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Through a Glass Darkly

Roman glass from the 2nd century; JC.Musée Saint-Remi à Reims, Marne, France; photo: Vassil

Where Science Meets Religion by Trent Dee Stephens, PhD, for the Come Follow Me lesson August 28–September 3: 1 Corinthians 8–13

Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians around 53–54 AD. He said to them, “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”1

We still use Paul’s statement “we see through a glass darkly” to remind ourselves that we are a long way from knowing everything. However, in spite of what we don’t yet know, we have come a long way in what we do know compared to what Paul, or anyone else, knew in the first century AD. I share here with you Chapter 1, “Vision,” from my soon-to-be-published book, Who is Adam?

The same sort of glass Paul described has been found in archaeological sites all over the later Roman Empire, including England, up to the fifth century, when the Roman armies pulled out of Britain. That glass, though often beautifully and skillfully made, was translucent, not transparent, and pellucidly imperfect. Then during the early Anglo-Saxon period in the British Isles there was little if any glass manufactured. After that hiatus, in archaeological sites dating from the late seventh century on, window glass, especially stained glass, has been found more frequently. Such windows resulted directly from the introduction of Christianity, mainly starting with Augustine’s mission to England beginning in 597 AD, and the subsequent construction of monasteries and churches.2 The largest stained-glass window in England is the massive Great East Window in York Minster, which is the size of a tennis court, designed by John Thornton and built in 1405-1408.

The earliest evidence of glass being used to improve vision can be seen in a fresco of Hugh of St. Cher in the monastery chapter house of San Nicolo, Treviso, Italy, dating from around 1342. In Murano, Italy, just off the coast of Venice, the glass-maker, Angelo Barovier first made crystal glass or Venetian crystal, around 1440 by adding seaweed rich in potassium oxide—thus greatly improving the optical quality of glass.3

Blown plate window glass was manufactured as early as the fourteenth century, but still emerged as wavy glass in relatively small pieces and quantities. Modern, fully transparent glass produced by casting, or pouring plate glass was invented in France in 1688 by Louis Lucas de Nehou and Abraham Thevart.4 Today, rather than being confined by small, expensive pieces of glass that were imperfect and hard to see through, we have perfectly clear plate glass from which whole building facades can be constructed. As Paul said in verse 10, “But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” Although many other issues in our modern world remain less lucid, we can state with confidence that our windows are perfect—they are so perfect that we often have to place stickers on glass doors to keep people from walking into them—not knowing that there is anything there.

In 1595, two Dutch eyeglass-makers, Zacharias Jansen and his father, Hans, put lenses into the ends of a tube and invented the compound microscope. However, it would be over two hundred years before that innovation became practical when Joseph Jackson Lister solved the problem of spherical aberration (light bending at different angles depending on where it passes through the lens) in 1830 by placing lenses at precise distances from each other.5 Today, thanks to the work of microscope companies such as Leitz and Zeiss, microscopes are perfect at the magnifications specified.

The earliest known telescope also was invented in the Netherlands, about thirteen years after the microscope, in 1608, by another eyeglass maker, Hans Lippershey. Although Lippershey was not awarded a patent for his invention, news of his discovery soon spread all over Europe. The following year, Galileo di Vincenzo Bonaiuti de' Galilei built his own telescopes, improving on Lippershey’s design, and turned them to the night sky. Galileo observed mountains and shadows on the moon as well as the phases of Venus, but his most amazing discovery was the four Galilean moons orbiting Jupiter. His discoveries confirmed the Copernican heliocentric model of the universe and turned humanity’s whole notion of space on its ear. For the first time in history, someone could look at the night sky with something more than just the naked eye.

