The Galileo Affair - The Interminable Conflict Of Science Vs Religion

Conflict of science and religion has been around since Ancient Babylon in 585 B. C. A scientist is not unduly worried about God’s retribution when he puts forward a well researched and logically proven theory that is against accepted dogmas and often sacred beliefs of the time. In response to such a theory, people tend to resist such change, especially when it challenges established norms pertaining to matters of faith. This is because religion is based on faith, or a strong belief in the doctrines that stand on spiritual conviction rather than proof. In contrast, science hinges on proof and therefore, at times, clashes with religious beliefs and ideas.

One of the most classic examples of the conflict between science and religion is the conflict between Galileo and the Roman Catholic Church. As written in an article by Florence Kang, the Galileo Affair “Has been cited as one of the most embarrassing examples of the inevitable conflict between the forward-looking nature of science and regressive character of religion. ” The Galileo Affair was a series of events which took place around 1632 in Rome, Italy. The conflict stemmed from disputes between Galileo’s heliocentric theory and the Roman Catholic Church’s geocentric theory. In Verse Chronicles 16:30: “tremble before him, all earth; yea, the world stands firm, never to be moved. ” Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church’s geocentric theory is described in Psalm 19:4-6, “in them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes forth like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and like a strong man runs his course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and there is nothing hid from its heat. ” This literally means that the sun is rising at one end of the earth, moving to the other side and then setting. In other words, the sun was revolving around the earth. At the time, Galileo’s theory was not completely proven; yet, he was rather uncompromising and caused conflict with the Church. Though the Galileo Affair erupted out of Galileo’s stubbornness and a corrupt clergy, it helped to shape the Enlightenment, and shed light upon a never ending dispute between religion and scientific discoveries.

Historical Context

The Spanish Inquisition, (1478–1834), was a judicial court system set up by Ferdinand and Isabella who chose Catholicism to unite Spain. In 1478 they asked permission of the pope to begin the Spanish Inquisition to purify the people of Spain. It was one of the most barbaric institutions and was used by both the Catholic Church and the Catholic monarchs to punish the heretics, or people who were at variance with the beliefs of the religious doctrine. Spain was a nation-state that was born out of a religious struggle between numerous different belief systems including Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism and Judaism. The Spanish Inquisition served to consolidate and strengthen power in the monarchy of the newly unified Spanish kingdom; however, it achieved that end through savagely violent methods. These methods varied from crucifying people to burning people alive depending on the severity of their crime.

In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus postulated heliocentrism which suggested that the sun was stationary at the center of the universe and all of the other planets, including the earth, revolved around it. This inspired other scientists to revolutionize science which then sparked the Scientific Revolution. Miraculous and powerful discoveries were made during this time. Sir Isaac Newton was one of the most remarkable scientists of this time. Newton’s study of gravity and his three laws of motion which formed the framework of modern physics. Antoine Lavoisier and Robert Boyle were two notable chemists during scientific revolution. A majority of these discoveries conflicted with religious beliefs. For example, today, Giordano Bruno is known for his cosmological theories, which conceptually extended the Copernican Model. “He rejected the traditional geocentric (Earth-centred) astronomy and intuitively went beyond the Copernican heliocentric (Sun-centred) theory. ” However, when he initially presented his findings, Bruno was brutally punished. Because Bruno’s theory went against the biblical scriptures, as it says in Psalm 104:5 “ He set the earth on its foundations,so that it should never be moved. ” , according to which the Earth was the center of the universe, the Church burned him in 1600. He had stated that the world was infinite and each star in the solar system was one different sun with planets revolving around it. These planets were probably inhabited. This incident shows how strong the tensions between the Church and science; neither side would compromising and hence, the conflict escalated.

