Today we celebrate the birthday of of the Father of Modern Science, the brilliant 17th century mathematician, Galilei Galileo.
His story is one of the most notorious examples of persecution by The Inquisition.
Galileo had constructed his telescope to show how the earth revolved about the sun and not the sun around the earth. Since Copernicus advanced this hypothesis it had caused great controversy. Galileo now had proof.
When he demonstrated this, many highly intelligent people even refused to look through the telescope, so frightened were they of what they might see. Some people had such a strong dose of cognitive dissonance that they forced Galileo to his knees and made him withdraw his evidence and recant his discovery.
In 1633, Galileo, now 70 years old, sick and completely blind, was forced by the pope to make the arduous journey to Rome to stand trial for ‘heresy’. Urban VIII, taking time off from cannibalising the Colosseum to build his Barberini palace, accused Galileo of causing “the greatest scandal in Christendom” for contradicting the Scriptures.
Galileo thought of himself as a devoted Catholic. He argued that the bible was not a scientific text and that we should not expect its ‘scientific statements’ to be taken literally. He argued that it presents no challenge to faith that both nature and the bible are divine texts and cannot contradict one another.
On 21 June, after a long trial, he was found guilty of heresy, by the Inquisition. Not only that, he was bullied and actually forced into covering up his evidence. The pope demanded that he be tortured if he did not obey: “The said Galileo is in the judgement of the Holy Office vehemently suspected of heresy, namely, of having believed and held the doctrine which is false and contrary to the Sacred and Divine Scriptures that the sun is the centre of the world and does not move from east to west, and is not the centre of the world”.
Weary and broken, the old man knelt before the pope and made his confession: “I, Galileo, son of the late Vincenzo Galilea, Florentine, aged seventy years … must altogether abandon the false opinion that the sun is the centre of the world and immobile”.
His trial was a grave and solemn milestone in the history of the Church perhaps only surpassed, in poignancy, by the trial of Jesus before Pilate.
Galileo was a brilliant mathematician and a pioneer of science which tries not to rely on superstition. He advocated the idea that “The Book of Nature” is written in mathematical characters, a view which is enough to make him a founding father of the scientific method.
The universe which Galileo observed at the end of his telescope totally dwarfed the one that people were seeing with their ordinary vision. He tried to show that it was important to consider the value of new observable phenomena as a way of escaping from weak truths and moving to better ones.
The 17th century, superstitious, ecclesiastical, Roman inquisitors experienced such cognitive dissonance from Galileo’s discoveries that, to their enduring shame, they chose to abuse and bully an old man rather than to change their own mind.
The cognitive dissonance endured so strongly that it was only in 1993 (after a 12-year Pontifical Commission!) that, in a belated burst of Christian charity, the Vatican finally forgave Galileo for letting the sun out of the closet.
Better late than never, I suppose.
So, today on his birthday, SOT would like to promote, seriously, the cause of the canonisation of Galileo Galilei.
If the Vatican really wanted to square the ledger with Galileo they could not only ‘forgive” him but also add him to the roster of saints.
Perhaps Santo Galileo could become the Patron Saint of Science.
The x10 ‘miracle’ of his telescope (actually x20!) and the objective cosmic revelations it gave to all mankind surely dwarfed the small subjective miracles that seem to satisfy The Vatican to qualify most contemporary candidates for canonisation.