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Monday, September 26, 2005

Science vs Faith: The Galileo Affair

...this being the title of my Modern History research seminar. I'm sure God chose this seminar for me, as when I first looked at the list of 25-odd topics, from which I had to choose one, this was the one I least liked the look of. However, that was mainly because I was shying away from the idea of uncomfortable debates about science, religion and all that. Then I realised I was just being embarrassed about my faith and that I was trying to avoid standing out. So, I ended up choosing it... although it's not really the kind of topic I expected to be studying!

Anyway, we had our introductory seminar today, and it started me thinking. We didn't really cover anything that meaty, but Dr Lukowski (!) did throw a few questions into the arena, such as 'What is science?', which brings me to the point of this post. One girl said something along the lines of:

"Isn't science the opposite of religion? I mean, science is based on facts and finding out definite answers, whereas religion is based on..."

I can't remember the rest of her answer word for word, because my mind had gone into [indignant yet trying to work out a cogent answer that didn't sound how I felt] mode. I replied, saying that I was a Christian and my beliefs were based on historical facts, rather than any myths I had made up. I also said I believed science and religion did not necessary conflict, depending on what religion you believed! Someone else commented and said she agreed with me, which was encouraging, and I heard a boy behind me say 'mm' in a positive manner while I was talking. I think I am the only Christian in the group but at least they know where I stand now.

Anyway, it just made me think about science, religion and the popular perception of how they are linked (or not). Maybe the girl who made that comment thought the teacher expected her to say something of that nature. Maybe she genuinely believes it. Maybe it's just the product of a secular upbringing which dictates that any religious beliefs are the product of an over-fertile, needy imagination. It's the latter option that bothers me. We now live in a society where the vast majority of people, at least of my age, think that science and Christianity are completely divorced from each other, and what's more, very messily divorced. This is disturbing not only because it proves a very effective barrier - or, as I prefer to call it, excuse - between them and the Gospel; it signifies the 'dumbing down' of society because this misguided opinion is based on nothing but prejudice. People may claim that Christians are brainwashed by wacky Creationists, but I think that they themselves win by a good mile in the brainwashing stakes.

For instance, it is remarkable the number of people I have encountered in my lifetime, who produce the following argument as a trump card when discussing my beliefs: "Yeah, but what about dinosaurs?" (said in a 'haha, I've got you there!' tone). Since when did dinosaurs suddenly become pariahs of Christianity? Who was it who decided that Christianity was famous for declaring that dinosaurs never existed? Far from denouncing the fact that dinosaurs lived, breathed and walked on this earth, there are even passages in the Bible that mention extremely dinosaur-like animals (see Job).

I don't have enough time to explore all the issues involved with people's irrational prejudices against Christianity in terms of its relation to Science; suffice to say that there is an overwhelming position in contemporary society that states that anyone who belives that it is possible to believe in God and still take science seriously (or vice versa) is either a lunatic, insane or mad. This only serves to accentuate the notion that Christianity is a crutch for the weak, invented hundreds of years ago because we had no other way of explaining the universe. Well, science may explain HOW the universe works, but it does not explain WHY it works, as Steven Hawking has himself admitted. What has happened is a confusion of the two questions themselves. Christianity does not attempt to explain how the universe works. What it does is explain who works the universe. The idea of rubbishing God's existence because we know some of the laws of physics is as stupid as rubbishing the artist's existence because we know the brushstrokes used on the canvas.

The fact that people flee to scientific theories to do away with a universal need for God reflects the nature of sin. The essence of sin is wanting to believe that we can stand alone, fend for ourselves, be entirely self-sufficient and control our own lives and destinies. As with every heretical theology, it comes down to a natural tendency to rebel against God's total sovereignty and be man-centred. Praise God that he has delivered us from sin's grasp and transformed us by the renewing of our minds, to enable us to let go of our selfish tendencies and enjoy the knowledge that yes, God is in control, and he is good, and does all things well for the good of those who love him.


  • And there were, and are, many scientists who believe that the Bible is true in all that it reveals to us about God.

    On the argument between Galileo and the Roman Catholic Ecclesiastical authorities you might find some interesting perspectives in the Catholic Encyclopedia in the article on Galileo at

    For instance, this sentence appears:

    "In thus acting, it is undeniable that the ecclesiastical authorities committed a grave and deplorable error, and sanctioned an altogether false principle as to the proper use of Scripture."

    A key issue.

    What a fascinating topic you have chosen. Happy researching!

    By Blogger Cora, at 1:51 am  

  • Bec, I'm really pleased that you went for this one. It opens up all sorts of explorations, and if you get stuck in, it will hopefully help you to see the significance of ideas about science in addition to the "humanities" that you have been learning about already. Obvious "Christian" books would be "Unnatural Enemies" by Kirsten Birkett - and also "By Chance or By Design" by Denyse O'Leary - which is really related to the evolution/ID/creation controversy, but which also examines fairly significant faith/science issues. Other things worth exploring are Dava Sobel's "Galileo's Daughter" (historical reconstruction) and Brecht's "Life of Galileo" (a play which uses Galileo as a metaphor).

    The bottom line is that science is world-view-neutral - but a lot of people are pushing (at the moment! Right now!) for only methodological materialism to be considered science (which would have surprised Galileo, as well as Kepler, Newton, Maxwell, Copernicus ... and indeed most of the people who built science).

    This controversy is bang up-to-date with the current discussions about ID - you could write books on it, let alone undergraduate papers.

    By Blogger Paul (probably - maybe Liz), at 10:33 am  

  • Hey Bec
    long time no talk...i just wanted to that was quite insightful and good on ya for standing up for what you believe in and for being strong. you did what alot of people wouldn't. cheers,

    By Anonymous Matt Mackay, at 6:58 am  

  • I do believe that science is the bigger prove that there's a God. Its all too perfect to have been made by itself. Once you start studying you realise that...

    Realy great post!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:41 am  

  • anonymous, who are you?

    By Blogger Bec, at 2:36 am  

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