Skip to comments.Vatican Seeks Signs of Alien Life... E.T. phone Rome!
Posted on 11/10/2009 5:36:52 PM PST by The Magical Mischief Tour
Four hundred years after it locked up Galileo for challenging the view that the Earth was the center of the universe, the Vatican has called in experts to study the possibility of extraterrestrial alien life and its implication for the Catholic Church.
"The questions of life's origins and of whether life exists elsewhere in the universe are very suitable and deserve serious consideration," said the Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, an astronomer and director of the Vatican Observatory.
Funes, a Jesuit priest, presented the results Tuesday of a five-day conference that gathered astronomers, physicists, biologists and other experts to discuss the budding field of astrobiology the study of the origin of life and its existence elsewhere in the cosmos.
Funes said the possibility of alien life raises "many philosophical and theological implications" but added that the gathering was mainly focused on the scientific perspective and how different disciplines can be used to explore the issue.
(Excerpt) Read more at foxnews.com ...
Vatican extraterrestrial alien ping ...
They been watching “V”!
It seems that the Vatican is open to too much that is simply not true. Where is their discernment?
Twisting the Knife
How Galileo Brought His Troubles with the Church on Himself
By Wil Milan
If you ask people what Galileo Galilei is famous for, most will say that he invented the telescope, used it to prove the earth goes around the sun, and that the Catholic Church condemned him for his discoveries. That much is common knowledge, no?
In fact, none of those things is true.
Galileo did not invent the telescope. When and where the telescope was invented is not certain, but what is certain is that in 1609 Galileo heard about the new invention and made one for himself. Soon he turned it on the heavens, and it was at that moment that his destiny turned to fame.
Every night brought new discoveries. He discovered that the Milky Way is not a soft band of light but a cloud of millions and millions of stars, that the moon is covered with craters, that Venus has phases like the moon, even that the sun has spots on its face. (Looking at the sun through a telescope is probably what doomed Galileo to blindness later in his life.) Excited beyond measure by his discoveries, Galileo in 1610 published a little book, Siderius Nuncius (The Starry Messenger), detailing his discoveries.
The Starry Messenger made Galileo an overnight celebrity, and his discoveries did not go unnoticed by officials of the Catholic Church, many of whom were scholarly individuals with an interest in the sciences. Some of the leading cardinals of the Church were fellow members of the scientific society to which Galileo belonged and took great interest and pride in the discoveries of their most famous member.
The Church also lauded Galileo publicly. He had a friendly audience with Pope Paul V, and in 1611 the Jesuit Roman College held a day of ceremonies to honor Galileo. When in 1614 a Dominican monk criticized Galileo from the pulpit, the leader of the Dominicans reprimanded the monk and apologized to Galileo on behalf of the entire order.
What did get Galileo into a bit of hot water with the Church was a conclusion he drew from one of his telescopic discoveries: He discovered that Jupiter has four moons that orbit around it just as the moon does the earth. He was fascinated by this, and from this and from observing the phases of Venus (which indicated that Venus orbits the sun, not the earth) he concluded that the earth goes around the sun (a view known as heliocentrism), not the sun around the earth (known as geocentrism).
Today Galileo's conclusion seems obvious. But it was not obvious at the time, and the truth is that Galileo was jumping to conclusions unsupported by the facts. The fact that four moons orbit Jupiter does not in any way prove that the earth goes around the sun and neither does the fact that Venus shows phases as it orbits the sun.
A popular theory at the time (known as the Tychoan theory after Tycho Brahe, the famous Danish astronomer who had formulated it) proposed that all the planets orbit the sun, and the sun with its retinue of planets then orbits the earth. This theory explained Galileo's observations quite well, and many pointed that out to Galileo. But Galileo insisted that what he had found was proof of the earth orbiting the sun. He eventually turned out to be right, but what he had at the time was not proof.
It was that lack of proof, along with his own abrasive personality, that precipitated his troubles with the Church. Galileo was known for his arrogant manner, and during his career there were a great number of people whom he had slighted, insulted, or in some way made into enemies. In 1615 some of them saw a chance to get back at Galileo by accusing him of heresy for his assertion that heliocentrism was proven fact. And so it was that the Church was prompted to inquire whether Galileo was holding views contrary to Scripture.
It must be pointed out that at the time the Church did not have an official position on whether the sun goes around the earth or vice versa. Though geocentrism was the prevailing view, both views were widely held, and it was a matter of frequent debate among the science-minded.
Indeed, most of the resistance to heliocentrism came not from the Church but from the universities. Within the Church some believed heliocentrism to be contrary to the Bible, others believed it was not. In fact, Galileo had wide support within the Church, and Jesuit astronomers were among the first to confirm his discoveries.
So when Galileo was accused of statements contrary to Scripture, the matter was referred to Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, the Church's Master of Controversial Questions (quite a title, isn't it?). After careful study of the matter and of Galileo's evidence, Cardinal Bellarmine-who was later canonized and made a doctor of the Church-concluded that Galileo had not contradicted Scripture. But he did admonish Galileo not to teach that the earth moves around the sun unless he could prove it. Not an unreasonable admonition, really, but it had the effect of muzzling Galileo on the matter, because by then he realized he really did not have proof, though he still thought he was right.
And so it was that Galileo chafed under the cardinal's admonition for most of a decade, until in 1623 the luckiest event in his life occurred: Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, a member of Galileo's scientific society and a great fan of Galileo, became Pope Urban VIII.
This was Galileo's dream come true: a pope who was learned in the sciences, who had not only read all of Galileo's works but was a friend and admirer as well. Galileo was soon summoned to Rome for an audience with the Pope to discuss the latest in astronomy, and Galileo took the opportunity to ask the Pope for his blessing to write a book about the motions of the solar system.
