Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Galileo's heirs advise the pope-modern myth and historical facts

An article in the swissinfo.ch titled 'Galileo's heirs advise the pope' has some historical errors which I would like to set straight. The article says...

Historically, however, the Catholic Church has had a strained
relationship with science....

I don't believe this to be true at all. The church has supported scientific research for centuries. During Galileo’s time, the Jesuits had a highly respected group of astronomers and scientists in Rome. Many notable scientists received encouragement and funding from the Church and from individual Church officials. Many of the scientific advances during this period were made either by clerics or as a result of Church funding.

Nicolaus Copernicus' unpublished work 'Commentariolus', (which was not printed during his lifetime), first proposed a heliocentric theory of cosmology, placing the sun at the center of the solar system. This led many of his friends to request that he publish his findings. Among these were Cardinal Schonberg of the Roman Curia, Bishop Giese of Culm, and the future Pope Paul III.

Pope Clement VII insisted that this material be expanded into the great work of Copernicus' career, 'On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres', which proposed a sun-centered theory of cosmology. The printed book was dedicated to Pope Clement's successor, Paul III.

In 1616 a handful of clerics managed to put the book 'On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres' on the Index of Prohibited Books; no one could read it until certain passages were corrected. Fewer than ten sentences, characterizing the heliocentric theory as fact rather than hypothesis, had to be changed. In 1758 the book was removed.

Other noteworthy Catholic contributors to science include.
1. Egyptologist Fr. Athanasius Kircher.

2. The man frequently cited as the father of atomic theory Fr. Roger Boscovich.

3. Fr. Giambattista Riccioli was the first person to measure the rate of acceleration of a freely falling body.

4. Geologist, Fr. Nicholas Steno.

5. The scientist who discovered the diffraction of light and even gave the phenomenon its name was Fr. Francesco Maria Grimaldi.

6. Fathers Riccioli and Grimaldi also drew up a very accurate selenograph which currently adorns the entrance to the National Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

The swissinfo.ch article goes on to say that....

The church took exception to Galileo’s insistence that the earth wasn’t the centre of the universe. In 1633 he was found “vehemently suspect of heresy” and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. The church eventually realised Galileo was in fact correct, but it was only in 1992 – almost 360 years later – that Pope John Paul II “expressed regret” for how he was treated.

The church took exception to Galileo because he stopped proposing heliocentricity as a theory and began proclaiming it as truth, even though there was no conclusive proof of it at this time in history. Galileo would not have been in so much trouble if he had chosen to stay within the realm of science and out of the realm of theology. Despite his friends’ warnings, he insisted on moving the debate onto theological grounds.

The Catholic Church today acknowledges that Galileo’s condemnation was wrong. Galileo's long time friend Cardinal Maffeo Barberini (later Pope Urban VIII), was a member of Galileo's scientific society and a fan of Galileo. Galileo received permission from the new pope to write a work on heliocentrism, but was cautioned 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. Pope Urban felt mocked and could not believe how his friend could disgrace him publicly. Galileo had mocked the person he needed as a benefactor. He also alienated the Jesuits who were his long-time supporters, with attacks on one of the Jesuit astronomers. A trial resulted and Galileo was put under house arrest. It was during this time that Galileo wrote his finest work, a book dealing with motion and inertia that is a cornerstone of modern physics.

It is a good thing that the Church did not rush to embrace Galileo’s views, because it turned out that his ideas were not entirely correct. Galileo not only believed that the sun was the fixed centre of the solar system but the fixed centre of the entire universe. Modern science tells us 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.

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.

It's interesting to note that during all of Galileo's conflicts with the Church, other astronomers, including Johannes Kepler, were openly writing and teaching heliocentrism. 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. In considering his famous run-in with the Church, it's important to remember that the root of his problems were not his scientific views but his own unbridled arrogance.

1 comment:

Daughter of Eve said...

Wow, I never knew any of that. Knowing the "rest of the story," certainly provides a much different perspective on that old tale.