How to recognize a hidebound accommodationist

October 20, 2013 • 8:50 am

Just use the Galileo Test.

It’s the test I use to discern whether people will defend religion (or “belief in belief”) at all costs, regardless of the facts, or argue that there is no contradiction between science and religion.

Here’s how the test works:  just ask someone acquainted with Galileo’s dispute with the Church what, exactly, that dispute involved.

Faitheists, accommodationists, and theists will invariably say that religion played a trivial, or even no, role in that affair. It was about politics, or Pope Urban’s ambiguous relationship with Galileo, or Church intrigue—anything but religion. People who say this cannot be trusted to render a rational judgment on the role of religion, for they are blinkered.

If someone is honest, they’ll tell you that religion played a major role in this controversy, for Galileo was explicitly persecuted because his claims about the solar system contravened those of scripture.  Without that contradiction, there would have been no problem.

Now, there’s no denying that other factors exacerbated this dispute. In his dialogue, for instance, Galileo put the Pope’s defense of a geocentric universe into the mouth of the fool Simplicio. That wouldn’t have pleased Urban! But if you read the history of this episode—and I’ve now read quite a bit—the involvement of the scripture/science contradiction is strong and palpable. Cardinal Bellarmine repeatedly warned Galileo to stop contradicting Scripture, and even Pope Urban told Galileo to lay off overt heliocentrism. If there had been no Biblical text arguing for a geocentric universe, Galileo would not have been persecuted.

Unlike the Pope, this test really is infallible.


Note added in proof: Don’t forget that the Church finally admitted that it erred in condemning Galileo in 1992—359 years after they condemned him and centuries after we already knew that he was right and the Church was wrong!

98 thoughts on “How to recognize a hidebound accommodationist

  1. The argument I get back when I confront theists with the facts of the horrible things credited to religion and the church is, “Well that’s not MY church” or “My church isn’t like that”. To which I respond “How many turds have to float to the surface of the pool before you get yourself and family out of that pool?”.

    1. Or what I often hear, “I wasn’t taught that”. Well, pick up your bible and read it then & then ask yourself why you weren’t taught that.

      Often this “I wasn’t taught that” response comes when the believer says, “well, I don’t follow the old testament, I believe in what Jesus said” and then I say, “yes, he said “only through me” and “I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword””.

      1. Jesus was more overt than that:

        “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:17

        The Law, here refers to the Old Testament and all the laws of Leviticus and so on. Of course, modern Christians have their excuses for why they don’t sacrifice doves and lambs or any of the rest. Paul was already making those excuses in his letters. But the fact remains that in the story, the Jesus character says the law is the law while heaven and earth stand. This is a major reason to worry about Christians, because every now and then they read this verse, take it somewhat seriously, and start to think perhaps it’s time for some Joshua-like smiting or some other retrograde thing.

        1. ” Paul was already making those excuses in his letters.”

          Yes, Paul spends much of the NT undoing the work of Jesus, making the bible about helping the state and ones self rather than about helping the poor and needy.. I’d say most Born Agains are really Paulites rather than Christians.

          Jesus never rescinded The Law, but I’ve get to get a coherent response from a Christian about how much of the OT is still operative. They want their Ten Commandments but they don’t want to obey The Law of the OT.

          1. You’re on shaky ground here, because Paul wrote first and the gospels were written much later. So it’s more like, the evangelists spend much of the NT undoing the work of Paul.

    2. Or, put another way, how many have to float by before you stop calling it a pool and acknowledge it’s a sewer?

  2. The absolute highlight of my trip to Italy (and Florence in particular) was my visit to the Galileo museum, where I saw his preserved finger. I am positive which finger it is, and to whom it is being shown. That’s my story . . . .

  3. If someone is honest, they’ll tell you that religion played a major role in this controversy, for Galileo was explicitly persecuted because his claims about the solar system contravened those of scripture. Without that contradiction, there would have been no problem.


    I wonder whether such accomodationists also turn out to have a very sloppy definition of “religion” — either making it so broad that it includes all the politics, relationships, and historic background factors (so that implying that the specifically theological ‘religious’ aspect can be separated from what it’s embedded within is illegitimate) … or making the definition of ‘religion’ so narrow that it excludes anything other than a clear and specific mention of Galileo and his punishment right in the Bible (so that any action taken with a religious justification is just an arbitrary interpretation due to circumstances and not really ‘religious.’)

    Probably. From what I’ve seen accomodation is usually accompanied by re-definitions of common terms like “religion,” “faith,” “God,” etc. This makes it very hard to attack any of these things for their truth or validity.