Pope Urban VIII readily agreed to Galileo's request, with one condition: The book must present a balanced view of both heliocentrism and geocentrism. The Pope also asked Galileo to mention the Pope's personal view of the matter, which was that bodies in the heavens perhaps move in ways that are not understood on earth (not an unreasonable view at the time). Galileo agreed, and set forth to write his book.
Had Galileo written his book as promised there would have been no problem. But as he had many times before, Galileo was bent not only on arguing his case but on humiliating those who disagreed with him, and he wrote a book far different from what he had promised.
As was common at the time, he wrote the book in the form of a discussion among three men: one a proponent of heliocentrism, one a proponent of geocentrism, and an interested bystander. Unfortunately, the "dialogue" was one-sided-Galileo portrayed the proponent of heliocentrism as witty, intelligent, and well-informed, with the bystander often persuaded by him, while the proponent of geocentrism (whom Galileo named "Simplicius") was portrayed as slow-witted, often caught in his own errors, and something of a dolt. This was hardly a balanced presentation of views.
But Galileo's greatest mistake was his final twisting of the knife: He fulfilled his promise to mention the Pope's view of the matter, but he did so by putting the Pope's words in the mouth of the dim-witted Simplicius. This was no subtle jab-the Pope's views were well-known, and everyone immediately realized that it was a pointed insult. This was too much for the Pope to bear. He was furious, and Galileo was summoned to Rome to explain himself.
This time things did not go well for Galileo. He was charged with a number of offenses, and though he was not imprisoned or tortured, he was shown the implements of torture. Galileo, by then an old man, was terrified, and agreed to something of a plea bargain: In return for publicly recanting his heliocentric view, he was allowed to return home with a sentence of permanent house arrest. He lived out his remaining years in his home, eventually going blind. Curiously, it was during his years of house arrest that he wrote his finest work, a book dealing with motion and inertia that is a cornerstone of modern physics.
It's interesting to note that during all of Galileo's conflicts with the Church, other astronomers, including the equally famous Johannes Kepler, were openly writing and teaching heliocentrism. Kepler even worked out and published the equations that describe the orbits of the planets about the sun. Yet he never had the problems Galileo did, in part because he had less to do with the Catholic Church but also because he did not have Galileo's biting arrogance.
So it was that Galileo's spiteful manner, his knack for turning even his best friends into enemies, repeatedly got him in trouble. His accomplishments cannot be overstated-Galileo is truly one of the giants of science-but in recounting his famous run-in with the Church, it's also important to remember that the root of his problems were not his scientific views but his own unbridled arrogance.
Wil Milan is an astrophotographer based in Arizona.Though he is not a Catholic, he takes great interest in the history of astronomy. Some of his work can be seen on the World Wide Web at www.astrophotographer.com.
Debunking the Galileo Myth
Many people have uncritically accepted the idea that there is a longstanding war between science and religion.
We find this war advertised in many of the leading atheist tracts such as those by Richard Dawkins, Victor Stenger, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. Every few months one of the leading newsweeklies does a story on this subject. Little do the peddlers of this paradigm realize that they are victims of nineteenth-century atheist propaganda.
About a hundred years ago, two anti-religious bigots named John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White wrote books promoting the idea of an irreconcilable conflict between science and God. The books were full of facts that have now been totally discredited by scholars. But the myths produced by Draper and Dickson continue to be recycled. They are believed by many who consider themselves educated, and they even find their way into the textbooks. In this article I expose several of these myths, focusing especially on the Galileo case, since Galileo is routinely portrayed as a victim of religious persecution and a martyr to the cause of science.
The Flat Earth Fallacy: According to the atheist narrative, the medieval Christians all believed that the earth was flat until the brilliant scientists showed up in the modern era to prove that it was round. In reality, educated people in the Middle Ages knew that the earth was round. In fact, the ancient Greeks in the fifth century B.C. knew the earth was a globe. They didnt need modern science to point out the obvious. They could see that when a ship went over the horizon, the hull and the mast disappear at different times. Even more telling, during an eclipse they could see the earths shadow on the moon. Look fellas, its round!
Huxleys Mythical Put-Down: We read in various books about the great debate between Darwins defender Thomas Henry Huxley and poor Bishop Wilberforce. As the story goes, Wilberforce inquired of Huxley whether he was descended from an ape on his father or mothers side, and Huxley winningly responded that he would rather be descended from an ape than from an ignorant bishop who was misled people about the findings of science. A dramatic denouement, to be sure, but the only problem is that it never happened. There is no record of it in the proceedings of the society that held the debate, and Darwins friend Joseph Hooker who informed him about the debate said that Huxley made no rejoinder to Wilberforces arguments.
Darwin Against the Christians: As myth would have it, when Darwins published his Origin of Species, the scientists lined up on one side and the Christians lined up on the other side. In reality, there were good scientific arguments made both in favor of Darwin and against him. The British naturalist Richard Owen, the Harvard zoologist Louis Agassiz, and the renowned physicist Lord Kelvin all had serious reservations about Darwins theory. Historian Gertrude Himmelfarb points out that while some Christians found evolution inconsistent with the Bible, many Christians rallied to Darwins side. Typical was the influential Catholic journal Dublin Review which extravagantly praised Darwins book while registering only minor objections.
The Experiment Galileo Didnt Do: We read in textbooks about how Galileo went to the Tower of Pisa and dropped light and heavy bodies to the ground. He discovered that they hit the ground at the same time, thus refuting centuries of idle medieval theorizing. Actually Galileo didnt do any such experiments; one of his students did. The student discovered what we all can discover by doing similar experiments ourselves: the heavy bodies hit the ground first! As historian of science Thomas Kuhn points out, it is only in the absence of air resistance that all bodies hit the ground at the same time.
