Kepler and Galileo are both key scientists in the copernican revolution. They faced biblical objections to the science they were bringing forward. The conflict, as Galileo puts it,
The reason produced for condemning the opinion that the earth moves and the sun stands still in many
places in the Bible one may read that the sun moves and the earth stands still. Since the Bible cannot err;
it follows as a necessary consequence that anyone takes a erroneous and heretical position who maintains
that the sun is inherently motionless and the earth movable.
It seems like they took very different approaches to rebutting these objections. They both invoke accommodation appeal to ordinary perception, it seems that Galileo also places science above Scripture, as an inviolable rule of hermeneutics. Kepler, however, does not seem to make this move, but limits himself to a very coherent explanation of the distinction between ordinary perception and scientific knowledge, and its affect on language too. In contrast, Galileo collapses ordinary and scientific perception into the same category, loosing a key distinction.
I’m really curious if this reading is the correct reading. I’m wondering because for years now I’ve really counted Kepler as a wise example to follow. One of my “discussion” partners this last year, in contrast named his blog after The Letter to the Duchess, which was written by Galileo. Reflecting our affinities, it seems like I took a Keplerian approach to Adam, but he took a Galilean approach.
I was recently reading the Letter to the Duchess (http://hti.osu.edu/sites/hti.osu.edu/files/galileo_galilei.pdf), by Galileo. Here are some key passages.
I think that in discussions of physical problems we ought to begin not from the authority of scriptural passages but from senseexperiences and necessary demonstrations; for the holy Bible and the phenomena of nature proceed alike from the divine Word the former as the dictate of the Holy Ghost and the latter as the observant executrix of God’s commands. … For the Bible is not chained in every expression to conditions as strict as those which govern all physical effects; nor is God any less excellently revealed in Nature’s actions than in the sacred statements of the Bible. Perhaps this is what Tertullian meant by these words:
“We conclude that God is known first through Nature, and then again, more particularly, by doctrine, by Nature in His works, and by doctrine in His revealed word.”
From this I do not mean to infer that we need not have an extraordinary esteem for the passages of holy Scripture. On the contrary, having arrived at any certainties in physics, we ought to utilize these as the most appropriate aids in the true exposition of the Bible and in the investigation of those meanings which are necessarily contained therein, for these must be concordant with demonstrated truths.
It really seems like Galileo is saying we must read Scripture after Science (just like the subtitle of my discussion partner’s book)," assuming" all the science is true. This framing of the theology and science turns what is meant to be a dialogue into a monologue. Science becomes a static backdrop that pronounces “truth”, and theology needs to listen quietly and adapt. This order, it seems, is wrongheaded. As George Murphy might say (along with my Concordia colleagues @CPArand) , the ordering is important here. Scripture first (or at least alongside) then Nature, not the other way around.
Despite all the problems with this framing, following Galileo’s lead, this is exactly what my discussion partner wrote, and what I protested last year:
it is hard to endorse an after-science approach to Scripture; reading before or with science would be more grounded.
Confessing Jesus’ authority over all things, including science (Matt. 28:18-20), might have averted their after-science framing too. From the Empty Tomb, it seems untenable to interpret the Gospels after assuming the solid scientific conclusion that men never rise from the dead. Science is blind to the Resurrection and this blindness declares its limits; science cannot bring us to God or speak of when He acts. Therefore, in view of Jesus, why interpret any Scripture after assuming science?
Let us contrast that with Kepler. This article gives a good summary (https://acmsonline.org/home2/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/McIntyre2009.pdf). Let me pull out the relevant quotes.
Joshua meant that the sun should be held back in its place in the middle of the sky for an entire day with respect to the sense of his eyes, since for other people during the same interval of time it would remain beneath the earth. That thoughtless persons pay attention only to the verbal contradiction, "the sun stood still‟ versus "the earth stood still‟, not considering that this contradiction can only arise in an optical and astronomical context, and does not carry over into common usage. Nor are these thoughtless ones willing to see that Joshua was simply praying that the mountains not remove the sunlight from him, which prayer he expressed in words conforming to the sense of sight, as it would be quite inappropriate to think, at that moment, of astronomy and of visual errors. For if someone had admonished him that the sun doesn’t really move against the valley of Ajalon, but only appears to do so, wouldn’t Joshua have exclaimed that he only asked for the day to be lengthened, however that might be done? He would therefore have replied in the same way if anyone had begun to present him with arguments for the sun’s perpetual rest and the earth’s motion.
Now God easily understood from Joshua‟s words what he meant, and responded by stopping the motion of the earth, so that the sun might appear to him to stop. For the gist of Joshua‟s petition comes to this, that it might appear so to him, whatever the reality might meanwhile be. Indeed, that this appearance should come about was not vain and purposeless, but quite conjoined with the desired effect (New Astronomy, pp. 60-1).
Kepler’s distinction between astronomical and optical sense of the word “still” is important, as this notion that Scripture speaks in the language of ordinary perception becomes very important. It is even echoed in the Chicago Statement on Hermeneutics.
This distinction between “ordinary” and “scientific” perception is real and valid, much as the distinction between “genetic” and “genealogical” ancestry that I’ve brought forward. In fact, we could also say that “genealogical” ancestry is “ordinary,” but “genealogical” is “scientific”, and not spoken of in Scripture. These careful distinctions are made with Kepler in mind. I have great respect for the way he navigated through the early formation of science. He was one of the wise ones.
Galileo makes an argument that appeals to “ordinary” perception too in The Letter to the Duchess, but but in the opposite way. Instead of keeping “ordinary” and “scientific” perception separate, he gives science magisterium over both, and insists that interpretation of Scripture adapt.
I think that in discussions of physical problems we ought to begin not from the authority of scriptural passages but from senseexperiences and necessary demonstrations; for the holy Bible and the phenomena of nature proceed alike from the divine Word the former as the dictate of the Holy Ghost and the latter as the observant executrix of God’s commands. It is necessary for the Bible, in order to be accommodated to the understanding of every man, to speak many things which appear to differ from the absolute truth so far as the bare meaning of the words is concerned. But Nature, on the other hand, is inexorable and immutable; she never transgresses the laws imposed upon her, or cares a whit whether her abstruse reasons and methods of operation are understandable to men. For that reason it appears that nothing physical which senseexperience sets before our eyes, or which necessary demonstrations prove to us, ought to be called in question (much less condemned) upon the testimony of biblical passages which may have some different meaning beneath their words.
Notice that Galileo links ordinary perception with “necessary demonstrations,” which are meant to mean scientific knowledge. He argues that what seems to be true to the science is not to be questioned (much like my discussion partner). No wonder Galileo got himself in trouble. Why would any one think this is a good example to follow? Galileo presents a model that leaves no room for dialogue between science and theology, conflates ordinary and scientific perception. If the scientist sees it, it must be true, and interpretation of Scripture must conform.
So my historian friends, did I understand that correctly? What do you make of this? Why would a Christian chose Galileo as a guide instead of Kepler? @rcohlers, might this be an example of the “two patterns”?
Certainly, the chronology does not match up here. Kepler came first, it seems, then Galileo dropped some bombs. So maybe there is something more complex happening here…