Galileos complex relationship with his
contemporaries, and especially the Papal authorities, has had intensive study
in recent years. For an accessible account see Ch.6 of Michael Pooles Beliefs and Values in Science Education.
For other corrections to the standard caricature of the merely-blinkered Church
against the noble scientist, see Brooke and Cantor,Willem B Drees or Owen
Gingerich. For a more
specialised investigation see Finocchiaro.
It is important to realise:
that Galileos own position was
multifaceted, and not merely driven by an ambition to advance science, but also
by a real desire to see it reconciled with Scripture. His approach was very
much rooted in the hermeneutics of St Augustine (see the type of case Galileo
Pope Urban VIII, who ordered Galileos
final interrogation, had earlier defended Copernicus book, despite disagreeing
Cardinal Bellarmine, chiefly
responsible for dealing with Galileo for the Vatican until his death in 1621,
was not a bigoted cleric either, but an open and thoughtful one, keenly
concerned with astronomy. Bellarmines approach emerges in passages like this
one from a letter to Foscarini:
I say that if
there were a true demonstration that the sun is at the centre of the world and
the earth in the third heaven, and that the sun does not circle the earth but
the earth circles the sun, then one would have to proceed with great caution in
explaining the Scriptures that appear contrary, and say rather that we do not
understand them than that what is demonstrated is false.
This complex affair, then, was influenced
by a number of factors:
the scientific, yes, but it is worth
pointing out that because Galileo ignored Keplers work his model still fitted
the data no better than its best geocentric competitor. It also suffered from
the great problem that it predicted stellar parallax, which had not then been
the epistemological - what, in the
terms of the passage quoted above from Bellarmine, constitutes a demonstration?
How should Bible-reading astronomers understand their data, and their Bibles,
in the interim phase when a scientific model has been proposed but is not yet
the hermeneutical - how should
Scripture be read, how should that reading affect or be affected by science?
Above all, who should have the authority to determine the range of permitted
the political - it was a stage in the
Counter-Reformation at which the Vatican felt the need to assert its central
the personal - Galileo pursued his
cause with an arrogant lack of tact and diplomacy which in the end forfeited
the patience even of those inclined to sympathise with his view.
Small wonder that when the trial is rerun
in classes on science and religion Galileo is often the loser!
The utter triumph of heliocentrism that
followed ended forever any prospect that a religious group could exercise the
sort of hegemony over an area of scientific inquiry that the Vatican tried to assert in suppressing Galileo. It showed
moreover that a scientific theory could gradually
gain in comprehensiveness and coherence until it displaced another, without
requiring a strict logical demonstration.
link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr.
Source: God, Humanity and the
Cosmos (T&T Clark, 1999)