Galileo Was the First to Prove Heliocentrism: Actually, Copernicus advanced the heliocentric theory that the sun, not the earth, is at the center, and that the earth goes around the sun. He did this more than half a century before Galileo. But Copernicus had no direct evidence, and he admitted that there were serious obstacles from experience that told against his theory. For instance, if the earth is moving rapidly, why dont objects thrown up into the air land a considerable distance away from their starting point? Galileo defended heliocentrism, but one of his most prominent arguments was wrong. Galileo argued that the earths regular motion sloshes around the water in the oceans and explains the tides. In reality, tides have more to do with the moons gravitational force acting upon the earth.
The Church Dogmatically Opposed the New Science: In reality, the Church was the leading sponsor of the new science and Galileo himself was funded by the church. The leading astronomers of the time were Jesuit priests. They were open to Galileos theory but told him the evidence for it was inconclusive. This was the view of the greatest astronomer of the age, Tyco Brahe. The Churchs view of heliocentrism was hardly a dogmatic one. When Cardinal Bellarmine met with Galileo he said, While experience tells us plainly that the earth is standing still, if there were a real proof that the sun is in the center of the universe and that the sun goes not go round the earth but the earth round the sun, then we should have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages of scripture which appear to teach the contrary, and rather admit that we did not understand them than declare an opinion to be false which is proved to be true. But this is not a thing to be done in haste, and as for myself, I shall not believe that there are such proofs until they are shown to me. Galileo had no such proofs.
In reality, the Church was the leading sponsor of the new science and Galileo himself was funded by the church. The leading astronomers of the time were Jesuit priests.
Galileo Was A Victim of Torture and Abuse: This is perhaps the most recurring motif, and yet it is entirely untrue. Galileo was treated by the church as a celebrity. When summoned by the Inquisition, he was housed in the grand Medici Villa in Rome. He attended receptions with the Pope and leading cardinals. Even after he was found guilty, he was first housed in a magnificent Episcopal palace and then placed under house arrest although he was permitted to visit his daughters in a nearby convent and to continue publishing scientific papers.
The Church Was Wrong To Convict Galileo of Heresy: But Galileo was neither charged nor convicted of heresy. He was charged with teaching heliocentrism in specific contravention of his own pledge not to do so. This is a charge on which Galileo was guilty. He had assured Cardinal Bellarmine that given the sensitivity of the issue, he would not publicly promote heliocentrism. Yet when a new pope was named, Galileo decided on his own to go back on his word. Asked about this in court, he said his Dialogue on the Two World Systems did not advocate heliocentrism. This is a flat-out untruth as anyone who reads Galileos book can plainly see. Even Galileos supporters, and there were many, found it difficult to defend him at this point.
What can we conclude from all this? Galileo was right about heliocentrism, but we know that only in retrospect because of evidence that emerged after Galileos death. The Church should not have tried him at all, although Galileos reckless conduct contributed to his fate. Even so, his fate was not so terrible. Historian Gary Ferngren concludes that the traditional picture of Galileo as a martyr to intellectual freedom and as a victim of the churchs opposition to science has been demonstrated to be little more than a caricature. Remember this the next time you hear some half-educated atheist rambling on about the war between religion and science.
Dinesh D'Souza. "Debunking the Galileo Myth." Dinesh D'Souza Blog (November 26, 2007).
This article reprinted with permission from Dinesh D'Souza.
ENLIGHTENMENT SPIN: THE GALILEO MYTH
The Washington Times reports a very nice story this morning. Catholic scientists, or scientists who are Catholic, whatever makes you more comfortable, are trying to combat the notion that the Church is anti-science. The Galileo incident has made the Church a whipping boy, Thomas P. Sheahen of the Catholic Association of Scientists and Engineers told the paper.
Of course, he is referring to the story everyone learns in grade school; a lovable old scientist is condemned to Hell for refusing to deny the truth of the cosmos (in this case the Copernican notion of heliocentricity the suns the center of things rather than the earth). The story is employed to teach children that closed-minded religious people are afraid of science and the truth. Virtually every morally troubling development in science results in a public invocation of this old saw. If Galileo is not called as a central witness for the scientists, then his ghost is surely conjured by the press.
The problem is, its spin. Ancient, pro-enlightenment, zealot spin.
Robert Nisbet in (probably my favorite book) Prejudices: A Philosophical Dictionary, writes that the Galileo myth was adopted by the French Enlightenment to discredit the Catholic Church. Their first choice for martyr was Isaac Newton. Unfortunately, Newton was a religious fanatic in their eyes. So they picked Galileo instead and rewrote significant aspects of his biography (like the obvious fact that he was religious) so as to make the Church the darkest of villains.
Western Civilizations love of the individual in pursuit of the truth is perhaps its greatest attribute. So it shouldnt be shocking that we are all very receptive to the idea. From Diderot to Brecht, the myth of Galileo the rationalist-scientist-martyr dominated Western thought, and even today it shows few signs of abating, wrote Nisbet in 1982.
He was right. Galileo is still the reigning symbol for the idea that religion cant handle the truth and that the Catholic Church as a matter of settled policy punishes those who speak it.
Yes, Galileo was eventually found guilty of heresy. But his problems stemmed first and foremost from jealous fellow-scientists. Galileos first muzzle was one he put on himself. In 1597 he wrote a letter to Johannes Kepler (the first big Copernican and discoverer of the three laws of moving planet stuff). In the letter, Galileo told Kepler that, yeah Copernicus got things right, but he thought the Aristotelian academic establishment would have a cow if he said so publicly.
Twelve years later he created his own astronomical telescope and confirmed the existence of lunar moons, stars in the Milky Way, and various planets revolving around Jupiter. A year later he wrote The Starry Messenger and he won piles of awards, a cushy job, and all sorts of junk that they would have had on The Price is Right if it existed back then (Id say that Saracens head costs 12 guineas, Roberto).
