Thursday, March 26, 2015

Galileo, Augustine and Vatican II

Could There Be Another Galileo Case?

Galileo, Augustine and Vatican II

Gregory W. Dawes
University of Otago, New Zealand


[1] Few scholars of religion seem familiar with the theological writings of one of the founders of modern science, Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642). In these writings, which deal with the interpretation of the Bible, Galileo tries to defend his espousal of Copernican astronomy against his critics. He does so by drawing a sharp distinction between questions of religion and questions of science, justifying this by claiming that he stands in a long tradition, one reaching back at least as far as St. Augustine (354 - 430). Galileo's position ought to be of considerable contemporary interest, for in our own day his strategy has become a common one, particularly among those who wish to avoid what Andrew Dickson White famously described as "the warfare between science and theology." Such writers argue that science and religion do not come into conflict because their areas within which they are competent differ. In the words of a recent work by evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, science and religion may both claim authority, but their areas of authority represent "non-overlapping magisteria".

[2] The purpose of this paper will be to re-examine Galileo's position and to establish just to what degree he could claim ancient precedent. In particular, I wish to ask whether Galileo's view can indeed find support in the writings of St. Augustine. The paper will go on to offer some reflections on the position of the Catholic Church in our own time, as expressed in the second Vatican Council's document on biblical interpretation, Dei Verbum. On the question of science and religion, does the Catholic Church now hold to the same position as did Galileo? Or does its teaching suggest the possibility of another apparent conflict between religion and science? In a word, could there be another Galileo case?