The Church and Science

The Church and Science

Church and science discussions always seem to follow the same tired pattern. They don't go much beyond a few personalities from hundreds of years ago (Copernicus, Galileo and Bruno) and focus on only one discipline (astronomy). 'Everyday Science' and the most active disciplines in modern scientific research are ignored. Maybe its time to stop ignoring these disciplines and the scientists who contributed to them. Maybe it is also time to pay attention to science , as it is understood today and as it is conducted today (see Modern Science).

What's Wrong with These Pictures?

Commonplac Science

The items in the montage above are commonplace because of science. The wide choice of affordable produce you find at a supermarket is largely the result of science, including advances in genetic theory and cell theory. When we take antibiotics to kill a 'bug', we can thank modern medicine and germ theory. The electronic devices that we use everyday are the result of a long chain of scientific and technological advances. Church and science discussions ignore the science of the commonplace. That means ignoring the discovery of 'wonder' drugs ( see Jesuit's Bark), the creation of new disciplines ( e.g. genetics, acoustics ) and numerous discoveries and technological advancements(e.g. osmosis, Mendel's Laws, first global geomagnetic survey...).

Map of Science

The map of modern science above (taken from Eigenfactor-Map of Modern Science) suggests that good places to start a discussion of church and science might be Cell Biology, Medicine or Physics. That is not what happens. They typically start and end with the tiny node that is Astronomy and Astrophysics (e.g. Galileo, Copernicus). If we were to choose our examples based on the modern practice of science, there would probably be dozens of obscure discoveries and scientists that are more important than all of Galileo's and Copernicus's astronomical works combined (see Abbe Nollet and Osmosis).

Word Cloud - Scientific Citations

There is a disconnect with early science as well. The word cloud above shows the most commonly cited scientists from various European reference books from about 100 years after Galileo's death ( see Galileo's Contemporaries). If astronomy was as important as we are led to believe, we would expect at least one of Galileo, Kepler,Copernicus or Bruno to be in the word cloud.

The Galileo Affair

The Galileo Affair is the linchpin of most church and science discussions. The story revolves around Galileo's advocacy of the Copernican Model and heliocentricity. Today we know the planets of the solar system revolve around the sun (in a general sense). We also know that the Copernican Model that Galileo advocated did not work any better than any of the other models of planetary motion and probably never could [_1_] . This is because Galileo never accepted Kepler's elliptical orbits; Galileo was stuck on circular orbits. During Galileo's lifetime there was no scientifically valid proof of heliocentricity either! That came about 100 years after the Galileo Affair (see Copernicus and Stellar Parallax).

The obsession with the Galileo Affair highlights the weakness of many church and science discussions. If one event from 400 years ago is all we need to know, then a lot of science will be ignored. That includes almost all the science that affects us in a typical day. The discussions also fail in their treatment of the science behind the Galileo Affair. They rarely address the 'goodness of fit' of the Copernican Model . Any modern scientist would find this odd for a discussion of a predictive model. Many of the discussions are also rife with myths (see The Galileo Myths ).

The Rest of the Story

The goal of these pages is to give a better glimpse of the big picture than personality-based discussions. Modern Science and The Scientific Method presumes that intelligent discussions of church and science should start with a discussion of modern science. Pages on modern scientists such as Gregor Mendel, Abbe Nollet, Francesco Redi and Alfred Wegener follow on this theme. The Calculatores describes how the calculatory tradition so important to modern Western science had its origins well before the Scientific Revolution. Galileo's Battle for the Heavens presents several of the "missing bits" from discussions of the Galileo Affair. Galileo's Contemporaries and Galileo's Contemporaries Timeline illustrate how Galileo was not working in a vacuum. The discovery of a remedy for malaria was an important discovery during Galileo's time (see The Jesuit's Bark). Galileo narratives consistently ignore another contemporary, Johannes Kepler.Finally, The Real da Vinci Code explores the censorship of Pierre Duhem, a historian of science who had discovered important advances in science originating in the Middle Ages.

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Copyright Joseph Sant (2017).
Cite this page.

1. Babb, Stanley E.,, Isis, Sept. 1977, Accuracy of Planetary Theories, Particularly for Mars,, , pp. 426-34
In this article Stanley Babb compares the predictions of the Copernican and Ptolemaic models against the actual planetary positions using computer-based statistical analysis. The results did not show a dramatic difference between the two systems, but the earth-centred system (the Ptolemaic) did perform better for planets such as Mars.