Galileo Galilei 1520-1642
the first real telescope and made important observations about falling
bodies. These achievements alone would have insured Galileo's greatness.
But the work that was of the greatest historical importance was
his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Systems of the World -
Ptolemaic and Copernican. With this work (and its spectacular
aftermath), the relationship between science and religion would
never be the same.
the Copernican theory of the universe - that the earth revolved
around the sun. This brought him into conflict with the Catholic
Church and into conflict within himself - he struggled between his
faith in the Church and his faith in science.
The Church position
was the Ptolemeic theory endorsed by Aristotle - that the sun and
all the heavens revolved around the earth. Watching the sky it certainly
appears that the sun is moving across the sky, and all ancient civilizations
assumed this to be true.
the Book of Joshua told how Joshua stopped the sun. Obviously, in
order to stop the sun, the sun had to move.
12-13 "Then spake Joshua... Sun stand thou still upon Gibeon;
and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon... So the sun stood still
in the midst of heaven, and hastened not to go down about a whole
the importance of a non-literal interpretation of the Bible to reconcile
faith and science, but the Church did not accept this view.
note, theologians, that in your desire to make matters of faith
out of propositions relating to the fixity of sun and earth you
run the risk of eventually having to condemn as heretics those
who would declare the earth to stand still and the sun to change
position -- eventually, I say, at such a time as it might be proved
that the earth moves and the sun stands still. The Dialogue
He was called
before the Inquisition and was judged guilty of heresy. Galileo
testified that he was not arguing that the Copernican doctrine was
true, but was merely presenting both sides. Unfortunately, on the
face of the book this clearly was not true. He acknowledged before
the Inquisition that the Copernican doctrine was false, and received
a fairly light penalty, house arrest for the rest of his life. But
he was never the same.
It is sometimes
said that as Galileo left the Inquisition he muttered under his
breath, "yet it moves," referring to the motion of the
earth. This saying is almost certainly apocryphal - it never happened.
He took very seriously the precariousness of his position, and all
his comments both to friends and to the Inquisition show how unlikely
Galileo was in
a real spiritual conflict. When the Church said that Ptolemy was
right and Copernicus was wrong, as a sincere Catholic of the time
he had to agree. Yet his mathematical theories and observations
told him that Copernicus was right. The scientist in him had to
agree with this. The Ptolemeic and Copernican points of view were
merely theories which could not at that time be proven. When the
Inquisition called upon Galileo, there was not yet a real split
between science and religion to most people. Before Galileo, a person
of conscience did not have to choose. The truth was the truth and
God and science were on the same side. Galileo changed this forever.
It was not until
1992, 350 years after his death, that the Catholic Church admitted
that the condemnation of Galileo was a mistake.
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