Revisionism and Galileo

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Back of the Envelope says the scientific community in Galileo's time did have reason to resist his claims but also that he was well-received within the Roman Catholic Church. This is the first I've heard of this. Does anyone who knows more about it have anything to say about it, either in support or in defense?

It's been clear to me for a long time that many people have used Galileo's case to assert that the Bible itself said what the Roman Catholic Church at the time was claiming it said, and I think that's demonstrably false. People have also tried to make the claim that Galileo was on the side of science against religion, which ignores his deeply-seated Christian convictions. So it doesn't surprise me that even more of the common claims about Galileo turn out to be false. It's just that these two are new to me.

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Galileo: Other sources from Back of the Envelope on April 11, 2004 11:07 PM

Jeremy Pierce at Parablemania was interested in other sources concerning Galileo's relationship with the Church, preferably online sources. My source was Sampson's 6 Modern Myths, and all his references were ink-and-paper, so I had to look. I'll admi... Read More


If you'd like, I can give you the list of references used by Sampson in his book. It's a long list, though, and I'd rather not type it up unless you request it.

Also, what's your connection to Rochester? I've seen several references to U of R. I'm a post-doc in ECE there.

It's not interesting enough to me at the moment to be willing to do a lot of research, given what research I'm not doing that I should be doing, but if you've got any online material I'd be interested in browsing it.

I'm working on my Ph.D. in philosophy at Syracuse, and Rochester and Cornell are the closest two Ph.D. programs in philosophy. The Rochester philosophy grad students started their blog around the same time we started ours, and one of the main bloggers there is someone whose paper I recently commented on at a conference, so I even know one of them.

Online? Dang, I'm relying on ancient paper-and-ink texts, and I don't have any online references. I thought this one was interesting.

It's not exactly friendly, as you can see:

Freedom of thought and written and oral expression is historically a relatively recent development. For those who were the shepherds of Christian souls and whose function it was to get those souls to heaven, the idea that anyone could think and say or write what he/she wanted was an absurdity. Moreover, it was dangerous because it might lead others into error. As early as 170 CE, the Church promulgated a list of genuine books of the New Testament and excluded others from use in religious practice.

The gall of that early church! How dare they try to make a list of which books were reliable accounts of the Christian faith, and which were not?

But it does contain this useful information:

In the cases of the Copernican System, the Church was slow to act because it did not see immediate danger to the faithful in De Revolutionibus (1543)...In 1616, after 73 years, it placed De Revolutionibus on the Index [of forbidden books] subject to revision, along with several other books that defended the Copernican System. It is interesting to note that the revisions required in Copernicus's book were, in terms of the total work, actually very minor.Copies of De Revolutionibus that were in Italy at this time show the revisions: a few deleted passages and a few changes of individual words. None of Galileo's books were placed on the Index at this time.

There's also this, from the same site (different page):

Maffeo Barberini was an accomplished man of letters, who published several volumes of verse. Upon Galileo' s return to Florence, in 1610, Barberini came to admire Galileo' s intelligence and sharp wit. During a court dinner, in 1611, at which Galileo defended his view on floating bodies, Barberini supported Galileo against Cardinal Gonzaga. From this point, their patron-client relationship flourished until it was undone in 1633. Upon Barberini' s ascendance of the papal throne, in 1623, Galileo came to Rome and had six interviews with the new Pope. It was at these meetings that Galileo was given permission to write about the Copernican theory, as long as he treated it as a hypothesis. After the publication of Galileo' s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Systems of the World, in 1632, the patronage relationship was broken. It appears that the Pope never forgave Galileo for putting the argument of God's omnipotence (the argument he himelf had put to Galileo in 1623) in the mouth of Simplicio, the staunch Aristotelian whose arguments had been systematically destroyed in the previous 400-odd pages. At any rate, the Pope resisted all efforts to have Galileo pardoned.

Now I really need to go to bed.

I've posted the above information on my blog.

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