Skip to comments.Galileo: The Trump Card of Catholic Urban Legends
Posted on 05/18/2009 9:12:37 PM PDT by bdeaner
The film Angels and Demons brings up the Catholic Churchs so-called war on science and the churchs treatment of Italian scientist Galileo Galilei. The following analysis sheds much-needed light on the case.
In October 1992, Cardinal Paul Poupard presented to Pope John Paul II the results of the Pontifical Academy study of the famous 1633 trial of Galileo. He reported the studys conclusion that at the time of the trial, theologians ... failed to grasp the profound non-literal meaning of the Scriptures when they condemned Galileo for describing a universe that seemed to contradict Scripture.
The headlines that followed screamed that the church had reversed itself on the 17th century astronomer, and commentators wondered about the impact of the study on papal infallibility and that the church had finally surrendered in its war with science.
Which only proved once again that the trial of Galileo even more so than the Inquisition is the granddaddy of all Catholic urban legends. Galileo is the alleged proof that the church is anti-science and anti-modern thought. He is the all-encompassing trump card, played whether the discussion is over science, abortion, gay rights, legalized pornography or simply as a legitimate reason for anti-Catholicism itself. If Galileo had never lived, the anti-Catholic culture would have had to invent him.
Like many urban Catholic legends, we are all infected a bit by the propaganda surrounding Galileo. Heres a little just-the-facts that might help the next time someone tries to throw this urban legend in your face:
Was the church opposed to scientific study at the time of Galileo?
Most of the early scientific progress, particularly astronomy, was rooted in the church. Galileo would not so much discover that the Earth revolved around the sun, but attempt to prove the theories of a Catholic priest who had died 20 years before Galileo was born, Nicholas Copernicus. It was also the church at that time, under the aegis of Pope Gregory XIII, which introduced one of the major achievements of modern astronomy when Galileo was in his teens.
The Western world still marked time by the Julian calendar created in 46 B.C. By Galileos day, the calendar was 12 days off, leaving church feasts woefully behind the seasons for which they were intended. It was Pope Gregory XIII who was able to present a more accurate calendar in 1582. Though Protestant Europe fumed at the imposition of popish time, the accuracy of Gregorys calendar led to its acceptance throughout the West.
What did Copernicus discover?
Through mathematical examination Copernicus came to believe that the Earth and the planets in our solar system revolve around it contrary to popular and scientific understanding at the time, which had a fixed Earth at the center of the entire universe. His manuscript would circulate in scholarly circles, though it would not be formally published until he was on his deathbed in 1543. But Pope Leo X (1513-1521) had been intrigued by his theories and expressed an interest in hearing them advanced. For the most part, the church raised no objections to his revolutionary hypothesis after his death, as long as it was represented as theory, not undisputed fact. The difficulty that the church had with the theory is that it was perceived as contradicting Scripture where it was written that Joshua had made the sun stand still and the Psalmist praised the Earth set firmly in place. Most important, the theory could not be proven by current scientific technology.
Galileo is often portrayed as a pure scientist ranting and raging against religious oppression. Is this an accurate picture of the man?
The myth we have of Galileo is that of a faithless renegade attacked by a church afraid of science. Its false on all counts. Galileo was a traditional believing Catholic his daughter was a devout nun who saw no contradiction between his science and his faith. He had begun to study and write on the Copernican theory and was recognized as the leading astronomer of his day. In 1611, he was honored in Rome for his work, receiving a favorable audience with Pope Paul V, and became friends with Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, the future Pope Urban VIII, who would celebrate the astronomer with a poem.
Sounds good so far. What happened?
Galileo produced his first book The Starry Messenger detailing his observations in 1610, describing the moons of Jupiter, the location of stars and that the moon was not a perfect sphere. Galileo became a controversial celebrity, while being carved up by fellow scientists.
At the same time, instead of keeping the debate on a theoretical plane involving mathematics, astronomy and observation, Galileo entered the murky post-Reformation waters of theology and Scriptural interpretation. His theory was that nature cannot contradict the Bible, and if it appeared to do so it is because we do not adequately understand the deeper biblical interpretation.