  4. Jerry, I think you are being unhistorical (but then I suspect you of thinking I’m a hidebound accommodationist).

    The problem as I see it was not ONLY that Galileo was opposing Holy Writ and rejecting the relativist compromise that had actually been around for centuries (see al Biruni on heliocentrism), but MAINLY that he was challenging the Church’s authority to say what was, or what was not, consistent with scripture. And this just a century or so after Luther, at the height of Europe’s wars of religion.

    Does that make religion look better? I don’t think so. On the contrary, it reminds us that among the many evils of religion is the way it links to political power. (Some of us in Scotland are tryng to do something about that right now: Petition: End Church nominations to Scottish Education Committees

  5. There were quite a number of heretics burned at the stake. There is no controversy over this. Most were burned for embracing the wrong version of a fictional story. The equivalent of burning at the stake those who aver that Han shot first by those who assert that he did not. If someone will burn you over versions of fiction, who can doubt they’d burn you over “science” if it was sufficiently threatening to them?

    In any case, the very idea of burning people, jailing them, threatening, or even censoring them, for mere ideas, is the absolute opposite of everything that science is about. No one can justify those things in any instance and be a friend of science or, indeed, a true friend of man. At this very core level, religion is absolutely opposed to the very nature of science, for where science promotes the open expression and sharing of ideas, the questioning of every claim, religion promotes precisely the opposite and has, without question, at times resorted to shocking violence to enforce this taboo on questioning authority.

  6. > “If someone is honest, they’ll tell you that religion played a major
    > role in this controversy, for Galileo was explicitly persecuted
    > because his claims about the solar system contravened those of
    > scripture.  Without that contradiction, there would have been no
    > problem.”

    Birth-control, stem-cell-research as well
    plagued by Religious-dingbats-from-Hell.
    Their phantasy… trumps their rational.


  7. The waffling of convinced religionists when presented with fact is hard for me to take.

    Very bright Catholics that I have known have a plethora of mechanisms to deflect logic and history. They are lost to reason pure and simple.

    When people tell me that you must accomadate “people” to win converts to rational thought I think what they really mean is that to retain cordial interactions with older adults you must avoid discussion of the rational.

    Young people are different though. Direct speech and more aggressive argumentation actually works with younger folks.

    Older people for the most part, are set in their opinions and have well practiced defense strategies.

  8. I hate to rain on your parade – well, actually I don’t hate it at all.

    Galileo was prosecuted because he was an arrogant twit who succeeded in getting up the nose of important church officials, even the pope, who previously had supported him.

    The Ptolemaic system that his observations debunked was the work of pagan Greek philosophy before the church existed – hence “Ptolemaic” after the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt. The church adopted it because it was the standard scientific model of the time. (Just as evolution and long ages are standard models of this age.) It is not contained in the bible. n any case it had been nearly abandoned, and the current dispute was between followers of Copernicus and those of Tycho Brahe (who was geocentric, but argued that the other planets orbited the sun).

    Galileo was not disapproved by the church. On the contrary, he was honoured for his work, at first. The ones who opposed him were the contemporary scientists.

    In addition, Galileo was impossible to work with.

    “Koestler shows repeatedly that this personal aspect of many of Galileo’s battles made it impossible for other scientists to work with him.

    ‘Galileo had a rare gift of provoking enmity; not the affection alternating with rage which Tycho aroused, but the cold, unrelenting hostility which genius plus arrogance minus humility creates among mediocrities. Without the personal background, the controversy which followed the publication of the Sidereus Nuncius would remain incomprehensible.’

    Koestler adds more generally:

    ‘His method was to make a laughing stock of his opponent—in which he invariably succeeded, whether he happened to be in the right or in the wrong. … It was an excellent method to score a moment’s triumph, and make a life long enemy.’”

    Having made enemies like that, he was wide open to retaliation.

    “Under Pope Urban’s (VIII) predecessor and his successor no trial against Galileo would have taken place (see Theses 3 and 15). Galileo was the victim of the politics of Pope Urban VIII, who had been very much in favour of him earlier. We should not forget that in 1615, a first trial against Galileo before the Court of Inquisition was decided in favour of Galileo, because of benevolent expert evidence of the leading Jesuit astronomers.”

    “Galileo was prosecuted because of the political situation and his personal attacks on the pope, never for religious reasons. The pope had initiated the proceedings, while the Court of Inquisition calmed the whole matter down instead of stirring up the flames.”

    Galileo was also a victim of politics because of enmity between the pope and the Medicis, to whom Galileo was connected.

