Scientific Revolution: Document Analysis

Please prepare (note form is OK) the following questions for a short discussion on science and religion.

1) What are the scientists' specific ideas regarding the relationship between science and the Bible?

2) Could these scientific ideas be considered dangerous by the Catholic Church? Why or why not?

3) Martin Luther once said "Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has. It never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but...struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God. Do you think this is true? How would the scientists below respond to this statement?

4) What about the future?  Is there a way for science and religion to coexist?


Nicholas Copernicus

To The Most Holy Lord, Pope Paul III

The Preface of the Revolution of the Heavenly Bodies (1543)

I may well presume, most Holy Father, that certain people, as soon as they hear that in this book about the Revolutions of the Spheres of the Universe I ascribe movement to the earthly globe, will cry out that, holding such views, I should at once be hissed off the stage. For I am not so pleased with my own work that I should fail duly to weigh the judgement which others may pass thereon; and though I know that the speculations of a philosopher are far removed from the judgment of the multitude --- for his aim is to seek truth in all things as far as God has permitted human reason so to do --- yet I hold that opinions which are quite erroneous should be avoided.

Thinking therefore within myself that to ascribe movement to the Earth must indeed seem an absurd performance on my part to those who know that many centuries have consented to the establishment of the contrary judgment, namely that the Earth is placed immovably as the central point in the middle of the Universe, I hesitated long whether, on the one hand, I should give to the light these my Commentaries written to prove the Earth's motion, or whether, on the other hand, it were better to follow the example of the Pythagoreans and others who were wont to impart their philosophic mysteries only to intimates and friends, and then not in writing by word of mouth ...

These misgivings and actual protests have been overcome by my friends ... [one of whom (ed note: Osiander Rheticus)] often urged and even importuned me to publish this work which I had kept in store not for nine years only, but to a fourth period of nine years ... They urged that I should not, on account of my fears, refuse any longer to contribute the fruits of my labors to the common advantage of those interested in mathematics. They insisted that, though my theory of the Earth's movement might at first seem strange, yet it would appear admirable and acceptable when the publication of my elucidatory comments should dispel the mists of paradox. Yielding then to their persuasion I at last permitted my friends to publish that work which they have so long demanded.

That I allow the publication of these my studies may surprise your Holiness the less in that, having been at such travail to attain them, I had already not scrupled to commit to writing my thoughts upon the motion of the Earth. How I came to dare to conceive such motion of the Earth, contrary to the received opinion of the Mathematicians and indeed contrary to the impression of the senses is what your Holiness will rather expect to hear. So I should like your Holiness to know that I was induced to think of a method of computing the motions of the spheres by nothing else than the knowledge that the  mathematicians are inconsistent in these investigations.

Galileo Galilei

Science and the Bible:

"They Would Have us Abandon Reason" (1615)

To the Most Serene Grand Duchess Mother:

Some years ago, as Your Serene Highness well knows, I discovered in the heavens many things that had not been seen before our own age. The novelty of these things, as well as some consequences which followed from them in contradiction to the physical notions commonly held among academic philosophers, stirred up against me no small number of professors-as if I had placed these things in the sky with my own hands in order to upset nature and overturn the sciences.

Showing a greater fondness for their own opinions than for truth they sought to deny and disprove the new things which, if they had cared to look for themselves, their own senses would have demonstrated to them. To this end they hurled various charges and published numerous writings filled with vain arguments, and they made the grave mistake of sprinkling these with passages taken from places in the Bible which they had failed to understand properly, and which were ill-suited to their purposes.

Persisting in their original resolve to destroy me and everything mine by any means they can think of, these men are aware of my views in astronomy and philosophy. They know that as to the arrangement of the parts of the universe, I hold the sun to be situated motionless in the center of the revolution of the celestial orbs while the earth revolves about the sun. They know also that I support this position not only by refuting the arguments of Ptolemy and Aristotle, but by producing many counter-arguments; in particular, some which relate to physical effects whose causes can perhaps be assigned in no other way. In addition there are astronomical arguments derived from many things in my new celestial discoveries that plainly confute the Ptolemaic system while admirably agreeing with and confirming the contrary hypothesis. Possibly because they are disturbed by the known truth of other propositions of mine which differ from those commonly held, and therefore mistrusting their defense so long as they confine themselves to the field of philosophy, these men have resolved to fabricate a shield for their fallacies out of the mantle of pretended religion and the authority of the Bible. These they apply with little judgement to the refutation of arguments that they do not understand and have not even listened to.

First they have endeavored to spread the opinion that such propositions in general are contrary to the Bible and are consequently damnable and heretical. They know that it is human nature to take up causes whereby a man may oppress his neighbor, no matter how unjustly, rather than those from which a man may receive some just encouragement. Hence they have had no trouble in finding men who would preach the damnability and heresy of the new doctrine from their very pulpits with unwonted confidence, thus doing impious and inconsiderate injury not only to that doctrine and its followers but to all mathematics and mathematicians in general. Next, becoming bolder, and hoping (though vainly) that this seed which first took root in their hypocritical minds would send out branches and ascend to heaven, they began scattering rumors among the people that before long this doctrine would be condemned by the supreme authority.

