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posted by chromas on Tuesday February 12 2019, @03:41PM   Printer-friendly

Submitted via IRC for Bytram

The truth about Galileo and his conflict with the Catholic Church

Today virtually every child grows up learning that the earth orbits the sun.

But four centuries ago, the idea of a heliocentric solar system was so controversial that the Catholic Church classified it as a heresy, and warned the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei to abandon it.

Many people believe that Galileo was hounded by the church for almost two decades, that he openly maintained a belief in heliocentrism, and that he was only spared torture and death because his powerful friends intervened on his behalf. But an examination of the fine details of Galileo’s conflict with church leaders doesn’t bear that out, according to English department distinguished research professor Henry Kelly.

In an article published this month in the journal “Church History,” Kelly clarifies some popularly held notions around Galileo’s travails with the church.

“We can only guess at what he really believed,” said Kelly, who for his research undertook a thorough examination of the judicial procedure used by the church in its investigation of Galileo. “Galileo was clearly stretching the truth when he maintained at his trial in 1633 that after 1616 he had never considered heliocentrism to be possible. Admitting otherwise would have increased the penance he was given, but would not have endangered his life, since he agreed to renounce the heresy — and in fact it would have spared him even the threat of torture.”

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the Catholic Church’s investigation into Galileo.


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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by FatPhil on Tuesday February 12 2019, @06:03PM (24 children)

    by FatPhil (863) <pc-soylentNO@SPAMasdf.fi> on Tuesday February 12 2019, @06:03PM (#800196) Homepage
    "Henry Ansgar Kelly, professor emeritus of English, trained as a Jesuit for 13 years"

    No bias there, no-siree.

    He kind of shoots himself in the foot pretty quickly when he wrote "Galileo was clearly stretching the truth when he maintained at his trial ...". The fact that there was a trial means he was being persecuted for his scientific beliefs by the Christain Church. That's our complaint, that's always been our complaint, and always will be. Well, until the Church decides to disband and admit that it was just an iron-age cult that had historically undergone an almost uncontrollable cancerous growth.
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  • (Score: 2) by HiThere on Tuesday February 12 2019, @06:17PM (1 child)

    by HiThere (866) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday February 12 2019, @06:17PM (#800206) Journal

    No, he doesn't shoot himself in the foot. He's being historically accurate.

    FWIW, Galileo got off lightly considering the typical punishment for his real crime (Lèse-majesté). People are still killed for less abusive Lèse-majesté in certain countries in today's world.

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    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12 2019, @06:35PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12 2019, @06:35PM (#800223)

      Or Gioridano Bruno [wikipedia.org],

      he was burned at the stake in Rome's Campo de' Fiori in 1600.

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by AthanasiusKircher on Tuesday February 12 2019, @07:00PM (16 children)

    by AthanasiusKircher (5291) on Tuesday February 12 2019, @07:00PM (#800241) Journal

    He kind of shoots himself in the foot pretty quickly when he wrote "Galileo was clearly stretching the truth when he maintained at his trial ...".

    How is it "shooting himself in the foot"? The full sentence says: "Galileo was clearly stretching the truth when he maintained at his trial in 1633 that after 1616 he had never considered heliocentrism to be possible." That's a historical fact. Galileo clearly believed in heliocentrism -- in fact, he believed it to be literally true in an era when there was no empirical evidence to support such a position (and lots of empirical arguments, not to mention long-held tradition and Aristotelean science, against).

    And the moment that Galileo was brought to questioning, he basically trips over himself to denounce everything he had said and wrote. He even offered (without prompting) to revise his writings and clearly argue against heliocentrism, but you can thank the Inquisition for not taking him up on that offer. Otherwise, it would be difficult to maintain this concept that Galileo was a stalwart defender of Science against ignorance, a martyr muttering "... and yet it moves..." while under threat of death. That common narrative is BS, and Kelly is right to point it out.