    These comments are taken from this paper by Professor Thomas Schirrmacher:

    1. According to Wikipedia,

      Galileo was found “vehemently suspect of heresy”, namely of having held the opinions that the Sun lies motionless at the centre of the universe, that the Earth is not at its centre and moves, and that one may hold and defend an opinion as probable after it has been declared contrary to Holy Scripture. He was required to “abjure, curse and detest” those opinions.

      Isn’t “heresy” by its very nature based on the idea of an inviolable religious Truth?

      Did anyone during the trials bring up or mention or quote the Bible?

      Drizzle your responses upon the multitude below.

      1. The very idea that there was a crime, “heresy”, stands by itself as indictment of religion as the enemy of the mind of man. The fact that some were burned on this pretense is a crime for which there can no excuse.

      1. Interestingly, itself actually redirects to the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). Thinking it’d be a nice symmetry if redirected to AnswersInGenesis I tried that, but redirects to the company iRobot that makes Roomba vacuum cleaners and other robots.

          1. You were right the first time. The link at the end of Mr. Longwinded was to and not to The former takes you Creation Ministries.

        1. Maybe they are reserving it for when creationism becomes mainstream science.

          I smell a conspiracy…

        2. Fear not, Schirrmacher’s pamphlet is unfailingly featured chez AnswersInGenesis, as it rightly should.
          Rather, Prof. Dr. Dr. Dr. Dr. h.c. Schirrmacher‘s, as modesty does not prevent him of styling himself in the German Professorenforum (where else?).
          An obnoxious and relentless creationist, he has hatched a remarkably forthright situation sketch and plan d’attaque for the Institute of Creation Research: “The German Creationist Movement” (google for it, I won’t link it). Therein, Prof. Dr. mult. Schirrmacher states:

          The international problem. Most Germans are not acquainted with international evangelical literature. … We must see that the German movement is too small to be independent. Resources from the Institute for Creation Research, for example, are necessary.

          The academic problem. I believe in Germany evolutionary thinking has infiltrated all of science more than any other country. The small creationist movement is still concentrating on the natural sciences, but history, sociology, education, ethnology, etc., are full of anti-Biblical thinking. German creationists are needed to present their views in these and other areas. Otherwise, there will still be the division of life into the Biblical area and the academic areas.

          (My emphasis.)
          His theological sophistication is best exemplified by this remarkable answer to the question: “Does the prohibition from eating blood and the prohibition from eating the meat of animals that have not been slaughtered or still contain their blood concern a ceremonial order of Jewish times which need only be a guide for our spiritual wisdom today, or are those prohibitions moral commandments still valid today without any changes?”

          There are three reasons why I believe the latter.

          First, the command was given first to Noah (Gen 9,4-5)3 before Israel existed.

          Second, the apostolic council prohibited the eating of blood and of unslaughtered animals (Acts 15:19-20): “… that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood”.

          Third, and of course of less power than those two biblical arguments, the early Church viewed Acts 15:20 as a valid prohibition.

          Indeed, an objective and unimpeachable authority on Galileo and the tension between science and faith.

    2. If by “Galileo was not disapproved by the church. On the contrary, he was honored for his work, at first. The ones who opposed him were the contemporary scientists.” you mean his life wasn’t threatened or that his death sentence wasn’t commuted to life in confinement, my BS hidebound accommodationist detector is going off bigtime. All too often science has made the church looked foolish and rightfully so. Its not what is learned , when it comes to the church, its “how does it effect us and our holy storybook”.

      1. It’a all about authority. All the toxic forms of religion have as their chief error being authoritarian. All other errors flow from this one. The author of Jesus and Mo, Author, said it well:

        “Most religion is based on one very bad idea. Not that there exists a creator god – that in itself is a pretty harmless concept – but that this creator god wrote a book.”

    3. It’s completely irrelevant why Galileo was actually persecuted. He was persecuted and threatened with a thought crime by a church that had at times burned people at the stake at least on the pretense of heresy. Whether their actual motives were other in this instance is beyond irrelevant. Any ideology that can support even idea of heresy, that there could be forbidden ideas, in any shape or form, is antithetical to the very nature of science. Any ideology that can consider heresy a criminally punishable offense is an enemy of all man. Any ideology that will burn even a few people alive on the pretense of such thought crime is inexcusably wicked.

      Only when you acknowledge the inherent evil of the idea of “heresy”, of the compounded evil of making it a crime, of the absolute wickedness of anyone burning anyone for such a crime, can you even begin to claim to be on the side of science or even man.

