Galileo, Copernicus, and the Condemnation of the Church

The common wisdom is that Copernicus and Galileo came along and proposed the theory that the earth revolved around the sun, and that the church condemned Galileo for teaching the Copernican theory. As it turns out, this is quite a stretch historically speaking. It is often used to condemn the church as being backwards scientifically. The reality is that heliocentricity was not actually the issue with Galileo. The idea of the sun being the center of the universe was proposed long before Copernicus by Aristarchus of Samos in the third century B.C.

Owen Barfield, in his book Saving the Appearances, argues that quite a different issue was at stake. The issue was the nature of scientific theory itself. He writes, “It was not simply a new theory of the nature of the celestial movements that was feared, but a new theory of the nature of theory; namely, that, if a hypothesis saves all the appearances, it is identical with truth” (pp. 50-51). The importance of this can hardly be exaggerated, since the whole course of modern scientific inquiry has reached levels of hubris scarcely imaginable to the Medieval mind. Is scientific theory fact or theory, in other words? Galileo was the first to propose that scientific theory could be equated with fact, and for that he was persecuted by the church. And with good reason.

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16 Comments

  1. Roger Mann said,

    November 21, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Is scientific theory fact or theory, in other words? Galileo was the first to propose that scientific theory could be equated with fact, and for that he was persecuted by the church. And with good reason.

    Excellent point! The “scientific method” is inherently irrational and can never discover the truth about anything, as it relies upon the logical fallacies of induction and asserting the consequent. The atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell put the matter this way:

    “All inductive arguments in the last resort reduce themselves to the following form: If this is true, that is true: now that is true, therefore this is true. This argument is, of course, formally fallacious. Suppose I were to say: ‘If bread is a stone and stones are nourishing, then this bread will nourish me; now this bread does nourish me; therefore it is a stone and stones are nourishing.’ If I were to advance such an argument, I should certainly be thought foolish, yet it would not be fundamentally different from the argument upon which all scientific laws are based.”

    And Karl Popper, one of the twentieth century’s greatest philosophers of science, wrote:

    “First, although in science we do our best to find the truth, we are conscious of the fact that we can never be sure whether we have got it….our knowledge, our doctrine is conjectural;… it consist of guesses, of hypotheses rather than of final and certain truths.”

    Thus, using the “scientific method” to judge God’s Word (which is commonplace today) is asinine, to say the least. The following quotes from Vincent Cheung’s article, A Gang of Pandas, sums it up quite well:

    “This is what the entire scientific enterprise amounts to: first, it is a systematic repetition of the fallacy of affirming the consequent, and second, it is a systematic application of the false conclusions so obtained…”

    “In fact, from even a simple analysis of science, there is no way that a scientist can claim to have any rational contact with reality at all. And certainly, he would have no right to call the Christian irrational…”

    “There is no rational justification for saying that there is any truth at all in science. The inherent irrationality and even epistemological impossibility are built into its assumptions and method. There is no way to justify empiricism, induction, and the scientific method…”

    “Science is essentially, pervasively, undeniably, incurably, and often arrogantly, irrational. To believe that it can discover truth is nothing other than superstition…”

  2. Andrew McCallum said,

    November 21, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    Lane,

    My understanding is that Galileo was a faithful Catholic to his death and was no less convinced of the harmony of theology, philosophy, and science as were the theologians of the Inquisition who condemned him. Where Galileo and his accusers parted company was over certain aspects of Aristotelean cosmology which had so dominated Medieval thought. But while it is certainly true that Galileo was used by later philosophers and scientists to justify cutting science loose from its Medieval moorings, I don’t think we can lay the blame directly on Galileo.

    I would agree that the RCC theologians of this era were afraid of a new theory about theory as Barfield states (and rightfully so), but I would say that they were also afraid of a new cosmology. The old-fashioned Aristotelean philosophies could not absorb the new way of thinking about the world that Galileo’s thought represented.

    I would also add that although it was a sad chapter in the history of both theology and science, I don’t think that the theologians of the Inquisition can be faulted too much here. They were just children of their age as we are of ours.

  3. Jeff Cagle said,

    November 21, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    Roger, I would want to put three points up against the charges of irrationality.

