Monday, June 26, 2006

Apologetic for a Random Reader (I)

I'm going to try making an irregular series of posts on apologetics. I have a few ideas in mind, but if or how often I come up with new ones is yet to be seen. We may not need yet another blog going on about Catholic apologetics, especially in the shadow of Jimmy Akin, but I figure scattering the occasional capsulized (if not comprehensive, judging from how this post is shaping up) treatment of some poorly understood, highly maligned, or just widely discussed topic a little more widely across the Internet wouldn't hurt; trying to write something capsulized would probably also be a good exercise for me, especially in light of that last post.

I'm going to start with something simple: Galileo.

Back in the day, the Church had much more of a hand in the goings-on of culture. The Church, in short, is in the business of truth, whether it be worldly or otherworldly. Thus did it take great and skeptical interest when Galileo started preaching heliocentrism: based on plainer readings of the Bible, geocentrism seemed more scripturally sound.

If Galileo were right, then what was the Church's beef with him?

For one thing, he was right for the wrong reason, which used to be something people understood. For another, he could be kind of a jerk.

Galileo came to the conclusion of heliocentrism by observing the orbits of the Jovian moons about their planet and by the observation of the phases of Venus. Robert Cardinal Bellarmine was dispatched to evaluate Galileo's science, having dealt with related issues in the past. Bellarmine was cautious, noting the gaps and flaws in the theory and lack of any conclusive evidence, but conceded that heliocentrism did not necessarily contradict the Bible, yet should not be taught until some proof could be found.

Proof would take the form of the discovery of stellar parallax, but in the early 17th century, telescopes were too crude to detect it. Galileo thought he was right anyway--he had been teaching his misfounded hypotheses as fact all along--but he relented.

In 1623, a friend of Galileo's and a scientist became Pope Urban VIII, and Galileo looked forward to no longer censoring himself over cosmology. Urban gave his blessing for a treatise on the movement of astronomical bodies, with the caveat that Galileo give a balanced treatment of geocentrism next to heliocentrism, and to point out that heavenly motions may not be properly understood by earthbound astronomers.

Galileo agreed, but his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems consisted of a debate between an erudite heliocentrist--a Copernican--and a dullard of a geocentrist--a Ptolemist--in whose mouth he put the pope's words.

The pope, whose position on these matters was well-known, was quite upset, brought Galileo to Rome for an explanation, and eventually put him under house arrest for the remainder of his life--not for his cosmology, but for his attitude.

He continued his research, and wrote the Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations Relating to Two New Science, in which he took the first steps into modern science by presenting some quantitative analysis of kinematics and materials science.

1 comment:

Mark Wyatt said...

Robert Sungenis, Ph.D., and Robert Bennett, Ph.D. have just released Galileo Was Wrong. They are offering sample pages from many of the 12 chapters of Galileo Was Wrong , including the table of contents and the entire introduction. The introduction includes a discussion of John Paul II and his speech to the PAS in 1992 regarding the Galileo Affair. The samples can be obtained here.

Mark Wyatt