Sixteen Yers Later Galileo Wrote His Famous

Dialogue On The Two Great World Systems Essay, Research Paper

Does the trial of Galileo indicate that the church was hostile to new ideas in science?

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) proved to be the first dramatic example of conflict between science

and religion. Galileo introduced and correctly explained the idea- what is the acceleration of a

free falling object, by doing this he quashed the previous theories of his predecessor, Aristotle.

Aristotle came up with the theory that the weight of an object and the medium through which it

was moving determined the downward speed of the object. Galileo, after having carried out

numerous experiments concluded that in a vacuum, an object accelerated independent of its

weight. He proved this by rolling a ball down a ramp at different angles and calculated the

acceleration. He found that the rate of acceleration was constant, according to the equation:

a=v/t. Aristotle s thoughts tended to deal with the physical world we live in, Galileo on the other

hand was more concerned with an ideal world.

The modern age of science began in 1543 with the publication of Copernicus s book On

the revelation of the celestial orbs . A key feature of the new science was mathematical

reasoning and quantifiable observations. According to the Copernican model the planets and the

earth revolve around the sun, this is accurate although mathematically simpler. One of the

important changes taking place was that people began to view the earth as a mathematical

structure, relationships were quantative, not qualative as they had been for Aristotle. The

scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century owes a lot to maths. Galileo found additional

evidence to support the copernican theory, with a combination of theory and experiment, which

was essential to his study, this can also be traced back to Archimedes in Ancient Greece.

At first the church didn t take Copernicus s theory very seriously as astronomy and maths

didn t seem to have any significant philosophical or theological relevance although Copernicus s

book was dedicated to Pope Paul III and he received it gratefully. Copernicus still made use of

Ptolemy s cycles and epicycles and he also borrowed from Aristotle the idea that the planets

must move in circles because it is the only perfect form of motion. In reality copernicus s book

marked a change in human thought. Owen Barfield, in his book Saving the Appearances calls it

the real turning point in the history of science. It took place when copernicus began to think,

and others, like Kepler and Galileo , began to affirm that the heliocentric hypothesis not only

saved the appearances, but was physically true It was not simply a theory of the nature of

celestial movements that was feared but a new theory of the nature of theory; namely that , if a

hypothesis saves all the appearances , it is identical with the truth. Copernicus s book stated that

the earth was not at the centre of the universe with the sun revolving around it, this is

problematic for Christians who viewed the Aristotlian image of the earth at the centre as in the

bible the sun moves around the earth; Joshua 10:13

And the sun and moon stood still, till the people revenged themselves of their enemies. Is not

this written in the book of the just? So the sun stood still in the midst of the heaven, and hasted

not to go down the space of one day.

It took Copernicus four years to have the confidence to publish the book, he wasn t afraid about

how the church would react but how academics would view it. He was afraid because Aristotle s

work was highly praised whereas he was introducing a new, unproved system of cosmology

which apparently went against the teachings of the bible.

In 1609 telescopic observations of the skies were made by Galileo. After hearing about

the invention of a telescope in Holland he built one for himself and what he found were to have

major consequences for the Aristotelian cosmos. Using the telescope he saw that the sun is a

lump of rock like the earth, not a perfect sphere and he assumed that other planets are the same.

He also discovered that the planet of Jupiter had at least four satellites and the phases of Venus ,

meaning that Venus moves around the sun and not the earth. What he was actually saying was

that the earth is just an ordinary planet and that stars must be much further away, or you would

see the motion of the earth. Motion is trivial compared to the distance of the distance of the sun

to the nearest star and stars are so bright, like our own sun. The problem this posed was that the

earth seems to be insignificant physically as the universe is so big, so does this mean it is also insignificant spiritually?

Protestants found it very difficult to come to terms with Copernicus and the Catholic

church were resistant to change. During the seventeenth century there were many problems for

Christians coming to terms with these new discoveries. A leading Jesuit astronomer of the time,

Christopher Calvius was at first skeptical of Galileo s observations but once he saw the planet

Jupiter for himself through a telescope he knew what Galileo was saying was correct. The Jesuits

then confirmed the theory about the phases of Venus although they came up with the system of

Tycho Brahe, which had all the planets orbiting the sun, except the earth.

