Science, Religion, and Nature in the Age of Galileo

by Sean Cocco, Assistant Professor of History, Trinity College

Brief Course Description
After four centuries, the astronomer Galileo Galilei’s trial before the Roman Inquisition endures as a symbol of the clash between science and religion.  Undoubtedly, the rise of early modern science in seventeenth-century Europe provoked its share of battles, but the whole story defies simple explanation.  This course will lead you to consider the origin and extent of the apparently irreconcilable differences between world views.  How wide was the rift between science and religion before the Enlightenment?  You will be encouraged to explore this complex relationship in historical context, by weighing the coexistence of scientific curiosity and intense faith, and also by considering the religious response to the expanding horizons of knowledge.  The course will highlight investigations of the heavens and the earth, and will include a detailed look at Galileo’s trial. A number of broader themes will also be the focus.  Among these are the understanding of God and nature, authority (classical and scriptural) versus observation, the wide range of knowledge-making practices, the persistence of magic, and the influence of power and patronage. The class seeks to present a rich and exciting picture, looking forward as well to the influence of rational thinking and scientific inquiry on the making of modernity.
This course will be especially useful to students of history, science, and religion, and also those who wish to gain greater historical perspective on religious and secular thinking today. It is an introductory course that does not assume specific prior knowledge and welcomes undergraduates from different disciplines.
Books and Reading
  1. Sour Maria Celeste, Letters To Father
  2. Maurice Finnocchiaro, The Galileo Affair:  A Documentary History
  3. Galileo Galilei, Starry Messenger
  4. Malcom Oster, Science in Europe, 1500-1800: A Primary Sources Reader
  5. Stephen Shapin, The Scientific Revolution
  6. Robert Torrance, Encompassing Nature: Nature and Culture from Ancient Times to the Modern World
Course Objectives
  • Develop a critical understanding of the relationship between science and religion
  • Develop the ability to think as a historian
  • Develop the skills of oral communication, writing, and critical thought
  • Foster an environment where ideas might be shared and discussed openly
Online Resources
The Galileo Project
Interdisciplinary Documentation on Religion and Science
Institute and Museum of the History of Science (Florence, Italy)
Early English Books Online
Course Schedule and Outline
Part I Science and Religion in the Classical,  Medieval, and Renaissance Contexts
Week 1 Introduction & How do science and religion differ?
  1. Ernst Mayr, This is Biology, (24-64)
  2. Ian Barbour, When Science Meets Religion, (1-38)
  3. Bowler and Morus, Making Modern Science (1-78, 103-163, 319-365, 487-513)
Week 2
Philosophers and Physicians in Antiquity
  1. Torrance, Encompassing Nature
    1. Selections from the Hippocratic Corpus
    2. Plato: Phaedrus, Gorgias, Timaeus
    3. Aristotle: Physics, Metaphysics, On Generation, On the Parts of Animals
Early Christianity
  1. Augustine, Confessions (on astronomers)
  2. Torrance, Encompassing Nature
    1. St. Ambrose, The Six Days of Creation
Week 3
Reason and Faith in the Middle Ages
  1. Torrance, Encompassing Nature
    1. Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed
    2. St. Thomas Aquinas, On the Power of God
  2. Daston and Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature
Science and Nature in the Renaissance
  1. Torrance, Encompassing Nature
    1. Petrarch, The Ascent of Mount Ventoux
    2. Nicolas Cusanus, Of Learned Ignorance
    3. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Heptaplus
    4. Selections from Paracelsus
    5. Giordano Bruno, Concerning the Cause, Principle, and One
Week 4
Part II The Scientific Revolution
The Copernican Revolution
  1. Oster, Science in Europe
    1. Copernicus, On the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres (with preface by Andreas Osiander)
Week 5
Medicine, Science, Technology and Exploration
  1. Oster, Science in Europe
    1. Andreas Vesalius, On the Fabric of the Human Body
    2. Garcia d’Orta, Colloquies on the simples and Drugs of India
  2. Anthony Grafton and Nancy Siraisi, New Worlds, Ancient Texts
Was there a Scientific Revolution?
  1. Shapin, The Scientific Revolution (all)
Part III The “Galileo Affair”
Week 6
Galileo’s Starry Messenger
  1. Galileo, Starry Messenger (all)
Week 7 The Two Books
  1. Finocchiaro, Galileo Affair,
    1. Letter to the Duchess Christina
1615-16 Proceedings
  1. Finocchiaro, Galileo Affair
    1. Complaints, letters, and depositions between 1615-1616
    2. Galileo’s letters to the Tuscan Secretary of State
    3. Cardinal Bellarmine’s Certificate
Week 8
The Condemnation of 1633
  1. Oster, Science in Europe
    1. Galileo: Assayer, Dialogue
  2. Finocchiaro, Galileo Affair
    1. Later Inquisition Proceedings (1633)
Week 9 What did women know about science?
  1. Sour Maria Celeste, Letters to Father
Part IV Secular trends
Week 10 Science’s Manifesto: Bacon’s New Organon
  1. Oster, Science in Europe
    1. Bacon: Preface and Aphorisms (New Organon)
Science and Utopia:
  1. Bacon, New Atlantis
  2. Tommaso Campanella, City of Sun
Week 11 Practitioners and Sites of Knowledge
  1. Oster, Science in Europe
    1. Thomas Sprat, History of the Royal Society
  2. Daston and Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature, 215-253.
  3. Findlen, “Inventing Nature:  Commerce, Art, and Science in Early Modern Cabinets of Curiosities,” in Findlen and Smith, eds., Merchants and Marvels
Protestantism and Science in Seventeenth-Century England
  1. Oster, Science in Europe
    1. Robert Hooke, Micrographia
    2. Robert Boyle, Of the Excellency and Grounds of the Corpuscular Philosophy
    3. Isaac Newton, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy
Week 12 Science and Religion, Body and Soul
  1. From Roy Porter, Flesh in the Age of Reason,
  2. Oster, Science in Europe
    1. John Ray, The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of Creation
  3. Torrance, Encompassing Nature
    1. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
    2. Ralph Cudworth, The Digression Concerning the Plastick Life of Nature
    3. John Locke, Essay on Human Understanding
Science and Religion in Seventeenth-century France: Descartes and Pascal
  1. Torrance, Encompassing Nature
    1. Descartes, Meditations on the First Philosophy
    2. Blaise Pascal, Pensées
Week 13 Sciences of the Earth:  the Origins of Geology
  1. Oster, Science in Europe
    1. Georgius Agricola, De Re Metallica
  2. Robert Hooke, “Lectures and Discourses of Earthquakes,” in Posthumous Works
  3. Torrance, Encompassing Nature
    1. Robert Fludd, History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm
Geology Continued: Sacred and Secular History
  1. Torrance, Encompassing Nature
    1. Thomas Burnet, The Sacred Theory of the Earth
    2. James Hutton, Theory of the Earth 3) Georges Louis Leclerc de Buffon: Natural History, The Epochs of Nature
  2. Dan Smail, “In the Grip of Sacred History” American Historical Review
Week 14 Class Interpreting a Disaster
  1. Giulio Braccini, The Eruption of Vesuvius (translation by Sean Cocco)
  2. Pietro Castelli, Of the Eruption that Occurred on Vesuvius
  3. Giovanni Battista Manso (letters; translated by Sean Cocco)
  4. [Visual source:  Domenico Gargiulo]
Are there final causes in nature?
  1. Torrance, Encompassing Nature
    1. Baruch Spinoza, Ethics
    2. Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, On Nature Itself
  2. Voltaire, Miscellaneous Letters and Lisbon Earthquake