Learning from History? The Absorption of Scientific Worldviews into Theology

(system) #1
I wonder if some Christians have fully grasped the significance of the Galileo trial because, at times, the science and Christianity debate has a strong sense of déjà vu about it.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/learning-from-history-the-absorption-of-scientific-worldviews-into-theology

(Brad Kramer) #2

The author (@TJReddish) is available to respond to thoughtful, on-topic comments and questions.

(Albert Leo) #3

Dr. Reddish, I like to think that God might enjoy being surprised. Is that being foolishly anthropomorphic?
Al Leo

(Larry Bunce) #4

"The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty."
That is the most interesting statement I have seen on BioLogos.
It would make the efforts of most televangelists become counter to promoting faith, which many of us already believed to be the case for other reasons.
Something in the article made me think of Jesus’ statement from the Sermon on the Mount, “Consider the lilies of the field.” A modern form of “God will provide” would have had Jesus setting quotas for his disciples to collect from the multitudes to insure that tomorrow would be provided for.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #5


Thank you, Dr. Reddish, for sharing your work.

I would like to push back just a bit where you wrote:

The difficulty with the heliocentric worldview was that it displaced humankind from the center of the universe. Humankind was now drifting on one of the solar system’s many planets orbiting the sun. This was perceived as debasing to humankind …

I’ve been reading recently from other sources that dispute this characterization of how the geocentric view was understood several centuries ago; the main author I have in mind is Danielson in his “The Great Copernican Cliche

In short, he argues (persuasively to me) that we mischaracterize medieval thinkers when we imagine them as prizing the earth’s perceived “centrality” in the universe as being a place of honor.

I am curious as to whether you dispute their findings and if so, in your grounds for doing so. Thanks.

(Brad Kramer) #6

Good question, @Mervin_Bitikofer! I wasn’t aware of this issue. I know @TedDavis is traveling at the moment, but I’m sure he’ll want to comment on this question as well.

(Tim Reddish) #7

You made an excellent point, Mervin, and I may have been too poetical—but I think the essential point is still valid. For myself, I found the study of Richard J Blackwell most informative [Galileo, Bellarmine and the Bible, (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 1991)]. He argues that in the post-reformation climate—and post Council of Trent (1545-63)—there was a stronger sense of conservative literalism within the Roman Catholic Church in interpreting and defending scripture. Moreover, the 1616 trial was more about Cardinal Bellarmine’s own views, which were arguably more stringent than the official conclusions of Trent. In Bellarmine’s Controversies there is a section on ‘The Word of God’. Among other things he stated: “Scripture is the immediately revealed word of God and was written as dictated by God.”[1] Consequently Scripture is deemed “inerrant”, to use a more modern term. He continues:

“In Scripture there are many things which of themselves do not attain to the faith, that is, which were not written because it was necessary [for salvation] to believe them. But it is necessary to believe them because they were written…” [2]

That last clause is telling, and follows logically from the biblical authors being directly inspired by God—and God never lies or deceives. Since this was the view of Galileo’s chief opponent, there was inevitably going to be a clash of perspectives.

Bellarmine, like the Jesuit astronomers, was a highly learned scholar (and aware of Tycho Brahe’s alternative cosmology), but I think when he came to addressing this particular issue in the context of the day, he stuck to his conservative principles—favoring literal over non-literal interpretations. As you say, the non-movement of the earth on strict hermeneutic grounds was perhaps more important to Bellarmine than the theological significance of the place (honor) of humankind. It is a subtle point, but the two are not disconnected—as also in the case of evolution.

[1] Richard J. Blackwell,
Galileo, Bellarmine, and the Bible (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991), 31.

[2] Richard J. Blackwell,
Galileo, Bellarmine, and the Bible (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991), 32.

(Tim Reddish) #8

On God “being surprised” and “anthropomorphic language”! As you know, this is an ongoing theme between classical and relational theism. Traditionally, there has been stress on God’s transcendence (beyond space and time), with the classical attributes of immutability, omnipotence and omniscience. The pendulum is swinging and God’s immanence is in vogue, together with Trinitarian views that emphasize the God’s mutual indwelling, or “being-in-relationship”. The biblical view of God as person inevitably invokes anthropomorphic language. In brief: an immutable and impassive God is in a static state of being, whereas a relational God has more emphasis on divine becoming (e.g. God became the Creator; the Word became flesh, God will be all in all). In terms of God being “surprised”, then, that depends on God’s relationship with time – a fascinating, hot topic for another day!

(Albert Leo) #9

Yes, to the extent that God exists ‘outside of time’, he must then exist outside this Universe, which depends on time (even IF time in some of Einstein’s equations can have a negative sign). I could not conceive of Him loving me if my fate were foreordained. During my 90 yrs on this earth I have personally witnessed His presence here in this Universe and directly in my life. So, thankfully, my Christian Faith makes good sense, and attributes like immutability, omnipotence and omniscience are not so relevant.
Al Leo

(Tim Reddish) #10

“The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.” Larry says: “That is the most interesting statement I have seen on BioLogos.”