This sounds pretty much like a Catholic understanding of the role of faith and science. How did he get into so much trouble? Essentially, Galileo slipped into trouble on three accounts. First, he was teaching Copernican theory as fact, rather than hypothesis, when there really was no scientific fact to back it up. Second, the popularity of his writings brought an essentially philosophical discussion into the public arena, requiring some sort of church response. Third, by elevating scientific conjecture to a theological level, he was raising the stakes enormously. Instead of merely scientific disputation, Galileo was now lecturing on Scriptural interpretation. Galileo could have avoided trouble if he presented his work as theory and if he had stuck to science rather than elevating the whole issue to a theological dispute over the meaning of Scripture.
At the same time, Galileo was making few friends with the scientific establishment of his day. It is forgotten that when Galileo is portrayed as the hero of science over religion, most of his real enemies were fellow scientists.
Why did science at the time oppose his views?
Throughout his career Galileo was opposed by the vast majority of astronomers who still supported the Ptolemaic view of the universe, called geocentrism. The Ptolemaic system, named after the second century A.D. astronomer Claudius Ptolemaeus, placed the Earth at the center of the universe, a view accepted as fact since the time of the ancient Greeks and that remained unchallenged until the 17th century.
Even after Copernicus raised serious questions regarding geocentrism, most astronomers obdurately clung to the Ptolemaic system. One of them was famed scientist Tycho Brahe, who constructed the so-called Tychonic system that still placed the Earth at the center of the universe with the sun revolving around it, but then suggested all of the other planets revolved around the sun in a complex set of epicycles. The invention of telescopes from 1609 brought advances in astronomy, but decades passed before Keplers laws of planetary motion and Newtons laws of gravitation were widely embraced.
How did the church respond to all this?
Actually, the church responded lightly. In February 1616, a council of theological advisers to the pope ruled that it was quite possibly heresy to teach as fact that the sun, rather than the Earth, was at the center of the universe, and that the Earth rotates on its axis. Galileo was not condemned, but Cardinal Robert Bellarmine was asked to convey the news to Galileo, advise him of the panels ruling, and order him to cease defending his theories as fact. He also asked him to avoid any further inroads into discussion of Scriptural interpretation. Galileo agreed.
Did he break his word?
In 1623, Cardinal Barberini was elected Pope Urban VIII. With the election of his friend and supporter, Galileo assumed that the atmosphere could be ripe for a reversal of the 1616 edict. In 1624, he headed off to Rome again to meet the new pope. Pope Urban had intimated that the 1616 edict would not have been published had he been pope at the time, and took credit for the word heresy not appearing in the formal edict.
Yet, Pope Urban also believed that the Copernican theory could never be proven and he was only willing to allow Galileo the right to discuss it as hypothesis. Galileo was encouraged, however, and proceeded over the next six years to write a dialogue on the Copernican theory. Galileo published his Dialogue in February 1632. The book was received with massive protest.
Why was the Dialogue so upsetting?
Galileo had so weighted his argument in favor of Copernican theory as truth and managed to insult the popes own expressed view that complex matters observed in nature were to be simply attributed to the mysterious power of God that a firestorm was inevitable. His scientific enemies were infuriated with Galileos often snide and ridiculing dismissal of their views. The Dialogue was also seen within the church as a direct public challenge to the 1616 edict.
The difficulty that Galileo encountered with church authorities was that he appeared to attack the veracity of Scripture with no acceptable proof for his belief that the Earth revolved around the sun. He had attempted to make such proofs through an argument based on the Earths tides (a scientifically incorrect one), but 17th century science simply was incapable of establishing that the Earth did, in fact, orbit the sun. And, finally, he appeared to be openly challenging a church edict to which he had earlier agreed.
What happened at Galileos trial?
