The church v Galileo: how the churched accepted the science of its day
Originally published in The Hermeneutical Problem of Genesis 1–11, Themelios 4(1):12–19, September 1978.
Somewhere in this sort of discussion poor Galileo is always dragged in. Yet if we want to learn from history we should at least begin with good history. There is nothing particularly Christian about Aristotelian cosmology. In fact there are points at which it cannot be reconciled with the Bible. How did the church find itself in the position of defending Aristotelian cosmology against the new Copernican cosmology? It found itself in that position because it accepted the argument of Aquinas that the biblical texts which contradicted Aristotle should not be pressed as the Bible was not written in technical philosophical language. Moses spoke the language of his day. This is not to say that the church should have accepted readily the new astronomy. In its neo-Pythagorean mysticism1 it was no more biblical than Aristotle was. Those who want to say that the Bible is written in the popular language of its day and should not be pressed where it differs from modern philosophical-scientific structures cannot claim to have learnt from the Galileo affair. They are merely repeating the arguments that helped to put the church in that situation.
- T. S. Kuhn, The Copernican Revolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1957). Return to text.