Thursday, November 20, 2008

Galileo Controversy Part 2

In 1616 the Holy Office, issued a condemnation of Galileo’s theory. Pope Paul V had had enough of the matter. Galileo backed off for a while and things returned to relative quiet for a time.

Later, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, a Jesuit issued a certificate that, although it forbade Galileo to hold or defend the heliocentric theory, did not prevent him from conjecturing it.

When Galileo met with the new pope, Urban VIII, in 1623, he received permission from his longtime friend to write a work on heliocentrism. Urban VIII asked him not to advocate the new position, only to present arguments for and against it. When Galileo wrote the Dialogue on the Two World Systems, he used an argument the pope had offered, and placed it in the mouth of his character Simplicio. Galileo made fun of the pope. Urban felt mocked and could not believe how his friend could disgrace him publicly. He also alienated his long-time supporters, the Jesuits, with attacks on one of their astronomers. The result was the infamous trial, which is still heralded as the final separation of science and religion.

Eventually Galileo withdrew his heliocentric theory. Some have claimed that he was tortured for it but there is no evidence for this. The records demonstrate that Galileo could not be tortured because of regulations laid down in The Directory for Inquisitors.

It is just as well that the Church did not rush to embrace Galileo’s views, because it turned out that his ideas were not entirely correct.

Galileo believed that the sun was not just the fixed center of the solar system but the fixed center of the universe.

We now know that the sun is not the center of the universe and that it does move—it simply orbits the center of the galaxy rather than the earth.

We now know that Galileo and his opponents were partly right and partly wrong. Galileo was right in asserting the mobility of the earth and wrong in asserting the immobility of the sun. His opponents were right in asserting the mobility of the sun and wrong in asserting the immobility of the earth.

Had the Catholic Church rushed to endorse Galileo’s views—and there were many in the Church who were quite favorable to them—the Church would have embraced what modern science has disproved.

The worst that happened to Galileo was that he suffered an honorable detention in his home and a mild reproof. The Catholic Church today acknowledges that Galileo’s condemnation was wrong. The Vatican has even issued two stamps of Galileo as an expression of regret for his mistreatment.

Part 1

For more information go to Catholic Answers.

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