Trent and Kathleen marveling at two of Galileo’s telescopes, Museo Galileo, Florence, Spring 2022

The problem with Galileo’s observations and the Copernican model was that they flew in the face of the Aristotelian view of a geocentric cosmos, which the Catholic Church had literally taken as gospel centuries earlier. They also were at odds with the childish worldview that humans are the center of the universe. Furthermore, Church officials viewed Galileo’s statements as impinging upon their exclusive right to interpret scripture. The scriptures were infallible. The Spanish Dominican friar and scholastic theologian Domingo Banez stated in 1584, “The Holy Spirit not only inspired all that is contained in the Scripture, He also dictated and suggested every word with which it was written.” Melchior Cano, another Spanish Dominican friar and theologian, went even farther in 1585 by stating, “Not only the words but even every comma has been supplied by the Holy Spirit.” It should be understood that these scholars were referring to the Vulgate Latin Bible, not the King James English Version (1611), with which most people today are more familiar. These quotes remind me of Paul’s statement in verse 11, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

In 1615, Galileo's writings on heliocentrism, supporting Copernicanism, were submitted to the Roman Inquisition by Niccolò Lorini, yet another Dominican friar and lecturer in ecclesiastical history at the University of Florence. Lorini claimed that Galileo was reinterpreting the Bible, and thus supporting Protestantism, in violation of the Council of Trent (1545 to 1563), which had confirmed the infallibility of the scriptures. The primary scriptures to which Lorini referred were as follows: Psalm 93:1 states, “The Lord reigneth…the world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved.” Psalm 96:10 says, “Say among the heathen that the Lord reigneth: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved...” Psalm 104:5 says, “Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever.” 1 Chronicles 16:30 states, “Fear before him, all the earth: the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved.” Ecclesiastes 1:5 says, “The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.” Then the main scripture is Joshua 10:12-14, which states, “Then spake Joshua to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day. And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the Lord hearkened unto the voice of a man: for the Lord fought for Israel.”

The irony is that all of these scriptures are still in the King James Old Testament, pretty much a direct translation from the Vulgate, and yet very few people pay them much attention. We tend to check them off as metaphorical, poetic statements. “…but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Just because much of what we read in the scriptures are metaphor and poetry, the messages are still pertinent. We have given up the childish notion that God literally stopped the sun over Gibeon, but we can believe that God supported the Israelites in their battles and listens to “man.” We can go even farther as an adult and ask (of some reputable source such as Bible Hub), did God actually help the Israelites “avenge themselves upon their enemies?” The Hebrew word is apparently יִקֹּ֥ם (yiq·qōm) “to grudge, avenge, punish.” Even though the Israelites may have thought this was a grudge match and that they were “avenging themselves,” God apparently had a much greater, higher purpose for heling Israel, which even as adults today we can only dimly grasp—as though seeing through a glass darkly.

Tycho Brahe (1546 – 1601), considered the leading astronomer of Galileo’s time (1564 – 1642), argued against the Copernican model because, “…the Earth [is], that hulking, lazy body, unfit for motion…” He cited the scriptures in Psalms, listed above, to support his statement that the Earth was immovable. Brahe also calculated that if the heliocentric model was correct, the stars would be 700 times farther away than the distance from the sun to Saturn—and that they, therefore would be gigantic—at least as big as the orbit of the Earth. It turns out that Brahe was actually on the right track; he was only off by a factor of 40—that is, the nearest star is not 700 times as far from the sun as Saturn, it is 28,000 times as far away! The largest known star is actually eight times the diameter of the Earth’s orbit. Brahe called his astronomical calculations “absurdities.” His calculations were somewhat correct, he just wasn't absurd enough.6 We, as a whole, have learned a lot since Brahe’s childish predictions. The Italian Catholic priest and lawyer, Francesco Ingoli, cited Brahe’s arguments against Copernicanism at Galileo’s inquisition.7

The 1616 Inquisition found heliocentrism to be “foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture.” Galileo, after other inquisitions, was found guilty of heresy in 1633 and was placed under house arrest, where he spent the last nine years of his life.8 Finally, on October 31st 1992, Pope John Paul II offered a formal apology to Galileo and admitted that the Catholic Church had been wrong in the seventeenth century. The church had finally grown up—after some 360 years in childhood.

Antonie Philips van Leeuwenhoek was one year old when Galileo was placed under house arrest. Forty years later, Leeuwenhoek would take the concept of seeing through glass clearly to a whole new level, revealing a world in the opposite direction from Galileo and unimagined by any previous generation. Leeuwenhoek was a Dutch draper who started making magnifying lenses to better visualize the weave in his draperies. By the 1670s, he had perfected lens polishing to the point where he could see what is now called microscopic life with his single-lens microscope. Leeuwenhoek called the tiny creatures that he discovered, moving about, seemingly everywhere, animalcules. He also was the first to discover bacteria, spermatozoa, muscle fibers, red blood cells, and blood flow through capillaries.

