If Galileo and Copernicus never felt the need to express doubts in the existence of a divine Presence, they were all too aware of the flaws of those humans who cloaked themselves in the power of divine authority. As far as we know, neither thought there was a need to bridge the gap between the philosophy of matter and the philosophy of divinity through the use of this newly developing system of scientific methodology based on repeatable proofs. Interestingly, it was one of the greatest and most diligent scientific and mathematical geniuses we know of, Isaac Newton, who it seems, actually tried to prove the existence of God using scientific methodology. For the pains of nearly 20 years of secret and intense alchemic experimentation, Newton, drove himself into a state of mental breakdown, bringing him close to death.
But for the Enlightenment academics who followed, Newton's studies on alchemy were better left in the closet. It wasn't until several centuries later, in most prosperous and forward Victorian England when Charles Darwin proposed his theories of the origins and species and the dynamic of evolution, that serious public and religious backlash to scientific methodology once again flared. The idea that our species had evolved as part of a long history that led from a primordial mix up through the apes, was too much for many in the public to swallow. If Copernicus had freed them from a medieval straightjacket based on obedience and absolutions doled up by a distant hierarchy, here they preferred what they found in their own mirrors, written in their Bible and painted on church walls and chapels -- that God had created man in his own image. Darwin, it was seen, was not just challenging the religious authorities and the very text of the Bible, itself but the security of mankind's position at the top of the food chain. If evolution could bring us to this point of dominance, could it not just as easily, render us irrelevant?
Like Galileo, the acceptance of Darwin has been a hard pill to swallow for large swaths of the population. Despite all this history, today, in the country that has most prospered from technical and scientific openness, there is a concerted move to confound the spheres of science and theology. The authors of the most credible attempt, challenge Darwin's theory with something they call Intelligent Design. Its proponents seize on several gaps in Darwin's theory, mainly, that DNA, being a common component of even the simplest of life forms, appears to be possibly too complex and elegant to have emerged whole cloth from purely natural phenomenon. They argue, then, that this complexity and elegance is a sure testament of the hand of God in the creation of life process. They replace the dynamic of mutation and survival of the fittest with a celestial blueprint charted by a supreme omniscient architect.
But if intelligent design implies a clockwork universe guided by an invisible hand, as seems to be the argument, there is a much older and bigger problem that then has to be dealt with (Spinoza, anyone?). It sets the stage for the appearance of God's foe, Satan. For, if an omniscient almighty God has put into motion all aspects of the long string of geological and organic changes or mutations that continue to reshape the universe, how do we then deal with the innocent human consequences of serious natural calamities like the recent earthquakes, tsunami and hurricanes that wreak so much sorrow and suffering on vastly different populations?
At this moment we happen to be looking down the long barrel of a threat as small as a single instance of recombination or mutation. Should it happen, as most experts believe, there will be a slight shift in the tiny clump of protein that makes up the Bird Flu virus H5N1, giving that agent the power to easily pass from human to human, as the influenzas that commonly attack us so efficiently, do. Should this occur, and hundreds of millions of people around the world are stricken and die, shall we have to believe that we are being moved by the great plan or even pawns in a great cosmic struggle between good and evil? Will we be asked to also conclude, as in those medieval times when only "our betters" knew where heaven and hell were located, that we, like the good citizens of Dover Pennsylvania, are being punished for our sins?
At least in medieval times, proven information was not available, people only knew to believe what they were told. Thrown back into ignorance, with the force of a tornado in Kansas, we don't have that excuse today.