    Kelly here is actually being a bit too easy on Galileo. Kelly clearly wanted to push against the common historical narrative taught to the general public, but I suspect he knows better -- and yet is downplaying the errors in the common narrative because he wanted this news piece to be palatable enough that it wouldn't raise eyebrows.

    The fact that there was a trial means he was being persecuted for his scientific beliefs by the Christain Church.

    Hmm... sort of. I'd put emphasis on the word "beliefs" and perhaps "scientific" in scare quotes. Galileo's real sin (as noted in other posts) was challenging the hierarchy in an impolite and very public way. He'd have had the same treatment regardless of whether the subject was science or politics or whatever if he had written a screed as he did.

    As for the "scientific" -- the real problem was that Galileo insisted on teaching heliocentrism as fact in an era when it couldn't be proven. It was really more of an irrational belief for Galileo, who picked and chose a lot of weird bits of arguments to make it sound like he had a solid case (he did not) and his opponents were just idiots (which they mostly weren't). There are lots of good reasons to uphold Galileo as an important scientist, particularly for his studies of motion. But he made a lot of wacky claims to support his heliocentrism argument, most of which are completely non-scientific or contradicted clear empirical evidence at the time.

    The situation historically was really complicated, and I tried to summarize a lot of the main points in a post a while back [soylentnews.org], so I won't repeat myself. If you actually want to understand the complete historical situation and who was actually acting like mature "scientists" back then, I'd suggest this account [blogspot.com], which is mostly accurate, well-sourced, and gives a better account. It's a little snarky against Galileo at times, but it's full of actual historical documents and sources.

    Well, until the Church decides to disband and admit that it was just an iron-age cult that had historically undergone an almost uncontrollable cancerous growth.

    I have no love for the Catholic church, and I agree that a lot of its ideas are mired in superstition and ancient BS. On the other hand, I think its supposed opposition to science throughout history is way overblown and broadly a myth.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12 2019, @07:09PM (12 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12 2019, @07:09PM (#800252)

      the real problem was that Galileo insisted on teaching heliocentrism as fact in an era when it couldn't be proven.

      Heliocentrism and Geocentrism are both correct. Theory of Relativity tells us that God has given us a choice in which reference frame we want to use. Is it what it says God's WORD (with earth at the center) or Man's (anything else)? God gave you free will, use it wisely when choosing if you want to avoid damnation.

      • (Score: 2) by Azuma Hazuki on Tuesday February 12 2019, @09:38PM (10 children)

        by Azuma Hazuki (5086) on Tuesday February 12 2019, @09:38PM (#800343) Journal

        This is so ratshit crazy I'm actually intrigued. Do expand on this further...

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        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12 2019, @10:39PM (9 children)

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12 2019, @10:39PM (#800371)

          You choose heliocentrism because it is easier for you, right? There is no other reason to do so. Sin is often easier than virtue.

          • (Score: 2) by Azuma Hazuki on Wednesday February 13 2019, @02:04AM (8 children)

            by Azuma Hazuki (5086) on Wednesday February 13 2019, @02:04AM (#800433) Journal

            No, really, explain this. I am well aware that geocentrism can be made to match the math if you screw a bunch of other variables up, but that same sort of reciprocal mapping would also "prove" the entire universe is solid rock and the surface of earth is a concave bubble within it.

            Are you even trolling? This sounds too serious to be someone just being ridiculous for shits and giggles.

            --
            I am "that girl" your mother warned you about...
            • (Score: 2) by AthanasiusKircher on Wednesday February 13 2019, @03:31AM (7 children)

              by AthanasiusKircher (5291) on Wednesday February 13 2019, @03:31AM (#800478) Journal

              You're replying to a troll, but the AC is correct at least in the idea that one could choose whatever frame of reference one wants as a "center." Heliocentrism strictly isn't completely correct as the solar system actually all moves roughly around the center of mass that includes all planets and other bodies as well as the sun. But the contributions of the smaller planets (like earth) are so tiny that they don't matter much. A body like Jupiter on the other hand is significant enough to screw with earth's orbit quite a bit.