      1. Even if the Church acted for political reasons, it decided to masquerade them in religious justifications.

        The very best that can be said is that the church at the time felt that the best way to go after it’s political enemies… was to claim religious motivations. Which means that religion is a useful tool in oppressing people you don’t like. More useful than the secular power they wielded.

        It’s like the defense of Hitler. Maybe Hitler was an atheist, who was just pretending to be religious to get people to go along with him. It wouldn’t change the fact that Hitler felt that it would be easier for him to commit genocide by pretending to be a christian, which is just as damning of the religion.

    4. ““Ptolemaic” after the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt” – oh dear!

      But actually, you’re reinforcing my own thesis here, if not necessarily Jerry’s; as every word you write shows, the issue was not dogma as such, but the power conveyed by the right to define dogma.

      and if everyone impossible to work with was shown the instruments and condemned to life imprisonment …

    5. Do you suppose a xtain theologian will be an unbiased source?

      I’ll grant that an account of this affair from a theologian won’t necessarily be untrustworthy, but when the account is full of gratuitous insults like “mediocrity”, well, it hardly comes across as impartial.

    6. This is bad enough to make me rise from my sick bed, no matter what.

      … hence “Ptolemaic” after the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt…

      Mr. Elphick, where are the days when religious apologists at least knew their Classics? Let me unsnarl your timeline.
      The Ptolemaic system is named after Claudius Ptolemaeus, or Klaudios Ptolemaios, of Alexandria.
      The last king of Egypt to bear the name Ptolemaios was #XV, Ptolemaios Philopatōr Philomētōr Kaisar, aka Caesarion, son of Cleopatra VII and, according to his mother, also of Julius Caesar. Caesarion was aced in 30 BCE, presumably on the orders of Octavian. Egypt became Rome’s Iowa. This was a full 120 years before the birth of our geocentric Claudius Ptolemaeus.
      The mainstay of Thomas Schirrmacher’s pamphlet is Arthur Koestler’s 1959 charge, “Sleepwalkers”. Never mind the considerable body of scientific and scholarly material on l’affaire Galileo published since, which Schirrmacher does not even acknowledge. As the essential Galileo scholar, Canadian historian of science Stillman Drake noted, Koestler’s foregone conclusion was that scientists were “intellectual giants, moral and spiritual dwarfs” [my paraphrase]. “Sleepwalkers” reflects mainly Koestler’s bias; to his discredit, Koestler tried his worst to belittle Galileo’s insights and achievements.
      Maurice A. Finocchiaro, a scholar who, over nearly four decades, has compiled and critically analysed a vast amount of documentary material on Galileo and his trials (Galileo and the Art of Reasoning (1980), The Galileo Affair: A Documentary History (1989), Galileo on the World Systems: A New Abridged Translation and Guide (l997); Retrying Galileo: 1633-1992 (2005)), concludes unequivocally:

      In 1633 the Inquisition condemned Galileo as a heretic and banned his Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems. His alleged heresy was twofold, namely to believe that the earth revolves around the sun and that the Bible is not a scientific authority. The condemnation was the outcome of a trial occasioned by the book’s publication in 1632 and the climax of a dispute started in 1613, when he had criticized the biblical objection to Copernicanism in a letter to Benedetto Castelli. The controversy involved at least two issues, as one may glean from the just-mentioned heresies stated in the Inquisition Sentence [Favaro 1890-1909, vol. 19, p. 405]. One was the cosmological issue of the behavior of the terrestrial globe in physical reality; the other was the methodological (but also theological) question of the relationship between science and the Bible.

    7. I recommend that everybody should read “The Sleepwalkers” by Arthur Koestler to which I believe you are referring.

      Unfortunately, you slightly damage your arguments by referring to the wrong Ptolemy. The Ptolemaic model is named for the Alexandrian astronomer Claudius Pltolemy (c90 – 168).

  9. This is good, thanks, It will work a lot better than my current method which is simply to ask, “Are you a stupid accommodationist?” I have not found a single accommodationist by this method.

    1. It’s like asking people if they are fundamentalists. You’ll never get a “yes” answer, which says a lot more about the regard in which the word “fundamentalist” is held nowadays than it does about the person asked.

      1. I remember seeing an article pointing out how fundamentalists have tried to adopt the label ‘evangelical’ and now they’re angry that fundamentalist and evangelical are both looked at bad.

        Needless to say, the article took a “Rose by any other name…” stance on the situation.

        1. I always describe myself as an ex-fundamentalist, even though at the time I self-described as evangelical. In fact (yes, I’m really embarrassed/distraught/disgusted by my past) I even defined an evangelical as “a fundamentalist who was a nice person”.

