Monday, October 3, 2011

God v. Galileo

I traveled to Washington, DC from Philadelphia this weekend and watched some of
General Conference at the Washington, DC Temple Visitors' Center. 

The day after General Conference, the semi-annual world-wide meeting of my faith, is very much like the day after Christmas for me.  Now I have to wait another six months for the opportunity to sit at the (digital) feet of the apostles and prophets.

This Conference I was particularly glad to hear testimony of one such prophet that God, as the Father of my spirit, is in fact a corporeal God, in contradiction to the philosophy of a very brave man, Galileo, who erred in perhaps just this one respect.

Last week in my Intellectual History class, I was puzzled by Galileo's logic in determining when to take the scriptures literally, and when to understand them as vehicles for communicating a perfect message to the profane (us) and thus having to use language and symbols comprehensible to the audience.

In his Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany, his logic was thus: natural phenomenon (such as the earth's motion or non-motion) should be judged and proven through science.  If this proof seems to contradict holy writ, scriptures should be interpreted consistently with proven science (as they are always true).  Conversely, if the language of the scriptures deal with salvation, it should be taken literally.

Yet he does not apply this standard.  Later in the same letter, he says we cannot take the scriptures literally in one of the most central building blocks of faith and salvation: the nature of God.

Thus it would be necessary to assign to God feet, hands and eyes, as well as corporeal and human affections, such as anger, repentance, hatred, and sometimes even the forgetting of things past and ignorance of those to come. 

Instead of taking the scriptures at face value, Galileo uses these references as evidence of the Holy Spirit revealing scripture in language that man can understand: 

These propositions uttered by the Holy Ghost were set down in that manner by the sacred scribes in order to accommodate them to the capacities, of the common people, who are rude and unlearned.

Galileo thus makes a silent exception to his before-stated rule of literal interpretation because "This doctrine is so widespread and so definite with all theologians that it would be superfluous to adduce evidence for it."

Galileo makes a double mistake here - not only does he make an exception to his own rule of literal interpretation where the text deals with matters pertaining to salvation, he does not apply the same scrutiny applied to other types of writings.  He "tests" the writings of men regarding natural phenomenon against the science of nature as revealed in nature.  Yet he does not think to "test" the writings of men with regards to matters of salvation against the science, or knowledge, of God as revealed in the scriptures.

Consistent with my professor's request to stay in the 17th century, I should ask why Galileo observes a double standard here.  Clearly, he valued one kind of writings - that of theologians - over that of natural philosophers (e.g., Aristotle and Plato).  I'm sure this was part of the received tradition of the age and questioning the nature of God would certainly have risked his membership in the Church and therefore his perceived salvation.   But Galileo was bold in questioning the authority of the Church in other respects - enough to send him to the Inquisition - why not here?

Regardless of the reason, I am grateful that I follow those who take the Bible literally in this important respect.  Yesterday, J. Devn Cornish testified, "God has a face and hands and a glorious resurrected body.  He is real.... He knows each of us.  He wants to bless us."

Knowing God's true nature helps me develop faith in Him and in His divine Son.  A real, corporeal God is capable of love and mercy and justice.  I know that He listens to my prayers with his ears and sees me with his all-seeing eyes.  I know He knows me with His omniscient intellect and waits and wants to bless me in his heart-felt mercy.


  1. Hey! You should have come seen us! We love to have had dinner or something.

  2. Something to consider... I wouldn't claim to be as much of a history buff as you, but from what I know about Galileo, he was oppressed in the sense that he was allowed to go on with this scientific research, so long as he didn't start disproving God and actively and publicly voicing his opinions against the Church. That said, I have to wonder if he knew he contradicted himself and simply did it so "survive" in a sense. Galileo was a very smart man. He pushed the limits of scientific research in his times, but not so much that he challenged the Church... even if it meant a few contradictions here and there to keep him safe and alive. He was Italian and he was researching in a country that is the heart of the Catholic religion and in a culture where the Church made a lot of money off of uneducated people... I daresay he knew that and knew what NOT to say in order to stay alive. Perhaps he too cringed at the contradictions. If only we had a time machine and could go back and ask him. :)
    In modern times we are used to being able to write anything we feel or think true and not having to worry about being persecuted for it. I doubt Galileo had that luxury all those years ago.