History: Galileo and More

July 21, 2010

Galileo: Giving the "Stink Eye"

I am convinced that one of the reasons that evolution as the explanation for all diversity of life on earth is challenged so rarely is that there is a false history out there. The history goes like this: Every major scientific advancement was made in spite of the church. When the church and a scientist clash? The church loses every time. With this understanding of history, it is obvious that sooner or later the church will back down on evolution.

But this history is completely false. Science has not been impeded by the church it has been advanced by it. There was no bigger benefactor to the sciences in the years proceeding the scientific revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries than the Roman Catholic church. The university system (that grew out of Christian monastic schools) were the infrastructure for the scientific advancements. Almost all of the early scientists were Christians. Many, such as Newton, were more devout than your average person. Newton wrote more on theology than on science.

I am convinced that science didn’t happen in spite of Christianity but because of it. The rationality of God in Christian theology (especially for the highly rational and methodological scholastic thinkers) caused Christians to search for constants, rules, and natural order. If life is random and chaotic with no divine direction, why expect constants? But the early scientists had the benefit of knowing (prior to discovering the scientific proof) that life was not chaotic. Science, for many, was the practice of discovering God’s work in nature. It was considered an accompanying book to the Bible (although the Bible was given preeminence and primacy).

But what about Galileo? In my many discussions with atheists I have been informed that Galileo was tortured for his scientific discoveries and that he battled against the church. One person even claimed the church had killed him. But this is a fairy tale. Galileo was never tortured for his claims. He was put under house arrest in a large and luxurious estate and was treated kindly (with servants, fine cuisine, and etc). The “house arrest” was not strict either given that he was allowed to leave at times including in his ill health being allowed to travel to seek medical attention. Galileo, remained loyal to the Church to the very end of his life. He even requested that he be carried daily to church in his feeble condition.
So why did the Church censure him? It had more to do with the ongoing schism between Protestants and Catholics than anything regarding science. When Galileo put forth his theory (that was actually not new and had, since Copernicus, been published freely for 70 years), he also provided a biblical interpretation to harmonize his theory and scripture. It was this that bugged the Roman Catholic Church. They were battling Protestants who were asserting an individual’s right to interpret Scripture (outside of ecclesiastical oversight). But doing this, the Church feared, Galileo was asserting that when scientific discovery and literal sense of the Scriptures conflict, scientists could independently interpret the Bible. This sounded too much like Protestantism for the Church at this sensitive time. Suddenly, the Copernican question and a much larger controversy were intertwined. In the end, Galileo’s theory was embraced by Christians (Protestant and Catholic) and it could be argued that Newton’s explanation of motion as relative between objects provides clarity to what the scripture means when it says the earth “doesn’t move.” It doesn’t move… relative to us.

The second case of the church being “outwitted” by science is the Scopes Trial. I have written on this in the past and will not recapitulate it all here. I can summarize by saying that the Scopes Trial has been even more misunderstood by history. Read my link and educate yourself.

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11 Responses to “History: Galileo and More”

  1. aspiranthistorian Says:

    galileo was treated kindly due to his coerced renouncing of his theory, had he not done so only speculation can tell us.

  2. Rob Henry Says:

    Thanks for this information. Very helpful.

  3. Adam Says:

    I’m just going to post a quote from:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_affair

    “Galileo was found guilty, and the sentence of the Inquisition was in three essential parts:
    1. Galileo was found “vehemently suspect of heresy,” namely of having held the opinions that the Sun lies motionless at the centre of the universe, that the Earth is not at its centre and moves, and that one may hold and defend an opinion as probable after it has been declared contrary to Holy Scripture. He was required to “abjure, curse, and detest” those opinions.[33]
    2. He was originally ordered to be imprisoned, however, due to his advanced age (70 at the time of the trial), the sentence was later commuted to house arrest for the rest of his life.
    3. His offending Dialogue was banned; and in an action not announced at the trial, publication of any of his works was forbidden, including any he might write in the future”.

    I give up.

    • W. Vida Says:

      Hi Adam,

      I was discussing the causes behind the punishment not the specific charges. My point was that it was politics not science that was behind the hubbub.

    • W. Vida Says:

      And another interesting point is that Galileo blamed his academic colleagues for his persecution. They stood to lose their jobs if he was right (because they had opposed it) and they used their influence to get him shut down.

      Academics using the force of law to silence an opposing view? That never happens right?

  4. aspiranthistorian Says:

    Pray you, sir, excuse me if my following post doesn’t satisfy your tactility barometer for I suppose that your post on Galileo is teetering on incompetence. Firstly, you seem to forget the thousand year period from the 5th century to the 15 century widely labeled by contemporaries as the middle ages. This time frame was ruled by the despotic ecclesiastic church essentially reversing all the progressed laid by the Greeks and Romans. For a full thousand years science was nonexistent.

