Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Galileo Revisited: Conflicting Worldviews or Perceived Differences?

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Galileo Revisited: Conflicting Worldviews or Perceived Differences?

Article excerpt


First impressions are so important, so lingering. For instance, people often ask: Can Christianity be trusted to improve the world today despite the ghost of the Crusades and the Inquisition? Can science and religion become partners in the midst of allegations of interference and irrational--even unethical--practices made by one realm against the other? Can the Humanities overcome obstacles--perceived or real--to combine efforts with the Sciences to insure this planet is inhabitable for the next millennium? All the questions posed must be addressed yet how often proactive and cooperative answers prove to be elusive in light of what has been offered as "reasons" not to engage or dialogue with the "other side."

Of course such suspicion is what brings us together for this Round Table. What we may walk away with is not what seems to rule the day. The opening questions reflect battlegrounds that seem to simmer endlessly with emotions, accusations and ad hominem arguments. Having participated in a previous Round Table (summer 2008) I can testify that those in attendance have ably and accurately identified the problem and offered reasonable and practical solutions. (1) Yet, I am not encouraged that the world at large--as reflected in the public square--has moved any closer to dismantling the walls that separate ideas and--more importantly--people from each other. It is in that context that we gather today and offer ourselves and our ideas in order to heal what divides our world. Such a proactive strategy is necessary to overcome the disastrous results of campaigns by a vocal few that have imposed their individualistic wills on the masses who depend on such people to act for the good of everyone.

In that light I offer some modest thoughts to help identify what we are up against. In this paper I propose to show that often we allow what seems to be the popular or accepted way of understanding problems--including long standing feuds--to cloud our thinking both when assessing certain problems as well as identifying those players who should be our allies instead of our enemies. My plan is to review the events surrounding the Galileo affair, with the intent to offer an interpretation that counters the popular understanding of this famous--or as some would say--infamous event. I then will identify some lessons to be learned, which in turn, will be applied to our present day situation--the controversy between the Humanities and the Sciences. In offering this paper I acknowledge that I write from the perspective of the Christian tradition. I share this knowledge as means to indicate that the religious ideas pertaining to the time of Galileo are familiar territory for me. Moreover, as my professional title indicates, I am a member of the "Arts and Humanities" culture; nonetheless my goal is to present insight that offers hope to and incentive for both cultures--the Arts and the Sciences--to embrace each other in order to help this world be a safe and flourishing place to live. (2)

The Galileo Affair

When one considers the issues involved with the "gulf of mutual incomprehension" between C. P. Snow's two cultures--the Sciences and the Humanities--I have found it beneficial to examine a part of the topic in order to better understand the whole. The part or area I have found useful in analyzing Snow's overall description of the two components of society is the current relationship between science and religion. (3) Both disciplines represent respectively the Sciences and the Humanities, and insights gleaned from an examination of their relationship can shed light on our topic at hand. Arguably this relationship mirrors one of the most persistent problems in any interdisciplinary discussion and--as Snow described--in society in general.

Any discussion of the relationship between science and religion should begin with a basic understanding of how the two interrelated in the scientific revolution (15lh and 16th centuries). …

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