Galileo had purposely written his book in hypothetical terms, and concluded on a note that admitted that God maintained the capacity to bend the appearance of the universe to his will. It is worthy of note that Galileo never questioned the existence of God or the Catholic faith, he merely pointed out an instance where scientific evidence indicated something other than biblical understanding.
Galileo's notions did little to prevent many of his successors from aiming to justify Christianity through the means of science. Rene Descartes was one prominent scientist from Galileo's time who held the belief that science and religion must necessarily be one. Essentially, Descartes' belief in science to reveal the truths of existence stemmed from his confidence in mathematics: "At the center of his thought lies the view that each science is the branch of one unified science of the world, a science based on mathematics." (Cahn 343). Doubtlessly, during his time mathematics and physics seemed to be one and the same; Descartes most interesting contribution to this notion was the idea that the language of math could be useful in far more branches of science than just physics. The beauty of math to provide clear and undeniable solutions to seemingly complicated problems appealed to Descartes to such an extent that he believed this property was applicable to religion as well.
Descartes' philosophical goal was to logically demonstrate the truth of his core beliefs. In other words, he appeared to hold specific notions concerning the nature of God and the soul and he saw science as the best tool to convince others of his beliefs. He states that "there is fixed in my mind a certain opinion of long standing, namely that there exists a God who is able to do anything and by whom I, such as I am, have been created." (Cahn 352). So, Descartes' approach to philosophy is almost opposite to that of Plato and Socrates in that he already has a conclusion that he seeks to justify; Plato and Socrates, on the other hand, investigate ideas with the aid of science and reason in attempts to discern whether there is anything at all that can be concluded. Overall, this distinction is a consequence of their opposed viewpoints upon how far the arm of science can reach in matters of the soul.
In the nineteenth century, however, scientific arguments were formulated that even Descartes may have had difficulty reconciling with the doctrines of Christianity. Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species presented a coherent and compelling case, based upon observation, which accounted for the appearance of all of life's organisms as they exist today. "On the Origin of Species hit the world like a bombshell, because it was all too easy to apply to the human race what Darwin was saying about the flora and fauna." (Burke, 260). Evolution implied that humans possessed a common ancestry with all animals and even plants. It may have been a matter of interpretation as to whether the earth revolved around the sun or not, but the concept that man is an ape who has been gradually evolving for 3.5 billion years fits nowhere into traditional Christian beliefs. Consequently, the theory -- although as close to scientific fact as any fact ever inferred from the natural world -- has remained controversial and not widely accepted in the west. So, it has only truly been in the past century and a half that science and religion have come faced off in a battle of wills. Still, the argument should be moot: empirical evidence may indicate one thing, but if an individual is willing to believe in an all-powerful being, they must also acknowledge that such a being could configure the world in any way imaginable -- just as Galileo's Dialogue concluded.
1. Burke, James. The Day the Universe Changed. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1995.
2. Cahn, Steven M. Classics of Western Philosophy: Fifth Edition. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1999.
3. McClellan, James E., III and Harold Dorn. Science and Technology…