Genuine science and correctly taught Scripture are never in conflict, for the same God created both. But endless damage occurs when either is misinterpreted and used to condemn the other. Here is one of church history’s saddest, sorriest examples.

Galileo Galilei was an Italian astronomer and physicist who made his first scientific discoveries while a student in Pisa. He dropped out of the university for lack of money, but returned at age 25 to teach mathematics. He formulated laws about gravity by conducting novel experiments like dropping weights from the leaning tower of Pisa. He devised the law of the pendulum by watching a lamp swing from the cathedral ceiling. His fame spread across Europe, drawing both students and criticism.

In 1609 he began building telescopes and making spectacular discoveries about the heavenly bodies. Galileo was a Christian who believed that God’s world and God’s Word were both valid objects for study. Using one of his telescopes, he even showed Pope Paul V some of his findings. But he was nonetheless attacked by the church, for his discoveries contradicted traditional teachings. Some clergymen condemned the whole study of astronomy by quoting Acts 1:11: “Why are you men from Galilee standing here and looking up into the sky?”

In 1632 Galileo was called before the Inquisition to answer charges that his writings violated church teaching. Despite being 70 years old and infirm he was forced to travel from Florence during the winter, arriving in Rome on a litter on February 13, 1633. Historians are unsure whether Galileo, during his trial, was tortured or simply threatened with torture. In any event, the old scientist was forced to read a statement renouncing his views — especially his observation that the earth moves around the sun — confessing them as “errors and heresies.” A legend persists that having read his recantation, Galileo muttered, E pur si muove — “But it moves after all.” Galileo remained under house arrest, treated badly by church officials, until he became blind and feeble. He died on a winter’s day in 1642 in the presence of his son and two of his pupils.

The heavens keep telling the wonders of God, And the skies declare what he has done. They don’t speak a word, And there is never the sound of a voice. Yet their message reaches all the earth, And it travels around the world. (Psalm 19:1,3,4)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Feb. 13.

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