Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/296

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
292
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

and in the eighth the venerable Bede, pronounced in favor of the earth's sphericity. After these two great doctors had spoken it was allowable for any churchman to follow them. That many did not is an incident in the warfare with ignorance, not an attack of religion upon science; and this conclusion is a point to be emphasized.

Lightfoot, vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge, in the seventeenth century, declared that the scriptures taught that 'heaven and earth, center and circumference, were created all together, in the same instant,' and that 'this work took place and man was created by the Trinity on October 23, 4004 b. c., at nine o'clock in the morning.' It has been appositely remarked that a crowd of busy men, who had invented geometry and other sciences, were busily engaged in building pyramids in Egypt on this very October morning. The Bible does not explicitly give the foregoing, or any, date. If it did so, we might have a conflict between science and the Bible. Archbishop Usher in 1650 fixed a date by interpreting the Biblical words scientifically (not theologically). His scientific methods will not stand examination. Any modern Biblical scholar can show this. Have we here any signs of a conflict between religion and science? Not at all. In a scientific question a mistaken method was employed then, as so many times before and since. That an erroneous scientific result had a bearing on theological matters was incidental, not essential. The wild disorder of Jordano Bruno's systems of cosmic infinities, notably his guess that the stars were worlds, filled the mind of Kepler with horror. He expressly says that he shuddered with horror at the thought. It was precisely these new infinities of worlds that the Roman inquisitors found to be heretical. They had, without knowing it, the support of the great protestant astronomer. Kepler's horror for Bruno's ideas was no theological opposition. It was based on the best philosophy of the time. Like the Roman inquisitors, Kepler believed the universe to be finite. Can we wonder that the fugitive Dominican monk was tried and sentenced for heresy? Can we wonder that ideas from which the free-minded speculative Kepler recoiled were odious to a congregation of monks?

The cases so far examined are typical. Nearly every recorded instance of 'conflict' can be reduced to one or another of them. All are explicable as conflicts primarily with ignorance—and in that way alone.

Dante declared that hell was beneath the earth. Medieval textbooks answered the question: 'Why is the sun so red at sunset?' by declaring: 'because he looketh down upon hell.' This answer we know to be absurd; we even feel a flush of superiority to Dante and the middle age when the question is quoted; it is, apparently, sometimes quoted by the warfare-of-science books to produce this grateful glow; but not half the readers of this article can at once say what the