It is one of the most cherished myths of modernity that Galileo had been constantly prosecuted by the inquisition. But was he? History books represent him as a genius. Was he a scientific genius? Or was he a genius in a completely different field?
Galileo decided that popularism was what brought in the money; and the Dialogo sopra le due massimi sistemi del mondo of 1631 was the result. Dialogues were the great affectation of authors of that time. Thomas Morus published several such dialogues over time; he managed to argue on behalf of each participant of these dialogues with the highest accuracy and sharp wit; his arguments for every side are so good that we know almost everything about the subject matter but not what Thomas Morus personally thought about it. Galileo’s Dialogo on the other hand was written for peasants; it was made clear from the start what he wanted to say and where his interest lay.
Not only that, even his title was offending to scientists; at the time there were three systems in contention, one of them Tycho Brahe’s amended geocentric system. Galileo chose to ignore Tycho Brahe not because he knew that Brahe was wrong, but because all his observations could be taken as proof of Brahe’s system just as well as the system of Copernicus. Worse, Brahe could accommodate comets within his system which Copernicus’ circular motions couldn’t. The ‘ape stars’ (as Galileo called the comets) were quite obviously impossible because they would not fit into the heliocentric world view of Galileo’s. Science, if I remember correctly, should work the other way round.
Pope Urban VIII finally had no choice but to instruct the Holy Office to muzzle Galileo. It was not blasphemy that brought Galileo to this point, it was scientific inaccuracy.
Meanwhile, the University of Melbourne is busily nailing the lid on Galileo as an astronomer. Should they be able to prove that Galileo had observed and noted down Neptune in his observations of the sky, they would show that he was incapable of interpreting his own observations.
Galileo, meanwhile, has become the holy cow of modern science. No one should dare to doubt the genius. Whoever dares to point out the shortcomings of the prodigy, or worse, the rightness of the Holy Office, has to face the diatribes of self-appointed guardians of science. In that respect, science has become more papal than the Pope.
The reappraisal of the case Galileo Galilei under Pope John-Paul II was a sham whereby the Catholic Church and its saintly Pope bent over backwards to appease these self-same scientific guardians. The Austrian philosopher Paul Feyerabend summed it up most satisfactorily: “The Church of his time held closer to reason than Galileo and included ethical and social points of view into the deliberation of Galileo’s teaching. The verdict was rational and equitable; its revision can only be attributed to political opportunism.”
Maybe a communist and atheist can add it up more succinctly; in his Notes to The Life of Galilei, Bertolt Brecht wrote: “Galileo’s crime may be called the original sin of science. The atomic bomb as a technical and social phenomenon is the logical end-result of his scientific performance and his social failure.”
Why the Inquisition Was Right to Muzzle Galileo Galilei (Part Two)
Why the Inquisition Was Right to Muzzle Galileo Galilei (Part One)
Galileo Galilei: Contributions to Science
Galileo Galilei: Inventions
Galileo Galilei: Twilight
Galileo Galilei: Foregone Conclusion
Galileo Galilei: Turbulences and Trouble
Galileo Galilei: Fire and Ice
Galileo Galilei: Telescope Scoop
Galileo Galilei: A Career in Free Fall
Galileo Galilei: Medical Student and Inventor
Marquis Federico Cesi and His Academy
Hypatia of Alexandria