    It was only till Martin Luther and his protestant following that diminished the churches authoritarian rule over all of Europe. This is precisely when science reemerged from the depths of church intimidation. Had the church never lost its foothold, science would have never reappeared in the 17th century.

    In your post you seem to be praising the church for forcing Galileo on house arrest, when they could have killed him or imprisoned him. The fact of the matter is by then the church had nowhere near the power they once had, killing was not an option— for want of not creating a martyr. The fact that the church even put Galileo on trial is a hindrance to Galileo and therefore science altogether.

    You say Galileo never blamed the church for his misfortune, but what if he had. What if he had never renounced his theory? He would have never had the luxury of house arrest. Galileo had to renounce his life workings, his theory, the only thing that scientists have.

    I feel for Jan Hus and Machiavelli, just two victims in an endless list of the tyrannical rule of the church.

    Don’t allow self-denial to overshadow the real truth.

    • W. Vida Says:

      Hi,

      //Pray you, sir, excuse me if my following post doesn’t satisfy your tactility barometer for I suppose that your post on Galileo is teetering on incompetence.//

      I think this is an insult but I love the way you said it. Very Shakespearian.

      //Firstly, you seem to forget the thousand year period from the 5th century to the 15 century widely labeled by contemporaries as the middle ages.//

      Contemporaries to what?

      //This time frame was ruled by the despotic ecclesiastic church essentially reversing all the progressed laid by the Greeks and Romans.//

      This is simply not true. The church of the middle ages loved Greek theology. Read Augustine who loved Plato. Read Aquinas who loved Aristotle. They also funded the study of Astronomy and other scientific pursuits. They started the university system. You need to reread your history. Try reading primary sources and tell me if you think they were systematically reversing the work of the Greeks.

      //For a full thousand years science was nonexistent.//

      Well, it was non existent for a lot longer than that. The Greeks did some good work with mathmatics and logic but there was nothing like what we saw in the 17th and 18th centuries until it actually came. Why did it come? I would argue that Christianity, incorporating the work of the Greeks with a Christian insistence on that rationality of God and the distinction between Creator and Creation.

      //It was only till Martin Luther and his protestant following that diminished the churches authoritarian rule over all of Europe.//

      Galileo was Catholic.

      //This is precisely when science reemerged from the depths of church intimidation.//

      Simply not true. Copernicus and Galileo were Catholics. Universities in Catholic countries cranked out as many world class scientists as those in Protestant ones.

      //Had the church never lost its foothold, science would have never reappeared in the 17th century.//

      You should read up on the 17th century world and tell me if you really think the church “Lost its foothold”.

      //In your post you seem to be praising the church for forcing Galileo on house arrest, when they could have killed him or imprisoned him.//

      No. I am saying the critics exaggerate the “evils” of the church unjustly. Which they do.

      //The fact of the matter is by then the church had nowhere near the power they once had, killing was not an option— for want of not creating a martyr.//

      Seriously? Read up on how many heretics were killed in this period. There were plenty.

      //The fact that the church even put Galileo on trial is a hindrance to Galileo and therefore science altogether.//

      Hinderance? Where did Galileo get the money for his research in the first place? Was it a Christian institution?

      //You say Galileo never blamed the church for his misfortune, but what if he had. What if he had never renounced his theory? He would have never had the luxury of house arrest. Galileo had to renounce his life workings, his theory, the only thing that scientists have.//

      He apparently had a deep love for God given that he didn’t have to go to church every day and yet requested to be taken there even when he was unable to walk.

      //I feel for Jan Hus and Machiavelli, just two victims in an endless list of the tyrannical rule of the church.//

      Listen. I am no Catholic. I am a Protestant. I like Jan Hus. And I am glad we are all not Catholic today. But I think we would have science either way. I think the Roman Catholic church helped science.

      PS Machiavelli was not exactly a good guy (Stalin had the Prince on his nightstand). He inspired a lot of killing with his writings.

      //Don’t allow self-denial to overshadow the real truth.//

      Amen to that. You may want to reconsider your views.

      • aspiranthistorian Says:

        I highly respect your writings and can’t wait to read more.

        As history is my lifes passion, i am in no way closed minded and i look forward for subsequent HEALTHY debating.

        Good work.

      • aspiranthistorian Says:

        //I think this is an insult but I love the way you said it. Very Shakespearian. //

        Immaturity at its finest, excuse my abrasive manners, it was very imprudent of me.

        //Contemporaries to what?//

        Do you know not of contemporary’s definition? The word was meant for contemporary (present day) historians. I should be clearer.