Galileo went to Rome to show his findings to the Vatican. Despite the fact that his research couldnt have been more Copernican if it had been titled, As told by Copernicus, the Church gave him all sorts of attaboys. While in Rome for a couple years he published more Copernican-friendly papers, and the Church green-lighted all of it with nary a word or a restriction on distribution.
After Galileo went back to Padua, the leading scientific mediocrities started complaining. It was the scientists who said that challenging Aristotle was heresy not the Church. If Aristotle became obsolete than these guys would lose their prestigious posts and lucrative tutoring gigs. Much like Communist academics in Eastern Europe who invested a lifetime in Marxist theory, they had a lot more to lose from change. So, the tenured guild of professors enlisted the aid of the Dominicans (a rowdy and preachy bunch) to denounce Galileo.
In Tuscany, numerous Church officials and lay nobles supported Galileo during the assault. Still, Galileo had to return to Rome to face his accusers. He went. It was a big fight. The Vatican ordered him to hold off pursuing very specific areas of teaching until some corrections could be made to his last book. Galileo even got a letter from the Vatican hierarchy stating that he didnt have to recant anything.
So Galileo went home and kept publishing other stuff with explicit permission of the Church, including The Assayer, a rejoinder to some Jesuit criticisms. Galileo argued that doubt was necessary to all scientific research. He dedicated the book to an old friend who just happened to be the new Pope. Who happened to love the book. The Pope subsequently gave his blessing for a new Galilean magnum opus that would cover everything known to date about Copernican and Ptolemaic science. The Pope did ask that Galileo keep it objective and scientific. His Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems was a huge kick in the pants to the Aristotelians, and it generated a lot of controversy as good science always does but the Church didnt stop the publication or the debate, let alone sew a starving squirrel to Galileos pancreas.
Galileos James Carville was no preacher, but a scientist named Schreiner (it helps if you say his name the way Seinfeld says Neumann). He fanned the flames in Rome until the Pope felt obliged to call a trial under the Inquisition. The head of the Inquisition was a Galileo supporter, who hoped to get the whole thing over with quickly by just giving him a formal reprimand. Unfortunately, rabble-rousers and opportunists turned the heat up. The trial is very complicated but the result was that Galileo got house arrest, which is where he did all of his research anyway. He was permitted to correspond with any scientist he wanted and he wrote the Dialogue Concerning Two New Sciences while under the Mans thumb.
As Nisbet points out, this is not exactly the story one gets from the made-for-TV movies or high-school textbooks. The Church had the same problems of any major political institution and other challenges unique to being the Catholic Church. It had to contend with politics and intrigue and in-fighting and cravenness. But it also had legions of people fighting for truth and fairness in a difficult time beset with bizarre politics. Marxists, like Bertold Brecht, and liberals, like all of your (non-Marxist) college professors, seized upon the notion of a monolithic and superstitious Church because the aim was to discredit the Church specifically and religion in general. Religion with its faith in the unprovable and the perfection of the hereafter is, and always has been, the greatest threat to those who believe we can perfect the here and now through scientific methods.
Again Nisbet, Rivalry, jealousy, and vindictiveness from other scientists and philosophers were Galileos lot. [and] anyone who believes that inquisitions went out with the triumph of secularism over religion has not paid attention to the records of foundations, federal research agencies, professional societies etc.
Indeed, one need not look much further than then-Senator Al Gores treatment of dissenters on global warming to see how modern inquisitions work. Anyone who questions global warming in front of Gore faces the secular excommunication of being called an industry shill.
The scientists discussed in todays Washington Times say that Catholicism has much to tell science, most especially the idea that you cant use an evil means even for a good end. Thats a great place to start, but it shouldnt end there.
The Galileo incident proves that the Catholic Church isn't infallible
It also shows that Catholicism opposes science due to its Aristotelian dogmatism
The Church's often misunderstood erroneous proclamations on Galileo do not overthrow the doctrine of infallibility, once the facts are properly scrutinized.
The censure of the astronomer Galileo (1564-1642) in 1616 and 1633 may be the most notorious and famous Catholic error ever made, and the favorite (myth-filled) tale of those who believe religion and science are inexorably opposed. Catholic dogma had never enshrined geocentrism, and Galileo (a faithful Catholic) had been supported by many notable churchmen, including three popes. Indeed, his biographer Giorgio de Santillana stated that "It has been known for a long time that a major part of the church intellectuals were on the side of Galileo, while the clearest opposition to him came from secular ideas" (The Crime of Galileo, University of Chicago Press, 1955, xii-xiii). But the scientist (though basically correct) was overconfident and quite obstinate in proclaiming his scientific theory as absolute truth, and this was a major concern. Accordingly, St. Robert Bellarmine, who was directly involved in the controversy, made it clear that heliocentrism was not irreversibly condemned, and also that a not-yet proven theory was not an unassailable fact. Bellarmine actually had the superior understanding of the nature of a scientific hypothesis. Galileo was scientifically fallible, too. He held that the entire universe revolved around the sun in circular (not elliptical) orbits, and that tides were caused by the rotation of the earth. True heliocentrism wasnt conclusively proven until some 200 years later. Pope John Paul II apologized for the Church's mistake, but the Holy Office had done so in 1825, and Galileo's written works were permitted in 1741.
Far more embarrassing and numerous "Bible vs. Science" fiascoes in the Protestant world are not nearly as well-known. Martin Luther called Copernicus an "upstart astrologer" in 1539, appealing to Joshua 10:13 as proof that the sun moves. His successor Philip Melanchthon thought that Copernicus exhibited a lack of "honesty and decency," yet was an avid enthusiast of astrology. John Calvin "proved" geocentrism from Psalm 93:1, and contended that belief in a rotating earth would "pervert the order of nature." Francois Turretin, John Owen, and many Puritans followed suit. Catholic philosophers, on the other hand, like Nicholas Oresme (c.1325-1382) and Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464) had long since posited a moving earth, and the sphericity of the earth had been taught even earlier by St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Dante. The Protestant University of Tubingen condemned the heliocentrism of the great Lutheran astronomer Johann Kepler (1571-1630), not long before the Galileo incident. Leibniz, the Lutheran philosopher (1646-1716) attacked Newton's theory of gravitation.
