Saturday, July 24, 2010

Rescuing Galileo from Scientism

From The Living Church-

“Eppur si muove (and yet it does move).” So Galileo most certainly did not say at the end of his infamous trial in 1633. He was, of course, eventually proven right, more or less. But by then he had been in his expensive and ornate grave the better part of a century, having spent the last 11 of his 78 years under house arrest in his palatial estate, following his second trial. The first had been in 1616 and its outcome was then, and has been since, much disputed.

What is not in dispute is that this trial of Galileo is one of the most carefully studied events in the history of science and the Church, one about which endless books and plays have been written, debating points scored, and cultural battles fought. It is to the political (and too often propagandistic) uses to which the affair has been put that Galileo Observed is addressed. The authors begin with William Draper and Andrew White’s Victorian Era mythologizing about the trial as a major battlefield in their supposed “war of science and religion,” demonstrating that neither trial had much to do with any obscurantist opposition of the Roman Catholic Church to the scientific enterprise or excessive devotion to literalist hermeneutics. Though, to be sure, there were elements of these things in play, as the Church of the time was cautious with regard to developments in cosmology that were sweeping the scientific world.

Nor was it simply a matter of a feckless and arrogant Galileo bringing condemnation on himself, as the authors note when they evaluate Arthur Koestler’s 1959 novel The Sleepwalkers. Though again, it cannot be ignored that Galileo was possessed of an often prickly and difficult persona, refusing to accept Tycho Brahe’s observations of comets and at times belittling Kepler, whose most important scientific achievements Galileo mostly rejected (like most natural philosophers from ancient times, Galileo considered long-distance interactions an impossibility and so discounted Kepler’s claims of lunar gravitational pull as the cause of the tides, preferring his own claim that they resulted from the motion of Earth; he also rejected Kepler’s theory of elliptical planetary motion, preferring the more traditional — and incorrect — assumption of circular orbits).

More here-

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