By: Lynda Bustilloz
To: George Mooth
Re: Our Daily Dispute
PAST RELIGIOUS CONFLICTS
Every age since Galileo has had at least one public debate with a
religious component. Typically, the conflict has been between established
religion and either a physical science, medicine, or a social science.
The conflict often goes through 8 stages:
1. An scientist or physician will propose a new belief system that is in
conflict with established religious beliefs. Churches ignore the proposal.
2. A growing number of people will start to disagree with church
3. Churches issue statements which condemn the proposal.
4. Support for the proposal grows among the public.
5. Churches issue statement pointing out that belief in the proposal negates
the entire Christian message.
6. Support continues to grow.
7.. Churches begin to ignore the proposal
8. Many decades or centuries later, churches may incorporate the proposal
into their belief system.
SHAPE OF THE EARTH
St. Augustine reasoned that since the Bible contains no references to
people living on the other side of the earth, that therefore there was no
other side. The world must be flat. Lactantius ridiculed the idea that
people could walk with their feet above their heads or that rain and
snow could fall upwards towards the earth.
In the 6th Century, Hebrews 9 and other passages were interpreted as
describing the earth as a great flat parallelogram, surrounded by four
seas and walls which supported the heavens. This theory held for
some 600 years until two men (Peter of Abano and Cecco d'Ascoli) revived
earlier theories of a round earth. Peter escaped punishment by quickly dying
a natural death; Cecco was burned at the stake for his beliefs.
Magellan's voyage around the world in 1519 provided firm evidence for
a round world, but religious leaders did not fully accept it for two more
The Christian church adopted Plato's geocentric principle: the belief that
the earth was the centre of the universe and that the moon, sun and stars
rotated around it.
Copernicus sounded the death knell of this principle in his
greatest book Revolution of the Heavenly Bodies which described
a crude model of a sun-centred solar system. In order to escape imprisonment,
the book was presented as a hypothesis - a work of imagination. Copernicus
was in many ways lucky. He died on the day that the first editions of his
book were distributed, before he could be arrested.
To defend the status-quo, Protestant and Catholic churches quoted a passage
in Psalms in which the sun "cometh forth as a bridegroom out of his
chamber". From Ecclesiastes they quoted: "The earth standeth fast
forever". Martin Luther mentioned Joshua's command that the sun stand
Giordano Bruno was the first supporter of Copernicus' theory; he was
imprisoned and then burned alive. Early in the 17th century, Galileo's
telescope revolutionized astronomy. He observed that the planet Venus went
through phases, that there were spots on the sun and that Jupiter had
moons. The church arrested Galileo twice; the Inquisition showed him the
instruments of torture that would be used to force his recantation. He
abandoned his teachings under pressure and retired. It was not until the
year 1835 that the teachings of Copernicus and Galileo were finally
accepted by his Church.
OTHER CONFLICTS BETWEEN SCIENCE AND THEOLOGY
Other battles were fought between science and religion:
* Roger Bacon (13th Century) was imprisoned for 14 years for his
experiments in time pieces, optics, chemical extractions, refraction of
* John Barillon (14th Century) was jailed because he possessed chemical
furnaces and apparatus.
* Antonio de Dominius (15th Century) was killed by the Inquisition for
his experiments into the properties of light.
* There were a number of minor skirmishes between religion and science that
were "hot" for a while, and later faded from view:
* the orbits of the moon and planets were held to be circles,
because the circle is the perfect shape. (They actually move in
* theologins believed that we see lightning before thunder because
"sight is nobler than hearing."
* the number 7 was regarded as having sacred power, as in the 7 cardinal
virtues, 7 deadly sins, 7 sacraments, 7 churches mentioned in Revelations,
etc. Thus it was held that there must be exactly 7 planets and 7
* religious leaders believed for a time that a vacuum was impossible,
because a vacuum implies nothing; that would mean that there would be
a small area of the universe where God was not present.
INTEREST ON MONEY
Leviticus 25:36, Deuteronomy 23:19, Psalms 15:5 and Luke 6:35 prohibit
interest payments on loans. This policy was carried over from Judaism into
Christianity. The rationale given by theologians was based on "natural law":
Only living entities can grow. Since money is not alive, it must remain
fixed in size. St. Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas lent their support. Usury
was defined as the charging of any interest whatsoever by 28 councils
of the Church and by 17 popes. Pope Clement V made it a heresy to even
suggest that the idea of interest could be acceptable.
