Four hundred and five years ago today, on 26th February 1616, the Church decided to suppress the truth concerning the nature of the universe. Pope Paul V instructed that the decision of the Inquisition should be given to Galileo and that he should be ordered
to abstain completely from teaching or defending this doctrine and opinion or from discussing it… to abandon completely… the opinion that the sun stands still at the centre of the world and the Earth moves, and henceforth not to hold, teach, or defend it in any way whatever, either orally or in writing.
Graciously, the Church did finally admit that the Inquisition had been right, though it was three hundred and seventy-six years, in 1992, that the apology was made.
The Galileo affair set the tone for centuries of church response to science. When the choice is to be made between the church defending its own authority and its acceptance of the evidence of scientific research the church has persistently put its own standing before the truth.
The response to Galileo foreshadowed the Nineteenth Century ecclesiastical reaction to the work of Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace in the Nineteenth Century, and to the possibilities created by medical science in the Twentieth Century.
Christians often seem to have a dualistic approach. Many seem to believe that, on the one hand they can hold on to traditional doctrines and to belief in the authority of the teachings of the church, whilst on the other hand they are prepared to engage on a daily basis with scientific realities.
However, the claims made by faith specifically exclude many of the insights of science. Heaven and Hell do not exist within the universe. The progress of evolutionary science excludes the claims of creationism.
Most Christians deal with the conflict by living in a dual reality claiming that science and religion are about different things, the hackneyed phrase is that one is about the ages of rocks and the other is about the Rock of Ages.
Science and theology will remain irreconcilable as long as theologians rest their arguments upon assertions that things are so because the church says they are so. In fields such as that of human sexuality, as long as the church believes it can simply reassert its past teachings in the face of scientific evidence, then its credibility will continue to be steadily eroded.
Only because BBC Radio 6 mentioned it was I aware that today is the anniversary of the judgement against Galileo. When a music radio stations is still recalling such moments, the church is still reeling.