Galileo−A Christian of No Pretense

Galileo—a man of faith as well as science—is known today as the “Father of Modern Science.” He invented the pendulum, the thermometer, and the telescope—and through the use of the telescope, pioneered in the observation of galaxy constellations. Turning his telescope on the sky, he made some astounding discoveries. In complete contravention of accepted beliefs, he saw that the moon was not a smooth sphere, that Jupiter had moons, and that Venus had phases—indicating it orbited the sun. He was so exhilarated by these discoveries that he exclaimed, “I give infinite thanks to God, who has been pleased to make me the first observer of marvelous things.”

Even though prosecuted and convicted by the Roman Vatican Court, Galileo’s insistent pursuit of truth and loyalty to abide by Christian principles never waned from beginning to end. He pointed out succinctly that he could never find any conflicting doctrines between the realm of science and biblical truth:

“…it is because truth can never be defeated when it is always right. If the theories we find in the realm of physics are correct ones, all the answers must be validated without errors according to what the Bible says.”

“Holy Scripture and nature are both emanations from the divine word: the former dictated by the Holy Spirit, the latter the observant executrix of God’s commands.”

“No truth discovered in nature could contradict the deep truth of the Holy Writ.”

A Quest for Truth

Galileo believed that God is the Creator and Master of everything in the universe. Because God is perfect, the universe He created must have a perfect pattern. Part of this perfect pattern is found in the laws of mathematics. Galileo believed that nature is a book written by God using the language of mathematics. The mathematics of God exists in the universe, and mathematics can explain “God’s creation.” According to Galileo, mathematics is the fundamental way used by humans to know what nature is all about.

To Galileo, the purpose of knowing the realm of nature is to seek after truth, and thus to know more about God. The wisdom of mankind is limited. Human beings can never completely grasp the meaning of mathematical laws of the universe with their own understanding. However, it is possible for them to seek to understand mathematics in relation to deep investigative findings of nature in a practical way and verify their validity through empirical tests of science. Galileo firmly believed that truth is all about knowledge of God, and the study of science is the study of the creation of God to discover truth. Such convictions were the motivating force behind Galileo’s quest for scientific knowledge throughout his life.

“…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. He would not require us to deny sense and reason in physical matters which are set before our eyes and minds by direct experience or necessary demonstrations.”

To people who say they do not believe in God because they cannot see Him, Galileo asserted that what can be felt with our senses is merely a lower form of existence. There are higher forms of existence that simply cannot be seen or touched by our limited five senses. The Bible does not tell everything about the existence of Earth. One example is that the Bible never presents a theory of the movement of the universe. Such a theory is only discovered by human wisdom. What the Bible does say is that the wisdom of mankind cannot grasp the full meaning behind the biblical term “redemption.” The concept of “redemption” must be accepted by faith and faith alone. The Bible points out a way to find the Kingdom of God through “salvation,” but it does not explain how the clusters of stars move in the universe.

At Odds with the Church

The discoveries by Galileo of the hitherto unknown mysteries in the cosmos confirmed and exactly validated the previous findings of deceased Nicolaus Copernicus regarding his heliocentric theory as to how the day and the night of the universe functions. Galileo’s findings also forcefully nullified the erroneous hypothesis of Ptolemy’s geocentric theory—that the universe operates only according to what is happening on Earth and has nothing to do with the sky.

All the theoretical findings of Galileo are in total agreement with the realm of empirical science widely recognized today—science that needs to be validated with flawless evidences of logic. Galileo’s findings paved a solid foundation after his time for the high approval of the findings of the famed scientist Isaac Newton. Today, Galileo is revered as one of the founding pioneers in empirical science, and he is coined “the father of empirical physics.” Modern-day physicist Stephen Hawkins goes so far as to say, “The birth of empirical science must be credited to the thoughts contributed by Galileo.”

Unfortunately, Galileo’s published paper asserting his belief in “Heliocentric Theory” rather than “Geocentric Theory” placed him at odds with the belief held by the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Vatican Court ordered Galileo to repent of his misconception and to retract his advocacy of “Heliocentric Theory.” Galileo adamantly held to the truth of his theory, believing it was truth revealed to him by God. He did not want to yield to the forceful attacks from the Vatican Court. But the Court, believing Galileo’s beliefs were false doctrines against the Catholic religion, issued a verdict against Galileo in 1633. He was sentenced to life-long house arrest—never allowed to step out of his door again—to prevent him from further spreading false doctrines against the Roman Catholic Church. By 1638, Galileo, having lost much of his eyesight, was living in a state of destitution and remained so until his death in early 1642. His burial ceremony was held hastily and sloppily with few attendees.

A Public Apology

One year after Galileo’s death, Isaac Newton was born in the United Kingdom. Years later, Newton acknowledged that only because he stood on the shoulders of revered giants like the admirable Galileo was he able to accomplish so much in his lifetime. His monumental achievements—accredited to the positive influence of Galileo—won Newton popularity and high acclaim during his lifetime.

It was not until 1992 that Pope Paul II of the Catholic Vatican publicly delivered a speech apologizing for Galileo’s being falsely accused of a questionable misdeed that led to his prosecution and conviction by the Roman Vatican Court over three hundred years ago in 1633. With this public apology by the Pope, Galileo was declared innocent and acquitted, removing his bad reputation that haunted him in Catholic circles many centuries past.

Both Bible and Nature

Galileo believed that a scientist should at the same time love both the Bible and nature. Only people who believe the Bible is perfect truth can have the courage to challenge any grandiose theories this world can offer. Today, science views Galileo’s conflict with church hierarchy as a great triumph of science over religion: Science is king, nature is the Creator, and God (if He exists) is irrelevant. Galileo would not have viewed it thus, for his faith in the truth of God’s Word remained strong. He recognized that God—not nature—is King and Creator.

“To me, the works of nature and of God are miraculous.” Galileo

Dr. Tai L. Chow is a retired university physics professor who now resides in Monterey Park, Southern California. This article first appeared in Chinese in the July 2016 issue of “Chinese Today.” It has been translated into English by Philip Yu.

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