Fathers’ Rights

A Chicago Blog

Has Science Killed God?

Posted by madcap on October 19, 2008

Cross Posted on my new blog www.thoughtsongod.com

Norman Podhoretz traces, from the time of Galileo, the various conflicts and connections between religion and science.

“The single most important phenomenon of the millennium just ended is the dog that didn’t bark. But the second most important was the dog that did.

As to the dog that barked. It was, surely, the development of modern science. This process started not at the beginning of the millennium but halfway through it getting seriously underway with Copernicus in the middle of the 16th century and picking up steam in the early 17th. Yet in the four centuries since Copernicus proved that Earth revolves around the sun rather than the other was around, more has been learned about the natural world than was known in all the ages of human existence that came be fore them.

This seems, when one pauses to reflect on it, very odd. After all, there can be no doubt that some of the greatest intellects ever to appear on Earth were active 2,000 years ago and earlier. Among the ancient Hebrews and the ancient Greeks alone, there were thinkers who have never been surpassed in profundity, originality, vision and wisdom.

Some of these ancient peoples even applied themselves to mathematics and the sciences, and up through the Middle Ages their work continued to exert a mighty influence on Jewish, Christian and Muslim philosophers and theologians alike. Thus Scholasticism, the school of thought rejected by modern science (the “new philosophy,” in the parlance of the time) was almost as deeply rooted in the Greeks, especially Aristotle, as in the Bible. Indeed, the most formidable of the Scholastics, St. Thomas Aquinas, dedicated himself to reconciling reason (equated with Aristotle) and revelation (the Scriptures). And in the course of pursuing this enterprise, Aquinas had much to say about the physical nature of the universe.

What, then, can explain why most, if not all, of what these great minds thought they knew about the nature of the material world was wrong? Conversely, how did it happen that Copernicus, and then Kepler and Galileo (the two giants who came right after him), and those who followed in their footsteps all the way to the present day, got most, if not all, of it right?

One might imagine that so huge and consequential a question would be hard to answer. But no. Galileo himself answered it. The Scholastics, he clearly recognized, were interested only in explaining why things were as they were, and their explanations (with more than a little help from Aristotle) took the form of logical deduction from the truths they already possessed through revelation. Galileo’s revolutionary aim, by contrast, was to discover how things were by observing and measuring them.

Galileo never claimed that these new experimental procedures could uncover anything about the cause or the origin of the forces being measured and observed. But through such procedures, he could and did find evidence that the Scholastics, and Aristotle before them, were wildly mistaken about the physical universe. Speaking of phenomena that he had spotted through the telescope he built — phenomena that were ruled out by the prevailing Scholastic theory — Galileo declared: “We have in our new age accidents and observations, and such, that I question not in the least, but if Aristotle were now alive, they would make him change his opinion.”

Well, Aristotle might, but the professor at Padua was no Aristotle. He declined even to look through the telescope Galileo had built. Why bother? So far as he was concerned, nothing he might see could shed light on the human purposes it served.” Full article.

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