In 1611 Galileo visited Rome where Pope Paul V offered his support, then he returned to

Florence where he became obsessed with the Copernican theory and where he discussed, argued

and sold the Copernican model at every opportunity. Galileo wanted to convert the public to his

way of thinking. Galileo s trial by the Inquisition would not have taken place had he been more

diplomatic although Galileo was overly confident and not very tactile. The church were not

totally hostile to science although they did have problems with this particular area. There are also

strong suspicions that trial was his own fault, he was insensitive and his book poked fun at the

pope. There wasn t a clash of principles but an unfortunate misunderstanding of how galileo had

handled the church.

Galileo s situation was extremely ironic, he was obsessed with the Copernican model and

intent on ramming it down the throat of the Catholic Church yet at the beginning of his campaign

he was held in high regards by the church. His views left the church with three options;

i) to accept the Copernican model(even though it wasn t properly proven) and to adapt Scripture to this theory,

ii) to condemn it, or

iii) that the Copernican theory could be accepted but only as a hypothesis until proof could be supplied. Galileo rejected this.

As far as the church was concerned the Copernican model was such a controversy as it implied

that due to the immensity of the universe, humans might be peripheral to the creation and the fact

of biological evolution, evolution changes our view of ourselves(therefore we aren t a special

creation). Several biblical passages were also read as indicating a stationary earth, this wasn t

what Galileo thought.

Galileo himself knew that he could not prove heliocentricism. He couldn t even answer

an argument brought forward by his predecessor, Aristotle. That is, if the earth did go around the

sun then there would be a shift in the position of a star observed from the earth on one side of the

sun , and then six months later from the other side. This was not answered until 1838 by

Friedrich Bessel.

Another problem which Galileo encountered was that he was adamant that despite

discoveries by Kepler, that the planets orbit the sun in perfect circles. Despite this Galileo sent

letters and articles throughout Europe and he was involved in disputes with churchmen which

only proved to decrease his popularity among the church.

As Galileo was so confident and not afraid to speak his mind he moved his debate from a

scientific background onto theological grounds. Had Galileo s arguments remained purely

scientific there is no question that the church would have shrugged them off but in 1614 Galileo

insisted that he had to answer queries about this new science contradicting certain passages of

the bible, some of the bible passages cited are;

Ecclesiastes 1:4-6 ,

the earth abideth forever. The sun also riseth , and the sun goeth down and hastethto his place

where he arose. The wind goeth toward the south and turneth about the north, also


the world also is stabilished that it cannot be moved

and Psalm 104:5,

who laid the foundation of the earth, that it should not be removed forever.

Also Joshua which I have previously mentioned. The literal meaning of these passages would

have to be scraped if the Copernican model was to be believed.

Galileo addressed this problem in his letter to the Grand Duchess Christina in 1615. He

laid down interpretations of when science theories seem to conflict with the literal interpretation

of the scripture. First of all Galileo claims that science and religion are independent of one

another, that they have both dofferent goals and are irrelevant to each other, for example,

theology is neutral in respect to cosmology and he goes on to describe how these scientific

theories should be evaluated by scientific criteria alone. If Galileo had adhered to what he

proposed and the church had accepted it, a conflict between Galileo and the church would never

have taken place.

In December 1614 a Dominican priest named Thomas Caccini held a sermon in Florence

which was anti-Copernican and which was a clear attack against Galileo. One month later and

another Dominican, Father Niccolo Lorini, read a copy of Galileo s letter to Castelli and was

very annoyed how he adapted scripture to suit his own purposes. He sent a copy to the

Inquisition in Rome, slightly altering Galileo s words although the case was dismissed.

At this point Cardinal Bellarmine , one of the most important theologians of the Catholic

Reformation proposed a face saving compromise for Galileo. In 1615, he wrote a letter outlining

the church s position. He said that it was acceptable to keep the Copernican model but only as a

hypothesis and if there were real proof that the earth circles the sun, then we should have to

proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages of scripture which appear to teach the


Galileo was however determined to have a showdown and so he went to Rome to

confront Pope Paul V. He referred the matter to the Inquisition and apparently an injuction was

sent to Galileo telling him to abstain altogether from teaching or defending this opinion and

doctrine, and from even discussing it . It is debated whether this is genuine or was forged.

Sixteen yers later Galileo wrote his famous Dialogue on the two great world systems

which began the famous trial of Galileo in 1633. Galileo was summoned before the Inquisition in

Rome, he was condemned and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

It is unfair to say that the church has been hostile to new ideas in science. There have

been a number of areas where religion has promoted science, for example , Kepler s discovery

that the planets orbit the sun in ellipsis. Also Newton s idea that the pull of gravity holds planets

around the sun, the Catholic Church have paved the way for people like Galileo and Newton.



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