God and Galileo – Tensions between Scripture and Science

God-Galileo-2019Our latest book club read is the new book by David L. Block and Kenneth C. Freeman, God and Galileo: What a 400-Year-Old Letter Teaches us about Faith and Science (Crossway, 2019). I am almost finished with it and the book has been a fascinating and fruitful read, but also frustrating. The last-mentioned characteristic is due to the authors’ open adherence to theistic evolution (Big Bang theory, etc.)  – a huge disappointment to me and a major disappointment with Crossway, an otherwise solid evangelical publisher.

And while I don’t overlook this or minimize this major weakness of the book, there are many valuable things to learn from this book and the authors’ perspective. The starting point of the book is the well known 1615 letter of Galileo to Christina, the Grand Duchess of Tuscany. This is the Italian scientist’s plea for recognition and understanding in the face of the church’s (Roman Catholic) condemnation of his view of a sun-centered universe. In the letter he wrestles with his findings through the telescope, the teaching of Scripture, and the authority of the church to interpret the Bible. The book contains many excerpts from Galileo’s letter, as well as the full letter in an appendix.

There are many sections worth quoting in this book, but tonight we limit ourselves to the opening chapter where the authors’ set the stage for Galileo’s – and modern Christians’ battle.

Galileo began his Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany as follows:

A few years ago, as your Highness well knows, I discovered many things in the heavens which had been invisible until this present age. Because of their novelty and because some consequences which follow from them contradict commonly held scientific views, these have provoked not a few professors in the schools against me, as if I had deliberately placed these objects in the sky to cause confusion in the natural sciences.

A recurring theme in this letter, and a source of great concern to Galileo, was this tension between what he observed through his telescope and the opinions of the theologians. Cherished by the theologians of the day was Aristotle’s geocentric model of the universe, wherein all bodies, including the sun, orbited the earth. The earth was perceived to be the center of the universe. At the time of Galileo, the book of Scripture was used by many as the only source of truth, and the concept of a non-earth-centered world, as revealed by Nicolaus Copernicus’s and Galileo’s new observations, was seen as a huge threat.

The shoe is now on the other foot; to many today, the living truths are found only in the book of science, and the book of Scripture is regarded as mythological and irrelevant. Our personal horizons since the time of Galileo have completely changed. Authority has moved from the church (which so dominated everyday life in Galileo’s time to the individual. Many now choose to follow the book of science exclusively, with GOd beyond the fringe of their horizon. Does science explain everything? No, there are two realms of knowledge. Everything is not science.

…We refer to these two realms of truth as the two books. For us, as astronomers and Christians, the book of Scripture is the revelation of God to humanity over thousands of years. …In contrast, the book of nature encompasses our transient knowledge of science, both observational and theoretical, and its goalposts are ever moving.

…Galileo himself saw the two books as if in balance. He saw the nearby universe with his telescope, and he understood that the Scriptures are about God’s relationship with man. In our time, the balance is skewed: the book of nature carries the weight, and the book of Scripture is seen as peripheral or even totally irrelevant (pp.27-28).

Indeed, this is the question and the tension we face with God’s two books. How do we interpret these books when they appear in conflict? Does one take priority (have authority) over the other? Which one – and why?

Galileo – and these authors’ help us in some way, but also confuse things in other ways. We hope to examine that too in subsequent posts. In the meantime, you think about how you would answer this question and solve this tension. And maybe look ahead to John Calvin and his idea of the Scriptures as the lens (eyeglasses) through which we see the whole of God’s world.

Published in: on February 19, 2020 at 10:49 PM  Leave a Comment  

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