Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Galileo Affair

Galileo was not so much censured for what he taught, but how he went about teaching it. From the Catholic Education Resource Center:
Galileo's other problem was that he insisted, despite the discoveries of Kepler, that the planets orbit the sun in perfect circles. The Jesuit astronomers could plainly see that this was untenable. Galileo nonetheless launched his campaign with a series of pamphlets and letters which were circulated all over Europe. Along the way, he picked fights with a number of Churchmen on peripheral issues which helped to stack the deck against him. And, despite the warnings of his friends in Rome, he insisted on moving the debate onto theological grounds.

There is no question that if the debate over heliocentrism had remained purely scientific, it would have been shrugged off by the Church authorities. But in 1614, Galileo felt that he had to answer the objection that the new science contradicted certain passages of Scripture. There was, for example, Joshua's command that the sun stand still. Why would Joshua do that if, as Galileo asserted, the sun didn't move at all? Then there were Psalms 92 ("He has made the world firm, not to be moved.") and 103 ("You fixed the earth upon its foundation, not to be moved forever."), not to mention the famous verse in Ecclesiastes. These are not obscure passages, and their literal sense would obviously have to be abandoned if the Copernican system were true. (Read more.)
From Intellectual Takeout:
 First of all, Galileo was never “imprisoned.” He was, for a time, confined to a villa in Florence for violating an agreement he had made with the Pope. Let me repeat that: a villa in Florence. What do I have to do get a sentence like that?

Secondly, he was never asked to “recant his scientific assertions that the Earth revolves around the Sun.” The Church had already accepted the feasibility of Copernicus' heliocentric cosmology. Not only was the pope who was sideways with Galileo a Copernicus fan, but most of the Catholic scientists at the time were already Copernicans.

The issue was not whether it was acceptable to assert that the earth revolved around the sun. The issue was the assertion (which Copernicus never made but Galileo did) that there was sufficient scientific evidence to prove it, which, at the time, there wasn't. Such evidence would come later, but at the time there were problems that the primitive state of science could not resolve, such as the fact that the stars did not appear to wobble as they should have given the contemporary belief that they were much closer than they in fact were.

And when Cardinal Bellarmine challenged Galileo to produce the proof for the heliocentric view, he produced his theory of tides to do it, which turned out to be completely wrong. The pope at the time overreacted to Galileo (whom many historians admit brought a lot of what happened on himself), but the Church was correct. The Church was trying to preserve scientific integrity against a scientist whom even the scholarly critics now admit didn’t have his evidential ducks in a row. (Read more.)

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