Galileo’s Quest For a Rational Faith

This was a school paper from my Western Civ class in the fall of 2004

“…the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being.” Romans 1:20, The Message Bible ¹

“…I do not feel obligated to believe that that same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended to forgo their use and by some other means to give us knowledge that we can attain by them.” Galileo ²

Are science and religious faith compatible? This question has been debated by both scientists and theologians for centuries. Unfortunately, much of this important dialogue has generated more heat than light, often creating controversies in areas where they don’t exist. Although I do not claim to be an expert on Galileo’s personal spiritual beliefs, this particular essay shows a very reasonable quest which would no doubt be echoed by countless other people.

Much of the tension between science and faith stems not from the Bible itself, but from traditions that have been added to it over the years. Galileo understood this: “…the holy Bible and the phenomena of nature proceed alike from the divine Word, the former as the dictate of the Holy Ghost and the latter as the observant executrix of God’s commands.” ³

Parallels can be drawn between the church of Galileo’s day claiming that the earth is the center of the universe, and much of the modern church’s insistence that the earth is only 6000 years old. The Bible does not teach either of these concepts. Nonetheless, these sort of ideas have lead to debacles such as the Scopes “Monkey Trial” which have greatly hindered progress in these areas.

That being said, the scientific community also bears some responsibility for this. Unfortunately, many scientists attack belief in God as being “irrational” or “superstitious.” However, to do this demeans some of the greatest scientific minds in history. In addition to Galileo, luminaries such as Newton, Keplar, Pascal, Mendel, Pasteur and countless others were all theists. In my own experience, I can honestly say that my faith was the primary catalyst in my intellectual development. It was not until I began to study the Bible that I became curious about the world I live in.

The fact is, the Bible was written by thinking people, for thinking people. Throughout its pages, the desire for knowledge is a constant theme (Proverbs 24:5; 1 Kings 3:9; Hosea 4:6). In fact, one of the key ways we are to love God is with our mind (Matthew 22:37). This is reflected in the lives of many prominent biblical figures. For example:

  • Mighty King David, Israel’s greatest monarch, was a military genius (1 Samuel 18:7); as well as a master musician (1 Samuel 16:18-23).
  • King Solomon, known for his tremendous wisdom, also possessed a massive knowledge of many different subjects, such as botany and biology (1 Kings 4: 30-34).
  • The Apostle Paul, who wrote roughly two-thirds of the New Testament, was trained by the brilliant Hebrew scholar Gamaliel (Acts 22:3).

If Galileo were alive today, it would be interesting to see where the science/faith dialogue would go with him at the table. Although the Catholic Church has formally apologized for its treatment of Galileo, many of the underlying (and unnecessary) controversies still remain. In conclusion, I would like to quote from a statement signed by over eight hundred British scientists, and is recorded at the Bodelian Library in Oxford, England:

“We, the undersigned, Students of the Natural Sciences, desire to express our sincere regret that researchers into scientific truth are perverted by some in our own times into occasion for casting doubt upon the truth and authenticity of the Holy Scriptures. We conceive that it is impossible for the Word of God written in the book of nature, and God’s Word written in Holy Scripture, to contradict one another…physical science is not complete, but is only a condition of progress .”

Works Cited:
1. Peterson, Eugene H. The Message New Testament. 1993. Navpress. Colorado Springs, Colorado. p. 359.

2.Galilei, Galileo. “Letter to Christina of Tuscany: Science and Scripture.” Quoted in Sherman, Dennis. Western Civilization: Sources, Images and Interpretations, Volume II: Since 1660. Sixth Edition. 2004, 2000, 1995. McGraw-Hill, New York, New York. p. 18.

3. Ibid.

4. Quoted in Dake, Finis Jennings. God’s Plan For Man. 1949, copyright renewed 1977. Dake Bible Sales, Lawrenceville, Georgia. p. 20.

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