They go about invoking the Bible, which they would have minister to their deceitful purposes. Contrary to the sense of the Bible and the intention of the holy Fathers, if I am not mistaken, they would extend such authorities until even m purely physical matters - where faith is not involved - they would have us altogether abandon reason and the evidence of our senses in favor of some biblical passage, though under the surface meaning of its words this passage may contain a different sense.

I think in the first place that it is very pious to say and prudent to affirm that the holy Bible can never speak untruth-whenever its true meaning is understood. But I believe nobody will deny that it is often very abstruse, and may say things which are quite different from what its bare words signify.

This being granted, I think that in discussions of physical problems we ought to begin not from the authority of scriptural passages but from sense­experiences and necessary demonstrations; for the holy Bible and the phenomena of nature proceed alike from the divine Word the former as the dictate of the Holy Ghost and the latter as the observant executrix of God's commands. It is necessary for the Bible, in order to be accommodated to the understanding of every man, to speak many things which appear to differ from the absolute truth so far as the bare meaning of the words is concerned. But Nature, on the other hand, is inexorable and immutable; she never transgresses the laws imposed upon her, or cares a whit whether her abstruse reasons and methods of operation are understandable to men. For that reason it appears that nothing physical which sense­experience sets before our eyes, or which necessary demonstrations prove to us, ought to be called in question (much less condemned) upon the testimony of biblical passages which may have some different meaning beneath their words. For the Bible is not chained in every expression to conditions as strict as those which govern all physical effects; nor is God any less excellently revealed in Nature's actions than in the sacred statements of the Bible.

From this I do not mean to infer that we need not have an extraordinary esteem for the passages of holy Scripture. On the contrary, having arrived at any certainties in physics, we ought to utilize these as the most appropriate aids in the true exposition of the Bible and in the investigation of those meanings which are necessarily contained therein, for these must be concordant with demonstrated truths. I should judge that the authority of the Bible was designed to persuade men of those articles and propositions which, surpassing all human reasoning could not be made credible by science, or by any other means than through the very mouth of the Holy Spirit.

But I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them.

Rene Descartes

The Discourse on Method (1637)

In place of the multitude of precepts of which logic is composed, I believed I should find the four following rules quite sufficient, provided I should firmly and steadfastly resolve not to fail of observing them in a single instance.

The first rule was never to receive anything as a truth which I did not clearly know to be such; that is, to avoid haste and prejudice, and not to comprehend anything more in my judgments than that which should present itself so clearly and so distinctly to my mind that I should have no occasion to entertain a doubt of it.

The second rule was to divide every difficulty which I should examine into as many parts as possible, or as might be required for resolving it.

The third rule was to conduct my thoughts in an orderly manner, beginning with objects the most simple and the easiest to understand, in order to ascend as it were by steps as to the knowledge of the most composite, assuming some order to exist even in things oral which did not appear to be naturally connected.

The last rule was to make enumerations so complete, and reviews so comprehensive, that that I should be certain of omitting nothing.

Those long chains of reasoning, quite simple and easy, which geometers are wont to con employ in the accomplishment of their most difficult demonstrations, led me to think that everything which might fall under the cognizance of the human mind might be connected together in a similar manner, and that, provided only one should take care not to receive anything as true which was not so, and if one were always careful to preserve the order necessary for deducing one truth from another, there would be none so remote at which he might not at last arrive, nor so concealed which he might not discover. And I had no great difficulty in finding those with which to make a beginning, for I knew already that these must be the simplest and easiest to apprehend; and considering that, among all those who had up to this time made discoveries in the sciences, it was the mathematicians alone who had been able to arrive at demonstrations—that is to say, at proofs certain and evident—I did not doubt that I should begin with the same truths which they investigated….

After this, and reflecting upon the fact that I doubted, and that in consequence my being was not quite perfect (for I saw clearly that to know was a greater perfection than to doubt), I [wondered where] I had learned to think of something more perfect than I; and I knew for certain that it must be from some nature which was in reality more perfect. [And I clearly recognized that] this idea. . . had been put in me by a nature truly more perfect than I, which had in itself all perfections of which I could have any idea; that is, to explain myself in one word, God. . .

Finally, whether awake or asleep, we ought never to allow ourselves to be persuaded of the truth of anything unless on the evidence of our Reason. And, it must be noted that I say of our Reason, and not of our imagination or of our senses: thus, for example, although we very clearly see the sun, we ought not therefore to determine that it is only of the size which our sense of sight presents; and we may very distinctly imagine the head of a lion joined to the body of a goat, without being therefore shut up to the conclusion that a chimaera exists; for it is not a dictate of Reason that what we thus see or imagine is in reality existent; but it plainly tells us that all our ideas or notions contain in them some truth; for otherwise it could not be that God, who is wholly perfect and veracious, should have placed them in us.

