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Understanding Galileo's Conflict with Catholicism

The behaviors of the two schools of thought on this matter are fairly predictable. Web sites by disciples of science raise up Galileo as a martyr to their cause. Catholic Web sites take a defensive posture. As I understand it, these are their main arguments:

  • The Pope (Urban VIII) never declared Galileo a heretic, or never put it in writing.
  • The Holy Office (the Inquisition) was not reacting against Galileo's threat to papal authority. Pope Urban had not invoked infallibility and in fact could not have done so in this matter without offending against Catholic tradition.
  • Galileo was well treated. Although he was placed under house arrest, he kept his books, papers and telescopes, was allowed visitors and correspondents, and had the use of servants as needed. A related argument is that he was never tortured; while instruments of torture were present when he faced the Inquisition, this was merely standard practice of that time.
  • Galileo claimed the Sun was the center of the universe; thus he was just as wrong as the Church. Also, he never gave convincing proof of his claim that the Earth goes around the Sun. (No one could, at that time. The proof requires showing changes in the observed positions of the fixed stars from winter to summer, and instruments then were too crude to measure the tiny shifts in angle — the parallax — caused by the great distances to the stars.)

Regarding the central question of whether publication and acceptance of Galileo's discoveries — or scientific discoveries in general — were or were not obstructed by the Catholic Church, I believe that they were. Of course, the Catholic Church was not the sole obstructor. Protestant authorities acted much the same. Such obstruction is a well-nigh universal tendency of authority when it perceives itself threatened — and contradicting its doctrines or policies is threat. However, the Catholic Church is unique in the power and persistence of its obstruction.

This is ironic in view of the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was a revolutionary, dedicated to overturning the religious hierarchy of his day and bringing a more effective paradigm to life.

Here are some Catholic sites:

  • The Galileo Controversy (from Catholic Answers) —
  • Galileo's Contribution to the Church
    by Joseph A'Hearn, LC —
  • Galileo and the Magisterium: A Second Look
    by Jeffrey A. Mirus Ph.D. —
  • The Galileo Affair
    by George Sim Johnston (Catholic Education Resource Center) —
  • Galileo
    by Anne W. Carroll (Catholic Education Resource Center) —

And here are some views from the other side

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This page was last modified on 21 October 2015.