    (1) Pragmatically: When you get in your car and turn the key, do you expect it to start, or to turn into a butterfly?

    If the former, then you have engaged in inductive reasoning. “Irrational” or not, there is something to science that goes beyond mere guesswork. Well beyond.

    (2) Theologically: If science is unable to get at approximate truths, are we not left with a Gnostic world in which the physical world is merely an illusion?

    (3) Logically: If you go through and systematically eliminate all arguments whose foundation is inductive, where do your axioms come from? And what language do you use to communicate the arguments that are left?

    For language is learned inductively. The meanings of words ultimately go back to the words you learned as a child, observing and imitating.

    Induction makes the world go round.

    If you dislike this state of affairs because it does not guarantee mathematical certainty, then I join you in wishing for something better. On the other side of the eschaton, we can have that something better. For now, there’s induction and deduction, hand-in-hand. Theology and exegesis alike rest on Scripture, whose contents are known inductively.

  4. November 22, 2010 at 9:32 am

    “Science is a collection of useful falsehoods.” – Gordon Clark.

    Being a scientist myself (mathematical physicist), I would heartily agree that the scientific method never arrives at truth the same way the deductive method does. And it doesn’t hold a candle to the Bible. But that doesn’t mean that science isn’t useful.

    Reply to Jeff @ 3:

    (1) So the car situation is one in which the inductive method can give you a useful result (that result being that with most modern, reliable cars, you don’t even have to think about whether the car starts or not – so you can think about something else, right?). Science has a great predictive value, precisely because we believe that God created the universe with laws that we don’t believe are changing willy-nilly. That reflects God’s immutable character.

    (2) “Approximate truth”? I’m not a philosopher, but that doesn’t sound right to me. Maybe “approximation to the truth”? Even there, we’re dealing with some ambiguities that the physicists aren’t sure can be solved at the moment. Just take a look a quantum mechanics and the inherent uncertainty involved. The so-called “orthodox view” of quantum mechanics, for example, would claim that an electron doesn’t even have a well-defined position or momentum until you make a measurement. And of course, there would be errors in the measurement, etc.

    Your statement, “If science is unable to get at approximate truths, are we not left with a Gnostic world in which the physical world is merely an illusion?” assumes there is no way to arrive at truths about the physical world other than science. But surely the Bible does give us a great deal of information about the physical world, right? A lot of incarnational, anti-Gnostic knowledge, I think.

    (3) Not really a qualified enough logician to answer here.

    Cheers.

  5. Ron said,

    November 22, 2010 at 10:15 am

    Adrien,

    I appreciate your post – very much.

    Roger – Let’s say that there is one clock in the world that is the standard of time. In other words, let’s assume that it indicates the “true time.” Now let’s say we were to hook up a digital transmitter to the clock that would output the time to a series of data acquisition systems all running in parallel. Would all of the systems record the same time at any exact instance? No. How can we arrive at the true time then? Some might take the median time of all the times recorded and call it the true time. Someone else might take the arithmetic mean, whereas someone else the mode. Let’s say we were to conclude that at a particular instance the true time was 12:00 noon +/.000000000000000000000000001 milliseconds. How many points of time can fit between the variance? Well an infinite number of course. Accordingly, what is the probability of one knowing the true time? Well 1/infinity of course. Well, what is 1/infinity? Well zero of course. Consequently, no matter what the time is, nobody knows it!

    Finally, induction always operates under the formal fallacy of asserting the consequent. It would be misleading, however, to say that inductive reasoning is always fallacious. Rather, by repeated tests through asserting the consequent a veracity of belief can be obtained. “If A, then B; B therefore, A” is of course fallacious. However: “If A, then B; B therefore, A would appear to have more veracity…” is of course the basis for science and indeed valid. To say that science cannot yield specific truth has great shock value but all such a statement really reduces to is that induction is not deduction, which is no great discovery – or at least it ought not be. Some have argued that induction can “prove” a truth value of a projection with some true degree of variance. This however is false, since to “prove” the truth value of any variance would require one to first “assert the consequent!” For instance: “If the variance of any projection has been proved by certain means, then by implementing those means to this set of circumstances I prove the truth of the variance. I have implemented those means to this set of circumstances, therefore, I have proved the truth of the variance.” The fallacy is obvious. Again, science can only show how things might appear; we may not say that it is “true” that things will appear as they have in the past. And to say that it is true that things “might” appear a certain way, is to say that it is true that they might not. As for variances, all we can say is that it would appear, based upon the past, that variances are rational to maintain when arrived at inductively. However, we cannot even arrive at a truth value for the variance without asserting the consequent. Nonetheless, a variance can have veracity just as that which it surrounds can have veracity.

