Date of Award

Spring 1994

Document Type



Mathematics, Engineering & Computer Science


The traditional stereotype of historical conflict between scientific knowledge and religious belief has long ago been abandoned--or so we are often assured. Unfortunately, those who assert this are wrong. The old stereotype is alive and well--society still sees Galileo as being threatened with torture by a malevolent Inquisition unless he renounces his scientific theories. The trial of Galileo has been called the greatest scandal in Christendom. As such, it represents the socalled crack in the wall between theology and science. Consequently, I chose to examine the events leading up to the trial (and the trial itself) in an attempt to determine the nature of the relationship between theology and science. The breakdown of the alliance between scientific study and Christian tradition during the seventeenth century must be examined at more than just face value. Common sense leads us to ask questions concerning the motivations behind this particular view of conflict between scientific and religious doctrine. Who put this view forward, who used it, and what (and whose) interests did it serve? More than likely, the hypothetical conflict between science and religion was fabricated as a means of silencing a startling and innovative new way of looking at the universe. I want to suggest, therefore, that the classical points of conflict in the historical relation of science and religion can be re-interpreted as conflicts between scientists of the old-school and those of the new, concerning the accuracy of proposed theories, particularly when the compatibility of these theories and of accepted biblical interpretation was in doubt. While society may view the verdict of the trial of Galileo as a symbol of the Church's supposed rejection of scientific progress, I believe that the Church was used to muzzle Galileo by members of the Aristotelian scientific community. Contrary to long-standing mythology, science and theology are not enemies but partners.