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posted by cmn32480 on Friday May 19 2017, @10:23AM   Printer-friendly
from the i'll-give-you-your-God-if-you-give-me-my-billions-of-years dept.

The Daily Beast reports that astronomers met at the Vatican for a conference in honour of Georges Lemaître. Lemaître, a Catholic priest and astronomer, proposed in 1927 the notion of a "primordial atom" from which the Universe originated. His idea is now commonly called the Big Bang theory. The article notes that the words "God" and "religion" are absent from the titles of the presentations.

Slides (PDF) associated with the presentations are available from the Web site of the Vatican Observatory.

further reading:
official announcement
biography of Lemaître
The Cornell Daily Sun article about Lemaître

additional coverage:

Original Submission

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  • (Score: 5, Informative) by AthanasiusKircher on Friday May 19 2017, @07:52PM

    by AthanasiusKircher (5291) on Friday May 19 2017, @07:52PM (#512331) Journal

    That's a really interesting spin you put on all the facts. Excuse this long post, but if you're not going to look at the link I offered, I guess I'll have to try to explain a very complex situation here.

    Look: I'm really not trying to be a contrarian. But some of my research actually involves the history of science. It's one of the few fields where I'll actually claim some authority (though that is no reason to listen to me, which is why I put links before). And when I first started that research in grad school, I thought pretty much what you do (or maybe even worse) about the Catholic Church. So I'm absolutely sympathetic that what I'm saying challenges fundamental elements of your worldview -- it certainly challenged mine. Then I started reading original documents from the time of the scientific revolution. I discovered the huge number of Jesuit astronomers (and other scientists) who were actually doing research actively at the time of Galileo. I read what some of them wrote and was surprised at it. That led me to look for what modern scholars (not "Catholic scholars" -- mainstream history of science scholars) now say about this stuff, and I was surprised that the entire narrative of most educated scholars in the history of science has shifted in recent decades as people actually went back and started reading original treatises, rather than spouting "history" that originated as anti-Catholic propaganda without questioning.

    No doubt some church leaders were banking on the thought that scientific discovery could bolster their position by confirming their dogma that the Earth was the center. When it didn't work out that way, the church leadership took the foolish course of persecution and suppression.

    That's simply not in any way an accurate depiction of what happened.

    There's no doubt that the Catholic Church set itself up as authoritarian. (So did most religions and governments of the time.) And the Catholic Church is famous for persecuting heretics, at times killing them. That's why Giordano Bruno was killed -- it wasn't because of his scientific speculation. (Nicholas of Cusa, among other Catholics and clerics in preceding generations, had spouted off even crazier speculations on science.) He was tried for teaching false religious doctrines.

    So, aside from Bruno, the ONLY case that tends to come out from centuries of Catholic Church dominance for persecution of a scientist is Galileo. That in itself is telling. The Catholic Church persecuted hundreds, probably thousands of heretics for religious beliefs over the centuries. But the same two guys get trotted out for EVERY argument about how the Church was anti-science, and one of those guys (Bruno) was truly a wacko even by standards of that day. (Not that that at all justifies killing him, but it doesn't make him a "scientist" either.)

    I didn't want to have to deal with rehashing the whole Galileo thing, which is why I gave a link [] in my first post. (There are some minor inaccuracies in that long account -- and I think it's at times a little harsh on the Copernicans, mostly snarky not inaccurate -- but it's mostly based on solid research.)

    Here's the problem. The empirical science of the day sided with the geocentrists. So did Aristotelean physics (part of your "Lost Secrets of the Ancients" that the church had helped revive). Among the many arguments:
        -- If the Earth is in motion, why do we not observe stellar parallax? (Turns out the stars were too far away, and parallax was not actually measured until the 1800s.)
        -- If the Earth is in motion, why do we not observe Coriolis forces? (Turns out that the experiments required a level of precision that again was not obtained until the 1800s.)
        -- If the Earth is in motion, why don't we observe shifts in stellar diameters and we get closer and farther from them? (Again, stars were much farther away than ANYONE thought at that time.)
    There were a lot more arguments, but these were some of the biggest ones that became cemented as major obstacles to the heliocentrists. Note all of these depend on empirical observation, not church "dogma."

    There's a lot more to the Galileo saga, but essentially what happened is that Galileo insisted on the TRUTH of the Copernican model -- not just a mathematical method for calculating orbits -- even though it was demonstrably wrong. (Kepler's elliptical orbit model was actually correct, but Galileo rejected Kepler's ideas and insisted on perfect circles that still required lots of epicycles -- so, contrary to popular belief, the "math wasn't easier" for Galileo's model either.) The ONLY "empirical" argument Galileo could produce was on the basis of a theory of tides, supposedly caused by the sun, thereby proving that the earth was in motion. Except his theory required there to be only one tide per day, and for that high tide to occur at noon. But anyone who had been to the beach back then knew what he said was idiotic, but that was the ONLY empirical evidence he had. (Galileo again firmly rejected Kepler's -- correct -- theory about the moon causing tides.)