Fortunately, Calvin argued that usury really meant oppressivly high
interest rates. The Roman Catholic church reluctantly followed the
Protestant lead. By the 19th century, interest had become a
The churches had always held that Satan, the "Prince of the Power of
the Air", controlled all lightening and thunder. But in 1752, Franklin's
experiment during a thunder storm proved that lightning was an electrical
phenomenon. The experiment was replicated by an experimenter in France, who
Lightning rods were a logical development; they protected buildings
wherever they were installed. Unfortunately, to install a "heretical
rod" was to admit that centuries of theological teachings were false.
Churches were reluctant to use them. Seventeen years after Franklin's
experiment, lightning struck the unprotected Church of San Nazaro, near
Venice. This ignited 200,000 pounds of powder which had been stored there
for safe keeping. The explosion wiped out one sixth of the city of Brescia
and killed 3000 people. Lightning rods soon appeared on spires across
ANESTHETICS DURING CHILDBIRTH
In 1846 James Simpson, a Scottish physician promoted the use of chloroform
to relieve pain during childbirth. This was immediately opposed by the
Church, citing Genesis 3:16 "...I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and
thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children". The
avoidance of pain was seen as thwarting God's will. Fortunately,
Simpson found a competing passage (Genesis 2:21) which describes the first
surgical operation; it seems to support the use of anesthetic: "...God
caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam.....he took one of his ribs and closed
up the flesh.." In time, the Church's opposition dissipated; pain
killers have since lost their religious significance.
Early in the 17th Century, physicians in France and Great Britain promoted
inoculations to prevent small pox. Theologians were quick to respond.
Rev. Edward Massy in England preached a sermon blaming the distemper
experienced by Job in the Bible upon an inoculation by Satan. Other
clergy preached that the technique was being promoted by sorcerers and
atheists. Smallpox was regarded as "a judgment of God on the sins of
the people......to avert it is but to provoke him more". Inoculation
was "an encroachment on the prerogatives of Jehovah, whose right it
is to wound and smite."
Jenner's development of vaccination was similarly opposed on religious
grounds. By preventing the spread of disease, they were "bidding defiance
to Heaven itself - even to the will of God." In 1885, a serious
epidemic of smallpox broke out in Montreal Canada. Few Protestants
died because they had been mostly vaccinated. However the Roman Catholic
clergy were generally opposed to the practice; their parishioners died
needlessly, in great numbers.
Birth Control appears (at most) only once in the Christian Bible. See
Judah (circa 1730 BCE) had three sons, Er, Onan and Shelah. The eldest son,
Er, was "wicked in the sight of the Lord", and so God killed him.
This placed the responsibility on the next eldest son to marry Er's widow,
Tamar and to have a male child. The child would then be considered the son
Onan married the widow, but was unwilling to conceive a child which would
not be considered his own. He practiced an elementary form of birth control
(coitus interruptus). God did not approve of this, and so He killed Onan as
well. It is not clear whether God disapproved of Onan's refusal to follow
Jewish custom and provide an heir for his brother, or of his use of birth
control. Most modern commentators believe the former; many ancient Christian
leaders selected the latter.
St. Augustine (354-430 CE) commented on this biblical passage. He wrote that
"where the conception of the offspring is prevented", sexual
intercourse is "unlawful and wicked". St. Augustine did not
differentiate between coitus interruptus and the rhythm method. This
established Church policy for centuries. Interestingly enough, later clerics totally
misinterpreted this same chapter; they said that Onan's crime was
masturbation, not coitus interruptus. It was believed that God killed him
for what became known as "self abuse"; Onanaism became a synonym for
The Christian Church's stand on artificial birth control was adopted
by the Protestant sects after the Reformation. All churches
remained totally opposed to contraception until the courageous stand
by Church of England in 1930. Other Protestant churches quickly followed
their lead. Pius XI issued an encyclical in 1930 which reiterated the
traditional view of the Roman Catholic Church.
In 1951, Pius XII made the first break with tradition. He said that the
so-called "safe period" or rhythm method was lawful under certain
circumstances. Pope John later set up advisory committee of specialists
to study the legality of "the pill". In 1968, Pope Paul ignored the majority
recommendation of the panel and ruled against "artificial" methods of birth
control in his encyclical Humanae Vitae.
Pope Paul's decision was met with widespread criticism from many within
and without the Church. The laity in North America has generally ignored the
encyclical and is now widely practicing birth control. It is difficult
for the Church to maintain control over its flock in a multi-faith
culture. The family size of Protestants now differs very little from that
of Roman Catholics.
This conflict is different from those described previously, because it is
still an active concern within the Roman Catholic Church - at least among
"Give to every other human being every right that you claim for
-- the Ingersollian Golden Rule
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