The Imaginary War - Glasshouse Christian College

The Imaginary War



  • August 24, 2023

The Imaginary War

The idea that science and religion have been in a battle for people’s minds and beliefs since the enlightenment of the 18th century is about as true as the earth is flat. Many atheists would have you believe the ‘Dark Ages’ between the 5th and 14th centuries stalled advancements in science and culture due to religion. But all of this is just myth.

Science developed from Judeo-Christian beliefs

The truth is there were many advances in this period including the creation of universities, mechanical clocks, and then eventually the printing press. The truth is that Science developed because of, not in spite of, Judeo-Christian beliefs, especially the understanding that Creation is separate from the Creator, that Nature is orderly, and that the order reflects the Mind of the Creator. This belief in God as creator motivated scientists to seek out the mysteries of the cosmos and world around us, making the investigation of Nature an act of worship. Any history of science traces the roots of modern science to churchmen of the 13th century.

The Enlightenment is often described as the victory of reason and logic over religion and superstition. Even this fails to prove true when we look at some of the most influential scientists and thinkers of that time and even more recently. The search for rationality and reason was not in opposition to people of faith as Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) is regarded as one of the most rational men who ever lived. He saw God acting through “Secondary Causes,” or what we understand to be the laws of nature. Until the middle of the 19th century almost all scientists, or “natural philosophers” as they were called, were persons of faith.

Gregor Mendel (1822–1884) was an Augustinian monk and abbot, who performed experiments on peas in the monastery garden and discovered the gene, the mechanism for hereditary transmission. Georges Lemaitre (1894–1966) was a Belgian priest, physicist and astronomer who is described as the Father of the Big Bang, having been the first to propose the expansion of the universe and the first to derive Hubble’s law and Hubble’s constant. 

Religion and Science: Galileo

Many scientists today continue to believe in God, some of which sit at the tops of their fields. But how can a religious person work in the field of science if there is such a divide between the two? According to Harvard University evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson, religion is the most powerful force in the human mind and something that may never be able to be removed from us even through evolutionary processes. Science suggests that religion is so ingrained in us that science can’t seem to understand its beginning or purpose in our biological makeup. This is because Science can not explain why something is a certain way, just how it is a certain way. It can never explain the meaning or purpose behind something. That is because meaning and purpose have no place in science. Science can describe how thermally-excited molecules of dihydrogen monoxide undergo a phase transition from liquid to vapour, but science cannot detect that water is boiling because I want a cup of coffee.

As a Christian myself I hold the bible in the highest regard but I do not look to the Bible as a scientific authority. I don’t use the Bible as a basis for meteorology or for tomorrow’s weather report. To do so would be to trivialise Scripture. As a scientific source, the Bible is incomplete. As Galileo pointed out to Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany, only a single planet is mentioned in the Bible, the Morning Star (that is, Venus, Revelation 22: 16). “The Bible contains such things as are necessary for our salvation,” explained Galileo. “The rest God leaves for us to discover.” Augustine of Hippo taught that the purpose of the Bible was to show us how to go to Heaven, not how the heavens go. Augustine also taught that we do not praise God with our ignorance. God gave us intelligence and expects us to use it. One verse strikes me as giving a mandate to scientists to pursue the quest for understanding God’s Creation. Romans 1:20, “We shall know the Creator through the works of Creation.” What can a scientist or Christian do but study the works of Creation so that we can know God better?

Another claim of Atheists is that the church punished Galileo for opposing the church’s view of creation. The truth however is far less dramatic. In 1610, Galileo Galilei, armed with a telescope, embarked on a series of observations that shook the foundations of the conventional understanding of the movement of planets in our solar system. These observations cast doubt on the well-established Aristotelian cosmology, which held that celestial bodies—the sun, moon, and planets—revolved around a stationary Earth. While his findings didn’t fully overturn the established belief, they were received positively by Pope Paul V and the Vatican.

However, Galileo didn’t stop at merely advancing his scientific studies or building on his discoveries. Instead, he instigated a deliberate campaign to challenge and discredit the prevailing Aristotelian view of how celestial bodies moved in the sky. This would be like a modern biologist attempting to revolutionize the field of evolution by proposing a radically new process for evolution that completely discredits Charles Darwin. Galileo was convinced of his viewpoint and sought to persuade others that the opposing Aristotelian view was wrong.

This forceful endeavour had unintended consequences. Despite his prior positive relationship with the Catholic Church, Galileo’s actions strained his relationship with the Church. He continued to try and compel the Church to accept the Copernican heliocentric model, asserting that the Earth and planets circled the sun. However, his efforts did not bring about the desired outcome. At the time, the Copernican theory lacked solid scientific evidence, and the Catholic Church offered to consider it as a possible theory, provided further evidence was produced. Galileo failed to provide any additional evidence for his heliocentric theory. 

Perhaps Galileo’s most significant error was due to his decision to elevate the argument from a purely scientific view to that of biblical interpretation. This reached its peak when he wrote a letter to Benedetto Castelli, trying to bring together his scientific ideas with the right interpretation of the Bible. The timing of this endeavour was unfortunate, as the pain of the Protestant Reformation was still being felt, and Church authorities were sensitive to potential challenges to their interpretation of scripture.

It’s to the Church’s credit that they approached this situation with restraint. Galileo’s letter to Castelli was twice presented to the Church courts as evidence of his perceived heresy, yet the charges were dismissed on both occasions. Galileo, however, was unsatisfied with this outcome and persisted in his efforts to compel the Catholic Church to officially accept the Copernican heliocentric theory as absolute truth.

Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, a prominent Church figure, provided Galileo with a clear ultimatum in 1615: either present enough evidence to sway the Church’s position or shut up. Galileo again struggled to provide this compelling evidence. 

Given the limited evidence available at the time to support the belief that the Earth orbited the sun, the Church’s hesitance to accept the Copernican view was understandable. Galileo’s inability to provide convincing proof left the Church with little reason to change its long-standing interpretation of the Bible. 

But what about Galileo being imprisoned and tortured until his death? Well, a closer look at history proves this to be a myth yet again. Prior to his trial, he resided at the Tuscany embassy, while during the trial he was put up in a six-room apartment with a personal butler. However, after the trial, he was placed under house arrest until his death. The location of this house arrest was in the palaces of the Grand Duke of Tuscany and the Archbishop of Siena, hardly the dungeon prison that is often portrayed by Atheists and opponents of the church. During his time under house arrest, the Church still remained open to Galileo’s ideas if concrete evidence was provided even after all of the controversy that had been created. Time has proven the Catholic church both right and wrong in its hesitation to accept Galileo’s scientific views. While Galileo was correct in his view of the Earth revolving around the sun, he also argued that the planets moved in perfect circles and that the cause of the ocean tides was due to the rotation of the planet, all views that were proven false. 

Conclusion

While many see science and religion to be in opposition to each other the truth is that science and religion have always gone hand in hand. The pursuit of science has always been at the forefront of the religious minds and the church as a whole. So next time someone makes a comment about how science and religion are opposing forces trying to prove each other wrong using one of these examples above, you will be able to defend or refute that argument regardless of being Christian or not. Because the pursuit of truth should be the objective of both the religious and scientific mind.

Benjamin Jennings, Teaching Assistant

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