        //This is simply not true. The church of the middle ages loved Greek theology. Read Augustine who loved Plato. Read Aquinas who loved Aristotle. They also funded the study of Astronomy and other scientific pursuits. They started the university system. You need to reread your history. Try reading primary sources and tell me if you think they were systematically reversing the work of the Greeks.//

        Okay, I believe you have theology and philosophy mixed. Aristotle and Plato were philosophers not theologians. My prior statement may have been mixed in with a tad bit of hyperbole, and for that I apologize. In fact your statement is correct about how the church funded Astronomy and other scientific pursuits, given they had to be written in Latin and prove the existence of god. Copernicus and Galileo proved the earth was not the center of the universe and what happened to them? The church in NO WAY loved Greek paganism like you have stated. The church created the university system and essentially all control over academics as long as those academics proved the existence of god, no matter how unfounded their theories were.

        //Well, it was non existent for a lot longer than that. The Greeks did some good work with mathmatics and logic but there was nothing like what we saw in the 17th and 18th centuries until it actually came. Why did it come? I would argue that Christianity, incorporating the work of the Greeks with a Christian insistence on that rationality of God and the distinction between Creator and Creation.//

        Very valid point and for the most part I agree. The scientific revolution involved the marriage of science and religion, the enlightenment is a whole different story. More further to the point, had the reformation never happened to LOOSEN the churches authoritarian power over Europe, and had the printing press not been invented yet the scientific revolution would not of happened in the said centuries.

        //No. I am saying the critics exaggerate the “evils” of the church unjustly. Which they do. //

        It’s easy to proclaim that the critics exaggerate the “evils” of the church, while you live safely in the 21’st century.

        //Listen. I am no Catholic. I am a Protestant. I like Jan Hus. And I am glad we are all not Catholic today. But I think we would have science either way. I think the Roman Catholic church helped science. //

        I agree with you. I just don’t understand what took the church a thousand years to initiate scientific revolution.

        //Amen to that. You may want to reconsider your views//

        I’ll reconsider my views when rationality shows me otherwise.

  5. W. Vida Says:

    //Immaturity at its finest, excuse my abrasive manners, it was very imprudent of me.//

    No problem. I have pretty thick skin.

    //Do you know not of contemporary’s definition? The word was meant for contemporary (present day) historians. I should be clearer.//

    Of course I know the meaning of the word I wasn’t sure of the referent was. Someone can be a contemporary to Galileo or a contemporary to you and I. “Contemporary” requires a referent. Which you offered (present day). Thank you.

    //Okay, I believe you have theology and philosophy mixed. Aristotle and Plato were philosophers not theologians.//

    Yes of course. It was a typo. Sorry.

    //My prior statement may have been mixed in with a tad bit of hyperbole, and for that I apologize. In fact your statement is correct about how the church funded Astronomy and other scientific pursuits, given they had to be written in Latin and prove the existence of god. Copernicus and Galileo proved the earth was not the center of the universe and what happened to them? The church in NO WAY loved Greek paganism like you have stated.//

    Of course. I actually didn’t mean theology at all. Of course I meant philosophy (not theology). It was a typo. I am well aware of the difference.

    //The church created the university system and essentially all control over academics as long as those academics proved the existence of god, no matter how unfounded their theories were.//

    I don’t think the church felt they needed to “prove” the existence of God. I think that was presupposed. I do think the church required subscription to the doctrines of the church and the creeds. But if they are footing the bill for all the research that is their right.

    //Very valid point and for the most part I agree. The scientific revolution involved the marriage of science and religion, the enlightenment is a whole different story. More further to the point, had the reformation never happened to LOOSEN the churches authoritarian power over Europe, and had the printing press not been invented yet the scientific revolution would not of happened in the said centuries.//

    Well, that is speculation. I would argue that there was as much scientific work in the Catholic world as there was in the Protestant world.

    //It’s easy to proclaim that the critics exaggerate the “evils” of the church, while you live safely in the 21’st century.//
    Fair enough.

    //I agree with you. I just don’t understand what took the church a thousand years to initiate scientific revolution.//

    There were plenty of other cultures that could have done it if the Christian west was moving too slow. I think there should be more commendation and less condemnation considering no one else did it before the Christian west did.

    //I’ll reconsider my views when rationality shows me otherwise.//

    Of course.

  6. W. Vida Says:

    Hi aspiranthistorian,

    //I highly respect your writings and can’t wait to read more.//

    What a great complement. Thank you.

    //As history is my lifes passion, i am in no way closed minded and i look forward for subsequent HEALTHY debating. Good work.//

    Thanks again. Thank you for reading and commenting.


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