          Yes, a rose by any other name. Or, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck… There are probably some fundamentalists out there who are nice people; there sure as helium are a *lot* of evangelicals who aren’t.

  10. The indictment against Galileo starts-
    ‘Whereas you, Galileo, son of the late Vincenzio Galilei, of Florence, aged seventy years, were denounced in 1615, to this Holy Office, for holding as true a false doctrine taught by many, namely, that the sun is immovable in the center of the world, and that the earth moves’

    I’ve granted faith heads that it was politics rather than religion and then asked them why the seven cardinals who signed this lied. Incoherence ensues.

    1. +1

      Even more to the point, how is it that “holding false doctrine” is a crime for which you could even be accused? The existence of such a crime IS the very essence of the church’s offense here. The mere fact that such a charge exists at all stands by itself as proof that the church and science are fundamentally incompatible. It matters not for what cynical reason they applied it in this or any other case or whether the officials involved were applying it correctly or falsely. It wouldn’t even matter if ALL of the church’s persecutions, burnings, and tortures were purely political or personal. So long as they do not repudiate the idea of heresy itself they have set themselves against science.

  11. “this test really is infallible”
    Nope. I don’t have any inclination to accommodate religion and science – I give myself a 7 on the scale of Dawkins. Still I think the Galilei trial trivial for the religion-science conflict. I date the conflict much later, at the end of the 19th Century. Because, you undoubtedly have heard of him, Darwin.
    Moreover I find it peculiar when self-appointed skeptics hail Galilei as a martyr and systematically neglect Giordano Bruno – a spiritual guy who actually was burned.
    Smells like confirmation bias.

    1. Bruno is my favorite example. Whether he was burned for science or not is irrelevant, he was burned for ideas, something that only an absolutist view such as comes from religion can possibly justify. This absolutist authoritarianism is, all by itself, the proof that religion, or at least all the flavors that hold that there can be such a thing as “heresy”, are the sworn enemy of human knowledge.

      1. Yet Stalin could also punish heretics, and Soviet biology felt the effects for a generation.

        We need to be careful when claiming that religion has a monopoly on such evils. But it certainly helps.

        1. Totalitarian regimes seem to me to be like state religions. The difference is religious fervor and all it brings seems to spread further and last longer. Perhaps this is because vengeful gods last longer then evil humans.

        2. Certainly. I’d never claim that what people normally call religion has a monopoly absolutist authoritarian dogma. Only that many prominent religions are clear examples of the nasty type.

        3. You should look up Bertrand Russell’s characterization of Soviet communism as a religion.
          Cruel persecutions have been commoner in Christendom than anywhere else. What appears to justify persecution is dogmatic belief. Kindliness and tolerance only prevail in proportion as dogmatic belief decays. In our day, a new dogmatic religion, namely, communism, has arisen. To this, as to other systems of dogma, the agnostic is opposed. The persecuting character of present-day communism is exactly like the persecuting character of Christianity in earlier centuries. In so far as Christianity has become less persecuting, this is mainly due to the work of freethinkers who have made dogmatists rather less dogmatic. If they were as dogmatic now as in former times, they would still think it right to burn heretics at the stake. The spirit of tolerance which some modern Christians regard as essentially Christian is, in fact, a product of the temper which allows doubt and is suspicious of absolute certainties. I think that anybody who surveys past history in an impartial manner will be driven to the conclusion that religion has caused more suffering than it has prevented.

          1. Interesting! It seems as if Steven Weinberg was heavily influenced by this when he wrote (one of my favorite quotes, from Facing Up, pp. 255-256):

            “Religious readers may object that the harm in all these cases is done by perversions of religion, not by religion itself. But religious wars and persecutions have been at the center of religious life throughout history. What has changed, that these now seem to some people in some parts of the world to be only perversions of true religious belief? Has there been a new supernatural revelation, or a discovery of lost sacred writings that put religious teachings in a new light? No—since the Enlightenment there has been instead a spread of rationality and humanitarianism that has in turn affected religious belief, leading to a wider spread of religious toleration. It is not that religion has improved our moral sense but that a purely secular improvement in our moral values has improved the way religion is practiced here and there.”