              Point is that one could choose to model the solar system with earth at the center and all the physics works out in the equations -- no need to turn the universe into solid rock or anything like that.

              The thing is, the math for simple models and first-order approximations works a heck of a lot better with the sun treated as "center." But that choice of a frame of reference is arbitrary, meaning there's no reason to say geocentrism(in that sense) is false... only in the sense that the math is ugly.

              • (Score: 2) by aristarchus on Wednesday February 13 2019, @04:01AM (6 children)

                by aristarchus (2645) on Wednesday February 13 2019, @04:01AM (#800484) Journal

                Ockham's Razor has a well known reality bias, and Reality has a well known liberal bias, and Liberals have a well known Heliocentric bias. But it is not just the math. Consider, posit that the Earth does not move. This means not only does the sun orbit the earth once a day, the rest of the Universe does as well. So as an exercise, calculate the velocity of a galaxy that lies, on a radius from the Earth, of 13 Billion light-years, and traverses that circumference in twenty four hours. Possible? Mathematically, perhaps.

                • (Score: 2) by AthanasiusKircher on Wednesday February 13 2019, @04:44AM (5 children)

                  by AthanasiusKircher (5291) on Wednesday February 13 2019, @04:44AM (#800495) Journal

                  So as an exercise, calculate the velocity of a galaxy that lies, on a radius from the Earth, of 13 Billion light-years, and traverses that circumference in twenty four hours. Possible? Mathematically, perhaps.

                  Of course it's possible mathematically. It's just computation of apparent motion from the perspective of a given reference frame. In our reference frame, even using standard models of the universe, there are galaxies that are apparently moving apart faster than the speed of light. But that's because space is expanding fast enough between them to give them that apparent motion when viewed from an appropriate third reference point.

                  You still can't travel through space faster than the speed of light. But your choice of reference frame can easily make you see apparent speeds that are faster. So what? It's just a reference frame (though perhaps an inconvenient one for practical computational purposes).

                  • (Score: 2) by AthanasiusKircher on Wednesday February 13 2019, @04:50AM (4 children)

                    by AthanasiusKircher (5291) on Wednesday February 13 2019, @04:50AM (#800500) Journal

                    (Oh, I should qualify all of that to say that obviously various relativistic effects won't be observed with such apparent motion compared to things actually in motion at speeds like that. I'm more asserting this reference frame business from a Newtonian perspective, which is more relevant when talking about comparisons for basic historical models of the solar system.)

                    • (Score: 2) by aristarchus on Wednesday February 13 2019, @06:14AM (3 children)

                      by aristarchus (2645) on Wednesday February 13 2019, @06:14AM (#800515) Journal

                      various relativistic effects won't be observed with such apparent motion compared to things actually in motion at speeds like that.

                      Well, of course not, since it is physically impossible, unless Einstein was wrong that C is not an actual constant . . . are you seriously suggesting that? Sometimes apparent motion needs to be actual motion to be apparent, just saying. Are we in the same universe here? One that adheres to Cosmic Speed Limits?

                      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 13 2019, @06:18AM (1 child)

                        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 13 2019, @06:18AM (#800516)

                        OMG! Athanasius is fighting aristarchus on cosmology! Do you think that is air you're breathing? His neural-kinectics are way over the line!

                        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 13 2019, @05:57PM

                          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 13 2019, @05:57PM (#800672)

                          It is astronomy not cosmology. You need a better wizard, can't even load a proper dictionary.

                      • (Score: 2) by AthanasiusKircher on Wednesday February 13 2019, @06:34PM

                        by AthanasiusKircher (5291) on Wednesday February 13 2019, @06:34PM (#800686) Journal

                        unless Einstein was wrong that C is not an actual constant . . . are you seriously suggesting that?

