25 February 2008

God and Astronomy

The revival of the heliocentric theory was initiated by the Polish astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543). . . . John Calvin (1509-1564). . . cried out: "Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?"

Martin Luther (1483-1546) [called] Copernicus . . . "an upstart astrologer" and " a fool." Luther's condemnation was . . . based on the authority of the Bible as he himself said:

"That is how things go nowadays. Anyone who wants to be clever must not let himself like what others do. He must produce his own product as this man [Copernicus] does, who wishes the turn the whole of astronomy upside down. But I believe in the Holy Scripture, since Joshua ordered the Sun, not the earth to stand still."

Luther's disciple Melanchthon (1497-1560) had this to add, "Now it is in want of honesty to assert such notions publicly, and the example is pernicious. It is part of a good mind to accept the truth as revealed by God and to acquiesce to it." . . .

In 1616, Pope Paul V (1552-1621) issued a bull which condemned the Copernican system as heretical. It called the theory "more scandalous, more detestable, and more pernicious to Christianity than any contained in the books of Calvin, Luther and of all other heretics put together." In 1620, the Inquisition banned all publications that taught the Copernican system. . . .

Italian philosopher, Giordano Bruno (1548-1600). . . . was arrested by the Inquisition in 1592 for his assertion that it was the earth that moved around the sun. For nine years Bruno was interrogated, tortured and tried. Then, in the year 1600, he was burned at the stake as a heretic. . . .

Italian astronomer, physicists and philosopher, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). . . . was summoned by Pope Urban VIII in 1633 to appear before the Inquisition in Rome. Galileo, already seventy years old and in ill health, was forced to make the journey in the chilly winter of February 1633, from Florence, where he lived, to Rome. There under threat of torture, Galileo was forced to recant. The old and ailing man was also forced to read the following declaration:

"I, Galileo Galilei ... aged seventy years, being brought personally to judgement, and kneeling before you Most Eminent and Most Reverend Lord Cardinals, General Inquisitor of the universal Christian republic against depravity ... swear that ... I will in future believe every article which the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Rome holds, teaches and preaches ... I held and believed that the sun is the center of the universe and is immovable, and that the earth is not the center and is movable; willing therefore, to remove from the minds of your Eminences, and of every Catholic Christian, this vehement suspicion [of heresy] rightfully entertained against me, ... I abjure, curse and detest the said errors and heresies,... and I swear that I will never more in future say or assert anything verbally or in writing, which may give rise to a similar suspicion against me ... But if it shall happen that I violate any of my said promises, oaths and protestations (which Go averts!), I subject myself to all the pain and punishments which have been decreed ... against delinquents of this description."

Galileo was then sentenced to life imprisonment in a Roman dungeon. This was later commuted to placing him under house arrest. [He] died in 1642, a blind and broken man. . . . Galileo's manuscripts were destroyed and even his right to be buried on consecrated ground was disputed. . . . The Catholic Church, after appointing a committee to study the issue for thirteen years, only "forgave" Galileo in 1992.

From here.

UPDATE: It is worth noting that in current debates over evolution that it is not uncommon to compare evolution to the far less controversial theory of gravity. Solar astronomy, of course, is simply a non-trivial derivation of the law of gravity (one of my homework assignments in college was to make that derivation). So, gravity was once every bit as controversial as evolution is today.


Anonymous said...

This article has absolutely nothing to do with God and astronomy, as the title would lead one to believe. It does tell the true story of the Catholic Church and astronomy, and how the church punished Galileo for daring to defy the church's teachings on the position of the earth as it relates to the sun. What the writer utterly failed to mention is that God is not synonomous with the Catholic Church. A better title perhaps would have been "How the Catholic Church Crushed Science and Galileo".

God laid out the heavens. He is the master astronomer and Creator. God did not punish Galileo, superstitious sactimonious men did.

Jim Koenig

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

First, to be clear, the post implicates Protestants as well as teh Catholic Church.

Second, all of the faiths did what they did in the name of God with the justification of their Holy Scriptures.

Third, there is no God and I certainly did not intend to imply that there was such a being, only that people acting in the name of God frequently do bad things.

Anonymous said...

From a vantage point a few miles south of the city of Manchester (UK), there really isn't much of a controversy over evolution.

There's sound science backed by, ahem, biblical, amounts of evidence from paleontology, geology, physics (radioactive decay dating), cosmology and several other diciplines.

Creationism simply isn't an issue on this side of the Atlantic...it's out there with phrenology, Phlogiston and the flat Earth.

I'm afraid that it is a pit you Americans have dug for yourselves...as someone who likes the US, and wants to see you as a force for good in the world, I do hope you climb out of it soon.

Dan Ibekwe

Steve Greene said...

It is a serious mistake to say that it was only the Catholic Church that attacked the "natural philosophers" on the geocentrism issue. The new astronomy was attacked by Protestants and Catholics alike for the same reasons, that it contradicted Bible verses such as the one quoted by Martin Luther, that Joshua commanded the Sun, not the earth, to stand still.

"The Catholic Church's reaction to Galileo is well known. It's less well known that most of the 'reformers' -- Luther, Calvin, Wesley -- also rejected the Copernican system on Scriptural grounds" ("Scientific Creationism, Geocentricity, and the Flat Earth" by Robert J. Schadewald, published in Skeptical Inquirer, Winter 1981-82).

And today in the United States we have, literally, tens of millions of fundamentalist Christians who are young earth creationists (who believe that the earth and the universe did not exist more than about 6,000 years ago) and who attack the science they don't like (astronomy, geology, paleontology, biology, physics, etc.) using the same kind of rhetoric as that used by religious believers hundreds of years ago attacking heliocentric ideas:

The Bible is the Word of God, while science is merely "fallible human wisdom." Obviously, the fallible human wisdom of scientists cannot compare to the word of an omnipotent, omniscient God. God was there. God told us what he did. Who is man to dispute the word of God?