But Galileo!

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I am working on the second installment of my series on the Bible and evolution (see the first here), but in the meantime it would be good to address one of the most frequent arguments in criticism of those who reject evolution.  The argument goes like this: But Galileo!  I say, "The Bible does not allow evolution."  Critics reply: "But Galileo!"

The point of this criticism is that since the church was wrong in opposing the heliocentric theory of the solar system espoused by Galileo, Christians must also be wrong in opposing evolution.  Galileo taught, following Johannes Kepler, that the earth revolves around the sun, whereas the medieval church insisted that the sun circles around the earth.  The basis for the church's view was Joshua 10:12-14, where by God's will "the sun stopped in the midst of heaven" to allow Israel to complete its victory over the southern Canaanites.  Papal authorities in the 17th century branded Galileo a heretic because, they said, anyone who teaches that the earth revolves around the sun is in conflict with this teaching from Holy Scripture.

I certainly admit that the Roman Catholic Church erred in condemning Galileo's view (I have no problem saying that the pope is wrong!), and that they were wrong because they wrongly interpreted the Bible.  I do not believe, however, that this constitutes a valid argument against a biblical rejection of evolution, for the following reasons:

·         The Galileo incident does not prove that whenever Christians oppose scientific claims from the Bible that the Christians are wrong.  The Romanists condemned Galileo based on a misinterpretation of Scripture.  This does not prove, as is often insinuated, that to pit the Bible against science is inevitably to repeat the mistake against Galileo.


·         While it is admitted that the Roman Church misinterpreted the Bible in condemning Galileo's heliocentric writings, this does not prove that we are similarly misinterpreting the Bible in opposing evolution.  Indeed, this is the question that has to be determined from the Bible itself (and this is the whole point of my series of articles against evolution). 


·         The fact that we now can travel into space and conclusively prove that the earth revolves around the sun - showing that the papacy was wrong in the Galileo case - has no bearing on the question of evolution.   The debate between creation and evolution does not involve a physical question that can be observed from the proper position in the cosmos.  Rather, it involves the question of origins for human and other animal life, the answer to which is found in competing historical accounts, i.e. those of science and Scripture.


·         The Roman Church's error in using Joshua 10:12-14 to condemn Joshua involves a completely different category of interpretive questions compared to the debate over evolution.  Joshua 10 was a passage about Israel's victory over the Canaanites.  The point of the Bible saying that the "sun stopped in the midst of heaven" was not to provide a description of the relationship between heavenly bodies but to show that God supernaturally prolonged that day so that Israel could complete their conquest.  From the point of view of the earth it appeared that the sun stopped, but the Bible was not making claims regarding the relative motion of the earth vis a vis the sun.  In contrast, the debate over evolution involves biblical statements directly concerning the matter at hand.  Whatever we think of the disputed passages in Genesis 1 and 2, these are chapters the point of which is to teach about God and the events of creation.  We therefore are not illegitimately drawing conclusions from passages that do not address the question at hand, but rather passages that are directly addressing, in this case, the history of human origins.

This response to the "But Galileo!" objection does not end the discussion.  Rather, in setting aside this emotionally charged criticism we legitimize the discussion.  It is a fair question to ask, "Are we rightly interpreting Genesis 1 and 2 in opposing evolution?"  I hope in my articles to answer that very question.  Yet "But Galileo!" simply is not a helpful or accurate critique in response to those persuaded that in this case the Bible is right and the claims of science are wrong.

Posted January 13, 2015 @ 6:19 PM by Rick Phillips

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