When the Church was right about Science

Since at least Vatican I, the Catholic Church has taught that the universe (material Creation) was created at a certain point in time (essentially at the beginning of Time) and that it is finite. But as late as the 1920’s, scientists believed that the universe was infinite and had always existed. This was the accepted view by Einstein and most other scientists until the early 1930’s, when a Catholic priest and scientist, Fr. Georges Lemaitre, proposed the so-called “Big Bang” theory. That theory included the conclusions that the universe had a beginning point, just before the big bang, and was finite. And within a short period of time, most scientists changed their views to agree with this theory by a Catholic priest, a theory that was in accord with Catholic teaching.

As for Copernicus and Galileo, people like to point out that science was right and the Church was wrong. But the situation at the time was not so simple. Galileo was arguing for the theory of Copernicus, about a generation after him, but most other scientists disagreed. The Church considered that perhaps the passages of the Bible interpreted as saying that the earth is stationary could be understood figuratively. But since the majority view of scientists at the time contradicted Galileo and Copernicus, the Church decided to side with science as well as a literal interpretation of the Bible, so Galileo was rebuked.

Copernicus’ theory said, as we all know, that the planets revolve around the Sun. But he also assumed that the orbits of the planets were circular (rather than elliptical) and that the stars are much closer than they really are. The result was two problems that caused other scientists to reject Copernicus’ theory, even as long as a generation later. The assumption of circular orbits caused calculations of where the planets should be in the sky, if Copernicus was correct, to fail to match observations. In addition, when the earth is on opposite sides of the Sun, we look at the distant stars from two different angles. This should result in a parallax, as when you hold a finger in front of your eyes and alternately open/close each eye. Objects more distant than your finger appear to move in relation to the finger. Scientists of Copernicus and Galileo’s time could not detect any stellar parallax. So the majority of scientists rejected the theory of Copernicus during the time of Galileo.

The Church was actually siding with the majority view of scientists in deciding against Galileo.

Eventually, it was proved that the planets do revolve around the Sun.

Then came Einstein’s general relativity theory, which holds that any object in the universe can be taken as stationary. All the math should still work, because motion is relative. You could, in theory, take the earth as stationary and relativity theory would work just as well. It is still correct to say that the planets revolve around the Sun, it’s just not as simple as that.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

Gallery | This entry was posted in commentary. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to When the Church was right about Science

  1. Thomas Mazanec says:

    The term “Big Bang” comes from an astronomer who held the eternal infinite view of the universe (Fred Hoyle). It was derogatory, like calling evolution the “Monkey’s Uncle Theory”.

  2. Alex says:

    The Church wasn’t right to judge the science at that time. Even if Galileo was a minority among other scientists, still it was he who was right. Penalizing him, the Church didn’t just side with the majority of scientists, rather took arbitrary position and punished him as if he was a criminal. None of those sad actions were requested or even permitted by Jesus Christ to Peter, neither were they done “ex cathedra” or coined in new dogmas. Luckily for the Church records, Galileo was treated well in the papal residence while serving his sentence, thanks to his friendship with the pope. Moreover, it is highly likely the Vatican archives saved a part of the officially burned out Alexandria library (done by the great sinner emperor Theodosius who was almost excommunicated by St Ambrosius for his genocide in Greece) . The Church likely knew more than publicly admitted, because ancient writings such as the Sumers clearly describe the heliocentric system, and even give historic data for more planets to exist.

    Thanks God today the Catholic Church is in the vanguard of the science, especially in Astronomy. Jesuit astronomers make up for what centuries before was omitted. Let read what people like Fr Funes have to say about other planets. It is echoed by pope Francis. To know there are hundred billion galaxies with hundred billion stars is a common knowledge today, and thanks God the pope doesn’t find it contradictory to the Bible. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gB7QhHcYIE

    Sadly, the scientific research supported by the Church is one of the things most hated by the ultra conservatives. How could we explain the absurd antagonism towards the drive to save the planet with all of its animal and plant species and the necessity of saving the atmosphere in first (by doing so, to save the human family with all born, unborn and to be born children in the future) that not only pope Francis but also pope Benedict and St John Paul II clearly stated in encyclicals and other works? It is the high time the Catholics to outgrow the stage of childish (non)understanding of science.

Comments are closed.