But wasn't Galileo also imprisoned and tortured by the Inquisition, in order to get him to recant his theory?
Reply to Objection
In 1633 Galileo was "incarcerated" in the palace of Niccolini, the ambassador to the Vatican from Tuscany, who admired Galileo, spent five months with Archbishop Piccolomini in Siena, and then lived in comfortable environments with friends for the rest of his life (though technically under "house arrest"). No evidence exists to prove that he was ever actually subjected to torture or deliberately blinded (he lost his sight in 1637).
The Catholic Encyclopedia
[I]t was a churchman, Nicholas Copernicus, who first advanced the contrary doctrine that the sun and not the earth is the centre of our system, round which our planet revolves, rotating on its own axis. His great work, De Revolutionibus orblure coelestium, was published at the earnest solicitation of two distinguished churchmen, Cardinal Schomberg and Tiedemann Giese, Bishop of Culm. It was dedicated by permission to Pope Paul III in order, as Copernicus explained, that it might be thus protected from the attacks which it was sure to encounter on the part of the "mathematicians" (i.e. philosophers) . . . Neither Paul III, nor any of the nine popes who followed him, nor the Roman Congregations raised any alarm . . . Can it be said that either Paul V or Urban VIII so committed himself to the doctrine of geocentricism as to impose it upon the Church as an article of faith, and so to teach as pope what is now acknowledged to be untrue? That both these pontiffs were convinced anti-Copernicans cannot be doubted, nor that they believed the Copernican system to be unscriptural and desired its suppression. The question is, however, whether either of them condemned the doctrine ex cathedra. This, it is clear, they never did. As to the decree of 1616, we have seen that it was issued by the Congregation of the Index, which can raise no difficulty in regard of infallibility, this tribunal being absolutely incompetent to make a dogmatic decree. Nor is the case altered by the fact that the pope approved the Congregation's decision in forma communi, that is to say, to the extent needful for the purpose intended, namely to prohibit the circulation of writings which were judged harmful. . . . As to the second trial in 1633, this was concerned not so much with the doctrine as with the person of Galileo, and his manifest breach of contract in not abstaining from the active propaganda of Copernican doctrines. The sentence, passed upon him in consequence, clearly implied a condemnation of Copernicanism, but it made no formal decree on the subject, and did not receive the pope's signature.
(Vol. VI, 1909, "Galileo Galilei," John Gerard)
Summary: The Catholic Church never opposed the heliocentric theory invented by Nicolaus Copernicus and held as truth by Galileo Galilei. The inquisition of Galileo was on theological grounds alone, because he blurred the lines between science and religion, by stepping outside his role as a scientist and attempting to reinterpret Scripture. His final condemnation came after writing a book that appeared to insult the pope.
THE CATHOLIC KNIGHT: Since the Galileo inquisition is a topic of so much interest in the area of science and the Catholic Church, I thought I would use this entry to fully expand on it, simply to give my readers the complete and total explanation they deserve.
When one looks back over the history between scientific discovery and the Catholic Church, we find that overwhelmingly, the Church has been a supporter of the sciences, and many of the scientific advances we take for granted today, were in fact discovered by Catholic priests. When one looks back on the span of history, there is but one blip in the curve, and that is the Galileo case, also known as the "Galileo controversy," the "Galileo affair" and the "Galileo inquisition." In fact, when critics of the Catholic Church charge that she is guilty of obstructing scientific advances, they can only sight but one case as "evidence." It is the Galileo inquisition. Even if the sensationalist charges they propose were true, it would still be a pretty good record for the Catholic Church. Think of it, out of thousands upon thousands of scientific discoveries since the Church's founding, and the hundreds upon hundreds of scientists who discovered them, only one (Galileo) was tried for heresy. That's not bad really. Fortunately, for the Catholic Church, those sensationalist charges are not true, and in fact most people are grievously under informed, if not misinformed altogether, about the facts surrounding the Galileo inquisition.
The popular media (movies, television, newspapers, magazines) doesn't help much. Most of the time the same old generalizations and glaring omissions can be found there. This can be attributed either to blatant bias toward the Catholic Church, or else just the intellectual laziness of people not wanting to do their homework. Usually it's the latter. It's just too darn easy to say the Church tried Galileo simply because he believed heliocentrism - the theory that the earth orbits the sun. I can't count the number of times I've heard it told this way. I was amazed listening to a public radio program one day when the reporter stated that Galileo was tried for heresy because he opposed the "Church dogma" that the sun orbits the earth (geocentrism), and claimed that the earth orbits the sun (heliocentrism). My jaw dropped wide open! This was a supposedly reputable news broadcast. Not only did the reporter get it wrong about why Galileo was tried for heresy, but he even made the error of claiming that geocentrism (the theory the sun, moon and planets obit the earth) was "Church dogma." "Unbelievable!" I shouted back to the radio. For the few of you who may not know, a Church "dogma" is a doctrine that is required for belief if one is to be considered a Catholic in good standing. The fact is, the Church has never held geocentrism, heliocentrism, or any other scientific theory as a "dogma" in the entire 2000 years of its existence. Church "dogma" is reserved exclusively for theological matters; dealing with God, the Bible and the Saints. It defies the very mission of the Church to start holding scientific theories as dogma. This reporter's blunder could once again be ascribed to intellectual laziness, born of a journalist more eager to finish a story than to research his "facts."
