Galileo, Darwin, and Hawking: The Interplay of Science, Reason, and Religion

Galileo, Darwin, and Hawking: The Interplay of Science, Reason, and Religion

Galileo, Darwin, and Hawking: The Interplay of Science, Reason, and Religion

Galileo, Darwin, and Hawking: The Interplay of Science, Reason, and Religion

Excerpt

The pairing of science and religion evokes strong images in the popular imagination. One such image is that of the dejected Galileo Galilei (15641642), convinced by scientific experiment that the earth is in motion around the sun, but being forced to recant by a powerful and obscurantist church hierarchy.

Another powerful image is that of Samuel Wilberforce (1805-1873) denouncing Darwin's theory of natural selection in a debate at Oxford University in 1860 without properly understanding the theory or how the evidence was supposed to support it. Although there is no written record of Wilberforce's speech, popular mythology has it that he asked his opponent, Thomas Huxley (1825-1895), whether it was his grandmother or grandfather who had descended from an ape, when in fact Darwinian theory claims that humans and apes are descended from a common ancestor. So Huxley replied that he would prefer to claim descent from an ape than from any human who could ridicule science in such an ill-informed way. This incident branded Wilberforce as a symbol of an ignorant church ridiculing the discoveries of science without fully understanding them.

In his book A Brief History of Time leading twentieth-century theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking attempts to paint himself as Galileo's heir. Hawking relates a story in which, on the anniversary of Galileo's trial, he attended a cosmology conference at the Vatican at which the Pope suggested that scientists would be wise to avoid investigation of the early mo-

1. White 1960, vol. 1, p. 71.

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