I came across the following at http://www.bede.org.uk/sciencehistory.htm written by James Hannam in 2002:
The greatest of the secular myths is Galileo Galilei as a martyr for science. The epic battle between the forces of reason and truth and the dark superstitions of the church has been retold hundreds of times. The truth as discovered by patient work by modern academics is a little less clear cut and not quite so kind to Galileo. Galileo was a great scientist but in astronomy he was not on as scientifically firm ground as is often believed. He supported Copernicus rather than Kepler so his model was not any better than Ptolemy’s and perhaps eclipsed by Tycho Brahe’s. He also wrongly insisted that the tides were proof that the Earth was revolving on its axis.
Be that as it may, he published, in 1630, with papal permission, a book called A Dialogue Concerning Two Principal Systems of the World which was more what we would term ‘popular science’ than an academic text. The Pope, Urban VIII, believed he was being parodied in it as a fool – an insult that no self respecting Renaissance prince could bear. Galileo already had plenty of enemies in academia who resented his fame, influence and condescending style and when abandoned by the Pope he ran out of friends. He was summoned to Rome and arrested by the Inquisition. Clearly, it was impossible to bring a man to trial for making the Pope look foolish so a trumped up charge was manufactured using a spurious undertaking that Galileo was supposed to have given not to teach Copernicus’s theory. In addition, the Protestant reformers had accused Catholicism of straying too far from the Bible. The relaxed reading that had prevailed among academics in the Middle Ages was therefore unfortunately no longer in fashion in Rome.
The outcome of the trial was never in doubt and, because he refused to use Kepler’s system, Galileo even lost the scientific argument. His recantation was intended to cut him down to size and he was kept in a very comfortable house arrest until he died a few years later. He never came to any physical harm at the hands of the Inquisition and neither did he mutter his famous words ‘But it does move’ as he was condemned. In all he got off quite lightly because if he had attacked a secular ruler of the time as he did the Pope, intentionally or not, the cutting down to size would have been roughly one foot and involved an axe.
As the purpose of this essay is not to consider Galileo in depth I would recommend the following works. Galileo the Courtier by Mario Biagioli is summarised here and examines how Galileo may have been a victim of the politics in the Pope’s court. The Crime of Galileo by Giorgio de Santillana remains one of the standard academic works although it is now rather out of date. Stillman Drake’s Galileo: A Very Short Introduction is written by one of the masters of the subject. Finally, this essay by Paul Newall contains a very detailed explanation of the political and intellectual climate at the time together with a fresh interpretation of the events surrounding the trial.
I had never considered that perhaps the stories we hear of Galileo might be a myth. But, clearly they could be.
Mr. Hannam believes that it is a “Myth” that the Church tried to silence Galileo for “Religious” reasons. And he provides some very compelling “data” to support that conclusion.
Why this is important is that, however unintentionally, Mr. Hannam actually points out the problem with typical “Learning Communication.”
He goal, I suspect, in offering this data is for the reader to think more positively about the Church.
Hannam writes, “The greatest of the secular myths is Galileo Galilei as a martyr for science. The epic battle between the forces of reason and truth and the dark superstitions of the church has been retold hundreds of times.”
The take away for me from this is that Hannam wants me to not think of the Church as a “force” for “dark superstitions.” Rather he wants me to think of the Church as a “force” for “reason and truth.” When you look at his complete essay on this subject “Christianity and the Rise of Science” he makes the point numerous times.
I understand his position. But, I suggests he misses the point.
The point is not, was religion a force against “Science.” Rather the point is how do people change and what holds people back for changing.
Learning is about “Change.” If I am never going to change the way I drive to work, then there is no reason to learn new ways to drive to work.
While, there are very many interesting pieces to the Galileo story, and some may well be “myth,” to me the more important question is why did it take so long to move from an earth centered view of the solar system to a sun centered view of the solar system. We know today that the Sun Centered view is the correct view.
Mr. Hannam, I do not think was arguing that the Church actually supported the Sun Centered view and Galileo did not. I don’t think he is arguing that the Myth is that the Church actually changed their views on the structure of the Solar System before Galileo did. (though these is this “In addition, the Protestant reformers had accused Catholicism of straying too far from the Bible. The relaxed reading that had prevailed among academics in the Middle Ages was therefore unfortunately no longer in fashion in Rome.” I am not sure what he is saying here. I think he might be saying that the Protestant Reformers were angry that the Catholicism might even consider a Sun Center view.)
I see the same thing happening today with the arguments for and against Creationism, Intelligent Design, Big Bang Theory, Darwinism, Evolution, Climate Change, and others.
I would like to change the discussion from one of arguing for or a against a particular paradigm, to discussion how do we determine which paradigm is more useful for our specific purposes.
I would hope that Mr. Hannam and others that agree with him are not suggesting that the Bible is to be used as a “Science Textbook.” Because clearly that would be a misguided effort.
Rather, I would hope that we should be talking about is what are the best methods to learn how to solve our problems. The problem that Galileo was trying to solve is how to predict the seasons more accurately. By using Copernicus’s theory one can predict the future better than Ptolemy’s theory. So we need to talk why it took so long to change from Ptolemy to Copernicus and what can that tell us about change today.
My belief is that it is not a “Myth” that the Church resisted the change from Ptolemy to Copernicus. And my belief is we see the same forces at work today with the resistance to belief about man made climate change.