The fact is that the Catholic Church has never condemned heliocentrism. The theory itself was formulated by a Catholic priest named Nicolaus Copernicus in 1543 AD. Copernicus dedicated his publication on the matter to Pope Paul III, and the theory was well received in the Catholic Church. It was however, viciously attacked by Protestants, who called it heresy, because according to their literal interpretation of certain Scriptures, they claimed it defied the Bible. Not only did the Protestants attack Copernicus over heliocentrism, but they also leveled their attacks against the Catholic Church as well, claiming that the Church didn't take the Bible seriously enough to put down Copernicus' heliocentric "heresy."
As the Catholic Church defended Copernicus' right to construct scientific theory and hypothesis, Protestants attempted to use heliocentrism as a wedge issue, to solidify the anti-papal claims of the Reformation, and perhaps drive more Catholics away from the Church. In short, the charge leveled against the Catholic Church was that she didn't take the Scriptures seriously because she allowed scientists and educators to teach the heliocentric theory at Catholic universities throughout Europe. This charge caused some Catholic clergy to react negatively, seeking to prove to the Protestants that the Catholic Church does take Scripture seriously.
Nearly 70 years later, in this post-Reformation turmoil, a scientist named Galileo Galilei enters the scene. Galileo's main contribution to Copernicus' heliocentric model was his observations made by telescope, which seemed to confirm Copernicus' theory by observational experiment. Still many questions remained, and the geocentrists posed some good ones that Galileo could not answer. Indeed no man would answer them for some time, because not enough had been known about the universe yet. Galileo's telescopic observations effectively elevated the heliocentric theory to scientific law in Galileo's mind, but the scientific community still had more questions. Galileo became a fierce advocate of the heliocentric model. He published his findings in 1610 and then took his telescope to the Jesuit Collegio Romano (Jesuit College in Rome) for demonstration in 1611. His findings were well received, and Galileo was made an official member of the Accademia deiLincei (literally the "Academy of the Lynxes" a.k.a. "Lincean Academy"), a prestigious pontifical school of science. During this visit he wrote to a friend...
"I have been received and shown favor by many illustrious cardinals, prelates, and princes of this city."
- Galileo Galilei, Rome 1611
Galileo was given a long audience with Pope Paul V, and the Jesuits held ceremonies in his honor for a full day, wherein scholars of all types personally verified Galileo's telescopic observations. There is more than ample evidence from the time period to demonstrate even to the most amateur historian that the Catholic Church thought there was no harm in teaching new and novel scientific theories such as heliocentrism.
Galileo's troubles did not come about until 1616, when a religious opponent of heliocentrism, by the name of Father Tommaso Caccini, denounced it as heresy. Keep in mind the political time period here. The Catholic Church was still reeling from the after-effects of the Protestant Reformation, and Protestants had been condemning Copernicus' theory of heliocentrism for nearly 70 years. The charge was that it contradicted the Bible, and Catholics didn't take the Bible seriously enough to do anything about it. Father Caccini would appear to be one of the many Catholic clergy heavily influenced by this argument at the time, and eager to prove to his flock (and to the Protestants) that Catholics do indeed take the Bible seriously, and they were willing to prove it!
Father Caccini was well known for his fanaticism, and some historians have questioned the sincerity of it, since it was usually attached to personal advancement within the Dominican order. His highly controversial sermons, which often vilified anyone whom he disagreed with, eventually resulted in discipline by the Archbishop of Bologna. Caccini was a member of the Pigeon League, whose founder opposed heliocentrism outright. There he may have collaborated with another member of the League by the name of Friar Niccolò Lorini. After Galileo's Letters on Solar Spots in 1613, the friar unleashed a scathing sermon against Galileo based on the Book of Joshua where the Scriptures say the sun and moon stopped in the sky for a whole day (Joshua 10:12-14). His argument against heliocentrism being that it must be heresy since the Scriptures say the sun and moon stopped in the sky, implying that the earth is at the center of the universe, and the heavenly bodies must rotate around it. For some reason Galileo felt the need to respond to this critic, and that was the beginning of his undoing.
Had Galileo just ignored the matter, he would have remained safe under the protection of the Church, just as Copernicus was before him, along with all the Jesuits who were teaching heliocentrism as theory in universities all over Europe. You see at that time, scientists enjoyed the protection of the Church, from radicals like Lorini and Caccini, so long as they maintained a strict separation between science and religion in their public works. As long as scientists kept their place within science, and didn't venture into the area of religion, they were free to theorize and speculate all they wanted. The Church understood the importance of scientific development, and further yet, she understood that sometimes the advance of scientific understanding might shake the conventional wisdom of the day, even to the point of appearing to challenge faith. Mother Church understood that true science can never contradict the teachings of revelation. St. Augustine wrote that our interpretation of Scripture must be reevaluated when observations of nature seem to contradict it. Likewise, Saint Thomas Aquinas, a doctor of the Church, wrote the following:
"First, the truth of Scripture must be held inviolable. Secondly, when there are different ways of explaining Scriptural text, no particular explanation should be held so rigidly that, if convincing arguments show it to be false, anyone dare to insist that it still is the definitive sense of the text. Otherwise, unbelievers will scorn the Sacred Scripture, and the way of faith will be closed to them."
- Saint Thomas Aquinas, 13th Century
The pope understood this, as well as most cardinals, archbishops, and Jesuit priests. Unfortunately, this was not as well understood among the general clergy, and in the post-Reformation turmoil, much of this wisdom was ignored by the general public. Certainly, Protestants would have nothing to do with it either, and insisted on the absolute literal interpretation of Scripture in most cases. (Some of them still do - mostly Evangelicals.) Had Galileo published his works in a Protestant country at that time, he would have most probably been burned at the stake. In Catholic Europe however, Galileo enjoyed the protection of the Vatican and the Jesuits, that is until he stepped out of his role as a scientist, and started preaching his discoveries as a matter of religion.