Galileos trial did not take place before 10 cardinals as it is often pictured. Participants were Galileo, two officials and a secretary. The 10 cardinals would only review the testimony to render judgment. Galileos defense was that he had understood from Cardinal Bellarmine that he had not been condemned in 1616 and that the Dialogue did not, in fact, support the Copernican theory as fact. His first defense was probable. He was certainly not aware of a more restrictive notice that had been placed in the 1616 file specifically targeting him, which was revealed at the 1633 trial. His second defense, however, does not stand much scrutiny. The Dialogue was clearly a presentation and defense of the Copernican hypothesis as truth.
Seven of the 10 tribunal cardinals signed a condemnation of Galileo (the three remaining never signed it). The condemnation found Galileo vehemently suspected of heresy in teaching as truth that the Earth moves and is not the center of the world. He was found guilty in persisting in such teaching when he had been formally warned not to do so in 1616. His book was prohibited, he was ordered confined to formal imprisonment, to publicly renounce his beliefs and to perform proper penance.
Was the trial a battle between faith and science?
The trial of Galileo is most often portrayed in terms that it clearly was not: Galileo the scientist arguing the supremacy of reason and science over faith; the tribunal judges demanding that reason abjure to faith. The trial was neither. Galileo and the tribunal judges shared a common view that science and the Bible could not stand in contradiction. If there appeared to be a contradiction, such a contradiction resulted from either weak science or poor interpretation of Scripture. This was clearly understood by Cardinal Bellarmine, for example, who had argued just that point in 1615. Cardinal Bellarmine had written that if the orbiting of the Earth around the sun were ever to be demonstrated to be certain, then theologians ... would have to review biblical passages apparently opposed to the Copernican theories so as to avoid asserting the error of opinions proven to be true.
The mistakes that were made came from Galileos own personality and style, the Holy Fathers anger in believing that Galileo had personally deceived him, jealous competitive scientists out to get the acerbic Galileo and, frankly, tribunal judges who erroneously believed it was scientific fact that the universe revolved around a motionless Earth and that the Bible confirmed such a belief.
In his 1991 report, Cardinal Poupard briefly summarized the findings. The difficulty in 1616 and 1633 was that Galileo had not succeeded in proving irrefutably the double motion of the Earth. ... More than 150 years still had to pass before such proofs were scientifically established. At the same time, (T)heologians ... failed to grasp the profound, non-literal meaning of the Scriptures when they describe the physical structure of the created universe. This led them unduly to transpose a question of factual observation into the realm of faith.
Was it only in 1992 that the church reversed itself on Galileo?
Galileo died in 1642. In 1741, Pope Benedict XIV granted an imprimatur to the first edition of the complete works of Galileo. In 1757, a new edition of the Index of Forbidden Books allowed works that supported the Copernican theory, as science had moved to the point where the theory could be proven.
The story of Galileo had nothing to do with the church being opposed to science. Galileo was condemned because he could not scientifically prove his theory to be fact, because he was undermined by many of his fellow scientists, and because he had purposefully blurred the lines between science and theology.
and most who are in Galileo’s cheering section don’t know the first thing about planetary physics.
they claim that the sun is stationary. FALSE
they claim that the planets revolve in circles around the sun. FALSE.
they have no idea what parallax is.
Hey, if you’re going to quote from a book, use quotation marks. The first sentence from your post — the one that begins “Galileo was ordered to kneel down...” — is Fantoli’s (via Coyne’s translation), not yours.
>>> BTW, you will find nothing in this work resembling the revisionism of the posted article. <<<
Actually, you will find quite a bit of Fantoli’s book to be in accord with the posted article. Both try to arrive at an historical account of what happened in 1616 and 1633 without regurgitating the usual “warfare of science with theology” myth. Fantoli just presents ALL of the historical context — with footnotes!
Have you read either one?
Yeah, he stayed in bounds by delaying the publication of his thesis until the year of his death in 1543, and even then it was only the urging of others that overcame his reticence.
Galileo was born in 1564, and Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake in 1600, Galileo's 36th year. Wouldn't that have scared him? No ... he was playing the game, which Bruno had refused to do.
Bruno was not executed for his science. He was executed for his heretical religious beliefs about the Trinity, the divinity and incarnation of christ, the transubstantiation, the virginity of Mary etc. He was a pantheist. That’s why he was condemned.