    Ron

  6. Ron said,

    November 22, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Jeff – as well, great post. It saddens me though how “Clarkians” bring reproach upon their hero, whom I’ve grown to appreciate on many levels.

    Ron

  7. Roger Mann said,

    November 22, 2010 at 11:47 am

    Jeff,

    With all due respect, your comments simply confirm what I originally wrote in my first post.

    Pragmatically: When you get in your car and turn the key, do you expect it to start, or to turn into a butterfly?

    I expect it to start. But so what? I still have no rational basis to conclude that my car will start when I turn the key. Indeed, my car has often not started in the past when I turned the key (e.g., dead battery, no gas, bad ignition). And how do I “know” as a fact that it won’t turn into a butterfly when I turn the key? Just because it hasn’t turned into a butterfly in the past when I turned the key doesn’t guarantee that it won’t this time. Perhaps aliens from outer-space will zap it with a laser beam that turns it into a butterfly? Perhaps God will decide to miraculously turn it into a butterfly. From an empirical standpoint, what has happened in the past can never guarantee what will happen in the future. Period.

    If science is unable to get at approximate truths, are we not left with a Gnostic world in which the physical world is merely an illusion?

    No, we are left with a world where we cannot “know” whether it is an illusion or not based upon the presuppositions of empiricism and the scientific method. We only “know” as a fact (i.e., as a statement of truth) that the world is not an illusion because the Lord has revealed, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

    If you go through and systematically eliminate all arguments whose foundation is inductive, where do your axioms come from?

    Since an “axiom” is a proposition that is not proved or demonstrated but considered to be self-evident, its truth is taken for granted and serves as a starting point for deducing and inferring other truths. Thus an “axiom” by definition is not and cannot be derived through induction.

    And what language do you use to communicate the arguments that are left? For language is learned inductively.

    So Adam learned how to understand what God said to him inductively rather than through direct revelation?

    Then [after He had created man in His own image] God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)

    Theology and exegesis alike rest on Scripture, whose contents are known inductively.

    One can never inductively discover that God’s Word is true. That “axiom” can only be known by direct revelation from God. This is the Christians first principle or starting point. That’s why we carefully compare Scripture with Scripture and deduce the truths He has so kindly revealed to us.

  8. Jeff Cagle said,

    November 22, 2010 at 11:50 am

    Adrian: I think your reply to (1), with which I fully agree, expresses what I was getting at in (2).

    We believe as Christians that God’s character is orderly; thus, we have reasonable expectation of finding order in creation — and thus, we do not despise induction, but welcome it.

    The Gnostic, by contrast, considers the physical world to be illusory and deceptive; thus, any inductive patterns I might see today could be overthrown tomorrow.

    So let’s take even a Biblical truth about the physical world: Jesus rose bodily from the dead.

    Cut out induction, disallow any propositions that are not proved by the rigor of logic. How do I know even that the words ουκ εστιν ωδε ηγερθη γαρ καθως ειπεν (Matt 28.6) actually mean “He is not here, for he is risen just as he said”, or that the subject of that verse is Jesus and not some other random person, or that those words are actually part of the original text of Matthew, or even (horror!) that the next time I pick up my Bible, that those words will still be there?

    None of those facts is guaranteed by logic; all are reasoned inductively or based on principles inductively derived. When we cut out that which is known by induction, even the resurrection disappears in a poof of logic.

    A world in which induction is nothing more than “guesswork” becomes a “Cartesian nightmare.”

  9. Jeff Cagle said,

    November 22, 2010 at 11:58 am

    Adrian: “Approximate truth”? I’m not a philosopher, but that doesn’t sound right to me. Maybe “approximation to the truth”?

    Yes, that’s what I meant.

