“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” Colossians 2:8
This post is the twenty-eighth in a series that addresses a list of “40 harmful effects of Christianity” that originated on the American Atheists Facebook page and has since made its way around the internet. In this post, I examine the following “harmful effect” from the list:
Harmful Effect #28: Persecution of “heretics”/scientists, like Giordano Bruno (burned at the stake) and Galileo Galilei.
Like so many other claims on the list, its authors fail to provide substantiation to support it. Galileo lived and died considering himself to be a good Catholic. He was no enemy of religion or the church of which he was a member. Despite fantastic accounts to the contrary, he never endured torture or time in a dungeon because of his heliocentric views. According to scholar and philosopher David Calhoun, Galileo’s arguments for heliocentrism were “probabilistic and speculative”. While he was ultimately correct in positing that the Earth was not the center of the universe, his scientific evidence to support his heliocentric claim was lacking. Galileo’s trouble with the Catholic Church came not from positing a scientific theory but from positing what was, at the time, a dubious one. Calhoun, in his study of Galileo’s case, has noted that, “No single institution in the late medieval and early modern periods provided more funding for scientific research, and sponsored the work of so many working scientists, than the Catholic Church.” The Catholic Church’s opposition to Galileo, while retrospectively unwise and wrong-headed, was more political than scientific. The case of Galileo is hardly a “harmful effect of Christianity.”
Neither is the case of Giordano Bruno. Bruno, a 16th century Italian Friar, was (arguably) a scientist and he was indeed burned at the state. However, Bruno was not burned at the stake for scientific experimentation or study. He was burned at the stake for denying several Roman Catholic doctrines, including the Biblical doctrines of the Trinity and the Divinity of Christ. His rejection of such doctrines did not come from scientific inquiry but rather philosophical postulation. He was executed for being a heretic, not a scientist. However, there is no tenet of Christianity which condones the persecution of scientists or the burning of heretics. Several New Testament epistles were written to address heresies in the church. Yet, The New Testament doesn’t provide a single example of the church executing heretic. Nor do the Apostles advocate such action. The criminal persecution of heretics has historically happened under government sanction not biblical requirement. Such persecution has not happened and (biblically) cannot happen as a matter of church discipline. Bruno both ran afoul of the Roman Catholic Church, an apostate organization that is itself heretical. There was nothing “Christian” about his execution.
In my next post in this series, I’ll address the following:
Harmful Effect #29: Blue laws forcing other businesses to stay closed or limit sales, while churches can generate more revenue.
*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.
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