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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Galileo on the relationship between science and scripture

I recently came upon a translation of the "Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany, 1615," by Galileo Galilei.

It is interesting that Galileo wrote this important statement of his beliefs to a woman. The Duchess must have been an important intellectual and political figure.

Galileo was apparently defending himself to the Duchess. What was he accused of? Of ignoring what the Bible had to say about the relationship of the earth to the rest of the heavenly bodies. What was his defense?

Here is part of what he had to say:
. . . I think in the first place that it is very pious to say and prudent to affirm that the holy Bible can never speak untruth-whenever its true meaning is understood. But I believe nobody will deny that it is often very abstruse, and may say things which are quite different from what its bare words signify.

. . . I think that in discussions of physical problems we ought to begin not from the authority of scriptural passages but from sense ­experiences and necessary demonstrations; for 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. It is necessary for the Bible, in order to be accommodated to the understanding of every man, to speak many things which appear to differ from the absolute truth so far as the bare meaning of the words is concerned. But Nature, on the other hand, is inexorable and immutable; she never transgresses the laws imposed upon her, or cares a whit whether her abstruse reasons and methods of operation are understandable to men. For that reason it appears that nothing physical which sense­ experience sets before our eyes, or which necessary demonstrations prove to us, ought to be called in question (much less condemned) upon the testimony of biblical passages which may have some different meaning beneath their words. For the Bible is not chained in every expression to conditions as strict as those which govern all physical effects; nor is God any less excellently revealed in Nature's actions than in the sacred statements of the Bible.

Good advice! And, I believe, what should have been an adequate defense. Thanks for reading. 

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