  10. Roger Mann said,

    November 22, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    Ron wrote,

    How many points of time can fit between the variance? Well an infinite number of course. Accordingly, what is the probability of one knowing the true time? Well 1/infinity of course. Well, what is 1/infinity? Well zero of course. Consequently, no matter what the time is, nobody knows it!

    Which proves my point! Science is inherently irrational and can never discover the truth about anything! Which is also why Karl Popper, one of the twentieth century’s greatest philosophers of science, wrote:

    “First, although in science we do our best to find the truth, we are conscious of the fact that we can never be sure whether we have got it….our knowledge, our doctrine is conjectural;… it consist of guesses, of hypotheses rather than of final and certain truths.”

    Those are Karl Popper’s words, not mine. Science consists of “guesses, of hypotheses rather than of final and certain truths.” Thus, if you understand more about the scientific method than he does, your argument is with him, not me.

    Finally, induction always operates under the formal fallacy of asserting the consequent.

    Correct. Which is why science is inherently irrational and can never discover the truth about anything! That’s my whole point.

    It would be misleading, however, to say that inductive reasoning is always fallacious.

    So, induction “always operates under the formal fallacy of asserting the consequent,” but it is misleading to say that “inductive reasoning is always fallacious?” Ok, if you say so. I don’t see anything irrational in that conclusion!

    Rather, by repeated tests through asserting the consequent a veracity of belief can be obtained. “If A, then B; B therefore, A” is of course fallacious. However: “If A, then B; B therefore, A would appear to have more veracity…” is of course the basis for science and indeed valid.

    If A only “appears” to have more veracity (i.e., truth), then the scientific method can never discover the truth about anything, and I have been right all along.

    To say that science cannot yield specific truth has great shock value but all such a statement really reduces to is that induction is not deduction, which is no great discovery – or at least it ought not be.

    While I agree that it “ought not be,” the fact is that science is almost always passed off as a deductive “truth” in our modern culture. So it most certainly needs to be emphasized. I thought that was the entire point of Lane’s article.

  11. Jeff Cagle said,

    November 22, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    JRC: And what language do you use to communicate the arguments that are left? For language is learned inductively.

    RM (#7): So Adam learned how to understand what God said to him inductively rather than through direct revelation?

    He may well have had some direct revelation — but you and I did not. We learned our language the way all humans do: by observation and pattern-matching.

    RM (#7): I expect it to start. But so what? I still have no rational basis to conclude that my car will start when I turn the key. Indeed, my car has often not started in the past when I turned the key (e.g., dead battery, no gas, bad ignition). And how do I “know” as a fact that it won’t turn into a butterfly when I turn the key? Just because it hasn’t turned into a butterfly in the past when I turned the key doesn’t guarantee that it won’t this time. Perhaps aliens from outer-space will zap it with a laser beam that turns it into a butterfly? Perhaps God will decide to miraculously turn it into a butterfly. From an empirical standpoint, what has happened in the past can never guarantee what will happen in the future. Period.

    I agree on all counts. Now what? Do we (a) give up on induction because it cannot guarantee truth, or (b) recognize its limitations and move forward?

    The benefit of (a) is that it means that our truths are necessarily true — if we can guarantee our axioms. The cost, however, is that we overplay the uncertainty in our lives. You and I don’t live as if our cars will turn into butterflies. You don’t live that way. Your practice does not match your epistemology.

    The further cost of (a) is that you are forced into the position of denying the role of induction in your reasoning. And that’s particularly the case as you reason from Scripture.

    Where did you get your Bible? How do you know that the Bible in your possession is a reliable translation? Based on a reliable critical text?

    Both the translation and the text were generated by a combination of deduction and induction — whether you’re a Textus Receptus guy or otherwise.

    So even if you practice strict deduction from the text of Scripture (skipping over the issue of how you learned language to begin with…), you still and all are relying on the inductive conclusions of others as your axiomatic starting point.

    I suspect that we will not get past the tip of the iceberg here, so I beg your indulgence to leave this topic with a final thought:

    Galileo was charged with denying Scripture. In the end, however, it was not Scripture but rather Aristotelian science that had taught that the sun moves round the earth in 24 hrs. This reminds us of the danger of confusing the Word of God with the word of man: we attach the authority and certainty of God’s Word to the message of man.

