Skip to comments.Why Galileo was Wrong, Even Though He was Right
Posted on 03/07/2010 11:42:51 AM PST by SeekAndFind
In the early seventeenth century a courageous and brilliant scientist, Galileo Galileo, confirmed heliocentrism, the idea first proposed a century earlier by Nicolaus Copernicus that the sun was at the center of the universe. Heliocentrism challenged geocentrism, the religiously motivated idea that a stationary earth was at the center of the universe. Galileo explained why heliocentrism was true and not surprisingly the church strongly opposed and persecuted the scientist. Ultimately, however, the truth could not be denied and church was forced to, once again, reluctantly give in to the objective truths of science.
That was the false history of the Galileo Affair according to later revisionists who promoted the view that science and religion were in conflict. In fact while Galileo indeed was brilliant, he also made it difficult for friendly voices to support him. Furthermore he did not confirm heliocentrism, and heliocentrism was not the only viable alternative to geocentrism. And geocentrism was hardly religiously motivated. The church had little objection to heliocentrism when Copernicus wrote of the model in the sixteenth century, and Copernicus was not the first to consider the idea.
The Galileo Affair is far more complex than the simple-minded warfare thesis supposes. Yes Pope John Paul II issued a declaration in 1992 acknowledging the church's errors. And the church was no doubt mistaken. But the church's action in the Galileo Affair was far more complex than simply opposing a scientific finding. In fact, there were at least four reasons why the church opposed Galileo's heliocentrism which confound the naive warfare thesis.
First, in Galileo's day internal church politics had made it less receptive to new ideas such as heliocentrism. Second, Galileo's style--such as satirizing his friend Pope Urban VII who had been a supporter--fomented opposition. Third, it was understood that science could devise models that, on the one hand fit the data but on the other hand were not true or approximately so. In fact, at the time it would not have been clear, without intuitive preference which Galileo seemed to have, that heliocentrism was obviously superior to geocentrism. In fact geocentrism modeled the celestial motions quite accurately. And finally, where geocentrism did fail, another alternative--Tycho Brahe's hybrid model--succeeded.
An important failure of geocentrism were the phases of Venus which indicated it circled the sun, not Earth. Galileo expounded upon this point, but what he failed to mention was that the Tychonic system, in which the sun circles the earth and the inner planets in turn circle the sun, handled the phases of Venus just fine.
In fact new research reported on this week indicates another problem with Galileo's firmly held views. When observing stars through a telescope, as Galileo did, they do not appear as points of light, as they should, but as a small extended area, or disk, as did the planets. This disk appearance is due to the diffraction of light which was unknown at the time.
Of course the stars were assumed to be like the sun, and therefore much larger than the planets. Given their larger size the observed small disk meant they must have been much farther away than the planets. But the calculated distances to the stars were thousands of times less than what we now calculate. Yes the stars were far away, but those small disks were misleading. The diffracting light made the stars appear closer than they actually are.
Galileo was therefore assuming the stars were much closer than they actually are. Why is this important? Consider objects you observe out the window as you sit in a moving train. A nearby tree may be behind a closer tree, but as the train moves you will see the farther tree emerge as your angle changes. Two stars in the sky, on the other hand, do not move in relation to each other as you move along, because they are so far away.
Because Galileo calculated the stars to be much closer than they actually are, he would necessarily expect to see some change in their relative positions as the earth circled the sun in his heliocentric model. But no such relative change was observed. It was an important failure of Galileo's model which, again, he did not mention. And again, it was an observation that the Tychonic system handled just fine.
What the new research points out is that a contemporary of Galileo, the German astronomer Simon Marius, famous for naming the moons of Jupiter, was aware of these implications and followed them to their logical conclusion.
While Galileo was making high claims for heliocentrism, Marius had made clear in his 1614 book Mundus Iovialis (The Jovian World), that the observations confirmed the earth-centered Tychonic system.
The new paper, aptly entitled "How Marius Was Right and Galileo Was Wrong Even Though Galileo Was Right and Marius Was Wrong," is another example of how not just science, but the history of science, is more complicated than self-serving black-white renditions would have it.
Actually the earth, sun, and other planets orbit a common center of gravity that would lie somewhere betwen the center of the sun and the orbit of Mercury.
Its what causes the wobble that we’ve used to detect planets around some other stars.
Nobody seems willing to grasp what Einstein meant, in introducing his theory of General Relativity in The Evolution Of Physics, when he wrote:
"The struggle, so violent in the early days of science, between the views of Ptolemy and Copernicus would then be quite meaningless. Either CS could be used with equal justification. The two sentences, 'the sun is at rest and the earth moves,' or 'the sun moves and the earth is at rest,' would simply mean two different conventions concerning two different CS."
So, according to Einstein, geocentrism is not so much a matter of "right" or "wrong," but a point of view based upon a CS or coordinate system, and, according to him, the debate was rendered moot by General Relativity.
I expect the controversy will continue, though, because no one is willing to grasp the implications. It threatens too much orthodoxy, in which a powerful hierarchy is too thoroughly vested.
Sounds like history is repeating itself, but the shoe is on the other foot, lol.
Thanks for posting the article.
Yes, you could make a relativistic argument that the Earth is fixed and the rest of the universe revolves around it.
But the problem with doing that is, you’ll have to alter the laws of physics and gravitation, to make it seem as if the Earth’s influence on it is greater than the giant bodies that it “apparently” seems to force to revolve around, in the same relativistic view.
It would be an unnecessary complication, better gotten rid off by accepting that it is the Earth which is doing the revolving.
Well, I don’t care if we are the center, or the Sun is, but if we pick the Sun, then all our measurements should start from there, instead of some unstable wobbly ball flying round the flame of a candle.
Galileo was right about the earth going around the sun but Galileo was wrong about earth not being the “center of the universe.”
Actually, everything, every atom, is at the center of its space-time continuum. Everything, no matter where it is, is the same distance in space and time from the edge of the universe defined as the “Big Bang.” Everything, therefore, is at the “center of the universe” at all times, including earth.
Evolving, Revolving, what's the difference?
Einstein accomodated that as well. You’re referring to Special Relativity. Einstein refers to General Relativity, which does not violate the old, physical laws of Special Relativity.
“The Evolution Of Physics” is available online for free download, at http://www.archive.org. Give it a quick look, it’s written in a very accessible, conversational style, in order to be accessible to as wide an audience as possible. It’s no impenetrable slog, there’s only one formula in it as I recall.
See post 10 for resolution.
Everything is at rest relative to the center of the Big Bang, whose edge forever moves away equally in all directions from every point.
Praise the name of Jesus. By Him were all things made that are made. And God breathed into man the breath of life.
Thus proving, once again, I am the center of the universe.
If monkeys and man have a common ancestor then it is God.
If you accept the one, you accept that the wobble isn’t terrestrial, but is more of a swirl in the movement of the sun, the moon, the planets and all celestial bodies.
There are some beautiful old lithographs showing such movement from that perspective, planets “kissing” and such, the music they made with the harmonies formed. The planets known to the ancients represented musical notes.
Sometimes I think that my stomach is proof of the expanding universe.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.