Perhaps Leeuwenhoek’s most famous statement came in 1674, after he had examined a drop of lake water,

“I now saw very plainly that these were little eels, or worms, lying all huddled up together and wriggling just as if you saw, with the naked eye, a whole tubful of little eels and water, with the eels squirming among one another; and the whole water seemed to be alive with these multifarious animalcules.

"This was for me, among all the marvels that I have discovered in nature, the most marvelous of all; and I must say, for my part, that no more pleasant sight has every yet come before my eyes than these many thousand of living creatures seen all alive in a little drop of water, moving among one another, each several creature having its own proper motion.”9

There apparently was no religious kickback against Leeuwenhoek’s discoveries. There really were no Biblical passages for Leeuwenhoek’s discovery of the microscopic world to contradict because, whereas anyone could see the stars, the sun, and the moon; even without a telescope; no one could see microscopic organisms without a microscope. Whereas Galileo’s observations brought a new dimension to space, unimagined before (take for example, Brahe’s calculations of the stars), Leeuwenhoek’s discoveries opened a whole new microscopic world previously unknown and even unimagined.

Before Leeuwenhoek, disease was only explained in the scriptures as being caused by angels. For example, we read in 2 Kings 19:35, “And it came to pass that night, that an angel of the Lord went out. And smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.”10 However, I can find no evidence that these, or any other scriptures were used to argue against the microscopic world that Leeuwenhoek introduced or the germ theory when it was proposed by Robert Koch in the late nineteenth century. How old does a child need to be before he or she can grasp the concept of the germ theory? That age certainly differs from child to child, but every child has some threshold of knowledge. Even many adults today don’t grasp why the germ theory is called a “theory” and what that term really means in science. I think this lack of basic understanding is at the foundation of many people being “anti-science” today.

Both Galileo’s telescopic discoveries of the vastness of space and Leeuwenhoek’s microscopic discoveries of the vastness of the minute world seems to have placed science on an inevitable collision course with sacred text and age-old religious, or even superstitious beliefs. New paradigms were emerging that would challenge paradigms that had existed for millennia, without people even imagining that there might be alternatives. In today’s world, everyone needs a basic foundation in science, which apparently is not being well-enough learned, so that people have at least a rudimentary understanding of knowledge such as the germ theory and communicable disease.

James E. Talmage, who was a chemist and geologist, and also a very religious man, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, wrote, “We cannot sweep aside all the accumulated knowledge in geology, archeology, or any other branch of science simply because our interpretation of some isolated passage of scripture may seem to be opposed thereto.”11 Remember Talmage’s admonition the next time you read Psalm 104:5, “Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever.”

Trent Dee Stephens, PhD


1. 1 Corinthians 13:9-13

2. Evison, Vera, Glass vessels in England, AD 400-1100, In, Jennifer Price, Editor, Glass in Britain and Ireland, AD 350-1100, No.127, British Museum, London, 2001, pp 47–104

3. Chambers, Karen S., and Oldknow, Tina; Ft. Wayne Museum of Art; Tampa Museum of Art, Clearly Inspired : Contemporary Glass and Its Origins, Pomegranate, San Francisco: p. 134, 1999

4.; retrieved 21 August 2023

5. Cope, Zachary, Joseph Lister, 1827–1912, The British Medical Journal, 2 (5543):7–8, 1967

6. Gingerich, Owen, The Eye of Heaven: Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler, American Institute of Physics, p 181, 1993

7. Graney, C., Setting Aside All Authority: Giovanni Battista Riccioli and the Science against Copernicus in the Age of Galileo, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, IN, 2015; see also Finocchiaro, M. A., The Galileo Affair: A Documentary History, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, pp. 28, 134, 1989

8. Finocchiaro, M. A., The Galileo Affair: A Documentary History, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, pp. 28, 134, 1989; Livio, Mario, Gallileo and the Science Deniers, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2020

9. History of the Microscope;; retrieved 10 August 2023

10. see also 2 Chronicles 32:5-26

11. Talmage, James E., letter to F. C. Williamson, Apr. 22, 1933. Signature Books Library;

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