Build up

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was one of the world's most famous renaissance philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. He changed the course of history forever by propagating the theory that the planetary system was heliocentric, or centered at the sun. Just like with other scientific discoveries, such as the one regarding eclipses that contradict religious texts, the ideas Galileo proposed were not well received. Yet, this discovery of heliocentrism was important because it revolutionized science and people’s views on Catholicism. Prior to the discovery, most people belonged the Roman Catholic Church and believed that the earth was the center of the universe. By the 14th century, the Roman Catholic Church was the supreme authority and people all over Europe considered the voice of the Pope as the voice of God. When Galileo proposed the theory which suggested that the sun is at the centre of the Universe and the planets revolve around it, the Church was still the supreme authority. The viewpoints of Galileo and the Church clashed and the Church tried to silence Galileo’s ideas because they considered them unholy. However, as society evolved, more people began to develop beliefs which the Church did not tolerate. The Church successively became very corrupt, causing even more people to question its statements. The Church had extensive political power because priests and other members of the clergy who could read and write were appointed to the non-Church offices. Consequently, the Roman Catholic clergy was slowly becoming increasingly corrupt as the money that they were receiving was spent on unnecessary things, like clothing and luxurious houses. They were using the Church’s money to their advantage and not for the good of people who believed in their preachings. “The hierarchy’s greed and corruption were demonstrated by Pope Leo X’s agreement (1514) to allow the sale of indulgences. ” The clergy were accepting payments from catholics for remission of their sins. Those who were appointed for these positions were often very rich, ignorant, illiterate and uneducated. As a result, people started questioning the authority of the Church and it gradually started losing power. The selling of indulgences shows how the Roman Catholic clergy craved power and essentially used the Church as a weapon to maintain that power, making it corrupt and ineffective.

Argument 1 – Adamant Galileo

Galileo was originally sent to the University of Pisa to study medicine. He had little to no interest in medicine so he slowly started to shift his attention to what he was really interested in, mathematics. Galileo studied maths for four years at the University of Pisa, but did not graduate with a degree. Galileo decided to continue studying maths and then in the future made it his profession. Due to this, he was appointed the chair of mathematics in the University of Pisa in 1589. Galileo gradually started to become more famous and began to gain more and more respect in the community. He started giving more philosophical and academic lectures. As his successes increased, everybody wanted him to teach at their colleges. He was appointed the Professor of Mathematics at the University of Padua and gave his inaugural lecture on December 7, 1592. He mainly taught Euclid's geometry and standard geocentric astronomy at the University. As Galileo taught, he felt that Aristotle’s ideas about geocentrism, which is that Earth is the center of the Universe, were incorrect and was always arguing against them. “Galileo was a very obstinate, overly-sensitive and aggressive scientist. ” His hostile attitude had angered not only the Roman Inquisition but also his fellow scientists who stood against him. Galileo’s refusal to compromise with the church on his heliocentric theory, despite the fact that he had no evidence supporting it, sparked tensions between the Roman Catholic Church and science. Though it is true that the Church was typically uncooperative and a violent opposer of scientific discoveries that contradicted the Church’s teachings, Galileo had no clear proof for heliocentrism and yet, he adamantly claimed that this theory was absolutely true. When the Church offered him a compromise for his theory, by which “copernicanism might be considered a hypothesis, one even superior to the Ptolemaic system, until further proof could be adduced,” Galileo rejected it. Rather than coming to a reasonable conclusion based on the evidence that was present at that time, Galileo completely ignored the other side’s (Church’s) perspective. This made Galileo appear both selfish and ignorant. Galileo’s theory was not yet logically proven and still, he wanted the Church to blindly approve of it. Additionally, Galileo used a fabricated story to support his own beliefs. In 1632, Galileo was put on trial because of the ideas he wrote about in his book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. The book was a conversation between two philosophers named Salviati, who represents Galileo's voice, and Simplicio who defended the Ptolemaic view point, as well as a neutral layman named Sagredo who was not biased towards either the Copernican of Aristotelian theories. Essentially, it accused Pope Urban VIII of being ‘simple’ and “promoted Copernican theory by publishing a fictional dialogue between three individuals about who had different cosmological views. ” The book was based on little to no evidence. Not only did the Roman Catholic Church begin to dislike Galileo but the public was also disliking what Galileo said. This was also angering the Roman Catholic Church a Galileo had just written a book which totally opposed the holy scripture. Galileo lied in order to get his point across and this aggressive behavior not only reduced his credibility, but it further heightened the tensions between the Church and science in general. “Galileo was a scientist who believed in the trustworthiness of the Bible and sought to show that the Copernican (heliocentric) system was compatible with it. He was fighting against the contemporary principles of Bible interpretation which, blinded by Aristotelian philosophy, did not do justice to the biblical text. Galileo was not blamed for criticising the Bible but for disobeying papal orders. ”