        1. Sure, and Galileo is a fine example and very well known and a much better scientist than Bruno too, and that accounts for the attention paid to him over Bruno. One does not have to imagine any other bias. I was just saying that personally, though, I really do invoke Bruno more often than Galileo. To me, it is easier to be caviler about having a book banned and being under house arrest than being burned alive, so I personally tend to use the example of Bruno when talking to people because… burned alive! For having an unapproved idea actual fire was lit below him and he was burned in the fire until he died. You just have to let that soak in to see how deeply, wickedly, opposed to the mind of man religion can be. It matters not whether Bruno’s heresy was science, or correct, he was burned for having an imagination. Bruno’s case may be less specifically science-vs-religion, but it’s clearly thought-vs-religion. Can anyone really say that religion is so deeply opposed to thought as this but is the friend of science? Of course not. So I think we should widen our nets considerably and remind the religious of all of those who were burned, tortured, killed, and persecuted for thought crimes, whether science thought or other, which is the antithesis of anything science is about.

    2. Accomodationists don’t deny evolution took place. On the contrary, they always support it. But they insist that there is no necessary conflict between science and religion as long as it’s possible to fit scientific theories inside of a religious framework well enough.

      Just use the Galileo Test. It’s the test I use to discern whether people will defend religion (or “belief in belief”) at all costs, regardless of the facts, or argue that there is no contradiction between science and religion.

      My own test for accomodationism is less subtle.

      I ask “Do you think there is no contradiction between science and religion and that people like Richard Dawkins need to stop attacking faith from a scientific standpoint?”

      If they answer “yes” then ooooh … I got ’em!

      1. I’ve got to admit that I really don’t have a d*g in this fight; my personal beef (undoubtedly based on my personal history) is not with accommodationists (you, Jerry, and many others are doing a fine job of showing how and why they are wrong; they may be idiots, but at least they’re not flying planes into buildings, lynching homosexual teenagers, or teaching fairy tales in school) but with YEC fundamentalist theocrats.

        However, for the record, in response to the claim: “you CAN believe in god AND science” my reply is as follows:

        Well, actually, no you can’t, or at least not without airtight compartmentalization of one’s mind.

        First of all, science and religion have different methods of acquiring the content which they accept as true; science relies on empiricism and is falsifiable; religion on faith and authority, and is not. Second, science and religion have different content, which can be seen by comparing the contents of textbooks in biology, chemistry, physics, and astronomy with the contents of the bible (bats aren’t birds), koran, or book of mormon. Third, science has a way of adjudicating any disputes that arise among its adherents; religion does not, which accounts to a great degree for its history of violence and intolerance.

        Religion is the *only* reason why people do not accept the findings of science in general, and evolution in particular; I’d refer you to Jerry Coyne’s paper “SCIENCE, RELIGION, AND SOCIETY: THE PROBLEM OF EVOLUTION IN AMERICA” available as a free download at

        1. Very true. Le Maitre is often cited as a deeply religious man who was a scientist, but he openly stated he kept his science and religious beliefs well apart. How you do that is beyond me and you have to wonder what else he could have done if half his brain wasn’t bogged down in nonsense.

          1. Science does owe a great debt to such split minds but the religion of such minds in no way is responsible for the science.

            Lemaitre is to be applauded for speaking out against attempts draw theological conclusions from scientific premises. Would that were the rule rather than the exception.

            I don’t actually think split minds make any difference to the level of scientific attainment. His full mind was on science when he was doing science I would suggest.

            Neither is it true that religion is the only reason that people are prepared to deny the clear findings of science.

            1. I should add that science obviously can have implications for the interpretation of biblical stories. Many of which cannot be construed literally – as Galileo appreciated.

    3. Indeed, Galileo and Bruno should be spoken of together. They were interrogated in the same room. Galileo knew well the implications of that fact. Bruno burned because he refused to recant his Copernican beliefs – and others objectionable to the Church.

  12. It is no longer legal for Christian religious authorities to confine, torture, or execute heretics (it is possible one might present a creditable claim Russia & Uganda provide instances of exceptions).

    Christian authority in the USA continues to wield considerable ability to punish at will. Defiance of doctrine and dogma may result in estrangement from or total loss of family and friends, community ostracism, and livelihood opportunity. Accomodationism tacitly endorses these practices so inimical to the rights of man.

  13. Galileo got in trouble for arguing scriptures not for advocating for heliocentrism (a theory that at the time remained unproved, and Galileo never bothered to try and confirm it. Kelper held the same views and worked for a Catholic emperor and not one ever bothered him.

    The story is a lot more complicated than its usually portrayed. I found this long form article fascinating and informative:

    1. Galileo observed the full set of phases of Venus. This is not possible with a geocentric system where Venus stays close to the sun (as it does).

      This was a scientific observation that blew a huge hole in the Ptolemeic system.

