Myth: Innocent scientist Galileo was victimized by religion (CMI)

This excellent article soundly debunks the “science-versus-religion” mythology that has grown up around the life of 17th century astronomer Galileo Galilei.  It was originally posted on

The Galileo affair: history or heroic hagiography?

by Thomas Schirrmacher


The 17th century controversy between Galileo and the Vatican is examined. Fifteen theses are advanced, with supporting evidence, to show that the Galileo affair cannot serve as an argument for any position on the relation of religion and science. Contrary to legend, both Galileo and the Copernican system were well regarded by church officials. Galileo was the victim of his own arrogance, the envy of his colleagues and the politics of Pope Urban VIII. He was not accused of criticising the Bible, but disobeying a papal decree.


The process against Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) in the 17th century is frequently used as an argument against creationist scientists and theologians, who make their belief in the trustworthiness of the Bible the starting point of their scientific research. Absolute faith in the Bible, critics say, blinds creationists to scientific progress and hinders science. Thus, Hatisjorg and Wolfgang Hemminger wrote in their book against creationism:

‘Today’s Creationism … turns against the great Christian naturalists of the 15th and 16th century, against Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and Newton. It repeats the proceeding against Galileo and argues in principle with the Inquisitors, for the issue at the trial was, among other things, whether the natural scientist had the freedom to set experimentation and observation above Scripture … . Today’s Creationists in principle have the same standpoint as the Inquisitors because they follow their empirical-biblicistic method.’1

This, of course, is nonsense. Galileo was a scientist who believed in the trustworthiness of the Bible and sought to show that the Copernican (heliocentric) system was compatible with it. He was fighting against the contemporary principles of Bible interpretation which, blinded by Aristotelian philosophy, did not do justice to the biblical text. Galileo was not blamed for criticising the Bible but for disobeying papal orders. Today, most creation scientists read the Bible differently from the contemporary school of biblical interpretation, i.e. higher criticism, and therefore are criticised by the liberal theological establishment and by natural scientists.

The picture of the Vatican process against Galileo Galilei, used by the Hemmingers and others, is not drawn from historical research but from heroic hagiography. The picture of a life-and-death battle between a completely narrow-minded Christian church and an ingenious and always objective natural science in the Galileo affair depends on too many legends.

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