                        Given that this is what I said in my previous post: "You still can't travel through space faster than the speed of light. But your choice of reference frame can easily make you see apparent speeds that are faster," I hope you'll understand if I go with, "no, I'm not suggesting that, nor have I ever suggested that."

                        And, as I noted in my previous post as well, you don't need to choose a wacky thing like the earth as your reference frame to observe speeds greater than c. Galaxies are moving apart faster than c due to the expansion of the universe. So what? It doesn't violate Einstein because we understand that we're talking about something different (expansion of the universe) rather than normal travel through space. If you chose a rotating reference frame to model the universe, you'd have to take into account the assumptions you're making, and that will also involve apparent motion greater than c in some situations.

                        Sometimes apparent motion needs to be actual motion to be apparent, just saying.

                        Nah, open your mind. We're talking about mathematical models here. There's no real "center" of the universe -- and if there is one, it's certainly not the Earth *or* the Sun, so this geocentric vs. heliocentric stuff is moot once you start talking about modeling things beyond the solar system.

                        One can choose a rotating reference frame in physics, and the math will work out. It's not a preferred frame, because it's non-inertial. You just need to assume centrifugal forces exist, etc., but that's because you chose a weird reference frame. You choose a reference frame and try to model the universe rotating around the earth? Yeah, it's gonna require even more contortions, but you could do it.

                        Your posts seem to presume there's some sort of absolute preferred reference frame somewhere. There isn't. (Pretty sure aether went out about a century ago.) Physics is just a computational model. Motion and forces observed will be dependent on your choice of reference frame.

                        It would be bloody stupid to try to choose the reference frame of a single person standing on the earth's surface as the center of the universe when trying to think about distant galaxies, because all the calculations would be a lot more complicated, but there's nothing inherently "wrong" with it. Certainly not more "wrong" than choosing the sun as the center of the universe and trying to calculate everything with respect to it (even though it's rotating as well as revolving around the center of the Milky Way, etc.).

      • (Score: 2) by PartTimeZombie on Tuesday February 12 2019, @09:58PM

        by PartTimeZombie (4827) on Tuesday February 12 2019, @09:58PM (#800355)

        I will be OK. When I die the jackal-headed god Anubis will weight my heart against the feather of truth, and if they weight the same, I will go through to the afterlife in Ra's sun boat.

        Of course if they don't weight the same Ammit, the devourer of the dead will eat me. I believe this is something to avoid.

    • (Score: 2) by FatPhil on Tuesday February 12 2019, @08:50PM (2 children)

      by FatPhil (863) <pc-soylentNO@SPAMasdf.fi> on Tuesday February 12 2019, @08:50PM (#800308) Homepage
      > in fact, he believed it to be literally true in an era when there was no empirical evidence to support such a position (and lots of empirical arguments, not to mention long-held tradition and Aristotelean science, against).

      It was a theory that was at least 1800 years old at that stage, and even Archimedes paid lip service to it. Which isn't evidence, but it's arguement. For empirical evidence, there were astrolabes dating back over 600 years that were based on the principle that, and therefore would only be accurate if, earth and the other heavenly objects went round the sun. I thereby deny your claims.

      > Galileo's real sin (as noted in other posts) was challenging the hierarchy in an impolite and very public way.

      You mean in the way that had been traditional in the Mediterranean for nearly two millennia?

      > I think its supposed opposition to science throughout history is way overblown and broadly a myth.

      There's definitely some truth to that, and it's easy to tar them with every brush that comes to hand simply because they've collected most of the full set legitimately. In particular with regard to this particular issue, many people don't realise that heliocentrism was actually the dominant belief, endorsed by the Catholic church, before Galileo - it was protestant thinking that perverted the church and pushed it back into the bronze age.
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      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12 2019, @08:57PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12 2019, @08:57PM (#800313)

        For empirical evidence, there were astrolabes dating back over 600 years that were based on the principle that, and therefore would only be accurate if, earth and the other heavenly objects went round the sun.