    Meanwhile, Catholic scientists were happy to accept new ideas when they agreed with empirical evidence. Tycho Brahe's alternate model for the solar system (where Mercury and Venus orbit the sun, but the Earth is still center) gained acceptance among many Catholics, since Brahe was basing his arguments on solid empirical science and the math actually WAS made significantly easier in his model at least for the inner planets.

    NONE of this justifies Galileo's ultimate treatment by the church, which seems to have been the result of Galileo acting like a jerk, a few misunderstandings, and some external political squabbles. (Well, more than that -- there was a war going on.) But the Church would likely have been happy to modify their "dogma" that the Earth was the century of the universe if there were actual EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE for it.

    Instead, paradoxically, Galileo likely set back the cause of science through his ill-informed political rant, and the Church's overreaction to such insolence had the broader effect of suppressing public debate on heliocentric models in Catholic countries. (Note that Galileo was actually encouraged by the Pope himself to write a book debating these systems rationally; Galileo took that as license to overstate his claims, make his opponents look like idiots through unfair and irrational argumentation, and put the Pope's pluralistic message on science in the mouth of a character identified as a "fool.")

    Over the next couple generations, Kepler's theories gradually became more accepted (not the perfect circle Copernican ones Galileo promoted), and once Newton's theories put the Kepler model on a more solid theoretical foundation, heliocentric theories became more accepted among scientists. If you want to see ACTUAL scientific debate in the 1600s on this issue, you might look at Jesuit scientist Riccioli's arguments [] for and against the motion of the earth (49 for, 77 against). Riccioli spent 343 pages [] discussing these in great detail, and it's an amazing document of scientific debate of the time. Unfortunately, unless you read Latin, only a summary is available in English, even though this was from one of the most popular astronomical treatises of the 1600s. Yes, some of the arguments deal with religious doctrine. A lot more deal with philosophical issues that today seem "unscientific" to us, but were legitimate concerns to scientists of the day. But the real barriers to Copernicanism were still empirical.

    Ultimately, in 1728-29 -- roughly a century after Galileo's trial -- the first actual empirical evidence for heliocentrism was discovered in Bradley's measurement of stellar aberration []. Within five years, Bradley's work had been translated into Italian, leading to a slightly amended version of Galileo's treatise being published in Italy in 1744 and Copernicanism being officially dropped from future banned books lists. All it took was some actual empirical evidence. In the early 1800s, more evidence finally came in regarding things like stellar parallax and Coriolis forces (the major objections to heliocentrism in the 1600s), resulting in the final allowance for teaching heliocentrism as proven fact in 1820.

    Again, I absolutely disagree with what the Church did to Galileo. But it wasn't out to prove its own "dogma" in this case, merely taking a somewhat conservative perspective on empirical science.

    That was hardly the first time they tried force to stop advancement. They also had a difficult relationship with the Gutenberg Press, even going as far as burning William Tyndale at the stake for printing English translations of the Bible. Even before the press, they were blaming translations of the Bible for causing wars and troubles, and severely persecuted those involved in such work.

    I really hate to burst your bubble, but this is also somewhat based on Protestant manufactured anti-Catholic propaganda. Again, this is something I too believed without question until I happened upon some other historical facts a few years ago. The Church actually encouraged and supported the many vernacular Bible translations [] of medieval times. It persecuted heretical movements who taught against church doctrine, and yes, some of them created their own translations (sometimes more like "adaptations"). But legitimate translation? The whole idea that the Church widely suppressed any attempts at translation seems to be based on a modern scholar in 1920 misreading a single medieval papal edict.

    All that changed somewhat in the 1500s with the rise of Luther, etc. The Catholic Church overreacted strongly, and yes, large sections of Europe were ending up in religious wars at that time. So yes, they burned Tyndale, but not for the act of translation alone, but rather because of his controversial use of vocabulary and appended notes [] that sought to undermine Catholic doctrine. The actual historical reality IS that dissidents from the church frequently created their "translations" that often were somewhat "creative" to undermine church doctrine.

    I'm not defending this action either -- just noting that the common belief that the Church wanted to keep everyone "ignorant" by disallowing all translation is false. The fact that many translations (and creative adaptations) were used for political and heretical acts, which the Church sometimes then persecuted, is true.

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