I am glad you find the statement powerful, and I stand by what I wrote! The issue of faith, doubt and certainty is—in my mind—confused in the thinking of many. Faith is seen as a virtue and to doubt is to sin, whereas, faith and doubt are two sides of the same coin. It is only from of my prior faith commitment that I am now in a position to doubt. Doubt, therefore, is a sign of faith! This is not only true for faith in God, but in trust within all human relationships, and an intellectual commitment to an idea or a cause. This links to St Anselm’s famous phrase describing theology: “I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand.” The outcome of our theological deliberations is not a sense of proof or certainty, but deeper understanding of the God to whom we are already committed in faith (i.e. “faith seeking understanding”). As you journey onwards, reflect on the words of Lesslie Newbigin:

“Both faith and doubt are necessary elements in this adventure [of knowing]. One does not learn anything except by believing in something, and—conversely—if one doubts everything one learns nothing. On the other hand, believing everything uncritically is a road to disaster. The faculty of doubt is essential. But… doubt always rests on faith and not vice versa.”[1]

[1] Lesslie Newbigin, Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 24-25; 105.


On Christmas Eve our last rector used to welcome doubters and remind everybody that doubt is part of faith.

(James McDowell) #12

Lovely surprise to see this stimulating piece by a longstanding friend! I was interested in the assertion about doubt and faith. I wonder if it is not valid in today’s intellectual climate to suggest that there may be more than one thing oppositional to faith, including proof, certainty (an interesting concept from the new Physics perspective), doubt, and disbelief (which might be regarded as a settled doubt).

On another point, I am intrigued by the reference to “divine becoming” and the matter of God’s relationship with time. Wondering about such things can lead us to discovery, to faith, to doubt, to worship.

(GJDS) #13

Often phrases such as “irritation of doubt” and “sense certainty” are appropriate regarding our response to facts and observations. Faith however, is more to do with how we receive the word of God and our response to it. This goes to a much deeper level, as it involves the heart, soul and reason of a human being. The interplay (and perhaps subjective conflict) stems more from how we live with such faith, and how we respond to the difficulties that we may experience in our lives, and in our interactions with other human beings, including those near and dear to us, and our neighbours, and our community.

(Tim Reddish) #14

Jim: In addition to the earlier response to Larry, if there is genuine certainty, then there is no necessity for faith. In the church context, and within some strands of apologetics, I question the merit of the (perhaps, pastoral) notion of seeking to eliminate doubt—a quest which I attribute to modernism. “Settled doubt” (or disbelief), as you put it, is really a faith commitment to an alternative viewpoint, even if is agnosticism.

Personally, I find the idea of divine becoming—as a counterbalance to diving being—a precious pearl to be discovered, one that richly enhances faith and worship.

(Albert Leo) #15

Is this the divine becoming that is part of the Process Theology being taught at the Claremont School of Theology?
Al Leo

(Dr. Ted Davis) #16

Ted just found an internet connection, for only a few minutes. Ted confirms Merv’s point about a classic misunderstanding of geocentrism: there is no evidence (that I am aware of) that Copernicus believed he was demoting humanity by moving the earth out of the center of the universe. That idea doesn’t appear until the mid-17th century, 100 years after his death. And, I second Merv’s recommendation of Danielson’s splendid article (linked in Merv’s comment).

(Dr. Ted Davis) #17

@Mervin_Bitikofer @Tim_Reddish

Concerning Bellarmine’s views, Tim is on target. I discussed this in some detail, including a link to Bellarmine’s letter to Fr Paulo Foscarini (the relevant primary source), in https://biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/galileo-and-the-garden-of-eden-part-1

(Tim Reddish) #18

Process Theology? Not necessarily, but Process Theology does come under the broader umbrella of Relational Theology. The way I see it, such thinking recognizes that God is, in a real, meaningful sense, functioning within time. God sovereignly chose to self-limit himself (kenosis) in this way for the sake of engaging in a loving relationship with us—to whom he has given genuine free will. Relationship inevitably involves sequence, give-and-take, maturation, and we naturally experience such dynamic events within time. And—I suggest—we struggle to make coherent sense of a loving relationship with a God who is deemed to be outside of time. This is merely a tip of the complex, nuanced, and, in some quarters, controversial theological and philosophical iceberg! I hope that helps…

(Dr. Ted Davis) #19

Actually, Galileo was tried only once, in 1633. When he went to Rome in 1616, it was entirely on
his own initiative, in an unsuccessful effort to prevent a committee headed by Bellarmine from issuing a formal declaration against heliocentrism. He had conversations with Bellarmine and some other officials, but he wasn’t on trial himself. The deliberations concerned three published books, none of which he had written (the authors were Copernicus, Paulo Foscarini, and Diego deZuniga).

A lot of sources speak about “two trials,” but they are mistaken to use that language.

(Tim Reddish) #20

I totally agree with Ted on this point. But such differentiation is often overlooked in triumphalist
renderings of the History of Science and the Galileo “affair”.