Atheists, communists, and secular humanists like to make the Catholic Church look as bad as possible. One of their favorite ways to do this is by bringing up the trial of Galileo. The communist playwright Bertolt Brecht, for example, wrote a play called Life of Galileo which focused heavily on the trial. The short version of the story goes something like this:
During medieval times in Europe, The Catholic Church ruled church and state and school and science and everything. That was bad. The Pope and cardinals and priests and all the rest of the piou-faced theocrats agreed in a geocentric universe- that the earth was at the center of the universe and everything revolved around it. Then some scientists came along with telescopes. These scientists were based in reason and rationality. They used the scientific method as their guide, not the out-dated dogma of the Church.
The scientists saw some things in the sky that made them think that the earth, in fact, revolved around the sun. Well, that made the Catholic Church mad. They went on a witch-hunt to punish all the heretics. Galileo said, “Oh, please don’t hurt me, priests. I'm just a scientist. I come with a message of truth. Look, see, I brought my telescope. Why don’t you look through it and see what you think?”
Well, the priests wouldn’t look through the telescope. Remember, they were bad, and they hated science. Some of them wouldn’t even touch the telescope because they were scared of it. So the Catholic Church put Galileo on house arrest and burned all his books.
End of story.
But the spirit of Galileo lives in us all now, don't you see? We can all be martyrs for science! We all can help move the good work of Galileo along by abandoning religious traditions, mocking anyone who claims to have authority from God, denying revelation, and instead look to science, reason and secularism for guidance. And one day we'll reach the grand Utopia where Science is enthroned at last.
What’s missing in this slanted story? One simple, essential fact:
Galileo was Catholic.
Galileo came from a Catholic background, a Catholic world, and a Catholic culture. His quest for discovery of the natural world and the physics that make it all work was motivated by a belief in God. His curiosity was inspired by God. God worked through the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to establish relative peace and prosperity, an environment in which a man like Galileo could do his work and make his discoveries. Galileo’s disciplined work of making observations of the heavens with his telescope and writing them down and sorting out theories and consulting with other Catholic scientists was the result of a Catholic culture.
Is it just a coincidence that many of the great artists and inventors came from a Catholic background? Is it just a coincidence that Leonardo Da Vinci was Catholic, and Michelangelo was Catholic, and Gutenberg was Catholic? These men and their ideas and their works of art and their inventions didn’t come from a secular humanist culture. They came from an intensely religious culture.
Look, I value the art and inventions and scientific contributions of Africa, Asia and indigenous people of wherever, but all the really great stuff came from Western Civilization. And where did Western Civilization come from? Where did modern Europe and modern America with its wonderful prosperity, literacy, freedom, social mobility, sanitation, arts, sciences, and symphonies come from? They came from the cultural foundations laid painstakingly, generation after generation, by Jews and Christians. They came from God.
Another interesting person who just happened to be Catholic: Martin Luther. Luther, though he rebelled against the Pope and the practice of indulgences and etc., will be forever indebted to the Catholic Church. Luther received his education and character primarily in a Catholic family and in a Catholic monastery.
I could have written another blog post called “Joan of Arc was Catholic.” In that hypothetical post, I would have made the same argument. Anti-Catholics love to point out that the Catholic Church was so bad and so mean and so wrong for burning Joan of Arc. But what these critics fail to realize is that Joan of Arc herself was Catholic. She was raised in a Catholic culture. She was taught to believe in God, to pray, to respect elders and traditions. Other cultures just don't produce as many Joan of Arcs.
Show me a great artist or inventor who came from an atheist family and an atheist culture. Sure, many successful artists and scientists today are atheists or secular humanists, but I dare say that these folks are riding on the coattails of the religious people who were the pioneers in their fields. Stephen Hawking is riding on the coattails of Galileo. They are also riding on the coattails of those religious people (George Washington, the Pope, etc.) who established the culture in which their art and science could flourish. They are also riding on the coattails of the religious people who founded Universities.
What’s interesting is that even the communist playwright Brecht came from a religious culture. According to Wikipedia, he had “a devout Protestant mother.” Freud also came from a religious culture. And so did Woody Allen. And so did Christopher Hitchens.
Maybe the best atheists were once Christians (Christopher Hitchens, Marilyn Manson), and maybe the best Christians were once atheists (C.S. Lewis, Peter Hitchens, Saul/Paul).
I think what we ought to do now is embrace Christianity.
I had another daughter last Tuesday. Now I have two children. They are both going to be Mormon. They are both going to be Christian. Isn’t that wonderful?