Argument 2 – Enlightenment

The Galileo affair happened during the Renaissance era which was a time period between the 14th and 17th century. The renaissance which started in Italy was a transitional movement between medieval and modern times. It was an era of intense artistic and intellectual activity. Many famous artists, writers, and scientists lived during this time such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, William Shakespeare, Nicolaus Copernicus and most importantly, Galileo Galilei. The Galileo Affair took place between 1610 -1642 and soon thereafter, the Age of Enlightenment began. During the Galileo Affair, the Roman Catholic Church was the overpowering religious branch in Italy. Over 70% of the population at that time was either Catholic or practiced what the Roman Catholic Church preached. People fully trusted the Church and, as D. C. Wertz states in his article, “roughly 25% of the christian population believed the Bible was the literal word and the other 50% believed it was the inspired word of God. ” Galileo and Copernicus, although their theory was not fully developed and proved, were the first two scientists to become victims of a society where the Church had supreme power. For example, when Galileo presented his heliocentric theory, he was placed under house arrest and barred from sharing his ideas. However, socicity started questioning the different ideas preached in the bible. Galileo's research and discoveries became a “catalyst for a new philosophy, one that permeated every level of human society and placed the emphasis for change on humanity rather than intangible gods. ” In other words galileo is trying to create a practical society rather than having people literally interpreting the bible. One of the causes of the Enlightenment period was the Scientific Revolution, which was heavily driven by Galileo and his theories. Galileo’s theories brought upon an Age of questioning and challenging beliefs, where reason became superior to blind faith. Short Term resultAfter the Galileo Affair occurred, the Roman Catholic Church's further diminished. The Church began to respect people's actions, opinions and their own personal lives. After the Galileo Affair, no scientist or person was mistreated (i. e. burned at stake, put under house arrest). In other words, the Roman Catholic Church was becoming more and more accepting of people's views even if such views were against the Bible. Long Term result 372 years after the Galileo affair in 1992, Pope John Paul the II along with the rest of the Roman Catholic Church finally admitted that Galileo’s teachings were correct. In 1979 Pope John Paul established the Galileo commission which was destined to find what the Roman Catholic Church did wrong during the Galileo Affair. The committee finally decided that the Roman Inquisition had acted in good faith, but their conclusion was incorrect. According to some officials, the condemnation was considered an embarrassment. “Was the Galileo case an embarrassment to the Church? Yes. Was the situation rectified later? Yes — in 1825, in an official document by Dom Olivieri, the General of the Dominican order and commissary of the Holy Office, which apologized for the condemnation and rehabilitated Galileo and his work. ”

Conflict Today

Even though the Galileo Affair helped to lessen the tension between science and religion, the conflict still exists today. For example, there are disputes over abortion and embryonic stem cell research, where those who pro-abortion and pro-research technically go against Holy Scriptures. According to the Bible, every soul has a right to life and abortion is basically the equivalent of murder, a deed punishable by death. Psalm 139:13- “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. ” Embryonic Stem Cell Research is another great example of the clash between science and religion. When embryonic stem cell research is carried out, the embryo has to be compromised. This research is usually carried out on embryos that would be otherwise wasted. Those who oppose this research believe that this research is essentially murdering embryos, while those who support it claim that the embryo would have been discarded anyway, so might as well put it to some use. “By studying how stem cells begin to transform into the 200+ different cell types of the human body, medical science has the potential to learn how defects, genetic errors, and other problems develop and stop that process before it starts – even if the parents are carriers of current genetic disorders. ” Similar to the Galileo Affair, the debate over abortion and embryonic stem cell research stems from stark underlying differences between scientific theories, and religious beliefs. A glaring example of conflict is that of Euthanasia or Assisted suicide. People have been known to suffer terminal illnesses with no hope of recovery living painful lives yearning to die but couldn't because their religion did not permit them to. It is perhaps one of those instances where good faith and scientific reasoning come together in reinforcing what is actually a humanitarian and ethical decision.

There is even a conflict with regard to the most inescapable truth of all human existence - death. All religions, without exception, have stringent guidelines on rituals to be followed on the demise of one from the fraternity. It is anybody’s case that a dead body when donated for medical research would probably have far-reaching benefits for human existence. However, superstitions associated with the afterlife ensure that no amount of scientific reasoning can eliminate the feeling of abject horror associated with the thought of body donation.

31 October 2020
Your Email

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and  Privacy statement. We will occasionally send you account related emails.

close thanks-icon

Your essay sample has been sent.

Order now
Still can’t find what you need?

Order custom paper and save your time
for priority classes!

Order paper now