      Kepler is hardly an individual to use as an example of happy compatibility with religion, as his mother was tried for witchcraft, and he had much personal upheaval from the 30 years war and the counter-reformation.

      Further, that Catholic emperor was such a nice guy as long as Kepler stamped his name on the Rudolphine tables, one of Kepler’s major works that took year of effort by Kepler (not Rudolf II, of course).

      Yes, there were other models like the Tychonic system being blathered about, but Galileo and Kepler were resolute heliocentrists who did the best work with the best data. They were vindicated, and those other models dwell in deserved obscurity.

      1. Even the Ptolemaic system violated Catholic doctrine, since it was at variance with the Aristotelian model, incorporated into church doctrine by Thomas Aquinas. Some of the earliest fans of Copernicus were members of the church who thought his system could do a better job of “saving the appearances” (which is to say describing observable phenomena) than the creaky Ptolemaic apparatus.

        It’s difficult to understand the sort of double-think involved; the nearest analogy is the mystery of the eucharist, in which the “accident” of the wafer is distinguished from the “substance”. Any improvement in forecasting the motion of the planets was welcome, but it could not be doubted that they actually moved in fixed, crystalline, concentric spheres.

        Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo, in contrast, actually thought the earth circled the sun.

        Galileo had a tangled history with the church. Although it was generally permissible to discuss heliocentricity as a theory, he was prohibited from doing so as the result of a previous conflict. He thought he could get away with the “Discourse”, but he misjudged his audience.

        He wasn’t the world’s nicest guy. Look at his correspondence with Kepler. Two guys passionately interested in exactly the same thing, both threatened by religious reaction, and Galileo ends it in a snit. Sure, Kepler was the sort of nut who speculated about everything: do the planets maintain themselves in the ecliptic plane by watching the sun? Still, would it have killed GG to send him a Christmas card?

        1. “Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo, in contrast, actually thought the earth circled the sun.”


          Even after Copernicus published his De revolutionises in 1543 it took a long time for astronomers to produce empirical evidence for the heliocentric hypothesis and you can believe that they tried really hard to do so. It was first 182 years later in 1725 that James Bradley first produced evidence to support annual rotation around the sun with his discovery of stellar aberration. It was more than two hundred years before the measurement of the earths [sic] shape produced indirect evidence for diurnal rotation of the earth around its own axis. It would take almost another hundred years before stellar parallax was discovered confirming annular rotation and Foucault produced direct proof of diurnal rotation with his pendulum.

          That is, Galileo was’t obviously right at the time. Tycho still might have been.

          And even if Galileo was, in the end, proven right about heliocentrism, Kepler, not Galileo, was right about the shape of the planets’ orbits.


          1. You keep harping on the same late developments as somehow key to the acceptance of heliocentrism, so that you can downplay the earlier work done by Galileo and Kepler.

            Galileo’s observations of the phases of Venus (and the Jovian moons) were easily explained by heliocentrism and impossible in the solar system as described by Catholic doctrine. This was a huge breakthrough and got him in trouble with people who didn’t like being told they were wrong.

            Kepler, didn’t just guess at ellipses, he painstakingly worked it out from observational data of the planet Mars — a process that took years and stands as one of the great achievements of a single man working with pen and paper only.

            Then Newton derived Kepler’s laws, and the cause of the tides, and the precession of the equinoxes all from the his laws of motion, in the late 1680’s. That was a scientific and philosophical earthquake, one of the most important events in human history. The vast majority of working scientists accepted heliocentrism at this moment, if they had not before.

            Foucalt’s pendulum was a “gee whiz that’s neat” moment, not the “At last the question is settled” moment you make it out to be.

            The Catholic church was not being open-minded until all the evidence was in; they were a pack of lying, book-burning, torturing hypocrites.

            The Tychonic system was never a serious contender; Brahe on his death bed begged Kepler
            to become a proponent of it; instead Kepler made use of Brake’s data and went where that data and his own brilliance led him.

            1. “You keep harping on… ”

              I do? I’ve mentioned it once.

              “… so that you can downplay the earlier work done by Galileo and Kepler.”

              No. Please don’t presume to divine my intent.

              “Galileo’s … Kepler, … Then Newton …”

              Well, quite. Shoulders of giants and all that.

              “Foucalt’s [sic] pendulum was a ‘gee whiz that’s neat’ moment, not the ‘At last the question is settled’ moment you make it out to be.”

              Hmm… I really don’t think experimental confirmations of theoretical predictions are generally regarded as “gee whizz that’s neat” moments, however widely accepted the theory is. (And not I; Thony Christie.)


