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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Mythbusting: John Lennox and the Galileo myth

In a Crisis ( book review, Logan Gage looks at John Lennox's God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?, and suggests that the Catholic Church has a Galileo complex:

Terrified by the historical narrative of the Church's resistance to and persecution of science, Christians are averse to challenging "scientific" claims. "Complex" is an apt description, too: a group of unconscious impressions, not a well-thought argument.

That's certainly too bad, because so much utter nonsense gets sheltered under the label of "science". Anyway, he argues,
Correcting this historical picture -- the Galileo story in particular -- is one of the great virtues of John Lennox's God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? The very notion of a science-religion conflict is largely the invention of a few prominent (though now discredited) 19th-century historians. Galileo's persecution is the linchpin of this tale.

In reality, Galileo -- a believer in God and the Bible -- received the support of many Jesuits and the disapprobation of many secular Aristotelians, who aroused clerical hostility. Galileo -- whom the Church never tortured, whatever conspiracy theorists say -- lacked diplomacy and seemed to provoke beyond necessity. It is a nuanced tale, hardly confirming the "conflict thesis."

The book I most recommend in this area is the wonderful biography, Galileo's Daughter, by Dava Sobel. You'll see the real Galileo there, a devout Catholic with three kids born out of wedlock (yes!). His clever elder daughter steals the show, but don't let that deter you.

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