Friday, July 01, 2005

Two books I've read recently, Hooykaas's Religion and the Rise of Modern Science and McGrath's Twilight of Atheism, both point out yet another myth in the science and religion debate.

Calvin is often quoted as saying "Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus over that of the Holy Spirit?". This appears in White (see last post), Russell's History of Western Philosophy and many other anti-Christian tracts. But it seems that Calvin never said it or anything else about Copernicus. His theory of accommodation between nature and scripture, outlined in the Commentary on Genesis, insisted that the Bible was not a text to be read scientifically so it is doubtful he would have said much on the subject anyway. It turns out the famous quote first appeared in FW Farrar's History of Interpretation (1886). Oddly enough, the quotation is given in the forward and it flatly contradicts Farrar's otherwise masterful analysis of Calvin's thought. The whole thing is most odd.

The moral of this tale: if anyone produces a quotation, ask for a primary source and if one is not forthcoming, don't believe it.

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