A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Galileo Galilei on Science and Scripture

The Biologos Forum is currently posting a series entitled, "The Bible and Science Historically Considered." The second part in the series is written by Mark Noll who points out that Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), who was condemned by the church for his heliocentric view of the solar system, believed that trust in Scripture and scientific investigation were not mutually exclusive endeavors. Noll summarizes Galileo's major points:
  • trust that sense experience, rigorously controlled and creatively contemplated, could reveal truths about nature;
  • trust that biblical interpretation and scientific interpretation cannot in principle conflict because God is the author of both Scripture and nature;
  • realization that much in the Bible is not intended as a scientific description of the world;
  • realization that interpretation of Scripture and interpretation of nature often require legitimately different procedures; and
  • confidence that what God allows humans to learn about nature could help discern what God has revealed in Scripture.
In his letter to the Grand Duchess (1615), Galileo writes,

It is most pious to say and most prudent to take for granted that Holy Scripture can never lie, as long as its true meaning has been grasped; but I do not think one can deny that this is frequently recondite and very different from what appears to be the literal meaning of the words. . . . I think that in disputes about natural phenomena one must begin not with the authority of scriptural passages but with sensory experience and necessary demonstrations. For the Holy Scripture and nature derive equally from the godhead, the former as the dictation of the Holy Spirit and the latter as the most obedient executrix of God’s orders; moreover, to accommodate the understanding of the common people it is appropriate for Scripture to say many things that are different (in appearance and in regard to the literal meaning of the words) from the absolute truth; on the other hand, nature is inexorable and immutable, never violates the terms of the laws imposed upon her, and does not care whether or not her recondite reasons and ways of operating are disclosed to human understanding; but not every scriptural assertion is bound to obligations as severe as every natural phenomenon; finally, God reveals Himself to us no less excellently in the effects of nature than in the sacred words of Scripture . . . ; and so it seems that a natural phenomenon which is placed before our eyes by sensory experience or proved by necessary demonstrations should not be called into question, let alone condemned, on account of scriptural passages whose words appear to have a different meaning. However, by this I do not wish to imply that one should not have the highest regard for passages of Holy Scripture; indeed, after becoming certain of some physical conclusions, we should use these as very appropriate aids to the correct interpretation of Scripture and to the investigation of the truths they must contain, for they are most true and agree with demonstrated truths. . . . I do not think one has to believe that the same God who has given us senses, language, and intellect would want to set aside the use of these and give us by other means the information we can acquire with them, so that we would deny our senses and reason even in the case of those physical conclusions which are placed before our eyes and intellect by our sensory experiences or by necessary demonstrations.
Noll suggests that if Galileo's approach had been heeded, the history of the relationship between science and religion in the West would have been much less tense.


Noll's entire post is worth a read.

1 comment:

Mystic_Mom said...

I love this post and will be going over to see Noll's post as well. I agree with your conclusion. Very well done! Shanyn (Strawberry Roan) here from the FB blogger group.