What Was Galileo’s Trial About?

Sorry if you got this twice, I deleted this post accidentally being the moron that I am…

When you ask [modern secular] people about Galileo’s trial (for his book promoting Copernican astronomy), here’s a common view:

  • A case of science vs. religion
  • Catholic Church as bad guy
  • All clear-thinking people knew the earth goes round the sun
  • The church (and all who opposed Copernicanism) were dogmatic, ignorant of science, religious fanatics.
  • Astronomers were unanimous in agreement with Galileo
  • The Copernican system was clearly better than the Ptolemaic

I wouldn’t call this a complete myth. The church did bungle the case, thinking verses like this enough to disprove Galileo. But the reality is much more interesting. The trial was not so much about science vs. religion as it was between Galilo’s new science and the accepted old Aristotelian science:

  • In theory Copernicanism was simpler and more elegant (especially in explaining retrograde motion). But when time came for actual calculation it did no better than the old system of epicycles, equants and other weird things.
  • To Aristotelians, science meant absolute proof from logical deduction. Galileo was saying you don’t need absolute proof, that the way to go was experimentation and inference. In modern terms, each camp thought the other was doing pseudoscience. They were doing a GREAT job talking past each other.
  • A main argument against Galileo was that if the earth turned, all the clouds and birds would be left behind. This may sound very stupid to us today, but it was Galileo himself that developed the notion that things have an inertia (or impetus as he called it). Before Einstein, Galileo developed a basic notion of relavitity. This goes against common sense. This (and not stupidity) is why it was accepted only slowly.
  • Aristotelians considered the heavens perfect and the earth corrupt (a marriage of convenience with Christianity). The essence of the earth was different, how could it be just a planet? Galileo on the other hand turned the telescope to the planets and discovered they were just like the earth! It’s understandable why the notion of ONE law throughout the universe, took a while to catch on — there was much psychological opposition.

      It’s common to think those who opposed Galileo were stupid, pig-headed and fanatical. This is just not true — the opposition had many highly intelligent people we should respect. To use modern 20-20 hindsight in the Galileo case is to be stupid, pig-headed and fanatical. More posts on the semi-myth later, especially the infamous Galileo Syndrome…

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The thinly-veiled identity of lives and rants in Sydney. Views not his own, provided by hivemind. All my original work on this blog is licensed under a CC BY-NC License.

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