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God's Two Books Copernican Cosmology and Biblical Interpretation in Early Modern Science by Kenneth James Howell

God's Two Books Copernican Cosmology and Biblical Interpretation in Early Modern Science


God's Two Books Copernican Cosmology and Biblical Interpretation in Early Modern Science by Kenneth James Howell

How do we resolve conflicts when fundamental sources of knowledge and belief--such as science and theology--are involved? In God's Two Books, Kenneth Howell offers a historical analysis of how sixteenth- and seventeenth-century astronomers and theologians in Northern Protestant Europe used science and religion to challenge and support one another. Howell reveals that the cosmological schemes developed during this era remain monumental solutions to the enduring problem of how theological interpretation and empirical investigation interact with one another. Writing history requires a constant shedding of our misconceptions about the past, says Howell. God's Two Books reshapes our understanding of the interaction of cosmological thought and biblical interpretation in the emerging astronomy of the Scientific Revolution by analyzing new texts and offering interpretations that cast old materials in a new light. The central argument of this compelling book is that the use of the Bible in early modern cosmology is considerably more complex and subtle than has previously been recognized. Drawing on the writings of Lutheran and Calvinist astronomers, natural philosophers, and theologians, Howell analyzes several underlying patterns of interpretation which affected how these historical figures viewed the mutual interaction of the books of nature and Scripture. He argues that while they differed on how the disciplines of astronomy, physics, and theology should relate to one another, most thinkers shared the common goal of finding and explaining the true system of the universe. Howell introduces the notion of a convergent realism to describe Protestant intellectuals' approach to incorporating empirical and theological perspectives into a holistic version of the universe. They believed the sacred page was relevant to cosmology but denied that the Bible had scientific content. At the same time, these thinkers argued that the theological truths expressed in the Bible were interwoven into nature in subtle, yet revealing, ways. Their resulting interpretations show continuity with Catholic thinkers and discard oversimplifications such as literal versus figurative hermeneutics or Copernican versus anti-Copernican cosmologies. Among Howell's many original contributions in this cogent study is a distinctive approach to Kepler's exegesis of nature and an introduction to the debate of many Calvinist thinkers who have previously received little attention.


God's Two Books offers a detailed and extremely useful contribution to our understanding of the relationship between the way in which sixteenth-century astronomers read the Book of Nature, and especially the heavens, and their reading of the Book of Scripture. --Journal of Ecclesiastical History This monograph is a monumental interpretation that builds on the best in prior work and then extends it into nuanced discussion of the interplay between astronomical theory, astronomical observations, contemporary theology, scriptural exegesis, and natural philosophy. . . . Howell produced a first-rate study to which all subsequent work must pay homage. He also provided an enormously useful case study pertinent to contemporary discussions about the relationship among the sciences, the Bible, theologies, and believers. --Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith Howell's writing is free of technical jargon and keeps the reader carefully on the path of his primary objective by balancing and interrelating the scientific and theological themes. This important work is a must read for all scientists and humanities scholars, and accessible to the general reader as well. --Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies There are interesting lessons in this book for 21st-century Americans still struggling with the relationship between religion and science, especially in regard to biblical literalism and cosmological history. [A]n important contribution to the history of a critical interval in the history of science and the church. --Choice [Howell] offers rich insights into the impact of the new cosmology on two major movements of Protestantism, Lutheranism in large areas of Western Europe and Calvinism in the Netherlands. This book's scholarship is impressive, as it treats material rarely discussed on the relation between the Copernican vision and biblical faith. [Howell] has made a major contribution to the ongoing discussion of the complex, historical context for the Galileo case, as well as for our understanding of the long history of the relation between theology and science. --Theological Studies Howell outlines the transition from a medieval separation between astronomy and natural philosophy (physics) to Kepler's integration of the disciplines with mathematics and theology, underscoring an early modern drive to move away from internally coherent theories to explanations that actually described the universe. I give this book an eight for tackling a difficult topic. . . . --History [T]his is a welcome addition to the ever growing literature on the subject. --The Heythrop Journal [A] substantial contribution to the post-modern theological conversation. --Perspectives in Religious Studies A stimulating engagement of postmodern hermeneutics and the field of patristics, Reading in Christian Communities assists theologians and historians in understanding the ways in which the interpretation of texts develops out of particular cultures and, in turn, influences those cultures. --Journal of Early Christian Studies This carefully and broadly researched study is a significant contribution, helpful in clearly away false myths concerning the relationship of Christian churches and early modern natural scientific investigations by sensitively assesing how both theologians and scientific writers operated on the terrain of biblical interpretation. --Wissenchaft . . . wonderfully nuanced. . . . Howell is adept at describing the rich diversity of biblical interpretation bearing upon cosmological themes that existed long before the Copernican debate, and is especially insightful when illustrating different meanings given to the notion of sensus litteralis. This is a study in subtleties and relationships-the subtleties of scriptural interpretation and the tangled interconnections of astronomy, cosmology, theology, and Scripture. What we carry away is a deeper understanding of the theories and applications of biblical exegesis as they confront and are influenced by the new cosmologies of the early modern era. The book will surely become a standard text in discussions of science and religion and will be much referred to in days to come. --Catholic Historical Review [A]n extraordinarily helpful work, both for the novice and for the more advanced scholar. --Religious Studies Review Kenneth Howell's work offers a fresh reading of this famous era, describing the multifarious readings of the Bible at work among the astronomers of the day, as well as some of the unexposed issues that lie embedded in the birth of modern science. Any scholar working in natural science, modern theology, biblical studies, or especially some combination of these fields would benefit greatly from this text. --Modern Theology . . . Howell does a fine job of exploding the caricature of a rational Copernican science on one side of sixteenth century debates and an outdated medieval Biblicism on the other. Howell has written a rewarding and comprehensive introduction to some of the crucial issues at the intersection of astronomy and biblical interpretation during a pivotal period in the histories of science and of theology. His carefully detailed notes and generous bibliography make this an excellent guide not only to its focal topics but to some of the main historigraphical debates of the last quarter century. --Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences Howell's assessment of hermeneutical strategies that cross the Catholic-Protestant divide is a major contribution to both the history of science and the history of theology. His model of convergent realism holds out the promise of gaining a better insight into more recent tensions between science and religion. --Books & Culture . . . an exciting book exploring the rise of Copernican cosmology. Howell has made a major contribution to our understanding of the historical interaction of science and religion, particularly in Lutheran and Calvinist circles. --Calvin Theological Journal

About the Author

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Book Info

Publication date

30th January 2002


Kenneth James Howell

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University of Notre Dame Press


360 pages


Christian theology
Cosmology & the universe
History of science



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