    2. The history of ideas is always much more complicated than people imagine, and much less the affair of singular great men than is ordinarily supposed. I have no doubt that there are many factors in the Galileo situation. Still, it just continues to be shocking to me that the religious, or their soft defenders, think there is some complexity that can paper over the raw fact that, whatever the motivation, he was accused and tried of a religious thought crime. The mere existence of that crime proves the point of the incompatibility of their kind of religion and science.

    3. His trouble was the dogmatism of the Church and its willingness to threaten, torture and kill individuals who threatened its power but who lacked the power to defend themselves.

  14. Although politics played some role in the Galileo affair, the mere fact that he was put under house arrest by a religious institution who claimed his views were “heresy” shows that the relationship between science and religion is generally dicey although there is intermittent rapprochement.

    Ditto, gluonspring.

    Pope Urban was originally somewhat favorably (though cautiously) disposed towards Galileo, but this pope became unpopular and subject to various court intrigues and even feared he could be assassinated. He was being accused of being soft on defending the church. This caused Urban to shift his thinking towards Galileo.

    Effectively, just as today there are pro-evolution Christians like BioLogos types and creationist/ID Christians such as the Discovery Institute, Christians in Galileo’s day were a bit split as well. Urban’s shift in thinking may have been somewhat politically motivated. But he used his specifically !*religious*! authority to arrest Galileo and ban his writings!!

    I haven’t any idea if I have passed or failed the “accomodationist” litmus-test.

  15. I have a mild attachment to Anglicanism. This is more aesthetic and cultural that theological but I would still feel more comfortable if I could persuade myself that the prosecution of Galileo was the result of contingent personal and political factors without any essential connection to the Church’s attitude to science.

    Unfortunately, it seems clear the underlying cause was an attempt by the church to cling onto it traditional role as the ultimate arbiter on all questions concerning “heaven and earth and the visible and the invisible”.

    This does not mean that I am condemning the Pre-modern Catholic Church as a reactionary enemy of scientific progress. I believe that Latin Christianity with its central tenet of a universe governed by universal laws made science possible and this is why science only emerged in the Christian west.

    My own reading of Christian history is from the re-discovery of Aristotle by Catholic scholars in the 13th Century up to the time of Galileo the Church largely tolerated and even promoted the development by proto-science by natural philosophers. Hellenistic philosophy had been a major component of Christian doctrine from the start and this inclined Catholic theologians to value the harmonisation of faith and reason – on the Church’s terms of course.

    Also on a more Machiavellian level the Church recognised that it would lose all intellectual respectability in the eves of Europe’s educated elites if it set its face against the use of reason to investigate the natural world.

    Consequently the Church implicitly accepted that scientific progress was inevitable and endeavoured to incorporate generally accepted science such as the pagan Ptolemaic system into church doctrine. The Church did not seek to prohibit the dissemination of the latest scientific knowledge but in return expected natural philosophers such as Galileo to tactfully report their findings in a way that was consistent with the primacy of divine revelation.

    The Church felt that it had to take action against Galileo because he had contemptuously refused to allow it to cling to that fig leaf.

    So the underlying cause of the Galileo affair was not his combative personality or politics but a conflict of vitally important principle over science’s status as an independent enterprise free from the tutelage of the Church.

    While I am not willing to go along with a caricature of the Mediaeval and Early Modern Catholic Church as a bastion of benighted superstition it seems to me to be crystal clear that by the time of Galileo its attempts to maintain its pretensions to intellectual primacy in Europe had become a barrier to the development of science and the emergence of the Modern World.

    So despite the fact that I do not agree with everything Professor Coyne says in his blogs about science and religion I believe that any fair minded person is bound to agree that his analysis of the reasons for the Galileo affair is impeccably correct.

  16. Jerry, assuming this is for the book, have you thought about reviewing some of your historical perspectives with your colleagues at the Morris Fishbein Center for the History of Science and Medicine. I note, for instance, that Noel Swerdlow is relevant here: “My current project is a more or less comprehensive survey of astronomy in the Renaissance, concentrating on the most important astronomers of the period, Regiomontanus, Copernicus, Tycho, Kepler, and Galileo.”

    I’m not suggesting that you’re wrong, only that your case should be watertight! Just a thought… 


  17. BTW, _Galileo, Watcher of The Skies_ should be read to catch up to date on G. biography – earlier ones skate over other reasons why Galileo ticked people of *purely intellectually*. Of course, that’s irrelevant as to whether he should have been charged with a crime, etc.

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