Critics frequently point to the 1633 trial of Galileo Galilei as an example of Christians being anti-science. Unfortunately for the critics, the facts show just the opposite. However, the facts also reveal the Galileo issue was still being debated more than thirty years after man landed on the moon.
The Galileo affair was all about the question of whether the Sun and planets revolved around the Earth (geocentric model) or whether the Earth and planets revolved around the Sun (heliocentric or Copernican model). Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 - 1543) explained his heliocentric model in On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres. Galileo simply helped validate the heliocentric model with observations made through his new telescope.
Rather than denying it, the Church embraced Copernican theories to such as extent that in 1582 it replaced the Julian calendar with the improved Gregorian calendar, the one we use today. While the Church saw Copernican theories as valid, they hesitated acknowledging them because they seemingly refuted portions of the Bible such as:
So, the real problem was alignment of some Biblical interpretations with clearly visible physical reality.
Shortening the story… Galileo embarrassed Church leaders by telling them how to rationalize Copernican theories and the Bible. In 1633, he was ultimately found "vehemently suspect of heresy", sentenced to house arrest and had his writings banned. The Catholic Church eventually dropped the general prohibition on books advocating Copernican theories in 1758 but did not rescind the 1633 decisions against Galileo or his writings until 1820.
If you assume this ends the story…think again.
It wasn’t until 1992, that the Church recognized Galileo as “a brilliant physicist”. Then, in 2000, Pope John Paul II issued a formal apology for the mistakes committed in the Church’s 2,000-year history, including the trial of Galileo. A statue of Galileo was erected inside the Vatican walls in 2008…more than 400 years after the fact.
Galileo’s situation demonstrates the church is made up of humans who can be slow to react, but it is definitely not anti-science. In fact, there are scores of examples showing that the science that underlies modernity is a direct result of Christianity: medicine, hospitals, education & higher education, reading & writing for the masses, logical reasoning, experimentation and scientific investigation, empirical science and much more.
Can God create a stone so heavy even He cannot lift it?
People have lost sleep over this question for millennia. But, what’s the answer?
The question challenges God’s “omnipotence” (the unlimited power we ascribe to God). Actually it’s a dual challenge:
What seems like a quandary is actually faulty logic...the question is defective.
A basic principle of logic says one “thing” cannot be different “thing” at the same time. A square can’t be a circle. A blue circle can’t be a red circle. A circle can have blue areas and red areas but those areas can’t be both red and blue at the same time (and don’t get tricky by saying “purple”).
The stone question can be restated like this:
“If God has unlimited powers (to create a stone) can He also have something beyond unlimited powers?”
And, that’s the problem with the question. It presumes there can be something greater than “unlimited” such as unlimited + 1, super-mega-unlimited or whatever it might be called. Either something is unlimited, or it isn’t.
Isaac Asimov, a famous American writer and confirmed atheist, addressed a similar paradox:
“What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?”
Asimov concluded that in order to be "immovable" or "irresistible", either the force or the object must possess the majority of the energy in the universe. But, it’s impossible to have two majorities. The answer to the question, therefore, is that nothing happens because the irresistible force and the immovable object will never meet as they can’t exist at the same time. Another intriguing question ends up without an answer because of a faulty premise.
Intellectual exercises such as the “stone” question are fun and good for the brain. We should all be on guard for the illogical and impossible dressed up in pretty words that argue against God’s existence and omnipotence.
He continues to make stones as big as He pleases, when it suites His purpose. Sweet dreams!
This is a story about an ardent atheist (one not believing in deities) who is also strongly believed in some type of Intelligent Design (ID).
The theory of Intelligent Design suggests that Creation is not a random act of nature but required intelligent intervention to develop in so many otherwise inexplicable ways.
The late Sir Fred Hoyle was a renowned English astronomer who discovered how carbon (the basis of organic life) is created in the Universe. Sir Fred said of his discovery:
“Would you not say to yourself, "Some super-calculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature [random events] would be utterly minuscule. A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question."
In 1949, Hoyle coined the term “Big Bang” theory although he had a different theory for the origin of the Universe. He rejected evolutionary biologists’ theories that life originated on Earth and vehemently opposed the notion that life happened as result of random events. It may be his unusual flair for entertaining analogies to describe the improbability of random events that he is best remembered for:
“A junkyard contains all the bits and pieces of a Boeing 747, dismembered and in disarray. A whirlwind happens to blow through the yard. What is the chance that after its passage a fully assembled 747, ready to fly, will be found standing there? So small as to be negligible, even if a tornado were to blow through enough junkyards to fill the whole Universe.”
"At all events, anyone with even a nodding acquaintance with the Rubik cube will concede the near-impossibility of a solution being obtained by a blind person moving the cubic faces at random. Now imagine 1,050 blind persons each with a scrambled Rubik cube, and try to conceive of the chance of them all simultaneously arriving at the solved form”.
You gotta love this kind of stuff!
While Hoyle dismissed traditional notions of faith, he was pointedly adamant that life was not an accident:
“Once we see, however, that the probability of life originating at random is so utterly miniscule as to make it absurd, it becomes sensible to think that the favorable properties of physics on which life depends are in every respect deliberate .... It is therefore almost inevitable that our own measure of intelligence must reflect ... higher intelligences ... even to the limit of God ... such a theory is so obvious that one wonders why it is not widely accepted as being self-evident. The reasons are psychological rather than scientific.”
For Hoyle, Christianity did not offer enough specific answers about life and death, but he explained his own hopes for an afterlife: “What I would choose would be an evolution of life whereby the essence of each of us becomes welded together into some vastly larger and more potent structure. I think such a dynamic evolution would be more in keeping with the grandeur of the physical Universe than the static picture offered by formal religion.”
In many ways, it seems as though “Sir Fred”, as he was sometimes known, was much less an atheist than a questioning scientist. Accepting nothing on faith or open to chance, he clearly sought answers to the questions we all have…the source of the Design and purpose of the Designer. Hopefully, he has found those answers beyond what he imagined.