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Christianity and Science

In conclusion, it can be clearly seen that the Church and science never had a clear relationship. The relationship was mostly complicated and was based on self-interest of the Church.

(November 20, Atlanta, Sri Lanka Guardian) Science and Christianity over centuries have had a love-hate relationship. Some historians have argued that Christian ideology has been an obstacle for the growth of scientific development. Some historians, on the other hand, have argued that Christian ideology and Western science have existed in mutual support on many occasions. A closer analysis of this relationship shows that though some believe Christianity has been an antagonist to science, Christianity has actually been a neutral force that shows neither antagonism nor adoration towards scientific thought. The Christian attitude towards science was purely based on self-interest. Whenever science challenged Christian concepts, the church actively took measures to counter it, but when scientific developments were in agreement with Christian notions, the church maintained support of science.

Christianity and Science – Love and Hate Affair?

Christianity and science have had a complicated relationship for centuries. The best way to understand this history is to start by analyzing the relationship between science and the Church throughout its two most significant and active scientific periods, the pre-Copernicus period and the Copernicus period.

First, during the pre- Copernicus period, Christian church doctrine existed relatively peacefully alongside science. This was mostly due to the fact that the sciences in the pre-Copernicus era were heavily dominated by Greek and Roman philosophers especially Aristotle and Plato. These philosophers were convinced of a perfect geocentric universe that went perfectly along the line of the Christian doctrine of genesis. These Greek and Roman models used geocentric models that placed human beings in a special place at the center of the universe. Aristotle, for example, comments that “ The center of the cosmos, which is unmoved and fixed, is occupied by life bearing earth and home and mother of living beings of all kinds. The region above it, a single whole with a finite upper limit everywhere, the dwelling of the gods, is called heaven.”

Plato, another prominent Greek philosopher, comments on God’s creation of order during the birth of the earth. “For God desired that so far as possible, all things should be good and nothing evil; wherefore, when he took over all that was visible, seeing that it was not in a state of rest, but in a state of discordant and disorderly motion, he brought it into order out of disorder, deeming the former state in all ways better than the latter.” This pre-Copernicus ideology followed clearly in line with Genesis. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the universe, which opposed the god-created, anthropocentric, geo-centric model the Church endorsed for centuries. Copernicus, though, did not invent the idea of a heliocentric system – he only developed it to a greater degree. This model was not just merely another theory but a scientific model that in fact explained hither to previously complicated phenomena such as retrograde motion.

Copernicus, who clearly understood the Church’s possible hostility towards this ideology, did not publish On the Revolution of the Celestial Spheres until his death. Finally, in 1616, the Church’s intellectuals came across his publications and placed them on its Index of Prohibited Books. The heliocentric idea clearly challenges the biblical notions of creation in that God created a perfect and an ethnocentric world. This contradiction of Genesis in the Bible clearly undermines the credibility of the scriptures and thus challenged the Church at its core.

The initial reaction was not of extreme hostility. For example, the Church asked Galileo to present his theory as an hypothesis rather than trying to persecute Galileo. However, Galileo went ahead proposing his theory of heliocentralism in his publication.

The reaction from the church was obvious. “The Jesuits, Dominicans, and the great majority of the clergy returned to the attack more violently than ever, and in the midst of them stood Pope Urban VIII, most bitter of all. His whole power was now thrown against Galileo.” The Christian church clearly insisted on the absolute and specific declarations of the Bible that states that the sun and heavenly bodies revolve about the earth. The Church also declared that the gainsaying geocentric model disputed holy revelation. As the heliocentric concepts were gaining publicity and popularity in Europe, the Inquisitors in Italy were being ordered to put a ban on the publication of Galileo's works. In addition to banning the work of Galileo, the Church also ordered all heliocentric publications and literature distributed around Europe to be confiscated and destroyed. After the Church silenced Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler, the Church also urged Christian theologians to counter the Copernican system. This step was clearly taken to preserve the basis of Christianity as the rise of heliocentric model had clearly undermined the Holy Scriptures and teachings of the Church.

In conclusion, it can be clearly seen that the Church and science never had a clear relationship. The relationship was mostly complicated and was based on self-interest of the Church. The phenomena of the Church and science existing in mutual support during the pre-Copernicus era stemmed from the Church’s necessity of solidifying its dogma with the usage of science. The post-Copernicus hostility of the Church towards cosmology-based science was due to the Church’s struggle for survival from the threats that science posed to the existence of the Church. Thus, it can be concluded that the relationship between the Church and science is indeed a relationship of self interest.


Gregory Snyder, Teachers and Texts in the Ancient World: Philosophers, Jews and Christians, p 86, New York: Routledge, 2000

2 Plato, Timaeus 30A; Plato, "Timaeus, Critais, Cleitophon, Menexenas, Epistles," trans. Rev. R.G. Bury, Loeb Classical Library, Vol. 7. (London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1981), 55.

3 Genesis 1.1

4 Genesis 1.26

5 Read also: http://www.asa3.org/ASA/topics/Bible-Science/PSCF3-88Young.html

6 St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, translated and annotated by John Hammond Taylor, S.J., 2 vols. P 76 (New York: Newman Press, 1982).

7 Read also: Morrison, Philip (03/01/2003). "Copernicus in his prime". American scientist (0003-0996), 91 (2), p. 111.

8 Read also: Henry Kamen (2008, February). The scientist and the prelates.. TLS, the Times Literary Supplement,(5473), 24. Retrieved November 1, 2008, from Research Library database. (Document ID: 1445714221).

9 Andrew Dickson White, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, chapter 6, Kessinger Publishing, 2004

10 Read also: Andrew Dickson White, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, chapter 6, Kessinger Publishing, 2004
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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