Who is authorized to accept scientific theories ?

(The picture is from - The Universe of Galileo and Newton, By Bixby, William, 1966, p.83)
In order to understand the investigation process and Galilei's trail we recommend to look at - Lexicon Galileo's trial.

The development of a geocentric theory raised an important question : Should the Church intervene and reject natural theories?

This question was related to the significance of interpretations of the scripture. There was an opinion that Acceptance of the Church interpretation of Scripture with regard to the movement of the sun, does not mean that one should ban a scientific theory which says other things, so long as that theory makes no attempt to interpret the Scripture. However, those supporting the prohibition pointed out that anyone who says that the earth moves round the sun is in fact contradicting Scripture. Even when there is no explicit reference to verses discussing the sun's movement, it is obvious that anyone who thinks the sun is fixed at the center of the world, must explain those verses in a way which contradicts the official interpretation of the Scriptures.

What is the significance of rejecting a scientific theory on the basis of religion?. A conflict between faith and human knowledge might place religion in a difficult position when more and more people realize that the theory is correct, and come to the conclusion that religion is wrong. The Catholic Church indeed found itself in this position when it was found that the earth revolves around the sun. The difficulties involved in a conflict between faith and human knowledge were raised in the discussion of the Copernican theory, among others, by Galileo himself.

Galileo based his attitude on the position of the Church Fathers, who claimed that clarifying the problems of the visible world of the senses was not a matter for the Church. Such problems properly belong to the realm of changing and uncertain human knowledge, and must not be confused with Divine knowledge, given to humans in Revelation through Scripture. Theories based on human knowledge may prove wrong, and then there is a danger that the faithful may think that the tenets of their faith are also untrue. For this reason, the Catholic Church endeavored to refrain from deciding on problems of natural philosophy.

This avoidance of stating the opinion of the Church was possible so long as no scientific theory conflicted with dogma. The geocentric theory is not one of the tenets of the Christian faith. However, the question of the right of interpretation, which is accorded only to the theologians of the Church, is a central one which touches on questions of faith. The Church viewed theology (the science of knowing God and His words) as the queen of the sciences, to which all other sciences are subordinate. If theologians determined that the earth does not move, the natural philosophers must propound only those theories which conform with this finding and reject all others. Some of the theologians claimed that the queen of sciences cannot yield before the discoveries of another science (for example, the finding that the earth moves).

This position was not acceptable to all. Others, among them Cardinal Bellarmine, thought that the interpretation of Scripture should be changed in keeping with scientific knowledge, but only after the natural sciences arrive at an absolute proof. Perhaps, this is the reason why the claim regarding the scientific refutability of the heliocentric theory precedes the claim that it is religious heresy in the decision of the theological committee convened on this matter in 1616 (See Prohibition of the Copernican Theory). The objections of the Aristotelian natural philosophers to the theory of terrestrial movement, were given considerable weight in the decision to prohibit this theory. Some historians claim that such philosophers pressured the Church to decide to prohibit subscription to the Copernican theory, thus embroiling the latter in the scientific debate of the era.

Barberini, Pope Urban XIII, claimed that, as opposed to Divine knowledge, man can by no means ever attain any certain knowledge of the world. Man can never be sure that he has found the real causes behind observed phenomena, only plausible reasons. He therefore claimed that science can continue to operate as long as it does not claim that its description portrays the world as it really is. The only certain description is that provided by Scripture. This approach restricts the ability of science to determine the true causes behind phenomena, but allows the natural philosophers (the scientists) enough leeway to continue to use their hypotheses.

Over the years, the Catholic Church gradually came to accept the heliocentric theory, long after it was scientifically proven. In fact, the Church eventually adopted Galileo's position, that they should not intervene in questions dealing with science. However, when the conflict between a scientific theory, Scripture and faith is more obvious, as was the case with Darwin's theory of evolution, many in the Church are unwilling to interpret Scripture according to the new theory. The resistance to Darwinism was and still is, stronger among the Protestant Churches, than in the Catholic Church. But this resistance is not shared by most of the faithful. There are many religious scientists dealing with the theory of evolution and various cosmological theories which claim that the world is milliards of years old, and they do not see any contradiction between these scientific claims and their religious faith.

Andrea / Mail / Home Page

KNOWMAGINE - http://muse.tau.ac.il/~vrmus