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Science And Catholic Church
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The Catholic Church and science; to many people there is not two more widely divergent ideologies. Unfortunately, bigotry towards the Catholic Church and poor education is the reason for the majority of these view points. This is not an opinion, but a fact. The influence the Church has had on Western Civilization and science is indisputable. From the founding of the University system, and the practice of law, to saving priceless intellectual properties and ideas during the middle ages, the Catholic Church was the major force behind all of it and more.

In the realm of science the Church has a huge footprint, but is regularly disparaged by the popular culture as being anti-science. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bring up the subject of Catholics and science and inevitably the Galileo affair will be mentioned. First, the simple fact that Galileo is almost always the “proof” brought up is reason enough to doubt the veracity of this charge. But what exactly is the truth about the Galileo affair?

To understand the Galileo situation you first will need a little background about Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543). He was a Polish astronomer of strong religious faith, who also consulted with the Church on occasion and was held in high esteem. He published a set of books on astronomy which relied heavily on the work of Greek astronomer Ptolemy (87-150), and was brilliant work. One area Copernicus deviated from Ptolemy was in putting the Sun at the center of our system instead of the Earth. Although this did cause some controversy, especially amongst Protestants, it was not until the Galileo case that this idea was formally censured.

A mathematician as well as an astronomer, Galileo was undoubtedly a brilliant man. With his telescope he made amazing discoveries about the surfaces of planets and moons, and discovered new moons for Jupiter. He also believed in Copernicus’s ideas about a sun centered system. In 1612 he published his own ideas and promoted the sun centered idea. At first the Catholic Church had no problems with his findings, seeing them as profound theories that actually better explained many astronomical issues. The subsequent controversy was actually quite simple. While many astronomers of the day agreed with Galileo (secular and even the famous Jesuit astronomers) they still needed more proof and thought it was still in the theory stage, not fact.

The problem of a sun centered system was that it appeared to contradict Holy Scripture. While there was differing opinions on the interpretation of the Scripture in question, Catholics were especially sensitive to criticism of not taking the Bible seriously enough. They did try to be flexible, encouraging Galileo to proceed with his studies and investigation, but to only call it a theory and not a fact. Galileo refused and still published and talked of a sun centered system as fact. He was subsequently censured and suffered a mild house arrest. The whole affair has been vastly overblown, Galileo went on to publish more important works and other Catholics also used the sun centered system as the prevailing theory in some of their work.

In conclusion, the Church should have used more tact concerning the whole situation and it is an embarrassment for the Church. Regrettably the whole overblown affair has been seized upon to paint Catholics in a bad light. The truth is that The Catholic Church has been at the forefront of many scientific discoveries and ideas throughout the ages. Science and the world are hugely indebted to the Church for its work and support of science and scientists.


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