Roczniki Filozoficzne

Volume 71, Issue 4, 2023

Adam ŚwieżyńskiOrcid-ID
Pages 5-23

The Reception of the Copernican Universe by Representatives of 17th-Century Jewish Philosophy and Their Search for Harmony Between the Scientific and Religious Images of the World (David Gans and Joseph Solomon Delmedigo)

The reception of the heliocentric theory of Nicolaus Copernicus in Jewish thought of the 17th century period is a good exemplification of the issue concerning the formation of the relationship between natural science and theology, or more broadly: between science and religion. The fundamental question concerning this relationship, which we can ask from today’s perspective of this problem, is: How does it happen that claims of a scientific nature, which are initially considered from a religious point of view to be incompatible with the religious view of the world, are later accepted as possible to agree with this image of reality and are assimilated by a given religion? Based on the reception of the Copernican image of the universe by two representatives of Jewish philosophy in the 17th century—David Gans and Joseph Solomon Delmedigo—it is possible to trace this process and pose the thesis that it takes place according to two strategies. Within the framework of the first one, represented by Gans, in a situation of incompatibility between the scientific and religious images of nature, a scientific theory is sought that explains the observed phenomena and, on the other hand, satisfies the religious claims. Finding such a theory solves the problem of the incompatibility mentioned above of images of the world, gives the theory credibility from the religious point of view and constitutes an argument for its correctness. The second strategy, represented by Delmedigo, consists in refraining from pursuing a direct, immediate, and unequivocal reconciliation of the two images of the world while at the same time recognizing a properly justified scientific theory as correctly describing and explaining the phenomena occurring in nature. Consequently, the apparent incompatibility between the scientific and the religious worldview demands either a reformulation of religious statements in such a way as to remove this incompatibility or the restriction of the meaning of religious statements to the strictly religious and moral sphere, without the ambition to speak about nature. In either case, however, it is already a task for the representatives of the religion concerned who, when confronted with adequately justified scientific claims, to avoid exposing their religion to the accusation that its claims are unreasonable and anachronistic, undertake the task mentioned above of modifying or limiting the scope of their statements. It seems that in the representatives of Jewish thought and Judaism, who are the successors of Gans and Delmedigo, generally speaking, the second strategy has prevailed in this version, in which one abandons the claim of religion to statements about the material world at the price of a significant divergence of the paths of science and religion. Consequently, it treats them as different narratives, describing and explaining two separate spheres of reality.