        This is mathematically impossible. It is like saying a map is only accurate if the earth was actually flat.

      • (Score: 2) by AthanasiusKircher on Wednesday February 13 2019, @04:33AM

        by AthanasiusKircher (5291) on Wednesday February 13 2019, @04:33AM (#800491) Journal

        It was a theory that was at least 1800 years old at that stage

        Emphasis on the word "theory." That's not empirical evidence, which is what I pointed out in my prior post. Heliocentrism prior to the 1600s was usually treated as a sort of abstract computational model, if at all. Most people subscribed to the standard physics and accepted science of the time, as well as common observation: do you feel like you're whizzing through space and rotating at thousands of miles per hour? I don't. But when I say that, I mean I don't feel motion in the way most people assumed they would feel motion if they were undergoing such crazy speeds. Remember that it was basically Galileo who first really put forward a detailed theory of inertia. Without that understanding, it's tough to imagine the earth is actually in motion.

        For empirical evidence, there were astrolabes dating back over 600 years that were based on the principle that, and therefore would only be accurate if, earth and the other heavenly objects went round the sun. I thereby deny your claims.

        First, I'm not sure you understand the workings of astrolabes. They are fundamentally premised on observation from earth, which is necessarily geocentric. The differences in the Ptolemaic vs. heliocentric models in astrolabe measurements were rarely spotted, because the Ptolemaic theory worked reasonably well (mostly through the various computed tables that tended to be passed around -- very few people were working with the abstract mathematical models themselves). It's true that some Arab astronomers proposed heliocentric models and incorporated elements of that model into measuring devices -- but on the whole the vast majority of scientists continued to work with a geocentric model (and assumed it when using their astrolabes) until the 1600s.

        To make an analogy for how heliocentrism was widely perceived before the 1600s: if there were mathematical advantages to it, it was still perceived as a theory without necessarily having empirical support. Kind of like the way we teach freshman physics assuming frictionless diagrams and point masses and such. Those aren't descriptions of the real world, but they simplify the math. And it should be noted that Copernican heliocentrism didn't actually simplify the math: Copernicus's circular model contained epicycles and was basically as complex as the Ptolemaic model. It wasn't until Kepler figured out elliptical orbits, worked out the math for them, and then other scientists and eventually Newton put it all together into a coherent theory that the advantages of heliocentrism were really apparent.

        Also, the main obstacle to belief in heliocentrism, as I mentioned, is the obstacle to proving that the earth is in motion. And that's surprisingly difficult to do. It wasn't until James Bradley's measurements of stellar aberration in the 1720s that we actually had that empirical evidence. Stellar parallax, which had been predicted for centuries, wasn't observed until the mid-1800s. The fact that it hadn't been observed was seen as a huge strike against the idea that the earth was in motion.

        Beyond that, I've given you plenty of information in the links in my previous post that detail why heliocentrism was so hard to accept by many scientific authorities of Galileo's day.

        > Galileo's real sin (as noted in other posts) was challenging the hierarchy in an impolite and very public way.

        You mean in the way that had been traditional in the Mediterranean for nearly two millennia?

        Nah, I think this is pretty different. You have the local political and religious leader inviting a renowned scientist to publish a pluralistic treatise that examines different viewpoints. Instead, this scientist effectively publishes a rant promoting a hypothetical theory as if it were truth -- something said scientist had been warned about before -- and lampooning his critics as morons. Meanwhile, the ONLY empirical evidence said scientist could muster to argue for the earth's motion was tides -- which he thought were caused by the sun (except that would only have one high tide per day at noon, which obviously wasn't true... but Galileo handwaved that all away). You want more details -- again, look in the links. And again, I'm NOT defending the church's actions, but I condemn their censorship, not their scientific views which were pretty mainstream for the time.

