Since the subject of Galileo has come up, I should like to try to clear up some misunderst

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Since the subject of Galileo has come up, I should like to try to clear up some misunderstandings. My chief reference here is THE CRIME OF GALILEO, by Giorgio Santillana, Professor of the History of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, available in paperback from Midway Reprint Service, University of Chicago Press, for 14 dollars. Since I have lost my own copy in the usual way (lent it to someone who did not return it), I write from memory. In Galileo's day, almost every government required a permit to print a book, and the Papal States (central Italy, ruled directly by the Pope as temporal sovereign) were no exception. When Galileo finished his book, A DIALOGUE CONCERNING THE TWO GREAT WORLD SYSTEMS (meaning the earth-centered system of Ptolemy and the sun-centered system of Copernicus) he applied directly to Pope Urban VIII, with whom he was personally acquainted, for the necessary permit. The Pope granted the permission, on condition that the book give a balanced presentation, and in particular that it contain his own favorite argument against Copernicus, one that he had invented himself and was particularly proud of. Galileo agreed and got the permit. When the book came out, the Pope was chagrined to find that his argument was indeed presented, but not as he had expected. The book was written in the form of a conversation among friends, and the Pope's argument had been put into the mouth of a character called Simplicio (=the idiot). Moreover, the other speakers then covered the argument with ridicule. The Pope responded (or so it appears) by giving the Inquisition orders to get Galileo for something or other. He was accordingly brought up on charges, but could properly plead that he had sought and obtained a permit for the book. The prosecution replied that about sixteen years earlier he had received a private admonition from Cardinal Bellarmine that his views were of questionable orthodoxy, and that if the Pope had known of this, he would have been more cautious about giving the permit, and therefore Galileo's failure to mention the Cardinal's admonition amounted to obtaining a permit by fraud, which invalidated the permit, etc. Galileo said that he could not remember receiving any such admonition, but under pressure admitted that he could not swear he had not. The upshot was that Galileo signed his famous "recantation" and was condemned to life imprisonment. This was a blatant injustice, but not as harsh as it sounds. The prison was one of the Pope's summer palaces, which was turned over to him for life, and he continued to conduct experiments, to receive visitors without restriction, and to publish on any subject except astronomy. He here developed and perfected his works on terrestial physics, works which undermined the theoretical basis of Ptolemaic astronomy. The wording of the "recantation" is of some interest. The key sentence reads pretty much as follows: I, the undersigned, Galileo Galilei, renounce and condemn the belief that the sun is at the center of the world, and that the earth rotates on its axis, and also has a daily motion. Now the word "world" (=mundus) is ambiguous. It can refer to the universe, or to the earth. Similarly, the daily motion of the earth, according to Copernicus, is precisely its rotation once a day on its axis. It is therefore false (according to Copernicus) to say that the earth has two motions, one rotation and the other a daily motion. It is also false to say that the sun is at the center of the earth. Thus Galileo should have had no difficulty about signing the document. Is there any evidence that this is not just ingenious twisting of words? Four considerations come to mind. (1) Torricelli, Galileo's friend and pupil, best known as the inventor of the barometer, when he heard that Galileo had repudiated Copernicanism under oath, said, "Alas, he is damned. He has sworn falsely." But when he saw the text of the recantation, he said, "Oh joy, he is not damned." (2) When the tribunal presented Galileo with their draft of a recantation, he flatly refused to sign it. He then negotiated a revised text, which he did sign. (3) Both Galileo and the members of the tribunal were men who chose their words carefully, and who knew the art, essential in politics whether ecclesiastical or otherwise, of wording a document to as to convey the impression of saying more, or less, than is actually said. (4) At least some of the tribunal members (Santillana argues a majority of them) were themselves of the Copernican persuasion, and would be sympathetic to a resolution of the matter that gave the Pope his personal revenge but without forcing Galileo to repudiate what he and they believed to be the truth. The Galileo episode has often been cited as evidence that Science and Religion (some prefer to say, Science and Theology) are by their very nature irreconcilable enemies. In fact, a close look at the Galileo episode seems to me to yield two morals both quite different from this. One moral, of course, is that if you need a permit from a board in order to do something, whether publish a book or have your property rezoned, it is unwise to pull the nose of the chairman of the board in public. Another moral is that if you establish a government committee to safeguard public morals, the committee members will assume as self-evident that nothing could be more subversive of public morals, and therefore of the very foundations of society, than a deed that strikes at the guardians of morality by making the members of said committee look personally ridiculous. Example: The Watergate scandal began because the press was obtaining confidential reports out of the Nixon Administration, and high officials were determined to learn who was responsible. In the process of trying to learn, they cut corners. One might have expected the investigating committee to be keenly aware that there are things more important than stopping leaks to the press. However, some stories appeared in the press about the committee, including, for example, a statement by one committee member that another member was apparently incapable of answering any question, including, "What time is it?" without first frowning and staring at the ceiling for several seconds. (A perfectly correct observation, by the way, which is precisely why it caused such a commotion.) The committee responded by taking off a full week from the job of saving the country to conduct a full-time investigation into the question of who had been betraying his sacred trust by reporting confidential information to the press, information that, by making the committee, the guardians of the Constitution, look silly, amounted to an attack on the Constitution itself. (My source here is an article in the WASHINGTON MONTHLY at the time.) The over-all theological atmosphere of Galileo's time and just before was far from a rigid commitment to the idea of a fixed earth. Nicolas of Cusa, who died a century before Galileo was born, wrote, "When we say that the earth does not move, we mean simply this, that the earth is the point from which man makes his observations of celestial phenomena." A modern physicist discussing relativity theory could not improve on that. During Galileo's lifetime, the Inquisition was officially asked whether someone who revealed in the confessional that he held the Copernican view and was not about to give it up should be denied absolution as an impenitent heretic. The official answer was "no". I conclude that the punishment of Galileo was based, not on any conflict between his view and Church doctrine, but on the Pope's regrettable but unsurprising conviction that anyone who publicly makes a laughing-stock of the Pope is striking at the foundations of all that is good and decent and must not be permitted to get away with it. Urban VIII is by no means the only public figure to reason like this. I feel the urge to give several more examples, but this post is already too long. James Kiefer ----------------------------------------------------------------- Some more of the details: Galileo did remember that Bellarmine had said that he could not believe or propound the Copernican theory *as fact*, but the Inquisition claimed he had been told that he also could not teach it in any way. Galileo had a certificate signed by Bellarmine which supported his recollections. The papers in the Vatican show a document *not signed by anyone* which goes the way the Inquisition said; this document was apparently forged by the Inquisition. This account leaves out the part where Galileo was shown (twice) the instruments of torture before he recanted. Things don't appear to have been quite so jolly as this account makes it seem, above. -Jim Lippard Lippard@CCIT.ARIZONA.EDU


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