Brown and Howard? Silly tripe for women and nothing more.
And you seem to get your information from uneducated people who literally have never studied the history of Government in Europe. Every government in Europe was a type of monarchy. Take a trip to Germany sometime for example, or France. Look at how the prince electors, kings, etc lived in their spendor. Note the dates. Note when the temporal governments were finally free from Vatican control.
Surely you dont argue that the vatican did not exercise the power to imprison back then? A Christian chiurch only gets this by falling into error. It doesnt come from Jesus, thats for sure.
I deeply admire anyone defending todays church. But some well-meaning, but clearly overzealous people, seem to think that defending the church today, means trying to justify anything they did back then.
Thats what my understanding of his building of his telescope was too.
>>> ...it’s revisionism. It promotes the view that the actions of the Church were consistent with a scientifically enlightened view, and that Galileo brought the whole thing upon himself with his rash agressiveness. <<<
Actually, towards the end of the article we find this:
“The mistakes that were made came from Galileos own personality and style, the Holy Fathers anger in believing that Galileo had personally deceived him, jealous competitive scientists out to get the acerbic Galileo and, frankly, tribunal judges who erroneously believed it was scientific fact that the universe revolved around a motionless Earth and that the Bible confirmed such a belief.”
Doesn’t look so onesided to me. Once again, have you even bothered to read the article?
>>> I think the record of his condemnation that I cited should be enough to give anyone pause. <<<
Correct. However, I think that both Bernini and Lockwood would agree that his trial and condemnation are poor fodder for “science vs. theology” myth-mongers and anti-Catholic bigots.
You are distorting the facts regarding Copernicus. Long before his death, in 1533, the Vatican — Pope Clement VII and a variety of Cardinals — were lectured on Copernicus’s heliocentric view. They did not condemn him nor jail him. He was afraid of the public’s reaction, not the Vatican’s reaction. That’s why he self-censored the book.
yeah, just governing doesn’t come from Jesus. yeah. Jesus wants the secularists to rule. yeah.
i wanna hear Rhino explain the parallax problem that the Copernicans ran into. How exactly is it that we know that the Copernican model is correct?
I. order, kosmôi and kata kosmon in order, duly, Il., etc.; maps atar ou kata kosmon id=Il.; oudeni kosmôi in no sort of order, Hdt., attic
2. good order, good behaviour, decency, Aesch., Dem.
3. the form, fashion of a thing, Od., Hdt.
4. of states, order, government, Hdt., Thuc.
The recognition that Thomas is fundamentally an Aristotelian is not equivalent to the claim that Aristotle is the only influence on him. It is the claim that whatever Thomas takes on from other sources is held to be compatible with what he already holds in common with Aristotle.
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Saint Thomas Aquinas
“a misunderstanding about what Galileo was and was not permitted to say in his 1632 work” (permitted?)
And the result was house imprisonment for life.
Youre right, im wrong. Thats clearly what Jesus advocated doing to anyone who questioned him. Just like when Thomas asked to see the nail scars,,, No wait, thats a bad example, ill dig around some more. Im mystified how you defend these absolute dictators.
Aristotle was not a pagan! Nor did His work produce a scientific revolution; it did not fully realize itself until it became integrated with the Christian worldview.
“They didn’t arrest and put Copernicus on house arrest, did they?”
That* is the point. Who in the hell is the Pope to have anybody ARRESTED?
Guess thats why Jesus tried to sieze the government in Jerusalem. And why he told Peter to set up a government complete with arrest powers. Now what chapter and verse was that again???
“Bruno was not executed for his science. He was executed for his heretical religious beliefs about the Trinity”
OHHHH,, well thats better! Like Jesus said,, if you find a nonbeliever, murder him.
y’all should list to Rhino. Jesus wants us to live like flower children. But, Rhino, flower children aren’t on the internet at 2 a.m.
“on earth as it is in heaven.” There may be authority in heaven, but have none on earth. Our kingdom is not of this world. Does that explain your cause, Desert?