Christian faith and reason

This is the promised second letter to the editor from today’s Financial Times. A reader from Berlin responds – beautifully – to Anjana Ahuja’s December 7th column “Echoes of Galileo in the populist retreat from reason”.

Sir, ….

Galileo Galilei actually spent his house arrest rather comfortably in one of the residences of the Medici family in Rome and later returned to his villa south of Florence to continue his work. If he had been “forbidden to propagate his beliefs”, as claimed in the piece, he would hardly have been able to finish the most famous of his works, Discorsi, which was published in Italian five years after the trial. What was demanded from Galileo in this famous trial, was not to revoke his claim that the sun and not the earth is the centre of the universe, as often claimed, in fact he was asked by Pope Urban VII (whose protégé he was!) to phrase his claims as a proposition only. Galileo rather haughtily insisted them to be a certainty. In contrast, the Pope acted with diligence, as scientific findings very rarely can be called certainties and generally only have value until improved or overturned by later generations. As it turns out, both were wrong, the Church and Galileo, as neither the Earth nor our sun are the centre of the universe.

The Galileo example is ill suited to illustrate the myth of a church hostile to science. For hundreds of years monasteries were the only centres of learning far and wide. ….

Were it not for devout Christians such as Grosseteste, Bacon, Albertus Magnus, to name just a few, Europe and America would never have become places where the sciences thrived and still strive like nowhere else in the world. Luther even held the view that our restless desire to get to the bottom of things is inherent in Christian mentality ….

Alexander von Schönburg, “Devout Christians who helped science thrive“, Financial Times, letter to the editor, 16 December 2016 (metered paywall).

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