        As a postscript, I personally think it's fun to note that heliocentrism did gradually become accepted in the mid and late 1600s, despite the lack of empirical evidence. With Newton's elegant theory bringing it all together, heliocentrism became dominant by the early 1700s. I think it's an interesting lesson for those who criticize theories like dark matter in modern cosmology: the earth's motion wasn't proven until the 1720s (and Newton's theory depended on weird invisible forces acting at a distance), but the theoretical model worked so well that the scientific establishment migrated toward that model. Just because we haven't yet observed dark matter doesn't mean there isn't something there to explain it...

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Bot on Tuesday February 12 2019, @09:09PM (4 children)

    by Bot (3902) on Tuesday February 12 2019, @09:09PM (#800321) Journal

    >No bias there, no-siree.

    Jesuit? A Jesuit is to Catholic doctrine what systemd is to the unix toolbox.

    Let me cite two recent assertions by Jesuits:

    We are not sure about Christian doctrine about marriage and divorce because “at that time no one had a tape recorder to record his [Jesus'] words.” Father Arturo Sosa Abascal, the Superior General.

    "... those who go to Mass every day and then live hating other people... it's better not to go to Mass" Pope Francis.

    Anyway AFAIK if you go to a Catholic school or are a teacher with such a background you are either a Jesuit or trained by them. And we are discussing history, not doctrine.

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    • (Score: 2) by Bot on Tuesday February 12 2019, @09:20PM (1 child)

      by Bot (3902) on Tuesday February 12 2019, @09:20PM (#800331) Journal

      Oh I forgot the best one by Sosa: “We have formed symbolic figures such as the devil to express evil...".
      If the devil isn't a person then a person isn't a person either, it's a symbol for a lump of cells and more or less symbiotic bacteria. What makes the cells a person? the synergy and the unity. Does that not happen for evil? LOL as an atheist I would still believe in The devil as an abstraction. A symbol is not an abstraction. The mascotte is a SYMBOL for the team, the team is the abstraction for a bunch of players playing together.

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      • (Score: 2) by All Your Lawn Are Belong To Us on Tuesday February 12 2019, @09:25PM

        by All Your Lawn Are Belong To Us (6553) on Tuesday February 12 2019, @09:25PM (#800335) Journal

        Nothing says that a symbol cannot be real, either. Or that something objectively real does not also carry symbolic meaning. Though I take your point that something can be a symbol of that which is real without being actually real itself.

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    • (Score: 3, Touché) by All Your Lawn Are Belong To Us on Tuesday February 12 2019, @09:22PM

      by All Your Lawn Are Belong To Us (6553) on Tuesday February 12 2019, @09:22PM (#800333) Journal

      Almost. Jesuits have had both up-and-down periods in their relationship to the Roman Catholic Church. And, AFAIK, systemd has yet to be formally Suppressed within the Corpus Linuxum.

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    • (Score: 2) by aristarchus on Wednesday February 13 2019, @04:26AM

      by aristarchus (2645) on Wednesday February 13 2019, @04:26AM (#800490) Journal

      Pascal's Provincial Letters [adelaide.edu.au] are full of Jesuit foibles, highly amusing in some cases, and used by William Jefferson Clinton to great effect. (Doctrine of "mental reservation".) But some [wikipedia.org]do not like them [nd.edu]. But on the other hand, the Jesuit order was formed to combat the even more batshit crazy Protestant Christians, like John Wycliffe, and Calvin (and Hobbes), and Luther, (not to mention Bob Jones, who I am not mentioning) using the tools of reason and logic, and by sending missionaries to distant places like China and Japan and the Kootenai nations, before Protestors could get there (see the movie "Black Robes [imdb.com]) and establishing a bunch of new Universities, including Georgetown. And I would be remiss not to point out that the current il Papa, Francis, is a Jesuit, the first ever Jesuit Pope, and the first non-female head of the Roman Catholic Church. OK, that last part is not true.