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Man of Science, Man of God: Galileo Galilei

Who: Galileo Galilei
What: Father of Modern Science
When: February 15, 1564 – January 8, 1642
Where: Pisa, Tuscany

Galileo, whom Albert Einstein called the father of modern science,1 was born Galileo Bonaiuti de' Galilei in Tuscany on February 15, 1564. Although he had considered entering the priesthood, his father sent him to study medicine at the University of Pisa. He switched his focus to mathematics, becoming mathematic chair in Pisa in 1589. In 1592, he moved to the University of Padua, where he taught mechanics, geometry, and astronomy for the next 18 years.

Galileo made significant scientific contributions based on mathematics and experimentation. Among his many achievements, he developed new and more powerful telescopes, and in 1610 he published his telescopic observations in Sidereus Nuncius (Starry Messenger). He also discovered four of Jupiter’s largest moons, which were later named the Galilean satellites in his honor. He corresponded, and argued, with fellow astronomer Johann Kepler, as well as tutored the young Robert Boyle. In 1619, he disputed with a Jesuit math professor about the nature of comets, and in 1623 published The Assayer, presenting views on how science should be practiced.

Though a devout Roman Catholic, Galileo was frowned upon by the church for his support of the Copernican theory that the earth revolved around the sun, which was contrary to the accepted Ptolemaic and Aristotelian theories. Galileo didn’t think that heliocentrism conflicted with Scripture and published Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems with the intention of presenting both arguments.

The book wasn’t well-received. Galileo was suspected of heresy and testified before the Roman Inquisition in defense of his ideas. He was prohibited from publishing, was sentenced first to prison and then to house arrest, and was forced to “abandon the false opinion that the Sun was the centre of the universe and immovable, and that the Earth was not the centre of the same and that it moved.”2 Despite this, in 1638 he published Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations Relating to Two New Sciences beyond the Inquisition’s jurisdiction in Holland. He passed away in 1642 and was interred at the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence, where Michelangelo, Niccolo Machiavelli, and Rossini are also buried.

Galileo’s trial is sometimes treated as a case of science vs. religion and used as an example of the “repressive” nature of religious belief. Actually, the situation was more one of experimental science vs. Greek philosophy. Many of Galileo’s opponents were disgruntled academics and professors. The opposition to his work shows the need for scientists to be free to explore where the evidence leads, rather than having to conform to the general consensus—a reflection of today’s fight for academic freedom against the stranglehold of evolutionary theory.

Another common misconception among secular scientists is that Galileo advocated that science and Scripture should be treated separately, stemming from a letter in which he wrote,

I believe that the intention of Holy Writ was to persuade men of the truths necessary to salvation….But I do not think it necessary to believe that the same God who gave us our senses…would have us put aside the use of these, to teach us instead such things as with their help we could find out for ourselves, particularly in the case of these sciences, of which there is not the smallest mention in Scripture.3

In fact, Galileo’s words reflect Proverbs 25:2: “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings [or scientists] is to search out a matter.” Galileo was a true creation scientist in posing that God created our world and our gifts of reasoning, sense, and understanding to spur us to explore and make discoveries within that creation.


1. "Propositions arrived at by purely logical means are completely empty as regards reality. Because Galileo realized this, and particularly because he drummed it into the scientific world, he is the father of modern physics—indeed, of modern science altogether." Einstein, A. 1954. Ideas and Opinions. New York: Crown Publishers, 271.

2. Galilei, G. et al. 1870. The Private Life of Galileo. Boston: Nichols and Noyes, 299.

3. Ibid, 85.

Cite this article: Dao, C. 2008. Man of Science, Man of God: Galileo Galilei. Thinking God's Thoughts After Him. 5.

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