point once the observations had been repeatedly verified. God had placed these planets in motion and they followed regular, predictable natural laws in their movements. [1: Galileo Galilei, Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany, 1615. Modern History Sourcebook.] [2: Galileo 1615]

Section 3: The Creation Stories of Genesis 1-2

Both Christianity and Judaism accept the creation stories in the Book of Moses, in which all-knowing and all-powerful Being creates the universe. These two stories make no reference to the earth moving around the sun or vice versa, and their main point is theological and spiritual, describing the disobedience of Adam and Eve and their fall into original sin. In these monotheistic religions, God is the cause of all existent things."[footnoteRef:3] Genesis has two separate creation stories in chapters one and two that were later combined into the same book, and only the second one has the story of Eve being created from the rib or Adam or their fall from grace and expulsion from the Garden of Eden. In the first Genesis creation story, God creates the heavens and the earth, the land and oceans along with all the plants and animals, then creates Adam and Eve together in His own image on the sixth day. God repeatedly states that his creation is "good" and finally "very good." In Genesis…[continue]

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