The Messy Relationship Between Religion and Science: Revisiting Galileo's Inquisition

• E-mail Lauren Green

"The secular nature of science." The phrase evokes much praise by intellectuals and people of reason — but should it provoke fear?

The phrase is taken from a letter written by a professor at La Sapienza University in Rome and signed by 66 of his colleagues, protesting a scheduled visit on Thursday by Pope Benedict XVI.

This week, students joined the protest and have been on an "anti-clergy" campaign to voice their opposition to the Pope — over comments he made in 1990 about the church's inquisition trial of scientist Galileo calling it "rational and just."

The Pope will send his speech instead — the theme of the of the school ceremony was to abolish the death penalty worldwide. FOX News Channel Contributor Father Jonathan Morris says, "They misread his 1990 talk on Galileo, but they won't be able to misread this one. It will be rational and challenging, a call to recognize the unique and complimentary roles of faith and science."

The Catholic Church's trial of Galileo in the early 17th century is the stuff of real concern for anyone who believes religion and science operate in two different realms of world views. Galileo had found, through scientific observance, that the earth revolved around the Sun and not the other way around, which was what almost the entire world believed at the time. A few forward thinking scientists — and clergy — began to see that a geocentric system didn't fit what they observed, but that a heliocentric system did.

It's also interesting to note that no where in the Bible does it say that the earth is the center of the Universe. That is a man-made supposition, and helps prove one of the great themes you will find in the Bible, that man will always look for ways to glorify himself, instead of God.

Ironically, for scientists of the 17th century, including Galileo, their craft was about glorifying God. That if God is the creator of everything, the discoveries in science could only bring mankind closer to knowing him — not drive a wedge between them.

Pope Benedict's 1990 comments may have been sorely taken out of context. Benedict is a scholar, who speaks in deep scholarly talk that sometimes takes many paragraphs to unfold and sometimes several reads to grasp. But his conclusions are usually thought-provoking, as is the case in his 1990 speech on Galileo. Benedict quoted 20th century agnostic-skeptic and philosopher Paul Karl Feyerabend, who wrote about the trial: "The church at the time of Galileo was much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself, and also took into consideration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo's doctrine. Its verdict against Galileo was rational and just, and revisionism can be legitimized solely for motives of political opportunism."

Benedict was illustrating that when he's asked about the Galileo trial he's not asked, "Why did the church try to get in the way of the development of modern science?" Instead he's asked, "Why didn't the church take a more clear position against the disasters that would inevitably follow, once Galileo had opened Pandora's box."

Even though science has opened the door to advances in medicine — which has saved millions of lives and has created great opportunities for mankind — it has also opened the portals to weapons of mass destruction like the atom bomb, or tools of personal trauma like addictive drugs. Benedict added after his statement that, "The faith doesn't not grow from resentment and the rejection of rationality, but from its fundamental affirmation and from being inscribed in a still greater form of reason."

In other words, science is a great gift, by which mankind has prospered. But as an all-encompassing worldview, science is a poor master. Science is great at telling us how to create, how to help, how to heal. It can't instruct us on why, why not, or who should benefit? That just may be the "greater form of reason" the Pope is referring to.

The small group of protesting professors and students at La Sapienza University are doing to the Pope what they claim the church did to Galileo ... silence him. In a world where the marketplace of ideas is heralded, they have tried to muzzle a man who, as FOX News Rome Correspondent Greg Burke says, "would like nothing better than to sit in a college seminar-type room with (smart) people of different ideas for a good wide-ranging debate among intellectuals."

You may not like the Pope's views, his doctrine, or even his wardrobe, but he does have a right to believe what he believes. And that is not a right that any man, or science, can give — or take away.

>> E-mail Lauren Green

Lauren Green serves as a religion correspondent for the FOX News Channel. Prior to this, Green served as a news anchor for “Fox and Friends,” where she provided daily news updates and covered arts for the network. You can read her complete bio here.

Lauren Green currently serves as Fox News Channel's (FNC) chief religion correspondent based in the New York bureau. She joined FNC in 1996. Her new book is "Lighthouse Faith: God as a Living Reality in a World Immersed in Fog."