Galileo responded to Lorini's sermon against him in what has come to be known as the Letter to Castelli. In this letter, Galileo attempted to explain that the heliocentric theory does not contradict Scripture. He did this by proposing alternative ways of reinterpreting the Scriptures in what was a well-reasoned response. Caccini saw the letter as an opportunity to discredit Galileo completely by charging him with heresy. Since Galileo had crossed the science/theology line, he no longer fell under the protection of the Church's academic license. As a matter of legality, Galileo was now preaching on Scripture, and therefore postulating religious theories. Such matters were the business of the clergy alone, and at that time in European history, there was no separation between Church and State. Heresy was more than just grounds for excommunication. After an excommunication was issued, the state would step in and administer civil punishment, mainly because the state viewed heresy on the same level as high treason. This is why heretics were often punished with imprisonment if they were lucky. More extreme cases were met with execution. The princes and lords running the Catholic portions of Europe were trying to protect their regions from Protestant uprisings, and so they believed their actions to be justified. (To be fair, the same sort of thing was going on over on the Protestant side of Europe too.) Galileo, once under the protection of the Church's academic license, now found himself in the middle of a theological war between Catholics and Protestants, all because he decided to take it upon himself to reinterpret Scripture for a few monks and priests of the Dominican order. His opponents wasted no time charging him with heresy, and in 1616 the Office of Inquisition issued a report that the notion of a stationary sun was heretical, and prohibited Galileo from teaching that the earth revolved around a stationary sun as a matter of absolute truth.
Now a couple of things need to be clarified here. First and foremost, statements from the Office of Inquisition are NOT infallible. It is possible for the "Holy Office" (as it was sometimes called) to be in error. However, on the issue of this particular decree, it was actually right, though perhaps in spite of itself. When the Holy Office declared the notion of a stationary sun was heretical, it was most probably throwing a bone to the geocentrists pushing for Galileo's excommunication. However, modern science has since discovered that the sun is not stationary at all. Rather, as the earth obits the sun, so the sun orbits the galaxy, and the galaxy moves through space away from the center of the universe. So the sun is not stationary at all - far from it - but that would not be known for another 300 years. The heliocentric theory of that time asserted that the sun itself was the center of the universe, and did not move at all, but stayed perfectly still as the planets (including the earth) orbited around it. Secondly, the admonition against Galileo WAS NOT an excommunication, but rather a censure, and the Holy Office did this to protect Galileo from radical zealots like Lorini and Caccini. It did not prevent Galileo from discussing heliocentrism hypothetically, and no such admonition was given to the Jesuits, who largely supported Galileo's findings and were free to teach them all they wanted. In effect, this was the Vatican's way of giving Galileo a firm slap on the hand. The Holy Office was effectively telling him never to play the role of theologian again, and to keep his place as a scientist. It appeared that Galileo got the message, and for the next several years he continued to teach the heliocentric model as a scientific THEORY and simultaneously stayed clear of all controversy.
The next chapter in Galileo's inquisition didn't come about until 1632, and this was the result of an unfortunate chain of events. It all began in 1623 when a fellow astronomer, and friend of Galileo (Cardinal Barberini), was elected Pope Urban VIII. Though a geocentrist himself, he opposed the admonition of Galileo in 1616 and personally encouraged Galileo to return to the subject and write a treatise defending his heliocentric findings. Pope Urban VIII hoped to rehabilitate Galileo's reputation in the academic field, and give him the opportunity of scientific vindication. The pontiff personally asked Galileo to give arguments for and against heliocentrism in the book, and to be careful not to advocate heliocentrism as an absolute truth or theological fact. (In other words, he asked Galileo to stick to the realm of scientific theory and not cross the lines again into theology by pushing heliocentricity as absolute truth.) He also requested that his own views of geocentrism be included in Galileo's book.
Unfortunately, only the latter of those requests was fulfilled by Galileo, and the way in which he did it became the central reason behind Galileo's second inquisition. The book, entitled "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems" was a literary masterpiece for it's time. It was published in 1632. In it, Galileo structured the text as a debate between a heliocentrist and a geocentrist. The latter he named Simplicius (meaning "simpleton"), and casted him as a fool who frequently trapped himself by his own arguments. Most historians agree that Galileo did not do this out of malice. He was also an entertaining author who dazzled his readers with his literary wit and style. It is quite probable that Galileo was trying to write a book that would keep his readers entertained while he simultaneously educated them. But this method, combined with the fact that he pushed heliocentrism as absolute truth again, became Galileo's undoing. The pope (Galileo's friend) was a geocentrist, and the irreverent writing style of the book made him look like an idiot. This came at a time when the Catholic Church was still reeling from the Protestant Reformation. It is unknown if the pope ever read the book, and in all probability his advisers discouraged it. The pope's defenders immediately went into action, and once Galileo was caught in that political machine, the poor fellow never stood a chance. He was tried on suspicion of heresy. His book was banned, and Galileo was found guilty and ordered to be imprisoned. It is suspected that the pope was the one responsible for having his sentence commuted to house arrest. He remained under house arrest (in his own villa) for the remainder of his life. This may seem harsh to us living in the 21st century, but keep in mind that with a heresy verdict on his head, Galileo's life was in danger. He could have been captured and killed by any number of princes and lords who viewed heresy tantamount to treason. Had he fled to Protestant territories, his fate would have been the same, since Protestants viewed heliocentricity as heresy too. House arrest was by far the most humane and charitable way of protecting a man with a price on his head. As long as he was under the guard of a Church deputy, his safety could be assured, and the Vatican could plausibly claim he was being punished for his "crime."