 Sir Issac Newton

Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687)


We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.

To this purpose the philosophers say that Nature does nothing in vain, and more is in vain when less will serve; for Nature is pleased with simplicity, and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.



Therefore to the same natural effects we must, as far as possible, assign the same causes. As to respiration in a man and in a beast; the descent of stones in Europe and in America; the light of our culinary fire and of the sun; the reflection of light in the earth, and in the planets.



The qualities of bodies, which admit neither intensification nor remission of degrees, and which are found to belong to all bodies within the reach of our experiments, are to be esteemed the universal qualities of all bodies whatsoever:

For since the qualities of bodies are only known to us by experiments, we are to hold for universal all such as universally agree with experiments; and such as are not liable to diminution can never be quite taken away. .  


From the University of Missouri, Kansas City Law School, Present day

The Evolution Controversy

Conflict between science and religion began well before Charles Darwin published Origin of the Species. The most famous early controversy was the trial of Galileo in 1633 for publishing Dialogue, a book that supported the Copernicun theory that the earth revolved around the sun, rather than--as the Bible suggests-- the other way around.

The so-called "Scopes Monkey Trial" of 1925, concerning enforcement of a Tennessee statute that prohibited teaching the theory of evolution in public school classrooms, was a fascinating courtroom drama featuring Clarence Darrow dueling with three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. However entertaining the trial in Dayton, Tennessee was, it did not resolve the question of whether the First Amendment permitted states to ban teaching of a theory that contradicted religious beliefs.

Not until 1968 did the Supreme Court rule in Epperson vs. Arkansas that such bans contravene the Establishment Clause because their primary purpose is religious. The Court used the same rationale in 1987 in Edwards vs. Aguillard to strike down a Louisiana law that required biology teachers who taught the theory of evolution to also discuss evidence supporting the theory called "creation science."

The controversy continues in new forms today. In 1999, for example, the Kansas Board of Education voted to remove evolution from the list of subjects tested on state standardized tests, in effect encouraging local school boards to consider dropping or de-emphasizing evolution. In 2000, Kansas voters responded to the proposed change by throwing out enough anti-evolution Board members to restore the old science standards, but by 2004 a new conservative school board majority was proposing that intelligent design be discussed in science classes.

In 2005, attention shifted to Dover, Pennsylvania, where the local school board voted to require teachers to read a statement about intelligent design prior to discussions of evolution in high school biology classes. Eleven parents of Dover students challenged the school board decision, arguing that it violated the Establishment Clause. After a six-week trial, U. S. District Judge John E. Jones issued a 139-page findings of fact and decision in which he ruled that the Dover mandate was unconstitutional. Judge Jones's decision was surprisingly broad. He concluded that "ID is not science," but rather is a religious theory that had no place in the science classroom. Jones found three reasons for his conclusion that intelligent design was a religious, and not a scientific, theory. First, he found ID violated "the self-imposed convention" of the scientific method by relying upon a supernatural explanation for a natural phenomenon, rather that the approach favored in science: testability. Second, ID is based on the same "contrived dualism" as creation science, namely its suggestion that every piece of evidence tending to discredit evolution confirms intelligent design. Jones found ID's "irreducible complexity" argument to be "a negative argument against evolution, not proof of design." Finally, Jones concluded that the expert testimony offered by the defendants in support of ID (generally relating to "irreducible complexity") had been refuted in peer-reviewed research papers.

Conflicts between science and religion will not end any time soon. In the future, legal conflicts between science and religion can be expected over theories such as "The Big Bang," which also undermines Fundamentalist beliefs about creation.

Who's What?

A CREATIONIST: A creationist is a person who rejects the theory of evolution and believes instead that the each species on earth was put here by a Divine Being. A Creationist might accept "micro-evolution" (changes in the form of a species over time based on natural selection), but rejects the notion that one species can-- over time-- become another species.

YOUNG EARTH CREATIONIST: A young earth creationist believes that the earth is nowhere near the 4.6 billion or so years old that most scientists estimate, but is instead closer to 6,000 or so years old, based on the assumption the Genesis contains a complete listing of the generations from Adam and Eve to historical times.

INTELLIGENT DESIGN PROPONENT: An ID proponent rejects the theory of evolution and, more generally, the notion that natural law and chance alone can explain the diversity of life on earth. Instead, the ID proponent argues--often from statistics--that the diversity of life is the result of a purposeful scheme of some higher power (who may or may not be the God of the Bible).

EVOLUTIONIST: An evolutionist accepts the Darwinian argument that natural selection and environmental factors combine to explain the diversity of life we see on earth. An evolutionist may or may not believe that evolution is the way in which a Divine Being has chosen to work in the world. Evolutionists divide into various camps, including PUNCTUALISTS (who believe that evolution usually occurs sporadically, in relatively short bursts, as the result of major environmental change) and GRADUALISTS (who are more inclined to believe that evolution occurs more evenly, over longer periods of time). The PUNCTUALISTS seem now to be winning the argument.