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Erroneously, Evolutionists Recruit the Galileo Affair to Their Service

Galileo Affair

Writing here the other day, I looked at a new book co-authored by theistic evolutionist Dennis Venema. As we saw, Venema was raised in an evangelical-creationist setting which equated evolution with atheism. This casting of evolutionists as nothing more than atheist rascals is ignorant. It is also dangerous for it leaves one without the understanding and tools to reckon with the real evolution. The result is sometimes a  flip to the other extreme: scientism and the Warfare Thesis.

The Warfare Thesis holds that religion, and Christianity in particular, often conflicts with and opposes scientific advances. It can be traced at least as far back as Voltaire with his 18th century mythical retelling of the Galileo Affair. Many later contributors embellished and established the myth that was eventually labelled the “Warfare Thesis.” Unfortunately this is precisely where Venema ended up.

After discussing his personal background, Venema presents the Warfare Thesis in a section ironically entitled “Learning from History.” Unfortunately, rather than learning from history readers are given yet another round of the Warfare Thesis myth. They learn that the basic issue of the 17th century Galileo Affair was “the veracity of the new science, and its perceived threat to biblical authority.” According to Venema there were “apologists” who thought the science “was wrong,” over against scientists such as Galileo.

Venema has jumped from the proverbial frying pan into the fire. His rehearsing of the Warfare Thesis myth is both predictable and disappointing. This myth is standard fare for evolutionists in their attempt to place their theory into a compelling historical narrative. But when will it end? How many historians have to publicly chide, correct, disabuse, and decry this myth before evolutionists will make it stop?

We don’t know the answers to these questions, but we do know we are not there yet. Venema’s new book is proof of that.

In fact the Galileo Affair was nuanced and complex. Galileo had numerous stumbling blocks working against him. One was Aristotelianism, despite the fact that the two thousand year old system was waning.

Another important stumbling block was Galileo’s own, abrasive, personality. The church was perfectly fine with Galileo publishing his work, and several people within the church were at least somewhat sympathetic to his promotion of heliocentrism. But Galileo outright humiliated people and made enemies readily. Few people could cross the Pope (whether in part or in full) and expect to emerge victorious. Galileo was fortunate that in his aging years his sentence (for ostensibly breaking an agreement with the Pope) was merely house arrest.

Then there was the science, which by no means unambiguously supported Copernicus’ heliocentrism with its circular orbits and epicycles. Brahe’s and Ptolemy’s models were by no means obviously wrong, and expertise in astronomy at that time did not mean one would necessarily agree with Galileo.

Wars and politics were also not helping him. The Reformation and its aftermath, including conflicts with the Protestants, did not aid in producing an environment conducive to challenging long-standing ideas.

Lastly there were Scriptural questions raised by passages such as Joshua 10 and Ecclesiastes 1. These questions are last on my list because they were least. These questions were put to Galileo, but they were hardly at the center of the controversy. And in resolving them, the main problem was in Galileo’s lack of diplomacy.

It isn’t that Scriptural questions were completely absent, but they certainly were not the key, central concerns of the Galileo Affair, as the Warfare Thesis mythology would have it. This is why Venema’s predictable reconstruction is so misleading.

Once again we see this “science versus religion” rendition of the Galileo Affair servicing evolutionary thought. Venema’s larger point is, in typical fashion, to recruit the Galileo Affair as support for evolution. Darwin and the evolutionists, like Galileo, are merely appealing to the empirical science, and skeptics are driven by their religious agendas.

Unfortunately to make this argument evolutionists must erroneously cast both the Galileo Affair and today’s origins debate.

Image: Galileo, by Justus Sustermans [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Cross-posted at Darwin’s God.