Contrary to popular urban legend, the Galileo inquisition was a political one, not a scientific one. Galileo was tried and condemned for what was perceived to be an attack on the pope, along with an attempt to preach scientific theory as theological truth. The Catholic Church never officially condemned Copernicus' theory of heliocentricity. It did condemn one of Galileo's statements that the sun is the center of the universe. On that point, the Catholic Church was actually right. Scientific discovery would later prove that the universe is much bigger than the solar system, and that the sun is actually orbiting the galaxy, and our galaxy itself moves away from the center of the universe. The Galileo inquisition should be understood as a tragedy in the realm of politics - not science. For years, both Protestants and Secularists have used the Galileo inquisition to mock the Catholic Church as an opponent of heliocentrism. Such mockers fail to understand the history of the theory itself. Heliocentricity was actually invented by a Catholic priest named Nicolaus Copernicus more than half a century BEFORE the Galileo inquisition. The Catholic Church always allowed the teaching of heliocentricity as a scientific theory before, during and after the Galileo inquisition. Finally, the Galileo inquisition was a political tragedy centered around Galileo himself, mainly because the poor fellow didn't exercise the good sense to distance himself from theology and inadvertently made out the pope to look like a fool in a time when the Catholic Church was highly defensive.
Four hundred years after it locked up Galileo for challenging the view that the Earth was the center of the universe, the Vatican has called in experts to study the possibility of extraterrestrial alien life and its implication for the Catholic Church.
“The questions of life’s origins and of whether life exists elsewhere in the universe are very suitable and deserve serious consideration,” said the Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, an astronomer and director of the Vatican Observatory.
Funes, a Jesuit priest, presented the results Tuesday of a five-day conference that gathered astronomers, physicists, biologists and other experts to discuss the budding field of astrobiology the study of the origin of life and its existence elsewhere in the cosmos.
Funes said the possibility of alien life raises “many philosophical and theological implications” but added that the gathering was mainly focused on the scientific perspective and how different disciplines can be used to explore the issue.
Chris Impey, an astronomy professor at the University of Arizona, said it was appropriate that the Vatican would host such a meeting.
“Both science and religion posit life as a special outcome of a vast and mostly inhospitable universe,” he told a news conference Tuesday. “There is a rich middle ground for dialogue between the practitioners of astrobiology and those who seek to understand the meaning of our existence in a biological universe.”
Thirty scientists, including non-Catholics, from the U.S., France, Britain, Switzerland, Italy and Chile attended the conference, called to explore among other issues “whether sentient life forms exist on other worlds.”
Funes set the stage for the conference a year ago when he discussed the possibility of alien life in an interview given prominence in the Vatican’s daily newspaper.
The Church of Rome’s views have shifted radically through the centuries since Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake as a heretic in 1600 for speculating, among other ideas, that other worlds could be inhabited.
Scientists have discovered hundreds of planets outside our solar system including 32 new ones announced recently by the European Space Agency. Impey said the discovery of alien life may be only a few years away.
“If biology is not unique to the Earth, or life elsewhere differs bio-chemically from our version, or we ever make contact with an intelligent species in the vastness of space, the implications for our self-image will be profound,” he said.
This is not the first time the Vatican has explored the issue of extraterrestrials: In 2005, its observatory brought together top researchers in the field for similar discussions.
In the interview last year, Funes told Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano that believing the universe may host aliens, even intelligent ones, does not contradict a faith in God.
“How can we rule out that life may have developed elsewhere?” Funes said in that interview.
“Just as there is a multitude of creatures on Earth, there could be other beings, even intelligent ones, created by God. This does not contradict our faith, because we cannot put limits on God’s creative freedom.”
Funes maintained that if intelligent beings were discovered, they would also be considered “part of creation.”
The Roman Catholic Church’s relationship with science has come a long way since Galileo was tried as a heretic in 1633 and forced to recant his finding that the Earth revolves around the sun. Church teaching at the time placed Earth at the center of the universe.
Today top clergy, including Funes, openly endorse scientific ideas like the Big Bang theory as a reasonable explanation for the creation of the universe. The theory says the universe began billions of years ago in the explosion of a single, super-dense point that contained all matter.
Earlier this year, the Vatican also sponsored a conference on evolution to mark the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species.”
The event snubbed proponents of alternative theories, like creationism and intelligent design, which see a higher being rather than the undirected process of natural selection behind the evolution of species.
Still, there are divisions on the issues within the Catholic Church and within other religions, with some favoring creationism or intelligent design that could make it difficult to accept the concept of alien life.
Working with scientists to explore fundamental questions that are of interest to religion is in line with the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI, who has made strengthening the relationship between faith and reason a key aspect of his papacy.
Recent popes have been working to overcome the accusation that the church was hostile to science a reputation grounded in the Galileo affair.
In 1992, Pope John Paul II declared the ruling against the astronomer was an error resulting from “tragic mutual incomprehension.”
The Vatican Museums opened an exhibit last month marking the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first celestial observations.
Tommaso Maccacaro, president of Italy’s national institute of astrophysics, said at the exhibit’s Oct. 13 opening that astronomy has had a major impact on the way we perceive ourselves.
“It was astronomical observations that let us understand that Earth (and man) don’t have a privileged position or role in the universe,” he said. “I ask myself what tools will we use in the next 400 years, and I ask what revolutions of understanding they’ll bring about, like resolving the mystery of our apparent cosmic solitude.”
The Vatican Observatory has also been at the forefront of efforts to bridge the gap between religion and science. Its scientist-clerics have generated top-notch research and its meteorite collection is considered one of the world’s best.
The observatory, founded by Pope Leo XIII in 1891, is based in Castel Gandolfo, a lakeside town in the hills outside Rome where the pope has his summer residence. It also conducts research at an observatory at the University of Arizona, in Tucson.
I find it interesting that the common factor in all these human errors is the sin of pride: man thinking he is more special than he actually is. In psychological terms he extends his ego to his origins, his uniqueness in the universe, the centrality of his planet in the astronomical scheme of things . . . his doctor, his children, his children’s school . . . no wait, I may be getting carried away.
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