Answering the Galileo Myth
by Tim Barnett
Last month, I was speaking at the University of Toronto on the topic Has Science Buried God? The event was held in the medical science building, so it attracted a large number of science-minded atheists and skeptics. In fact, two of the former presidents of the Secular Alliance came out to hear what I had to say.
During my talk, I pointed out that modern science was birthed out of a theistic worldview. Therefore, far from being a science stopper, it was belief in an orderly God that was the modern science starter. I like how C. S. Lewis put it. He said, “Men became scientific because they expected law in nature, and they expected law in nature because they believed in a Lawgiver.”
After my talk, we had a time of Q&A. A young woman named Julianna was the first to put up her hand. “We aren’t going to agree on much,” were the first words out of her mouth. She asked, “If theism is a science starter, then why was Galileo persecuted by the church for doing science? This sounds like the exact opposite of what you’ve said.”
As Julianna was speaking, I could see other people in the audience nodding their heads in agreement.
Just the Facts
To answer this question, I had to get all of the facts on the table. There is a very popular view that science and religion are hostile enemies. However, most historians of science regard this as a myth. The idea that religion is at war with science is called the conflict thesis. Galileo’s mistreatment by the Roman Catholic Church is usually given as a case in point, but serious historians of science do not believe that this cultural icon supports the conflict thesis.
Julianna didn’t have all the facts. She knew Galileo did good science. She also knew the Church silenced Galileo because they didn’t like his conclusion. But she was missing important details of the account, which ultimately led to a misunderstanding of the story of Galileo.
The Rest of the Story
Julianna needed the rest of the story. Here’s what I told her…
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