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The Type of Case Galileo Made

Contrary to the impression that is sometimes given, Galileo did not simply assert baldly that the earth went round the sun and that therefore the Church was wrong about science. Rather as a thinking and deeply concerned Christian he developed a highly nuanced position.

One of the most important documents in the case is Galileo’s letter eventually issued as ‘The Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina’. Recently K.J.Howell has analysed the type of case Galileo was making,Howell, KJ, ‘Galileo and the history of hermeneutics’ in Facets of Faith Volume 4: Interpreting God’s Action in the World, ed. by J. van der Meer (Lanham, Md., University Press of America,...drawing a parallel with the arguments of Augustine about the reading of the Book of Genesis, as follows:

  1. distinguishing matters of science from matters of faith - Galileo begins from the dictum that Scripture was given to show how to go to heaven rather than how the heavens go. But if it is not conceded that science and biblical interpretation are separate, Galileo’s fallback is

  2. that the interpretation of Scripture should not go against demonstrated truths in science. But if his opponents will not concede either that Copernicanism is a demonstrated truth, or that such truths can oppose a Scriptural text (such as the description in the Book of Joshua of the sun standing still only by the mighty action of God) and still be true, then Galileo has a second fallback, that

  3. actually Copernicanism is closer than literal Scripture than the earth-centred model of the solar system.

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate
Source: God, Humanity and the Cosmos  (T&T Clark, 1999)

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