    Likewise here: Nothing in Scripture directly states that deduction is the only kind of permissible reasoning; and instances of approved induction abound in Scripture. Could it be that you’ve attached the authority of God to a particular man-made methodology?

  12. Ron said,

    November 22, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    Roger,

    You’re making a fool of yourself.

    I still have no rational basis to conclude that my car will start when I turn the key. Indeed, my car has often not started in the past when I turned the key (e.g., dead battery, no gas, bad ignition).

    You’re confusing what can be known with what can be rationally maintained. You do believe but do not know that your car will start if your car has been starting of late. The question is whether a belief can be rational. Tell me Roger, do you irrationally put gas in your car or do you do so due to a rational belief?

    “And how do I “know” as a fact that it won’t turn into a butterfly when I turn the key?

    You believe it won’t turn into a butterfuly because you’re not the idiot you pretend to be. How’s that? :)

    I just met my monthly quota of dealing with Clarkians who do not appreciate Clark.

    Ron

  13. Ron said,

    November 22, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    “I agree on all counts. Now what? Do we (a) give up on induction because it cannot guarantee truth, or (b) recognize its limitations and move forward?

    Jeff, I must believe you went too quickly with your answers to RM. Certainly you do not agree that Roger has no rational basis for concluding that his car will start. Induction yields “strong “and “weak” conclusions.

    Ron

  14. Jeff Cagle said,

    November 22, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    Ron, point taken. I took Roger to mean “rational” as in “deductive”, and I would agree with him on that.

    But yes, I agree with you that anyone who seriously believes that his car has equal likelihood of starting, or else turning into a butterfly, is in for a world of disappointment.

  15. Vern Crisler said,

    November 22, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    “Galileo was the first to propose that scientific theory could be equated with fact, and for that he was persecuted by the church. And with good reason.”

    Huh? Galileo was objecting to what would now be called instrumentalism. He believed we could obtain truth. IOW, he believed in the truth-value of scientific theories, not just in their functional-value — as Bellarmine, modern positivists, and Gordon Clark (!) believed.

  16. Ron said,

    November 23, 2010 at 8:13 am

    Jeff,

    Yea, I would say that there is no question Roger is confusing some things. He writes: “Science is inherently irrationall and can never discover the truth about anything!” That means, it is irrational to take prescription medicine because it can never prove to relieve and ailment. The glaring absurdity in Roger’s statement is due to the fact that he won’t say but he believes it all to well from experience – that veracity may be inferred through induction. When some people make the discovery that induction is not deduction they often make sweeping and imprecise statements, such as this one: “So, induction always operates under the formal fallacy of asserting the consequent” but it is misleading to say that “inductive reasoning is always fallacious?” To which I already noted – “by repeated tests through asserting the consequent a veracity of belief can be obtained. ‘If A, then B; B therefore, A’ is of course fallacious. However: ‘If A, then B; B therefore, A would appear to have more veracity…’ is of course the basis for science and indeed valid.” Note that the conclusion is not A is true, but rather that A appears more probable than ~A! Roger critiques this observation when he says “If A only ‘appears’ to have more veracity (i.e., truth), then the ‘scientific method can never discover the truth about anything…” But that truth has no bearing upon the persistent assertion that science is irrational – he states: “Science is essentially, pervasively, undeniably, incurably, and often arrogantly, irrational.” And he also states: “I have no rational basis to conclude that my car will start when I turn the key. Indeed, my car has often not started in the past when I turned the key (e.g., dead battery, no gas, bad ignition).” Roger would have us believe that it is irrational to think someone is calling from home when the home number appears on the cell phone display. That is because he believes that anything that cannot be known is irrational to believe.

    “And how do I “know” as a fact that it won’t turn into a butterfly when I turn the key?”

    This is, of course, is quite a different claim than that which says it is irrational to believe that one’s car won’t turn into a butterfly. In any case, I suppose we can know that the car won’t turn into a butterfly if we can know that creation of life from non-life was a one time event, but if some want to think that they “have no rational basis to conclude” that they probably won’t have to fly to work on the back of a butterfly, I guess I can live with that. I just wouldn’t want such a person teaching children.

    Ron


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